Why You Should Never Be Profiled by The New York Times Style SectionS

Oh, look: The New York Times has profiled several well-pedigreed, intelligent and pretentious 20-somethings in today's Style section under the title "New York's Literary Cubs." What an excellent reminder to never talk to a Style section reporter!

In the article, the Times checks out a new literary journal called The New Inquiry, founded by some young Ivy League graduates:

It was the weekly meeting of The New Inquiry, a scrappy online journal and roving clubhouse that functions as an Intellectuals Anonymous of sorts for desperate members of the city's literary underclass barred from the publishing establishment. Fueled by B.Y.O.B. bourbon, impressive degrees and the angst that comes with being young and unmoored, members spend their hours filling the air with talk of Edmund Wilson and poststructuralism.

[...]

Young, Web-savvy and idealistic, [editor Rachel Rosenfelt] and two friends - Jennifer Bernstein and Mary Borkowski - wanted to create their generation's version of cultural criticism, equally versed in Theodor Adorno and Britney Spears. Finding contributors was easy: their social circle was filled with overeducated, underemployed postgrads willing to work free to be heard on subjects like Kanye West's effect on the proletarian meta-narrative of hip-hop.

Obviously, these kids are really annoying. But who cares? They're just pretentious, literary 25-year-olds who want to spend time with similarly pretentious, literary 25-year-olds. There's nothing wrong with that! For hundreds of years, unbearable young people have tried to hang out with other unbearable young people. The problem is that these kids, well-meaning as they are, let themselves be written about by the Style section.

See, the secret of the Style section is that it's intended for two audiences. The first audience is its "official," explicit audience: people who see nothing problematic with being told by The New York Times what's cool, and think of the Style section is a straight-ahead, unironic record of hip trends and cool people. This is the audience that most people imagine when they okay a Style section profile.

But there is the second audience. A secret audience. This audience, of which you are a member, is both mesmerized and repelled by the Style section. This audience reads the Style section, week after week, and thinks "what the fuck is wrong with rich people?" This audience regards the Style section as a collection of dispatches from a different universe; a universe where some of the most horrible and insufferable people on the planet are treated as visionaries and geniuses. A rich universe.

The Times is aware of this. It reads the comments. And it understands that as a strategy to drive pageviews, trolling has a long and time-honored history. Articles like this are designed to elicit head shakes and eye rolls. Look at its tactics:

  • Breathless descriptions: "[S]helves of yellowing volumes of Dostoyevsky and Camus reaching to the ceiling and air thick with the musty smell of stale tobacco and old paperbacks"
  • Frequent references to clothes and and other cultural signifiers: "[D]ressed in untucked oxford shirts and off-brand jeans, mingled around a rickety table packed with half-empty Jim Beam bottles"
  • Required mention of Ivy League degrees: "REBECCA CHAPMAN, who has a master of arts in English and comparative literature from Columbia University"; "Willie Osterweil, 25, an aspiring novelist who graduated magna cum laude from Cornell in 2009"
  • Concern about attractiveness of subjects: "Despite the fact that everyone was young and attractive, no one seemed to flirt"
  • Name-dropping like crazy

Read it and think: this could happen to you too, if you got caught at your most pretentious, or most style-conscious, or most snobby, and all of a sudden you, too, would become a symbol of everything that is wrong with everything. Think about every annoying thing you've ever said and done, written about in the Style style. Spooky, right? Never talk to a Style reporter! Fuck the Style section! All these kids wanted to do was "talk of Edmund Wilson and poststructuralism."

Actually, maybe fuck them, too.

[NYT, Image via Flickr]