Come On, Slate

Newly posted on Slate is an essay—a kind of analysis-meets-memoir—about Growing Up Alaskan. It’s a nice piece, evocative and full of rich detail, that paints a portrait of both the particularities and peculiarities of a culture that, apparently, it’s now our patriotic duty to be fascinated by. The essay is by turns touching and probing, and certainly worth reading.

Which is perhaps why Slate’s editors slotted the essay as today’s lead story, giving it prominent play on the site’s homepage, complete with a massive photo and a snappy, attention-grabbing headline:

Except…all the promises of “weirdness”(!) and “strange”ness(!) and all that are a little too snappy. The piece doesn’t, in the end, mock Alaska; its point isn’t to point out “how strange Alaskans really are”; rather, like an episode of Northern Exposure that plays out in prose, its point is to celebrate Alaska’s quirkiness. And ultimately to celebrate what the essay’s author, Jim Albrecht, deems a cultural “sense of responsibility for the welfare of one’s neighbors.”

And yet: “Bridge to Weirdville” (ha!). And the glib pronouncement that “you have no idea how strange Alaskans really are” (ha!). Followed by another telling tease: “All the Juiciest Bits from the New Dick Cheney Book” (ha! and: ooh…!).

From a marketing perspective, anyway, this is great packaging. How could any reader not give the piece a click? What red-blooded American wouldn’t want to learn more about the kookiness and laughable craziness of our tundra-dwelling countrymen?

Except, of course, the piece doesn’t match the packaging. The home page promise of Alaska-attacking hilarity is greeted by, alas, a relatively sober, if occasionally amusing, essay on the landing. Looks like we might have another case of page-view sellout on our hands.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.