Why David Brooks Is So Popular With Idiot Elitists

Sasha IssenbergBrooks acknowledges that all he does is present his readers with the familiar and ask them to recognize it. Why, then, has his particular brand of stereotype-peddling met with such success? In recent years, American journalism has reacted to the excesses of New Journalism — narcissism, impressionism, preening subjectivity — by adopting the trappings of scholarship. Trend pieces, once a bastion of three-examples-and-out superficiality, now strive for the authority of dissertations. Former Times editor Howell Raines famously defended page-one placement for a piece examining Britney Spears’s flailing career by describing it as a “sophisticated exegesis of sociological phenomenon.” The headline writer’s favorite word is “deconstructing.” (Last year, the Toronto Star deconstructed a sausage.) Richard Florida, a Carnegie Mellon demographer whose 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class earned Bobos-like mainstream cachet, nostalgizes an era when readers looked to academia for such insights:

“You had Holly Whyte, who got Jane Jacobs started, Daniel Bell, David Riesman, Galbraith. This is what we’re missing; this is a gap,” Florida says. “Now you have David Brooks as your sociologist, and Al Franken and Michael Moore as your political scientists. Where is the serious public intellectualism of a previous era? It’s the failure of social science to be relevant enough to do it.”

This culture shift has rewarded Brooks, who translates echt nerd appearance (glasses, toothy grin, blue blazer) and intellectual bearing into journalistic credibility, which allows him to take amusing dinner-party chatter — Was that map an electoral-college breakdown or a marketing plan for Mighty Aphrodite? — and sell it to editors as well-argued wisdom on American society. Brooks satisfies the features desk’s appetite for scholarly authority in much the same way that Jayson Blair fed the newsroom’s compulsion for scoops.

There’s even a Brooksian explanation for why he has become so popular with the East Coast media elite. Blue Americans have heard so much about Red America, and they’ve always wanted to see it. But Blue Americans don’t take vacations to places like Galveston and Dubuque. They like to watch TV shows like The Simpsons and Roseanne, where Red America is mocked by either cartoon characters or Red Americans themselves, so Blue Americans don’t need to feel guilty of condescension. Blue Americans are above redneck jokes, but they will listen if a sociologist attests to the high density of lawnbound-appliances-per-capita in flyover country. They need someone to show them how the other half lives, because there is nothing like sympathy for backwardness to feed elitism. A wrong turn in Red America can be dangerous: They might accidentally find Jesus or be hit by an 18-wheeler. It seems reasonable to seek out a smart-looking fellow who seems to know the way and has a witty line at every point. Blue Americans always travel with a guide.

—Sasha Issenberg
David Brooks: Boo-Boos in Paradise

11 thoughts on “Why David Brooks Is So Popular With Idiot Elitists

    • Elizabeth, this was written in 2004, before Franken’s time in the Senate. I’m not sure what made Frank post it now, but I coincidentally ran across it within the last week. Maybe it got linked from some current article that we both read.

      • Yeah, I think Brad DeLong was talking about it. It’s old, but as true as ever.

        I thought after Christopher Marlowe, I was okay. :-)

        But I think Elizabeth was just teasing, which seems to be her main mode around here these days. And we’re all glad about that, Elizabeth! :-)

        • She’s right, though. I remember being a bit bored by the comic passages in Franken’s books. But his fact-checking team did a great job uncovering conservative lies — which Al then made funny.

          This was the best scene in his documentary:

          • I think we’ve always known that he was a genius. The Franken and Davis comedy was very sharp. And wasn’t he writing those books around the time that he was doing Air America? Regardless, I think one of the reasons Bill O’Reilly was so loopy about him was that Franken could actually write books and O’Reilly could just hire ghostwriters.

              • I didn’t see the video before. That’s very good. Although at the end, the young lady who asked about “left wing propaganda” annoyed me. I don’t blame her: she’s young. But people generally have a problem with this. This is why the whole concept of “twice as good” doesn’t work to combat racism. If you get mad and kick a homeless man, you are wrong. If I get mad and kill him, I am wrong. But no one would say, “Sure, Frank was wrong to kill that homeless man, but let’s not forget that James kicked the homeless man.” Yet we see this kind of analysis all the time in politics. Our recent troll was making this argument. “You can’t talk about Trump’s racism without mentioning that Clinton once said something derogatory about a Jew!” People have a real problem with this and the media does not help. People like Franken do help.

                • Yeah, the troll was … odd. Some just want to get angry responses. That one seemed more like the type who wants to tell everyone how wrong they are, and be admired for it.

                  Maybe it’s part of what you say below here. How we have generic dipshits like Brooks who are rich & famous without saying a damn thing, yet saying it in an arrogant, condescending tone. So naturally some people think they should be lauded for doing the same. I can’t blame them. There’s absolutely no good reason Brooks is a millionaire and the average troll isn’t.

                  It’s a strange thing. People who haven’t been given enough respect at their work, often because they didn’t kiss enough ass, emulate popular figures who profess to be standard-bearers for independent thinking. And those standard-bearers only got those jobs because they spent decades kissing ass and toeing the line. If Friedman or Zakaria tomorrow started saying the American empire was predatory, or capitalism had major inherent flaws only fixable with stringent regulation, they’d be gone before 5:00 PM.

                  • You really are the sweetest man — thinking the best of everyone. His last comment showed him for the angry, foul-mouthed troll he is. He just likes to come off like the reasonable guy. It’s like someone who says to you, “Do you know how ugly people think you are? Do you know how much everyone hates you? I’m just asking questions!” In JenBob’s case, I think we’re talking about a bigot.

          • On a serious note, I was listening to NPR the other day, and someone was bemoaning the fact that we were getting our political science from comedians and not, you know, political scientists. And I thought, “When did the media ever provide us analysis from actual political scientists?” The answer is: never. It came from beat reporters who got famous enough for their opinions (which were little more than WAGs) to be taken seriously. So why not comedians? I don’t find them necessarily any less qualified. And in Franken’s case, he was more qualified than most before he was ever a Senator.

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