As the audience put down their glasses of complimentary wine and prepared to shuffle into the New York Public Library's subterranean auditorium to hear preternaturally youthful Harper's editor Roger Hodge lob softballs at revered public intellectual Naomi Klein about her new book The Shock Doctrine, we overheard a new media mogul grumbling to a crony, "Is this going to annoy me by being too lefty?" The answer turned out to be be, "Yup!"
Also: duh! How could anyone even vaguely familiar with Naomi's credentials or latest book's thesis not know that last night's event would be full of the kind of classic New York elderliberals who like to applaud when anyone says anything negative about Bush and holler back encouragingly at public speakers as if they are back at the Union rally of their heyday? (Also: bless these people, for serious). But anyone who attended last night's event looking for anything remotely resembling dissent or debate would have been disappointed. And there is something sort of inherently boring about sitting in a room full of people who all feel exactly the same way.
Actually! As NYPL Live organizer-jester Paul Holdengräber kicked off last night's event with a series of announcements, it occurred to me that attending events at the NYPL is almost exactly like attending a completely secular religious service. I had missed High Holy Day services this year, so it made me feel virtuous to be learning about exactly how our government is evil in a brightly-lit room full of like-minded people. Probably most of them were Jewish, too!
In addition to being like Temple, last night's event was also sort of like eavesdropping on a first date, because even though Roger edited the original article in his magazine which later evolved into her book, this was the first time he and Naomi had ever met in person. He flirted with her unabashedly, seconding all her ideas, but made sure to gesture vividly from time to time with his wedding-ring hand.
Naomi, for her part, was patient with Roger throughout her talk, even when he cut her off in order to express her own ideas less articulately than she would have. Maybe she fell under the spell of his tiny-nosed, almost RobLoweian cuteness, but I doubt it. For my part, I was less impressed with Roger's rogerability than I'd hoped to be. He has big ears.
If you've ever seen Naomi speak, you know that she has an almost superhumanly great rhetorical style. It's almost eerie, actually, how she will keep smiling placidly while talking about how "the war on terror is not a war, it's a new economy." The one time things threatened to get too serious was when Naomi was talking about visiting with a patient who'd been the victim of an evil psychiatrist's 1950s experiment with using extreme electroshock therapy to erase a person's old personality in order to rebuild from scratch. But she cut the tension with a single line: "I told her, you remind me of Iraq ... sort of a heavy thing to say to someone, right?"
That idea—that our government has created chaos, and taken advantage of naturally occurring chaos or terror, in order to attempt to install what they say is a free market economy but what is actually what she calls "crony capitalism"—is the central one of Naomi's new book, and, you know, it's a great one. Last night's audience certainly applauded for a long time, but you'd expect that.
Afterwards, Naomi continued to beam beatifically as she signed books for all her bedredlocked, chunky-beaded fans. Roger stood off to the side with two young women—Harper's interns maybe. "Are you staying for the drinks?" he asked one of them, making a "tossing one back" gesture. "I wouldn't miss the drinking part!" she purred.