Dynamist Blog

Make That "Katie Couric's Flunky's Notebook"

So "Katie Couric's Notebook", subtitled "A look into Katie's notebook," ran an essay about kids and libraries that was copied from a WSJ article. According to the NYT, "CBS has fired the producer who wrote the piece for Ms. Couric, and said yesterday it was investigating to see if the producer, whose name CBS has not disclosed, had written any previous commentaries for Ms. Couric that had been plagiarized....CBS News executives said they were stunned that anyone would so blatantly copy someone else's work."

No word on whether they were embarrassed that CBS would blatantly pretend that Katie Couric writes her own notebook.

This double standard is an old bugaboo of mine. I don't care when actors, athletes, and CEOs hire ghostwriters, though I do think they should give their ghosts credit, but people who pretend to be journalists and public intellectuals should do their own damn work.

Why Be Optimistic?

TCS Daily features an interview with Freeman Dyson by Benny Peiser. A couple of excerpts:

[T]he western academic world is very much like Weimar Germany, finding itself in a situation of losing power and influence. Fortunately, the countries that matter now are China and India, and the Chinese and Indian experts do not share the mood of doom and gloom. It is amusing to see China and India take on today the role that America took in the nineteen-thirties, still believing in technology as the key to a better life for everyone....

It is also interesting in this connection to observe the similarity, in optimistic mood and rapid material progress, between China and India. Although China is traditionally non-religious and India is traditionally permeated with religion, this does not seem to make much difference. In both countries, rapidly growing wealth and technological progress create a mood of optimism, with or without religion.

Read the whole thing. (It's short.) [Via Arnold Kling.]

Inspired by Dyson's mention of it, I'm off to the library to get Bernal's The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, which, judging by its prices on Amazon, could probably support a reprint.

Museum Fashion

My new Atlantic column looks at the increasing prominence of fashion exhibitions in art museums. (Link good for three days.) Here's an excerpt:

Behind the criticism of fashion as an artistic medium is a highly ideological prejudice: against markets, against consumers, against the dynamism of Western commercial society. The debate is not about art but about culture and economics. Critics who decry fashion collections are less troubled by the prescribed costumes of dynastic China or the aristocratic dress of baroque France than by the past century's clothes. With its fluctuating forms and needless decoration, fashion epitomizes the supposedly unproductive waste that inspired 20th-century technocrats to dream of central planning. It exists for no good reason. But that's practically a definition of art.

Prejudice aside, it's hard to come up with objections to fashion collections that don't apply to other museum departments. Fashion is mass produced? So are prints and posters, often more so than haute couture. Ephemeral? So are works on paper. Utilitarian? So are pots and vases. Customized to an individual? So were suits of armor. As for the fickle­ness of fashion, the history of Western art is a story of changing styles. And however much critics may despise commerce, many undisputed masterpieces were works for hire. "Paintings were marketable goods which competed for the attention of the purchaser," writes the historian Michael North in Art and Commerce in the Dutch Golden Age. Michelangelo and Ghiberti got paid.

The real question is not whether museums are too good for fashion but whether they're good enough. Clothes are unique sculptures, dependent on a supporting human form and created to move. Yet museum mannequins stand still. Clothing is made to be seen and touched—the tactile qualities of fabric are as essential to the art as a garment's color or shape—but light and fingertips dim colors and degrade fabrics. The first rule of fashion exhibitions is Do not touch.

Any fashion exhibition is thus a compromise. But, of course, altarpieces weren't meant to be ripped from their candlelit sacred context and put up on museum walls to be admired by non­believers. The Elgin Marbles were supposed to be on the Parthenon. For many works of art, a museum is an artificial setting— a zoo, not a natural habitat. Some zoos, however, are worse than others.

The Atlantic's website also features a slideshow (free link) of photos from recent exhibitions, along with some audio from me. (The site's editors adeptly cut my 28 minutes of comments down to eight.)

A free archive of my past Atlantic columns is now available here.

Obama or Osama?

That's the ingenious title the editors at The New York Post put on my latest essay, which examines the difference between glamour (Obama) and charisma (Osama). Although it is packaged as one, the piece is not in fact a review of Philip Rieff's very strange "new" book Charisma: The Gift of Grace, and How It Has Been Taken Away from Us. For that, I recommend Chris Caldwell's NYTBR piece, although it is far kinder to Rieff than I would have been. Along with an appalling writing style, the book has many analytical problems and even worse empirical shortcomings. Rieff appears completely ignorant of the contemporary existence of charismatic religious leaders and, perhaps because he wrote the book 35 years ago and stuck it in a drawer, of the substantial scholarship on religious charisma that has come out in the past two decades. What dates the book isn't its use of terms like "women's lib" and "hang loose" but its mid-century conviction that religion is dead as a lived experience and that without religious authority all hell will break loose. I had this book in mind when I wrote on Cato Unbound that "Surviving the 21st century with our sanity and civilization intact will require less Nietzsche and more Hume."

If you really want to understand charisma, I recommend the other scholarly book I cite, Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities by Len Oakes. It's a dispassionate yet sympathetic treatment, with insights that apply beyond purely religious leaders. (Ayn Rand and her circle kept coming to mind.)

Sharp-eyed readers will note from the author author credit on the Post piece that I've made a deal with The Free Press to write my long-delayed book on glamour. If you've got a lot of bandwidth and would like a preview, you can read the proposal here. UPDATE: Thanks to advice from reader Lawrence Rhodes, the file is now a more manageable size.

I Hate Verizon

I am writing this from Kinko's in LA--even though I supposedly have DSL service in my condo. Verizon's service has been down for the past four days, out of the seven I've been in town. And, of course, they have no one to answer their phones.

Overheard at an L.A. Starbucks

Two screenwriters working over a script that features both the CIA and some kind of evil mercenary hired by...a pharmaceutical company. You can't say there's no originality in Hollywood.

ArchivedDeep Glamour Blog ›

Blog Feed

Articles Feed