Plus, news of former boyfriends: Routinely, the dumbness is so vast that it can seem performative—like some type of marketing scheme.
So it was in this morning's New York Times. On page A3, one of the day's daily features actually starts like this (print editions only):
The ConversationWe know—you think we're making that up. But no, we actually aren't.
SIX OF THE MOST READ, SHARED AND DISCUSSED POSTS FROM ACROSS NYTIMES.COM
1) Coronavirus Live Updates: New Cases Light Up The Map as Countries Brace for Outbreak
This article with the latest news about the epidemic was Thursday's most read...
2) My Ex-Boyfriend's New Girlfriend is Lady Gaga
Lindsay Crouse's article for the Opinion section about realizing her ex-boyfriend had started dating Lady Gaga was popular on Thursday. "I went to a nice store I’d never been inside before and I tried something on. The clerk asked me what the occasion was. I found out from Facebook that my ex-boyfriend was dating Lady Gaga, I told her," Ms. Crouse writes. "She looked me up and down. 'Huh,' she said. Really?'"
If you turn to page A3 in your hard-copy Times, that embarrassing drivel awaits you. The column about who's dating who "was popular on Thursday."
Full disclosure! We were tipped to Crouse's column, and to its promotion by the Times, by spokespersons for Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves, a disconsolate group of major experts who communicate with us from the years which lie beyond the global conflagration they refer to as Mister Trump's War.
They felt that we deserved to be warned that the dumbness had become this vast. Indeed, consider the world which lies behind this morning's A3 feature:
First, Lindsay Crouse actually wrote an "Opinion" piece about the subject in question.
Disease is spreading across the globe; global markets seem to be imploding; and there is evidence that Donald J. Trump may win re-election. In the face of these situations, what did Crouse want to tell us?
She wanted to tell us that her former boyfriend is dating Lady Gaga! She wanted to tell us what she did, and how it felt, not unlike Thoreau of old, right at the start of Walden
THOREAU (1846): When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.Thus spake sacred Thoreau, concerning his stay in the woods. By way of contrast, Crouse's recent years have been spent at the Times, and inquiries have perhaps been made about her former boyfriend—about who he's dating, about how she found out, about how she reacted and felt.
I should not obtrude my affairs so much on the notice of my readers if very particular inquiries had not been made by my townsmen concerning my mode of life...Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not afraid; and the like. Others have been curious to learn what portion of my income I devoted to charitable purposes; and some, who have large families, how many poor children I maintained. I will therefore ask those of my readers who feel no particular interest in me to pardon me if I undertake to answer some of these questions in this book...
Today, Crouse wants us to think about her dating experience, and she wants to mention Gaga, engaging in the type of humblebrag name-drop whose secret meaning may perhaps seem perhaps a bit slightly obvious.
Who in the world is Lindsay Crouse? In this case, she isn't the American actress who appeared in a wide range of major films, starting with All The President's Men in 1976.
This Lindsay Crouse is 13 years out of college (Harvard, class of 2006). For reasons which go unexplained, she's "a senior staff editor in Opinion" at the New York Times, our nation's most famous newspaper.
That famous newspaper gave itself over to several major types of dumbness quite a while ago. This spectacular dumbness goes on display when the editor who composes page A3 can't see how strange it may seem when our greatest newspaper lists Crouse's column as the second item in today's "Conversation" feature.
In the main, the dumbness doesn't consist in the fact that Crouse would write such a column. Nor does it even mainly consist in the fact that the Times would be willing to publish such fare.
The dumbness mainly consists in the fact that the Times is now listing the column as an essay of major interest. Or is the Times merely aiming another slander at its hapless readers?
For what it's worth, Crouse is no stranger to self-reference. Her last "Opinion" column ran beneath this headline:
I Am 35 and Running Faster Than I Ever Thought PossibleGenerally, Crouse writes about distance running, with occasional side trips into pointless, invidious musings about the differences between women and men.
In "Why Men Quit and Women Don’t," she undertook to explain why only 3.8 percent of women failed to finish the 2018 Boston Marathon, as compared to a full 5 percent of men.
This type of foolishness is a key part of ongoing New York Times culture, in which no serious topic or point of concern won't be pursued in the dumbest, least helpful way possible.
That said, good God! This senior staff editor's former boyfriend is now dating Gaga! To some editor at the Times, this exploration deserved to be placed in the number 2 slot in the listing of articles across the vast sweep of the Times which were read, shared and discussed.
If we take that listing at face value, this may seem to speak poorly of New York Times readers. But the whole fandango speaks very poorly of the Times itself.
Beyond that, it reminds us of one type of cultural change concerning which a young journalist once tried to cast herself in the classic guardian role. We refer to Katherine Boo's 1992 piece about the cultural onslaught she described as "Creeping Dowdism," a cultural style which has gone on to dominate the political work of the New York Times.
As far as we know, Katherine Boo has never written about who her ex-boyfriend is dating. She's best known for her 2012 book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, a volume which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers was a serious book about human suffering and human striving—the kind of book which is given awards but is neither read nor discussed.
It was an earlier, younger Boo who offered the warning about Dowdism, a vapidity which was advancing on the culture of the Times and on that of the wider press corps.
Boo's lengthy essay appeared in the Washington Monthly. It appeared in 1992, when Dowd was still a reporter at the Times.
As far as we know, Boo's essay can't be accessed on line. In a 1999 essay for Slate, A. O. Scott described its viewpoint:
SCOTT (4/18/99): Boo’s brief boils down to two main charges: that Dowd’s breezy, sardonic style has inspired a flood of stilted, self-conscious imitators; and that “the Dowd crowd” contributed to the erosion of political discourse by placing style and personality above seriousness and substance.Boo delivered an early warning—a prescient warning which was almost wholly ignored. In June 2008, Clark Hoyt, then the New York Times public editor, also cast himself in the guardian role, savaging Dowd for the misogyny she had directed at Candidate Hillary Clinton over the previous year.
As with Boo, so with Hoyt; his essay produced zero discussion. Maureen Dowd was too influential, and this was before the #MeToo movement inspired the press corps' legion of phonies to move from completely ignoring misogyny to an approach in which they try to discuss nothing else.
Maureen Dowd was too big a deal; Hoyt's piece led to zero discussion. But so it has gone, in the past many years, when people have attempted to cast themselves in the classic guardian role.
Way back in 2005, Paul Krugman tried to start a conversation about this country's crazily excessive health care spending. Thirteen years earlier, Boo had tried to start a conversation about the growing inanity of journalistic culture.
They cast themselves in the guardian role. The pointlessness of such attempts has been shown again and again.
By November 2000, Dowd was writing the seventh column in which she focused on Candidate Gore's deeply amusing bald spot. Just last month, Case and Deaton tried to discuss those crazy health costs. As with Krugman's earlier effort, their work produced zero discussion.
Simple story! Given modern upper-end culture, it's impossible to create a discussion within the American press corps. With that in mind, riddle us this:
Yesterday, what were New York Times subscribers reading and discussing?
We can't be sure about that. But in this morning's New York Times, we're told that a report about an emerging pandemic was yesterday's "most read" article—and then, we were moved directly ahead to a collection of thoughts about an editor's former boyfriend.
"Aristotle's error" to the side, this seems to be who and what we actually are. It explains how Donald Trump got where he is. It explains why he may get to stay there.
A modern, continental nation simply can't run on this fuel. Look around at where matters stand if you think that statement is wrong.
This failing culture gives the lie to our species' ancient self-description. The rational animal never was, according to the despondent scholars who glumly invade our "dreams."
Krugman tried, and so did Boo. In December 1999, a group of New Hampshire high school students actually showed that the Times had flatly misquoted Candidate Gore in a deeply destructive way.
Those high school students had cast themselves in the guardian role. Needless to say, they were kicked to the curb, and the New York Times kept telling the story it liked.
It's one of The Greatest Stories Never Told. It shows us how our culture works, and it helps explain how we got here.
This afternoon: Good God! The latest best-seller!
Tomorrow: "Stagnant wages" explored