We have a disturbing trend to report: It seems the creeping Sunday Stylization of the New York Times has accelerated to a lope and invaded even the national section of the weekday Times.
An article in today’s paper was all the evidence we needed. It’s easy enough to imagine its inception: Journalist walks into editor’s office and says, “So, listen to this, I was at dinner last night and I heard the darnedest thing. You know how the president said he was ‘the decider.’ Well, there was this husband and wife and the husband couldn’t decide whether to order the lasagna or the spaghetti. When the wife made the decision for him, she punched him in the arm and said, ‘I’m the decider.’ I bet everyone’s using that phrase. Now, come on, wouldn’t that make for the best story ever?”
With that, the editor — the “decider” in this case — made a bad decision. What we got is dime store sociology at it’s worst — just bearable when it’s relegated to the two Styles sections (Sunday’s and Thursday’s), but in the news pages, totally absurd.
Jennifer Steinhauser’s contention is that the president’s ill-phrased comment about his decision to keep Donald Rumsfeld around “has unwittingly added to the lexicon of marital relations.” And, of course, the story starts with the anecdote that probably ignited the idea to begin with — which, by the way, is the only evidence in the piece that anyone is using this phrase colloquially:
“Anita Willoughby and Jeffrey Naiditch were just polishing off their papaya mousse cake at a dinner party in Lower Manhattan last Sunday night when Mr. Naiditch decided it was time to go home. His wife was not quite ready to leave. He said, ‘I am the decider, I get to say,’ Ms. Willoughby said. The small group dissolved into laughter, and a bit of nervous chatter.”
It then goes on for another eight hundred words or so, describing a seemingly random collection of couples and the way they delegate responsibility in their families. Amy Popp from Chicago decides whether her son should go to Joey’s birthday party and what kind of Mother’s Day cards to buy for grandma. David Taylor in Austin decides what he and his wife watch on television. Debbie Busby of Manhattan Beach, Calif., has decided everything to do with the remodeling of the family’s home, while her husband, John, makes all the financial decisions.
Of course all these quotes from everyday folks are garnished with the requisite dubious sociological truisms, such as this gem: “People with items to sell are keenly aware that women play a crucial decider role in household purchases. According to the advertising agency Ketchum, women in the United States buy more than half of all new vehicles and influence more than 80 percent of all new vehicle purchases.”
But the article’s shining moment comes towards the end, when Steinhauser seems to be acknowledging the absurdity of her own story. “Normally, in articles like this, you would have arrived at the part where a marriage therapist and sociologist would weigh in,” she writes. “But what about a dominatrix, whose trade revolves around power relationships?”
At last! A dominatrix on page A16 of the New York Times, right alongside articles about Tony Snow, the U.S. Senate and the head of NASA.
The dominatrix dutifully weighs in, telling Steinhauser that “many women who work for her enjoy exerting power, while male customers are more interested in ‘creating the illusion of giving up control.’”
You don’ t say.
Now, we’re not opposed to the Gray Lady having a little fun. But this article tries to do that while taking itself seriously. It claims to describe a trend and instead is filled with random quotes and numbers that add up to absolutely nothing.
We have to wonder: will the Stylization continue its slick march through other sections? What’s next? International? The Iraqi Resistance Prefers Red Kaffiyahs to Black Ones or Europeans — Cheese Eaters For Sure!
Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.
This calls for a Decider.