How we ended up here:
It’s hard to find something we got right in the modern bathroom. The toilet is too high (our bodies were designed to squat), the sink is too low and almost useless; the shower is a deathtrap (an American dies every day from bath or shower accidents). We fill this tiny, inadequately ventilated room with toxic chemicals ranging from nail polish to tile cleaners. We flush the toilet and send bacteria into the air, with our toothbrush in a cup a few feet away. We take millions of gallons of fresh water and contaminate it with toxic chemicals, human waste, antibiotics and birth control hormones in quantities large enough to change the gender of fish.
There’s a certain standard-issue pose for the young person of literary ambitions in New York. Cynical and slightly bored-seeming on the outside; thirsty on the inside: disillusioned with the whole idea of “believing in anything,” exhibiting a generalized scorn of government, religion, politics and philosophy, as well as a set of received feelings about women, and about “respecting” women. Very rarely will anyone venture one syllable outside that SOP for fear of imperiling a nascent career. And understandably so, perhaps: in the fishbowl of New York media, the slightest deviation from conventional thinking is so easily magnified that the risk of being blackballed is real.
Major pause in a piece/review/essay I otherwise am really into—Is this true? It feels very untrue, but maybe I, a, do not have literary ambitions, b, do not know people who do, c, am again falling prey to failing to see that there is the “book world” and the “media world” and they overlap but aren’t the same. But Maria says “literary” and then says “media.” But this thing she calls standard-issue sounds completely alien, from real life, to me.
This rings true to me, but I think it’s important to offer that it’s an impression more than a pose. Which is to say: it comes to those of us on the outside for whom it rings true through a series of filters. Many of us are interested in literary things but have careers that are not literary in the slightest and do not live in New York, and for us the primary encounters with these people is through social media and through literary publications and through spats between literary people being covered by one of the aforementioned, and through defenses of them in one of same. So the filters are those of character limits and third-party framing and when in our own lives (even what time of any given day) we happen to find them and who they are actually trying to reach when they happen to reach us instead.
So filtered, it’s impossible to say how much of the underlying pose makes its way through to the impression we get. But yes, it rings true. And it feels notable, because many of us also fashion ourselves intellectuals of some kind, and the things the writers do “wrong” remind us of ourselves at our most obnoxiously self-important or self-absorbed. Which is sad because most of these people are probably pretty cool to be around most of the time, because they are smart people and smart people are pretty cool to be around most of the time.
Anyway, it reads to me that “media” isn’t so much about a given world but about the thing that shapes the “fishbowl.” New York media are the lens through which we see literary players if we’re not, personally, among them. The fishbowl is being described in its function as a lens for outsiders, not as the walls that defines space for activity within. In this case, the suggestion is it magnifies the things that feel out of place, and that seems correct: media cover the things that are out of place far more than those that are where we expect.
The increasingly intentional branding of authors makes some of this weird focus on their poses unavoidable. We want to know them, not just what they’ve written. In general, I hope I discount most of these impressions and put more credence in what they write. But I guess I can’t know for sure whether I do.
If today’s corporate kvetchers are more concerned with the state of their egos than with the state of the nation, it’s in part because their own fortunes aren’t tied to those of the nation the way they once were. In the postwar years, American companies depended largely on American consumers. Globalization has changed that…. The well-being of the American middle class just doesn’t matter as much to companies’ bottom lines. And there’s another change. Early in the past century, there was a true socialist movement in the United States, and in the postwar years the Soviet Union seemed to offer the possibility of a meaningful alternative to capitalism. Small wonder that the tycoons of those days were so eager to channel populist agitation into reform. Today, by contrast, corporate chieftains have little to fear, other than mildly higher taxes and the complaints of people who have read Thomas Piketty. Moguls complain about their feelings because that’s all anyone can really threaten.
James Surowiecki, “Moaning Moguls”
Actually, Supreme Court justices enter the building through a secure underground garage and, unlike women simply trying to receive the medical care they are morally and constitutionally entitled to have, never come anywhere near confronting face-to-face the protesters who appear at the front of the building. Just… FYI.
i love how “lmao” has evolved over the years from a genuine expression of mirth to the modern symbol of wet, unemphatic amusement; the mere ghost of an emotion, reflecting the journey of modern youth from innocent naievete to hardened apathy lmao
Maybe this happens because people say “i love” about things that are actually horribly depressing instead of saying “It’s depressing” about them.
In rare (and increasingly rarer) unguarded moments on Twitter, typically late on a Saturday night, I sometimes post something anxious, something about my life, something that’s not my professional face, but a glance at what I really think about. A few of the strangers that favorited those tweets have gone on to be close friends of mine. Newsletters filter out unwanted attention, but they might be doing this too well — filtering out the likeminded people we want to stumble upon these slightly less censored thoughts.
Joanne McNeil, “Tiny Letters to the Web We Miss”
The un-webbing of the web is, in a nutshell, the thing I hate about newsletters. It’s the branding of the human: the interesting people give you what they are seeing/noticing/enjoying/thinking about using exactly the same medium, format, and urgency that J.Crew uses to get you to buy clothes.
Seriously, have you read a J.Crew email lately? They have narrative. They offer a value proposition. They are generally imbued with a positive, almost humanist vibe. The motives are different, but the experience for the reader is the same.