Trend of the Week: Hipster Ubiquity

Q: What do you call someone who looks just like you, who you’ve never met?
A. A stupid fucking hipster.

Yes, the hipster has long served as a convenient scapegoat for people who aspire to be hip without the “-ster”.  Onto them, we project our insecurities about our own superficiality, inauthenticity, and even insecurity itself.  What better way to spackle over one’s embarrassing desire to be cool, then to point at some guy wearing pants a millimeter skinnier than one’s own and say “see that guy?  He’s obviously desperate to be cool.  Sad, really.”  But hipsters aren’t just a collective figment of our neurotic late-capitalist imaginations; they’re also a trend.  Since hipsters are defined by trendiness, this represents a meta-trend, a trend in favor of trendiness itself.  In “The Hipster Trap,” Steven Kurutz grapples with the contradictions and Derridean aporias created by his own internally incoherent mental conception of the “hipster.” Continue reading “Trend of the Week: Hipster Ubiquity”

The Two Stupid Faces of David Brooks: David Brooks Is an Idiot, Part III

Everyone always makes such a big deal about search engine optimization, but I don’t see anything impressive about it.  Search engine optimization is easy.  For instance, let’s say you’re a blogger, and you have a target audience who is interested in a variety of topics, such as “David Brooks idiot,” “David Brooks stupid,” “David Brooks hack,” “David Brooks asshole,” “David Brooks dickhead,” “David Brooks imbecile,” “David Brooks sucks,” “David Brooks wack,”  “worst David Brooks,” “David Brooks waste of organic matter,”  and “fire David Brooks.”  Just create blog posts about those topics, using those words, and internet success will be yours! Continue reading “The Two Stupid Faces of David Brooks: David Brooks Is an Idiot, Part III”

Trend of the Week: Obsession Obsession

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.”

Continue reading “Trend of the Week: Obsession Obsession”

Bobos in the Panopticon; or, Why Does the New York Times Hate Freedom?

American culture abounds with knee-jerk displays of patriotism.  Fourth of July fireworks, Presidents’ Day, elections, baseball games, football games, gun shows, the Country Music Awards, pep rallies, NRA conventions, even the state fair — all come with flag-waving, anthem-singing, and the implicit belief that America is the best because we have the most “freedom.”  But does this assumption comport with facts, or is it a reductive, even jingoistic oversimplification?  The naïve citizen would claim that freedom means the ability to choose the direction your life will take, or a lack of undue burdens like oppression and bigotry.  These definitions create a false binary, putting freedom in the “good” category while consigning so-called “evils” like slavery, totalitarianism, unjust laws, bigotry, poverty and lack of opportunity to the “bad” category.  That kind of black-and-white thinking might fly in kindergarten, but it simply won’t do for the sophisticated readers of the Paper of Record!  They demand nuanced, rigorous thought.

New York Times editorialists are ready to give it to them.  And for most, that can mean only one thing.  Continue reading “Bobos in the Panopticon; or, Why Does the New York Times Hate Freedom?”

How to Be Cool

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.

Continue reading “How to Be Cool”

The Bruni Bible; or How to Write a New York Times Editorial

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.

Continue reading “The Bruni Bible; or How to Write a New York Times Editorial”

What Not to Wear: From Hot-Pants Trashy to Pinafore Classy, the New York Times Way!

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.”

Continue reading “What Not to Wear: From Hot-Pants Trashy to Pinafore Classy, the New York Times Way!”