When we were doing our section on critics, Susan did a presentation on Frank Rich. You may remember that Rich had a background as a theater and film critic but that he's now mainly known for his Sunday op-ed column, which focuses on politics, in the New York Times. We talked a little bit about the possible connections between the worlds of theater and politics. This week, Rich's column presents a good example. Pay attention to how he deploys his stage background in the service of an argument about the newspaper business and its role in American politics. Notice the connections he draws between the demise of vaudeville, radio drama, movie newsreels and the state of print journalism.
The other week I realized that I'd piled on readings by Louis Menand for this class. But here's one more. This came out at the end of the year in 2004 and it's basically about the whole business of the end-of-year Top 10 lists that appear in practically every publication. It's funny, but it's also a smart and insightful explanation of why we need critics to begin with -- in case you needed a reminder.
This story in last week's New Yorker is about the "cosmetic" use of prescription drugs used for attention-deficit disorder. It's probably old news to many of you -- but the story looks at studies that indicate some of these drugs can improve one's ability with certain tasks, like memorizing numbers, and that some people find they can concentrate better and for longer under their influence. She raises the question of whether college students who use these drugs should be punished for cheating. Toward the end the author makes an interesting connection with the "transhumanists" like the guy we read about in Wired who hopes to live forever if he can get to the singularity.
And I know I've been shoving Virginia Heffernan down your throats all semester, ... but there are a few more weeks left. Here's her column from the Sunday Times Magazine. Again, she's right on the money, taking the somewhat contrarian view that user comments online are basically a wasteland of ill-considered poison. We've discussed the merits of user-generated comments in class, and many publications go out of their way to get as many as possible. And many readers seek the most-commented-upon stories as well. Heffernan suggests reader comments should rise to a base level of insight.
Anyone interested in the newspaper-history and media-criticism elements of some of the readings -- the Hirschorn piece about front pages, the David Carr story's about online payments and alt weeklies, and the Louis Menand story about the Village Voice -- should read this story in the New Yorker about the history of the Wall Street Journal. The creation of both the Hearst empire and the New York Times is also covered.