As end-of-the-year journalism starts rearing its predictable head, do you ever notice how “what’s in, what’s out” lists (yes, the fish I am shooting today do inhabit a barrel) tend to mix three elements in roughly equal parts: observable trends; embedded advertising; and attempts to instill good behavior in the gauze-thin guise of arbitrating coolness? I have last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune Magazine in front of me, with its six pages of Hots and Nots.
In the first category, the pairings more or less report what’s out there: “fitted little jackets” and Jake Gyllenhall are HOT, “oversized boyfriend jackets” and Josh Hartnett are NOT. This boils down to the media reporting on media-generated buzz, but it’s the kind of stuff one reads these lists for, and is fair enough.
In the second category, you can pretty much see the fashion industry’s lips moving as the features writers pronounce, “HOT: The fitted trench with a twist (like a grape purple Burberry); NOT: Plain beige.”
But it’s the third category–more Goofus and Gallant than Out and In–that kills me. It’s so priggish and Miss Manners, except that Miss Manners is doing her job, while hot lists are pretending to be something quite different. Much as I can’t argue with a lot of the implicit social and moral instruction dispensed in this category, it’s hard not to snicker at the attempt to soft-sell it as good taste, or all the rage. I have lots of examples from the Tribune, both because they are so plentiful and because they are so risible:
HOT: Making out at the bar
NOT: Going home with someone from the bar
Yep, don’t not go home with that stranger because it wouldn’t be prudent; don’t do it because it wouldn’t be hot.
HOT: Introducing friends to one another (www.friendster.com)
NOT: Keeping friends to yourself
Selfishness: so last year!
HOT: Docs who incorporate alternative medicine
NOT: Docs who have no clue
This one doesn’t really have the courage of its convictions, since if you’re just incorporating your alternative medicine into your conventional medicine, it’s not really an alternative, is it? But you have to be impressed by the bold stand against clueless doctors (if less so by the implication that conventional methods make them so). Maybe 2005 will be their year.
But here’s my favorite:
HOT: Judging for yourself
NOT: Critics’ reviews of films, books
This appears to be the silliest reverberation to date of the manufactured discontentment that is the Believer magazine’s police blotter, Snarkwatch, where you can write in to pillory critics you disagree with. What started as a (in my opinion, dubious and thin-skinned) manifesto against dismissively clever book reviewing has now devolved into the soundbite “critics not hot.” I think it’s safe to say that the hunt for snark has jumped the shark.