My new Think Again column is called “The Continuing Curse of ‘On the One-Handism’” and it’s here.
Speaking of mixed feelings, it would be ontogologically impossible for any writing to be good enough to fully balance some of what has recently called attention to itself from the front of the book in The New Republic, but ever so ironically, the back of the book has, of late, come close. First was John Judis’s review of Ron Suskind’s book, which is the only piece I’ve read anywhere that makes sense of both its strengths and weaknesses (though it was badly mistitled), and in doing so, does the same for the Obama presidency. Now comes this brilliant assessment not only of my esteemed colleague Jeff Jarvis by Evgeny Morozov, but also goes on to poke an ozone layer-style hole in the entire enterprise of the "internet intellectual." It also demonstrates the unhappy truth that takedowns are much more fun to both read and write than praise.
Should it make one feel guilty to enjoy so hostile a review? Well, only feel smarmy in these cases if the case itself is smarmy. I don’t think either of these are, though Jehovah knows, Leon Weiseltier does publish more than his share of such takedowns. Still, when they’re good, they’re really good. Proof being in the pudding, etc., I rather agree with the really nice piece that Norman Birnbaum published about Christopher Lasch and I was glad to see it in The Nation, but it was not nearly as much fun to read as the above.
The question, I guess lies in the significance of the subject of the takedown. I read review in a recent NY Review—I think by David Thompson—of a book by Cary Grant’s daughter which was a waste of everyone’s time. So Cary Grant’s daughter wrote an insignificant book about her father in which she ignored most of the questions people want to know about him, but that perhaps his daughter would prefer not to discuss. So what? Why bother with the space unless you’re addressing larger issues or making a larger point.
It’s true that if he was going to beat up Clay Shirkey et al, he should have done so, rather than just lump them together with Jarvis, but I thought his arguments and criticisms were all reasonable… And I think he’s being perfectly reasonable here and doing the world a service.
Plus, the writing is quite good. Truly the best thing, I think, about TNR, besides John Judis and Jon Cohn and now Tim Noah, is the length of space it devotes to its reviews and unless it’s one of Leon’s hobby horses, their quality. Again, it does not begin to make up for Marty or the edits, but it is a compensation in terms of one’s time. They are much livelier than the long reviews that appear anywhere else that I can think of offhand, excluding perhaps Ben Shwarz’s section in The Atlantic, and then you have to accept Caitlin…
Jarvis is a nice guy, but I strongly disagree that "nice guy" counts for something in this realm. I think, for instance, it’s a real weakness on my part that I can’t be as tough on people I like than as on people with whom I have no relationship. It’s one reason I like to read people rather than interview them. I worry that I will empathize with them and then can’t be fair to my own vision of the truth or falsity of what they say. I think we need to do our best to try to keep these realms as separate as we can. It counts not only in terms of how we choose our friends but also in terms of how we do our jobs.
I also really like to read almost everything Adam Kirsch writes, though he writes a lot. It’s a great opportunity to read someone intelligent with whom one also largely disagrees. I don’t know if he calls himself a conservative, but if he does, he’s one of the smartest ones I know, (and as we all know, sadly, there aren’t many…) I am now reading his excellent little book on Lionel Trilling, published by Yale University Press called “Why Trilling Matters.” The series, “Why TK Matters,” was actually my idea. I was going to edit it when the current head of Yale was over at Basic. That didn’t happen though, and he resuscitated the idea over at Yale (and I note copywrote it.) Hey lawyers, can I sue them?
The world needs more of this kind of post me thinks. I have no feelings, one way or another, about Greg Easterbrook, but whoever is the editor of Reuters is the same person who edits Marty over at TNR.
Shuttling between the New York Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival, I saw approximately a zillion movies in the past couple of weeks. What can I recommend? I can strongly recommend “The Descendants” which is about to open soon and stars George Clooney. Everyone will also really like “Butter” irrespective of its alleged Michele Bachmann character. The Hamptons FF featured six Italian films, my favorite was Sul Mare, a beautiful love story. I also saw some of this crazy “Move Orgy” curated by Joe Dante at the Museum of Modern Art. It’s been cut down from seven hours to four and a half and was shown as the opening of their festival of film restoration. It was an amazing piece of work, but for historical purposes I should like to point out that probably without knowing it, Gary Trudeau—whom I count as one of my heroes—almost completely copied “Mr. Butts” from a 1950s cartoon character representing Colgate toothpaste, though perhaps it’s an homage. That same night, I saw another terrific Garland Jeffries show at the High Line. I keep saying this, go see Garland if you can. And if you can’t, pick up The King of In Between. I also saw “Relatively Speaking” this week. The Woody Allen one-act is really, really funny; funnier than Woody has been in decades. The Ethan Coen one is quite good, and wonderfully acted by Danny Hoch, and the Elaine May one is the weakest. I by and large agree with this review but I find it hard to believe anybody wouldn’t enjoy it unless you went in in a really bad mood.
Also, I keep going to receptions where I might run into Lauren Bush, but don’t. I guess she is lending her name to good causes in part to make up for all the damage done to the world by W. In the past week, she has been associated with a benefit (last night) for Cambodian anti-human trafficking leader, Somaly Mam, and earlier in the week, at the HIFF, for FEED. Good for her. Check out both causes, please.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Bravo on The Nation column (well, bravo on many things). I do not know what Tom Friedman is thinking, but he reminds me of a story in a wonderful book, Air Time, an inside history of CBS News, by Gary Paul Gates, who was a CBS News writer–all of this back when CBS News was a legitimate journalistic organization and not the mess it has become. Howard K. Smith had become Washington bureau chief in 1961 and regularly delivered outspoken commentaries. Urged to tone it down a bit, he replied that the country had gone through eight years of poor leadership under Eisenhower, and Kennedy seemed no better. The implication was that Smith could provide leadership. Friedman thinks similarly. He also brings to mind the old journalistic question: if a tree falls in the forest, has it really fallen if The Times hasn’t reported on it? I guess the tree hasn’t fallen until Friedman acknowledges it, and then he announces he needs to chop down the same tree.
If your readers find the collection of Kurt Vonnegut jr. irresistable I suggest that they pick up a copy of his ‘Sirens of Titan’. Kurt correctly predicted the Huygen probe of a few years back. If you all remember that probe was sent to Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. Kurt explains how everything from the begining of life on Earth was pointed to that one single act.
Professor, I’ve been reading your stuff since before MediaMatters. It was much appreciated in the dark years, and out of habit we kept reading during the bright months (Nov. 2008 – March 2009). I know I’m not alone in wishing that Pierce contributed still, more and often. Incidentally, could you pass along a belated <Nelson Muntz> Ha Ha </Nelson Muntz> at the Kingdom’s timely and well deserved demise at the hands of the Dubs. For reference, it was like being a Red Sox fan and watching the Yankees lose the World Series. With a couple of disputed calls thrown in for good measure. Anyhoo, reason for the ‘LTLFTC’ note : Like a fart in a crowded elevator, the Luntzian ‘Job-Creators’ talking point mysteriously showed up, stank up the joint and then gradually faded. I guess what they had to work with was poor to begin with, ‘Job-Creators’ was the best they could do. Trouble is, ‘The Top 1%’ or ‘The Richest One Percent’ don’t really resonate either. Not least because in America, we do not hate the rich. Also because we are are demonstrably not very good at math. I was moved to suggest that you might use your position (as professor, journalist, blogger, author, etc.) to help come up with an alternative. Maybe have a competition? I propose calling them ‘The Corrupt Super-Rich’. Of course, I’m not Frank Luntz, so I don’t know who to send the memo to.
Reed will be back next week.
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