The New York Times, crying for help: We’ve tried and tried and tried and tried to describe the groaning problems with New York Times upper-class culture.
To its credit, the paper itself keeps issuing cries for help. This morning, the Times pulls out all stops, doing everything it can to help readers see its great problem.
Please examine the front page of today’s Sunday Review.
As the globe writhes and burns, the New York Times runs two reports—Count em, two!—in that high-profile spot. In one report, the often peculiar James Atlas—real name?—documents a problem he calls, “Class Struggle in the Sky:”
The text which follows actually appears in this morning’s New York Times. It appears in one of the most prominent spots of the week:
ATLAS (7/7/13): Class Struggle in the SkyAt this most clueless of all publications, the concept of “class struggle” and “class division” involves the insufficient snacks Atlas was served on his recent flight. To prove that he has the world’s numbest nuts, Atlas adds to these thoughts a bit later.
The choice of “snacks” on my New York to Miami flight includes blue potato chips, a Luna bar, a packet of trail mix and—a selection I haven’t been offered before—popcorn. But it makes sense: the cabin already feels like a movie theater at the end of a showing, even though we still have an hour to go. The floor is strewn with candy-bar wrappers and broken headsets, crumpled napkins and cracked plastic glasses. There’s so little legroom that I have to push my knees against the seat in front of me as if I’m doing crunches. Welcome to economy.
Elsewhere in the plane—“on the other side of the curtain,” as the first-class and business cabins are referred to—dinners are being served on white linen tablecloths, with actual bone china. Everyone’s got their “amenities kit”—one of those little nylon bags containing slippers, an eyeshade and a toothbrush. And legroom? Tons. While our seat width contracts—on some airlines by nearly eight inches in recent years—the space up front continues to expand: Emirates Airlines now offers, as part of its “first-class private suite,” a private room with minibar, wide-screen TV and “lie-flat bed.”
This stark class division should come as no surprise: what’s happening in the clouds mirrors what’s happening on the ground. Statusization—to coin a useful term—is ubiquitous, no matter what your altitude. While you’re in your hospital bed spooning up red Jell-O, a patient in a private suite is enjoying strawberries and cream...
Please note his deeply clueless idea of what life was like in the 1960s. As a sidelight, please note his Inevitable Standard Assessment of the public schools:
ATLAS: Ah, the old days. But it’s true: there was a time when air travel—for everyone, regardless of class station—was synonymous with luxury. Bruce Handy captured the way things were in a nostalgic Vanity Fair essay about stewardesses (“stews”): “Their ‘look’ was as polished as the marble in a corporate lobby,” writes Mr. Handy. They wore lipstick and false eyelashes, white gloves and crisply folded hats. And they were young: the mandatory retirement age was 32. Flying in that long-vanished era, when Kennedy was Idlewild and the MetLife Building atop Grand Central was the Pan Am Building, felt special. I remember being presented with plastic wings on my first flight to Nassau, Bahamas, when I was 13. I was like that kid in “Catch Me if You Can” who comes up to Leonardo DiCaprio, looking spiffy in his captain’s uniform with gold stripes on the sleeve, and asks for his autograph: “Are you a real live pilot?”In the mind of this overwrought fellow, “there was a time when air travel—for everyone, regardless of class station—was synonymous with luxury.” (Our emphasis)
The movie is set in the mid-’60s, the end of a high moment in American life, at least for the middle class. It was a time when public schools could still be counted on to provide a decent education; when it was possible for most families to live on one income—almost always Dad’s—buy a house in the suburbs and go on vacation twice a year. (We took the Super Chief from Chicago to California every winter, the porters swaying through the corridors with their dinner gongs as they summoned us to the dining room with the snowy dining cloths and the rose in a fluted vase.) The country was prosperous; if you weren’t rich, you felt rich.
Anyway, it didn’t matter. There was no caste system. You could get on a plane and be shown your seat in coach without having to mill around at the gate waiting for your “group” to be called. You weren’t a “member” of Premier, Business, Gold Circle, Executive Platinum or some other designation that indicated how often you flew and how much you put on your credit card. You were just a passenger, on your way to spend a few days with the grandparents or take the kids to Disneyland.
Later, in one fleeting moment, Atlas adds a qualifier. He seems to say that, by “everyone, regardless of class station,” he actually meant, “at least in the middle class.”
Absent that fleeting disclaimer, Atlas seems to be imagining that everyone flew off to Bermuda in those days and “took the Super Chief from Chicago to California every winter.” Even after that disclaimer, he still seems to claim that middle-class people quite routinely flew off to Disneyland.
For reasons no sane person can conjure, the New York Times put this in print, giving it highly prominent placement.
By the way: Could you “count on the public schools” at that time, as this fellow asserts, reading a Standard Script? As you may recall from our previous offerings, this is the way Jonathan Kozol described one public school of that era, the Boston school where he was a fourth-grade teacher:
KOZOL (page 1 and page 9): Stephen is eight years old. A picture of him standing in front of the bulletin board on Arab bedouins shows a little light-brown person staring with unusual concentration at a chosen spot upon the floor. Stephen is tiny, desperate, unwell. Sometimes he talks to himself. He moves his mouth as if he were talking. At other times he laughs out loud in class for no apparent reason. He is also an indescribably mild and unmalicious child. He cannot do any of his school work very well. His math and reading are poor. In Third Grade he was in a class that had substitute teachers much of the year. Most of the year before that, he had a row of substitute teachers too. He is in the Fourth Grade now but his work is barely at the level of the Second.Ah yes! Those were the days! In those days, “there was no caste system!”
Many people in Boston are surprised, even to this day, to be told that children are beaten with thin bamboo whips within the cellars of our public schools and that they are whipped at times for no greater offence than for failing to show respect to the very same teachers who have been describing them as niggers.
Stephen was tiny, desperate, unwell; Atlas is fatuous, empty. For that reason, the New York Times can’t run fast enough to put his musings in print. Inevitably, he reinforced the Standard Story that is being used to undermine progressive interests:
Back then, our public schools were great! Today, the unions have ruined them.
Presumably, Atlas has no idea what our most reliable data say about the growth in reading and math skills from that day to this. But the New York Times isn’t there for the data. The Times exists to promulgate the fever dreams of a high class.
This morning, Atlas discusses class struggle. On the same front page of the Sunday Review, Maureen Dowd is off in Paris, sent there for haute couture week.
Is this the New York Times or The Onion? The most fatuous “journalist” of our age starts today’s musings like this:
DOWD (6/7/13): Goodbye Old World, Bonjour TristesseIn just her first four paragraphs, Dowd quotes Camus and Deneuve—and a famous designer’s dentist! In the process, she gives you a look at the ongoing death of your dying culture.
Versailles lived again at haute couture week, as designers paraded their let-them-eat-cake creations, hand-stitched with gilt embroidery and trimmed with guiltless fur—frousfrous that no real women can wear and few can afford.
On Friday night, Christian Lacroix offered his homage to Elsa Schiaparelli, but even high fashion couldn’t lift Paris from its low mood. “Liberté, égalité, morosité,” Le Monde declared.
Joie de vivre has given way to gaze de navel. The French are so busy wallowing in their existential estrangement—a state of mind Camus described as “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”—that they don’t even have the energy to be rude. And now that they’re smoking electronic cigarettes, their ennui doesn’t look as cool. It’s not that they’ve lost faith in their own superiority. They’ve lost faith that the rest of the world sees it. The whole country has, as Catherine Deneuve says of her crazy blue moods, une araignée au plafond—a spider on the ceiling.
On Place Vendome, Christian Lacroix was dispatching models in black crepe chiffon peplum basques—whatever they are—while on Avenue Hoche, Lacroix’s dentist was bemoaning the black crepe City of Lights. Holding a cigarette in a waiting room filled with Picasso-print pillows, Dr. Gérard Armandou told how his patients, always prone to pessimism, are even more filled with malheur now as they sit in his chair contemplating tous les problèmes, including “not going anymore on holiday to Egypt.”
As with Atlas, so with Dowd—she affects concern about this upper-class world with its unwearable frousfrous. She doesn’t explain why she’s wasting her time at haute couture week to begin with.
Let us guess that Maureen Dowd may have flown to Paris first class. Not for her the pitiful snacks Atlas endured on his flight! Once in Paris, she started in with the simpering nonsense which has come to define the culture of the upper-class press corps. Once again, for the ten millionth time, we will post the anecdote which defines a failing age:
JERVEY (6/99): Among Washington columnists, there is no keener observer of Bill Clinton than Maureen Dowd...[S]he seems obsessed with his personality, always looking for the key to his character—or rather, his utter lack thereof. In the summer of 1997, for example, when President Clinton installed a hot tub at the White House, Dowd traveled to Santa Monica to visit the showroom of the manufacturer who had made the President’s new toy. She wanted to test the waters.Back then, Dowd flew out to the coast to examine a type of hot tub which had been donated to the White House. This week, she flew to Paris, then came down extremely hard on those unwearable frousfrous.
"Maureen is very talented," observes Joe Klein of The New Yorker. "But she is ground zero of what the press has come to be about in the nineties... I remember having a discussion with her in which I said, 'Maureen, why don't you go out and report about something significant, go out and see poor people, do something real?' And she said, 'You mean I should write about welfare reform?’”
(“Frousfrous” seems to be French for the Anglicized variant, “frou-frous.” As Steve Martin once said, "Those French!”)
The New York Times is crying for help on the front page of the Sunday Review. But because of the power of the Times, you won't see this problem discussed.
Career “journalists” will avert their gaze from this undisguised breakdown. The New York Times never doesn’t do this. But no one ever says so!
As the Times sells its own frou-frous, the empty paper is trying to cover the Zimmerman trial. This produced a strange event this week, when Charles Blow’s column didn’t appear in the Saturday hard-copy paper.
“Charles Blow is off today,” the paper said, pretending to explain the column’s absence. But how strange! Blow had plainly written a column. You can see the column here, along with the 500 comments the Times was willing to post.
For some reason, someone at the New York Times felt that the column shouldn’t appear in the hard-copy edition. Instead, the column was published on-line. On Saturday morning, we the rubes were told that Blow was “off.”
All over the press corps, journalists are trying to cover that trial. In comment threads, we the people respond to the things they say.
The work of that press corps, and the work of us rubes, raise a very serious question, one we will explore all week. Given the values and competence of our press corps, can our culture expect to survive?
Concerning Jonathan Kozol: Kozol’s brilliant persuasive writing helped persuade us early in life.
We met him a decade later, in the late 1970s. In 1980, we dumbly turned down an “invitation to join a delegation put together by baby doctor Dr. Benjamin Spock and educator Jonathan Kozol” to visit Nicaragua post-revolution. (We had no money and no Spanish. Click here, see page 14.)
We don’t always agree with Kozol. But we love what he’s about.
We first quoted his book in 2010, when Rehema Ellis of NBC News recalled how much better our public schools were “forty years ago.” It’s astounding to see the ridiculous things our high-ranking journalists will say, almost always in service to Preferred Absurd Standard Group Stories.
Ellis seems like a very nice person. Does anyone know how such statements come out of such people’s mouths?