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.
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?
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?