A whiff of asshole momentarily distracts me

So I was going to get all uppity about this New York Times piece by Cintra Wilson. I was going to make fun of her name for a little while and then make fun of New Yorkers. I was going to compare everyone to that sharp-shouldered, smarmy bitch at the advertising agency Carolyn works at in Mr. Mom (though, yes, I know, that's not New York – it's the essence I'm going for).

Then I was going to do some riffing on Sex in the City and Parsons and finish with a valiant attempt to explain how pasty, chubby Middle Americans are maybe not all floating around on their WALL-E-style deck chairs drinking Big Gulps and wishing they could could be anorexic New Yorkers who live in gentrified tenements and eat cigarette sandwiches. I was going to say that maybe Times writers should think about who helps create the pop culture that feeds their city and infuses their businesses with tourist dollars. I was going to say that in these Trying Times it is extra uncool to insult people for trying to buy affordable clothes – or *gasp* find a job – even if those clothes are a size 14 and made out of polyester, and even if that job is with a company that uses an "ancient Helvetica Light logo." 

I was going to do all that, but then I thought that might be a little hypocritical.

I, on occasion, as a writer who enjoys hyperbole and insulting people, have overstepped the bounds of decency in trying to make people laugh. I have also accidentally offended people when something I've written has come across a lot harsher than it sounded in my head. This makes me sympathize ever so slightly with Ms. Wilson. I understand what it's like to sit, chortling at your desk, while you come up with some jokes that make you laugh out loud even if they'd make the Farrelly brothers punch you in the neck. I can even understand how you might get swept up in the moment, piecing together prose about obese mannequins, and not realize that you're about to unleash a firestorm upon yourself (because, yes, the models for obese mannequins do read the things you write).

I understand these things. But I also understand that writing in the New York Times about having to inject insulin-epoxy into fat mannequins to keep them from losing their mannequin limbs to mannequin diabetes-induced gangrene is a touch… over the top. I mean, really. Does JC Penney selling affordable clothes threaten the New York way of life at all? Does it promise to steal jobs from acid-tongued waifs who think they're being charming when really, maybe, people who have to buy XL pants don't want to be compared to Voltron? I don't think so.

Instead, it all just comes off as mean. It comes off as the written version of high school taunting. It comes off as unprofessional.

I do give Cintra Wilson a little credit, though. When the scuffle about this piece escalated, she channeled her best Diablo Cody for a wry little self-deprecating non-apology apology. And then when that didn't work, she said she was sorry for real. Sort of. You can tell she hasn't changed her mind, and mostly she's a little more "oh shit" about the whole thing than she wants to be. As another acid-tongued writer waif, I can understand how she didn't didn't quite comprehend how her cleverness could backfire so tremendously. But it did. I'm glad she said she was sorry.

And here's something that might get me in trouble – I'm also glad that people like her are not afraid to make off-color jokes that leave fumes on the page. I just don't think it's OK to do it in the newspaper, under the guise of reviewing a new store.

I think, to be really honest, I might enjoy having drinks with her and giving her shit about her cigarette sandwiches. I might even get vaguely drunk and call her retarded.

But I wouldn't do it in the newspaper.

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6 thoughts on “A whiff of asshole momentarily distracts me

  1. I’ve never been a big fan of the NYTimes writing. The paper can break big stories, and that’s fine. But it looks down its collective nose at the rest of the U.S. Everytime I’ve called the NYTimes for help with a story or to admonish them about errors, the folks ALWAYS make fun of my Southern accent. You’ll also note in their stories how they always call any other place in the U.S. “a sleepy little berg” no matter how huge or cosomopolitan the town might be. After 9/11, a NYTimes head hunter called and begged me to work for that great institution. I politely turned them down. And I wasn’t snide about it.

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  2. As one of the not-sized 2 Midwesterners that Ms. Wilson skewers in the article, I was prepared to be offended. But, after reading a paragraph or two, I realized that I was mostly agreeing with her. Yes, many Americans are overweight. And, yes, the department store in question does carry a lot of polyester. But yes, that is how many of the people in this country shop and live. There is a reason why Penney’s hasn’t been plagued with the financial difficulties that many NY brahmins have been (in particular, Macy’s). Penney’s is what it is. Waifs that like the newest fashions before they hit the runway wouldn’t shop there anyway. Young college grads that have moved to NY to make their way in the big, evil city might. I will still continue to take my dowdy, Midwestern self to Talbot’s regardless of what is going on in Manhattan. And now, Manhattanites can rejoice that they have some place to buy decent towels without having to go over a bridge or through a tunnel.
    I would also like to have a drink and a cigarette sandwich with her, and would probably laugh at her fashion-victim outfit.

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  3. I read the Times regularly and live in Brooklyn, and I tend to agree with Chris that most of Wilson’s points are reasonable (and funny!), if a bit overdone (her implication that size 10s and 12s are sooo huuuge is idiotic – I’m only a medium-sized 38C, 10 is my size when I’m on the thin side, and I’m not unusual among New Yorkers!). But Wilson almost HAS to have been deliberately going overboard, because I can’t imagine she doesn’t know that the Manhattan Mall has always had a medium-level department store until a few years ago: Stern’s, Abraham & Strauss, and before that the whole thing was site of the old Gimbels, the original rival of Macy’s. That makes Wilson’s premise that this is a strange place for a midrange department store is highly questionable; it seems like she really was trying to push people’s buttons, whether or not she’ll admit it now that she’s succeeded so well!

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  4. I have been to Manhattan. I love Manhattan. I have watched the Ken Burns 14 DISC DOCUMENTARY ON MANHATTAN TWICE (that’s dedication).
    To me, the NYC response to JCP sounds strangely like “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
    I expect the store to be wildly successful – and NYC’ers will spend the next decade scratching their collective pin-heads wondering, “Why?”
    “OH THE HUMANITY!”

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