Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

The Repressive Sentimentalism of David Brooks

SEXTER!David Brooks is off to the sexting races today. He is claiming, in essence, that since we kids today do not date within the circles of our church socials and Maypole parties or whatever, and that we have no "social scripts" for getting sex and romance, and so bad things happen, and we are all sexting each other and constantly trading up for better sex parties and getting all degraded. This has some truth to it! There's two places where he goes hideously wrong. For starters: "Over the past few decades, these social scripts became obsolete. They didn't fit the post-feminist era." Yeah, your complaint about the uses of technology by no means had to be hung on feminism! His other huge mistake is one of omission. His repressive nostalgia (WELL?) for what he calls the "'Happy Days' era" is a seriously rejiggered recollection, which he is certainly old enough to have, about a society in which one could not discuss, say, abortion, STDs, cancer, divorce, infidelity, sex roles, social roles or homosexuality. (So maybe it is feminism's fault! How dare they end the silence!) Would we trade all the gross and misguided New York mag sex diary nihilism in the world for a return to socially-enforced silence? Actually hell no!

56 Comments / Post A Comment

bb (#295)

Same thing I think about every DB piece, practically: is he actually smart but dumbs his stuff down to get out a tangible idea, or is this actually the maximum of his brainpower? I increasingly think the latter. He sure makes Malcolm Gladwell look like Plato.

Louis Fyne (#2,066)

Every morning should start with a good Malcolm Gladwell bashing.

mimithedog (#1,165)

Uh, no one ever traded up the sexual ladder, using the prehistoric phone?

musicmope (#428)

Is that a woolly mammoth tusk in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

johnpseudonym (#1,452)

Well, either you're closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of a pool table in your community. Ya got trouble, my friend, right here, I say, trouble right here in River City.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Who the hell wanted to have sex with Donny Most?

Brooks' piece was basically a lazy rewrite of that NYMag article with some of his standard cultural-wasteland talking points attached. That said, there was one line that definitely resonated with me: "But texting and the utilitarian mind-set are naturally corrosive toward poetry and imagination."

For example. Not to impugn the fine work that the folks at Lifehacker do on things like how to configure keyboard shortcuts, but I always thought that there was something sad on the posts about getting through the day-to-day, like "Use Clever Questions To Ease Into Small Talk," that were sprinkled within their feed. In part because they were surrounded by all this other nuts-and-bolts how-to information, in part because Lifehacker's pretty insanely popular so one presumes that there's a need for this sort of stuff, in part because among the tips were things like "As you listen to the reply, prep your next move. Aim for 15-second bursts that segue into further questions."

(Tag on that small talk article, btw: "Networking." Sigh. I do like, however, that one commenter asked, "This isn't supposed to by sly or cool, but isn't this exact problem why executives used to keep decanters of whiskey in their offices?" But that goes back to the whole idea of utilitarianism trumping all, no?)

(And let's not even get into how that utlitarianism is starting to have a creeping effect on culture; in music, for example, all the "here's how to make it in the paying-for-stuff-averse world" propaganda basically involves pandering to geeks in some way, whether it's writing inane ditties about the Internet a la Jonathan Coulton or using technology to seem omg coolz and fucking up the superstructure a la the helped-by-that-superstructure-back-when Trent Reznor.)

(And you could argue that the slow, throttling rise of the listicle is another example of utilitarianism creeping into the everyday too.)

Abe Sauer (#148)

!!!! I found that line strange too: "“But texting and the utilitarian mind-set are naturally corrosive toward poetry and imagination.” Brooks is generally a fan of the victory of the quantifiable over that of the unquantifiable. Such as a few weeks ago when writing about neuroscience he wrote "The hard sciences are interpenetrating the social sciences. This isn’t dehumanizing. It shines attention on the things poets have traditionally cared about: the power of human attachments. It may even help policy wonks someday see people as they really are."

KarenUhOh (#19)

It's entirely possible that Mr. Brooks' hard science does not measure up.

Abe Sauer (#148)

This brooks' piece also seems to run a bit against his disposal of evolutionary psychology from june: "The allure of evolutionary psychology is that it organizes all behavior into one eternal theory, impervious to the serendipity of time and place. But there’s no escaping context."

NicFit (#616)

Ur hott.

zomg i want to sext maura so bad right now!

ADRIAN (#1,676)

Stop being so utilitarian, guys.

HelloTitty (#830)

tits or GTFO

atipofthehat: like you're picky

Spirochete (#1,123)

Oh my stars and garters, young people today! They have no social structures outside their cellular telephone units! They do not use these mobile calling technological devices to call friends, as they have no friends! Indeed, they merely send what I like to call "text messages" to random strangers asking for sex! And this trend is not just affecting our lusty young men and their sluttish conquests! No, indeed, the feminist revolution has given our chaste daughters the society-destroying sense that they, too, may "text" strangers in search of anonymous sex!

UGH, the outrage. Young people have no social structures now that feminists have destroyed church socials? Because they no longer attend high school or college or go to parties or have friends?

NicFit (#616)

"To guard against not being chosen at all, Yang writes, “everyone is on somebody’s back-burner, and everybody has a back-burner of their own, which they maintain with open-ended texts.”"

So, like now everyone lives like teh geighs?

Baboleen (#1,430)

I have such social anxiety that I turned to alcohol and drugs to break the ice. Texting absolutely has helped me to open up with those I may not have previously started a dialog.

On the other hand, since I have become sober (many years now) and sponsor younger people, I have some girls who have been really damaged because of what they have left on social networking sites. They are not the girls of Sex and the City. They have regrets and shame that will require a lot of time and effort ot overcome. I THANK GOD social networking was not around when I was active. No matter how many times I may have said that random encounters didn't effect me-they did.

Heh. Seconded, all around.

Mindpowered (#948)


However, I've existing in the transition between not social networking and social networking, and I've found that there are ways that many of the pitfalls can be avoided.

However, I suspect that since we are really the first generation to engage with them we're making all the mistakes. Future generations will be far more aware of the dangers and you won't have these starry eyed web 2.0 advertorials pitching the virtues of "being connected to everyone all the time".

"Would we trade all the gross and misguided New York mag sex diary nihilism in the world for a return to socially-enforced silence? Actually hell no!"

Is it really this binary?

No. I mean, Yes. Yes and no?

BoHan (#29)

I am sending out sexts right now and no one is answering. What the hell David Brooks? You lie!

Ur on my back-burner.

"On nights when they are out, the diarists are often texting multiple possible partners in search of the best arrangement."

Like I am gonna take the crappiest possible arrangement.

garge (#736)

No one tell DB about the apps that combine the aforementioned with GPS, like Grindr. He might choke on his spit.

brent_cox (#40)

"Hey you kids, quit fucking on my lawn!"

Rod T (#33)

It amazes me how we use our brains to mess up things that are so much better as visceral responses. I have never looked at someone with a "I'm going to fuck you" look where the recipient did not understand my intention. If they share that feeling, we marshal on and sometimes eventually fuck. If not, we move on to the "next". To create a charade or cut a deal or use other subterfuge isn't sexy to me; it's more like casual rape.

The above being said, there are also the cases of where I've met someone and shown the interest, but it wasn't recognized or returned. These cases are where I've questioned myself and wanted to make changes to myself. They draw me the conclusion that I need to better myself.

(There was some movie that with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear where Nicholson is cray-cray and turns to Hunt and says, "You make me want to be a better man." I think it's self-acknowledgment that I'm a little cray-cray myself that always makes me tear up when I hear that line. Or the fact that the movie is consistently on while I was hungover.)

What was my point? Oh, yeah, well I guess the articles where people are so strong on the negotiability of getting someone to want you just really sicken me. I either like you, or I don't. If I don't, you can try in the long term to improve yourself and catch my notice. Likewise, I've been trying to better myself for, like, ever. Maybe we'll just pass each other at the right moment on our paths. And then fuck.

(I need to read my astrologyzone forecast for the month. I'm feeling "romantic/horny".)

Baboleen (#1,430)

Dear Rod,

There is a guy that I am attracted to. We have been in the same social settings several times (his family is always there.) I am SO SCARED to let him know that I am attracted to him. So what am I supposed to do, text him? Well, first I'd have to ask him for his number. Hey-that might be funny!! Ask him for his number in a room full of family and text him right there. OK, it could be DISASTEROUS. This is an example of the conversation I have with myself ALL OF THE TIME!

Rod T (#33)

I think Emily is better at this sort of thing.

Baboleen (#1,430)

N kidding.

zidaane (#373)

*stews in basement with wall-to-wall carpet and a mini bar*

Abe Sauer (#148)

Also: So David brooks, he of the once "Hipster parents in park slope and their alterna-quirk must die" screen in 2007
in which he defended "lame" normal Americans love of Disney now flings a seemingly throwaway dig into today's piece "(He meets one Midwestern couple at a T.G.I. Friday’s.)"

Why is that necessary unless he means it as an insult to that middle-american supper staple? Be careful David, you're starting to sound like some of the other writers over there who i'm sure you would rather not be compared to.

Oh see I just saw that as him lazily ripping off the details of the NYMag Sex Diary omnibus. (That guy and the hookupy banker were brought to the fore by the piece.)

Abe Sauer (#148)

Indeed. But like the lazy "middle america is fat" jokes in the NYT that have caused stirs in last few months, it's just plain unnecessary and revels the authors' true feelings.

Abe, You mean fat middle Americans are too fat and middle American to have hook ups? Also do you think they shopped at J.C. Penny for their hook up clothes.

And they like Jeff Dunham!

Abe Sauer (#148)

Clearly they have zexy fat-fetishist interracial threesomes in their crocs and polyester all fueled by meth bought from Levi Joshnston's mom and it's all at TGI Friday's (just like New Jersey governors!!! http://wonkette.com/368638/mcgreeveys-gruesome-threesome-began-at-tgi-fridays/)

I don't read the inclusion of T.G.I. Friday's here as an elitist insult, but as a nod to the workaday settings of the meetings.

Abe Sauer (#148)

"Workaday?" How so? It's included because it's, to him anyway, a ho-hum direct opposite to the (WOW! erotic) idea of flying around the country to have interracial threesomes. If not, why include it at all? Especially in its own separate sentence? In wink-wink parentheses no less.

Workaday in the sense of "ordinary, usual, commonplace". That there is no romance. Remember, this is a piece about modern technology and social interaction. TGIF is, first, a place of commerce, a point of exchange of goods and services.

I'm just not seeing the class clash you do between the itinerant trader and swinging couple. Where else does one meet up with strangers for this sort of thing in the Midwest? It's not chock-a-block with Starbucks, is it? As for the choice of TGIF over Applebees, or whatever restaurant is healthier, or more upscale, out there, I dunno, maybe he chose the Fridays for its weekend sexytime mouthfeel? Finally, the first paragraph merely sets up the piece. "Some unusual and sad" was the take away here, not "stuffed to the rafters with fatties".

You are looking for something that isn't there, Abe. Admit it. Tell funny Abe he's missed.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Oh it IS chock a block with starbucks. For example, in Grand Forks there are more starbucks than TGI Fridays. Starbucks may have seemed like a big city thing at one time. But now there is one in almost every super target. I'm saying that Brooks has in the past been a champion of those who consider places like TGI Friday's perfectly fine cultural institutions, not the pretentious places of New Yorkers etc. But then here he seems to take an unnecessary swipe at one (in that it has nothing to do with the rest of his point).

"weekend sexytime mouthfeel" was a temporary New Jersey menu item. It's been discontinued in favor of "Guy Ferarri's Spotted Dick."

Funny Abe? I am a fucking delight. A DELIGHT GODAMNIT!

Okay, I was not aware that there were so many Starbucks in ND. Bad example. (Related: Bad coffee! Don't you people know anything?)

You haven't convinced me that the mention of TGIF was classist. I don't know Brooks as well as you do, but take another look at the opener. Diaries–>nighttime quests and conquests–> unemployed banker drinks, wakes up in strange beds; trader flies around the county to sleep with daring couples, meets up with them at TGIF. There's a symmetry there, right? Each notes risky behavior, location. Is the choice of the TGIF anecdote itself a risky move? I guess– but I'm not in the position, nor do I have the inclination, to trawl their archived diaries over the last two years in search of other locations he might have selected instead. And it's hard to see this as yet another slight toward midwesterners, as this couple is so against the grain, if you will. If anything, the person who comes off the worst is the banker. Guy has to fly across the country to get off? Now THAT's sad.

Looking at the subsequent paragraphs, the TGIF call-up seems even less devious than you suspect. Brooks writes of people using phones to text multiple partners "in search of the best arrangement" –almost like a commodities exchange. "Disaggregate, slice up, servicing each with a different partner, hoping to come out ahead" sounds like the sub-prime mortgage derivatives market. (Sub-prime: not classist!) The TGIF is the perfect place to check out and get out, if a "potentially better offer" comes through. Again, I think it less about TGIF and what/whom it serves than a restaurant/bar as locus of commerce. I'm seeing it as a trading floor, one even more remarkable for its unremarkable location, nothing more.

CORRECTIONS A comment in some editions last week referred incorrectly to the TGIF diary diner, in actuality the trader, not the banker (thus derailing a concluding analogy). The comment went on to misattribute (he/she is likely working on other things while commenting) responsibility in addressing the issue of the choice of locale; it is unclear who chose the TGIF location as meeting place, the trader or the couple he met; the choice to use the anecdote mentioning TGIF in the NYT op-ed was in theory DB's, though as an earlier, smarter commenter noted, Brooks lazily lifted this anecdote, and most of his column, from the actual NYM cover article. When contacted, the commenter said, “Oh fuck it.”

BoHan (#29)

Now that I read the article, I guess I can say Dude never had his dick sucked in a public bathroom back in the day, or he'd re-think some of this lecture.

David (#192)


katiechasm (#163)

Maybe I'm hanging around an unusually gentlemanly crowd of 18-20 yr-olds, but I've been formally asked out like 6 times in the last couple of months and received 0 sextz.

Bittersweet (#765)

I could be completely wrong here, having absolutely no experience with whole sexting thing, but you should be psyched about this. "Gentlemanly" and "18-20 yr-olds" don't end up together much in media reports these days.

The Wireless Mystique.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Why does he think anyone would listen to him on the subj. of sex OR poetry?

No really, why?

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