Posts about Culture

On Today today?

I may – may – be on Today this morning. They came to my house last night to record the interview but I suspect the segment may get bumped by the bridge disaster (my last network appearances were bumped by the execution of Saddam Hussein and the death of Anna Nicole Smith…. I am the news fairy; if you want a big story to break, just interview and preempt me). The topic on Today: Nan Talese saying that Oprah Winfrey shangaiied James Frey into his public flogging and blasting her “sanctimoniousness.” They needed someone who dared to criticize Oprah and found me. I remind them that it was Oprah who sleazed up daytime TV — in a straight line leading to Jerry Springer — before she recanted and declared herself the queen of all good.

: LATER: Sure enough, I got bumped.

Cutting the ties that bind

I haven’t worn a tie in months, maybe even a year. It may have something to do with my partial unemployment and attempts to act heretical when I have to go to church, but even while still an executive, I all but stopped wearing them. A suit with a shirt became my uniform: my Conde Nast protective coloration, a friend said. I’m ready to throw them out and I’m wondering whether it’s possible that at long last, the tie is out.

I’m not alone. Jeremy Paxman, irascible BBC anchor on Newsnight, blogged against the tie:

It has always been an utterly useless part of the male wardrobe. But now, it seems to me, the only people who wear the things daily are male politicians, the male reporters who interview them – and dodgy estate agents. . . .

The main reason we remain trussed up is simply the dead hand of convention. House of Commons rules say that men must not appear open-necked. But then the rules also say there are no liars in the House.

Increasingly, ties are simply bits of cloth which we hang around our necks when getting married, attending a funeral, or when called for a job interview.

This made for a proper hubbub in the Telegraph:

However, the attack on ties has left its defenders distinctly hot under the collar.

Dylan Jones, the editor of GQ magazine, said: “The fact that fewer men wear ties makes the wearing of them even more important.

“When men do wear ties, it makes them more powerful.” . . .

Nicholas Worth, the manager of the Jermyn Street tailors Hawes and Curtis, said: “Ties are selling very well. In fact, we are selling more than we used to.

“People don’t like open necks or dress down days. I think men of a certain age, like Jeremy Paxman or Jeremy Clarkson, think not wearing ties or wearing jeans is cool. It’s not, it’s just sad.”

Off with the yoke. Damn the tie.

But then again, when my mother saw my appearance on Reliable Sources (above) her only comments was that I was the one guy who was not wearing a tie.

Sopranos, the sequel

Kudos to Alan Sepinwall at the Star-Ledger, the official newspapers of The Sopranos, for getting the only interview with David Chase.

“I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there,” he says of the final scene.

“No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God,” he adds. “We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people’s minds or thinking, ‘Wow, this’ll (tick) them off.’

“People get the impression that you’re trying to (mess) with them, and it’s not true. You’re trying to entertain them.”

In that final scene, mob boss Tony Soprano waited at a Bloomfield ice cream parlor for his family to arrive, one by one. What was a seemingly benign family outing was shot and cut as the preamble to a tragedy, with Tony suspiciously eyeing one patron after another, the camera dwelling a little too long on Meadow’s parallel parking and a walk by a man in a Members Only jacket to the men’s room. Just as the tension ratcheted up to unbearable levels, the series cut to black in mid-scene (and mid-song), with no resolution.

“Anybody who wants to watch it, it’s all there,” says Chase, 61, who based the series in general (and Tony’s relationship with mother Livia specifically) on his North Caldwell childhood.

Sepinwall also debunks the email and comment-thread that burst into forums and blogs like Phil Leotardo’s brains under the SUV tire. There was a lot of excitement about the idea that all the people in the final scene in the restaurant were assassins or ghosts — take your choice — from earlier shows but Sepinwall says it’s just not true. The speculation almost got me to believe that Tony was dead: he saw himself in the restaurant as he came in and this was his life passing before his eyes as he died. But that did seem too neat and the appeal of the Sopranos is that it’s not neat. Cue Sartre.


I liked the ending. The banality of evil. The devil’s in the diner. Jersey as purgatory. There is no justice. Cue Sartre.

At the forums, the ending confused some folks: They thought their TV’s had died. Damned TiVo, cut off again. Art appreciation in the land of the Sopranos. Existentialism doesn’t play outside Princeton.

It was a great run and an appropriate end.

The ironic bone in our bodies

In the comments on this post about a Guardian mockery of Mac users, we Americans are accused, once again, of not knowing how to spell irony.

But today, in the Guardian, Simon Pegg says that we do, indeed, have ironic bones:

When it comes to humour, however, there is one cultural myth that just won’t die. You hear it all the time from self-appointed social commentators sat astride high horses, dressed as knights who say, “Ni”. They don’t get it. They never had it. They don’t know what it is and, ironically, they don’t want it anyway. That’s right: “Americans don’t do irony.” This isn’t strictly true. Although it is true that we British do use irony a little more often than our special friends in the US. It’s like the kettle to us: it’s always on, whistling slyly in the corner of our daily interactions. To Americans, however, it’s more like a nice teapot, something to be used when the occasion demands it. This is why an ironic comment will sometimes be met with a perplexed smile by an unwary American. . . .

When Americans use irony, they will often immediately qualify it as being so, with a jovial “just kidding”, even if the statement is outrageous and plainly ironic. For instance…

A: “If you don’t come out tonight, I’m going to have you shot… just kidding.”

Of course, being America, this might be true, because they do all own guns and use them on a regular basis (just kidding). Americans can fully appreciate irony. They just don’t feel entirely comfortable using it on each other, in case it causes damage. A bit like how we feel about guns.

It’s not so much about having a different sense of humour as a different approach to life. More demonstrative than we are, Americans are not embarrassed by their emotions. They clap louder, cheer harder and empathise more unconditionally. It’s an openness that always leaves me feeling slightly guilty and apologetic when American personalities appear on British chat shows and find their jokes and stories met with titters, not guffaws, or their achievements met with silent appreciation, rather than claps and yelps. We don’t like them any less, we just aren’t inclined to give that much of ourselves away. Meanwhile, as a Brit on an American chat show, it’s difficult to endure prolonged whooping without intense, red-faced smirking.

In the end, he says, the smashing success of The Office on both sides of the irony divide proves that we’re more alike than not. We’re American: Let’s hug.


Well, the good news is that Starbucks got rid of transfats last week in New York and other markets. The bad news is that my beloved raspberry scone changed. That means that for the last year or so, I’ve been breakfasting on transfats. Last week, my cardiologist also scolded me for my bad cholesterol. I blame Starbucks.

But they do have a “reduced fat” (how reduced?) cinnamon chip mini loaf that’s pretty damned good. It’s probably loaded with heroin.

Digital evolution

Fascinating tidbit in Edge’s question of the year about optimism. Simon Baron-Cohen, at psychologist at Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre, argues that the digital age is a blessing for the autistic:

Some may throw up their hands at this increase in autism and feel despair and pessimism. They may feel that the future is bleak for all of these newly diagnosed cases of autism. But I remain optimistic that for a good proportion of them, it has never been a better time to have autism.

Why? Because there is a remarkably good fit between the autistic mind and the digital age. . . . Computers operate on the basis of extreme precision, and so does the autistic mind. Computers deal in black and white binary code, and so does the autistic mind. Computers follow rules, and so does the autistic mind. Computers are systems, and the autistic mind is the ultimate systemizer. The autistic mind is only interested in data that is predictable and lawful. The inherently ambiguous and unpredictable world of people and emotions is a turn off for someone with autism, but a rapid series of clicks of the mouse that leads to the same result every time that sequence is performed is reassuringly attractive. . . .

As I read this — and thought of people I have known in this industry who, though I have no idea of their diagnoses, display some of these signs and who are very good at their computer jobs — I started seeing the beginnings of a sci-fi novel: Autism and Aspergers grow through cultural Darwinism and I imagined a world where understanding machines better than people is the norm, a society of Spocks.

It has always been us

So the Time person of the year is you. Otherwise know as us.

Well, I suppose I should give Time some credit for recognizing the power of the people. Only thing is, there’s no news here. This is nothing new. We have always been in charge. It’s just that the people who thought they had the power now have no choice to but hear us and recognize that we are, and always have been, the boss.

This is stated in the hammer-and-chisel language of a Time tome:

But look at 2006 through a different lens and you’ll see another story, one that isn’t about conflict or great men. It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. . . . It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes. . . .

The new Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it’s really a revolution. . . .

And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you. . . .

I don’t disagree with a thing they say. I just want to turn down the volume a bit. And people think bloggers like me get overheated.

This year’s cover reveals that the notion — or they would like to think, institution — of a single person of the year in the single biggest news magazine is such a social anachronism. It is a vestige of the mass era. It is the conceit of mass media that they could pick one person who mattered for the world and that we would listen.

So it’s wise of Time to pick many people. That’s the way the world really works. There are many worlds within our world and many leaders in them. So if Time were doing its job properly, it would highlight a million people of the year. But, of course, it can’t. The form doesn’t allow it. And the form is what led to massthink. But mass is over. And I see this as Time’s admission of that. And so for that, I applaud them.

God knows what they’ll put on the cover near year. (Knowing them, it may well be God.)