The Hartford Courant ran a piece about me today. I have yet to purchase a newspaper, but my friend was kind enough to send me a photo of the story as it appears in the paper.
My favorite part of the piece is the photo of me writing at the table in all my unglamorous glory: sleeping baby at my feet, Big Gulp by my side, a table scattered with papers and toys and mail awaiting my attention.
The next time someone tells me that they can only write in a coffee shop with their beverage of choice on a MacBook Air between the hours of 10:00 AM and 1:00 PM, I’m going to suggest that they be a little less precious about the time and location and method of writing and a little more precious about getting actual words on the page.
Here’s the good news:
I did not recognize the woman on the front cover who was “obsessed with being thin” (though I suspect that she might not actually be a celebrity).
I learned that someone named Kim is in love and wants “his baby,” but I do not know who Kim is and do not know whose baby she wants.
Ashley and Pete have apparently been torn apart, but I do not know who Ashley or Pete are (though both look happy about their recent breakup/divorce).
LC and Whitney are in a jealous feud, but I do not recognize either person.
I assume that the lack of last names means that Kim, Ashley, Pete, LC and Whitney are considered household names.
But not for me.
Once again, I find myself a little nervous about my deteriorating level of pop culture capital.
But I also can’t help but think that the time that I could have spent getting to know about Kim’s love life or LC and Whitney’s feud was better spent on the writing and reading and playing with my daughter that undoubtedly filled my time.
In fact, I suspect that I was probably better off clipping my toenails, twiddling my thumbs and staring at the ceiling rather than learning about the intricacies of Pete and Ashley's relationship.
Honestly, am I missing anything at all?
When I heard that Snob magazine was hitting newsstands in December, I was thrilled. What better way to tell a person that he or she is an unlikeable, unjustifiable elitist than by sending them a subscription to Snob Magazine?
I instantly had two or three recipients in mind.
Of course, the one caveat would be that the I could not send the magazine anonymously. The first issue of the magazine would need to be accompanied by a card clearly indicating that I was the sender.
To hide behind the mask of anonymity in a case like this would be cowardly and despicable.
Years ago one of my friends had a book on manners and etiquette sent to his house anonymously as a means of sending him the message that someone in his life did not think him very polite.
Thankfully, the idiot sender left the receipt inside the book, and since he had paid with a credit card, his name was printed alongside the price of the book, thus allowing my friend to confront his attacker face-to-face.
This should be the fate of every coward who uses anonymity when attacking another person.
While attaching a calling card to the first issue of the magazine would make the prank slightly less palatable, I would still do it in at least one case.
It would be too apropos to pass up.
Then I discovered that Snob is a Russian language magazine.
It almost makes me want to find a Russian speaking friend, snob or otherwise.
The idea is just too good to pass up.
I was getting my haircut last week. and the usually bustling salon was relatively empty. Just me, the woman cutting my hair (not my regular stylist) and a customer on the other side of the salon, sitting with tinfoil in her hair.
Halfway through the haircut, the tinfoil lady, People magazine in hand, asked my stylist, “Does Angelina Jolie have a reason to be angry with Jennifer Aniston?” So began a five minute discussion about these two actresses. Their careers. Their children. Their love lives.
At one point I finally asked, “Do either one of you know these women?”
Of course, they did not. Yet their conversation continued as if they did. Back and forth, these women debated the decisions and morality of these two women, as if these actresses’ lives had any importance or meaning to their own.
And as if they could honestly rely on the gossip media for accuracy in reporting.
Let me just say it:
I find this conversation, and conversations like it, to be trashy, petty, simpleminded, and meaningless. And publications like People magazine, US magazine, and every other celebrity-obsessed website and print medium operate in a similar vein.
Don't get me wrong. I don’t begrudge the publishers for making a profit. As one of my heroes, HL Mencken once said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."
But doesn’t there come a point in a person’s life when the divorce and diet plans of people who pretend to be someone else in front of a camera cease to hold any interest?
Last week I was visiting relatives when I was asked what I thought about Jesse James. Naturally, I thought they were referring to the bank robber from nineteenth century. When I explained that I had not heard about this modern-day version of Jesse James, I don’t think they believed me at first.
Yes, I know who Sandra Bullock is.
Yes, I even know she won an Oscar. I saw the movie and read the book.
Yes, I think I even heard her Oscar speech, recommended to to via Twitter from someone I follow.
But no, I don’t remember the reference to her husband in the speech, because doesn’t everyone thank their spouse after winning an Oscar?
And no, I had no idea that her husband was cheating on her.
But then again, how would I know? Not a single one of my friends brought this situation up in conversation. I do not watch any television programs that deal with celebrity gossip. And I don’t read celebrity-gossip publications like People or US.
And let’s face it: If you are a subscriber or regular reader of one of these publications, you are probably in the company of the lowest common denominator of American society.
Please note for those suddenly offended: I did not say that you are a member of the lowest common denominator. I simply stated that you are in their company. You are probably a brilliant thespian, but you’re surrounded by morons.
Are there any magazines of lesser value than those that hire photographers to stalk celebrities for a picture of their new baby? Or write incessantly about the weight problems of a twenty-something? Or elevate girls whose fathers are rich to the heights of celebrity?
And is there anything worse than wanting to see a photo of a celebrity baby when you know the mother or father were trying to keep their child out of the public eye? Or wanting to read the story about the young woman who gained thirty pounds and now can’t find work in Hollywood? Or the rich but otherwise irrelevant girl who has been caught in a sex tape scandal?
Doesn’t there come a time in a person’s like when magazine covers like this become repulsive?
May I humbly recommend magazine covers that look more like this:
One of the websites that I like best is the New York Times Most Popular page, where you can get links to the most emailed and most blogged stories from the Times, ranked in order. I often find these lists quite telling in terms of defining the average reader of the Times as well as the mood of the country.
Today’s top three emailed stories:
I can get drunk AND lost weight? Has heaven come crashing down to Earth?
Also, health stories related to weight loss, alcohol consumption, and sex invariably make it to the top of this list. Write a story about how the chemical composition in a specific microbrew leads to an improved sex life, which will lead to more calories burned through more frequent and vigorous sex, and you will have yourself a most-emailed story.
The obsessions of America are clear.
The average age of the New York Times reader is over 40. No one under 40 had ever cared about doctor-related stories.
Even though I can’t control my own kid and they have to deal with twenty or thirty similarly-challenging kids per class…
…and even though they often have just as many or more college degrees than the average professional…
…and even though they don’t make nearly as much as their counterparts in private industry….
…teacher still get paid too much money.
Perhaps I’ll post the top three from these lists more often.
Is there a person alive who doesn’t lament the possible death of the American newspaper?
If so, then why is the American newspaper dying?
If we are all so concerned with the loss of the hometown newspaper, why aren’t people actually purchasing the newspaper? This reminds me of our shabby treatment of the independent bookstore.
Universally revered and essentially ignored by the masses.
Jason Kottke points to a Harper’s Magazine article Final Edition: The Twilight of the American Newspaper and quotes the following text. It’s worth reading:
We will end up with one and a half cities in America -- Washington, D.C., and American Idol. We will all live in Washington, D.C., where the conversation is a droning, never advancing, debate between "conservatives" and "liberals." We will not read about newlyweds. We will not read about the death of salesmen. We will not read about prize Holsteins or new novels. We are a nation dismantling the structures of intellectual property and all critical apparatus. We are without professional book reviewers and art critics and essays about what it might mean that our local newspaper has died. We are a nation of Amazon reader responses (Moby Dick is "not a really good piece of fiction" -- Feb. 14, 2009, by Donald J. Bingle, Saint Charles, Ill. -- two stars out of five). We are without obituaries, but the famous will achieve immortality by a Wikipedia entry.
Life magazine, 1935-1972, is now available online through Google Books.
It joins Life magazine’s photo archive, also available courtesy of Google.
I just spent an hour reading through issues from the 1940s and found the advertising to be most interesting. Sexist, straight-forward, scantily-clad, and almost always sentimental, it’s hard to imagine a time when magazine advertisements such as these were effective.
The New Yorker offered me a 250% discount on a year's subscription, citing me as a "professional."
Having ideas for stories that I would like to publish in the magazine someday, and liking the sound of the word professional, I was unreasonably excited about this offer.
How can I resist such a deal?
Except now I will have to suffer from New Yorker guilt as the magazines pile up, week after week, only partially read.