When In Doubt, Cast Generalizations in the Name of Journalism

Sometimes, in the course of feature journalism, it becomes necessary to write about a problem without pondering how truly disturbing it is or considering that there may indeed be another side to the coin. Nowhere in Wall Street Journal reporter Alexandra Alter’s article does she talk with parents who, damn the marketing trends and the groupthink, name their children “Zoe Rose,” despite a porn star sharing the name. (Notable names, as even the most indolent of cultural observers knows, can disappear swifter than a sitcom star’s cachet with the American public.) Nowhere does Alter get a quote from an authority (James Surowiecki? Cass Sunstein?) pondering how the fear of naming babies might, just might, be the result of a terrifying conformism currently afflicting American culture. Nowhere, at least from what I can aver from my reading, does Alter talk with anybody other than middle-class or upper-class people, or any one who could care less whether their child is named after yesterday’s nomen mirabilis.

So is the problem of distinction really a problem? What has permitted a venerable newspaper like The Wall Street Journal to run argumentum ad populum as journalism? Why is there no doubting Thomas for this fascinating issue? Why does Alter, the allegedly objective reporter, buy so readily into her subjects’ slapdash thinking? Why is the question “What’s so wrong with naming a baby after a celebrity?” not offered credence here? Because it doesn’t support the thesis or because Alter is more parochial-minded than she thinks she is?

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