Friday, January 21, 2011

The Man Who Would Be . . . ?

Very interesting article in New York Magazine about Martin Peretz, formerly a Harvard professor and owner of The New Republic and now a semi-reviled transcontinental crank. He's now former owner because his marriage to a much-richer second wife came apart a few years ago (it was her money that actually bought the publication) and he's had to sell off the TNR to a Canadian firm to pay the bills. He's semi-reviled because his blog for the magazine's website, portentously called The Spine, overran with so many bigoted generalizations about the Arabs and so much angry-old-man bile in general (including a swipe at Liza Minnelli, of all people) that even his old friends began to back away slowly and pretend not to notice when he was around. He now spends much of his time living in Tel Aviv. A few blocks of Tel Aviv, because Israel had the gall to be an actual country with actual people, and not the comforting, abstract fantasy that Peretz had built up in his mind over the years. (As the article makes clear, it was that fantasy that Peretz was defending more than the living, breathing country itself--with friends like these . . .)

I was a longtime subscriber to TNR, and you could always tell when Peretz' thumb was buried in the pie -- long articles about the necessity of supporting the Contras in Nicaragua (didn't that get George McGovern's panties in a twist!), fulsome essays about the Olympian qualities of Al Gore (this was truly one of the most obvious and pathetic man-crushes in media history), any story that seemed to come down against liberal orthodoxy for the sheer nylon hell of it (and probably because said article of orthodoxy was held by someone that Peretz was feuding with). And then there was his occasional piece in the "Diarist" section at the back of the magazine, full of name-dropping and self-promotion and the latest additions to The Enemies List. No doubt, Peretz was hoping that TNR would make him a ubiquitous public figure along the lines of William F. Buckley. Personally, as someone who always found Buckley profoundly annoying (and not just because of his politics), I'm glad that ownership of a magazine doesn't automatically entitle one to become an inescapable Talking Head. Still, he was a teacher at Harvard for many years, and during his tenure, the magazine mentored some very talented writers and helped them along to prominent national careers (it would have been nice if that hadn't all been Clever Little White Boys from Harvard) -- I mean, his contribution to the American media obviously outstrips that of say, Larry Flynt by several miles. Who knows, maybe he can even find peace somewhere--like an unoccupied stretch of desert.


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