I Was Simply Told the Lines

She may be smart, but she doesn’t seem to know much about men. But in real life, journalists are feeling the chill.

The stylish grandmother acted like a stammering child caught red-handed, refusing to admit any fault and pointing the finger at a convenient scapegoat. But now I want a full accounting. I want to know every awful act committed in the name of self-defense and patriotism.

Have you thought about using even fewer than 140 characters? In a droll nod to shifting technology, there’s a British red telephone booth in the loftlike office that you are welcome to use but you’ll have to bring in your cellphone.

Maybe it’s because I’m staying at the Sunset Tower on Sunset Boulevard, but I keep thinking of newspapers as Norma Desmond.

I dreamed that Spock saved our planet, The Daily Planet of journalism. Newspapers are an “endangered species,” as John Kerry called us in a Senate hearing last week, just as the Vulcans are in the new prequel. He gave me that wry Spock look.

Papers are still big. It’s the screens that got small.

Newspapers no longer know how to live long and prosper. It’s enough to make a Vulcan weep.

The really complicated question is what she hopes to gain from this.

This is quite touching, given that the start of the 21st century will be remembered as the harrowing era when an arrogant Republican administration did its best to undermine checks and balances.

How quaint.

I had dinner once with John and Elizabeth Edwards, when he first burst onto the national scene.

You could probably see your own name if you stayed long enough,

I heard about a woman who tweeted her father’s funeral. Whatever happened to private pain?

If you were out with a girl and she started twittering about it in the middle, would that be a deal-breaker or a turn-on?

To save journalism, Google has to know my most intimate secrets?

I feel better for a minute, until I realize that the only reason he knew that I wasn’t so easily replaceable is that Google had been looking into how to replace me.

Class dismissed.

(Tip via Jason Boog)

Should Maureen Cover Up?

Bloggers are never supposed to start a piece with a scene on the subway because it reveals either the frugal reality about the way they live or a tendency to pad out an essay with needless name-dropping.

Nonetheless, I’m going to. Because I’m really concerned about Maureen Dowd’s tits. And you should be too. Because understanding Dowd’s tits — wantonly focusing upon these two sagging points of no return — is the key to understanding the world we live in. For Maureen Dowd’s tits, as woefully deficient as they are, represent undeniable truths about politics and media. While Dowd herself is a boob, her boobies are twin prophets. They are the Romulus and Remus of today’s media world. (Or at least they are in Maureen Dowd’s mind.) And if you think that Deborah Solomon asking a “journalistic” question about how much someone weighs is hard-core, then you really haven’t considered that Maureen Dowd’s tits may very well be the real reason why the New York Times keeps her fumbling on the page and collecting from the payroll.

During weak moments, David Brooks and Leon Wiesltier have been known to leer at Maureen Dowd’s tits. And their satyr-like stares are rewarded with awkward references and backslapping and, in rare cases, an occasional hand job. If you stare at Dowd’s tits long enough, you’ll begin to see that her tits could easily wind up and punch out Rush Limbaugh, Bernie Madoff, and even Maureen Dowd herself. This is an impressive fact, for Dowd, so far as anyone knows, has not augmented her breasts.

A guy who works at my local cafe named Enrique and I were on the A line on our way to meet some dicey pot peddler somewhere out in Far Rockaway. “Fuck,” said Enrique. “They cut weekend service again. It’s going to take forever.”

But we got there in the end. And the dour drug dealer was a blithe spirit who told us to get the fuck out of his house once we had the bag in our hands. The drug dealer downgraded our “special relationship” to a “special partnership.” He then declared in front of his other waiting clients that he was going to stand “podium-to-podium with Maureen Dowd’s tits.”

I didn’t quite understand what Maureen Dowd’s tits had to do with any of this. We were only there to get our drugs and get high. I pointed out to Enrique that Wall Street was weak and jittery. Once the weed was sampled, it became evident that Enrique and I had been scammed out of decent leaf. Suddenly, I began to understand where Enrique was coming from.

Let’s face it: The only bracing symbol of American wankery right now is the image of Maureen Dowd’s tits. And it’s just too damn bad that they aren’t “sculpted” like Michelle Obama’s biceps. She does not have a husband to urge bold action. Indeed, she does not seem to think that men are necessary. So there doesn’t seem to be a comparative point of reference here, other than the drug dealer’s fey assertion.

On the subway back, when I asked Enrique again about Maureen Dowd’s tits, he indicated it was time for her to cover up. “She’s made her point,” said Enrique. “Now she should put away Sagbag and Droopy.”

“That’s a terribly sexist and objectifying thing to say,” I replied. “If you said something like that in a New York Times column, then surely you’d be fired.”

“Well, no,” said Enrique. “It’s become a more common practice for women employed at the New York Times to resort to throwback misogyny to demonstrate their continued worth to the old boys club.”

Maybe so. But Maureen Dowd, and her complete confidence in her malapropisms, are a reminder that Americans can do better than Dowd if they put their mind (or perhaps their tits) to it. Unlike other columnists, who think before they write and take the time to put forth an argument, Maureen Dowd has sagged every day. And we’re forced to pay attention to her tits because there really isn’t anything of substance in her columns.

I also have no doubt that she can talk cunt-and-tongue with ease and a wild stench.

The Bat Segundo Show: David Denby

David Denby recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #261.

David Denby is most recently the author of Snark.

Please also see our lengthy essay, in response to Adam Sternbergh’s review. This conversation represents an effort to get Denby to answer questions raised by both pieces.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Ordered against using a snarky tone.

Author: David Denby

Subjects Discussed: Whether or not Denby feels battered, unsuccessful attempts to pinpoint the definition of snark, the club of the clued-in, newspapers and narratives, Denby’s reservations about the Web and decentralization, snark’s relationship to voice, Sturgeon’s law, panic in mainstream journalism, satire and a corresponding set of virtues by implication, prototypical voice, the Sarah Palin prank, Spy, contempt for New York celebrities vs. contempt for money and power, investigative reporting and the Web, peer-to-peer journalism, Josh Marshall and the attorney scandal, Private Eye, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the need to take sacred cows to task, Pitchfork, “Ugandan discussions,” endearing jargon vs. in-the-know references, why Denby doesn’t find Gawker and Wonkette funny, fickle public memory and disappearing websites, Perez Hilton at 40, fighting slander, accounting for corrective impulses on the Web, privacy as a bourgeois triumph, whether or not Denby can truly have an informed opinion on Twitter if he’s never used it, quibbling with Denby’s uniform assessments of mediums, accounting for the visual innovations of Spy Magazine, the visual notion of snark, Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter, circumstances in which being ruthless towards someone is okay, Mike Barnacle, nastiness and self-deprecation, Penn Jilette, snark practitioners as flip-floppers, Maureen Dowd, superfluous anger vs. righteous indignation, constructing a narrative in which you can locate yourself, Alcanter de Brahm’s irony symbol, Perez Hilton’s lack of anonymity, defending Tom Cruise, why photographers haven’t fought Perez Hilton, legal remedies, being dragged into the celebrity culture, and raising an army of thoughtful writers.


denbyCorrespondent: Let’s talk about this idea of trash talk vs. snark. You indicate in this book that it’s okay to have a vituperative remark or a savage wit, if there is a corresponding set of virtues. And, in fact, you say “a corresponding set of virtues by implication.” Now “implication,” I think, is the important word here. Because to go back to the Sternbergh review, I would argue, to defend him briefly, that he is attempting to point out that Television Without Pity and the snark tone that he champions — I mean, is there not a corresponding set of virtues perhaps that is in the initial stages? In the prototypical stages perhaps? I mean, don’t people have to start from somewhere before they reach this level of thought that you are advocating in this particular book?

Denby: Well, we don’t know, do we? But I don’t see much of that in Television Without Pity. Mostly, it seems to me, whenever I look, it’s enormously long plot summaries with a lot of snarky adjectives. And it’s fun. Because it’s like friends who gather at a house to watch a TV show, and you compete with one another to see who can be funnier. But I would forgive them everything if they jumped up and down with joy when something original and difficult came out. Like in their movie stuff, I don’t notice them celebrating There Will Be Blood or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. What gets their jets going is trash like Bride Wars. In other words, they’re invested in trash. And that’s why I say that these people are really thugs of the conglomerate in a way. In other words, they’re part of the commercial system. They’re not really interested in anything adversary. For all of their nasty tone, they’re part of the commercial system. They’re not adversarial at all. They don’t push the little guy — you know, the protest against the system or the artistic revolutionary. That’s not what they’re into. They’re into fandom. Now let me come back to Sternbergh.

Correspondent: But also to point out the initial thrust of this question. As a prototypical model, for some people, snark is the way to get to this more virtuous plane that you’re advocating here.

Denby: Well, I hope you’re right. And maybe they’ll just…

Correspondent: I can say this from experience. Because I was a little snarky when I started writing.

Denby: But people get older and they realize that I’m not pushing my weight. That this is too easy.

Correspondent: Yeah. Jessica Coen, who ended up going from Gawker to New York Magazine. She wrote an essay. I’m sure you’re familiar with this. You don’t quote it in the book. But I’m sure in the course of your research, you found it out. She pointed to the negative feelings that she had, and she wanted to go to this more thoughtful plane.

Denby: Right.

Correspondent: So I’m saying that perhaps, maybe, instead of essentially fanning the flames of discontent against this type, it’s steering them in the right direction. Which you do do in this book. Maybe this is just a growing stage before they blossom into some writer of virtue.

Denby: Well, that would be nice. Also, I think they’re naive if they think that they can make a whole professional career out of this. Because you cannot underestimate the ruthlessness of editors. In other words, this is something that Adam Sternbergh doesn’t know. That his kind of wise guy stuff pales very quickly. And when styles of humor change, editors get rid of you if you don’t keep up. So there can be something naive. It’s a way of gaining a professional foothold. But you’ve got to move beyond it pretty fast. But just to return to Sternbergh, as I remember, the main thrust of his critique was that snark is an appropriate response to a corrupt and dishonorable world. Well, I’m not going to argue with his characterization. I think it is a corrupt and dishonorable world. But the appropriate response to it is not snark. The appropriate response to it is criticism, analysis, and, best of all, satire. Which is what I praise over and over again. The kind of stuff that Stewart and Colbert do. Most of snark is weak. It’s mostly impotent. It’s more a confession of defeat than an appropriate response to anything. I mean, he’s way off on that.

Correspondent: Okay, well, to look at this question of prototypical voice from a different vantage point, you suggest that Philip Weiss’s infamous Spy article, in which he infiltrated Bohemian Grove “discovered only where power hung out and what its vulgar habits are.”

Denby: Yeah, who took a pee where?

Correspondent: Yeah. But if we are to discount this article as nothing more than an amusing prank, I point to the Quebec comedy duo who revealed Sarah Palin’s lack of qualifications with this wonderful prank. And while their particular tone may not have been thoughtful or political, it did lead to people rethinking Sarah Palin’s qualifications.

Denby: Absolutely.

Correspondent: Isn’t there something to be said about how people react to a particular prank or an act? Or how people run with the ball of, say, the Bohemian Grove scenario? And try to investigate it further? I mean, that’s what thought is.

Denby: Yeah, but that’s what Spy never did. I mean, it kept promising more than it delivered. The Sarah Palin prank was brilliant. And that she didn’t catch on for, what was it? Ten minutes? They had her going. It’s just astounding. But the trouble with Spy was that it never did investigative reporting. It did a kind of junior league infiltration of the powerful, rather than the hard work of going to the library and looking up records, and so on and so forth. That true investigative reporting requires before you can nail someone in dishonest behavior or corrupt behavior or collusive behavior. So it never actually delivered. And since it was written basically for people who wanted to join the money….

Random Stranger Shouting Into Mike (Presumably Disenfanchised): Wha…what?

Denby: (to Stranger) Thank you. That was good.

Stranger: You’re welcome.

(Photo credit: Casey Kelbaugh)

BSS #261: David Denby (Download MP3)

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