Grimes doesn’t really know anything about feminist theory. Then again, who cares? “Women will be obsolete in like five years,” given the advancement of AI, or so the pop star declared in the final minutes of the Has The Sexual Revolution Failed? debate at the Ace Hotel. Her remark was met with laughter and cheering. “I hope living women still have a chance,” joked the billionaire’s ex-partner during her closing remarks.
What does Grimes—who wants to die on Mars—know about living women? It’s a question that interested an eager audience. The attendees, spanning from college students to middle-aged couples, dressed like East Village socialites. (The right wing is trying to rebrand as chic, finally.) As the night went on, it became clear that most of the attendees were devout Red Scare Podcast fans, a show that began as socialist commentary but that has mutated into incoherent conservative dogma with a fan base that even the hosts find off-putting. Others were curious about Grimes, whom I know as a musician I once adored, and who is now a woman who advocates for uploading her brain into software. Is it exhausting to be so interesting? I often wonder.
Everyone inside the 1,600-seat theater seemed to want to be a writer—or at least they dressed like one. In the lobby, I approached three men in sport coats who expressed interest in the debate because of their “conservative leanings.” One was a student at USC who explained that “there’s a lot of hipsters who are more conservative and not aligned with the ideology of like … Silver Lake,” he said, trailing off. He was invited to the event by Bari Weiss personally. “I ran into Bari Weiss and cracked a joke, and she said, ‘you’re cool, you should come to this debate,’” he explained. I noticed that one of these men, who was then chatting about Elon Musk, wore a Joan Jett T-shirt—an icon of the riot grrrl movement—under his jacket. (Is he being purposefully ironic at an event already suffocating in irony? If so, good for him, I guess?)
The message of Bari Weiss’s opening statement was clear: free speech is dead. It seemed to be the hollow thesis of the night. In lieu of anything compelling to say, she reminded us that she’s been canceled (a lot!), so canceled she can fill a theater full of people. She then welcomed “four brilliant people with uteruses” to the stage: Red Scare co-host Anna Khachiyan, writer and A Special Place in Hell podcaster Sarah Haider, podcast host and writer of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution Louise Perry, and, finally, Grimes. (Haider, who writes a popular Substack titled Hold That Thought, was easily the most informed and well-spoken guest, and the only one who was addressing the question being posed.)
Despite Grimes rattling off about mentally ill mothers and cyborgs, the debate was relatively tedious. The promise of a lively back-and-forth was stifled by Weiss’s long-winded moderation. Save for a glimmer of interest in the reality of women’s domestic lives, from Haider, the speakers mostly vamped on porn and dating apps. In the end, their shared boredom brought them to common ground. Grimes concluded with laughter, “I have a literal learning disability.” Anna Khachiyan stated, “I think sex is cool and fun,” but apathetically.
Khachiyan—despite a litany of bizarre and misguided beliefs—is wildly charming. I’m easily seduced by charisma. She’s irritating, but I like her penchant for self-deprecation— please don’t be mad at me. Because I like her, I’ll do her the charitable favor of disregarding her unintelligible politics. When she was talking about modern men being inept (because they’re autistic and incels), I found myself fantasizing about her being a comedian instead of whatever she thinks she is. (A public intellectual? A persona?) She made it known she didn’t want to be there. At one point, her mic cut out. She joked, “God doesn’t want you to hear me.”
Has the sexual revolution failed? When a group of four outspoken women debated the issue in front of a crowd, it didn’t matter, as Khachiyan argued. And she definitely won.
Photo of event provided by contributor.
LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.