Saturday, September 26, 2009

Putting the "I" in "lifestyle," Dept.

Longtime readers of this space will know that I hate The Washington Post. I'm sorry; I should be more precise: I hate the lifestyle sections of The Washington Post. To the extent that, for the longest time, we didn't take home delivery of the Post just to spare my blood pressure.

But it's back. And try as your sobsister might to avert my eyes, I did see the Sunday magazine this weekend. It looked...different. From the title on down. So, I turned to the first pages and found an "Editor's Note." One that, in so many ways, reaffirmed and validated my "Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome." *ha ha* Did you see what I...? Oh. Okay.

At any rate, the "Editor's Note." Written by a "Debra Leithauser." It begins, "If you're anything like me..."

Regard this as the Fate Knocks on Beethoven's Door in Ms. Leithauser's Fifth Symphony. Dot-dot-dot-dash.

How is this phrase in any way motivic, you chirp sweetly? It is motivic not only because of its ubiquity (discussed below) in the article in question but, perhaps more importantly, because of the way it exemplifies much of what I despise in the Post's lifestyle Weltanschauung. For, the lifestyle editors of the Post learned, perhaps at an inappropriately early age, that what matters most in the reader's understanding of anything to do with the external world is how the reportorial "I" processes it in his or her fascinating life and mind. As a consequence, rare indeed is the article that doesn't place its writer and her reaction to the subject matter squarely in your line of sight, like a woman in an enormous bonnet blocking your view of the stage. If the writer were, say, Oriana Fallaci, there might be value added by the engagement. If the writer is Jane Shlobotnik, somewhat less so.

Thus, "If you're anything like me," it begins, "you're a fan of this magazine." Well, no, I'm not. And I'm also having a hard time with the way this relationship is being defined, frankly. Plus, I know there must be a famous Greek philosopher's name attached to the rhetorical device deployed in this opening sentence. Being "anything like me" is solely predicated on my approval of the magazine. So, if I am not a fan of the magazine, I am nothing like her. Quod erat menstruandum.

She continues, "The new WP Magazine adds to that experience. You'll continue to find deeply reported articles that illuminate and inspire..."

Yes. "WP Magazine." Its logo is a large "wp" in a gothic face, not unlike that found in the Post's masthead. Or The New York Times' masthead. Or on the logo of the Times' monthly glossy style supplement, "T." The Anglo-Irish philosomuso Declan MacManus put it best, perhaps, when he wrote, "All little sisters like to try on big sister's clothes."

Moving on, then, "deeply reported"? Ummm...does that mean something like "reported in depth"? If so, say so. Please. For the children's sake. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say that very, very, very few indeed are the times that the Post's magazine writing has illuminated me or inspired me to do anything. Except, perhaps, write this piece.

Blah blah the crossword blah blah the dining column.

New graf. "Why the changes? Well, because if you're anything like me..."

Do you see what I mean? It flows through the editorial body like ichor. The conviction that their "take" on the situation is the prism through which you should view events. Like the one on the cover of Dark Side of the Moon. Only turning objective reality into a rainbow of middle-brow solipsism.

" also have a giggling, gurgling baby; a first-grader going on middle-schooler; and neighbors who wish they had more time for ... well, just about everything."

[ghuk ghukk ghaaaaaaak ghuk gh...ghaaaaakkkh ghu...ghu... I'm sorry. God. I'm sorry. Oh God, anchovies taste so much worse on the way up than on the way down...]

But, in less-visceral response, no, I don't. I have no fizzy baby, precocious six-year-old or frazzled-but-lovable neighbors. Then again, I'm not on an ABC sitcom,. And once again, Ms. Leithauser has chosen to define our relationship in an exclusionary way. Why, Ms. Leithauser, why? Is it that time you kept referring to Rashomon as "Rastaman" until I finally had to forehead-flick you? It is, isn't it?

She continues, "That's why we've reimagined the Magazine." People like to reimagine shit here in Choc City. People are reimagining things all the fucking time. Al Gore already Reinvented Government™, so that was taken. But "reimagined" is fine, and it is ever-so redolent of endless mid-afternoon meetings where people drink Coke Zero, check their Blackberrys obsessively and worry any halfway-decent idea to within an inch of its life.

"Reimagined," in this case, equates to Using Fewer Words. You're too busy, Busy Washingtonian. You are defined by the business of your busy-work. You define "multi-tasking." Usually incorrectly. But never no mind. Basically, she's telling us, this is written for the on-the-go-go-go Washingtonian. One who just doesn't have the time, sunshine. "TL;DR", amirite? Which translates to "your paper has a target audience with the attention span of a butterfly."

The Post has been suffering from a tragic bipolarity for some time, you see. It can't decide whether to continue serving its base of stolid, married, 2.5 kids-having, Golden Lab-owning White Professionals in northwest Choc City and northern Virginia who are too busy reimagining their own workplace to read the paper or to continue pandering to the fickle, semiliterate 20-somethings who represent the Last, Best Hope for a paper (and an industry) with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, who are too busy texting each other the most inane thoughts in the history of human consciousness to read the paper. The Post's Solomonic solution is to write anodyne articles in the voice of a not-very-well educated soccer mom who wants to convince her tattoo artist/bassist younger sister in Williamsburg that she's, y'know, "hep."

Blah blah clean look blah blah clear navigation.

Closing graf. "If you're anything like me..." I like to skin-pop skag? I think Dario Argento is God? I have a tattoo of Lux Interior on my stomach? What, Ms. Leithauser, what now?!?

" have an opinion about change." I do, actually, and it is this: I think articles about it really shouldn't mention their writers. At all. But I realize this is nigh-unto an impossibility at the Post, where lifestyle articles invariably ask the musical question, "But enough about the topic, what about me?"

To paraphrase the Post's most successful ad campaign, The Washington Post. If you don't get it, you're lucky.

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