Culture Crit War

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My friend Emily has a thoughtful response to my earlier kvetching about the state of left-leaning criticism, but it’s one that I think must be less about the actual charges I made and more about issues Emily was already thinking about and wanted an opportunity to discuss. Either way, we’re clearly talking about different things.

For one thing, I think there’s some confusion over what constitutes left-leaning criticism. In defending its current state, Emily points to “the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the ObserverHarper’s, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, the Village Voice, the Paris Review and countless other publications,” that, she says, offer up “very good cultural criticism coming more-or-less from the left.”

I’m not exactly sure what more-or-less from the left means, but most of the good arts criticism I’ve read from these sources (and make no mistake, I’m a fan of most of the publications she listed) doesn’t have much of a political slant at all. In almost all cases there’s a very good chance that a certain review was written by someone who holds liberal views, but the privately held opinions of the author alone don’t necessarily make all of her work “from the left.” My critique was targeted at some of those pieces that are, first and foremost, left-leaning political readings; they were from the Atlantic and the New York Times Magazine, and they were really, really bad.

I should also note that they were not, as Emily implies, written by Boomers—Katie Roiphe, Sady Doyle and Justin Miller are all members of Generation Y. None of them can critique Mad Men’s accuracy based on firsthand experience with its setting. (Aside: Funnily enough, Roiphe’s whole shtick seems to be based around a conscious rejection of her mother’s second-wave feminism.) This isn’t about some young whippersnapper spurning the wisdom of his elders. If anything, I’m arguing for a more traditionalist approach to literary and pop culture criticism—an approach that refocuses on some of the actual components of storytelling. To paraphrase Dara, co-author of my original kvetch, I would be delighted if Tony Judt were still alive and writing about Mad Men. But of all the people I’ve kvetched about, none of them come remotely close to being Tony Judt.

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