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.
This trend piece comes to us from Teddy Wayne, bestselling novelist and author of one million mildly to somewhat amusing one-sentence articles for McSweeney’s. (For those not familiar with McSweeney’s, it is an online humor site for people who hate dick jokes and love those Yelp reviews that are in the form of an open letter to an abstract entity, but wish they were a little edgier.) But he’s not just a disarmingly quirky observer of modern mores; he’s also a concerned and judgmental observer of modern mores. For instance, one day Wayne was on Amtrak, and overheard four debutantes conversing. He found their discussion to be humorous, so he began typing what they said and posting it on Facebook for his friends to laugh at. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s a really cool story. It’s a shame that only Teddy Wayne’s Facebook friends got to see those posts, when they should have been made available for everyone to read. Teddy Wayne is too modest, making fun of teenage girls on Facebook and then trying to get out of taking credit for it.”
With summer winding down, time is running out to plan your vacation. The New York Times travel section can help. Or it could, if you ever looked at it. You might never have perused the pages of this section, even if you’ve been a subscriber for years. With its hundreds of thousands of words a day, even dedicated readers don’t have time to explore the obscurer corners of the publication. And after all, this is a newspaper that can turn shopping for a stool into an excruciating exercise in status-symbol posturing. One might naturally be reluctant to find out just how snobbish they can get when the subject is Thai yoga retreats or fine dining in Paris.
The Travel section does offer some helpful, informative pieces, written from a neutral perspective and designed to help the typical traveler find her way. But this format is difficult for a jaded journalist to pull off, lacking as it does in personality or narrative interest. And the periodical format’s hunger for novelty makes it inevitable that some scribes would package their experiences as news. Furthermore, world-weary professional travellers can sometimes lose touch with the mindset of overworked provincials. Thus the matter-of-fact articles are often overwhelmed by those that try to juice up their subject with trend-piece glamour, or drag it down with angsty moaning and luxury-problem griping. So, in this, the first in a (very occasional) series on the lesser-read sections of the Times, we’ll explore the most common Travel pitfalls to watch out for.
Here’s a little Cosmo-style quiz. Instead of testing your Penis Perspicacity, you’re finding out whether you have what it takes to live the New York Times Style section lifestyle! Just think about the question, formulate your answer, then read on to find your score.
You look in the mirror, and notice your skin isn’t looking very radiant. You want to look younger, eliminate wrinkles and clogged pores, and have softer, more supple skin than ever. What do you do?
The great thinkers of humanity’s past have devised many ethical systems, all purporting to tell conscientious citizens how to do the right thing. From Islamic law and the Ten Commandments to the Golden Rule and the Yamas and Niyamas of yogic philosophy — from Utilitarianism to liberal humanism to the Categorical Imperative and even Objectivism — these codes seek to answer our deepest questions. Is our greatest responsibility to ourselves, or others? Individuals, or the community? What about animals, and the environment? Are corporations people? Is it permissible to bring your own candy into the movie theater? Is straying from the path of virtue the same as pigging out on pizza and fries?
Yes, the world’s tradition of moral reasoning is indeed diverse. Put it all in a blender with some whimsical self-deprecation, add water, and you’ve got the New York Times Ethicist column. Continue reading “Eggs, Bugs and Joseph Conrad: An Anti-Ethicist Manifesto”
Picture an educated, culturally literate member of the upper middle class. Someone who’s in touch with art, cuisine, music, literature. This person has a professional job and lives in an urban center. Overall, her or his lot in life is a fortunate one. But this person isn’t getting any younger. The carefree undergraduate days of doing drugs and staying up until the dawn are over — five, ten, maybe even twenty-five years in the past. This person could slide gracefully into obsolescence and let the younger generation have their outlandish trends, but that option isn’t too appealing. After all, in Today’s Globally Connected World of Social Media, each vicissitude of taste is on display, vulnerable to critique by people who are skinnier and go to more parties. Any evidence of lameness will be immediately noted and remembered forever. This person feels painfully exposed! In these circumstances, keeping up to date feels essential — even as it becomes more unattainable with each Pitchfork Music Festival that goes by.
Does this sound familiar? Yes, New York Times reader, it’s a description of you! Or so the typical New York Times culture writer appears to believe. Maybe it isn’t. But it’s definitely a description of the typical New York Times culture writer. And these authors’ thoughts on the issues of relevance, timeliness and hipness are instructive. Because they are offered up to the gaze of millions of readers, their struggles for cool are those of the average social media user, writ large. In the case of these beleaguered scribes (though hopefully not the rest of us), the result is a hideous vicious cycle of self-conscious navel-gazing, ironic quipping, defensive posturing, and counterintuitive trend-prognisticating designed to make the writer feel ahead of the curve.
Hence all the articles about “New Speakeasy in Bushwick” and “Meditation is the New Botox” and whatnot. This discourse’s ostensible purpose is to help us understand the trending topics of today, so we can feel like the stylish young things we once were. But cultural phenomena are ephemeral, appearing and disappearing like the wind. And no one really cares about a new line of cruelty-free fountain pen ink or artisanal baking soda, anyway. Paying attention to the pieces’ actual subject matter does us no good. If we wish to grasp the essence of New York Timesian cool, we must get beyond the minutia to the “deep structure” that underlies it.
Christmas is almost here! If you haven’t finished shopping for gifts, don’t panic. The New York Times is here to help. They’ve spent the whole year finding the best trends, the most must-have products, the hottest artisans and designers. I’ve searched their archives and selected the greatest gift ideas of 2011. Just check out this list, figure out what categorie(s) of recipient your loved one(s) is/are, and have their dream gift shipped overnight! What could be easier?
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.