Recently, I had a lengthy interview with Mark Steyn published at The American Spectator. Due to space limitations, our full exchange couldn't appear there so I'm publishing the remainder here.
Considering Mark Steyn's degree of sophistication, intelligence, and wit, countless readers will be surprised to discover that he dropped out of school at age 16 and never went to college. After beginning as a theatre and film critic he progressed to political commentary where he has become perhaps the liveliest, most irreverent, and original of conservative voices. His columns in the Chicago Sun-Times and National Review are eagerly anticipated as are his lengthier works such as America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It. Other publications include Mark Steyn's Passing Parade and The Face of the Tiger.
Bernard Chapin: Mr. Steyn, over the years you've been incredibly prolific which leads me to wonder what the secret is behind your tremendous output?
Mark Steyn: I'm a slow writer but people never believe me when I say that because I certainly do write a lot. Often, in the midst of working, I'll go off for a walk in the yard and do other things. I'm not someone who just sits there typing all day. I don't regard myself as prolific though. I'm not a fast writer like William F. Buckley—my boss at National Review. He's genuinely efficient and that certainly can't be said of me. Of course, the truth is that you shouldn't go into the writing business if you can't produce a certain amount of words each day. What works for me is that I often write about different topics. That keeps me going. In grim times like the ones we now live in a person can't cover jihad 24/7 or else their head would explode. I have the luxury of being able to write about old songs and movies which makes for a nice break. Songs from the thirties clear the head and remind you why you wage the struggle for civilization in the first place. The small pleasures in life make us appreciate all the political consequences.
Bernard Chapin: Personally, I think your strongest attribute as a writer is your sense of humor but was there ever a time when it proved a detriment? Did editors ever criticize you for not being "serious enough"?
Mark Steyn: Well I think there's a tendency in this country to separate funny stuff from serious stuff and that's a mistake. You might say that's the secret behind the decline of the American newspaper as they put serious stuff in one section of the paper and funny stuff over in the corner by the bar code. If you're funny then there's no reason why you shouldn't be funny in regards to war, jihad, death, and disease. That's the main difference between us and the enemy we're facing. They're not what you'd call a barrel of laughs. Ayatollah Khomeini said that there is no humor in Islam and he lived a life to prove it.
An Imam in Afghanistan clarified the Taliban's position on music; he said that people weren't allowed to listen and weren't allowed to enjoy it. These guys make for hilarious enemies. No, humor is an important and vital weapon. It makes people understand that we simply cannot allow ourselves to lose this fight. Furthermore, humor clarifies positions wonderfully. The one thing that spoke well of Julius Nyerere is that he kept a copy of Evelyn Waugh's Black Mischief on his nightstand, but what's tragic is that if he read the novel it made no impression on him as his actions show that he never really understood it.
Bernard Chapin: I've read many of your theatre pieces for The New Criterion, and I would recommend them to anyone. However, for those who haven't read your work, what does the theatre offer its audience nowadays? Given the fact that it is a far more expensive entertainment endeavor than film, what's its upside?
Mark Steyn: Yes it is more expensive, but it really shouldn't be. In theory it ought to be relatively cheap to get things on, get things up and get things going. The fact of the matter is that it is not. The truth is that the least dynamic and creative sources are the ones who have a hammerlock on the theatre at the moment. All you see is their narrow focus. I love the theatre but mostly for nights that recede into the past. For $80 per person I just can't recommend it nowadays.
Bernard Chapin: How much has politics, and political correctness in particular corrupted modern theatre? A few years ago you referred to Broadway as a "self-regarding gay ghetto," is the stage now merely an avenue in which the radical left can disseminate its agenda?
Mark Steyn: What I find astonishing about Broadway and the arts in general is that you read a profile of Stephen Sondheim in which he congratulates himself on his courage and boldness for speaking out, but nothing he says is the slightest bit unusual in that environment. He says the exact things that 99 or 98 percent of his peers say. They all think about the world in the same way. Sondheim's is an entirely conformist view. Broadway is an environment of homogenistic variety. Everyone agrees with what everything everyone else is saying and it ruins creativity. It is fair to say that the Broadway of Rodgers and Hammerstein was a great crossroad of American life that resonated with a broad audience, but that's definitely not true today. Broadway is a niche market just like the Episcopal Church and its gay bishop of New Hampshire.
Bernard Chapin: Recently, you wrote a piece about the Virginia Tech incident in which you lamented the state of contemporary manliness. You mentioned the "Montreal massacre" and the way in which the men meekly left the room after armed gunman, Mark Lepine, asked them to. Is it your belief that men, when confronted with an armed assailant uninterested in harming them, should instinctively bulrush the fellow and sacrifice their lives in the process?
Mark Steyn: I don't know whether men should give up their lives for strangers or not. I don't know about that. In a sense you're right under the logic of feminism. If we're no longer expected to open the door for strangers then the whole women and children first thing no longer applies. Personally though, I'm not comfortable with this. I am a women and children first kind of guy. The movie Titanic shows rich men in first class cabins barreling past women and children to escape but that's not what really happened. In real life those men went down with the ship. You know, it's very dangerous to have a society based on what happened in Montreal. What should happen is that when a gunman like that shows up at a college he should fear that somebody there might take a gun out and blow his head off but American colleges are gun free which means that they are safe places to commit murder.
The point of societal standards is not that citizens should have to measure up to them in every instance. As for me though, with every fiber in my body I'd make sure that I wouldn't do what those men did in Montreal. I would never abandon those girls to their fate. I simply could not live with myself otherwise. Let's face it, our society is in trouble. The real problem is not the killer. It's those men who think nothing of letting someone kill women. There's something dark, lurking and evil in the idea that manliness is dangerous. This is what happens when there's a lack of testosterone in society. How can we raise boys to be uncomfortable with traditional boy behavior and then expect them to act like honorable men? We cannot.
Bernard Chapin: Lastly, what new projects are you working on? What will your follow up be to America Alone?
Mark Steyn: I think I'm supposed to be thinking about an America Alone follow up but I'm in only the very early stages. I'm not someone who plans his career very well. I'm letting a few ideas percolate.
Bernard Chapin: Thank you very much, Mr. Steyn.
Bernard Chapin is a writer living in Chicago who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.