Last week Dan Baum ate from the tree-of-temptation and tweeted blaspheme about the holiest of literary-institutions, The New Yorker. This weekend: Slate's Troy Patterson, Eric Easter of EbonyJet, and Emily of Emdashes pass judgment:
If you missed it while paying attention to the world at large: earlier this week typically-dignified New Yorkerers started pulling each other's hair and wrestling in the nude! Journalistically speaking, of course.
So what else could I do but round up some more mud and jello and media peeps and tell 'em all to 'rassle through the weekend: What of these monolithic media institutions and their "culture"? Would-be twitter-philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once quipped "the will to a system represents a lack of integrity", so perhaps Mr. Baum is right to give us a peek inside the machine? Shows character! No magazine or editor is bigger than the power of an "idea", darnit!
Or maybe you disagree. Let's see what my guests think:
The older an institution gets and the thicker its mythology, the more everyone involved—inside and outside—will grouse. Magazine workers, like residents of gentrified neighborhoods, are accustomed to hearing that people used to have more patience for eccentricity before it all went to hell. There could be an anthology of complaints by stung writers for any number of vaunted magazines, especially the ones that have the luxury of rejecting most of their supplicants. The anthology for The New Yorker would have a distinguished roster: from John O'Hara to Mavis Gallant to James Atlas. Still, many of these same writers were and are deeply grateful to be in the magazine at all.
Who wouldn't be? Even the prickliest of blog commenters reluctantly admit it's the magazine to beat. The New Yorker's populace and process have inspired plenty of wails and retorts over the past 80 years (and the same goes for Harper's, The Atlantic, The Nation, and on and on). The web just makes them searchable, and Twitter makes them into addictively bitter little snacks. I prefer Daniel Baum's long-form writing about New Orleans, Mexico, and his many and fruitful future subjects to his pulling back of the Remnickian curtain.
"It's not a magazine, it's a mission," Harold Ross once said, but any magazine is also a series of relationships and a social hive, for all its buzzing productivity. But even bees will eject a visitor from a foreign hive, or a worker who strays from his assigned task. It's not fair, but neither nature nor The New Yorker, as Baum knows, guarantees freedom from devastating turns of fate.
I think that means, "get over it, Mr. Baum." Next up Troy Patterson, who slaves as Slate's television critic, and recently argued for the genius of The Golden Girls. Surely he appreciates the spirit of rebellion:
In the matter, the general matter, of Former Writer v. Eustace Tilley, there is no improving on the fine analysis of the late John Leonard. His subject was a slew of books by former residents of the house of Mr. Shawn: "As if from Atlantis, Babylon, Brigadoon, the heart of darkness or a progressive preschool food fight, refugees from William Shawn's New Yorker flee the catastrophe of Newhouse directly into lurid memoir. Because they have injured feelings and scores to settle, they tend to bite one another on their kneecaps and pineal glands." Thus, turning Tilley's monocle back at him, Former Writer resembles, as often as not, The Penguin or Mr. Peanut. Or perhaps, in the case of Renata Adler, Count von Count.
Adler really does have a vampiric touch, which is what makes her Pauline Kael takedown so great and her "Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker" so pointlessly cold-hearted. "As I write this, The New Yorker is dead," Adler wrote in 1999, in a book that fumes like dry ice. I can't be the only person to think that statement silly. But who are we to begrudge a writer her disgruntlement or his grudges? We—you all, them over there, whoever—are the voyeurs fanning the flames of an ashtray fire, just because the magazine is very fancy and because, in Tom Wolfe's phrase, it has—or used to have, or whatever— a code of omerta. But every magazine is unhappy in its own way, duh.
There's a pretty simple reason why this is a problem. Magazines don't want anyone to hear about how they do contracts because almost no mag has a standard way of doing contracts. The value of one writer or the next is subjective and one guy's contract almost never looks like another guy's when it comes to money, or usage rights for that matter. Plus, any contract in any business is seen as a bond. Unless you're an NBA draftee or a government contractor, revealing the details of a contract, is seen as breaking an assumed bond.
Nevertheless, people in the media business pretty much suck at handling the media. Go figure.
Awesome. No advocates for Baum here, the baums. Heh. But maybe one of you proles can sympathize with his struggle? If you can, do so now, or forever hold you peace. A bit later Susan Orlean, one of the central protagonists in this Hundred Hours Twitter War will have a few things to say...
.... after this commercial break, natch.