Tag Archives: The New Yorker

Assessing the Media’s Role in ‘What Happened’

New Yorker editor David Remnick spoke with Hillary Clinton for a wide-ranging profile in the magazine’s September 25th issue. Remnick interviewed Clinton and other players — both off-the-record and on — on the occasion of the publication of What Happened, her memoir of winning the popular vote but losing the more crucial electoral one to a crass, bigoted reality TV star.

Remnick considers the role the media might have played in this debacle by frequently, unfairly, painting Clinton in a harsh light. It’s nothing new, he acknowledges, pointing to a similar discussion in a 1996 profile in his own magazine:

Twenty-one years ago, in an article for this magazine called “Hating Hillary,” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., she admitted, “I apparently remind some people of their mother-in-law or their boss, or something.” In the same piece, Arianna Huffington remarks on Clinton’s “self-righteousness,” Peggy Noonan on her “apple-cheeked certitude.” Gates observed that Clinton was widely perceived as Mrs. Jellyby, the character in Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House” who is as “intent on improving humanity as she is cavalier toward actual human beings . . . the zealous reformer with a heart as big as all Antarctica.”

Such ingrained habits of media antagonism proved to be another factor that allowed Trump, the biggest liar in the history of Presidential politics, to be seen by tens of millions of people as a figure of rude authenticity, their champion. In Clinton’s view, she could never win with people who had been trained to regard her as a high-minded phony. Her wariness and evasions drained their sympathy; her strained attempts to win people back too often fell flat. Why couldn’t she be admired for her intelligence, her competence, her experience?

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Civilization Was Supposed to Make Our Lives Better, Right?

I’m writing this from the nineteenth floor of a hotel in downtown Chicago where I can’t get a solid wi-fi connection, let alone make the refrigerator cool my beer. For all our technological advances, sometimes it seems like I spend as much time cursing my laptop as I do using it. I love  modern technology and am grateful to live in the time and country that I do, but I also love camping in the woods, out of cell range, and cooking simple food on a fire.

All this techno crap was supposed my make our lives better, or whatever, yet it took me hours to drive into the city, because there was a shooting on the freeway, and then the car rental place was packed and under-staffed, the airport shuttle was a slow-moving cattle car, and of course I hop right on to the packed L trains at rush hour. At one point, I fantasized about walking all the way from the suburbs to downtown, navigating by the stars over the course of a night just to find some peace. Now that I’m in this hotel room with the artificially cooled air and shoddy connection, I wish I was camping on the shore of Lake Michigan, reading a book and roasting hot dogs on a stick for dinner.

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On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Cartoonist Hustling for Money

A successful media model is often a quiet one, gathering up money from the unglamorous corners of the market, cutting checks for its writers and artists in small but regular amounts. When Bob Mankoff retired from the New Yorker this year after twenty years as the Cartoon Editor, he left behind one of most successful new media models of the era: The Cartoon Bank. It was a database he founded in 1992 and ran from an apartment in Yonkers, and it helped cartoonists license their work for thousands of dollars a month. But when Condé Nast bought the Bank from Mankoff in 1997, the money began to dry up and the model began to fail.

Paste magazine recounts the rise and fall of the Cartoon Bank, which was begun by Mankoff with an $1,800 Apple computer and a $745 scanner, and built into a database with over 20,000 images from 50 cartoonists, categorized by subject: “The market was individual consumers as well as businesses; if you ran a dental association, for instance, you could easily find dental-themed cartoons for your monthly newsletter. Early customers included Bloomberg Financial Markets, which delivered a cartoon to 41,000 subscribers each morning,”

With fees ranging from $100 to $1000 for a single image, cartoonists could start to rely on checks coming in from the Bank, and some cartoonists were receiving residiuals of $30,000 to $40,000 a year. But when Condé Nast took over, things began to break and cartoonists saw a reliable income dwindle to nothing.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Libby Copeland, Patrick Blanchfield, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Cory Taylor, and Tabitha Blankenbiller.

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The Other National Pastime: Unusual Baby Names

Choosing a name for your baby is a culturally fraught decision. So much is at stake: will it invite bullying? Does it correctly channel the parents’ attitude toward the cultural zeitgeist? Is it optimized for relatability and uniqueness? In the New Yorker, Lauren Collins shares the story behind her second child’s name, a boy whose mixed Franco-American heritage added several layers of complexity to the process (who knew that a Kevin could never be taken seriously in Paris?). She also looks at the broader context of naming conventions in the U.S. — yet another realm in which American exceptionalism has played out in bizarre and unexpected ways.

In the U.S., as the law professor Carlton F. W. Larson has written, the selection of a child’s name falls within “a legal universe that has scarcely been mapped, full of strange lacunae, spotty statutory provisions, and patchy, inconsistent case law.” Generally, you can’t use a pictograph, an ideogram, a number, an obscenity, or a name that is excessively long, but the regulations vary wildly from state to state and are often the domain of randomly applied “desk-clerk law.” It’s unclear whether you can call your son Warren Edward Buffett, Jr., when you have not actually procreated with Warren Edward Buffett. There are stricter and clearer criteria for naming dogs and horses than there are for naming people. (The American Kennel Club prohibits, among other things, the words “champ,” “champion,” “sieger,” “male,” “stud,” “sire,” “bitch,” “dam,” and “female,” while the Jockey Club recently went to court to block the registration of a filly named Sally Hemings, which has since been rebaptized Awaiting Justice.) Some of the rules have more to do with keyboards than with child protection. In California, amazingly, you can be Adolf Hitler Smith, but not José Smith, because of a ban on diacritics.

The exuberance of American names has been one of the country’s hallmarks since its founding. In sixteenth-century England, the Puritans started using their children’s birth certificates as miniature sermons. They produced some doozies: Humiliation Hynde, Kill-sin Pimple, Praise-God Barebone (whose son, If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned Barebone, eventually went by Nicholas Barbon). Charles II largely stamped out the trend during the Reformation, but the Puritans continued the practice in the New World. The Claps—a Roger and Johanna who immigrated to Dorchester in 1630—produced a virtue-themed progeny that included Experience, Waitstill, Preserved, Hopestill, Wait, Thanks, Desire, Unite, and Supply, making them perhaps the Kardashians of Colonial Massachusetts.

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Cory Taylor Answers Your Questions About Dying

Celebrated Australian novelist Cory Taylor was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. Rejecting the taboos that prevent humans from talking openly about death, she goes on the record with her answers to some of the most typical questions people have asked her about dying. In her piece at The New Yorker, she talks about her regrets, fears, priorities, what she’ll miss most, and how she’d like to be remembered. Taylor passed away on July 5th, 2016. Her book, Dying: A Memoir was published in the United States on August 1st, 2017.

A few months back, I was invited to take part in a program for ABC television called “You Can’t Ask That.” The premise of the show is that there are taboo subjects about which it is difficult to have an open and honest conversation, death being one of them. The producer of the program explained that I would be required to answer a number of questions on camera. She said questions had been sent in from all over the country, and the ten most common had been selected. I wasn’t to know what these were until the day I went into the studio for the filming.

It turned out that the producer of the program herself had a need to talk about death, as she had recently lost her father to cancer, and was struggling to cope. This is so often the case with people I talk to about my situation: they listen for a while, then they tell me their own death story, but always with a vague sense that it is shameful, that the whole sorry business is somehow their fault. In taking part in “You Can’t Ask That,” I wanted to do my bit to change things around, to win back some dignity for the dying, because I don’t think silence serves the interests of any of us.

The questions, as it turned out, were unsurprising. Did I have a bucket list, had I considered suicide, had I become religious, was I scared, was there anything good about dying, did I have any regrets, did I believe in an afterlife, had I changed my priorities in life, was I unhappy or depressed, was I likely to take more risks given that I was dying anyway, what would I miss the most, how would I like to be remembered? These were the same questions I’d been asking myself ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, back in 2005. And my answers haven’t changed since then. They are as follows.

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‘You Wouldn’t Think the Ashes of a Man Would Be So Heavy’: Remembering Sam Shepard

Broadway World reports today that Oscar-nominated actor and Pulitzer-winning playwright Sam Shepard has died at 73 of complications from ALS, AKA Lou Gherig’s disease.

In recent years, Shepard was best known as an actor, in the last few years appearing as the Rayburn family patriarch in the Netflix drama Bloodline. But he was a prolific, ground-breaking playwright, and a key player in the Off-Broadway movement of the ’60s and ’70s. According to The New York Times, Shepard won a Pulitzer in 1979 for The Curse of the Starving Class, and received nominations for two others, True West, and Fool for Love.

His work examined toxic masculinity at a time when that was rare. The son of an alcoholic farmer, he explored male aggression as it is often passed down from fathers to sons. In 2010, critic John Lahr touched on this in a profile of Shepard in The New Yorker, as part of a review of Ages of the Moon, Shepard’s most recent play at the time — his 40th of 42 — which was being staged at the Atlantic Theater in Manhattan.

Shepard attributes part of his father’s downfall to postwar trauma. “My dad came from an extremely rural farm community . . . and the next thing he knows he’s flying B-24s over the South Pacific, over Romania, dropping bombs and killing people he couldn’t even see,” he said. “These men returned from this heroic victory . . . and were devastated in some basic way . . . that’s mysterious still. . . . The medicine was booze.” The booze often led to abuse. “Those Midwestern women of the forties suffered an incredible psychological assault,” Shepard recalled. “While growing up, I saw that assault over and over again, and not only in my own family.” In 1984, Rogers was hit by a car, after a drunken quarrel with a girlfriend in a New Mexico bar. “You either die like a dog or you die like a man. And if you die like a dog you just go back to dust,” Shepard, who had his father cremated, said later. After the ceremony, Shepard picked up the leather container holding the ashes. “It was so heavy,” he said. “You wouldn’t think the ashes of a man would be so heavy.”

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Lawrence Wright, April Wolfe, Mayukh Sen, Dan Jackson, and Ben Kuchera.

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What’s The Matter With Texas? How Long Do You Have?

It’s hard to pinpoint the most Texan detail in Lawrence Wright’s magnum opus in the New Yorker on the state’s changing politics. (Seriously, it’s 19,000 words long.) It might be a nighttime hunt for wild pigs, with Democratic lawmakers armed with pistols, wearing cutoff jeans and tennis shoes. Or perhaps it’s the “Poo-Poo Choo-Choo,” a train that shipped toxic sludge from New York City to El Paso in 1991.

For Wright’s purpose, which is to map the permanent shift right — far, far right — of the Texas State Legislature, it would likely be the 2003 redistricting plan, which involved a run to the border, an old fashioned manhunt, and a standoff at a Holiday Inn.

Tom Craddick, an ultra-conservative Republican lawmaker, became the Speaker of the House that year. Spurned by a lifetime of Democratic obstruction, he came up with a plan not just to win elections, but to make winning a foregone conclusion through gerrymandering. The Democrats, faced with a bill that would create a permanent Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, left the state house and hightailed it to Oklahoma.

Under Craddick’s leadership, the Texas legislature began carving historical congressional districts into new fiefdoms. Taking care not to violate Supreme Court guidelines on minority representation, lawmakers jigsawed Texas into shapes that would decisively capture the state for the right.

In May, 2003, the redistricting plan came up for a vote in the Texas House. Fifty-three Democrats, sensing a lethal threat to their party, fled to Oklahoma, denying Craddick a quorum. He locked the capitol chamber, to prevent any more defections, and called out state troopers to hunt down the missing members, who became known as the Killer Ds.

In the midst of this hubbub, Pete Laney, the former speaker, flew his Piper turboprop from the Panhandle to Ardmore, Oklahoma, where he joined his Democratic colleagues at the local Holiday Inn. Someone from DeLay’s office obtained Laney’s flight plan from the Department of Homeland Security by implying that Laney’s plane was overdue to land and might have crashed or been seized by terrorists. Texas troopers and national reporters swarmed into Ardmore. The Democratic faction remained in Oklahoma for four days, until the deadline for considering new legislation had passed. The governor, Rick Perry—by then a stalwart Republican—called a special session for late June, whereupon eleven Democratic state senators decamped to New Mexico. It took two more special sessions to ram the vote through.

It was a successful gambit. So successful that redistricting has become the key tool in elections all over the country, resulting in a Congress with a steadfast and confident Republican majority. So should we watch Texas for what the future will bring? The future, writes Wright, is already here.

Because Texas represents so much of modern America—the South, the West, the plains, the border, the Latino community, the divide between rural areas and cities—what happens here tends to disproportionately affect the rest of the nation. Illinois and New Jersey may be more corrupt, and Kansas and Louisiana more out of whack, but they don’t bear the responsibility of being the future.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Katherina Grace Thomas, James Lasdun, Kyle Chayka, Tay Wiles, and Buzz Bissinger.

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