Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Parallel Universe of the New York Times' "Style" Section

I think the New York Times' Style section is the thin connection between ours, and the parallel universe it describes to the rest of us. In this universe, people are intensely aware of the labels inside peoples' clothes. They carry $3,000 purses. They buy dresses that cost as much as their purses and wear t-shirts that cost thirty times what mine cost.

Many of the individuals in this other world appear to have small antennae that hone into nightclubs where they care excruciatingly about whether or not they gain entry. Once inside, they must locate the tables with the most prestigious people encircling them, and they will take note effortlessly of each costume in their vicinity, and they make sure their vicinity is with others with the same obsessions but who are more frequently mentioned in the newspaper.

Let's go through the rabbit hole and take a look at life in this parallel universe on one random Sunday. The universe allows visitors on Thursdays as well, but Sundays are the days when the universe parades itself most proudly.The parallel universe is comfortably homogeneous politically. It is understood that everyone is progressive. In this universe, there are no liberals, and no Republicans. But everyone believes in marriage; here, marriages are frequent, and love is exalted.

We peek now into this other world as it exists on June 10, 2007. A lead story announces that cocaine is "very visible on the social scene" and we are told that in the universe one often hears "Take a ride on the snow train," or "Skiing on the beach tomorrow?"

We see there's a man in Beverly Hills, an outpost of the parallel universe, who enjoys buying multi-million-dollar homes owned by movie stars, fixing them up, and turning a mega-million-dollar profit. Another story reveals that for some peculiar reason films are not portraying abortions in their plots. "Nearly two-thirds of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion, data from federal surveys shows." And yet several recent films, "Knocked Up," and "Waitress," use the protagonist's pregnancy as the central plot point. In this universe, where abortion is normal, the strange avoidance of it in film is worth pondering.

But the real reason the parallel universe is worth a visit is to behold its nuptials.

Many weddings are performed by Rabbis, male and female alike, though many others are performed by friends of the bride and groom who are ordained in the Universal Life Church just for the occasion. In this parallel universe, no bride is younger than 25, and no groom younger than 30. None completed their educations with high school, and most received their college degrees from elite universities. In fact, at least one partner of nearly all the couples has either authored a book, written music, is a doctor, or is descended from the inventor of something we use every day. Take the "cute meet" of Maya Alperowicz and Justin Florence, that occurred while both were pursuing their graduate degrees at Harvard. His father, by the way, is the author of nine books, including "Blood Libel" (University of Wisconsin, 2004).

Some weddings even have themes. Like the "retired" wedding: "Nancy McDonnel Maloney, a retired lawer, and Jacob Berry Underhill III, a retired insurance executive, were married on Tuesday. Beverly S. Cohen, a retired New York State Supreme Court justice, officiated at her office in New York. The bride, 57, will keep her name...The bridegroom, 80, retired as the President of New York Life Insurance Co....The bride's two previous marriages and the bridegroom's three previous marriages ended in divorce." (This is emes. Direct quote from p. 14 of the journal of the Parallel Universe, the New York Times' Style Section.)

Many couples share common professional interests. Deborah Swacker, a lobbyist, and Jeff Nussbaum, a political speechwriter, share the political bent, and the groom is co-author with James Carvel of "Had Enough?" and of "Intelligence Matters" with Bob Graham, "the Democrat who at the time was a senator from Florida." Film joined Mary Firestone, 30, a film actress ("Just My Luck," 2006, and "Little Black Book, 2004), and Napper Tandy (James Napper Tandy II), who "was a writer of 'Two Roads to Baja,' a promotional film for Toyota that played on Speed Channel cable network in January.'" By the way, "the bride is a great-granddughter of Harvey S. Firestone, the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company."

Writing is the bond for Pilar Queen, who happens to work as an agent in the office of my own literary agent (emes again!), and Andrew Sorkin, who works for the New York Times, graduated from Cornell and runs an online Times web site. His mother is "a playwright and librettist, whose credits include '(mis)Understanding Mammy: The Hattie McDaniel Story,'...and an operatic version of 'Strange Fruit'" to premier this month in North Carolina.

Yes, couples often have much in common. William Hughes is an investment partner (his mother is a professor of medicine at Tufts) whose marriage to loan officer Gray Holmes shares the financial theme. But their announcement requires careful inspection because they provided no photo, and the bride, "Gray," (MBA from Harvard) has an ambiguous name. Photos have become very useful tools when reading Parallel Universe wedding announcements. Not only do many of the couples' faces look alike, but some pairs nowadays would even look uncomfortably similar were they to appear, literally, in the altogether.

You see, in this parallel universe, connubially linking two of the same gender is, like abortion, normal. Joyful proclamations of single gender partnership, marriage and civil union mingle with more traditional combinings on the pages of the parallel universe's journal.

Andres Freyre and Morton Ballen smile from the photo above their announcement. Their commitment ceremony was led by "two friends" at Frankies Spuntino, a Brooklyn restaurant. But from the photo, we don't know if it is Mr. Freyre or Mr. Ballen with the bald pate and soul patch. Only when the body of the piece tells us "Mr Freyre (above, left)" do we get a clue.

Every issue of the parallel universe journal features one couple to celebrate in a half-page article detailing the history of their relationship, with two photos. This week, the 5-inch by 9-inch picture is dominated by Sarah Bune, leading the ceremony with arms outstretched. On either side of her stand the two partners of the wedding couple. Both in white sheath gowns.

Mary McBride, the "country-folk singer and songwriter," 37, became committed to public relations professional Leslie Klotz, 48, known for her "amazing art collection and about 27 layers of black lacquer" in her apartment entrance hall. After meeting at a Christmas party, the two proceeded through dates and emails until "Ms. McBride proposed to Ms. Klotz on Nantucket last summer. 'Without even blinking an eye, she said "Perfect,"' Ms. McBride recalled." And their ceremony does sound perfect: Mary and Leslie two-stepped before 180 guests in Montego Bay, Jamaica, "down a rose-petal aisle, each wearing a different Elizabeth Fillmore gown, to an altar made of bamboo poles and fluttering Tibetan flags." All is happy and gay in the parallel universe.

There's much more amusement to be clandestinely enjoyed when the universe displays its secrets on Sundays. But the lives described on Style's pages is not reality as nearly all Americans live it. Most everyone spends the wee hours of the night not clubbing but snoozing before a 7 am alarm awakens him for a day of activity far from Beverly Hills' multi-million dollar flipped into mega million-dollar homes. Where abortion isn't on the calendar and cocaine isn't even on the radar screen. And where most everyone gets along and has a nice wedding and doesn't feel the need to broadcast one's grandfather's inventions or mother's latest book title.

We, in the normal world, are voyeurs. We who would not buy "The Globe" or "People" at the supermarket checkout will indeed devour the Style section because while the celebs in "People" may be well-known, we don't particularly want to know when they became anorectic or who cheated on whom. Instead, we glean amusement from the sophisticated exploits of Harvard-educated brides and descriptions of three-thousand-dollar dresses and the wacky ways those so far--and yet not too far--removed from us get their kicks and then, by us, their knocks. It's a different world, and it's so nice to know that you can put it down when you've read to the end of the last page.


  1. That was excellent. Thank you.

    I was just thinking yet again today how people - particularly in areas such as NYC - live in such a one-dimensional world. I watched a short and cute video on YouTube by the New York Times' David Pogue (on the IPhone), and couldn't help but note that every single person they grabbed from the liberal and open-minded Times newsroom were similar in one way: They were all white, mostly in their 30's. I couldn't help but notice a couple of days ago that the people who generally get up in arms about Walmart are people who live in such places as New York City... where there are no Walmarts. And yet they decry the negative impact on "subsets" who seem perfectly happy to have the jobs and savings Walmarts bring. I couldn't help but note that the class of teens waiting for a train this morning from Midtown Manhattan [in the "most diverse city in the world"] was made up of almost all white kids, save one tall, lighter-skinned black kid, and I recalled that NYC is made up of neighborhoods of ethnicities - not what one would call a true melting pot. I wondered to myself if the average classroom in places such as Kansas, Kentucky, Texas, and Alabama have a higher percentage of minorities than the average classroom in an upscale NYC neighborhood. And then I was reminded that the only places I seem to see a true mix of diverse backgrounds are places like the company I work in - a Midwest-owned large corporation, the kind that is constantly whined about by liberal "elites".

    And I was yet again reminded why hypocrisy is one of the worst qualities of all.

  2. Thanks, Ezzie. Yours is a very astute observation. Living in the Northwest, I can tell you you're right--people form homogeneous clusters. We love our WalMart, btw. But people who prefer Nordstroms (born and headquartered here in Seattle) have their own little world, too. I'm more comfortable somewhere in between the two. Still, the greater world, those in both WalMart and even Nordstroms and the people waiting with you for the train this morning don't live in the Parallel Universe of the NYTimes! That place is so far removed from reality as to be comical if it weren't so darn SAD.
    And let me also thank you for your own blog, which I enjoy regularly.

  3. That was a brilliant criticism of the parallel universe. Thanks for posting it (and thanks to Ezzie for posting the link)!

    It's really quite interesting, isn't it, that the types of people who think of themselves as so openminded that their brains fall out are really so elitist. Not that it comes as a surprise, but this was a particularly sharp analysis of that world.

  4. I need a Riddle ASAP! i know this sounds extreamly werid but i need a riddle. Dont ask why just give me something!! thanks!

    [url=]the day the earth stood still[/url]