A Cracking Voice
There's a particular genre of opinion column that either must have a name, or should have one. It's a rant against some sort of sociopolitical or sociocultural phenomena, a contemptuous dissection of why the new trend represents fuzzy or hypocritical thinking, how it is not what it appears to be, etc. . It's an excessive debunking of the conventional wisdom that is one of journalists' particular rights. It requires a biting wit and an ability to make fun of people even if they're being earnest, but especially if they're merely pretending to be earnest. It's the bread and butter of the backpages of magazines like Time & Newsweek, and a speciality of Slate. It's designed to either get you nodding in furious agreement, part of a writer-reader conspiracy of self-satisfied superiority, or work you into an inarticulate rage, furious but unable to respond. It's rare that it leaves you with tears in your eyes.
But I have just read exactly one such column, Timothy Noah's on Slate
, and I think it's a remarkable example of how far Slate has gone in pushing the envelope on personalizing its writers' voices and capitalizing on their emotions. I feel that it would be disrespectful to steal Timothy Noah's mournful thunder, so you'll just have to go look at it
. Suffice it to say I found the conclusion to his most recent column to be heart-seizing even though I saw it coming. I read Slate pretty often and knew of the recent events of his life. I had even thought about sending him a note, just because I feel like I know and like him (and many of his colleagues at Slate)-- not just because I enjoy their writing so much, but also because they allow themselves into it a little more often than conventional writers. You can almost hear their actual voices in their writing, and therefore it's no wonder that sometimes those voices crack. I finally decided sending a note would be kind of ridiculous, since that's the only reason I had to send the note.
But it's a remarkable person who can inspire a pining so strong that its secondary shockwave, transmitted by a few fairly ordinary lines of text on an electric display, elicits a tear in a person on the other side of a continent, someone who is otherwise completely disconnected from the source. Whatever else one does with one's life, being that kind of person seems like a fairly decent goal.