“It all gives me this vision of Thiessen dreaming about single-handedly stopping Wikileaks by typing “OVERRIDE PASSWORD” into Julian Assange’s laptop, then hitting the delete button after a stern British female voice declares “ACCESS GRANTED.” Then there is a tense moment as a glowing neon blue progress bar slowly deletes Wikileaks, but will it finish before Julian returns from the virtual reality cyber conference with George Soros where they are laughing about having just gotten an oblivious Julian Sands thrown in jail?”—Pundit calls for development of magical anti-Wikileaks computer virus - Boing Boing
As one might expect, I agree vehemently with George Packer’s recent screeds about new media here and here; especially, from the latter post, this bit:
[T]he response to my post tells me that techno-worship is a triumphalist and intolerant cult that doesn’t like to be asked questions. If a Luddite is someone who fears and hates all technological change, a Biltonite is someone who celebrates all technological change: because we can, we must. I’d like to think that in 1860 I would have been an early train passenger, but I’d also like to think that in 1960 I’d have urged my wife to go off Thalidomide.
But I don’t buy Packer’s conclusion that “[a]ny journalist who cheerleads uncritically for Twitter is essentially asking for his own destruction.” In fact, I’ve weirdly come to believe that the rise of Twitter — as opposed to the rise of, say, blogs, which ironically enough is the medium in which Packer chose to deliver his broadsides — might actually portend the revival of a more traditional model, rather than its continuing decline.
Yes, that sounds crazy, but let me try to explain.
When people talk about how the Internet is killing the mainstream media, they’re really thinking about blogs, specifically blogs circa 2004. The sudden rise of blogs held out a tantalizing vision of the future, where amateurs would reliably attract an audience to rival that of the mass media. In the Big Blog Dream, there would still be a single media conversation, as it were, but there would be a leveling in that conversation whereby amateurs could join, often as quasi-equals, alongside the professionals.
This is the storyline that still basically dominates discussion of the Internet — and yet the Big Blog Dream has largely died. First, the mainstream media muscled in on it, using their storehouses of experience and talent to launch scores of their own high-traffic blogs. (Where they didn’t build their own, they hired the best amateurs to join their staffs.) Second, the Internet-native media that did survive are now hardly amateur by any definition: they’re places like TPM, Gawker, and the Huffington Post, that have built bare-bones business models that create tons of original content by leveraging young and/or unpaid/low-paid writers. And third, between these two groups (the big-media blogs and the Internet-native blogs), most of the readers no longer have the time or inclination to bother with any actual amateurs. Really, for the past three years or so, there’s been almost no hope for new bloggers who don’t quickly find their way underneath the umbrella of some established site. And so blogging (at least among the non-elderly, as Nick Carr recently pointed out) has come to seem far less vital.
What we now have, instead, are Facebook and Twitter. The contrast between the two is instructive. On Facebook, you can post everything you care most deeply about, and however much of it as you like, so long as you’re satisfied with your audience being restricted to your friends and acquaintances. On Twitter, you can only post 140 characters, but it’s open to everyone, and with searches, hashtags, etc., you can see yourself becoming a part of the giant big conversation. Really, Facebook and Twitter are the bifurcation of the Big Blog Dream. In a Facebook future, everyone is engaging in full creative self-expression, but it’s no longer adding up to one big conversation: we’re all just talking to our small circle. In a Twitter future, what we desperately care about is the survival of that big conversation, even at the expense of full self-expression.
It’s no accident that so many of the most natural uses of Twitter — unlike those of blogs — are not the replacement of long-form media but an augmentation of them. If you blog about a long article, you’ll likely block-quote the best part and bury the link; on Twitter, all you can do is link. If you’re blogging about a TV show, you might summarize the whole damn thing (spoiler alert!), but the Twitter experience of TV is simultaneous watching. And so on.
There’s oh so much to hate about Twitter, and anyone who follows me there will see that I barely use it. But I do think that the Twitter urge — the thing that has brought people over from Facebook, and has kept people from sinking entirely into Facebook — is also the thing that will save the professional media in some form. Twitterers fervently want to believe in some kind of public meaning, to be a part of big public narratives, to watch the big show together; and they’re willing to accept a 140-character limit to do it.
In general, I’m not inclined to blog about the recentgoings-on at Harper’s, where our editor, Roger Hodge, was recently fired. But I do want to comment on Felix Salmon’s post opining that our magazine has been “doomed by its paywall.”
When it comes to the finances of highbrow magazines, it’s simply impossible to say that the publications with paywalls have done worse than the ones without. For example, one can certainly applaud the dramatic moves that The Atlantic has been making online, but no one over there is pretending that the site comes close to making money right now, or even that it’s helping out the print side in this terrible economy. The New York Review of Books is an intellectual magazine with a paywall somewhat like ours — i.e., nothing becomes available until it’s off the newsstand — and as far as I hear they’re humming along just fine. Meanwhile, The New Yorker still seems to be doing relatively well financially, but that has little to do with the Web and everything to do with structural changes the magazine made starting roughly ten years ago, before it had much of a website. (Even today, their site still reserves perhaps a third of the magazine’s content for subscribers only.)
And yet Salmon is clearly right that articles that aren’t online are not getting talked about. As I wrote in my Times op-ed a while back, the Internet has become the de facto heart of the culture, the place where the important conversations are happening. I’d venture to say that almost every print editor today is getting his or her news primarily online. Speaking for myself, at least, if it’s not online, I’m unlikely to read it.
So the reality about the “health” of magazines is complicated. As I see it, there’s an increasing disconnect between online models that are working financially for publications and ones that are working for getting attention. The model for getting attention is easy: give it all away. But the attention online isn’t reliably translating into subscribers or newsstand buyers. (Neither is it clearly deterring them, I should add, which is why, on balance, I’d prefer to kill the paywall at Harper’s. As an editor, though, of course I’d say that.)
The fact is that the online conversation, for all its centrality, has much less reach than we want to think. Most readers, even of highbrow magazines, aren’t a part of it, and so all the online buzz in the world can’t send over enough new subscribers to make our magazines profitable in this economy. It just can’t. Right now, among print publications, the play for attention is online — in fact, it’s almost the only game in town — but the play for money is far less clear.
“What Foer’s and Chabon’s baroque ministrations avoid is the one immutable fact of growing up: Your children, if you do a good job, will rarely think of you at all.”—Fatherhood Gets Hip - The Daily Beast. Hear, Hear.
Richard Kelly’s The Box isn’t out yet, so I don’t know how accurate this promotional copy is, but I do find its use of the phrase “impossible moral dilemma” to be pretty funny:
What if someone gave you a box containing a button that, if pushed, would bring you a million dollars…but simultaneously take the life of someone you don’t know? Would you do it? And what would be the consequences? The year is 1976. Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz) is a teacher at a private high school and her husband, Arthur (James Marsden), is an engineer working at NASA. They are, by all accounts, an average couple living a normal life in the suburbs with their young son…until a mysterious man with a horribly disfigured face (Frank Langella) appears on their doorstep and presents Norma with a life-altering proposition: the box. With only 24 hours to make their choice, Norma and Arthur face an impossible moral dilemma.
Hmm… which is the moral choice? Press the button or not? We wouldn’t even know the victim! And a million dollars is an awful lot of money.
It would be entirely comic, this mistaking of a clear moral choice for a “moral dilemma,” if it weren’t baked into just about everything we do as a society, including how we make war.
Brooklyn scene-mate Wesley Yang has a trenchant essay in last week’s New York Magazine analyzing the corpus of their recurring "Sex Diaries" feature. Having read every single diary (no mean feat in itself), Yang makes the observation that they’re not really about hedonism but rather about a whole host of underlying anxieties: about choosing partners correctly, about not being rejected, and so on. An excerpt:
7. The anxiety of appearing prudish. The Diarists are eager to show themselves to have conquered modesty—as if anyone is still insisting they be modest. This is particularly true of the young women—and the Diaries are full of them—who operate at the weird place where male pornographic fantasies and their own fantasies of self-empowered pleasure converge:
As for pornography, it plays a role in an extraordinary number of Diaries. Still, few Diarists of either sex are willing to betray any discomfort with it, per se. (“See, I have no issue with porn,” one Diarist assures us when discussing his friend’s enormous collection.) Instead they worry about everything related to porn. Its price, for instance. Or a partner’s overindulgence.Occasionally they do fear that the consumption of it may be wearing them out. This, it seems, is incontestable.
Do read the whole thing. What I love about Yang’s piece is that it manages, without being reactionary or prudish itself (that anxiety again!), to get at what’s so unsatisfying and (ultimately) unbelievable about so much of our discourse on sex.
For example, I’m an avid reader of Savage Love, Dan Savage’s great syndicated sex column. I really love it, and I don’t for a moment doubt either the veracity of the letters Savage gets (except in those cases where he himself calls bullshit on them), or the general wisdom of his advice.
But when you read Savage’s column (plus the Letters of the Day that he posts on The Stranger's blog), you wind up getting a cumulative vision of human sexuality that seems a bit… skewed. “Utopian” is perhaps too strong a word for Savage's sexual outlook, but it's definitely universalist and it's definitely sunny: in his vision, everyone's got their kink, or at least a big healthy libido, and if you don't, well, then repression or some other weird internal bugbear is probably to blame. Sex really is the end in itself, the thing to be pursued, the thing to be celebrated. It's almost a modernist pose, wherein libertinism (within the reasonable limits of safety and fairness) is a straight line to liberation.
Yang, by contrast, thinks that questions of loneliness and belonging are deeper than questions of sex, indeed are informing all our sexual decisions. His is a much darker view, obviously — maybe too dark, since he could have just as easily discerned dreams as well as anxieties in NYMag’s showy couplings. One might even say that there’s an aesthetics governing sexual and romantic decisions, and that it’s this aesthetics, and not necessarily a repressive (or moral) force, that leads some people to choose less sex over more. At any rate, I am definitely in the Yangian camp on this one, and look forward to more pieces from him.
“When health-care reform is finished, there are going to be two books worth writing. The first is the book about the public option, which is also the book about the health-care reform fight that most of us watched. The second is the book about everything else, which, in part because of the consuming controversy around the public option, happened quietly and largely behind closed doors.”—Ezra Klein. Man do I not want to read either of those books.
"In point of fact this is a problem with the industry. And not so much me alone….It’s about context. Dwight [Silverman] admitted to you that he writes for the Houston Chronicle. And he wrote a Windows book at the same time that he was writing about Windows for the paper. ….and Ed Baig, who writes for an even bigger newspaper than I do, he writes for USA Today, the equivalent column, he wrote Macs for Dummies, Palm Pre: The Missing Manual, he wrote an iPhone book at the same time as he was reviewing those. Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal makes, I think The New Yorker said, $1 million a year off of the D Conferences, where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates make exclusive appearances, the very guys whose products he reviews.
"So it’s a growing problem. You’d probably have a hard time finding someone who doesn’t have a problem like this."
A growing problem… with the industry! Let’s parse that: what’s the problem that the industry has? The problem is that, despite pulling down big salaries to give unbiased product reviews, everyone in “the industry” wants more money! Can’t you see what a terrible systemic problem has ensnared David Pogue?
“[W]hat is being celebrated here is the ideology of no ideology—the ascendancy of the Nora Ephron view of the world, which may be succinctly described as “food and drink and bathroom fixtures.” What moves such a heart most (aside from children, the poor, and the homeless) are amenities and trivialities. The conferring of importance upon the unimportant, and of unimportance upon the important: this is a mark of decadence, the cognitive inversion of people who live “mostly in aesthetic terms” because they have secured themselves materially—or so they would like to believe—against philosophy and pain. They live for lightness and distraction. Their laughter is the sound of luck. They acquit themselves of their intellectual obligations with opinions.”—Washington Diarist: Against The Plane | The New Republic
As a lover of falsely precise charts about not actually quantifiable phenomena, I’m obviously a sucker for the Gartner Hype Cycle, the latest report on which was just released:
I do find it hilarious, though, that Gartner refuses (for obvious commerical reasons) to predict the disappearance of any of the technologies on the chart. Look at the legend: they even create a category of “obsolete before plateau” but then refuse to consign a single technology to that category. Way to go out on a limb, there, Gartner!
A while back I did a Q&A over tea with AdAge’s Simon Dumenco, but only yesterday did he post it to the magazine’s website. No doubt because of his very artful arrangement (a numbered list of “truths about viral culture”), it’s currently the #1 most-read piece on AdAge.com! What, slow week in the ad biz? Hasn’t someone made a blockbuster new spot with a talking panda in it or something?
I have only one edit I’d make to the Q&A, if I could. Here’s the second “truth”:
2. On the internet, as in life, forget the white-hot center; the margins are what matter.
Wasik, in conversation: “The other fundamental metaphor of the flash mob was the idea of, like, people are going to come together for no reason at all other than that other people are coming together there. I mean, that was sort of always how I felt about New York. The idea that, Oh, I’m in New York, and I’m gonna get as close as possible to the white-hot center of things. But then the closer you get to it, the more you realize that the white-hot center of things is, like, a bunch of middle-aged fat people in a room sipping vodkatinis, and they’re not talking about anything interesting, because the actual work is being done a little further to the margins by people who are still trying to get closer to the center.”
My point wasn’t quite that “the margins are what matter.” Really, what I meant was that the desire to get closer to the center, the act of striving for that center — even though we find the center, when we get close enough, to be essentially hollow — is what matters.
On some level, my book (like my recent Times op-ed) is an extended meditation on the Internet as the new locus for ambition. That’s a loaded word, of course, and I don’t mean it in an especially pejorative way. Day by day we all do what we do, creatively and otherwise, for a whole host of different reasons. But over the long haul, there’s a little kernel of something that makes us — some of us, that is — want to go out find an audience, and then to find a bigger audience once we’ve got a small one. That little something is what gets us to New York, instead of someplace more hospitable, or makes us send out pitches and do open mics and put together bands etc. Today, it’s easy to see that little something is sending us online. It’s where the excitement is, where the audience is.
So much of our discourse about the Internet tries to make our participation in it about everything besides ambition: connection, belonging, love, “self-expression,” etc. Obviously the Internet is about all that stuff, too. I wouldn’t bother to focus so much on ambition in online culture if it didn’t seem like there were a conspiracy to elide its role. All these technology pundits — who are nothing if not hyperambitious themselves — look out into the sea of users and see them all as earnest naïfs longing for simple, human connection, or as puppyish fanboys eager to toil anonymously for days on end in a “remix” culture; as anything except ambitious, as people who want to make a name, who want fans, who want basically the same things that the tech gurus want.
Are all the participants in Internet culture like that, or even a majority? Certainly not. But I’d argue — and I do argue, in the book — that the ones who succeed in winning an audience online tend to be precisely those who do so with old-fashioned drive.
(1) This approach probably works in a shocking number of situations, because this central insight —
I was not at the root of my husband’s problem. He was. If he could turn his problem into a marital fight, he could make it about us. I needed to get out of the way so that wouldn’t happen.
— is so often correct.
(2) But what about all the situations there this WON’T work? Is it good advice? I guess she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, have physically stopped him from moving out. So if he’d really wanted to, he could have done it. And probably, in that case, she’s still better off having treated him like a child; in that case, even though he’d left, she’d still be sitting on the nice high ground, waiting for him but never begging, etc.
(3) OK. So maybe this is a great idea. What’s weird, though, is how essentially religious this whole idea is, without being religious. She’s essentially saying that the family is a non-negotiable bond for her husband, the way it is for a small child. This is the kind of thinking we normally associate with appeals to a higher power.
(4) But she doesn’t mention God; so on whose authority is the family unbreakable? The crazy thing is, the answer is basically her own refusal to suffer. That’s the mindblowing crux of the whole theory. He has to remain a part of the family forever because she refuses to suffer: that refusal is her God. Basically what this woman has done is burrow so far into a sprituality of the self that she’s actually finding a binding commitment for other people in it.
(5) This makes this essay, to my knowledge, the only Styles section article to date that sets forth an entirely new and entirely radical cosmology.
Is New York still worth the trip? Recessions tend to be hard on youthful dreams, but this downturn has proved especially dispiriting. Those in the print media have come to see their present fiscal woes as not merely cyclical but structural, and so their slashed workforce and diminished output seem unlikely to rebound any time soon. Galleries have closed. Foundations, their endowments devastated, have cut back on grants for the arts. Internships across the board are down by more than 20 percent. And those of us who still hold full-time jobs in creative fields are clinging to them for dear life, making it difficult for young people to pry any free for themselves.
Meanwhile, another destination beckons, a place that courses with all the raw ambition and creative energy that the hard times seem to have drained from New York. I am referring, of course, to the Internet, which over the past decade has slowly become the de facto heart of American culture: the public space in which our most influential conversations transpire, in which our new celebrities are discovered and touted, in which fans are won and careers made.
Wherever young creatives physically reside today, in their endeavors they are increasingly moving online: posting their photos, writing, videos and music, building a “presence” in the hope of winning an audience. Monetary rewards on the Internet are still scarce, it is true, but the cost of living is cheap and, more important, the opportunities for attention are plentiful. Every month more YouTube sensations emerge, more bloggers ink big book deals, more bands blow up through music Web sites and MySpace, and every day more young people seek their “big break” in the virtual megalopolis rather than in (or as well as in) the physical one.
This is a great idea: a pre-set day when everyone leaves their junk out in front of their house for others to take as they like. It’s a nationwide freecycle event. In New York, of course, every day is Curb Day, but other places really need this.
Of all the mass utopian notions of the twentieth century, the Sexual Revolution was both the most spectacularly successful and, in the end, the most thwarted. Whereas most political or spiritual or cultural movements, from Communism to Esperanto to est, came and went and left the Western sensibility not too far from where it started, a time traveler direct from 1959 would stare slackjawed at the sexual landscape of today, both in its deep fundamentals (the acceptance of homosexuality, the shift in gender roles) and in its showy surfaces, the frankness with which we discuss and display carnal matters in public.
And yet measured against the dreams (certainties, even) of its principled adherents — as a contemporary reader is reminded throughout Gay Talese’s stupendous 1981 book Thy Neighbor’s Wife, recently reissued by Harper Perennial — the Sexual Revolution remains unfinished and seemingly unfinishable. Shame in sex was not vanquished. Monogamy was not proved an unnatural construct. Indeed, if sexual behavior has liberalized during the past fifty years, sexual attitudes have arguably become more conservative, with belief in a single, destined “soul mate” now the moony norm. Talese’s book was seen as unforgivably sordid in its day (for its reportorial methods as well as for its subject matter), but today Thy Neighbor’s Wife is fascinating for how tragic it all seems, how unfulfilled the expectations of so many of its protagonists ultimately remained.
I was consumed with book tour during the dust-up a few weeks ago over Caleb Crain’s NYT review of Alain de Botton’s new book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. (After Crain posted a link to the review at his blog here, Botton commented somewhat hysterically in the thread here, and the inevitable bloggy eruption ensued.) I made a note to go back and read the review, perhaps because as a new author myself, I could relate to de Botton’s emotion, even if I couldn’t endorse his approach to expressing it.
A week or so ago I finally had a chance to read Crain’s review, and immediately I began to suspect that my sympathies lay with de Botton. Here’s a representative excerpt from the review:
To mock [a worker] for being less than perfectly free in his thoughts and actions is easy. Unfortunately, the British essayist Alain de Botton indulges in this kind of mockery in his new book, “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.” De Botton starts with noble intentions, claiming in his first chapter to have been inspired to write about work by the intense, unabashed interest taken by cargo-ship spotters, the hobbyists who track the comings and goings of the enormous oceangoing vessels that help to make globalization possible. The spotters “know what it is about the world that would detain a Martian or a child,” de Botton writes. But in his praise of their wonder, there is a note of condescension: “Admittedly, the ship spotters do not respond to the objects of their enthusiasm with particular imagination. They traffic in statistics.”
The note is soon revealed to be an ostinato…. In the book’s most promising passage, a career counselor invites de Botton into his home office in South London to observe sessions with a client, a 37-year-old tax lawyer. … But just as revelation seems under way, de Botton’s narrative drifts, and he frets for pages about self-esteem-boosting bromides that he hears the career counselor dispense at a seminar, worrying that in feeling superior to them he may be depriving himself of a psychological advantage. In the end, anxiety about social status undermines the chapter completely. The counselor’s office, de Botton has noticed, smells “powerfully of freshly boiled cabbage or swede,” one of several signs that the enterprise doesn’t securely rank as upper-middle class… If a disinterested writer won’t try to distinguish the efficacy of an endeavor from its trappings, who will? What else was the counselor hoping for, when he agreed to share his experiences with de Botton?
Basically the whole review goes on like this, with Crain pulling out some jaundiced bit of narrative color from one of de Botton’s scenes and then wringing his hands about the terrible mockery implied. Since all context has been stripped from this color, it’s impossible to tell from the review why de Botton had gone to the trouble to leave his comfy essayist’s chair and go write about work, or workers, at all.
I’ve now had the opportunity to read The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work in its entirety, and can now say that my sympathies lie squarely, emphatically with de Botton. It’s a marvelous little book, and I encourage everyone to run out and buy it. I’ve hesitated to read much de Botton in the past, because his previous books have struck me (on a cursory bookstore browse, at least) as a bit too precious, but on the strength of this one I’m certain to go back and read a few of them.
Pleasures and Sorrows is, first and foremost, a lovely bit of narrative journalism. De Botton makes no bones about the cerebral awkwardness with which he approaches the reportorial endeavor, and so naturally all sorts of odd observations intrude—some at the mild expense of his subjects, like those which Crain seems so horrified to encounter, but just as many at his own expense. Watching a tuna clubbed to death on a boat deck prompts in de Botton the thought “that we too are never more than one hard slam away from a definitive end to our carefully arranged ideas and copious involvement with ourselves.” (Almost every page yields up a sentence like that.)
All the storytelling is animated by a particular pose that de Botton takes towards his subjects, an elegant remove that reinforces formally the very ideas about work that he’s unobtrusively but definitively sketching around the edges. He’s always taking a hundred-year (or many-hundred-year) perspective on what he’s seeing, imagining what about the inner workings of (say) industrial biscuit manufacture might impress an educated individual of the 18th century or the 23rd. And so he focuses entirely on questions of human meaning, both individual and shared, as he watches various people in their daily tasks. He is not “mocking” anyone for their lack of freedom; he is rather attempting to assess with clear eyes what different types of jobs mean today—to those who do them, yes, but even more so to the wider society and to history.
Crain is usually a very smart critic, in my opinion, but I think he has simply misread de Botton’s book from the beginning. In his first chapter, de Botton does cite cargo-ship spotters as inspiration for his project. But at the very end of the chapter (in that classic “nut graf” spot where an experienced skimmer knows to look), he quite succinctly describes what he intends for his book to resemble:
[T]he author hopes [the book] might
function a little like one of those eighteenth-century cityscapes which show us people at work from the quayside to the temple, the parliament to the counting house, panoramas like those of Canaletto in which, within a single giant frame, one can witness dockers unloading crates, merchants bargaining in the main square, bakers before their ovens, women sewing at their windows and councils of ministers assembled in a palace—inclusive scenes which serve to remind us of the place which work accords each of us within the human hive.
It’s hard to believe that any review would glide this by, and outright strange for a negative review to do so: if one wants to accuse de Botton of failing, it’s odd not to consider the aesthetic terms on which he was hoping to succeed. But those aesthetic terms are precisely what Crain seems oblivious to. He writes as if there were no middle ground, in narrative journalism, between sympathy and mockery; as if journalistic subjects, in exchange for access, were entitled to have their stories told just as they wanted. Crain, it seems, would hold Canaletto accountable to each docker, each seamstress and baker, and to their conception of how they might fit into the swirling whole.
To his credit, de Botton flies far too high for that. I mean it as a compliment to say that he never troubles himself overmuch with what his subjects think about themselves. This isn’t to say Pleasures and Sorrows is a perfect book; there are some cringe-worthy moments, but usually these happen when, in trying to poke fun at himself, de Botton spins out semi-ironic erudition that manages to be arrogant and self-defeating at the same time. (The worst of these is to be found in the final chapter, where he offers a nearly page-long speech referencing Goethe and Gibbon that he allegedly gave to the profane watchman of an airplane graveyard; it comes off as the worst sort of Brit-prig BBC comedy, and one wishes it could be excised from every copy.) But all in all, it’s a superlative piece of work and I’m glad that de Botton’s juvenile online outburst caused his very mature book to be brought to my attention.
is today! Went through Seattle, Mountain View, Santa Cruz, New York, Washington, and today Philadelphia. Here’s the real video (David Rees’s Rickrolling notwithstanding) from the event in Santa Cruz, which actually was one of the most enjoyable I did. (I don’t think I made any sour faces.)
If, seventy minutes later, you’re still hungering to hear me talk more about the book, you can listen to this stint on Talk of the Nation (click “Listen Now” near the top).
OK, no posting any more videos of myself for a very long time.
[T]his Father’s Day, like every Father’s Day, I’ll relive the last time I saw him. My mother was in the hospital recovering from surgery. And Dad was on the kitchen floor having sex with another woman. I found them. He went for his heart. I thought he was faking. By the time I realized he was dying and tried to help him, it was too late.
At the end, I remember a tear rolling slowly across his cheek. His eyes opened wide. I bent forward and whispered, “I love you.” He slowly reached for my hand just as he had done years ago on that ride home from Little League tryouts. And at that instant, we both experienced the pain and madness of love. Then he was gone.
That night, I shot my first bag of heroin.
Far be it from me to suggest that this sequence did not happen exactly as described. I do, however, have some questions.
(1) During the death scene, what was happening with the other woman? Are we to understand that father and son both experienced the “pain and madness of love” while father was still on top of mistress? (And what was she experiencing?)
(2) Where did the writer get his first bag of heroin so quickly? Because if he shot it that very night, he would have had to hustle, for someone who had never shot heroin before, and whose father had just died, on top of another woman, who would have had to get a ride home first, probably.
With tuitions, fees, and room and board at dozens of colleges now reaching $50,000 a year, the ability to sustain private higher education for all but the very well-heeled is questionable. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent — more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care.
Consumers who have questioned whether it is worth spending $1,000 a square foot for a home are now asking whether it is worth spending $1,000 a week to send their kids to college. There is a growing sense among the public that higher education might be overpriced and under-delivering.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this question as it pertains to — or, specifically, compares to — the current state of print journalism. It’s become generally accepted wisdom that whereas the business model of making content is in jeopardy, the business model of teachingstudents to make content (that they’ll never, ever get paid for) is largely secure. Intuitively, this seems plausible to me: we have an university system whereby wealthy parents pay ungodly sums for their children to study the liberal arts and generally hone their self-expression, and only after that do the children surrender those dreams to get broken on the the capitalist wheel as lawyers or businesspeople or what have you. (Jeff Howe sketches this same basic idea, less polemically than I just did, in an early chapter of his book Crowdsourcing.)
But what I find irritating is when people use this shift to claim that some intrinsic failing exists in the old journalistic business model. Clay Shirky, for example, in a Q&A with the Columbia Journalism Review a few months back, basically blamed journalists for being naive about where their money was coming from:
A lot of working journalists, and especially print journalists, are in the position of being sort of kept women. They don’t really understand where the money comes from but, you know, their particular sugar daddy seems pretty flush, so they just never gave it much thought. And then one day the market crashes and they suddenly discover, “Wait a minute, we were a business? And our revenues had to exceed our expenses every year? Why wasn’t I informed?” And I think one of the reasons that journalists, in particular, are so stunned by this is not that they just didn’t happen to think about the previous business model, right? Like, why is it that the guy sitting in Mosul in a flak jacket is being subsidized by Bonwit Teller? You wouldn’t make this up from scratch, it just doesn’t make much sense.
I.e., in Shirky’s view, a model where overseas war reporters get subsidized by department-store ads is inherently unsustainable, irrational, even insane. But advertising supported print periodicals handsomely for over a century! Meanwhile, Shirky (who I generally admire, by the way) seems to make his own money from (a) being a professor at NYU and (b) riding the tech-lecture circuit — two business models that are far younger and seem every bit as insane, if not more so. Charging parents $50K/year in exchange for only marginal economic benefits down the line? Charging companies thousands of dollars a head to attend conventions where hardly any meaningful business gets done? If you were “making it up from scratch,” you wouldn’t count on any of these business models.
Of course, these are all cases of prestige economies, where individuals and companies are spending their money for reasons that are indirectly economic or entirely uneconomic. For public-image reasons, it mattered to Bonwit Teller, or Bergdorf Goodman, or Tiffany, to be in the pages of the New York Times, and so they paid for it. It matters to plutocrat parents to send their kids to NYU instead of CUNY, so they pay for it. It matters to Microsoft to strut Paul and Ringo across the stage at E3 and so they do it, at god knows what shareholder expense. I won’t deny that these prestige business models “make sense” in that they sometimes work, and can even continue to work for quite a while. Just don’t try to pretend post hoc that the failing ones never made sense.
I don’t know what it is—I don’t have wrinkles or age spots or any of the telltale signs that the years have gone by. Thank God for La Mer and Retin-A and Pilates—and, yes, hot sex, which is good fun and may be no more than a Maginot Line against the inevitable, but that’s not nothing. And my hair, honey-highlighted for years now, has the swank length of mermaid youth—which is how I plan to keep it no matter what proper pageboy is age-appropriate. No question, there are physical facts about my age that are undeniably delightful. I am much sexier now than I used to be—I suddenly have this voluptuous body where I used to just be skinny and lithe. Really oddly, a couple of years ago I got serious breasts, to the point where people think I’ve had them surgically enhanced, which I certainly have not. Still, I think, the honest truth is that I’m just not as pretty as I used to be. Something has abandoned me. I don’t know what that thing is—they’ve been trying to jar it and bottle it for centuries—but it’s left, another merciless lover. My hips are thicker, my skin is thinner, my eyes shine less brightly—will I ever again glow as if all the stars are out at night just to greet me?
Blech. As with the money-woes genre, you writers out there, just don’t do it. Tell your friends all about it but leave the poor reader be.
“When an angry gorilla cries
Who’s gonna be there to dry his eyes?
And when an angry gorilla’s depressed
Who’s gonna heal him with a soft caress?
Ooh ooh ah ah, the tears are rolling down my cheeks
Ooh ooh ah ah, liquid sorrow that my eyes excrete”—Auto-Tune the News #4. Back and in extremely fine form.
A great little essay about how “we need to question our reflexive belief — or unwarranted expectation, if you prefer — that emergent or self-organizing phenomena are somehow always (or, at least, generally) for the best.”
for all that post’s merits, I think he’s dead wrong on this:
I discuss below the four most probable lines of attack that committed ideologues are likely to advance, but to my mind basic political considerations make it very unlikely that mainstream Republican politicians will vocally join the criticism.
No way. I mean, this might be true if “mainstream Republican politicians” (I assume he means the typical GOP senator) had any control of the Republican discourse. But of course they don’t, which is precisely why Republicans are in the bind they’re in.
All the organs of Republican opinion are going to go HARD after Sotomayor. They would have gone after any nominee, but Sotomayor they will go after viciously, because their dislike for her is visceral. All that identity politics stuff in that speech she gave — we will hear about that nonstop. They will try to use this pick to racialize Obama, to make him into a Quota King.
It will be impossible for GOP Senators not to be pulled into that discourse, no matter how politically suicidal (long term, with Latinos) such a decision might be.
A great, long post on the various political and judicial angles. Incredibly, this was posted this morning at 7:34am?! I know she was the frontrunner, but still. Seems like dude would have been pretty sad if the decision had gone another way.