Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Commie Girl in the OC

Laurie Penny interviews Rebecca Schoenkopf about politics, life, feminism and getting 'finger-fucked' by Hillary Clinton

July 6, 2008
6 min read


Laurie PennyLaurie Penny is a freelance journalist who blogs regularly for the New Statesman.


  share     tweet  

‘My mother always taught me that women cussing is sticking it to the squares.’

On reading her columns, you might expect Commie Girl to be an effusive, larger-than-life lady with Hunter S Thompson’s grin and Rosa Luxemburg’s haircut. But Rebecca Schoenkopf is neat, petite and fragile-looking, her heart-shaped face traced with the lines of a life lived well and a bodhisattva smile playing on a mouth as foul as a Soho alley after midnight. An obvious assumption is that she is looking askance into the very fabric of your socialist soul; but she has a glass eye, having lost her left in a childhood accident.

‘One of my brothers was throwing a stone at another one of my brothers – and I lost the eye. I was ten. In high school, I just wore an eyepatch, and boys in bars would come over and lift up my patch. Just like that. I mean, how is that acceptable?’

It’s endless questions about the basic assumptions of capitalism, patriarchy and republicanism that have made her columns, with their gleefully despairing leftist humour and little political intimacies, such a phenomenon in the US and across the world. A collection of her journalism, self-titled with her cheek-biting moniker Commie Girl in the OC, has just been published in the UK by Verso.

Schoenkopf is hesitant to discuss the self-branding nature of her work – but Commie Girl in the OC is a brand; a feminist brand with its roots in Gonzo and Riot Grrl and self-assertive socialism, and a clever one at that. The book is a manifesto in the style of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, without any of the gratuitous post-adolescent drug binges. Well, not too many.

‘My book is very modest, really. It’s a compilation of my columns divided into five rough topics – god, love, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, what’s wrong with the way we live, and politics.’ Simple themes guide the reader around a complex personal philosophy that interrogates salient facts about American life and world politics.

So, is there an overriding theme to her journalism? ‘Eat the rich,’ she says, ‘although I do enjoy going to their parties.’

‘I do a lot of fancy things, you see, and that’s good – it means I can make fun of those fancy things later.’ The Commie Girl brand allows Schoenkopf a measure of cross-political acceptability in the tediously Republican state of California, which she enjoys immensely. ‘I’ll turn up to an event and everyone will be like, “Oh, it’s just Commie Girl!”‘

It has to be asked, given the distinct lack of faux-Stalinist badges and the packet of pre-rolled cigarettes: why ‘Commie’? ‘By communist, I really mean a form of socialism,’ she says, ‘the name’s a little self-mocking. By British standards, I’m a socialist, and a middle-of-the-road one at that, but in the USA, it’s not possible to get very much more publicly left wing. That’s starting to change, though.’

The slow and inexorable revival of American liberalism fascinates and energises Schoenkopf. ‘It’s more and more acceptable to call yourself a liberal these days,’ she says excitedly. ‘The tide is really turning. When Barack Obama is president, we’ll see those changes move faster.’

Despite not being the first American left-winger to desperately evangelise the Obama campaign as a forgone conclusion, she does so with a quiet energy that is infectious. ‘It’ll happen,’ she says. ‘When I think of America today, I think of those four little black girls, burned to death in that church in Alabama in the sixties. And now, pretty soon, we’re going to have two beautiful little black girls of about the same age in the fucking White House. Now, that’s really something.’

Schoenkopf is philosophical about the business of liberal journalism. Her own career started rather inauspiciously with a semi-reluctant stint as an intern on a family friend’s paper. She explained how, stuck for an opening for her first story, she opened the newspaper, ‘and I saw a headline that read: “Jesse heard voices”. And that made me catch myself because my brother, Jesse, was a schizophrenic.’ Jesse committed suicide at 21, when Rebecca was 17. ‘So I sat down and wrote about my brother. It was the first piece of real journalism I ever wrote. When it was published, they ran an ad at the bottom of the page. It had a golden retriever wearing glasses, and it said: “Why is Jesse smiling?”… and there it was. I was meant to be a journalist.’

It’s not been an easy journey. Schoenkopf has fought her way up through the American weekly industry to become a well respected writer while raising a son, Jimmy, who she adopted when she was 22. But every career progression has been made in the face of an industry riddled with prejudice.

‘Male editors – like all high-achieving men – can afford to be lax. They can afford to not be at their best and to take days off, because there will always be a brilliant, keen and enthusiastic woman in a junior role only too delighted to take on the extra work. As a woman working in media, politics, anything, you have to be that extra bit better, try that extra bit harder.’

‘One time I dreamed I was getting finger-fucked by Hillary Clinton’

‘I was in Seattle and I’d just come back from yet another interview for a job I didn’t get, when yet again I’d been told I was a strong candidate, that I was qualified, brilliant at what I do – I am brilliant at what I do – and told I’d been runner-up. Not one of those people I was beaten by was a person of colour, and not one of them was female. That night I dreamed that I was in a hotel room and in walked Hillary Clinton.

‘Don’t the Jungians say that you’re meant to represent every person who appears in your dream? In walked Hillary Clinton, and she was a maid, like Jennifer Lopez in that movie – Maid in Manhattan. And I forced her to finger-fuck me, and she wasn’t enjoying it – hell, I was practically raping her, like …’

At this point, Commie Girl makes a hand gesture I can’t quite bring myself to describe.

‘And I woke and thought, this is it. I’m always going to be getting fucked, I’ll never be in charge, and I’ll always be worked over and raped.’

Book deal or no book deal, Rebecca Schoenkopf has retained the indefatigable energy of dissatisfaction that makes her political writing so compelling. The Commie Girl brand is an essential model for 21st-century feminism of dissidence: darkly defiant, and still sticking it to the squares.

Commie Girl in the OC is published by Verso

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Laurie PennyLaurie Penny is a freelance journalist who blogs regularly for the New Statesman.


Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali


1