This trend piece comes to us from Teddy Wayne, bestselling novelist and author of one million mildly to somewhat amusing one-sentence articles for McSweeney’s. (For those not familiar with McSweeney’s, it is an online humor site for people who hate dick jokes and love those Yelp reviews that are in the form of an open letter to an abstract entity, but wish they were a little edgier.) But he’s not just a disarmingly quirky observer of modern mores; he’s also a concerned and judgmental observer of modern mores. For instance, one day Wayne was on Amtrak, and overheard four debutantes conversing. He found their discussion to be humorous, so he began typing what they said and posting it on Facebook for his friends to laugh at. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s a really cool story. It’s a shame that only Teddy Wayne’s Facebook friends got to see those posts, when they should have been made available for everyone to read. Teddy Wayne is too modest, making fun of teenage girls on Facebook and then trying to get out of taking credit for it.”
“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” So claimed T. S. Eliot in his iconic essay “Hamlet and His Problems.” And what’s true of Hamlet is doubly true for the New York Times‘ Modern Love column. This recurring essay feature aspires to represent emotion in the form of art, but with a 2000-word length limit, plus there’s no sex scenes or cussing allowed. To put things into perspective, this it what it sounds like when an essayist describes their love story in literal language: “We went to the beach and swam, held hands at the Fourth of July fireworks, went on roller coasters at Six Flags, ate Thanksgiving dinner with each other’s families, exchanged gifts on Christmas. We cried when I had to leave for long periods of time.” Fascinating. No, this will not do: If you wish to interest the world in your banal tale of romantic disappointment, you must take Eliot’s advice. You need a metaphor. You need a symbol. You need an objective correlative for those ineffable emotions. Like this: Read more…
With summer winding down, time is running out to plan your vacation. The New York Times travel section can help. Or it could, if you ever looked at it. You might never have perused the pages of this section, even if you’ve been a subscriber for years. With its hundreds of thousands of words a day, even dedicated readers don’t have time to explore the obscurer corners of the publication. And after all, this is a newspaper that can turn shopping for a stool into an excruciating exercise in status-symbol posturing. One might naturally be reluctant to find out just how snobbish they can get when the subject is Thai yoga retreats or fine dining in Paris.
The Travel section does offer some helpful, informative pieces, written from a neutral perspective and designed to help the typical traveler find her way. But this format is difficult for a jaded journalist to pull off, lacking as it does in personality or narrative interest. And the periodical format’s hunger for novelty makes it inevitable that some scribes would package their experiences as news. Furthermore, world-weary professional travellers can sometimes lose touch with the mindset of overworked provincials. Thus the matter-of-fact articles are often overwhelmed by those that try to juice up their subject with trend-piece glamour, or drag it down with angsty moaning and luxury-problem griping. So, in this, the first in a (very occasional) series on the lesser-read sections of the Times, we’ll explore the most common Travel pitfalls to watch out for.
We’ve all heard about “first world problems,” “white whines,” dilemmas of affluence and so on. The First World is awash in blogs, Tumblrs, and free-floating disapproval for any of its members who might voice complaints about problems that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But are these gibes really fair? Many so-called “first-world problems” are legitimate pet peeves that might annoy anyone, from Brooklyn to Bangladesh, Napa to Nairobi. No one enjoys late trains, poor cell phone reception or defective Tic-Tacs. And whatever your position on the socioeconomic scale, it’s human nature to comment on it. The mockery of “luxury problems,” while well-meaning, seems a bit condescending toward the underprivileged, as well as unnecessarily dismissive of affluent problem-havers. They’re not trying to taunt the marginalized and dispossesed. It’s not like they’re bitching about having too much food in their kitchen, or something.
Unless they actually are. If so, let’s nail those honkies to a cross.
American culture abounds with knee-jerk displays of patriotism. Fourth of July fireworks, Presidents’ Day, elections, baseball games, football games, gun shows, the Country Music Awards, pep rallies, NRA conventions, even the state fair — all come with flag-waving, anthem-singing, and the implicit belief that America is the best because we have the most “freedom.” But does this assumption comport with facts, or is it a reductive, even jingoistic oversimplification? The naïve citizen would claim that freedom means the ability to choose the direction your life will take, or a lack of undue burdens like oppression and bigotry. These definitions create a false binary, putting freedom in the “good” category while consigning so-called “evils” like slavery, totalitarianism, unjust laws, bigotry, poverty and lack of opportunity to the “bad” category. That kind of black-and-white thinking might fly in kindergarten, but it simply won’t do for the sophisticated readers of the Paper of Record! They demand nuanced, rigorous thought.
New York Times editorialists are ready to give it to them. And for most, that can mean only one thing. Read more…
Here’s a little Cosmo-style quiz. Instead of testing your Penis Perspicacity, you’re finding out whether you have what it takes to live the New York Times Style section lifestyle! Just think about the question, formulate your answer, then read on to find your score.
You look in the mirror, and notice your skin isn’t looking very radiant. You want to look younger, eliminate wrinkles and clogged pores, and have softer, more supple skin than ever. What do you do?
The great thinkers of humanity’s past have devised many ethical systems, all purporting to tell conscientious citizens how to do the right thing. From Islamic law and the Ten Commandments to the Golden Rule and the Yamas and Niyamas of yogic philosophy — from Utilitarianism to liberal humanism to the Categorical Imperative and even Objectivism — these codes seek to answer our deepest questions. Is our greatest responsibility to ourselves, or others? Individuals, or the community? What about animals, and the environment? Are corporations people? Is it permissible to bring your own candy into the movie theater? Is straying from the path of virtue the same as pigging out on pizza and fries?
Yes, the world’s tradition of moral reasoning is indeed diverse. Put it all in a blender with some whimsical self-deprecation, add water, and you’ve got the New York Times Ethicist column. Read more…