The New York Times: “Williamsburg is the New Williamsburg”

2010 April 20
by Turk Studzel

Ever since Judith Miller’s reporting helped sell the Dadaist fantasy of Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction,” editorial policy at the New York Times has leaned towards an ever more cutting-edge, postmodernist approach to journalism. No longer the fusty paragon of establishment propriety, the Times is breaking new ground with a philosophy we might call “Friedmanism,” after its op-ed page guru Tom “The World is Flat” Friedman, whose brand of absurdist word-play not only defies conventional notions of signification, but provocatively upends most traditional canons of logic. As Matt Taibbi writes of Friedman’s classic ode to globalization, it is a style of work

piling one insane image on top of the other, so that by the end—and I’m not joking here—we are meant to understand that the flat world is a giant ice-cream sundae that is more beef than sizzle, in which everyone can fit his hose into his fire hydrant, and in which most but not all of us are covered with a mostly good special sauce.

Like the proto-Surrealist Comte de Lautreamont’s “chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella,” Friedman’s imagery never fails to startle and confound, and one can see this inventiveness quickly gaining influence in our nation’s “paper of record.”

This struck me forcefully in a recent article in the “Style” section. No doubt, Style’s editors allow more poetic license than, say, the Business section’s, but in “Williamsburg is the New Williamsburg” (March 16, 2010) Kathleen Egan pushes the envelope to its limit and beyond, striving for a near-total divorce from everyday reality—as though, following Rimbaud, she were employing absinthe and hashish to achieve the “derangement of the senses” he thought necessary for visionary poetry. In the passage below, note the breathtaking leap of logic in the first sentence, which sets the writer’s imagination loose on a buffalo-in-a-china-shop rampage through all the tired clichés of common sense. Bravo, Kathleen!

Should you find yourself wandering the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, these days, you might be reminded of another Williamsburg, the restored historic village in Virginia. With shops like the Brooklyn Kitchen, where you can learn how to pickle vegetables and butcher your own pig, and Rye, where you can sip an old-fashioned at the 100-year-old oak bar, the neighborhood hasn’t quite returned to colonial times — but chances are your server will have facial hair and woolens that would do an 18th-century blacksmith proud. There are glass blowers (Michael Anchin Glass Company), perfume makers (CB I Hate Perfume) and illegal urban beekeepers who’ve set up shop in East Williamsburg with that same can-do spirit that got us to the New World in the first place. While you might not hear the resounding fife and drums of our founding fathers, the bars on Bedford Avenue are jammed with Bunyan-bearded hipsters who look as if they moonlight in a fiddle band. And the spirit of Patrick Henry lives on in these Brooklynites, whose call to arms is ‘‘Give me bike lanes or give me death!’’

Whew! It’s enough to make your head spin—a veritable Coney Island of the Mind! “Bunyan-bearded hipsters,” indeed!

A final tip for aficionados of the Times: keep your eyes on the coverage of Iran. Not to be outdone, hardbitten “hard-news” reporters on the Middle East beat seem to be crafting their own version of surrealism… Judith Miller, watch out!

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