Media postsSaturday March 05, 2016
The Feb. 22 2016 issue of The New Yorker
Like everyone, I get behind in my New Yorkers, but I spent much of this morning nursing a cold and reading the Feb. 22 issue—the one with the black-history cover: Baldwin, Ellington, Holliday, Hurston, the Nicholas Brothers, Malcolm X.
This is what's inside:
- The various iterations of the American two-party system, and their links to technological change, by Jill Lepore
- The new journey to the west by China's rich, bratty generation (a.k.a. Why Chinese Communism needs Socialism), by Jiayang Fang
- A history of TMZ and its founder and driving force Harvey Levin, by Nicholas Schmidle
- An in-depth look at Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the San Bernadino shooters, by William Finnegan
- All those 20th century leftists who turned right and enabled the conservative movement, by George Packer
Each story is worth it. Each gives a broader, less certain view of the world. It's astonishing, really, that all five are in the same issue of the same magazine. Seems unfair. To both the competition and to readers like me, who suddenly have their hands full.
Each is a downer, too, but that's often the way of the world. We go to the movies for uppers, serious literature for downers. Why so few people read seriously now.
The San Bernadino piece is particularly good. Finnegan begins with a church service for one of the victims, Nicholas Thalasinos, who seems like a good guy, then gives us the history (as we know it) of the terrorists, Rizwan and Malik, and their various intolerances, and then back to Thalasinos, who worked with Rizan and used to argue with him about religion. He was, in fact, a frequent social media poster, and made enemies there. He hated all of Islam, which he called “the cult of rape, pedophilia, antisemitism and murder.” He hated our president, too, calling him an “utterly vile pagan filthy antisemitic drug addicted maggot”; he felt that while Obama didn't necessarily deserve lynching, he should at least be tried and executed—the trial apparently perfunctory. There's a line near the end of the piece from Rizan's less-religious father, Syed Sr., which was my feeling finishing the piece: “I despair and I do not understand.”
Then I read Packer on liberal apostates and felt a step closer to understanding. Or re-understanding. Packer is writing about Whitaker Chambers, a closeted homosexual and communist, whose testimony against Alger Hiss in the late 1940s led to the rise of Richard M. Nixon (although, let's face it, nothing would stop his rise; not even his fall). It's a quote from Chambers himself about why, after a shoddy childhood, he embraced communism in 1925:
It offered what nothing else in the dying world had power to offer at the same intensity: faith and a vision, something for which to live and something for which to die.
It's what hooks so many of us: communists and capitalists; Christians and Muslims; Republicans and Democrats. That awful search for meaning that leads to so much violence and death.
Anyway, subscribe to The New Yorker when you get the chance.
The Mainstream Media Strikes Back (Finally!)
Because how often can you regurgitate lies with a straight face?
Why I Love the New York Times Archive, I
From February 1977:
He was the “kid from Kotter” and his “disco movie” had just begun filming and was called “Saturday Night.” There was also “Grease” talk. He also wanted to play more mature roles. Like someone in their mid-20s.
Interestingly, right next to this profile, there's an ad for the movie “Rocky,” which had just been nominated for 10 Oscars, including best actor and screenwriter for its star Sylvester Stallone. Six years later, Stallone would take the kid from Kotter and put him in a sequel to the disco movie. He would train Travolta, get him sleek and glossy, and star him in a sleek, glossy and awful, awful movie that would bomb.
Saddest Headline Ever
I posted this a few weeks ago but we had server issues and it was never saved. So here it is again. It's from The New York Times:
It took me a moment to realize what that headline was saying: that even though our overuse of oil is warming the planet, it's not warming it fast enough for oil companies to immediately monetize the Arctic for more oil exploration.
It's an open admission that what we're doing is destroying the world as we know it. But the only concern is that Big Oil can't do more of that thing.
I can't imagine a culture more lost.
David Carr (1956-2015)
Carr: The alt-weekly guy from Minneapolis that made it big. Earl Wilson/The New York Times
What a shitty week for journalism: Brian Williams, Bob Simon, Jon Stewart. But this one hurts the most.
Patricia and I had just finished the second-to-last episode of the first season of “Fargo” when she got the news via iPhone. That seems fitting. We were immersed in Minnesota, where David Carr began his career, then read all about it via digital technology, which was the great, last battle of Carr's career: how to keep the news relevant despite our tendencies toward the free and easy within this technology.
The 19 David Carr links on this blog are indicative. The majority are from the first years, 2008 and '09, when I read Carr, and The New York Times, regularly. Here's how I kept introducing him:
- One of my favorite New York Times writers ...
- Carr, whom I love ...
- Leave it to David Carr ...
- One of the best journalists working ...
And then it stopped. In the Social Media age, I got directed to places and went. I got complacent. Somehow I kept bypassing him.
I was probably most admiring in this March 2012 intro to the 2011 documentary, “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” which featured Carr:
I was talking about this documentary with Evan, the friend who recommended it, and admitted it made me realize why I never became a true journalist. ...
In the doc you watch David Carr, media columnist forThe New York Times, take on various bombastic elements and shut them up. He stares them down, calls them on their bullshit, then moves on. Even when I’m able to do the first two things, I don’t move on. I allow the first two actions to linger and infect the surroundings. Carr, who looks like nothing much, Bilbo Baggins’ after a bad night, with a hoarse voice and a skinny neck and a wide middle and a face that seems permanently bent toward the ground, is able to cut so surgically through situations that there’s little bleeding. It’s like those scenes where Zorro takes a swipe at a candle and it doesn’t move, causing the villain to laugh at Zorro’s ineptitude and anticipate his demise. Which is when Zorro holds up the tip of the candle, or pushes the tip off with his sword, or stomps on the ground and the candle crumbles to bits.
That’s what Carr is like. The other guy laughs at his ineptitude and then David stomps on the ground and the dude’s argument crumbles to bits.
As both Evan and I admired this ability of Carr’s, and lamented our own ability to cry bullshit in social situations, he added, “You know what I could use? A David-Carr-in-the-box. So when I get in those situations, I can take out my David-Carr-in-the-box, and just, you know, pop. Let him loose.”
I agreed. We could all use a David-Carr-in-the-box.
This scene from the doc, “David Carr vs. Some guys from VICE,” has been making the rounds again since Carr's death:
Visually it's a no-brainer: Carr, balding and dimunitive and typing away, engaging hipster-douches who seem to be trying on journalism like ironic fedoras. I have a visceral reaction to these guys. And they don't disappoint. But that's not the point. I think the key to Carr's strength, as journalist and man, is his ability to both engage them, call them on bullshit, and then keep engaging them. He doesn't dismiss them as I do. Even when Shane Smith, the founder and CEO of VICE, talks about the cannibalism in Liberia, then takes the Times to task for not covering the war “properly,” Carr simply interrupts:
Before you ever went there? We've had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a fucking safari helmet, doesn't give you the right to insult what we do. So continue, continue.
“So continue, continue,” should be the mantra for journalists everywhere.
I never met Carr but I knew tons of people who knew him well. We were on different paths. While I was living in Taiwan and studying Chinese, he was in a north Minneapolis crackhouse. He aspired to the journalistic, I aspired to the literary. Jelani Cobb, in his New Yorker tribute, writes about how Carr, editor of the D.C. alt-weekly City Paper, gave him his first job, adding, “I started at the paper very much afflicted with the insufferable omniscience of many twenty-something writers.” That was me, too. Cobb also has this line about Carr: “ ... he didn’t confuse his unwillingness to judge with an absence of standards,” which is something like what I'm trying to describe above. Carr doesn't judge the VICE guys by their beards and homburgs, but he doesn't let them get away with shit, either.
In her tribute, Sasha Stone calls Carr, her friend and mentor, “Journalism's True North.” I don't think that's hyperbole.