I wrote an essay on Sigrid Undset for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s web site:
Like one of her own characters, Sigrid Undset followed her heart, confronted the consequences, and learned. Enabled by a government grant to live abroad, she began an affair in Rome with a married Norwegian painter, Anders Castus Svarstad. They married in 1912, after his divorce, and divorced in turn in 1919. By that time, they’d moved back to Norway, where their third child was born. Their second child, a daughter, was mentally handicapped. When Sigrid learned to her horror that Svarstad’s ex-wife had placed her children by him in an orphanage, Sigrid adopted them. One of these was also mentally handicapped. (Years later, when she received her Nobel Prize, she would donate the entire sum to children’s charities.)
Journalist Andy Ngo has spent a good bit time looking at hate crimes and hoaxes of them. He said, “If you constantly tell the public that bigotry is everywhere, some will do anything to seek it out or even create it when they can’t find it.” This piece backs up that assertion, in which Ngo starts with the lawsuit Oberlin College lost to a local bakery and notes the numerous hoaxes its student body has generated. He reports,
In 2013, students at the elite liberal arts college panicked after someone reported seeing a person in a Ku Klux Klan robe on campus. The administration cancelled all classes for the day. The phantom klansman was never found, though police did find someone wrapped in a blanket. This overreaction was preceded by a month-long spate of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-gay posters around campus. These, too, were found to be hoaxes.
Twitter is good at these misdirections. Today people are noticing a trending hashtag #NotMyAriel, supposedly in response to the adorable Halle Bailey being cast in a live action remake of The Little Mermaid. However of all the comments pushing back on her casting, none of them use that hashtag. You’re yawning; I can tell. Am I boring you?
Ngo’s reporting is far more serious than unused hashtags. He has worked to expose Antifa for the dangerous group it is. In Portland, Oregon, last Saturday, he was attacked by protesters and consequently hospitalized. Quillette magazine states, “Like schoolboy characters out of Lord of the Flies, these cosplay revolutionaries stomp around, imagining themselves to be heroes stalking the great beast of fascism. But when the beast proves elusive, they gladly settle for beating up journalists, harassing the elderly or engaging in random physical destruction.”
Despite the connect-the-dots graphic in its other story, and despite the astonishing, emotion-laden editorial the paper also ran suggesting “We don’t need to read the Mueller report” because we know Trump is guilty, Baker at least began the work of preparing Times readers for a hard question: “Have journalists connected too many dots that do not really add up?”
. . .
There was never real gray area here. Either Trump is a compromised foreign agent, or he isn’t. If he isn’t, news outlets once again swallowed a massive disinformation campaign, only this error is many orders of magnitude more stupid than any in the recent past, WMD included. Honest reporters like ABC’s Terry Moran understand: Mueller coming back empty-handed on collusion means a “reckoning for the media.”
Of course, there won’t be such a reckoning. (There never is). But there should be. We broke every written and unwritten rule in pursuit of this story, starting with the prohibition on reporting things we can’t confirm.
It’s always nice — rare as it is — to be cited as an author. Jessica McAdams praises my novel, The Year of the Warrior in an article just published at Tor.com. My book even closes the show:
I love this book for its clear insistence that sainthood requires transformation. In order to follow the call, Aillil must change. He can’t stay the man he is: sort of bad, sort of good, mostly selfish and sorrowing. He has to be courageous—worse yet, he has to be charitable. If there is real evil in the world and real good, he has to pick a side, and then he has to let that choice manifest itself and become real in his own self—living it out in his own inclinations and actions and habits.
And that might be the most costly sacrifice of all.
Perhaps the most poisonous aspect of current media culture is how it facilitates our impulses to condemn and shame others. Whether by open letter or twitter storm, some of us wake up primed to take a stand against some unthinkable person somewhere. Any accusation is credible without need of investigation. Any social post is up for scrutiny, no matter the age of the poster at the time. Consider our virtue signaled.
Helen Andrews reviews a shameful public incident that has followed her for years in this essay in First Things. Her story is grueling, but there are many more, allowing us to see a pattern.
At the risk of insulting the reader: No one actually believed Williamson was a threat to his female colleagues. It was only a pretext for what was really an exercise in raw power. People made the same kind of excuses when it was my turn in the dunk tank. Again and again, I read commenters insisting that what might at first glance appear to be prurient gossip was, in fact, fair political commentary, because I was a family-values scold and thus open to charges of hypocrisy, or because I was a hard-core Randian who needed a lesson in the dog-eat-dog heartlessness advocated by my idol. As far as I can tell, these characterizations were extrapolated from the fact that I worked at National Review. Certainly, they had no basis in anything I’d written (an Objectivist, really?).
The truth does not matter in the shame storm–only what can beat down the victim.
What solution is there? Look at what Jared Wilson posted today: “Christian, the Lord knows you are not an asset to the organization. He knows what a tangled-up knot of anxiety, incompetence, and faithlessness you are. He knows exactly what a big fat sinner you are. He knew exactly what he was getting into.”
The Columbia Journalism Review asks, “What’s behind a recent rise in books coverage?” The New York Times and other publications are growing (perhaps only on the digital side) and may have expanded their book coverage as a result. It doesn’t quite explain what’s behind the rise other than to say readers want it.
Micah Mattix observes the strongest themes in the reviews that come from these organizations are political. Book coverage may be contextualize short-form reports, but as Mattix says, “If you’re interested in literature primarily for its politics, you’re not interested in literature. And book coverage that always keys reviews to political concerns is a very philistine sort of coverage.”
In 1978, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave a commencement speech at Harvard. He wrote in his memoir that his secretary urged him to soften his words and the press expected him to give an anti-Communist message with plenty of praise for America. He said he was surprised at the applause from Harvard and shocked by news critics in the months afterward.
At the end of my speech I had pointed to the fact that the moral poverty of the 20th century comes from too much having been invested in sociopolitical changes, with the loss of the Whole and the High. We, all of us, have no other salvation but to look once more at the scale of moral values and rise to a new height of vision. “No one on earth has any other way left but — upward,” were the concluding words of my speech.
. . .
What surprised me was not that the newspapers attacked me from every angle (after all, I had taken a sharp cut at the press), but the fact that they had completely missed everything important (a remarkable skill of the media). They had invented things that simply did not exist in my speech, and had kept striking out at me on positions they expected me to hold, but which I had not taken. The newspapers went into a frenzy, as if my speech had focused on détente or war. (Had they prepared their responses in advance, anticipating that my speech would be like the ones I had given in Washington and New York three years earlier?) “Sets aside all other values in the crusade against Communism . . . Autocrat . . . A throwback to the czarist times . . . His ill-considered political analysis.” (The media is so blinkered it cannot even see beyond politics.)
Dana Perino writes, “Every July, I get an uneasy feeling — like something is missing — but I can’t quite put my finger on it. And then, around July 12th, it hits me. This is the season when Tony Snow died, and this year marks the tenth anniversary of his passing. ”
She offers five lessons she learned from him.
I remember listening to Tony’s radio show before Brian Kilmeade took over. When he decided to accept the position as George W. Bush’s press secretary, he hoped he could steer White House policy a bit, but that wasn’t nearly the opportunity he had hoped for.
As Perino says, he was a good man in many ways, the kind of man you want in public offices, be they media or government.
The stars of the new heist release Ocean’s 8 (are the estates of Frank, Dean, and the boys still making money on this?) aren’t wild about critical reaction to their film.
Cate Blanchett said, “A studio can support a film and it’s the invisible faces on the internet, and often male reviewers, who can view it through a prism of misunderstanding.” I gather that means they don’t like it because they don’t get it because they’re men. Sandra Bullock followed up, “It would be nice if reviewers reflected who the film is for, like children should review children’s films, not a 60-year-old man. I guess his opinion would be kind of skewed.”
And if children were the driving forces behind children’s movies, it wouldn’t be long before all we’d have is Axe Cop. May I remind our studio audience that Milne first wrote Winnie the Pooh when he was 44 years old?
But the stars are talking about critics, not producers or directors, on which point Alissa Wilkinson replies to say critics aren’t being paid to support films. They are paid to write essays (sometimes works of art in themselves) about the movies they watch. With many reviews of one movie, you’ll want a diversity of perspectives, because that makes for better reading and understanding in general.
In short, a good critic develops a large capacity for imagination. They can’t know what it would be like to see the movie as someone other than themselves. But the good critic tries very hard to put themselves in those shoes anyhow, especially when they detect that the movies’ target audience will be someone other than themselves.
That’s very different than saying a movie wasn’t meant for you, so we don’t want your professional review possibly prevent our target audience from watching what we made. As Wilkinson points out, most studios want to attract a wide audience in order to make money on a single film. Discounting someone’s opinion because he’s not the right type of person doesn’t help.
Meredith, the publisher behind Southern Living, Better Homes & Gardens, People, SI, Real Simple, and a host of other lifestyle magazines, has purchased Time, Inc. for a few Manhattan dinners shy of $3 billion. The NY Times has an oral history, and I think we might have had an awful time working there, not that I would have ever been hired to begin with. (via Prufrock News)
Albert Kim: “It was very clear that the internet was going to be a huge part of the future of media. But for most of the time I was there, people treated it as a nuisance. It was a problem to be solved, not an opportunity.”
Bethany McLean: “I remember sitting next to Jeff Bewkes, the CEO of Time Warner, at an internal Time Inc. event that was celebrating journalists. And he asked what I had done before Fortune, and I said, ‘Oh, I worked at Goldman.’ And he looked at me like, why would I leave that to do this? And I thought, Uh-oh, it’s over.”
It’s a truth universally acknowledged by those who don’t let sentiment cloud their thinking that the newspaper’s time will soon pass—except for rare titles like the New York Times and a few others that can attract national audiences. “The old model of a general-purpose newspaper fit the industrial age when advertisers needed mass audiences to sell the products of mass production. But the marketplace no longer supports the model of a few messages to many people. Now it is many messages, each to a few people,” Meyer tells me via email.
Jack Shafer reviews the common story told of a newspaper’s death and how it may be the other way around. He notes the warning signs of the death of this medium have been issued as early as 1976. (via Prufrock News)
A period of “debilitating postpartum anxiety” led Abigail Favale to drop out of social media and stop watching the news.
I steered clear of Facebook, which is its own strange minefield, photos of chubby babies and too-flattering selfies alongside headlines of horror – headlines of articles that few actually read, but we share them anyway, to at least feel like we’ve done something; we’ve shown that we’re woke, we’re aware.
This question has increasing importance. Most of us already suffer from an info glut and many people view this as normal life. But I won’t be surprised when news comes of the next generation rejecting all of this and seeking what some may call a new puritanism of personal responsibility and local (mostly offline) living. I’m pretty sure it’s happening already.
The headphones jerked out of my ears, and I made a grab for them, which caused me to trip over my feet, fall onto my side, and shoot off the back of the treadmill, knocking over two young women in spandex outfits who’d been chatting behind me. As one witness said, it looked like I was picking up a six-ten spare.
Yes, I’m blogging through The Lord of the Rings, and I’ll be back with that momentarily. But my Facebook friend Mark Goldblatt announced a deal on his book Right Tool for the Job: A Memoir of Manly Concerns, and I figured it wouldn’t do me any serious harm to take a break between hobbits with a short, light book. I did, and it didn’t.
Right Tool for the Job is a collection of humorous essays, sort of an autobiography under strobe light. We begin with an awkward memory of Mark’s father taking him to a Turkish bath, and end with a meditation on giving up softball because your body’s just getting too old for the punishment. A recurring theme seems to be the unlimited indignities men’s bodies impose on them, with particular emphasis on sexual awkwardness, though all the stories aren’t about sex, and honestly, what else is a guy going to write about?
Author Goldblatt is Jewish, secular, and conservative. He’s also extremely funny. I laughed out loud more than once. I recommend The Right Tool for the Job, with cautions for mature themes. I especially recommend it to women, as an introduction to what’s laughingly known as male psychology.
Over at Christianity Today, Stephanie L. Derrick presents the news that she has found two previously forgotten articles, at least one of which is certainly by C. S. Lewis. Both were printed in The Strand, a preeminent English magazine famous for being the first publisher of most of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. The first article, “A Christmas Sermon for Pagans,” is certainly by Lewis. The second, “Cricketer’s Progress” is signed “Clive Hamilton,” one of Lewis’s known pseudonyms, and has certain Lewisian qualities. However, Lewis’s oft-stated complete apathy toward anything having to do with sports makes me doubt the attribution.
How did these articles remain unknown so long? Derrick explains:
Part of the reason that I found these articles in 2013 is timing. Soon after Lewis died in 1963, his posthumous editor Walter Hooper cataloged all of the Lewis publications he could find (Lewis not keeping a record of his own). The Strand, however, wasn’t indexed until 1983, well after Lewis’s official bibliography was published.