Michael Walsh is an author, screenwriter, and journalist. He was a music critic and foreign correspondent at TIME Magazine for sixteen years, covering events ranging from the fall of the Berlin Wall to Vladimir Horowitz’s return to Russia. He is the author of several novels, including “As Time Goes By,” a sequel to the film “Casablanca.” On Nov. 19, he gave a lecture titled “In Praise of Toxic Masculinity” at Hillsdale College.
What is toxic masculinity and what is its role in society?
I’m not exactly sure how the people who complain about it define it. I think they just mean normal masculinity, whose meaning in society is changing. The left’s assaults on masculinity are based on some newfangled notion of what the proper relationship between the sexes should be. They’ve created this whole world where there are multiple sexes and genders and a lot of craziness. I want to cut through all that. I think 10,000 years of human history and evolution don’t just vanish overnight. And as the old margarine commercial used to go, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.
What will result from the widespread acceptance of fringe ideas about sex and gender?
These ideas will reach a peak of stupid and then recede. These things always do go away, because they can’t support themselves. They are fundamentally irrational reactions to external stimuli. There’s a famous book called “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” which outlines various bubbles and cases of mass psychosis, like the French financial scandal just before the French Revolution when people were buying shares in the Mississippi Company, which was largely illusory. People believe what they want to believe, and the power of belief is strong enough to overcome physical and physiological contradictions, until it isn’t. And then it stops.
Why do you think these groups see masculinity as a threat?
I’m not sure — that’s between them and their inner voices. But I think that there’s a great amount of resentment in the modern feminist movement. It looks at men as if they’re these superior beings and it discounts any distinctions in the way humans relate to each other, whether physical, intellectual, or emotional. It’s very similar to the leftist idea that everyone is exactly the same, and that everything should be distributed exactly proportionally. In no case is that true in nature.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I’m a pianist and I was a composer in college at the Eastman School of Music, but I always knew that I would be a writer. I studied music to improve my musical skills, but when I came out of Eastman I almost immediately went into journalism and music criticism.
As a music critic, what is your opinion of the current music scene?
About pop music, I have no idea. I stopped listening to pop music when the Beatles broke up. Everything else was just not going to be as good. They were an amazingly influential group and they brought so much that was synthetically new to music, which they derived from the blues and Elvis and 50s rock. They were fresh and they were extremely good songwriters. They’re much better than the horrible, hideously overrated, absolutely worthless Rolling Stones. Don’t even get me started! I still listen to some very obscure bands from the 60s that no one’s ever heard of anymore, like the Incredible String Band, for example. It was just two guys, and the music is incredibly weird, but either it’ll speak to you or it won’t.
What was it like to cover the fall of the Berlin Wall?
I speak German, so I had been going to East Berlin since 1985, and I had a lot of friends on the communist side. Between ‘85 and ‘89 I’d get in through the famous Checkpoint Charlie. And you’d go from light and color to black and white. When the wall came down, it was scary because you didn’t know how the guards on the east side were going to react. They were heavily armed and trained to kill, but at some point they decided that it was no longer worth killing people to preserve this fiction. And once everyone got pretty used to the fact that they weren’t going to be shot, the mood got better.
How did your experience in communist East Germany influence your view of American politics?
It made it clear to me that we don’t want that here. Take it from all the Russians that came over and said, ‘Are you crazy? You want communism in this country?’ I’ll tell you, the thing about being in a communist country is the stench. It’s the stink of coal fumes, gasoline, clothes that haven’t been washed in a thousand years. I always get a kick out of people that think America is polluted. If you want to see pollution, you should have been in East Germany, Poland, or Russia. I spent a lot of time in Moscow and I was there when Chernobyl blew up. Everywhere I go, something happens. But it’s a good life lesson for everybody, that what seems permanent today can be gone tomorrow. Literally.