Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The New York Times and the Arts

If anyone was looking for proof of the decline of the arts in this country, you need look no further than the supposedly revamped New York Times' daily arts section, which, in its new form, seems mostly a repository for rewritten press releases and pseudo-intellectual musings by the paper's critics.

A few examples from the last several weeks:

Taking a Big, Fat Chance (for the Time Being)
This was a story on Kirstie Alley's upcoming show on Showtime about her weight. The piece offered us such insights from Alley as, ""Then I thought, Shut up, you're not the victim of this. The question is, how do you create with what you have?" I haven't read such insights since . . . well, the last time I read virtually any women's magazine in this country. Can't Showtime promote this show by itself?

Savage Crafters, Start Your Glue Guns!
Again, mere promotional material for a TV show, this time the Style Network's "Craft Corner Deathmatch," which writer Randy Kennedy excitedly describes as, "an unconventional game show in which two amateur crafters go head to head in timed trials, trying to make the best pillow out of old couch fabric or a brooch using only candy." The Style Network's marketing division could not have put it better than themselves.

Oscars Get Thumbs Up From Those in Charge
Who would have thought the producers of the Oscars would be pleased with their work? This isn't a news story; it's a tautology.

And then there are the so-called "Critic's Notebook" pieces which, as far as I can tell, constitute blithe musings by Times' writers where ephemera in the arts world are said to be cultural trends we're supposed to care about. Here's just one example:

Where's Jane Fonda? On Yet Another Journey
In this piece, besides learning that Fonda is about to release an autobiography "My Life So Far" (such a clever title!), we are informed that Fonda's approval ratings among the public are actually better than we though. Though the writer could not get an interview with Fonda and had not seen "My Life So Far," she does note, Ms. Fonda will not give interviews before her appearance on "60 Minutes," scheduled for April 3. That's two days before the book, all 600-plus pages of it, goes on sale. That week Ms. Fonda will hit "Good Morning America" and "The Early Show," visit with David Letterman and Larry King, very likely be featured in Time magazine (negotiations for serial rights are under way) and be pretty much inescapable. If that's not enough of a comeback, in May she will be in the movies again, playing a woman who doesn't want her son to marry Jennifer Lopez's character, in the wide-release comedy "Monster-in-Law." How generous of Caryn James to rewrite Fonda's agent's press release this way! We also get this musing on Fonda's personal life, "But she didn't do her career or image much good during the years when she seemed to vanish into Mr. Turner's world. Only they can say whether the marriage was based on true love, but from the outside it looked a lot like her midlife crisis." That's the kind of meaningless statement that typically passes itself off as arts criticism in Entertainment Weekly -- what does it have to do with Fonda's contributions to the arts? What does it have to do with art?

I wish I could say that I hoped the Times improved it's arts section soon, but I also think we get the arts criticism we deserve and, no doubt, that paper is giving it to us.


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