Friday, September 02, 2011

Pictures Pretty (and otherwise) in the Penny Press!

The main motif in the writing of September 5th's New Yorker gets trying mighty fast: in feature piece after feature piece, readers are subjected to some pretty unconvincing sleight-of-hand. The delightfully talented Rebecca Mead writes a profile piece about charlatan crackpot 'business guru' Timothy Ferriss and tries the whole time to strike an even tone she obviously doesn't feel. True, she occasionally uncorks a line like "Ferriss professes to be untroubled that his own freedom to live 'outside of the inbox' is bought by transferring drudgery to the inboxes of less fortunate individuals in the developing world." But for the most part she restrains herself - to a degree far, far in excess of what her ridiculous subject deserves - and that becomes a somewhat nervous reading experience. Ditto Larissa MacFarquhar's long profile piece on charlatan crackpot 'philosopher' Derek Parfit, which not only makes an amateurish blunder right out of the starting gate (it opens disastrously, with the piece's real opener not popping up until Paragraph #4) but also lavishes equal diplomacy on somebody who was as bankrupt a thinker as he was a human being. And the redoubtable Ian Frazier does the same thing with charlatan crackpot 'artists' Theo Jansen, trying his level best to write about a perpetrator of boondoggle eyesores as though he might just be Augustus Saint-Gaudens in disguise.

There were highlights in prose, of course - no issue of The New Yorker is completely barren. The always-reliable Louis Menand turns in a wonderfully-done piece on Dwight Macdonald, and Tad Friend writes a long and fascinating piece on the troubled California town of Costa Mesa, where, oddly enough, yours truly has spent a good deal of time (soaking up the hospitality of a broad-shouldered young friend who got roped into one fun activity after another, as it were). And how curiously satisfying it was to read David Denby corroborate my own impression that "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" was actually terrific!

But no, the real impacts of this issue were visual. The sharpest in the short-term was negative, a cartoon by incredible Roz Chast that hit a little too close to home:

And the best was this issue's glorious cover, a muted, melancholy, wise, fantastic illustration called "Coney Island Express" by Eric Drooker that shows a subway car in the last glimmering of sunset, its headlights already on, speeding away from the glowing horizon of Coney Island's ferris wheel and rides, speeding away from the bright lights and fun of summer, into the chilly early evenings of autumn. I have many, many fond memories of escaping the broiling heat of the city for some fun afternoons at Coney Island with good friends, and this cover's marvellous use of light brings into full effect the idea of summer's ending. It's a little masterpiece of a type you don't see quite as often in New Yorker covers as you once did (they go for topicality over lyricism almost all the time these days) - all the more to be treasured for that fact.

1 comment:

Sam said...

I really like Menand's Dwight MacDonald piece too.

There was even a trace of topicality in that beautiful New Yorker cover, too, since it came out just at the time that Coney Island was being evacuated for Hurricane Irene, and there was at least a possibility that the storm was going to blow the whole area to smithereens. It didn't come close to happening, of course, but the synchronicity is still cool.