I typically ignore the New York Times‘ “On the Runway” fashion reporting. It’s not that I’m not interested in fashion, both personally and as a cultural phenomenon, but rather that articles about fashion shows and other events in the world of haute couture are so abstruse, they might as well be business section news about “On I.P.O, CDW to Fall Short of Boom-Era Valuation” or “S.E.C. to Vote on Proposal to Overhaul Money Funds.” They might as well be about the N.B.A. draft. Fashion reporters say things like “there was a bilge of chore jackets” and “Wherever Mr. Jones goes, he never loses sight of Vuitton’s sensibility….What Mr. Jones managed to reserve from the distilled American elements was a casual attitude.” While conventional trend pieces strain too hard for relevance, high-fashion trend pieces take place in a rarefied world of tastemakers we’ve never heard of and cultural watersheds that have utterly failed to have any effect on us. But it’s time to get over this aversion. It’s time to learn what an honest-to-God fashion trend looks like, courtesy of Suzy Menkes’s “In London, All Hail the Suit.”
In the past, this blog has perused the New York Times for insights on how to be cool. Today, we turn to a more weighty topic. While coolness is of abiding interest to lifestyle journalists, many of the luminaries profiled in the Times‘ pages transcend mere hipness; they are consummate examples of human perfection, without flaws either inside or out. How can we emulate them? Let’s find out.
Frank Bruni’s accession to the position of New York Times editorialist was announced in May by Andrew Rosenthal (no relation to former chief editor A.M. Rosenthal) (just kidding, he’s his son). The op-ed page editor suggested that Bruni was qualified by virtue of his ability to provide a “sharp, opinionated look at a big event of the last week, from a different or unexpected angle, or a small event that was really important but everyone seems to have missed, or something entirely different,” presumably involving a medium-sized event. Further lending gravitas is that fact that the former restaurant critic’s NYT career has “spanned…part of a papacy.” (This is true of many events, but it does sound impressive: “We’ve been sitting here for part of a papacy, waiting for our appetizers! This service is atrocious!”)
In the six months that followed, the papacy-spanning pundit has been called “a pretty bad columnist,” denounced as inane, unreadable, and an unqualified poseur, vilified for his lack of arithmetic skills and contempt for substantive issues; it’s even been suggested that he doesn’t know he’s writing for the Times at all.
But I believe he does. Oh, he knows it all too well. Whatever his faults of relevance or coherence, Bruni’s work is distinguished for its firm grasp of the New York Times house style — that mélange of dad-joke whimsy, inspiring truisms, fake sociology, celebrity snark, magnificent scorn for the lowbrow, and horse-race election reporting, all united by a pervading tone of NPR blandness and upper-middle-class obliviousness. Frank Bruni’s writing could appear scrawled on a bathroom wall, or crumpled in a bottle that washed up on the beach, or blazoned in the sky in letters of fire, and you’d still be like “is that from the New York Times?” (Although you might mistake it for Gentzlinger.)
So by understanding Bruni’s literary techniques, we’ll understand the essence of the Times editorial page. In no particular order, here they are.
It may sometimes seem like women face an impossible task: Whether it’s motherhood, professional life or just walking down the street, ladies are vulnerable to the conflicting demands and judgmental expectations of society. A woman is liable to be judged on tiny details — of speech, behavior, even the clothes she wears — and must negotiate the conflicting dangers of being labeled too butch or too feminine, too assertive or too timid, too prudish or too sexy.
But if you think that sounds hard, it’s nothing compared to what New York Times writers have to deal with. Just look at the first sentence of Ruth La Ferla’s article “Women Enjoy the Cool Comfort of Summer Dresses“: “Trends come and go, but the dress persists, secure in its status as a metaphor.”
The New York Times has a strange idea of fun. They seem eager to give me, the reader, tips on enjoyable things to do with my free time. But the activities suggested aren’t always so relevant to my interests. I could become an influential industry bigwig, then spend years befriending club promoters and buying $1000 “bottle service” to earn myself a permanent spot on the guest list at a trendy night club. I could go to an exhibition of designer nightstands featuring such artists as Sting. (“I liked the idea to let men conjure up their story for the nightstand. It’s almost role reversal,” says the curator.) Or stop in at a racist country club to sample a delicacy called a “frozen tomato” that consists of “essentially tomato ice cream (except, instead of cream, it’s got cream cheese, cottage cheese and mayonnaise), served in a round scoop on a lettuce leaf with a dollop of more mayonnaise on top).” I could collect Victorian taxidermy, or knit Brobdignagian cozies for public statuary.
Still, for every bizarre activity that they praise, there is another relatively harmless pastime they disparage. Why? Maybe it’s too lowbrow. Maybe it’s because the fans of said pastime are presumed to be illiterate proles who don’t understand the consequences of their actions. Or maybe it’s for the opposite reason — the pastime is question has gotten too popular with the hip, trend-chasing urbanites whom the writers fondly imagine comprise their core readership. There must be something dangerous about it. But what? In a selection of recent articles, we’ll explore how Times scribes find fear in the benign.
In theory, I should enjoy the New York Times Arts section. Its writers aim to cover all of forms of artistic production, from ballet and jazz to pop music and reality TV, from an approachable yet intellectual perspective. I love all those things! (Except jazz.) I like to stay informed about art and literature; these writers like informing me about art and literature. They’re urbane, culturally literate city dwellers; I’m an urbane, culturally literate city dweller. They have a superficial familiarity with Max Weber, Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes; I have a superficial familiarity with Max Weber, Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes.* What could go wrong?
*Actually, I know all about Roland Barthes. I was just saying that to be nice.
Well, we’ve already seen what can go wrong. The writers are a little too excited about how urbane they are, a little too eager to let you know they know about philosophers and literary critics; most of all, a little too anxious to distinguish themselves from an imagined class of fellow Americans who enjoy pop culture in an uncritical, unironic way. Those buffoons! So the Times critics cluck their tongues at the common people’s affection for Snooki. They scold Real Housewives of New Jersey fans for “abusing [free will].” Et cetera.
Too often, their writing is full of signifiers of Intelligence and Important Ideas — philosopher names, abstract concepts, compound-complex sentences that are hard to read — and lacking in the clarity and precision that might serve to convey actual intelligence and ideas. A fine example of this problem is Manohla Dargis. She seems to mean well, and is often praised as a smart broad with high standards. But every time I read one of her reviews I end up being like “what the hell is she talking about, this is unintelligible, just tell me what the movie is about.”
“‘Bridesmaids,’ an unexpectedly funny new comedy about women in love, if not of the Sapphic variety…”
Why would it be “of the sapphic variety? The phrase “women in love” doesn’t convey “…with each other” to me. Maybe Dargis is trying to allude to the famous novel Women in Love, but mistakenly believes it’s about lesbians? Also, what’s with the euphemism? You sound like Playboy’s Party Jokes circa 1972. “A butch young lady of the sapphic variety entered a men’s haberdashery shop and told the limp-wristed assistant, “I’m looking for something sturdy in a brown tweed trouser.’ The fey young man replied, ‘aren’t we all!'” It’s 2011! Just use normal words!
“…goes where no typical chick flick does: the gutter.”
This is a long sentence, although by no means the longest we’ll encounter. Is it even true that “typical chick flicks” don’t have toilet humor? It seems like these days, every rom-com has a scene where, like, a guy accidentally sits on a huge black dildo… while he’s trying to pull it out, a dog vomits on his crotch… he accidentally presses a button on his cell phone that calls his mother-in-law… she hears the noises, thinks the guy’s wife in in labor, and drives right over… anyway, I guess I wouldn’t know. I’m not a huge connoisseur of fart jokes like Manohla Dargis is. Zing!
“Well, more like the city street that Lillian, a soon-to-be wife played by a wonderful, warm Maya Rudolph, dashes into…”
So it doesn’t descend into the gutter, but into a city street, shots of which appear in almost every movie? You just ruined your own disingenuous rhetorical flourish! Seriously, is this not the clunkiest sentence? I’d rewrite it as “More like a city street. Lillian, a soon-to-be wife, dashes out of an upscale New York salon…” No, that’s clunky too. “The city street onto which Lillian (a warm, wonderful Maya Rudolph) dashes, its ineluctable gutters bespeaking an earthy, Rabelasian symbolism…” Actually, I don’t care. This movie contains a scene where a woman in a wedding gown does something zany. No tortured syntax required.
“…dressed in the kind of foamy white gown that royal weddings and the bridal industrial complex are made of.”
Dargis is attempting satire, but it isn’t really working for me. Saying these things are “made of” wedding dresses is like saying America’s obesity crisis is made of cheeseburgers, or that unprotected sex is made of herpes. Better to have written something like “the kind of foamy white gown that make or break royal weddings (and that keep the bridal industrial complex going strong).” Actually, still annoying. The problem is the phrase “bridal industrial complex.” It’s one of those expressions where the first time someone hears it, they think it sounds so clever that they just have to work it into a conversation right away. Congratulations, you noticed that weddings are big business. How incisive. This is a movie review and a Marxist critique of the patriarchy, in one!
“Suddenly realizing in a salon that she’s been hit with food poisoning, she flees like a runaway bride,except that it isn’t a man who’s making her, uh, run…”
Because a person using terrestrial motion to proceed rapidly on foot is said to be “running,” while a person with digestive difficulties is said to have “the runs.” Funny! How old are you, twelve?
“…but the giddy, liberating humor of the writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo.”
How bold: a movie character doing what it says to do in the script. Unless this is one of those self-referential movies where the writer starts appearing as a character in her own work and arguing with the protagonist about what’s going to happen to them and stuff? So you’re saying this film crosses diagetic levels to self-reflexively meditate on its own narrativity, and there’s poop jokes? We’re living in a golden age of cinema.
“That may sound disgusting, perfect for the reigning naughty boys of American screens…”
I get what she’s saying here, but the way she says it’s “perfect for” them, it sounds like she’s planning to give Maya Rudolph’s intestinal distress to Judd Apatow for Rosh Hashanah.
“…and it is, a little.”
Goddammit! If you use a cliché phrase like “this may sound X,” you’re supposed to explain that it is, in fact, not X. That’s the whole point of the phrase. You’re not supposed to limply conclude that the thing is exactly what I may have thought it was. Although, I wish Ross Douthat would start using that strategy. “Beltway insiders think Mike Huckabee is too big a stupid, homophobic, racist, Cracker Barrel-y Jesus freak to be president. They’re right.” Now that’s an editorial I could take seriously!
“Given how most wedding pictures enforce the hoariest clichés about the sexes, the go-for-broke outlandishness of Lillian’s pratfall — nicely handled by the director Paul Feig, holding the shot as she sits in a deflated puff of white — is welcome.” I still don’t know what’s “outlandish” or “nicely handled” about the scene… maybe it would help if you quoted a line of dialogue or described some of the shots, instead of writing down familiar phrases with some of the words changed around?
“In most wedding movies an actress may have the starring part (though not always)…” “Most” and “may” already imply “not always.” What’s with the parentheses?
“…but it’s only because her character’s function is to land a man rather than to be funny. Too many studio bosses seem to think that a woman’s place is in a Vera Wang.”
Goddamn, replacing words in familiar phrases with other words is really Manohla Dargis’s downfall. Altered clichés are to her what meaningless non sequiturs are to Randy Cohen, or outdated pop culture references are to Philip Galanes.
“There is a big dress here, of course…” Why are we still talking about the dress? Get to the bridesmaids!
“…an aggressively foolish Gordian knot of silk and wit that slyly speaks to how women need (and want) to be packaged as brides, dolled up in satin and all but lost in a cloud of tulle and the appreciative din of family and friends.” The dress is shaped like a knot? It “slyly speaks”? It’s made up of “silk and wit”? Great description… very vivid… I can see it in my mind’s eye. All this yoking together of a specific thing and an abstract thing in one phrase (e.g. a “cloud of tulle” and an “appreciative din”) is very headache-inducing. It’s like a more convoluted version of “colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”
“The movie doesn’t push hard in that direction — more than anything, Ms. Wiig and Ms. Mumolo want to make you giggle and snort — but they get at the layers of insanity in weddings as well as the joys. They ask the question facing every modern woman who jumps at the chance to enact the latter-day equivalent of being passed from man to man, father to husband, if without a bushel of dowry corn and 12 goats: How do you survive getting down the aisle?” If a woman has her own job and apartment, how is her wedding the “equivalent” of being passed from man to man? A symbol, maybe, but not an equivalent… also, where did the goats and corn come from? Are we talking about, like, primitive tribes now? Does Manohla Dargis think being given away by your dad is an African thing?
“With a little, or rather a lot, of help from your friends, or so say the filmmakers, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till misunderstanding, jealousy, other people or just life us do part.” I’m surmising that this is the part of the review where Dargis looked at her notes and realized she hadn’t written down any dialogue, plot points or scenes besides the food poisoning one. Her notes from the screening all said things like “woman writers <—– FEMINISM?????” and “doodoo jokes: perfect for naughty boys of Hollywood?!”, and she realized the only way to reach her word count was to start writing down familiar phrases with some of the words replaced. “Till death do us part’ isn’t always true! The Beatles didn’t consider that some people need a lot of help from their friends (because they’re neurotic)! Life’s a beach, and the protagonist of this film just stepped on a discarded heroin needle!” Manohla Dargis, you can use that line if you want. I know it’s gold.
“To that intimate end…” Oh, to that end.
“…Lillian, after announcing her engagement, asks Annie (Ms. Wiig) to be her maid of honor.” Here Dargis describes the plot. John Hamm is seen “playfully riffing on his persona as the thinking woman’s brute,” and “figures into her life with humor and almost too-true pathos,” whatever that means.
“A lanky-limbed blonde who evokes Meg Ryan stretched along Olive Oyl lines, Ms. Wiig keeps her features jumping and sometimes bunching.” I can’t even picture Meg Ryan “stretched” to look like Olive Oyl if I try, let alone spontaneously think about it when I look at at Kristin Wiig. She looks pretty normal to me. However, I hope the filmmakers use “Ms. Wiig keeps her features jumping and sometimes bunching!” as the quote on the movie poster. It’s the must-see face-bunching comedy of the year!
“She’s a funny, pretty woman, but she’s also a comedian, and she’s wonderfully confident about playing not nice.” Funny, but also a comedian? Why doesn’t the New York Times’s chief film critic know what “but” means?
“It would be easy to oversell ‘Bridesmaids,’ though probably easier if also foolish to do the reverse.” In other words, you could make the movie sound better than it is… but you could also make it sound worse than it is. That sentence has a wonderfully Brooksian ring to it. It would be easy to give an inaccurate impression of something if you described it inaccurately. Well, don’t do that! How about you just tell me how good it is? I must warn you, I usually judge a film’s quality based on how successful the actors are at keeping their features jumping and bunching.
“It isn’t a radical movie (even if Ms. McCarthy’s character comes close)…”
A character in the movie comes close to being, herself, a radical movie? I told you this was some metareferential shit. “Tom Stoppard in the house!”
“It’s formally unadventurous; and there isn’t much to look at beyond all these female faces. Yet these are great faces”
“LOOK AT… ALL THESE… GREAT FACES!” — The New York Times. “Hey, wanna go see Bridesmaids? I heard it has great faces, and they know just when to bunch!”
By the way, why does every Times review of a mainstream comedy have to include a token remark about its lack of visual innovativeness? Hall Pass is “stubbornly visually unevolved,” Please Give is “visually unmemorable,” Get Smart is visually painless, Your Highness is not “interested in doing much visually,” I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is “about as visually sophisticated as a parking-garage surveillance video.” Comedies featuring bongs and Saturday Night Live cast members aren’t really aiming to forge a new visual aesthetic and change the way you view the world forever, so you can stop deducting points for that. Actually, all those reviews are by Manohla Dargis. She also always talks about Judd Apatow, even in reviews of movies that don’t involve him. Apparently he “has carved out a niche and inspired something of a subgenre with movies about funny, smutty but sincere man-boys puzzling their way through adult heterosexual relations,” and furthermore is “the king of… sublimated man-on-man affairs.” The woman has a real love-hate relationship with the naughty boy of Hollywood comedy. The only way to make her happy would be for Judd Apatow to make a visually stunning, Kurosawa-esque epic that takes place at a lesbian separatist commune. COMING THIS AUGUST FROM PARAMOUNT PICTURES: I Love You, Bitch. Growing up. Growing out of hegemonic gender essentialism. Growing soybeans.
“Contra Christopher Hitchens and his 2007 assertion in Vanity Fair that women are not funny, they offer irrefutable proof that along with producing and starring in a hit TV series (thank you, Tina Fey), women can go aggressive laugh to aggressive-and-absurd laugh with men.” I dunno, it seems like if Christopher Hitchens wanted to believe women could be funny, he could have noted the existence of Jane Austen, Katherine Hepburn, or Joan Rivers (among many others [hey, I’m using parentheses!]) decades ago. I don’t think he’s even trying to be reasonable. If this review prompts Christopher Hitchens to go see Bridesmaids and admit he was irrefutably wrong, I’ll eat my hat. While he’s at it, maybe he’ll admit he he’s a supercilious, tumor-ridden old warmonger who gets off on feeling superior to people. Don’t hold your breath!
“All they need, beyond talent and timing, a decent director and better lines, is a chance.” Well, if they don’t have any talent, then they’re not in a position to “prove” women can be funny… and if they don’t get good directors or lines, they’re not really being given “a chance”… couldn’t you have just written “all they need is a chance”? Oh fuck it, this is almost over.
“It helps if the director has a clue, and if everyone involved sees women not just as bosoms with legs, but as bosoms with legs and brains.” So in Manohla Dargis’s utopia of the future, people still won’t notice that women have heads? In life as in her work, her standards really are too low.
“About 2,310 results for ‘I respect David Brooks'”
“About 7,360 results for ‘David Brooks is an idiot'”
David Brooks is an idiot. His writing is terrible, and his “ideas” (insofar as he has any) are horrible. But analyzing the badness of David Brooks is a tricky proposition. There are three reasons why. First, because it’s been done before. Unlike such previous targets of my blog as Pamela Paul, Neil Ganzlinger and Philip Galanes whose writings are simply ignored by most readers with normal-range cognitive abilities, Brooks is often actively denounced by serious thinkers. His work, while no more thoughtful, logical or well-informed than that of the average Styles-section celebrity profile hack, nonetheless draws many times more commentary and debate simply because it appears in the Opinion section. However copious his lies, evasions and self-serving half-truths, political bloggers debunk them as soon as they appear.
Despite his cushy spot on the back page of the “A” section, David Brooks isn’t just interested in slamming Obama’s foreign policy and defending the Bush tax cuts. Brooks is just as eager to torment his readers with vague, knee-jerk reactions to movies, technology, sexuality, fashion trends, and philosophy. Indeed, that’s the second reason why the Brooks oeuvre is so hard to take. It encapsulates everything that’s bad about bad NYT writing: Pop-culture references that don’t make sense, high-culture references deployed to no purpose, sexism disguised as high-mindedness, fear of sex, ambivalent fascination with technology, unthinking science worship, and ignorance of history, all encased in a veneer of moderation and likeableness
But some people must like his forays into film review and cultural satire. And indeed, some people do — just look at his Facebook page or the sales figures for his dumbass books. The veneer of likeableness is working. In fact, that’s the third reason that Brooks is so difficult to write about. The reasons why he’s horrible are indistinguishable from the reasons why he’s admired and praised. He’s the go-to conservative for liberals who want to feel open-minded, the guy they can “respect” for his apparent intelligence and moderation.
What he offers are the same talking points most other conservatives spout (cutting taxes for the wealthy, cutting social programs for the poor, old-fashioned family values because the new ones make you feel kinda weird). But he wants you to think he came to these conclusions all by himself, through pure logic. So: Every column considers the liberal point of view, then reluctantly concludes that it’s wrong (and laughably soft-headed) yet again. Every column contains watered-down criticisms of the Republican party, thus showing that he’s willing to criticize the Republicans, even though they’re on the right side of every major issue. Every column contains allusions to important-sounding authors and philosophical concepts, which grant an air of learning to his Limbaugh-isms and demonstrates that anyone who disagrees with him just doesn’t understand federalism/the Enlightenment/cognitive science/whatever. Most importantly, Brooks doesn’t come right out and say anything that would grate upon the ear of the affluent Beltway insiders who read Brooks’ column and attend Brooks’s cocktail parties. So his points are garbled, vague, and written in a kind of pundit-ese that prevents Brooks from offending subscribers and from making a coherent point alike.
The Times, the Atlantic, and (alas) even the New Yorker may be fooled by this sort of thing, but I’m not. I can see through him. Below, I’ll go through a recent Brooks piece and translate it into regular human words.
“The Missing Fifth” concerns a crisis affecting America’s job market and causing untold suffering to thousands — of business owners! They can’t find anyone to work at their companies, because the government keeps giving everyone free money to stay home in bed. That’s the basic idea of this piece, but let’s take a look at the details.
“In 1910, Henry Van Dyke wrote a book called ‘The Spirit of America,’ which opened with this sentence: ‘The Spirit of America is best known in Europe by one of its qualities — energy.'” Who’s Henry Van Dyke? Is he an important figure in intellectual history, and on what did he base his conclusions? Why should we listen to NO TIME FOR THAT NOW! David Brooks has read a book, it’s from the past and written by a person who, based on his name, is a white dude. It’s probably a classic of the Western canon. You probably can’t even read! While David Brooks was reading a book, you were out getting jailhouse tattoos, listening to Insane Clown Posse, drinking Four Loko, huffing ether from a jar, pissing on the lawn, shooting at a lawnmower with an assault rifle, and recklessly conflating “democracy” with “republicanism” in your understanding of America’s founding institutions. David Brooks knows that about you. That’s the sort of person you are, if you disagree with him.
Okay, I just looked up The Spirit of America. The quote Brooks cites doesn’t appear until page 113, the opening of Chapter 4. Maybe when Brooks said the book “opens” with that sentence, he meant that one of the middle parts of the book opens with that sentence. I know when I read a book, I like to skip right to Chapter 4, where the meat is. The first three chapters are usually just filler anyway. (He totally didn’t read the book.)
“This has always been true.” Your method of proving something has always been true is to just tell us it “has always been true”? You shouldn’t be writing for the New York Times, you should be getting a C Minus on your first freshman English paper. Anyway, the argument here is: One writer says Americans are energetic; because that was considered true one hundred years ago, its has always been true; because it was considered true, it must be true; because it’s true, it’s the right way for things to be. That seems like an awfully tenuous intellectual edifice to build, based on one quote from a book nobody’s ever read.
“Americans have always been known for their manic dynamism.” We have? I thought we had always been known for our passionate, sensual natures, love of wine, high fashion and existentialism, and penchant for debating philosophy. No wait, that’s the French. Hang on a second… haven’t we always been known known for our huge wigs, flamboyant attire, transgressive, gender-bending personae, and double-entendre-laden public performances? No, that’s drag queens. Well, fuck! I wish you got to pick your country’s ultimate unchanging essence, instead of just being stuck with one. “Manic dynamism” doesn’t even sound cute. We sound like a bunch of methheads at a Marketing Strategy Optimization seminar.
“Energy has always been the country’s saving feature. ” Fuck, again. I though our saving features were democracy and the Bill of Rights and shit. Now I find out it’s people’s willingness to stand up, walk around, and perform actions — any actions at all? I’m moving to Jamaica.
“Thus, Americans should be especially alert to signs that the country is becoming less vital and industrious.” Even if you accept the freakishly deformed syllogism with which Brooks opened, that doesn’t make any sense. If we started out more vital and industrious, shouldn’t we need to be less alert to declining levels of vitality? We could lose, like, 78 percent of our industriousness, and we’d still be better off than Greece or Italy. They’re the ones who should be “especially alert”! Ba-zang!
“In 1954, about 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today that number is around 80 percent. One-fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up and going to work.” They went from “manic dynamism” to not even getting up? They sound bipolar. Maybe in they’re just in a depressive phase right now. The good news is, they’re going to feel great when they swing back the other way in 55 years. All staying up until 4 in the morning, scrubbing their apartment with a toothbrush, going on $5000 Ebay shopping sprees, drunk-texting their resume to all their LinkedIn contacts, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure just for the hell of it. Forget about a “missing fifth,” it’s going to be more like a missing gallon of vodka! The U.S. economy is going to be off the chain!
But Brooks isn’t concerned with these men’s mental health problems. He’s also not concerned with other reasons for not having a job, such as being a full-time dad or not being able to find a job. No, he’s got his eye on a different reason for slacking off: disabilities. “The number of Americans on the permanent disability rolls, meanwhile, has steadily increased. Ten years ago, 5 million Americans collected a federal disability benefit. Now 8.2 million do. That costs taxpayers $115 billion a year, or about $1,500 per household.”
Brooks The American taxpayer is being forced to give his money away to a bunch of layabouts whose legs, arms or spines aren’t appropriatedly dynamic.
“Part of the problem has to do with human capital. More American men lack the emotional and professional skills they would need to contribute.” “Emotional skills?” Are we hiring them to talk about their feelings? If we were hiring men based on their emotional skills, a hundred percent of them would be unemployed — amirite, ladies?! JUST KIDDING.
“There are probably more idle men now than at any time since the Great Depression, and this time the problem is mostly structural, not cyclical.” “Structural, not cyclical” means the jobs they used to do welding cars or building railroads or whatever have disappeared. The “cycle” (recession) isn’t to blame, so everyone should shut up about fruity liberal stuff like stimulating the economy and creating jobs. It sounds counterintuitive if you say it like that, though. That’s why Brooks has fancied it up with the phrase “structural, not cyclical,” which sounds like a classical epigram or something. It’s like the “If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit” of trickle-down economics.
“Sectors like government, health care and leisure have been growing, generating jobs for college grads. Sectors like manufacturing, agriculture and energy have… not been generating more jobs.” Hey wait a minute, why are we talking about job skills and college degrees, when this article started out pinning the blame on disabled people? I don’t think David Brooks knows what a disability is. David Brooks thinks “disabled” means the head businessman of big company calls you up and says “Hello, sir, I’d like to offer you a prestigious job,” and you’re like “I’m sorry, I’m ‘not able’ to come in to work, because I’m too tired to get out of bed, plus I don’t have a college degree!” And that’s how you get on disability! No wonder he’s sick of giving them money!
“These men will find it hard to attract spouses.” Men only “attract spouses” by being rich and powerful. David Brooks must have learned that by reading his half-assed book that he based on a bunch of half-assed evo-psych articles. More on that in my next post. Anyway, I think if these guys are really having difficulty attracting “spouses,” they should be like “baby, my disability may be costing your household $1500 a year, but I’ve got manic dynamism in my pants! My tool is at its prime working age! Wanna help me find my missing fifteen inches? We’re all vital and industrious when you turn out the lights!”
“It can’t be addressed through the sort of short-term Keynesian stimulus some on the left are still fantasizing about. It can’t be solved by simply reducing the size of government, as some on the right imagine.” This sentence shows that Brooks is fair and balanced, because he says one bad thing about the Republicans for every bad thing he says about the Democrats. But he always uses a worse verb or adjective for the Democrats. Like, they’re always “navel-gazing” or “hand-wringing” or being “pedantic” or “elitist” or, in this case, “fantasizing.” Yeah, I really wish the left would stop “fantasizing” about stimulating the economy, what a bunch of escapists. Why can’t they see that this job shortage isn’t cyclical, like a menstrual cycle? The economy is nothing like a menstrual cycle! It’s “systematic,” like a manly pair of testicles! Or something.
More about “reinvigorating the missing fifth.” “If this were a smart country, we’d be having a debate about how to shift money from programs that provide comfort and toward programs that spark reinvigoration.” This means David Brooks wants to take away people’s unemployment and disability benefits, and give them a case of Five-Hour Energy. Problem solved!
“Discretionary spending, which might be used to instigate dynamism, is declining.” It might be used to instigate dynamism?!?! Here I’ve been pissing away all my discretionary income on exacerbating ebullience. Of course, the liberals probably want to spend it on optimizing amelioration, those hippies.
“Health care spending, which mostly provides comfort to those beyond working years, is expanding.” This is the second time he’s mentioned “comfort.” I think “comfort” means food, shelter and medical care. Fuckin’ disabled people, unemployed people and (apparently now) retirees! Always wanting to be coddled with the basic necessities of human survival! “Ya know, when I get down in the dumps, the one thing that cheers me up is putting on my sweats, sitting down in front of House reruns, maintaining sufficient caloric intake to sustain life, and not going blind from macular degeneration!”
“Democrats have gone into demagogic overdrive calling premium support ideas “privatization” or “the end of Medicare.” “Demagogic” means means it’s not fair that one of the Democrats’ policies is popular, and they’re talking about it. Also, they didn’t make up obfuscatory new jargon to describe it. For instance, “premium support ideas” isn’t demagogic, because no one could figure out what it means in a million years. “Overdrive” means bitching about something one tenth as much as Republican politicians bitch about abortion, gay people, or the Ten Commandments. Anyway, when I think of “demagogic overdrive,” I think of like, ancient Athens, and politicians goading people into starting wars with Sparta and putting people to death and stuff. “Privatization” might be the most abstract concept about which the masses have ever been whipped into a frenzy.
Brooks goes on about “reinvigorating the missing fifth.” He asks, “should we be using our resources in the manner of a nation in decline or one still committed to stoking the energy of its people and continuing its rise?” That means if we give money to losers, we’res loser too. But if we spend money on nebulous concepts,
our great nation David Brooks’s penis will rise, because abstraction gives him a boner.
Let’s be honest: I don’t care what Brooks proposes to do about this vaguely-defined, ever-shifting network of problems. No one does. The function of a Brooks editorial is to sound erudite and intellectually valid, without alarming anyone the way the fruits of actual erudition might do. It’s a branding exercise. Its purpose is to sell the idea of Brooks as a balanced, moderate conservative. Like most branding efforts, it is vapid. Nothing in a Brooks column will ever be really new, but nothing will ever be down-to-earth and commonsensical, either. Brooks may be employed — indeed, overemployed, with jobs at the Times, Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and more — but his lack of interest in real people and reliance on high-flown abstractions means that he’s the one who lacks dynamism, energy and vitality.
In part II of my Brooks series, the top 10 worst David Brooks columns! And coming up soon, why do Manohla Dargis’s sentences read like they were badly translated from Old Norse?