The Banality of Sandra Tsing Loh

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.

My life, one more time – Sandra Tsing Loh has made a career out of sucking everything out of the room. What would Hannah Arendt, right, make of her most recent self-justification?

My life, one more time – Sandra Tsing Loh has made a career out of sucking everything out of the room. What would Hannah Arendt, right, make of her most recent self-justification?

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.



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15 responses to “The Banality of Sandra Tsing Loh

  1. Pingback: To “I Do” Or Not To “I Do:” That Is The Question The Blogosphere Ponders « Around The Sphere

  2. 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.

    Well said.

    I’ve not been subjected to Ms. Loh on the radio, but I’ve read her in The Atlantic. I thought she was OK until I read this last bit. The narcissism on display is breathtaking.


  3. The Javelineer

    The modern heterosexual woman wants marriage but not a man, motherhood but not children, equality and special treatment, and so forth.

    It’s all, dare I say it, fickle and illogical. A publishing industry arises to examine why the modern woman’s contradictory desires cannot be satisfied. I thought the law of non-contradiction sufficed. My bad.

  4. Pingback: Woman gets strange dick, blames the institution of marriage. « The Javelineer

  5. MFFHA

    Just read your take on Loh’s piece–fantastic, thanks! The best I’ve read and absolutely dead-on. Amazing that no one has thought to view this situation from her husband’s point of view. That no one has pointed out that her affair is the result of narcissism, egotism, selfishness and a sort of amorality, not giving a f— about the feelings of the man she once loved, the man who is her children’s father and who deserves respect, if nothing else. One can certainly fall out of love and one can decide to end a marriage: but what one has no right to do is step over another person’s feelings. When she first felt ‘temptation’ she should have been honest and told her husband and THEN called the whole thing off, if need be. This is not religious or judgmental: it is simple moral sense.

    And I’m a woman.

    • The Irony Supplement

      Thank you for your kind comments.

    • noworriescc

      After listening to her awful display of disrespect of her father on This American Life, it only makes sense that she’d treat everyone else with such disdain and contempt.

      She framed her essay about living life as an adult child to her father drying underwear outside that, dare-i-say-it, HAD HOLES IN IT! GASP! MY GOD WHAT SHAME! Such embarrassment! What a pig!

      I’m not surprised that she’s unable to find anyone who’s up to snuff for her strong and indefatigable values…If she finds shame in her father for the holes in his underwear (DESPITE all his great achievements) I’m not surprised that she’ll alienate everyone around her because they’ll never fit into her “moving goal-post” values (he’s good enough to be an engineer, but he is “eccentric” by her standards so he’s an embarrassment).

      Perhaps she was just born this way…

  6. Russ R

    I saw this in the LA Times comments, so I came here to subscribe to your blog. Media attention to this woman is almost enough to make me want to watch Michael Jackson tributes the rest of the night to get something of more substance.

  7. M

    Read your LAT comments re Sandra Tsing Loh. World-class beatdown. Well done!

  8. Kristi

    Thank you for stating that with so much more intelligence than I was able.

  9. Bongo

    I am really disappointed…in Loh. I have in fact enjoyed her meanderings and wanderings through the San Fernando Valley, over the hill to the West Side and back up the 405. She draws a pretty good picture of life in the Valley. And so she becomes the ubiquitous “Valley Girl”. OMG. She really did it this time. What a lost cause to throw 20 years out the door. Never really thought of the kids, after all. I myself am hitting 20 years of marriage and am looking forward to the next 20. Party Time!

  10. jiker

    Im surprised to see such negativity and blame pointed at Loh over her transgression.

    in fact, nobody knows the situation or circumstance that pushed her to cheat, yet what’s feeding the flame of disdain are the confessor’s own words, nothing else.

    I routinely chat with a mistress of a married musician. The road is lonely, but opportunistic. Out of sight, easier out of mind. Ready, half drunk and willing women probably at every venue. Temptation a very hard act to keep in check.

    Couple that with what she writes, perhaps not as excuses, but as what we know is common with such type men (or women), musicians, who were always more used to the freedom, the emotional distance, and endorphin rushes afforded by their work. When you are in that euphoric state after a gig, your domestic partner back home, in a much lower energy level just cant complement you. There were never nights of calm after my ex girls gigs. She was amped and i could not begin to understand. But i managed because she did local shows i could attend.

    Loh likely knew this lifestyle at first when she met her husband. I would be surprised if he wasnt always a musician. She could be that exited girl ready to meet that energy he would not just exude, but need returned. And she could see the other excited girls too, temptations at the least, rivals likely.

    What i try to paint is the possibility that infidelity in this case may have not been selfless, but an agregation of loneliness and emotional separation.

    Women rarely cheat for short term gratification. They are pushed there slowly by emotional imbalances that grow like cancers.

    There is no justification, there are also avenues to try to resolve things. There are also life career choices which make resolution difficult. Choices that keep you far from the relationship.

    • H

      I think this article is not a criticism of her infidelity. People don’t give a shit about that, and maybe she had a good reason, and anyway its irrelevant. This is a slam on her public justification of her affair, her almost flamboyant pride in what she has done and the obvious complete neglect of everyone else in the situation.

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