The tyranny of choice.

Even wasting as much time online as I do, it’s still possible to miss things, and I apologize if someone else sent you here first, but not really. (People apologize for all the wrong things and none of the right ones.) I’m speaking of Picky, Picky, Libby Copeland’s amusing essay on what happens when people who have too many choices bring their attitudes to the battlefields of love:

There is something peculiarly modern about this phenomenon, something aligned with our dark privilege of too much , this consumeriffic culture in which jeans and houses and breasts and ring tones are customizable. Consider it all: geographical dislocation, cities filled with singles, extended childhoods and postponed childbearing, speed-dating, the growing sense that the dating pool is as vast as the 454 men-seeking-women between the ages of 29 and 31 within five miles of your Zip code on Yahoo Personals.

In a world of infinite possibilities, the notion of falling in love, of finding The One, seems itself like the taquito girl, small-town and old-fashioned. Once upon a time, The One would’ve lived in your village or another one like it. Now, she could be this sweet girl across from you at the dinner table, but she could also be someone you haven’t yet met. What if there’s another woman somewhere in the world, like this girl, but better? Someone who will snowboard with you, and doesn’t do that strange throat-clearing thing?

There are people like this, I know, people like Jerry Seinfeld’s sitcom character, capable of pushing the trapdoor button on women with man hands or the wrong laugh or whatever, but I’ve never had the luxury. Copeland quotes a personal ad:

Online, people attempt to custom-order mates with the awesome specificity of children at a Build-a-Bear Workshop. In the personal section of Craigslist, a man describes his dream woman: “you are very feminine but also a tad clumsy. you are short, but you love high heels . . . you have long dark hair and big eyes. you like to wear mascara and other eye make-up, and/or you have long lashes.”

I’ll bet my next freelance check — which will be a big one! — that this man is still alone.

But I think about this sort of thing in idle moments. I keep trying to finish this essay on newspapers, and I think a lot about whether they’re doomed because they’re badly run by the insecure hirelings of greedy corporations, or just because the very idea of a “general-interest” anything is simply antique. No one wants what everyone else has anymore. At the auto show last month, I wandered into the Rolls-Royce press conference, for no particular reason other than I had the time and I wanted to hear cultured British gentlemen say “motorcar.” The honcho giving the presentation said the biggest growth area in their company was the “bespoke sector,” i.e., the customizers. When you spend half a mil for a car, you don’t want to drive the same one the next guy with half a mil gets; you want one with chinchilla upholstery or paint the precise color of your wife’s hair or with a built-in cooler here or bulletproof glass there.

Maybe it stands to reason some think it can be applied to other people, too. Sooner or later they’ll learn.

By the way, I think newspapers wouldn’t be in quite so much trouble if they’d run more stuff like Copeland’s essay. I dunno about you, but by the time I read the features section, I’m not looking for tuna recipes or smart parenting stories. Maybe that’s just me.

A few days ago, some of were discussing school-play disputes in the comments, which only goes to show that NN.C commenters are ahead of the New York Times, which weighed in on Saturday with this depressing dispatch from the Culture Wars, about the cancellation of another play, this one in Missouri, after “some residents” (note: three of them) objected to its moral foundation.

The play: “Grease.”

To many, the term “culture war” evokes national battles over new frontiers in taste and decency, over violence in video games, or profanity in music or on television. But such battles are also fought in small corners of the country like Fulton, a conservative town of about 10,000, where it can take only a few objections about library books or high school plays to shift quietly the cultural borderlines of an entire community.

The complaints here, which were never debated in a public forum, have spread a sense of uncertainty about the shifting terrain as parents, teachers and students have struggled to understand what happened. Among teenagers who were once thrilled to have worked on the production, “Grease” became “the play they’d rather not talk about,” said Teri Arms, their principal, who had also approved the play before it was presented.

By the way, the principal also cancelled the next play — “The Crucible.” Wouldn’t want to produce anything that makes Christians not look like the loving, tolerant people we know they are, right?

Random bloggage:

Someone made Mitch Albom wait. No one makes Mitch Albom wait! That’ll teach him, Mr. Bigshot Doctor.

Hey, I like the Olympic beret. Others…don’t.

Posted at 3:22 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' |

21 responses to “The tyranny of choice.”

  1. Mindy said on February 12, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    Once upon a time I was a receptionist in a psychiatrist’s office. The doctor couldn’t afford to waste his precious time on no-shows and double booked all of his appointments. In the summer he triple booked them just to make sure he had someone to see. One horrible night in June, everybody showed up. I had two waiting rooms full of very upset people who became even more upset upon learning that multiple people were scheduled to see the doctor at the same time. I lied to them, saying that there must have been some terrible mistake, etc. Got home at 10 pm and crawled into a bottle of cheap wine. I was very glad to leave that job.

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  2. brian stouder said on February 12, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    Well, let me say as AN OLD GUY from backwards ol’ Fort Wayne that Harding High School did Grease 25 years ago (my God – that WAS a long time ago!!) – and it played to a packed house for its week-long run.

    I noticed that Notre Dame is gearing up for expected protests over the staging of The Vagina Chronicles. Such a production is fine for a university, although I would wince if a public high school put that on.

    School boards zealously guard their prerogatives when it comes to setting the curriculum, and I think it is altogether fitting that they maintain that control (with written policy and guidelines) when it comes to things like school-produced plays or newspapers.

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  3. Dorothy said on February 12, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Mitch is an ass for not speaking up sooner. If it were me, I would have spoken up after waiting maybe 20 minutes. The squeaky well, etc.

    My daughter had an appointment recently at a doctor’s office and after signing in and waiting about 70 minutes, she finally got up and reminded them she was there. “Oh my gosh, we forgot all about you!” was the reply. They were apologetic, but for Pete’s sake, why can’t they do better!?! Is it any wonder my blood pressure is usually on the high side when I finally get to go inside the rarified chamber of the examining room?

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  4. Dorothy said on February 12, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    …uh make that the squeaky wheel.

    I like the Olympic beret, too. Three cheers to Michelle Kwan for doing the right thing. She was brave to do so.

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  5. Maureen said on February 12, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    Nancy – I admit that I am flummoxed by the absence of any substantive commentary about the Muslim cartoon flap on your site. You, a recent journalism fellow! It is the biggest story of the year that deals with either the media or fundamentalists, and yet all you have is a tired complaint about Grease. Of course I think that those parents are stupid, but how can you ignore the real censorship story of our time, the one that reads dissent = death? It’s your party here at, but for someone who works in the printed news industry, is interested in its future, your lack of comment is surprising. Care to weigh in?

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  6. Nance said on February 12, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    > Care to weigh in?

    Sure. American newspapers should print the cartoons, if only to see what all the howling is about.

    As for the rest of it, one reason I haven’t said anything is I don’t think I’m getting the whole story. Not the facts, but the context. Something…else is going on here, I think, and I’d like to know what it is. Like so many things about that part of the world, though, I believe it’s probably baffling to western points of view.

    I’ve become a late-night listener to the BBC, and they’ve come as close as anyone, suggesting the cartoons are the excuse for a lot of agenda-furthering on the part of those zillions of Muslim factions no one can ever fully explain.

    As usual, Juan Cole is the go-to source on much of this stuff: Rather than merely an East-West issue or a clash of civilizations, the caricature controversy should be seen as part of a culture war within Muslim societies. Precisely because the issue is distant and not very important, it is a cost-free bandwagon on which everyone can jump in search of greater legitimacy among Muslim publics. There is no downside in the Muslim world to defending the prophet Mohammed from Western insults. It isn’t just about some cartoons. It is about independence and the genuine liberty to define yourself rather than being defined by the imperial West.

    This makes sense to me, as most American culture-war issues aren’t about what they seem to be about, which is one reason we still have Roe v. Wade in place — it is THE goose that lays big fat golden eggs for the GOP.

    As for the U.S. angle, yes, I think American newspaper editors are a bunch of wussyboys and girls for not printing them. But honestly? Does anyone expect anything else?

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  7. brian stouder said on February 12, 2006 at 8:02 pm

    “…your lack of comment is surprising”

    I don’t think it is really surprising – and I don’t think the issue is very ‘real’.

    To me, there are 3 main factors here, that point to phony-baloney.

    First, these cartoons were originally in a relatively obscure northern European publication.

    Second, the reaction to them was nothing much for months and months – maybe a letter to the editor or two – and certainly wasn’t violent.

    Third, when the violence began, it was aimed at embassies??!! – and did you notice how focused the violence was, and how nonexistent security forces were, in the various locales?

    Clearly this thing is old fashioned, trumped up and orchestrated propaganda – mainly by national governments (mainly Syria and Syrian agents).

    The issue, it seems to me, isn’t so much “how free is the western press?”, but instead “how free from hostile propaganda campaigns is the western press?” – the same question that arises everytime some of those sick sons of bitches behead some hapless captive, and release a video onto al Jazeera

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  8. basset said on February 12, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    What I don’t understand about this is why some cultures riot in the streets when they get upset… and some don’t.

    Not that I endorse it, or even want to suggest it… but as far as I know, the Danes aren’t trying to burn down Middle Eastern embassies in Copenhagen. Someone with a greater knowledge of these things explain, please, if you can do it without being hateful.

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  9. wade said on February 13, 2006 at 3:42 am

    My understanding (thank Google) is that this is being orchestrated by Danish iman Ahmed Abdel Rahman Abu Laban, among others, who threw in a couple of Xeroxed “cartoons” that look like he did them himself, just to just to be sure his point is taken.

    More fundamentalists getting their short hairs twisted over insignigficant events… anyone heard from Pat Robertson on this one? I can’t wait for his take.

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  10. Jim said on February 13, 2006 at 8:46 am

    Let’s face it … some people enjoy being offended and look for opportunities where they can express their outrage at being offended. This takes many forms — objecting to school plays, banning “Huckleberry Finn” from school libraries, or rioting in the streets over a cartoon.

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  11. basset said on February 13, 2006 at 9:43 am

    true, but this isn’t all that’s getting rioted over in that part of the world. seems that in the Middle East, when they get mad about something there’s often some kind of mass demonstration and stuff gets broken… not usually here, though, or in Europe.

    so… discuss. your mileage may vary.

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  12. Nance said on February 13, 2006 at 9:52 am

    Basset, I think just about any group will riot — and has — when the right set of circumstances are present. There have been dozens of riots in this country, maybe hundreds, and not all in the distant past. Los Angeles in 1992, Detroit in 1967, New York City in 1864 (or whenever the draft riots were). Combine the outrage with just the right brew of desperation, anger, thuggishness and the like, and presto, civil unrest.

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  13. Peter E said on February 13, 2006 at 9:57 am

    Re: Mitch and the waiting room: Yesterday I saw his Parade magazine article about Jacque Demer’s illiteracy and after reading his article this morning I’m starting to think that there’s a definite upside to illiteracy.

    Re: Those Crazy Muslims: Of course it’s orchestrated. I can’t help but think, however, that if they’re mad now, just wait a few months when the next batch of cartoons come out.

    Finally, Re: Dick Cheney: How many times have we been warned that those trigger happy conservatives were going to get people hurt!

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  14. brian stouder said on February 13, 2006 at 10:36 am

    “New York City in 1864 (or whenever the draft riots were).”

    1863 – the Union troops sent to quell the violence were exhausted from the just-completed (and horrendous) battle at Gettysburg. The Irish (and others) were stringing up African American New Yorkers from the light posts by the dozens; race seems to be the ever-present subtext (when it’s not the key ingredient) in American riots.

    But speaking of mid-19th century America and mob-reaction to to the press…..think Alton Illinois. When the abolitionist editor of a broadsheet there offended the locals, they threw his press into the river (for the 4th or 5th time!) and murdered him.

    I would believe this cartoon controversy if the anger was directed at the press, but instead it appears to me to be a convenient pretext for prefabricated street theater

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  15. 4dbirds said on February 13, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    Put me on the don’t like the beret side, but I’ll take it if for once the Americans aren’t wearing cowboy hats.

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  16. Danny said on February 13, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    Slightly off-topic, but a hilarious quote from Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star on his experience in Turin.

    “The locals drive madly in cars smaller than lunch boxes, they sip thick coffee overwhelmed with chocolate, they cut you off in line if you are not paying attention, and they drink wine and eat dinner late and smoke more than the old U.S. Steel plant in Pittsburgh. They haven’t exactly finished all the Olympic projects — like, you know, the subway — but the general feeling seems to be: ‘Hey, it’s too late to worry about that now. Let’s drink some wine and smoke.'”

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  17. JRG said on February 13, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    Re reaction to the Danish cartoons: On yesterday’s This Week (George Stephanopoulos’s talk show), Condoleeza Rice pointed out that Syria is a rigidly controlled society and Iran is even more so. She observed that, under such regimes, people do not routinely mass in the streets unless theire is governmental instigation of such actions.

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  18. mary said on February 13, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    Speaking of the Vagina Monologues: Eve Ensler, the author of that play, was on Real Time with Bill Maher. He introduced her as “Eve Ensler, who wrote and performs The Vagina Monologues.” Then as an aside said, “I can’t even wiggle my ears.”

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  19. basset said on February 13, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    Dismissive replies about stuff that happened years ago aside… sure, we’ve had riots here, but not quite that way. If the USA worked on the Middle Eastern model, we’d have Pat Robertson whipping up his followers to go burn movie studios *and they would actually do it.* Over there, you get howling mobs trying to burn the Danish embassy… here, you get Eric Rudolph.

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  20. nancy said on February 13, 2006 at 8:10 pm

    Hey, we’ve always been a country of rugged individualists.

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  21. alex said on February 13, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    There’s one thing that’s worse than a Taquito Moment. A Taquito Sunrise.

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