aug 16

The Great American Stasis

Esquire doesn't publish most of its content online, so we can't talk about this intrepid "Almanac of Steak" spread in this month's issue. (It begins with this delicious bon mot: "It seems so simple, steak.")

What little it does publish comes out several weeks after it has been printed. So I'm going to run a little bit from my friend Chuck's column this month, which may or may not eventually show up online. It was written in Germany, where he had been living for a few months, but it's about American media, which is why I want to repurpose it here. Here's how it starts:

Like a cop in an unmarked car across the street from a meth lab, I watch America. I am not in America, but I start at it. I stare at it all day and much of the night, compulsively, over the Internet and on TV stations I only intermittently understand and through newspapers I cannot read at all. I moved 3,960 miles east of New York, unconsciously hoping I would forget that America is there. It was a horrible plan. American became pretty much the only thing I have thought about for fourteen consecutive weeks. Which would be totally fine, I suppose, except that nothing ever happens.
It then goes on to argue that most media is filler. I end up disagreeing with some of what he says ("filler," for instance, which might be mistaken for "niche" in other cirucmstances, is a completely relative term -- more relative than even everything else that seems relative lately). At one point he says "Everyone I've ever met seems completely aware that the mass media is a) too large, b) mostly bad, and c) getting worse." Perhaps.

The dismay eventually winds its way around to this conclusion, which will likely bristle media professionals but resonate with media consumers:
The mass media is the single most detrimental entity within the United States right now, and it's having the exact opposite effect of its theoretically intended one -- it's making people less informed and less complete. It is much more harmful than I originally perceived. But it's more interesting than I initially realized, because the people who are most acutely aware of this problem are the people making the problem worse. Bloggers blog about how blogging ruins their lives. Newspapers deliver insignificant reports on the declining significance of newspapers. Entourage is a commentary on shallow celebrity-driven entertainment such as Entourage. A writer named Nicholas Carr wrote a long essay in The Atlantic Monthly about how the Internet is making it difficult for people to concentrate on long essays, which was subsequently published on the Internet. I'm writing a column in a magazine that could essentially be read as an essay against magazines, and I don't think anyone will find that strange.

I don't know why this bothers me. It doesn't seem to bother other people. And it's not like this revelation is going to change my life; I'm still going to write essays and profiles and "idea!" articles, because that's a good job and an okay life. My involvement (or lack thereof) in all of this is irrelevant. Yet as I sit here, across the Atlantic Ocean, browsing random online reactions to fake news I have not seen (nor need to see), I find myself growing more and more depressed of all the things I used to love. It's not difficult to be the cop in the car watching the meth lab, but you will drive yourself sad. You'll find yourself thinking, Maybe the lab will blow up. Maybe the lab will blow up. Maybe the lab will blow up. But it doesn't blow up. It just sits there, falling apart and declining in value, while the people sitting inside lose their teeth and get crazy high.
Update: It just occurred to me to provide a link to the column via Mygazines, the controversial magazine sharing site that will likely get shut down for copyright infringement.


Chuck's first novel, Downtown Owl, is released next month.

posted by Rex at 7:39 PM on August 16, 2008

And it's not like this revelation is going to change my life; I'm still going to write essays and profiles and "idea!" articles, because that's a good job and an okay life.

Dear Chuck,

Wouldn't this make you that undercover cop in the meth lab who started out as a surveillant and has now developed a taste for the shit? Isn't that blindingly obvious? It all starts with a revolution of one...

posted by Garance at 5:59 AM on August 18, 2008

It's amazing how Klosterman can take an idea that's apparently right under everyone's nose and write it up in such a way that it becomes a big revelation. Although as a consequence of that, I'm not exited about his novel as I'd be about another book of musing.

Oh also, awhile ago I said that I want to be able to search everything I've ever read, and magazines were the biggest hurdle to that. It seems that if the nice people at Mygazines are so oblivious to the law they could hack some of that nifty OCR into their site and make the whole thing searchable, and we'd be yet another step closer.

Oh, and what the hell: commenting on blogs makes me feel like crap and takes time away from doing things in life that are worth a damn.

posted by alesh at 12:35 PM on August 19, 2008

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