Starting tomorrow: PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT!

MONDAY, MAY 24, 2021

Kafka recoils from the Times: Work like this might have made Kafka's Gregor Samsa feel a bit like an insect.

Behavior like this made the young Plato adopt a type of exile. "When I saw all this, and other things as bad, I was disgusted and withdrew from the wickedness of the times," he wrote in the Seventh Letter.

One thinks of Antoine Roquentin, the main character in Sartre's 1938 novel, La Nausée  (Nausea). As described by the leading authority, Roquentin "becomes convinced that inanimate objects and situations encroach on his ability to define himself, on his intellectual and spiritual freedom, evoking in [him] a sense of nausea."

Then too, there was the deeply alienated Meursault, the main character in Camus's famous 1942 novella, L'Étranger  (The Stranger).

(We tend to include John Book, the Harrison Ford character in the 1985 film, Witness. He adopts a type of internal exile out of dismay with the corruption of some police officials and that era's social disintegration.)

We're discussing the aversion we felt over the weekend as we read some of the offerings in the New York Times' latest special section. Such work may have made Gregor Samsa feel a bit like a roach.

For what it's worth, we assume that all the work to which we refer was done in something resembling good faith. But the work was routinely very poor, or so the logicians tell us.

Tomorrow, we'll steel ourselves for the task of discussing these underfed essays. For today, let's offer a note concerning the banality of the journalistic culture from which such essays emerge.

In the special section to which we refer, contributors offered their thoughts on the occasion of the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. In Saturday's print edition, we read Nicholas Kristof's contribution to this special collection. Yesterday, the New York Times' Sunday Review dedicated its space to nine more essays exploring that theme.

This special series was assembled by Patrick Healy, who recently became "Deputy Opinion editor." (We're not fully sure what that means.)

Healy is 28 years out of college (Tufts, class of 1993). He has been at the Times for sixteen years, serving in various capacities.

We have no doubt that Patrick Healy is a good, decent person. Presumably, he had no control over what was said when he was named to his new post.

The announcement of Healy's new assignment was made by Kathleen  Kingsbury, Opinion editor at the Times. Colloquially, she seems to be the head of the Times editorial board.

Late last month, Healy was named deputy head of the board. At the start of her announcement, this is what Kingsbury wrote:

KINGSBURY (4/29/21):  I am delighted to announce that Patrick Healy will be the next deputy editor of Opinion.

Patrick is an accomplished journalist who has excelled in any number of roles at The Times over the past 16 years, showing range, versatility and creativity. A proven leader, he has worked collaboratively and generously across the newsroom with editors and reporters, and teams including Video, Graphics and Audience.

For the past three years, he has served as the  Politics editor, where he deftly and tirelessly led the team through the 2018 midterm elections and then the historic presidential race...[H]e brought out the best in established reporters and editors, while also hiring essential new voices in Times political coverage like Astead Herndon and Lisa Lerer.

Our former colleague Rachel Dry gives a glimpse: “Patrick owns an incredible pair of dog-shaped slippers. He brought them out in New Hampshire in February 2020, and calmly and confidently outlined coverage for the primary in his puppy-shod-feet. A planning doc for every possibility, plus whimsical loungewear, represents what makes him such a generous colleague and friend: He leads with humanity, with knowledge drawn from his wide-ranging experience, and with a commitment to being the best and getting the best out of a team. He leaves big slippers to fill.”

The announcement continued from there. In the next paragraph, Kingsbury noted this: "As a deputy editor in Culture, he expanded news coverage, including creating the ratings hit, Best of Late Night." 

Never mind what that Best of Late Night "news coverage" actually involved. Did you know that our  highest-placed upper-class journalists speak so freely about their orgs' "ratings hits?"

Let us say it again. It isn't Healy's fault that Kingsbury wrote what she did. But yes, that's what she wrote:

Healy has some incredible, dog-shaped slippers! He leaves some very big slippers to fill at his previous post!

Healy's whimsical loungewear "gives us a glimpse," we were told, or something roughly like that. As to what we were getting a glimpse of, we weren't precisely told.

Please understand:

That banality was published by the person who heads the New York Times editorial board. Each person can now decide what that means, or whether it means anything at all.

We would suggest that people willing to traffic in such banality will never help Our Town find a sensible path as our society continues to slide towards the sea. But then, we've been "putting up with this [banal] behavior our whole lives," to borrow from the Ben Johnson character's line in The Last Picture Show.

(The Johnson character said "trashy.")

That film was about a dying Texas town. On Saturday, we were appalled by Kristof's contribution to this weekend's special collection of essays. As Kristof pretended or seemed to be discussing public schools, it seemed obvious to us that he was phoning it in, whether he knew it or not.

On Sunday morning, matters got worse. We reviewed some entries, then quit, recalling an assortment of nausea-ridden characters.

Does a type of moral and intellectual banality define the mental life of Our Town? Our brains are wired in that precise way, major top experts have said!

Tomorrow: Why not start with this?


26 comments:

  1. Bob is describing corporate America.
    He's correct. Their banality will not solve our problems.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
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  2. It seems likely that Somerby is mischaracterizing Plato. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says this about Plato:

    "The philosophy of Plato is marked by the usage of dialectic, a method of discussion involving ever more profound insights into the nature of reality, and by cognitive optimism, a belief in the capacity of the human mind to attain the truth and to use this truth for the rational and virtuous ordering of human affairs. "

    Somerby generally sounds like the opposite of this "cognitive optimism," with his derogatory remarks about humanity. I think those depressive remarks are all Somerby, and his misuse of the people he quotes is a fraud.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sorry, Somerby, but Plato was not an existentialist, and you are the public embarrassment.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Here is the plot summary for the movie, The Witness:

    "After witnessing a brutal murder, young Amish boy Samuel (Lukas Haas) and his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) seek protection from police officer John Book (Harrison Ford). When Book uncovers evidence of police corruption involving narcotics lieutenant James McFee (Danny Glover), Book must take Rachel and Samuel, and flee to the Amish countryside where Rachel grew up. There, immersed in Amish culture and tradition, Book and Rachel begin a cautious romance."

    He is not adopting "a type of internal exile out of dismay with the corruption of some police officials and that era's social disintegration," as Somerby suggests. He is protecting a witness to a crime from the criminals who she can testify against. Book fights criminals. He is a cop. He is not a sensitive disillusioned person who is upset at the idea that there might be criminals on the NYC police force.

    One might also question Somerby's need to idealize and romanticize police. But the only reason they hide in the Amish community is that the woman, Rachel, grew up there and can fit in, whereas any criminals pursuing her would stick out like a sore thumb.

    It is one thing to attach personal meanings to things we read, but quite another to foist them off on others as though these were the intended meanings of the author, or legitimate readings of those works based on what is there. Too much of what Somerby attaches to pop culture comes from him, not the works themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Such work may have made Gregor Samsa feel a bit like a roach."

    Samsa was a roach. What is lower than a roach, that reading the weekend edition might make him feel like? Somerby's imagination fails him.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "This special series was assembled by Patrick Healy, who recently became "Deputy Opinion editor." (We're not fully sure what that means.)"

    1. It means he takes over when the Opinion Editor is on vacation.

    2. Hopefully, it means a pay raise.

    3. It permits him to apply for Opinion Editor jobs should he decide to change papers.

    Today Somerby illustrates the difficulties of understanding that arise when you have never held an office job before.

    ReplyDelete
  7. A man who cannot appreciate puppy slippers and a bit of whimsy in a job announcement is cold indeed. When did Somerby become the Grinch? This is an object lesson in the way hatred warps the soul -- Somerby's soul. All the philosophy in the world cannot disguise what Somerby has become. A bitter person. He wants to blame the times, and the NY Times more literally, but he really needs to go see a therapist. Next he will be complaining about cat pictures on the internet and the loud noises children make when playing outdoors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think Bob’s Grinchyness started to rise around 2005 or so. Half a decade or so after Gore’s historic loss to W. Interest by editors in his Bush book began to wane, the journalists who chased the Clintons and Gore in the 90s were at the heights of their powers. Still lunching at the Palm, making Sunday chat shows unwatchable, and botching articles about educational attainment in public K-12 schools. Bloggers failed to link to The Howler or dropped him from their blog rolls.
      If he’d just been a bit more patient he would have realized that blogs like LGM and Eschaton were tearing columnists like MoDo a new one every week. Those 20- and 30-somethings had just as much contempt for the political press, but they were engaging larger readerships with direct and clear prose that didn’t exhaust the reader with Bob’s twee and Socratic style.
      Also, going on the road and keynoting for half awake trade show audiences can wear a man out.

      Delete
  8. "(The Johnson character said "trashy.")"

    He said trashy because the young people were skinny dipping in the high school swimming pool. How does that translate to banal?

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Our brains are wired in that precise way, major top experts have said!"

    They wouldn't say such a thing because our brains are wired in a variety of ways. Has Somerby never heard of neurodiversity?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Banality doesn't mean what Somerby thinks it does:

    "A banality is a trite, boring, or overused remark. That includes clichés like "life is short" and your basic small talk about the weather."

    Banal refers to a lack of originality or interestingness.

    It most likely describes Somerby's feelings about his own life, since he is coming across as more and more depressed lately. That is something for him to take up with a doctor or therapist, not blame on society.

    Personally, I find puppy slippers to be the opposite of banal. I like the variety of articles in the NY Times, although only some interest me. People are all different and a paper needs to have variety to appeal to many readers.

    Somerby may be feeling like there is too much banality because he is superimposing his own inner environment onto what he reads and watches, instead of seeing what is actually there. That is his problem, not ours.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'It most likely describes Somerby's feelings about his own life, since he is coming across as more and more depressed lately.'

      Somerby is a Trumptard who wanted Trump to win. Naturally he's depressed. I hope he spends the rest of his pathetic existence in depression.

      Delete
  11. I disapprove of the Times's effort to make the Floyd murder a bigger event than it actually was. It's not even clear that the murder was motivated by racism. No evidence of racism was shown at Chauvin's trial.

    BTW that special section failed to include the opinions of those who believe that the Floyd/Chauvin scandal caused many more black people being shot, because the Floyd/Chauvin scandal led to weaker police protection.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The media, including the Times, didn't make a big enough deal that there, yet again, was no good guy with a gun in these killer cop scenarios.

      Delete
    2. No crocodile tears for black people losing political representation through numerous voter suppression laws being passed by Republicans, David?

      Delete
    3. What do you think Chauvin's motive for murdering Floyd was, David?

      Delete
    4. I assumed Chauvin murdered Floyd to cover-up one of his other crimes. That's usually how these thugs operate.

      Delete
  12. “We're discussing the aversion we felt as we read the NYT. Such work may have made Gregor Samsa feel a bit like a roach...concerning the banality of the journalistic culture. We would suggest that people willing to traffic in such banality will never help Our Town find a sensible path as our society continues to slide towards the sea.”

    Once you know what corporate-run journalism is, you never expect to see a sensible path towards anything good emerge from it, just self-serving twaddle and the endless distracting storylines. And subtle promotion of plutocracy, which will inevitably increase the mass immiseration of the majority.

    None of this makes us feel like a roach or gives us nausea. No, Bob, we do not indulge in those sulky teenage emotions. We face the reality of corporate dominance and seek to build and promote democratic alternatives. We act as responsible citizens. You are welcome to join us, Bob.

    ReplyDelete
  13. 'This special series was assembled by Patrick Healy, who recently became "Deputy Opinion editor." (We're not fully sure what that means.)'

    It means that he is not a hardcore, malevolent Trumptard who spent the last 4 years defending Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Matt Gaetz, Devin Nunes and being a 'useful idiot' for Trump. In short, he's not SOmerby.

    ReplyDelete
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