So I was in my bathroom last night, flipping through the "It Girl" issue of Nylon* and the whole thing reminded me of another thing I saw but had no desire to post about earlier this week, the fact that Leigh "Princess Coldstare" Lezark was photographed attending at least 21 shows at Fashion Week. Yeah, no one cares! Blame the Subprime Celebrity Crisis.Of course no one cares about Leigh Lezark and Cory Kennedy and Peaches Geldof and even Julia Allison and no offense but their "zero money down" strategy w/r/t talent! This silly idea of Andy Warhol's about everyone getting to be microfamous is just as silly as the idea that everyone in America needs to own a house when obviously they really don't have the "marketable skills" our society would deem worthy of that sort of security. But we invested then-valuable hours in their crappy fundamentals and look what happened: they and Lindsay and Paris and the pothead socialite tranche and the Kardashian tranche and the reformed rapper concubine tranche brought the WHOLE CELEBRITY MARKET crashing down with them. And now it is up to Us Weekly to make sure Sarah Palin doesn't get elected while we at Gawker educate you in the ways of the new communist regime. Look, it is not like people were paying us to give them "AAA ratings." We hated them all along, every one, but we get paid by the page view. That is how the free market works. Or doesn't, I dunno! Anyway thank you market for rallying in support of us trying to figure out complicated things such as "How fucked are the people who don't actually have any money?" Please celebrate the liquidity while it lasts this beautiful cold weekend!
"What is kidult?" asks an impatient thirtysomething Hong Kong entrepreneur delivering a PowerPoint presentation in the most memorable story in this month's Harper's. Wong is bald, disheveled and — he confesses without shame to his audience of harried retail buyers — hungover. But he is happy! In a decidedly mercenary, mirthless industry (toys: the margins are crap and there's all those lead problems, you know) Wong has made millions on a business idea that can be essentially summarized as the invention of the Happy Meal of "kidults," whereby Wong's limited-edition action figures are packaged with six-packs of San Miguel beer. "I like video games, toys, model, comics book, everything. This is kidult," Wong says, allowing that he has the body of a 35-year-old and the mind of a 5-year-old. To "mix the imagination world and the real world-this is kidult." Wong is a curiously apt symbol of Harper's itself, a magazine at once repulsed/captivated/existentially amused by its own brand of kidulthood. Hey, maybe they should start packaging the magazine with beer! (Or Klonopin?)The obsession with the infantilization of everything that runs through the toy trade fair story - it is ostensibly on DEADLY TOYS! but it is really about how capitalism sucks duh — seems to permeate both the magazine's "real world" of journalism and its "imagination world" of fiction, the latter of which is okay maybe not "embodied by" but for my purposes represented here with last month's opening reading, a short story by Ben Marcus titled On Not Growing Up. And so although I once bought in to a jaded ex-staffer's characterization of the magazine as a "crusty old man" it would actually seem to be Harper's' intimacy with its inner teenage boy that differentiates it from the legion other stapled staples of highbrow required reading. The September issue, by way of example, features: 1. A description of a humping dog toy on display at the aforementioned toy fair whose packaging reads "I hump until disconnected." 2. A retired colonel leading a newly-established cultural-sensitivity hearts/minds unit called the "human terrain team" jokingly imagines an appropriate insignia for his unit to be "a skeleton surfing on a wave of human bodies…all the bodies of all the people that the United States Army has ever subjugated throughout history." ("No, no," the psychological operations (psyop) sergeant cuts in. "A skeleton sitting on a throne of skulls.") 3. Some excerpts from the board game "Vatican." (It is like the "Life" of the Holy See.) "The Holy Spirit intervenes in our favor by appearing to cardinals who had been wavering in their support of you. Earn forty cardinal votes." Hee hee, I love it when the Holy Spirit appears and advises me to, say, write… 4. Retarded-brilliant punny headlines i.e. "Paper Pushkin" and, atop a transcript of the torture-y interrogation of a sixteen-year-old accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, the title "Teen Beat." ** 5. A cover story on Kaplan's burgeoning "No Child Left Behind" business teaching test prep classes wherein an English teacher relates to the author, while they are eating lunch in a nursing home, that he sometimes writes fetish erotica about old people — and also "soft-cock fucking" — to make extra money.* 6. A whole passage on scientific sex studies that determine, among other things, that "men who are narcissistic thrill-seekers also have more sex." Also: "Computers are now better than people at air hockey." I could go on, but I don't actually want to tarnish the platinum prose that sets off these semi-precious little gems!*** The larger point is, Harper's kidulthood is the very thing that is so lovable about it. Part of this is merely a matter of salvaging some of the weirder details other editors would cut "for space."**** There are readers who might find some of that sort of detail gratuitous: reviews of Thomas Frank's book The Wrecking Crew, an excerpt of which***** was last month's Harper's cover story, roundly mocked Frank's fond little asides about his favorite DC hardcore bands such as Government Issue. To such readers I can only say: Fuck you. Because in all seriousness, all this beautiful puerile crap is generally the deliberate result of the magazine's mission to apply a kidlike curiosity to its subjects, more often than not by favoring over the opportunistic time peg or the imperative to Definitively Weigh In On Whatever a degree of participation to every topic it covers, to the point that it's sometimes hard to see why exactly they chose this moment in time to send that guy — and it is usually a guy, unless it is Barbara Ehrenreich — to do that weird thing. Why follow the trail of rubber ducks stranded by a container ship that capsized in the South China sea in 1992? Why hang out with Stevie Wonder at the Super Bowl when the bizarre dispatch won't hit newsstands until the following summer? Why start an inane trend called "flashmobbing" when…hey wait! As it turns out, maybe that's actually the wrong question. Maybe because a good story, to take this back to the opening anecdote, is a little like a toy robot:
From a 1993 Harper's, reprinting a lengthy missive from legendary author Terry Southern to the Village Voice. Southern, Dr. Strangelove screenwriter and New Journalism inventor, has some very important questions to ask about Joe Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, now possible Vice President. Click through to see.
The former editor (and current columnist) of the high-minded progressive mag writes about performance enhancers this month. Sadly, doesn't actually take them, as the cover line suggests. "That Major League Baseball continued to score game-winning profits despite the fears and suspicions noted in the margins of the official program (more players seen to resemble inflatable beach toys, mandatory and more frequent searches of antisocial urinary tracts, more pain-killing balms and ointments added to the roster of illegal contraband) testifies, as did Karl Rove's marketing of President George W. Bush, to the patriotism of the nation's sportswriters and the resilience of the American spirit." Steroids, hell &mdash that's the type of sentence written after a heavy dose of horse tranquilizers. [Harper's]
Every once in a while, we like to get a tour of a real sewer—and the drama surrounding the publication of 'Washington Post' media critic Howard Kurtz's latest book offered an opportunity too filthy to miss. Central to this particular mess's question is: Does a reporter's fondness or contempt for another reporter disqualify them from criticizing their work in print? (And if so, are we fired?) So let's go deep into the morass and play our favorite game: Who Hates Whom?
Spotted! Harper's magazine editor Roger Hodge ordering an iced coffee. He was holding a small Barney's COOP bag and was incredibly attractive. Says Mr. Hodge: "Gawker hasn't taken any potshots at Harper's recently. I'm beginning to feel neglected." Don't. Any number of women on our editorial staff and all the men would love to take care of you, handsome latte-drinking cowboy! [Ed. Note: Except Choire, who totally thinks you're a moron who doesn't know how to admit when he's wrong! Oh and say hi to Celia Farber!]
Heather Mallick is a Canadian columnist-broad with an axe to grind against Roger Hodge, the new editor of Harper's. Heather's problem with Roger is that Harper's doesn't publish enough lady writers. (Their 2006 numbers: "118 male bylines, only 17 female"). Heather feels angry about this, and has also been upset by the way in which Hodge has responded to her complaints: "You don't read Harper's because of the sex or race or the regional background or ethnicity of the contributors." Fortunately for Heather, she can take some joy in the fact that the mag doesn't move a lot of copies.
Lewis Lapham, the former Harper's editor whose name we are seemingly unable to type without attaching the descriptor "soporific," gets a profile in today's Sun pegged to the forthcoming release of Lapham's Quarterly, a publication which should have the billion-dollar sleep-aid industry soiling its collected trousers. Sun scribe Gary Shapiro starts the piece by noting that "F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there are no second acts in American lives, but he never met Lewis Lapham." Lewis better get a move on if he's going to finish the first scene of his Act Two. Dude's a septuagenarian with a smoking habit. That curtain is coming down one way or another. Bonus fun fact: As it turns out, reading about Lewis Lapham is only slightly less boring than reading Lewis Lapham.
Last night, the streets of New York were deprived of their corduroy and tortoise-shell glasses as the literary Three 6 mafia gathered at Pravda for Harper's Annual Christmas Party. Gridskipper editor (and former Harper's intern) Joshua David Stein ventured into the thick of it with photog Tina Tyrell to document the wan depravity of it all. Be sure not to miss the special secret song inside: It reveals some fascinating secrets about Lewis Lapham's urinary habits.
This (admittedly grainy) still comes from the most recent episode of Aaron Sorkin's No-Fun-Time Heavy-Handed Liberal Moralizing Hour — er, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Not content with merely spouting his self-righteous decaffeinated Mametisms in ludicrous dialogue, he's also decided to provide "characterization" through a cast member's choice of reading material. Look closely and you'll see that D.L. Hughley, the name of whose character we would know if we watched the show, which we don't, because, you know, fuck Aaron Sorkin, is reading Harper's, that bible of liberal certainty favored by those who find the fast-paced delivery of NPR reporters to be too agitating. While we're sorry for Mother Jones that they failed to make the cut, we want to give props for Hughley, who somewho manages to actually look at a page of Harper's without immediately drifting into a deep slumber. That, friends, is acting!
One of the vows we took when coming aboard the good ship Gawker was to drastically reduce the coverage of media softball games: Frankly, we couldn't give a shit about a bunch of folks who all went to the same six schools tossing spherical objects around Central Park, and, really, we felt bad about taking material that should rightfully belong to Deadspin. This morning, however, we were forwarded Matt Dellinger's coverage of the recent New Yorker/Harper's outing, and, well, it's just so adorable that we have to share it with you. See, Matt wrote it up Harper's Index Style, which, if not necessarily comedy gold, is certainly comedy silver. After the jump, see what Conde Nast employees do instead of fixing up their website.
Last night's Publishers Lunch weekly roundup brought news of yet another prominent blogger's book deal:
• Yesterday's American Media bloodletting will cut the mag publisher's workforce by 9 percent. [WWD]
• And will save the company about $10 million. [NYP]
• With Katie Couric heading to CBS, NBC is days away from a deal to bring Meredith Vieira to fill her clickety stiletto heels. [NYT]
• Gabe Sherman agrees: Times Discovery Channel might be on its way out. Plus Hearst in the new tower, Lapham at Michael's, and Raines at Harvard. [NYO]
• The New York Times has finally done something to make Jack Shafer happy. So now he'll cancel his subscription. [Slate]
• The Week names Nick Kristof Columnist of the Year. We imagine Andrea Peyser is devastated. [E&P]
As the Observer Mobsters reported yesterday, next week's New York mag will prostrate itself before four "Brainy Young Things," the "youthful, erudite whippersnappers" who had recently taken over some of "America's oldest and most venerable magazines. They're James Bennet of The Atlantic, Franklin Foer of the New Republic, The Paris Review's Philip Gourevitch, and Roger Hodge of Harper's. We got a quick preview of the text, and we admit we're intrigued, especially by a quote from Hodge:
• Times happily runs advertising section from Sudan, whose leaders — as Times columnist Nick Kristof likes to point out — are encouraging genocide. [NYDN]
• Lewis Lapham, as he steps down from Harper's editorship, will keep working. And keep smoking. [WP]
• One Park, a reality show about life at AMI, moves closer to happening. Except that the lawyers are against it, chief David Pecker is against it, and the company doesn't have the rights to the name "One Park." But, you know, otherwise things are good. [WWD]
• CJR disses Marketwatch media writer Jon Friedman. Hard. [CJR Daily]
• Big media companies like buying popular websites. Who knew? [Mediaweek]
• 2005 was a bad year for newspapers. You don't say. [WSJ]
• David Carr can't quite figure out why CBS wants Katie Couric so badly. [NYT]
• Lewis Lapham's welcome present for Roger Hodge: Lots of readers pissed off about an article on researchers who dispute the idea that HIV causes AIDS. [NYT]
• Diane Sawyer will be the next World News Tonight anchor. [Newsday]
• No, wait. Charlie Gibson will. [NYP]
The March issue of Harper's has a particularly great article by senior editor Bill Wasik, whose name is probably otherwise unfamiliar to you. That's because he's lived under the shroud of secrecy — Wasik is the inventor of the flash mob. Remember those breezy days of 2003 and 2004? An email or a Craigslist posting would appear and a large group of random strangers would convene in a certain place at a specific time, do something odd, and then quickly disperse no more than 10 minutes later. Heady times, man.