To: The Editors
The New Yorker
Re: Our decision not to renew
Our family have been subscribers to the New Yorker for many decades and three generations. There was a time when it would never have occurred to us not to renew. However, of late the thought has been growing, uncomfortably, that it is time to let go.
We continue to favor your politics, but there are no surprises to be had there, which is actually unfortunate (more on that later). We love the cartoons, and they are the “hook” for my twelve-year-old son, as they were for me when I was his age. You are one of the few papers that continues to practice any investigative journalism. On that you are to be commended.
Overall, however, you have become sloppy and lazy. While here is no doubt that even the most objective writer brings a viewpoint, great writers acknowledge that thay have a viewpoint and are honest about it. Some of your major contributors in recent years fail that test. Malcolm Gladwell is a fraud, a master of disingenuous arguments designed to push an agenda, rather than the researcher he claims to be. Much of his work is pure sophistry. Adam Gopnik is a petulant snob who tries to burnish his prejudices with a veneer of modernist sophistication (or is it also sophistry?) Worse, he makes ad-hominem attacks on people whose taste he does not share. How is this intellectually more acceptable than the right-wing spew we all know and despise? Where is Donald Barthelme, with his wry and self-aware humility, when we need him?
Regarding politics, it would be nice to see you take more chances on straying from the party line, when that line ceases to apply. Your diatribes against the 401(k) are a good example. This is a program which actually redistributes wealth downward, not upward. Executives are not allowed to benefit from it until the rank-and-file employees have taken advantage of it. Many companies give matching funds-- that’s free money!--further enhancing the benefit. Why? Because it is such a great deal that management wants to make sure it can participate too. It confers the same tax benefits as an IRA. In short, it is a “no brainer”, and it is progressive. But, alas, it produces fees for private sector investment firms (horrors!), so you consider it nothing more than a give-away to Wall St. Really? Even after the meltdown, it has been the most successful retirement vehicle in history, with far better returns than Social Security. I know, because in my twenties and thirties I contributed the standard allowable amounts to my 401(k) whenever it was offered, and that plan alone has made me a millionaire. In campaigning against the 401(k), you are actually harming your readership, not unlike the conservative talkers who sell their listeners useless disaster kits and overpriced coins.
Living in San Francisco, I don’t know enough about the New York arts scene to comment on your coverage thereof. So I have to take your word for it that you know what you are doing. However, we do get the same movies, and your movie reviews have become one-dimensional and predictable. I commend you on not kowtowing to Hollywood. Good for you! But your reviewers seem reflexively opposed to plot, action or simple prettiness in film. The same criteria apparently hold for books too. Fun is certainly out of the question! I have gone back and read reviews from thirty years ago—it was not always this way. I know you see your mission as elevating us, but when did this become a graduate seminar in obscurantism? You could pass it off if the rest of your writers were up to that standard, but those days are long gone.
Finally, when you do deign to cover popular culture, for example, rock music, your contempt for the genre shows through. Of all the people you could write about from the recent past, you wasted buckets of ink on hacks like Joni Mitchell, the Grateful Dead, and Bruce Springsteen. Really? What is so great about being whiny and narcissistic? Or brazenly contemptuous of your audience’s musical ear? Why insult your readers? What happened to virtuosity as a criterion for worthiness in the arts? Does that only apply to highbrow culture? From the 60’s on, there have actually been great and groundbreaking artists in popular music. My Mom was in her late thirties to fifties when she turned us on to the Beatles, Doors, Richie Havens, the Blues Project, Cream, Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, the B-52s and the Talking Heads (along with Bach and Bartok )--usually before our peer group had even heard of them. Yes, I had a very cool mom! She would have been aghast at your recent paeans to Springsteen and the unbearably tiresome (and long irrelevant) Mitchell.
I could go on, but you probably get my point. To put it succinctly, you have slipped from being intellectually deep and challenging, to simply being snobs, without the actual taste or sense of humor to pull it off. It is with great sadness that I must decline to renew our subscription to the New Yorker.
Best of luck,