Sandra Tsing Loh first made a name for herself back in 1987 as a special piece of work: she played a concert piano in a flatbed truck on an L.A. Freeway during rush hour. It was a perfect way to draw attention herself and annoy everyone else.
Since then, she’s segued over to the radio, where I have endured the last 15 years hearing her intone in a breathlessly arrogant manner about science and her personal doings. It’s the penance informed Angelenos pay for never pledging enough to their local NPR station.
Over those years I have learned everything and nothing about Sandra’s musician husband, her two little kids, her 1,236-year-old skinny-dipping father. They’re all described only for the purpose of marginalizing them so as to draw ever-more attention to their insatiable narrator.
When Loh’s not on the radio, she recapitulates her life in Atlantic Magazine, no doubt making Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson and other of the Atlantic’s founding editors twirl in their graves like pinwheels. And she also writes the occasional book. I give credit to Loh’s publisher for so deftly packaging those tomes that I have actually purchased two of them. However, once you get past the first few pages you’re caught in the undertow of her self-absorption and thoroughgoing mediocrity as a writer.
In other words, Sandra Tsing Loh is the perfect 21st-Century media tornado. She provides virtually nothing in exchange for the privilege of sucking not only the air out of the room but everything else. Right down to the studs.
I do not write that last sentence lightly. For Loh recently embarked on one of the most nauseating campaigns of self-justification since the Nuremberg Trials. She and her husband of nearly 20 years are calling it quits. Why? She had an affair. And, as she puts it in the most recent issue of Atlantic: “I would not be able to replace the romantic memory of my fellow transgressor with the more suitable image of my husband, which is what it would take in modern-therapy terms to knit our family’s domestic construct back together.” Just like the German functionaries who stood in the Nuremberg dock, she was merely following orders. And just like those gentlemen, those orders had been issued directly by the enormous narcissism cortex in her brain.
This was among the first missives in a roughly 5,000-word essay where Loh essentially denigrated all husbands who work hard to raise their kids and make a better home. The result: their wives are left sexless and frustrated. The couples who make their marriages last are either delusional, in denial, or so dull that no one else would want their company anyway.
“In any case, here’s my final piece of advice: avoid marriage,” Loh concludes. “Or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty, not to mention the expense, of breaking up a long-term union at midlife for something as demonstrably fleeting as love.”
That was an enormous insult to someone like myself, who has managed to make my marriage last 15 years, make myself and my wife happy, and dodge all potential temptations. I made a simple calculus: the few moments of fun would never be worth the years of guilt, agony, recriminations and financial ruin that would invariably follow. Loh crunched the same numbers and lunged for the fun. Of course, if you spend your entire career self-aggrandizing, an affair makes perfect sense. Not only is it all about you, it’s an opportunity to shove everyone else aside.
“There’s so much judgment. It’s going to be horrible,” Loh lamented to L.A. Times media columnist James Rainey. His examination of the situation is interesting but perhaps too even-handed. You can tell he wants to slam Loh, but still enables her to say everything she wants.
The one thing I learned from Rainey’s column is something that would never make its way into one of Loh’s commentaries: her husband “packed up all of Loh’s possessions in neatly labeled boxes, covered them with a tarp and left them stacked in the driveway.” One might sense he’s perturbed. Rainey didn’t try and interview him.
Which of course leaves me back at that Nuremberg dock, amoral men lining up to calmly rationalize away their misdeeds. It took another 20 years and Hannah Arendt to come up with an explanation: such transgressions occur when transgressors believe their actions are perfectly normal and even socially acceptable.
Of course, I’m not going to make any insidious and over-the-top comparisons between Sandra Tsing Loh and Nazi war criminals (she’s only half-German anyway, so it wouldn’t work). She is not evil. But she certainly is banal.