NYT Mag: Grotesque

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 aesthetic 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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