Deconstructing Vapidity

I need to stop commenting on articles in TIME magazine, because for one, it’s too easy to poke fun at the drivel that passes for journalism at this once-venerable magazine, and secondly, I get too stressed out every time I see a piece of abominable writing or journalism pass me by. I confess it’s hard to resist coming back to TIME, however, or Newsweek or any other news source driven by commercial pressures to create tabloid-like titillation out of every news item, or essay concept. I really should stick to reading Dostoyevsky.

To return to our subject at hand, though: one recent article that amazes me for the sheer vapidity of its content was something called “The Diana Effect,” by Michael Elliott. Mr. Elliott’s purported aim is to examine if the “age of emotion” has come to an end, in Britain. He asks this question from his vantage point as TIME magazine’s International Editor, and one assumes this has given him the privilege of resources that are adequate to tackle such a weighty issue.

One assumes completely wrong, or at least, from his article, we have to conclude that Mr. Elliott was not able to command much of these resources. It might be that in anticipating the end of an emotional age, Mr. Elliott was himself so overcome with emotion, that his rational faculties temporarily went into a tizzy.

Here’s how the argument is structured, boiled down to about a dozen sentences (and I kid you not): “When Diana died, everyone cried a lot. No, no, we in the media didn’t cook this phenomenon up, it was real, man, just too real. This is because we British became “modern,” and shed our stiff Protestant path (though even in the middle of that supposedly reserved past, we weren’t past getting it on in many ways, but just stick with me here, ok?) And so, we Brits, and soon the Americans too, in a display of the tail wagging the dog, learnt the virtue of being “emotional,” and everyone wondered, wow, how come we never cried and hugged before. But now it’s all over. No, really, I tell you it is. You just believed me when I said made another off-the-cuff assertion about humanity, or at least about British culture and civilization, so why can’t you do it a second time? Come on, you have that much resilience — be like Gordon Brown, Mitt Romney and that woman, what’s her name, Clinton’s wife, who are all obviously incapable of crying convincingly on TV, and must therefore have large reserves of the doggone-it strain of determination. You have to, the stock markets are falling.”

I could write an article like this too, hell, we all can. Here’s an example of how’s it to be done. Let’s pick our favorite topic, say, cooking, and let’s postulate that Alice Water’s refusal to carry tap water is indicative of some hitherto-unknown but significant reversal of global cultural trends. Going back in time, let’s pick the opening of Planet Hollywood in Los Angeles by Arnold Schwarzenegger as emblematic of a different age, when restaurants reveled in excess. Throw in a historical reference to the culture of eating out and we are done — voila!

“A bottle of water, full of minerally goodness, former badge of honor of athletes and good health, is now the official Public Enemy No. 1. The High Goddess of the Arugula Set, Alice Waters herself, has pronounced the death knell for the seemingly innocuous plastic container, now maligned, in spite of its eminent recyclability, as a ravaging demon with a carbon footprint that has the claw marks of Godzilla.

This is not how it was. Restaurants in our land have not been holier-than-thou shrines of austerity, but on the contrary, celebratory temples to gay bacchanalia. Witness the grand opening of Planet Hollywood a bare decade ago, a spectacular event underscored by its glamorous owners, and a brilliant architect, who completed the picture perfectly, if regrettably, by jumping to death. This is how the Greeks would have had it, eating places resplendent with the passions of marbled Classical art. The Romans knew what was good eating too, as did Rabelais and Shakespeare — “Eat heartily,” said the Bard, “For what the heart pines for, the guts shall have at.”

Granted, even in our excessive past, there have been preachers of parsimony, proto-anorexics that would peck at parsley, and look disdainfully on the gourmands of the ages. But the zeitgeist was one of satiation — global treaties were signed over sumptuous banquets and from F.D.R. down, our Presidents have celebrated the Rockwellian Freedom From Want.

I wonder, though, if this age of corpulism isn’t coming to an end. As some economies face the edge of a dizzying downturn, and the head-turning upswings in others leave behind tell-tale signs of climate and trade imbalances with geopolitical fallouts deadlier than an Ebola outbreak’s, the virtues of small things is receiving new attention. So small, that even the pocketable bottle of water is too big — and we dream of small cars, stamp-sized batteries, all-in-one electronic devices to replace our laptops, PDAs, desktops, phones and stereo system in one large bite of the Apple and trips no further than our roof tops to fill our grocery baskets. Size has always mattered, and it will matter still in the future, except that the journey, as in the outer reach of the most esoteric physics, is to the smallest dimension possible.”

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2 Responses to “Deconstructing Vapidity”

  1. letters Says:

    I’m old enough to remember Time as a real magazine before they dumbed it down to the Grade 9 level.

    As for Planet Hollywood, if it spent just 1% of its promotion budget on food quality, it would probably be the world’s top restaurant. I wouldn’t go there there again even if I were offered a free meal and a night with Gwyneth Paltrow. Well OK, maybe.

    – ian in hamburg

    Sometimes while WordPress tag surfing I actually come across something worth reading to the end. Looking forward to more – you’re on my google reader now.

  2. Brandon Says:

    Not only does Time pack fewer vocabulary words per issue, there is now less content per issue, too! Yay.

    Page counts are down, reducing ad revenue and necessitating cost cuts, including the page stock…what arguable quality existed in the older, thicker and glossier pages is tough to empirically assess.

    Still, although seemingly superficial, I think with the proper historical reference and/or prognostication of a cultural sea change in print standards I may be able to get 1/4 page in TIME’s op-ed space…hmmm…

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