Best of Manhattan 2001: Media & Politics

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Deford’s Done. As we’ve written before in these pages, the once-literate Sports Illustrated has devolved–like most Time Warner publications–into a banal melange of cliches and hack writing. However, S.I.’s Sept. 24 cover was the class of the newsstands after the WTC bombings. The image was stark: an American flag draped over an empty seat in an unnamed sports venue, with a small headline on top that read "The Week That Sports Stood Still." It was a striking contrast to the newsweeklies that ran redundant photos of the Trade Center rubble, President Bush with rescue workers or the mushrooms of smoke in Lower Manhattan that New York’s misanthrope Michael Wolff found so exhilarating.

Inside S.I., the contents were mixed. Frank Deford, another journalist who’s refused to recognize his best years are behind him, inexplicably argued that the sports world was wrong to cancel athletic contests after the Sept. 11 catastrophe. Sounding like Pete Rozelle, who permitted the National Football League to play its schedule just two days after JFK was murdered in ’63, Deford wrote: "To attend a game at such a time would not be callous. To watch a game on television would not mean that we care less for those who have died and those who have lost loved ones. We would still grieve. We would still be brokenhearted. However, we are human beings, always contradictory in our emotions. We should not be ashamed to be transported briefly from our sorrow and from this mad encounter with evil."

Deford didn’t have much company in this short-sighted view. In fact, the athletes themselves had no stomach to go on with the games. In Philadelphia, on the night of President Bush’s speech, the Flyers’ hockey contest was called off after spectators and players alike wanted to watch the magnificent speech, which was broadcast in the arena. Roger Clemens, who made history on Sept. 19 by becoming the first pitcher to run up a win-loss record of 20-1, didn’t celebrate; in fact, he was visibly shaken by the previous week’s events and more concerned with his children’s fears than with a mere ballgame. When one of the balls from his record-breaking performance was retrieved he signed it "God Bless America."

In the same issue of S.I. Richard Hoffer was infinitely more sensible and sensitive than Deford, offering this conclusion to his essay: "It’s going to take a few more weeks, maybe months, to absorb all those stories, to clear the rubble, to find so many dead, to organize a military response, to relocate our geography that is newly tilted by terrorism. They may have seemed strange and defeated, those stadiums empty and quiet last week, but they had to be, no way around it. America was busy. It couldn’t come out to play."

And Tim McCarver, the usually obnoxious tv play-by-play commentator, said after a Mets victory on Sept. 21: "We as Americans have had a distorted view of the word ‘hero,’ but not anymore."

Best Ann Powers Fuckup
Defining "Bling Bling" as Slang For a Gun Battle

And "Pop a Cap" Means a Dental Emergency. So, last March, on the front page of the "Arts and Leisure" section of the Times, Ann Powers is reviewing this old-school hiphop revue, and she quotes DJ Kool Herc as saying, "This is not a bling bling; this is a hip-hop party," and then explains that Herc is "referring to the young stars whose penchant for ‘bling bling,’ or gunplay, keeps hip-hop notorious."

"Bling bling" is onomatopoeia for light glinting off a diamond; so when you say something is bling bling, or blinged out, or whatever, you’re saying it’s ritzy, glitzy, high-class, moneyed. It originated with rappers in New Orleans a couple years back, and became an extremely widespread term in the hiphop lingua franca soon thereafter. Now, we’re being total pedantic asses defining this for you, because "bling bling" has to be one of the most overused slang expressions of our time, perhaps the single most defining slang expression of the past three years. It is extremely puzzling to contemplate that somebody who covers pop music for a living could be unfamiliar with this phrase, which is not simply confined to hiphop, but appears in TRL songs such as Jennifer Lopez’s "Love Don’t Cost a Thing," in which Jenny scolds her boyfriend for showing off by "…rolling up your sleeve so I could see the rolie bling." We wonder if Powers heard the song and envisioned a tiny gun battle taking place on the face of Puffy’s Rolex.

This reminds us of that time around the emergence of grunge, when a Times writer called up a girl who worked at Sub Pop and asked her to give her a glossary of Seattle slang. The girl responded with a genius laundry-list of totally improvised fake slang, the jewel of which was "swingin’ on the flippity-flop," ostensibly meaning hanging out. The Times, of course, took this girl’s brilliant prank as gospel, and ran the whole fake glossary as a boxed sidebar to the article, swingin’ on the flippity-flop and all. So we’re puzzled how Times music writers whom we (if no one else on this paper) respect, like Neil Strauss and Jon Pareles, are able to stomach swingin’ on the flippity-flop with the likes of Powers?

Best Twentysomething Whine
Janelle Erlichman
The Washington Post

Go Play with Barney, Janelle. Jeez, and today’s youth thinks the baby boomers are self-indulgent. It’s been torturous enough over the past year to read the first-person laments of dotcom paper millionaires’ over their fallen fortunes, but with the U.S. at war the 90s crybabies are really singin’ the blues.

Janelle Erlichman, a staff writer at The Washington Post, ought to be banished to a beat covering Montgomery County arrests of jaywalkers after her pitiful Sept. 20 article headlined "My Generation: Growing Old Before We Really Grew Up." Her editor deserves a similar fate.

Erlichman, defying the hopeful, and perhaps naive, proclamations of politicians that today’s youth will rally behind the country, redefines the "Me Generation" with the following words:

"Suddenly, I wish I were older. Much, much older. That this was happening at the end of my life–instead of the prime of my life. That at 25 I wasn’t faced with the realization that this is going to overshadow everything: falling in love, a promotion, getting engaged, getting married.

"I hope I will smile again and laugh again, the way I used to. That I’ll be able to groan about the cost of bridesmaid dresses and how annoying guys are. But right now I feel 25 years of safety slipping away. When I have children will I have to teach them about hate and being afraid of planes flying into buildings? When I tell them about my childhood will it be nothing like theirs?

"At 25, life was filled with simplicities. Sleeping in, drinking coffee, paying bills late, hangovers. But now I find myself too young to wrap my mind around the concept of war and too old to see Sept. 11 quickly fade while I dress my Barbie dolls."

What a nauseating piece. Erlichman, at 25, with a prestigious job at an influential newspaper, is not the teenager who might get away with such drivel. If she can’t "smile" again in the wake of history, Erlichman ought to resign from the Post–a position that many responsible people her age would cherish–and check into an institution.

A more reassuring article was published in Canada’s National Post on Sept. 21. Elizabeth Nickson, who’s no kid, admitted that she once wondered where her "next Prada handbag was coming from," yet she nevertheless summed up what one hopes is the majority view of today’s youngsters.

She writes: "It’s there in all of us. A friend, the wussiest shopaholic I know, her litany of complaints of injuries done to her precious self pretty much endless, heard the news at work, and as soon as she was allowed, went straight home to her apartment near the WTC and cooked for friends and strangers who dropped in all weekend long. She did not take the nearest bridge home to her mother. She stayed. And she’d fight if necessary...

"Every generation has a great task. Perhaps this is ours. We are not the decadents our critics would have us believe. Underneath the Disneyesque fantasy of the consumerist West is a disciplined, loving, just, strong-willed, kind people, who will not run, will not panic, will not abandon their neighbourhoods, businesses, and families. And no weedy little creep hiding in a cave will bring our civilization down."

Best New Arts & Culture Magazine

Of Curiosities. Still in its first year, this Brooklyn-based quarterly is proving to be the smartest, classiest, most thought-provoking new culture magazine since McSweeney’s. Edited by Brian Conley and Sina Najafi, it brings high seriousness and intelligence to an extremely wide scope of topics; anything that might be thought of as culture or cultural product seems fair game. Some of our favorite articles have addressed Depression-era hobo art, the intelligence industry, glossolalia, experimental radio, the weather, the Antarctic and conspiracy theories as art. It’s very handsomely produced, too, and always includes some bonus like a related CD. A year’s subscription (four issues) is $24, from Immaterial Inc., 181 Wyckoff St., Brooklyn 11217 .

Best Column About Danny Almonte
Lionel Tiger
The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 5

Hit by a Pitch. Frankly, we haven’t the patience to spend more than a few minutes contemplating Danny Almonte and his father fraudulently shaving two years off the pitcher’s age so he’d be eligible to play in the Little League World Series. Yes, it was dishonest; yes, keeping the teenager out of school was stupid; and yes, it’s a shame Almonte swiped the spot of a legitimate

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