The Sentences of Stanley Fish

Stanley Fish is a professor of humanities and law.  He’s hella old, but instead of retiring to Florida, he did the next best thing:  Got a job writing editorials for the New York Times.  Oh, and took an academic job in Florida.  Before that, he taught at UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Duke and University of Illinois, Chicago.  During his protracted journeyings around this great nation, he’s built an intellectual reputation for advancing anti-foundationalism and extreme relativism.  Not the fake kind of relativism, where it just means you like gay people and disagree with Glenn Beck, but the real kind, where you go around like a dickhead telling everyone that truth doesn’t exist and human nature is just a bunch of historically contingent cultural norms.

Looking at his Wikipedia page, I find that critiques of his philosophical stance are legion.   For instance, Judith Shulevitz reports Fish “rejects wholesale the concepts of ‘fairness, impartiality, reasonableness,'” Terry Eagleton “excoriates Fish’s ‘discreditable epistemology’ as ‘sinister,'” and Martha Nussbaum says he “‘relies on the regulative principle of non-contradiction in order to adjudicate between competing principles,’ thereby relying on normative standards of argumentation even as he argues against them.”  I’m glad someone finally said something!  That’s basically what I was going to point out myself, but I didn’t want to be the first to one bring it up.

Knowing that Fish’s discreditable epistemology and regulative principle of non-contradiction have been duly addressed, we can turn with an easy conscience to this blog’s rightful concern: His writing for the Times.  Specifically, his sentences.  Fish is a master of sentences, having authored the recent volume How to Write a Sentence. So it’s fitting that we look to his methods for guidance and instruction.  What kind of sentences can a world-famous Milton scholar,  teacher to generations of young minds, and distinguished commentator for the Paper of Record turn out?

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Crazy Love II

Love has always proved a difficult subject for NYT writers to tackle.  Having existed for over 50,000 years, long before the beginning of recorded human history, it cannot be convincingly described as a “trend.”  It could even be said defy trends, outlasting all epochs, regimes, reigns, administrations, and empires.  It’s a human universal!  That is all very inspiring, but poses difficulties for the Styles scribes, who have a paradigm that — while perfectly serviceable when men’s eyebrow grooming appointments go up 8 percent between 2009 and 2010, or some such — lacks explanatory power when dealing with with time frames in the tens of thousands of years.

Are trend pieces the only option?  No.  If you want to explain the vagaries of affection to Styles readers, you could turn to another perennial format, the one that I call “article about a press release.”  Specifically, an article about a press release about a scientific study, a study that is about something of interest to Styles readers.  Creating an AAAPR(AASS) is easy, because all you have to do is read the one-age press release, paraphrase what it says, and add in some Jersey Shore references.  You don’t have to weigh conflicting opinions and reach an independent conclusion, or read a bunch of relevant scientific work in the field, or even read the one scientific work that the article is about.  Just summarize the press release, and bam, you’re a Science Reporter, using all kinds of cool words like “hypothesize” and “control group.”  Science is great!

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Wrong: A Typology

Some of the problems with the New York Times are nebulous and diffuse.  The writers’ tone can seem kind of smug and suck-uppy.  They write about rich people too much.   They care way too much about iPhones and hipsters and artisanal axes and stuff.  Yet none of these things are wrong, exactly.  It’s not incorrect to write that a man in TriBeCa is crafting beautiful handmade “urban axes,” as indeed he is.  Yet some claims and ideas in the Times aren’t just annoying; they’re concretely, satisfyingly wrong.  That is what we’ll be looking at today.  How many kinds of wrongness are there in Times articles, and what form do they take?

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Crazy Love

Michael Leviton is a New York musician and author who has a children’s book forthcoming from Hyperion next year.  The video above gives you an idea of his worldview:  It features accordion and glockenspiel, warbly soprano vocals,  and lyrics about how all the normal beautiful people are having fun in the summertime but the speaker is lonely and disillusioned because he’s so quirky, unique and sensitive.  The video contributes to the atmosphere, spinning a nostalgic yarn about a 1940’s sailor who falls in love with an emaciated mermaid and is lured by her coquetry to a watery grave.  I posted it on my Facebook page, and one music fan was moved to comment on the song’s “incoherent lyrics, extremely amateurish singing, and worst of all, an acoustic guitar (technically ukulele) with which absolutely nothing interesting is done,” observing that “Benjamin Franklin invented electricity for a reason.”  I think it sounds like an imitation of parody of a Stephen Merritt/Belle and Sebastien cover band.  You might like it, though!

Why am I telling you about Michael Leviton?  Because he is the author of the latest “Modern Love,” and the subject of this post.  But before looking at his writing, let me shift gears for a moment.  Why do people write embarrassing stuff about themselves?  Everyone has done dumb stuff they feel bad about, but why publish it for all the world?  It’s hard to say.  Yet autobiography, memoir and standup comedy would all be impossible without the speaker’s penitential urge to be bracingly honest.  No one wants to read a story about how you went to Stanford, didn’t do drugs, got a job at a financial firm, bought a Prius, and married someone just as upwardly mobile as you.  Or maybe they do, if you’re in the New York Times wedding pages, but that doesn’t make it interesting.  So it’s lucky we have some writers who feel compelled to tell the ugly truth.

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Unethical, Unsustainable, Untolerable

Some time has passed since my last post, and now we must face a poignant milestone together:  Randy Cohen’s last column.  In this goodbye essay, he gives us a window into his world, summing up a decade’s worth of his adventures reading people’s letters and trying to have thoughts about them.

Over the years, Cohen has been fortunate enough to have thousands of readers request his opinion, then slaver over how great he is.  So naturally, he begins by discussing his hate mail.  He got a lot of angry letters, but it’s all good:  “Ethics is a subject about which honorable people may differ. I was less sanguine about readers who disparaged not my argument but my character or my shoes or my nose, attacks that generally concluded, ‘You should be ashamed.’ I blame the anonymity of e-mail. And underprescribed medication.”  I’m not sure you’d have to be off your meds to find Randy Cohen’s face to be objectionable; have you seen the guy?  It’s a little tactless to blame him for it, though.  If anyone should be ashamed of how Randy Cohen’s face turned out, it’s God!  They should take it up with him!

Randy Cohen
Randy Cohen.

But I’m not here to make puerile digs about people’s looks.  Especially when Cohen himself is striving so hard to be fair.  “From time to time, readers persuaded me that I was — what’s that ugly word? — wrong. Then I would revisit a column and recant my folly. I first did so when readers powerfully asserted that yes, you could honorably take your own food to the movies, despite a theater’s prohibition.”  Why would you even think they couldn’t?   “Ye shall not eat of the Raisinets that are in your purse, nor shall ye touch them, lest ye die” is not a serious moral edict.  I don’t recall forbidden Jujyfruits being mentioned in the Bible — or in the Q’ran, the Code of Hammurabi, the Dialogues of Plato, Thomas Aquinas’s Commentaries on Aristotle, the Tractatus Logico-Philisophicus, Atlas Shrugged, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, or anywhere else ethical doctrines are to be found.  So what’s the deal?

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Help Wanted

When I started writing this blog back in January, I thought I had world enough and time to heap obloquy and opprobrium on any writer at my leisure.  It would be years, I imagined, before my words of scorn had any effect on the New York Times mediascape, if they ever did.  Now I found out how wrong I was.  The new editor of the Magazine, Hugo Lindgren, is making a bunch of changes and cutting three of its most hateable features: Virginia Heffernan’s “The Medium,” Randy Cohen’s “The Ethicist,” and Deborah Solomon’s “Questions For.”   Truly, this Hugo Lindgren is doing God’s work.  But I can’t help feeling sad.  “Time is a violent torrent; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by, and another takes its place, before this too will be swept away” (Marcus Aurelius). Man’s days are as grass, our little life is rounded with a sleep, and also you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.

I never meant for this to happen — I just wanted these authors to take more pride in their work.    Nonetheless, it is their fate to be crushed to earth and languish in humiliating obscurity, taking jobs as public radio personalities and writing bestselling philosophical treatises about iPhones.   But if I can’t stop them from leaving, I can help them in other ways.  In fact, I intend to help everyone.  I do so below, by identifying these three writers’ main strengths and weaknesses, then suggesting other employment for which they might be more suited, and who should get their jobs.

Heffernan’s latest piece is called “Online Medical Advice Can Be a Prescription for Fear.”  It’s in the typical “article about a website” format, and explains why MayoClinic.com is a better source of medical information than WebMD.  You can probably guess some of the reasons yourself — for example, the Mayo Clinic is a famous medical clinic — but in case you cannot, she spends 800 words telling you.

“Because of the way WebMD frames health information commercially, using the meretricious voice of a pharmaceutical rep, I now recommend that anyone except advertising executives whose job entails monitoring product placement actually block WebMD.”

Good news:  You just got medical advice from a Harvard doctor!  Bad news: … the doctorate is in English Literature.  This is just like the time my gynecologist started lecturing me about the essentialism inherent in the Western philosophical paradigm.  “I always recommend that my patients reject the phallogocentric epistemology of the West’s Aristotelean intellectual lineage and embrace more pluralistic ways of re-cognizing and re-presenting the embodied Self.”  “Thanks, doc, but I just need some vagina pills!”

She describes a more ambiguous state of affairs in “The iPhone Condom Debate,” about a controversy over whether to put plastic protectors on iPhone screens.  It seems these protective surfaces can be bought from a company, and will shield your screen from scratches.  The topic gives her ample scope to project her technology fetish onto her fellow iPhone users.

It turns out people on Mac message boards are hotly divided about this subject.  “They frame the conversation as one about screen clarity and sensitivity — seemingly empirical subjects fit for message-board dissection. But things get emotional fast…. What they want from their smartphones and tablets is pretty intense. If they didn’t use the word ‘condom’ so much, I wouldn’t have said this, but — what people want from their Apple devices seems to be copulation. Or at the very least life partnership.”  Lady, I gotta tell ya, message board debates always get “emotional.”  If that’s the standard you go by, people on political message boards must want to fuck John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, wind turbines, solar panels, organic arugula, assault rifles, confederate flags, birth certificates, and fetuses that were aborted using your tax dollars.  People would be literally teabagging Rand Paul and sticking their dicks in the hole in the ozone layer.  Which of course they aren’t.  Or are they? Also, isn’t Virginia Heffernan the one who’s always raving about TV viewers’ “illicit desires” and people wanting their entertainment “inside them“?

“But if careering around the Web doing symptom searches is your bag (and, come on, we’ve all been there), there’s still MayoClinic.com.”  New pet peeve:  Writers who exhort the reader to “come on, just admit it, you’ve done it too.”  Every time some writer tells me to “just admit” things, it’s always in reference to some stupid nonsense I haven’t done and wouldn’t ever want to, like reading my boyfriend’s e-mail or forgetting to vote.  Either that or (as here) it’s something completely normal and bland.  I don’t actually feel sheepish about Googling medical symptoms online!  I’m not going to make a doctor’s appointment every time I feel a funny twinge!  Stop trying to build rapport with me by telling me I’ve “been there”!  You don’t know where I’ve been!

Heffernan’s ideal new job: Reviewing high-tech sex toys and 3D porn.
Who should replace her: Message board commenters.

The New York Magazine reporter who announced Randy Cohen’s departure called his column “funny and insightful.”  I’ve expressed doubts about his insight before.  In the most recent “Ethicist,” an unemployed person writes in to say he has been offered a job setting up outsourcing operations for a company, but thinks it would be wrong to take it.  Cohen thinks it’s okay:  “It is not unethical for an ambitious young person in, say, Mumbai to land a job that might otherwise go to an ambitious young person in, say, Seattle, and there is no opprobrium in your helping him or her land it. Americans do not enjoy moral precedence over Indians. Some people feel we have a greater ethical duty to those closest to us — our neighbors — but in an era of global trade and travel, that is a recipe for tribalism and its attendant ills.”

Thank you for your exciting multicultural perspective on how Indians are people, too.  Cohen isn’t buying into those essentialist phallogocentric ideologies!  Fight the power, my brother!  If I may be so bold as to opine, though, I think the reason people object to outsourcing is not so much that it gives jobs to spunky, tenacious Indians, as that corporations terminate decently paying jobs with vacation days and benefits, and replace them with jobs that pay 12-year-olds 30 cents an hour to operate machines all day in a big room full of sweaty people — “sweatshops,” if you will.

So Cohen isn’t always “insightful,” but is he “funny”?  I always had a hard time telling what his jokes were supposed to be, but I think I’ve sussed it out now.  In last week’s column, somebody writes in saying they changed the locks on their house because they suspected their ex-maid of stealing their Oxycontin.  He discusses the situation quite reasonably for a few paragraphs, then seems to panic and go all to pieces because the column doesn’t have any jokes in it.  The result is this:  “As to your changing the locks and cutting down all the trees in your yard so you’d have a clear field of fire if she returned with a zombie army to wreak a terrible vengeance — is that it? — there you might have overreacted.”

Zombies are a form of supernatural creature featured in many popular horror films and internet memes.   Changing the locks so a person who stole your stuff doesn’t get into your house is an overreaction because… it’s probably not, actually? Drawing a parallel between an extreme situation and a mundane reality is a common tactic used to create humor.  It’s referred to as “overlapping but incompatible frames of reference” by scientific theorist Tom Veach.  I see the “incompatible” part, but I don’t see the “overlapping.”  Plus, how come I have to keep invoking all these philosophers and mathematicians and economists and literary theorists to explain a few articles, anyway?  People read this magazine over the breakfast table! It’s supposed to be easy to understand!  Be lucid, please!

Cohen’s wacky zombie reference isn’t an isolated incident, but part of an overarching trend in his writing.  In the outsourcing column, he writes that “your taking this job is not akin to sneaking into a local I.T. firm and squirting Krazy Glue into its door locks.”  The word “Krazy” sounds crazy, and thus funny.  In a discussion of tipping, he asks “why should that diner owner’s profits rise if, instead of a side of bacon, you order a side of diamonds?”  (Jan. 14.)  Diamonds are so expensive that you can only order them in the finest restaurants, establishments that would be unlikely to offer a “side of bacon” on their menus.  An co-worker’s IRS mixup will cause government officials to “notice that she is simultaneously working in another state, suggesting either fraud or the ability to travel at hyperspeed, which, if the latter, could be the technological breakthrough America needs to be a country of robust innovation (not like that ridiculous Segway).” (January 7).  Segways are an undignified mode of transportation, which shows that America is going down the tubes.  “To avoid [unpaid debts from loved ones], custom urges us not to do business with family or lend money to friends or, for other reasons, lend money to a cat. How can a cat repay you? It’s a cat!” (December 30).  He explained that one himself.  I could keep going — and in fact I kind of want to, because it’s relaxing — but I won’t.

But perusing Cohen’s work reveals patterns that run much deeper.  Every column features two letters.  Of the two, Cohen deems one to be wacky, because it involves rich people, or middle class people’s jobs.  He judges the other one to be serious and important, because it’s about Nazi atrocities or strippers.  Naturally, only the first kind gets embellished with a joke.  That means one joke per column.  Cohen has been writing this column for ten years… at a rate of about 50 columns per year, that would mean he has written ~500 jokes in his tenure at the Timesand they’re all exactly the same.  Cohen may tax the reader’s knowledge of philosophy, psychology, cognition and intellectual history, but he at least doesn’t strain my math skills.

Cohen’s ideal new job: “Punching down” movie scripts that Hollywood producers deemed too comedic.
Who should replace him: An ethics expert.  Or some rando with a B.A. who writes criticism for the Times, because that’s who they already picked.

“No one is more terrible at talking to people than Deborah Solomon,” writes one blogger of the author of “Questions For.”  Among her claims to fame are are having been written up by the ombudsman for misleading editing, and a bizarre incident involving a botched live interview with Steve Martin.  But despite what might seem like unpredictable gaffes, her most noteworthy feature is consistency.  Amoeba-like, she has a predictable response to every stimulus:  When conducting an interview, zing the interviewee.  Every printed exchange features her asking a few regular serious questions, a few fun, bubbly gossip questions, and a few skeptical “gotcha” questions.  It doesn’t matter who she’s interviewing — Nelson Mandela, John Waters or an Enron executive, her tone and technique don’t waver.

Her most recent piece is about Eugene Jarecki, a director who has made a new documentary about Ronald Reagan.  In the interview, he identifies himself as a moderate Republican who finds today’s right wing too extreme, and shares some thoughts about Reagan’s attempts at personal myth-making.  Solomon concludes the chat with this: “Why are you wearing a cowboy hat in this photograph?  You’re a bit of a myth builder yourself.”  Fortunately for Jarecki, he has a plausible defense for this allegation:  Someone gave it to him.  Congratulations, though:  You just zinged a documentarian for wearing a hat.

Perhaps Solomon desires to show she’s not dazzled by fame.  Perhaps she believes that only conflict and extreme awkwardness are entertaining.  Whatever the reason, the zings keep coming. Henry Louis Gates, a professor of African American studies, produced a TV show where they did genetic tests to reveal prominent Americans’ ancestry.  Solomon asks him: “Why is it meaningful? We all share DNA and are related to one another if you look back far enough in time.”  Well damn, that’s a good point.  I used to think DNA sequencing and the human genetic legacy were interesting subjects, but now I’m not sure…  this article is raising so many questions for me…  congratulations, you just zinged a race studies scholar for studying racial diversity.

She interviews philosopher Daniel Dennet, who wrote a book claiming that evolution and biological processes can explain people’s propensity to believe in religion.  She asks him: “But what’s the point of that? Wouldn’t it be more worthwhile to spend your time and research money looking for a cure for AIDS?” Dude, I don’t think this guy is qualified to do AIDS research.  For one thing, he doesn’t have a medical degree.  Curing AIDS isn’t like starting a punk band; you can’t just do it in your basement on the weekend.  {Phone rings in run-down studio apartment.}  “So dude, I was thinking we should get together this weekend and work on some AIDS research.  No big deal, just try out some ideas, see if anything comes together.  Yeah, I wrote this really sweet hypothesis last night, I want to hear what you think of it.  I’ve been thinking it’d be cool to get the old research team going again, maybe go on Craigslist and find some experimental subjects.”  A FEW WEEKS LATER, ON CRAIGSLIST:  “Alternative/low-fi pathology research team seeking healthy HIV-positive adults for long-term clinical therapy trial.  Looking for someone with cool taste in research modalities.  Our influences include Louis Pasteur,  Robert Koch, the Human Genome Project, CCR5 Receptor Antagonists, HIV Protease Inhibitor, Alexander Fleming, Oliver Sacks, Jonas Salk, The Mayo Clinic, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, Hippocrates.  We are a couple of laid-back biomedical science bros, but looking for someone with a strong work ethic who would be available to meet up for comparison trials at least once a week.  No compensation, but we’ll split grant money evenly when we start getting gigs.  If interested, holler back with a list of your favorite antiretroviral therapies. No needle drug users.  420 okay.”

Anyway, congratulations, Deborah Solomon:  You just zinged a philosopher for writing about philosophy stuff.

In her worldview, all people, whether artist, statesman, or rogue, take on the same status: colorful but unscrupulous characters who are likely to pull a fast one on her, and the American public, if not kept in check.  Her relentless suspicion doesn’t mean interviewees don’t sometimes get the last laugh, as you’ll see in her chat with Das Racist.

Solomon: Rap is a black art form that originated in the Bronx, so why, as two Wesleyan graduates who met in college, would you think you could rap?
Himanshu Suri: Would you prefer your rappers to be uneducated? Victor Vazquez: And would we even be on the page of this publication if we had not gone to Wesleyan?

Solomon’s ideal job: Warden in a jail
Who should replace her: Someone who has a positive attitude and likes being around people.  I think most Americans have this on their resumes, so almost anyone could do it!

New York Times writers and editors, I hope this has been helpful.  In my next post, we’ll discuss career options for some of our currently employed NYT favorites, because it never hurts to have a backup plan.

Happiness the Sunday Styles Way: A “Hard Look” at the Way We Live Now

The New York Times has much to offer that is not worthy of hatred.  Within the US, International, Local and Business sections, there is a wealth of informative coverage of the world around us — “news,” if you will.  Why, then, do we return again and again to the Styles section, again and again to be disappointed?  What is the true purpose of the Styles section?  What is it doing next to all those other sections, and why can’t we just throw it away?  Well, I’ll tell you why.  The Styles section (and the Magazine, and T the fashion magazine) is far from extraneous.  These sections have news to transmit, albeit more ineffable and subjective than that which you’ll find in the “A” section.  The tidings they bring are about our lives, here in the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century:  How are mores and manners shifting? how are we changing? how is technology changing us? and how we should feel about it all?  These sections help us make sense of it.  Their subject is (hip, urban, upper-middle-class) humanity itself.  They may be vapid, but they are dear to our hearts.

But what answers do the Styles section and the Magazine really give?  Below, I analyze a selection of pieces from this Sunday.  I will extract the conclusion or “moral” each piece offers, and we’ll see if any patterns emerge.

We’ll start with Randy Cohen’s latestRandy Cohen writes a column called “The Ethicist,” in which he advises readers on morally significant decisions.  His qualifications to do this are that he has a B.A. in music and is an “Emmy-winning humorist,” although I suppose he’d be just as ineffectual if he had a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard.  There’s something reassuring about his lack of credentials, though.  If you don’t like Cohen’s ethico-philosophical worldview, you can feel free to ignore it, because he’s just some guy.

I remember Cohen best for the column in which he asserted that “nobody should attend strip clubs, those purveyors of sexism as entertainment. Strip shows are to gender what minstrel shows are to race.”  That’s a nice analogy, because think about it.  Minstrel shows were a form of traveling variety show enjoyed by multiracial audiences in the 1800’s and early years of the 1910’s.  They gave many talented black musicians, actors and comedians a chance to succeed as professional artists, yet also forced them to perform degrading caricatures of blackness for the benefit of their white spectators.  If everyone had boycotted minstrel shows, these black artists would have been able to… go back to cotton sharecropping!  Thus bringing about an end to racism.  Similarly, boycotting strip clubs would help the women’s movement by putting a bunch of single moms out of work.  Why am I comparing these two things, again?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Cohen should following his personal moral compass on this issue.  As a feminist, I would never want to go to a strip club with Randy Cohen.

This week Cohen is at it again with the milquetoast-y pronouncements.  Someone writes in saying they don’t spank their kids, but have been asked by friends to spank their kids “when they are playing at our house and misbehave.”  Cohen says they don’t have to:

Many parents are militant in defense of their putative right to discipline their children as they see fit: with a sound thrashing. But conversely, your friends may not impose their Neanderthal parenting practices on you…. When you [tell them] that, you probably ought not mention that spanking is banned or restricted in 22 countries. Such facts will only irritate them. (And you should avoid the word ‘Neanderthal.’) Parents can be so prickly. Here in America, most people believe it is a fine thing to beat children, as long as you employ the accepted euphemism, ‘spanking,’ and are the child’s parent. (A similar justification was once applied to spousal abuse.)

Actually, I kind of love that Randy Cohen exists.  It is a rare writer who can make a person like me — someone who goes to graduate school, drinks Starbucks Via and gets one hundred e-mails a day from MoveOn.com — feel like a flag-waving mama grizzly Hell’s Angel rebel.  Don’t tell me not to spank my kids, you pantywaist!  I’m not gonna let some Liberal fascist feminazi communist Canadian Al Gore-hugger tell me how to raise my kids!  I almost can’t wait to have kids, just so I can start spanking them (moderately) (in cases of extraordinary disobedience).  Don’t Tread on Me!  Live free or die tryin’!  You’ll pry this imaginary gun out of my cold, dead hands!  I’ll put a boot up your ass, it’s the American way!

Moral: Don’t spank kids, don’t go to strip clubs.

Up next, “Out and About:  Cruising the Caribbean.”  This piece argues that “cruise ship food doesn’t have to be bad.”  “Qsine’s approach is high tech and high concept. The menu, with a lineup of small bites — or food to be shared — is presented on an iPad, through which each diner scrolls to select his favorites….  For dessert, the options are presented in a Rubik’s cube-like puzzle. Shift the boxes around and reveal ‘The Cupcake Affair,’ four cakes with do-it-yourself sauces and garnishes.”

Moral: The next time you’re planning a luxury cruise, hold out for one with gourmet meals.

TV Right-Sizes 3D” by Virginia Heffernan. “In deciding whether to buy one of the new, ludicrously cool 3-D TVs — some of which won’t even require special glasses — ask yourself a serious question: Do you like your entertainment in front of you, inside your body or all around you?”  Um… are you sure that’s really what you meant to ask me?  That’s a very very… intimate topic!  A penetrating question, if you will!  I’ll take the second one.

Moral: Buy a 3D TV immediately, unless you’d rather just fuck.

Social Q’s.  Someone writes in to Galanes complaining that their daughter (apparently of high school age) is dressing “trampy.”  He responds: “We don’t want your little girl mistaken for a hooker as she waits for the school bus. Horns of a dilemma, right?”  Anyone who would mistake a student waiting at the bus stop for a “hooker” is probably not a reliable arbiter of youth fashion, anyway.  Galanes suggests a way for the parent get perspective on the situation: “Drive over to your daughter’s school and take a hard look at what the other girls are wearing.”  Yes.  There is no more welcome sight on the high school campus than an adult cruising around the parking lot, taking a “hard look” at the female students.  You might want to take the family van, in case a couple of those girls needs a ride!  Teenage girls can be shy, so don’t hesitate to ask.  Some of them might need painkillers for their menstrual cramps, so try yelling “WANT SOME DRUGS?” at them to get their attention.  Let me know how this goes.

As for the daughter in questions, “set reasonable limits: blouses three inches above the nipple line.”  Nipple “line”?  It’s a circle, Galanes, a circle!  I knew none of these guys had ever seen a naked woman.  “And save those mini minis and four-inch heels for 11th Avenue, not home room.”  Is anyone else creeped out by all these references to someone’s “little girl” becoming a prostitute?  Galanes is not an “edgy” humorist; he cannot transition easily from anodyne gags about old sitcoms to statutory-rape jokes.  Also, the vast majority of women you see wearing skimpy or revealing clothing are not prostitutes.  Galanes must be a barrel of fun at cocktail parties, though.  “Pardon me, madam, that’s a lovely pair of boots!  Didn’t I see you wearing them earlier on the corner of 28th and Lexington?”

“”Keep her safe, but let her express herself, too.”  “Safe”?  From what, nipple-line frostbite?  Oh wait, I get it… from rapists, against whom the only impregnable defense is modest clothing.  No man would be so beastly as to victimize a woman with the mouth-watering three inches above her nipples covered up.

Moral for girls: Don’t dress trampy, or bad men will rape you.  Moral for parents: Go to the high school and check out all the trampy chicks!

What ‘Modern Family’ Says About Modern Families,” Bruce Fiedler.  “In his 1964 book ‘Understanding Media,’ Marshall McLuhan helped define the modern age with his phrase, ‘The medium is the message.’  Were he here nearly 50 years later, the critic would hardly be surprised to discover that in the most talked-about sitcom of the moment, the medium has become the punch line.”

Moral: You should watch Modern Family because it holds a mirror up to your techno-savvy, upper-middle-class lifestyle.  Also, Bruce Fiedler is an intellectual.

MTV’s Naked Calculation Gone Bad,” David Carr. This article chronicles the problems MTV has caused by itself by airing the controversial show Skins.  “What if one day you went to work and there was a meeting to discuss whether the project you were working on crossed the line into child pornography? You’d probably think you had ended up in the wrong room.  [DRAMATIC PARAGRAPH BREAK.]  And you’d be right.”  Wouldn’t I actually be wrong, if I worked for MTV, and we were being accused of violating child pornography statutes, which is what this scenario is all about?  Oh, never mind.

Carr is in a moral panic about this show.  To be sure, “MTV didn’t invent ‘friends with benefits’ [or] oral sex as the new kiss.”  Man, I’d like to see a profile on the guy who invented oral sex as the new kiss.  Now that’d be a trend piece I could get behind, am I right?  LOL!  That guy is responsible for so many cold sores.  Here we are wasting time on this stupid Skins show, while a much more sinister figure lurks in the darkness of anonymity.  He’s like the huge cocaine kingpin who gets rich and hangs out on a yacht in Miami, while all the little neighborhood crack dealers get prison time.

“The self-described ‘Guidos’ and ‘Guidettes’ of ‘Jersey Shore,’ MTV’s breakout hit, have probably already set some kind of record for meaningless sex.”  Gratuitous Jersey Shore reference alert!  The “record” for meaningless sex was probably set by some gay dude on Fire Island in 1978.  Still, it’s helpful to have David Carr around, weighing in on how much “meaning” other people’s sexual experiences should have.

“MTV leaves it to real-life parents to explain that sometimes, when a car goes underwater, nobody survives and that a quick hookup with cute boy at the party may deliver a sexually transmitted disease along with a momentary thrill.”  Or… they could just use condoms?  I am not joking right now. Actually kind of mad that the paper of record is resorting to scary metaphors straight out of an abstinence-only classroom to demonize young people’s sexuality.

Moral: Don’t watch Skins; don’t have sex or you’ll die of STDs and drown in a car.

On the Street: X Factor,” Bill Cunningham. This is that weird collage of half-inch fashion pictures.  “Every era has a defining stance, and at present, it is standing with your legs crossed, like a model or a dancer en pointe.  The key to the look is the ankle boot, some with platforms and stiletto heels.”

Moral: You’re not standing right.  Go buy some Christian Louboutin ankle boots.

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Meta-moral: The lesson I take away from all this is that we live in a time of great opportunity, yet also great danger.  This era is exciting, because innovations like 3D televisions, gourmet Caribbean cruise cupcakes, and Christian Louboutin booties are available to all, except people who don’t have a combined total of $16,299.98 to spend on them.  It is terrifying, because raunchy television shows, hookup culture, unrestrained oral sex and scantily clad young women are undermining the very fabric of the society in which we live.  Yikes!  But no matter how bad things get, pseudointellectual theorizing and half-assed social commentary are here to stay.  The Styles section will never die.