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Long live philistinism

Brad DeLong linked to this dead-on condemnation of the NYT books section by Timothy Burke, in which he makes this excellent point:

What we won’t be paying for (at least not much) in thirty years is literary and cultural reviews and op-ed pieces. Not just because better can be had already online, in many cases, but because the old media ill-serves educated readers in those areas and has always ill-served them. This brings us back to the ethics and aesthetics of the closed world of editorial elite and the literati that used to exist unchallenged. Now we have choices, and our choices will proliferate still further as time goes on. We don’t have to settle for the choices that come out of small incestuous circle-jerk of New York editors, from their dispensing of favors through their immediate social networks.

Reporting stories is hard work: it involves long hours tracking people down and patiently asking them questions, it involves awkward confrontations with people who don't want to make news, it involves transcribing recordings and filing lifeless copy because one's ego is not meant to interfere with the information. There's a reason these people are paid and why their work is paid for. Having opinions on the other hand just requires curiosity, concentration, and a talent for expressing oneself in a clear and/or lively fashion. Many people have these abilities, which are highly enjoyable to exercise. Hence opinion will proliferate on the internet, to our collective benefit.

And having opinions, moreover, will hopefully cease once and for all to be a means of fantasizing that one belongs to the Algonquin Round Table, as it may have seemed when there weren't media in which ordinary people could express their opinions widely and publicly, or for us to search for them or run into them, say, on Amazon. Back then, being aggressively opinionated seemed a bit more tinged with pretension, with fantasies of self-aggrandizement. Now there's no need to pretend or posture; you can just broadcast your opinions and see if anyone cares. Now, one can't even imagine that it is possible to bluster one's way into some elite literati with nothing but opinions. And the mechanisms of that particular fantasy -- of preserving a critical elite -- need no longer hold the public forum for the discussion of art hostage anymore.

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