When it comes to trivializing culture, it’s hard to beat The New York Times. In his great novel The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil describes how the book’s anti-hero, Ulrich, threw up his hands and decided to become a “man without qualities” when he saw a headline celebrating “a racehorse of genius.” If a racehorse could be a genius, what did that mean for real genius? What, we wondered, would poor Ulrich do today? Consider this headline from the front-page of the paper’s Metro Section on May 20: “Will Gentrification Spoil the Birthplace of Hip-Hop?” Heaven forfend! There follows a long and respectful article about Clive Campbell—“not just anybody—he is the alpha D.J. of hip-hop”—and the building where Mr. Campbell helped to introduce a grateful nation to this species of anti-music. Lisa Kersavage, of the Municipal Art Society of New York, assured readers of the Times that the Bronx building was “a very important cultural touchstone for New York.” Would that Musil—or Juevenal or Jonathan Swift or Evelyn Waugh—were with us to commemorate such remarks with the satire they deserve.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 25 Number 10, on page 2
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