Book Review

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Who the f*ck is Malcolm Gladwell?

cw: sexual assault, suicide ideation, police brutality

Who the fuck is Malcolm Gladwell?

I have no idea, but I don’t even really know who Scott Manley Hadley is.

No one does. 

I just stood in front of a mirror for five minutes staring at the hideous fat of my neck, at the hideous fucking hair that is growing on my neck and partly on my face, at how high the fucking line that marks how much my scalp has failed to function as a hair producing piece of flesh-

Since starting on these new meds, I’ve basically stopped shaving.

Since I began working almost constantly six months ago, I’ve stopped keeping my eyebrows neat. I’ve got something wrong with my penis again, I think, but even though I’m in the fucking doctors all the time, I’m still too nervous to talk to them about it: I don’t mind appearing vulnerable, sad, disheveled, depressed, professionally functional but socially inept, useless and mad, but I’m still too repressed to feel comfortable appearing to a medical professional as someone who fucks. 

Who the fuck is Malcolm Gladwell?

Yes, but who the fuck am I?

I was staring into that mirror, looking at the body I have ended up with: feeling tired not just because of overworking, not just because of being on heady medication, not just because of having done exercise again today, yuck, not just because my diet is shit and my mind is weak and I’m bored bored bored bored bored but also because the last book I read was some weirdly titled collection of fucking tentatively-linked essays that purport to discuss the failures in communication that inevitably happen when strangers interact but instead of being light reading it was actually a pretty heavy-going exploration of some very dark aspects of society and, as a book, Talking To Strangers aggressively justifies the individuals who commit police brutality and campus sexual assaults because “they’re not acting in any way other than how they have been conditioned to behave by society” meh boohoo and even though there is, yes, something to be said for an open discussion of the existence of systemic problems and how a sole focus on individual culpability/perpetrators avoids dealing with wider issues, but this book oozes an essentially self-important, patronising and dehumanising “forgive them father for they know not what they do” kinda vibe.

Yes, society needs Change, but that doesn’t mean that drunk fratboy rapists are equally as deserving of personal censure as their victims, if their victims have also been drinking. The problem, Malcolm, is not one of “misinterpretation”.

Gladwell essentially argues that the “real issue” in these cases is miscommunication, that the jock lad prick thinks that the woman he’s been chatting up wants to engage in sexual activity even if she becomes unconscious, while the woman misinterprets the man’s actions towards her as implying an acknowledgement of her humanity and thus that he won’t try and assault her if she passes out. To Gladwell, this is a mutual miscommunication. It is precisely this smug, distracted, distanced attitude within Talking to Strangers that turns a book which is often entertaining and informative into a book that far too many times defends convicted rapists and justifies the behaviour of police officers whose actions (directly or indirectly) lead to violence.

The book opens and closes with discussion of a young black woman who was arrested by a racist police officer and subsequently committed suicide in custody. Gladwell doesn’t judge this woman – a well-educated professional – for getting riled up by a cop being a scummy by-the-book twat who’s trying to exploit the book in the hope that he’ll accidentally pull over a nuclear bomb-toting smack smuggler, but nor does Gladwell judge the police officer who enacted policies and ideologies that massively impact the present and future happiness of millions and millions of people. He was just doing his job, man.

I dunno if “just following orders” has ever been an acceptable excuse for evil… It certainly shouldn’t be…

I ask again: who the fuck is Malcolm Gladwell?

Some New Yorker-in-a-bubble-toff who thinks that other people’s lives and other people’s deaths are a blank slate from which to riff popular sociology exploring the idea that hmm maybe racial profiling and rape is bad, mmkay, but that racists and rapists are also victims of the system too, yeah? “Please, won’t somebody think of the rapists.”

Tbf, it’s interesting to read about Cold War era spies, though bizarre to not have Cuba’s moral superiority to the USA explicitly stated; it’s interesting to read about the myopic properties of alcohol and how it doesn’t reveal a truer self, it reveals a more immediate self; it it it-

I stood in front of that mirror earlier and I said to my fat ugly bald hairy face, a flabby face perched above a rounding body that doesn’t fit its clothes whose clothes are tearing and breaking and ripping and falling apart and I said to myself I said to my reflection I said “I don’t deserve to live”. I am bored. My penis isn’t right. I haven’t written a poem in months. I should kill myself. I said to the mirror.

I don’t deserve to live, I repeated. And then cried a little bit.

I won’t kill myself, though, because though I’m far from perfect, I’m assuredly not a rape apologist, and if rape apologists don’t feel like the world would be better off without them, then I’d better stick around for balance.


Who the fuck is Malcolm Gladwell?

And who the fuck am I?

1 comment on “Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

  1. Pingback: In the House of My Father by Hiwot Adilow – Triumph Of The Now

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