Green Room

NYT Magazine: Grotesque

posted at 1:08 pm on March 21, 2010 by

Do you take the Sunday NYT?  I do, or rather, my husband does.  He’s still living in the pre-cable, pre-talk radio world where you simply assume that the NYT is balanced because William Safire and David Brooks are on the editorial page, and if you want some really conservative reading, there’s always the Wall Street Journal.  Several years ago, I complained that Frank Rich had expended another 4,000 words in the “Arts and Culture” section on Dick Cheney and Enron.  My husband’s response, “He’s just a critic.  No one cares.”  To which I said, “He’s editorializing and unlike you, everyone else who reads the NYT reads the “Arts and Culture” section.”  Less than a month later, Frank Rich was MOVED to the Editorial Page.  Let’s just say I suffer.

Today, hubby and I finally agreed on something with respect to the NYT: what they did today in their magazine was grotesque.  When you open this glossy mag, you expect to see, among other things, real estate offerings that stretch the definition of opulence.  Condos that cost more than most people make in a lifetime.  Luxury and artistry and fabulousness of abode, furnishings and style that boggle the imagination.  One ad caught my eye: a full-floor, 6 bedroom, 6-1/2 bath, 6800 sq. ft. condo in a pre-war building on West End Ave.  $25 million.

Then there was  a feature about “unusual” homes- one carved out of the side of a cliff, one in a converted church in England.  Truly fabulous, beautiful, intriguing.  What all the ads and the feature have in common, though, is that these are homes of people who have lots and lots of extra dough.  You’d need to, for the taxes, the maids, the furnishings, the heating bills (that church is a bitch to heat, I’ll bet.)  It’s the kind of moneyed opulence that I can barely imagine, and would actively eschew if I suddenly came into $100 million.

But, in the middle of all this, literally in the middle, was a feature on the art of one Karina Lau, whose project is a series of black and white photographs entitled, “The Shrine Down the Hall.”

The rooms depicted were humble enough, but the subtext, that people who had very little materially, had lost monumental treasure, seems to be completely lost on the NYT.

There’s an essay here, about the series of photographs that fall under the NYT’s category of “War Memorial,” about the editorial decision to put that series of photographs in the middle of the glossy paean to super wealth, super style, super materialistic Upper East Side Elite “We’re Practically Europe” New York As Center of the World.  About the New York Times relentless “framing” of war as a something our kind doesn’t do- we go to Davos, we engage, we are smart.  War is really bad mostly because all wars are like Vietnam and are promulgated by presidents we hate (even if you have to twist history a bit to get that to come out right: Nixon, not LBJ or St. Jack of Camelot, is responsible for the worst bits of the National Tragedy that was Vietnam) and fought by knuckle-dragging rubes from the hinterland who have flunked out of high school and have no options.  Not our kind.

I don’t think that I have what it takes to do an exhaustive comment on this, but just off the top of my head, I will say that I found the pictures themselves to be rather sterile, unmoving.  They reminded me more than anything of the aestethic of the Vietnam memorial, which reflects the view that lives lost in war are a personal tragedy and have no greater meaning because everyone knows that war is a mistake, that war is always a craven enterprise meant to line the pockets of Halliburton, Brown & Root, Exxon, and Dick Cheney.  That war is not the answer, you dopes, didn’t you learn that on Sesame Street?  It reflects the entirely elitist viewpoint that only suckers are patriotic to the point of actually fighting for their country, but they should be pitied for all that.

Dear New York Times Magazine, Pinch, Frank, et al.: Stuff your pity.

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It is not fair that so few should have so much while so many have so little.

Skandia Recluse on March 21, 2010 at 2:20 PM

Skandia Recluse, what you have expressed is called envy, even if you mask it as compassion. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins, and it is labelled as such for a reason. It destroys the person who holds it on the inside, and leads him to destroy wealth in the physical world. The cure to material poverty is the culture of opportunity and the ethos to use is, tempered with the demands of justice.

Just about all the truly desperate poverty in the world is the result of government. Bad government. Warlords and utopians taking the role of government by force. Are you willing to fix that, or is that “none of our business”?

njcommuter on March 21, 2010 at 4:03 PM

Interesting, Barbara. That photo essay would come off so differently if you didn’t suspect that it was all self-expressive performance art to the photographer and publisher.

P.J. O’Rourke had a wonderful line in an essay he did just after the Berlin Wall came down. He wrote briefly about the experience of the journalist in the high Cold War days, traipsing through East Berlin with a sense of being at the center of history and destiny and thinking, “This is me, walking through East Berlin!”

It was, of course, a typically pitch-perfect O’Rourke evocation of the minds behind the reportage. The Lau feature reminds me of that. “This is me, reporting on the loss of people’s soldier-sons, -daughters, -husbands, etc!”

It’s very possible that Lau herself just has a compassionate urge. Sadly, though, NYT wore out our patience long ago regarding “reportage” that’s supposed to pull poignantly at our heartstrings. The demagogic sanctimony has been full-frontal for so many years now, who trusts NYT (or any other MSM outlet) to speak to us not from an agenda-driven ulterior motive, but from shared humanity?

J.E. Dyer on March 21, 2010 at 4:13 PM

It is not fair that so few should have so much while so many have so little.

Skandia Recluse on March 21, 2010 at 2:20 PM

More importantly, it’s evil that people who have so much will condemn to rest of us to servitude to big government.

disa on March 21, 2010 at 4:31 PM

Skandia Recluse, what you have expressed is called envy, even if you mask it as compassion. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins, and it is labelled as such for a reason. It destroys the person who holds it on the inside, and leads him to destroy wealth in the physical world. The cure to material poverty is the culture of opportunity and the ethos to use is, tempered with the demands of justice.

Just about all the truly desperate poverty in the world is the result of government. Bad government. Warlords and utopians taking the role of government by force. Are you willing to fix that, or is that “none of our business”?

njcommuter on March 21, 2010 at 4:03 PM

As George Will said at CPAC, envy is the only one of the seven deadly sins that affords not a single moment of pleasure. Ditch that attitude.

Are you in Sweden? Wherfore the “Skandia”?

disa on March 21, 2010 at 4:33 PM

J.E. Dyer on March 21, 2010 at 4:13 PM

Also reminds me of Ted Koppel self-importantly devoting a program to reading the names of the dead – from the war in Iraq to that point – on Nightline. “This is me, giving the real meaning to their sacrifice!” All those “honor rolls” affect me the same way – somewhat similarly to the Vietnam War Memorial, which Barbara mentions, though at least as honor rolls go, it’s a bit more permanent than a TV episode – more like a big collective tombstone.

CK MacLeod on March 21, 2010 at 6:42 PM

Good one, CKM. You’re quite right about that Koppel performance (and performance it was). I have to admit I don’t mind The Wall. If you’ve ever been in uniform, seeing vets there paying tribute to their fallen comrades is as much like seeing the “boys of Pont du Hoc” arrayed before Reagan in 1984 as makes no odds. But I do understand people’s visceral objection to the self-consciousness of that particular memorial concept.

J.E. Dyer on March 22, 2010 at 10:41 AM

Every week the NYT magazine has some such liberal drivel essay or photo layout, and with no irony at all it is juxtaposed with the ads for the $25 million apartments and the rerviews for the restaurant that charges $30 for a hamburger. The same is true of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. New Yorkers really don’t get the irony. They believe they are entitled to their huge salaries and fabulously expensive lifestyles, while they sanctimoniously condemn the system that enables them to make that huge salary.

rockmom on March 22, 2010 at 10:50 AM