A Stab at Social Commentary

Leon Wieseltier does not rank as a must read for me.  I suppose it’s because he helped push Andrew Sullivan out at the New Republic, and I imagine that he has some of the Marty Peretz Jewish neo-con hawkish qualities that I totally disagree with.  But this little takedown of New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati is so good I had to share.

Marzorati blogged the following about the essence and ideology of the NYTM:

Call it Urban Modern. That is, I think it reflects not a left-or-right POLITICAL ideology but a geographical one, the mentality of the place [sic] it is created: 21st Century Manhattan. So: the Magazine reflects a place where women have professional ambition, where immigrants are welcome, and where gays and lesbians can be themselves (if not marry, yet). The Magazine also reflects a place where being rich is not a bad thing, where fashion is not a sign of superficiality, and where individualism is embraced. Here, arguing is not bad manners. Here, a chief way of loving your hometown is criticizing it: For, say, not doing enough for those (children, the poor, the homeless) who are most vulnerable. Here, art is never spoken of in moral terms, and most aspects of everyday life–food and drink and bathroom fixtures–are mostly spoken of in aesthetic terms. And here, as E.B. White famously wrote, it tends to be those who come from elsewhere full of longing who make the place what it is. More generally, we reflect a place where change is not a threat, where doubt and complexity are more TRUE than certainty, and where most everything non-criminal is tolerated–except a bad haircut.

Weiseltier does a fine job of calling out all of the idiocy in that description.  There’s no ideology there, no real call to disagree and fight back against the world.  Just this happy-go-lucky idea of 21st century Manhattan, bathed in ethereal light.  I won’t repeat all of those apt criticisms; read them for yourself.

What struck about Marzorati’s concept was how very, very boring it is.  Listen, I have no problem with Manhattan per se.  I’ve got loads of friends and family who grew up there or are living their currently.  I’m grateful for having spent so much time there, eating a wonderful restaurants, seeing shows, enjoying the landscape, etc.  But I would never, in a million years, want to spend a lifetime in New York City.  And that is said knowing full well that my intellectual brethren live there, at least more than they live in rural Ohio.  I would be thrilled to eat lox, great Italian, and Chinese everyday for the rest of my life — I would be even more thrilled to know that I never had to deal with another ignorant, redneck, right-wing conservative again.

But I wouldn’t do it, even for those benefits.  Because New York is insufferable.  It’s full of people who feel compelled to say things like this:

where women have professional ambition, where immigrants are welcome, and where gays and lesbians can be themselves (if not marry, yet). The Magazine also reflects a place where being rich is not a bad thing, where fashion is not a sign of superficiality, and where individualism is embraced. Here, arguing is not bad manners. Here, a chief way of loving your hometown is criticizing it…

Oh please.  As if Manhattan is the only place in the world where women have professional ambition and gays and lesbians can be themselves.  Is being rich a bad thing elsewhere (or, as Wiestelier pointed out, is being poor a bad thing in New York City)?  Everywhere but New York City?

The tone is so irritatingly cliche I could kill myself.  You are so unique, New Yorkers! You charming folks who understand fashion and wealth and individualism — even while being boiled down to little more than a collective mass of folks who understand fashion, wealth and individualism.  It sure is a good thing you have the NYTM to read every Sunday, speaking to your sensibilities and needs.

I get that Marzorati was being tongue-in-cheek.  His final line about New Yorkers tolerating everything but a bad haircut proves it.  But he nonetheless manages to encapsulate everything I disdain about the New York attitude, right down to that holier-than-thou mindset.  Maybe it’s the new-Midwesterner in me.  I don’t know.  But I was glad to see a little comeuppance thrown his way.

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