Results tagged “New York Times” from critical difference

We know now that J.D Salinger was no recluse, despite what the headlines say. He shut the larger world out, but he did it with help from his neighbors: the people of his tiny New Hampshire town, who closed ranks around him to keep outsiders at bay.

There's a story to that effect in tomorrow's New York Times, and The Boston Globe had one yesterday. But it's a local paper that deserves the credit for the scoop. The Valley News broke the story on Friday, two days after Salinger's death, in an utterly charming piece by Susan J. Boutwell and Alex Hanson. It's the kind of story that only local journalists would realize was there to be reported. It probably couldn't have been broken by the big guys even if they had known, because who among the famous author's neighbors would have opened up to them?
January 31, 2010 9:15 PM |

Producing real journalism, good journalism, costs real money. Charging for frequent online access, as The New York Times plans to do beginning next year, is a step away from the cliff -- or, perhaps, a step toward scrambling back up it.

Why in the world should we be getting all this for free?

And that's just today's arts coverage -- so far.

January 20, 2010 12:30 PM | | Comments (1)
Sage counsel from Amy Poehler: "Girls, if boys say something that's not funny, you don't have to laugh," she said this week at Glamour's Women of the Year Awards.

Is it too great a leap to suggest that Poehler's girl-power advice gets at one of the root causes of women's underrepresentation in so many areas of the arts?

Maybe women, from early childhood on, are trained to be too amenable an audience, ever willing to watch and listen -- politely, appreciatively, passively -- to male performers and writers and directors. Meanwhile, our culture is so certain little boys wouldn't be attracted to narratives about girls (or is it that we fear they would be?) that we don't even test the hypothesis. Children's storybook characters, their movie heroes, even nearly all of the Muppets on "Sesame Street" are male. And so yet another generation grows up with the belief that male equals mass appeal, while female equals niche.

When you're perceived as comprising a niche even though you're the majority, good luck breaking into the mainstream -- which, as it happens, is dictated (loudly, raucously) by the preferences of the minority. Sort of like how Republicans control the Senate even though the numbers say they don't.

What brings this on is Bill Carter's New York Times story today about the absence of women on late-night TV writers' staffs. The most startling fact in the piece -- which adds some depth and color to other recent coverage of that abysmal employment scenario -- is that there are more female viewers of those shows, and of TV in general, than there are male viewers. David Letterman's "audience is almost 55 percent women; [Jay] Leno's is more than 53 percent, and [Conan] O'Brien's just over one half. Yet the writing room and sensibilities of the show itself remain largely male."

It's a maddening piece of information, not least because it lines up so well with other female-majority stats: Women attend the theater more often than men do; read vastly more fiction than men do; want to go to, and work in, the movies just as much as men do. And yet female playwrights and plays about women remain scarce; rosters of "important" novelists, let alone nonfiction authors, tend to be overwhelmingly male (or, like Publishers Weekly's list of 2009's top 10 books, all male); and Hollywood, which must have the attention span and cultural memory of a gnat, is genuinely surprised whenever a female-centric movie is a monster hit. (Wasn't "Thelma & Louise" -- which, by the way, I saw with three guys when it came out in 1991 -- supposed to change that once and for all? Sigh.) And let's not even get into dance, where female choreographers are still struggling to commandeer even a little bit of the spotlight.

Pondering the egregious underrepresentation of women in the theater industry, playwright Marsha Norman frames the problem this way in the current issue of American Theatre:

The U.S. Department of Labor considers any profession with less than 25 percent female employment, like being a machinist or firefighter, to be "untraditional" for women. Using the 2008 numbers, that makes playwriting, directing, set design, lighting design, sound design, choreography, composing and lyric writing all untraditional occupations for women. That's a disaster if you're a woman writer, or even if you just think of yourself as a fair person.

As she also notes, "it's awful all over the arts world for women." So there's that.

In trying to combat this arts-world disaster, perhaps women can take a lesson in what not to do from the Democrats, who have a longstanding, extremely self-defeating habit of being polite and empathetic beyond the point of reason. They also have a catastrophic tendency to be cowed by Republican name-calling and the prospect thereof, which means they exercise their backbone less than they otherwise might, even when they're in the majority.

Women, socialized to be polite and empathetic, simply are not, as a group, as assertive as men are -- partly, perhaps, because in behaving that way they risk being stuck with labels like "aggressive" and "bitch" (or, God forbid, "feminist"). But the numbers here are in our favor: numbers that say women make up more of various lucrative audiences than men do, numbers that say women aren't being properly served, numbers that say -- as Norman points out -- basic fairness is being ignored, and it's getting in the way of people's livelihoods.

There is some hope even in the appearance of Carter's Times piece today, which suggests this issue has legs. There's a glimmer of hope, too, in an unlikely spot,, which streams full episodes of both "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," generally targeting a Wired-meets-"Animal House" demo with ads for beer, BlackBerrys and incipient boy-blockbusters like "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."

But one day not long ago a cosmetics ad came on. I nearly fell off my chair: Someone had noticed -- at last, at last, at last -- that women were watching.

Well, yes. We've been there all along. Might as well try to sell us something.

Okay, then. Now that those shows have picked up on our presence, maybe they and the other late-night guys will acknowledge, too, the absence of women in their writers' rooms, and finally do something about it.
November 12, 2009 4:57 PM |
In The New York Times Magazine today, The Ethicist answers an intriguing question from a Lincoln Center chorus singer: "Making disruptive noises at a concert is certainly rude, but if you are sitting close enough to distract the performers, does it rise to unethical?"
September 6, 2009 10:05 AM |
Good for NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman for calling out the homophobia that undergirds opposition to federal funding for the arts. "The arts are a little bit of a target. The subtext is that it is elitist, left wing, maybe even a little gay," he tells Robin Pogrebin in today's New York Times.

The straight-shooting Landesman won't earn many points for diplomacy in that interview, particularly with the ill-considered slap, "I don't know if there's a theater in Peoria, but I would bet that it's not as good as Steppenwolf or the Goodman." That remark is bound to alienate whole flocks of legislators as well as artists outside major cities. Nonetheless, the point he's trying to make about democratizing arts grants -- "I don't know that we have to be everywhere if the only reason for supporting an institution is its geography" -- is perfectly valid, and his new NEA slogan, "Art Works," is beautifully attuned to the zeitgeist.

Meanwhile, however debatable Richard Florida's "Creative Class" gospel may be, Landesman's tacit embrace of it with "a program that he called 'Our Town,' which would provide home equity loans and rent subsidies for living and working spaces to encourage artists to move to downtown areas," is something Congress surely can understand and perhaps even rally around.

It's a sharply different approach from that taken by Landesman's ostentatiously populist predecessor, Dana Gioia, who placated conservatives suspicious of contemporary art and artists by focusing on the classics (Shakespeare) and America's artistic heritage (jazz). Yet in taking that tack, Gioia might have made some lasting progress for the agency, whose natural opponents have been forced to concede, at least to a degree, that there is value to the arts. If Landesman, a Broadway producer, uses creative-class theory to hang a dollar sign on that value and explain the dividends investment in the arts would pay, he may be speaking lawmakers' language.

But back to the homophobia, about which Landesman is dead right. The idea that the arts are gay, and therefore dismissable, is closely related to another notion about the arts: that they are inherently girly. Leaving aside the abundant irony in that assumption, let's consider for a moment what John Stuart Mill -- a feminist way ahead of his time, who believed women should "have the power of gaining their own livelihood" -- had to say on the subject back in 1832: "The only difference between the employments of women and those of men will be, that those which partake most of the beautiful, or which require delicacy & taste rather than muscular exertion, will naturally fall to the share of women: all branches of the fine arts in particular."

In our perception of the arts, we haven't advanced terribly far from that mindset in the past 177 years. The arts are widely viewed as a milieu best suited to women, and to men with an affinity for beauty, delicacy and taste and an aversion to muscular exertion (read: gay -- and, no, I am not endorsing the stereotype, merely articulating it).

As a nation, we tend not to scrape together public funding if we believe it would benefit people like that. Unless, maybe, we can be convinced that it's in our economic interest to do so.

So let the culture-class argument begin.
August 8, 2009 2:05 PM | | Comments (1)
I can only imagine the mortification Milwaukee felt at having its dirty laundry hung out in The New York Times this week for all to see -- but, having grown up there, I can imagine it pretty well. In a city where Santiago Calatrava's soaring 2001 addition to the art museum still buoys local pride, people care deeply about their cultural institutions, and about the way the rest of the country perceives them.

So it must have been embarrassing to read Daniel J. Wakin's comprehensive Times story on the Skylight Opera Theatre debacle, and it must be something of a relief that the Skylight drama, which began in June, appears now to be drawing to a close. From today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Embattled Skylight Opera Theatre managing director Eric Dillner has resigned, ending a standoff that pitted company management and its board of directors against the artists who have regularly worked for the troupe.

Former managing director Colin Cabot, a major figure in the Skylight's past, will become interim artistic director, and another former managing director, Joan Lounsbery, will assume day-to-day management until a successor to Dillner has been identified.

William Theisen, whose dismissal on June 16 began the strife at the Skylight, will not return as artistic director, but he will direct four of the five shows he originally planned to stage for the 2009-'10 season - the company's 50th.

Theisen was tossed out when the company, which has a budget of about $3 million, absurdly eliminated his position in a cost-cutting move -- as if the post of artistic director were a frill that could be done without -- and assigned his duties to Dillner. So it's great news not only that the ham-handed Dillner is out but that the Skylight board, whose president resigned her post late last month, seems to grasp the elementary principle that having an artistic director is a nonnegotiable condition for properly running their theater.

Let's hope it does. But if the board hasn't learned any more than that, there's trouble ahead -- though it probably couldn't be much worse than what the company has been through lately. As Wakin recapped, the Skylight "has suffered demonstrations, petitions, mass resignations of performers, subscriber revolt and Facebook vitriol interpreted by management as violent threats." A key factor was "an insider-outsider rift that pitted a new managing director and fresh board members against Milwaukeeans with a proprietary feeling for the little theater that could," he wrote. "The fracas has led two dozen people -- singers, actors, directors and designers -- to withdraw from performances next season, the 50th, and has cost the company at least a dozen subscribers and a handful of donors."

Wakin's story is straightforward reporting, not opinion, and yet its appearance Monday on amounted to a public shaming: The Skylight had spun so far out of control that it merited a big story in The New York Times. Almost nothing that happens in Milwaukee, ever, accomplishes that -- not even in the deadly slow news month of August. (The Times is so unfamiliar with Milwaukee that it allowed a "Fargo" joke into Wakin's copy. Uh, wrong state. That's Minnesota, not Wisconsin. Common mistake on the coasts.)

It shouldn't have taken that level of unwanted attention in order for the Skylight to backtrack on its egregiously wrongheaded decisions. But it did, and in the meantime the installation of Dillner stood -- because he had the support of his board of directors. (The interim board president called Dillner's resignation "a career decision Eric made" and said he had not been asked to resign.) Dillner never could or would have absorbed the duties of artistic director into his own job if board members hadn't had his back. If he's a villain in this narrative, he's far from the only one. He worked for the board, not the other way around.

Which is precisely why his resignation won't be nearly change enough if the Skylight board hasn't seen the error of its ways. In eliminating the position of artistic director, it ripped out a vital organ. The ignorance and arrogance it took to do that cannot be overstated. Even more alarming is the obstinacy with which the board refused for seven weeks to change course, despite abundant evidence that it was imperiling the institution it's charged to protect.

The board refused to give credence to its artists and its audience, and it failed to see the connection between high-quality art, healthy relationships, a positive reputation and the bottom line that evidently was its overriding, if not sole, concern. It would be difficult to be more obtuse than that.

Though, if it's any comfort to Milwaukee, the Skylight board is hardly the first to bludgeon an institution by basing its actions on a fundamental misunderstanding of its own role, the role of artistic director in general, and the irreplaceable creative and personal contributions of a particular artistic director. That, sadly, is not a rare thing at all.


Speaking of irreplaceable: From mid-June through the end of July, I followed the Skylight drama through the reporting of Tom Strini in the Journal Sentinel. It was a huge story on his beat. So it was strange, and poignant, to read Strini's articles and blog posts knowing (from his blog) that he had taken a buyout and would leave the paper at the end of July. The news continues, no matter who is or isn't there to cover it; in that sense, journalists inevitably leave mid-tale. Still, to have the storyteller walk away in the middle of such a ripping good yarn -- somehow it just didn't feel right.

But Strini's longtime colleague, Damien Jaques, who also took the buyout and is now freelancing for the Journal Sentinel, spins the latest installment of the saga like the total pro he is.
August 6, 2009 3:19 PM | | Comments (4)
There's a peculiar error -- or, at best, a mischaracterization -- in The New York Times' trend story today on the disappearing crossword puzzle: As Exhibit B, it submits The New York Sun's late, lamented crossword, a favorite of one Sam Szurek, an Upper West Side copywriter who was distraught to hear that The Atlantic Monthly is getting rid of its puzzle.

"Mr. Szurek's other favorite puzzle, the one in The New York Sun, gasped its last breath on the Internet last year (as did the rest of the newspaper)," the Times reports. The story continues: "As magazines and newspapers cut pages to save money, crossword puzzles, acrostics, sudokus and other games are being left on the production-room floor."

Um, the Sun's crossword, edited by the extraordinary Peter Gordon, gasped its last breath simultaneously in print and online when the Sun folded last fall. One assumes the Sun website is where a crossword fan in a New Haven suburb got the puzzle each weekday. According to the Times, she's "still suffering from the loss of the New York Sun crossword, and she wonders what the future will bring." But the puzzle was never banished from the Sun's printed page. Neither was the paper's sudoku feature, which was created by Frank Longo and went by the winningly cheesy moniker "Sun-doku."

The Sun, whose crossword was emblematic of its brainy bent (the Times, to its credit, notes the puzzle's "Ivy League street cred"), lost money by the barrel; that's what happens when you don't master the crucial skill of bringing in enough income to offset lavish spending. But it would have lost even more, had it taken the crossword out of the physical paper and alienated that feature's fervent, extremely vocal fans.

The wrath of puzzlers is not something to be trifled with. Nor is their passion. For more on that, see the Times story, in which a Bay Area librarian compares crossword solving to multiple orgasms.

The story makes an interesting point, too, about the tactile element of working crosswords:

Old or young, some people avoid crosswords online because the physical pleasures don't translate.

"There is something visceral about a ballpoint pen on newsprint that is not duplicated by pointing and clicking," said Ken Jennings, who is editing a book of crossword puzzles but who is best known as the sort of Roger Federer of the quiz show "Jeopardy."

On the subway the other day, I sat next to a woman who was doing a New York Times crossword -- which she had photocopied from the printed page. Her own paper? A co-worker's? I'm still wondering about that.
July 12, 2009 8:54 PM |
Quick! Name the five most influential female artistic directors in the American theater. You have 60 seconds.

* * *

Now, in one minute, do the same with men.

* * *

How'd you do? I'm guessing much better on the second question than the first. Did you even get five names on that list?

Okay, now name the five most influential theater critics, of either sex, in the United States. Sixty seconds.

* * *

Were there any women at all among your top five critics?

The point of this little exercise is simple: Women would have to wield a whole lot more power in the nation's theater in order to be credibly scapegoated for the low number of plays by women produced on its stages.

Emily Glassberg Sands' research on the subject is a bombshell in a sleepy summer news cycle, and it raises some genuine concerns that the theater would do well to address. What the recent Princeton grad's senior thesis doesn't do -- however inconvenient the fact may be for journalists, who tend to prefer juicy reductivism, the more divisive the better -- is identify a single cause for a persistent scarcity that has myriad causes.

So you can go ahead and disregard the third sentence of Patricia Cohen's New York Times article, which says Sands' research shows that "women who are artistic directors and literary managers are the ones to blame." And, while you're at it, the lede of Philip Boroff's Bloomberg story: "Female playwrights, long aware that they're produced less frequently than their male counterparts, may now have someone to blame: female artistic directors."

But, as suggested by "Women Beware Women," the headline on ArtsJournal's link to the Times story, the popular takeaway on Sands' research is likely to be a simple, misogynistic, maddeningly familiar formula: Women are too jealous to play, or work, nicely together. Far be it from them to give other females a fair shot.
June 24, 2009 6:28 PM | | Comments (2)
Here's a piece of the puzzle that hadn't yet fallen into place when I wrote on Sunday about texting at the theater. In Tuesday's New York Times, John Tierney discussed the research of M.I.T. neuroscientist Robert Desimone, who "has been tracking the brain waves of macaque monkeys and humans as they stare at video screens looking for certain flashing patterns."

This is the key bit: "When something bright or novel flashes, it tends to automatically win the competition for the brain's attention" -- and even though we can override that impulse, it's a struggle.

"It takes a lot of your prefrontal brain power to force yourself not to process a strong input like a television commercial," said Dr. Desimone, the director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at M.I.T. "If you're trying to read a book at the same time, you may not have the resources left to focus on the words."

Reading a book when a TV set is turned on, watching a play when someone lights up the darkness with a glowing screen: Either way, our attention has just moved from what we want to focus on to something we have to fight hard to ignore.
May 7, 2009 4:16 PM |
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