Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Slate Of Disappointments

One of the saddest things I've witnessed in this post-internet world of ours is the decline of Slate magazine.

Slate used to be my go-to web magazine* every day, even way back in the mid-90s when the internet was still in diapers. I didn't always agree with their editorial stance, but they weren't so far off the center of the political spectrum that it made me uncomfortable--in fact, I probably read it more often as a source for opinion than any other political piece. They were rational and had a diverse array of topics, backgrounds, and interests. Even if I disagreed with them--which I did, frequently--I understood where they were coming from.

I started to drift away a few years ago. Some of my favorite writers left. They were bought out by the Washington Post. Features and columns disappeared, to be replaced by more sensational headlines. Thoughtful essays gave way to trendy, sloppy ideas. I very deliberately kept up with a few regular features--notably Emily Yoffe's Dear Prudence advice column, which became increasingly tin-eared to the point where I stopped even that.

Slate then fell off my radar completely, to the point where I forgot it existed. Imagine my surprise where, a few years later, I peeked on its page to find that it had almost become a parody of the thing I thought it was going to become. Articles were more click-baity than ever. Its articles gained a reputation as being ridiculously contrarian, to the point where the hashtag #slatepitches was used, unironically, to point out absurdity in news pieces.

I quickly glommed onto what I was seeing--every article was geared towards the sort of dewey-eyed, know-it-all millennial who wants their own opinions validated and whose experience in the world doesn't reach out all that much farther than an office suite on a coastal city. Cultural references were tied to a few dozen trendy things. The problems that are highlighted are ridiculously arcane, or the point stretched to the limits of comprehensibility. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of this; it's just a far cry from what Slate used to be.

Case in point is--under risk of giving them more page views--this horrifying article. (Terrifyingly, it's on the front page as of this writing.) It's not really an article, it's just someone's op-ed** about how it's "cowardly" to ask "what happened?" for this election. I mean, it's not much more than that--it's literally an almost linguistic assault and analysis of those exact words. It smacks of 1) intellectual masturbation; 2) a weird challenge of something esoteric, and 3) the sort of puffery that college kids churn out when they need to reach an 800 word count. If this is to be the herald of the new intellectual liberalism, well, so help us all.

*Remember when we used to call these webzines? Or even e-zines? Also, remember the infobahn? Ha!
**This is a rather generous use of the term "op-ed". 

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