Saturday, November 9, 2013

Intentional anonymity, or Un?

This post is not about the amusing/appalling mayor of Toronto, I swear; but for reasons you'll understand shortly, I have to open with a quote from a story about him in this week's Newsweek:
The defense proffered by Toronto mayor Rob Ford, caught in a video smoking crack, is astoundingly, bracingly forthright: "Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine.... Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago." Let the smoke settle on that one: He's seeking absolution for drug use by claiming annihilation by alcohol. The ancient Greeks might have called that hubris. I call it genius. 
I think the Toronto mayor - about whose politics I know almost nothing, other than that they manage to combine stupidity and dishonesty in ever-more original arrangements - has chosen the shrewdest defense available to him, calculating that his white constituents' fascination with crack cocaine makes him seem more like a cultural adventurer than a desperate fiend.
The icky conclusion I've come to is that Ford chose the perfect drug to abuse. 
Now, here is the most interesting question inspired by the quote above: exactly whose opinion is this, really? I don't mean, "Who are the people who share the author's view?" What I mean, simply, is "Who the hell is the author?"  Period.  Again, not, "Who does he or she think he or she is to hold or voice this opinion?" No. I mean, "What is his or her NAME?"  In the first three paragraphs, the author is right there with us no fewer than four times: "I call it . . . I think . . . I know . . . I've come to . . . ."  WHO ARE YOU?

I'm all about using the first-person in formal writing.  I've never taught my students to avoid it.  But it should be intentional.  It should serve a purpose.  That purpose is defeated if the author is anonymous, unless the purpose is merely to set an in-your-face tone.  If that's the purpose here, then, "Mission Accomplished!"  Coward.  Really.  If you're going to make a point of putting your face nose-to-nose with mine while you voice your opinion, then come out from under your burka, Bob, or Betty, or whoever you are.

Interestingly, I can ask this same question about any of the articles in this week's Newsweek (maybe all of them since January; heck, I haven't really been paying attention that closely).  It doesn't come out in print any more, just in case you missed that.  Since last January, it's digital only.  That trend (or the threat thereof) was actually one of the principle reasons I chose to ask for an iPad for Christmas last year rather than a new piece of skydiving gear.  And don't misunderstand my issue here--I like the digital version.  I like the bright images and the ability to link to video or audio or right on out of the magazine entirely.  But I digress.  My point is, when did this anonymity become a feature of a major news magazine?  Or am I wrong to still think of Newsweek in that way?  Is it now a rag?  Has its cachet plummeted so precipitously that the writers no longer care to be credited for their work?  Fascinating.

Just in case, if there's a way to see the byline on these articles, and I'm just so much of a Luddite that I'm missing it, feel free to clue me in, by all means. And, of course, I know (or hope) that the author isn't really a coward.  I know that someone way above him or her in the corporate food chain decided this was a good idea.  And I'm thankful to my own cousin, Barry, for trying to warn me years ago where we were headed.

Oh wait!  I think they just answered my question. Here is the first sentence from the lead story in this issue; thus, the first sentence in the issue:  "No one could ever accuse Newsweek of undcovering [sic] the Kennedy administration."  Unless they're attempting to coin a new word (move over Shakespeare), I think they meant undercovering. Carmax has better proofreaders.

Rag. Definitely. Digital rag.