Fired Old Man Angry at World, Ranting About Something or Other

Leon Wieseltier, recently run out of The New Republic as a gang of Silicon Valley nitwits took over and tried to fix it, has a piece in The New York Times Sunday Book Review that starts thusly:

Amid the bacchanal of disruption, let us pause to honor the disrupted. The streets of American cities are haunted by the ghosts of bookstores and record stores, which have been destroyed by the greatest thugs in the history of the culture industry. Writers hover between a decent poverty and an indecent one; they are expected to render the fruits of their labors for little and even for nothing, and all the miracles of electronic dissemination somehow do not suffice for compensation, either of the fiscal or the spiritual kind. Everybody talks frantically about media, a second-order subject if ever there was one, as content disappears into “content.” What does the understanding of media contribute to the understanding of life? Journalistic institutions slowly transform themselves into silent sweatshops in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability. As the frequency of expression grows, the force of expression diminishes: Digital expectations of alacrity and terseness confer the highest prestige upon the twittering cacophony of one-liners and promotional announcements. It was always the case that all things must pass, but this is ridiculous.

I’m sure after reading that bit of succinct and too-the-point prose, you’re just dying to read the rest of it. Good luck with that. You see, Leon is what I’d call a writer’s writer — or, as he’s also known, the “last of the New York intellectuals” — someone much more interested in showing off — his skill, his education or his connections — than getting to the point already. There is, of course, a way to do both without looking like you’re trying to hard to do either. But Leon, who IS a smart guy whose writing I’ve enjoyed in the past, isn’t getting it done here. He also seems to be suffering from selective historical amnesia.
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On Charlie Hebdo and the Media

In the midst of an interesting New York Observer interview, legendary cartoonist Robert Crumb says this about American journalism:

You don’t have journalists over there anymore, what they have is public relations people. That’s what they have over in America now. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.

Which is somewhat true! An over-exaggeration maybe, but true. (CONTENT! CONTENT! CONTENT!)

Immediately after that, the writer says:

We don’t have a context for this tradition here, merciless, political satire.

And then:

These guys were not trying not to offend, and that’s what an American media-conditioned mind cannot understand. The idea that yes, you offend those who abuse power.

A few points.
1. I’d accuse the writer of living in a bubble of time and space. It sounds like the sort of thing said because she hasn’t seen any cartoons of that ilk in the things she reads and assumed they’re not out there. And because she lives in the time she lives in, she seems completely unaware of what’s happened before she graced the earth with her presence. America doesn’t have a tradition of this sort of thing? Do tell! I run into this during election cycles when people in general whine about the negative attack ads and how far we’ve fallen. There is NOTHING in politics today that was as vicious as what the Founding Fathers did to one another during the first elections. BUT… she’s supposedly an anti-PC person and has written, for among other publications, The New York Press, which along with The Village Voice, used to run these sorts of things as recently as the 90s. (In other words, she SHOULD know better.)

2. The American self-loathing built into her questions. Not the most outrageous case, but obviously there. (And, you know, because the French government is such a champion of free speech. And because Charlie Hebdo, in a regular week, was such a wildly successful enterprise and not something that’s been propped up by subsidies, some of which came from American corporate giant, Google.)

3. The jaw-dropping projection here. It’s not the American media-conditioned mind that’s the issue here. It’s the mind of the American media. Considering her supposed anti-PC history, maybe her heart is in the right place but don’t put this on the American people. It’s on you and your people. They (and the socio-economic class from which the modern journalist crawls) are the ones who assume that all those greasy, unwashed Americans in the rest of the country can’t handle this sort of humor (or the reaction to it) without turning into some sort of violent mob. They’re the ones — in business journalism, celebrity journalism, political journalism — who pull punches in order to maintain access or protect “their guy.” And they’re the ones who never would have published cartoons such as these in the first place — and refuse to show them now — because they’re PC and chicken-shit business people. (They’re also the ones who wanted to really, really believe that Charlie Hebdo was a right-wing, racist publication. They beat the Pope to saying stupid things like “The murders were wrong, but…” by a solid week.)

Or maybe they’re just straight realists who know damn well there’s a difference between running a cartoon of Muhammad and running a 500-word review of Piss Christ (with photo) or showing Jesus fighting Santa Claus in a cartoon or staging an extremely successful, long-running (and hilarious) Broadway play called The Book of Mormon (spoiler alert: There’s a song called “Fuck you, God”). Some of those things will get you letter campaigns and boycotts and protests. The other will get you killed.

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

How Marathon-Running Is Like Novel Writing

B&NBatonRouge2Novelist (and New York Giants fan) Richard Fulco, author of There Is No End to This Slope, took some time out of writing and raising twins, to interview me about Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears for Fiction Writers Review.

We talked about writing (duh), what being a “real” New Yorker means, the murder of the Tooth Fairy, and running. Among other things I said that somehow came out managing to sound smart:

“Marathons are a huge project, but you tackle it one mile at a time. That actually helped me with writing novels. It’s two hours at a time. You just do the small stuff.”

Go read the whole thing.

A Few Nights at The Four Seasons in Bora Bora

Beautiful Bora Bora

Beautiful Bora Bora

Back in grad school, my friend Jason — who has a talent for pinpointing insecurities and emotions you didn’t even know you had — once asked me, “Do you ever have this feeling that they’re going to catch on to you? That they’re going to realize you’ve been faking it all along?”

I didn’t think I’d had that feeling before, but once he said it, I recognized it immediately. (Which is why Jason’s a good writer and possibly a hypnotist.)

I was reminded of that feeling once or twice at The Four Seasons in Bora Bora. For those of us born in a certain region and raised in a certain economic bracket, a place like The Four Seasons can be a bit overwhelming. And every once in a while I found myself expecting a security team to show up to escort us off the property. “Okay, Wheaton. The charade is over. Back to the trailer park with you. They’ve got a six-pack of Miller Lite and a box of wine waiting, we’re sure.”

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Did I Mention That I Ran the NYC Marathon?

At around Mile 7. Was not feeling like this at around mile 18.

At around Mile 7. Was not feeling like this at around mile 18.

Sunday was my third NYC Marathon. Did you know this? I don’t know if I told you guys.

My favorite tweet of the day (directed at me): “A guy already finished and Snaps is still taking selfies.” (I’m Snaps.)

Long story short, I wanted to beat my Philly Marathon PR of 3:59. That didn’t happen. Not even close. Especially in the last 10 miles.

But 4:21 was good enough for 22,588th place. So there!
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Going to the Chapel

Yes, we did get an overwater bungalow.

How’s that for a finish line?

On November 2, I’m running the New York City Marathon. On November 11, I’m getting married.

I’d tell you to save the date, but you’re not invited. Don’t feel bad, though, no one is. Cara and I decided to skip the stress and hype and expense of the modern American wedding celebration and opt for a small private ceremony and honeymoon all in one. So we’re going to Bora Bora. And Moorea. And Tikehau.

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