October 20, 2013

"I had some dim intuitive feeling that what was wrong with all journalism is that the reporter tended to be objective and that that was one of the great lies of all time."

Said Norman Mailer, quoted in this subscribers-only article by Louis Menand in The New Yorker. As Menand puts it, Mailer "made the way in which events are reported part of what is reported."

ADDED: You could say something similar about law: I had some dim intuitive feeling that what was wrong with all judicial opinions is that the judge tended to be objective and that that was one of the great lies of all time. But what then? No judge can switch to writing the judicial equivalent of New Journalism.

(20 years ago, I tried to write about this problem, here (PDF) — with some quotes from Mailer's "Executioner's Song.")

AND: From that link, above, on New Journalism, which goes to Wikipedia:
How and when the term New Journalism began to refer to a genre is not clear....

But wherever and whenever the term arose, there is evidence of some literary experimentation in the early 1960s, as when Norman Mailer broke away from fiction to write Superman Comes to the Supermarket. A report of John F. Kennedy's nomination that year, the piece established a precedent which Mailer would later build on in his 1968 convention coverage (Miami and the Siege of Chicago) and in other nonfiction as well.
And here, you can read the full text of "Superman Comes to the Supermarket" (at the Esquire website, Esquire having once been a monumentally important magazine). It begins:
For once let us try to think about a political convention without losing ourselves in housing projects of fact and issue. Politics has its virtues, all too many of them -- it would not rank with baseball as a topic of conversation if it did not satisfy a great many things -- but one can suspect that its secret appeal is close to nicotine. Smoking cigarettes insulates one from one’s life, one does not feel as much, often happily so, and politics quarantines one from history; most of the people who nourish themselves in the political life are in the game not to make history but to be diverted from the history which is being made.
Convenient sidebar chez Esquire: 



Are we doomed? Did you go to my link and read the sentences that followed those 3 mindbendingly interesting sentences that began "Superman Comes to the Supermarket," or did you go over to click through to the explanation of why Miss Johansson in the sexiest woman alive (or what a "brutally frank" 98-year-old woman might say about sex)?

4 comments:

EDH said...

"I had some dim intuitive feeling that what was wrong with all journalism is that the reporter tended to be objective and that that was one of the great lies of all time."

For it to constitute a "lie", shouldn't that be pretended?

William said...

Walter Lippmann, long before Mailer, made the same observation about journalism. Facts are objective, but your choice of which facts are important or salient are utterly subjective. Lippmann was opposed to McCarthyism. His private secretary was a Soviet spy. Which is the most revealing fact about Lippmann?..........I read the Menand article. After Mailer stabbed his wife three times, all his friends among the literati and media rallied to his side. I think that's a salient fact when judging their ability to be impartial. If the press and the judges were able to judge facts impartially, Mailer would have done a considerable prison stretch.

betamax3000 said...

I Want to Visit Miss Johansson Before She is Swallowed By the Sahara.

Jim said...

Growing up in the 60's in working class Independence, MO, I picked up my older cousin's Esquire. I was eleven. It was the one with the story about the Hell's Angels at Altamont. I was hooked. I was surprised that I could read, enthusiastically, such a long article. Esquire was important in the day and it was important to me in the sense that it helped my reading progress beyond the Hardy Boys.