Joyless Comic Strip's NYT Parody Falls Flat
There seems to be a wide and growing divide between people who appreciate healthy portions of meaty journalism and those who prefer a media diet of bite-sized snark snacks full of empty calories. In this context, "old media" outlets like the New York Times can never win, no matter what they do. Even the NYT's remarkably well-reported Sunday story about how Apple avoids paying taxes has become the subject of misdirected ridicule from the new-media-nerd set.
A comic called The Joy of Tech has been around for years. Since it's not even remotely funny, my guess is that it has succeeded to the degree that it has only because it's a comic that's focused on technology and, well, we need one of those. I would further assume that since there's a vast audience of people who don't seem to care if the tech journalists covering their business are any good, there is also a vast audience of people who don't care if a comic is funny. (I realize that humor is subjective, but I don't think it could be argued that The Joy of Tech is in any way edgy or brave, or that it goes very deep. Lots of people find Andy Borowitz funny, too, but like The Joy of Tech, he serves up milquetoast disguised as biting satire.)
The writer of The Joy of Tech identifies himself as "Snaggy." His name is Bruce Evans, and he also runs a site called Geek Culture. The artist (or, clip-art placer) calls herself Nitrozac. Her name is Liza Schmalcel.
This week, The Joy of Tech characterized the NYT's recent investigations of Apple as having been written only because Apple was the subject. "Snaggy" told media blogger Jim Romenesko that it's an example of the NYT "jumping on bandwagons" to "pump stories." In the strip, a reporter pitches his editor on a story about "evil corporations" who practice "widespread worker abuse, bullying of governments, and environmental pollution," along with avoiding taxes. The editor finds this "boring" until the reporter says the story is about Apple, at which point the editor yells "Stop the presses!"
What a load of bullshit. The references are to the NYT's series, "The iEconomy," headed by reporter Charles Duhigg. So far, the series comprises several extraordinary investigative examinations of Apple. It's excellent, important work. The premises underlying the comic -- which has drawn lots of praise on Twitter and elsewhere -- are utterly, cluelessly false. The series doesn't paint Apple as "evil" -- it simply lays out facts, some of them troubling. Apple is the dominant corporate force in America's dominant industry. We get lots of great products from Apple -- the NYT series points out that there are social costs, and clearly notes along the way that plenty of other companies behave just as Apple does. Apple is the main subject because of its overwhelming presence in the economy.
There are costs to everything good, and we should know what those costs are. Right? Not to "Snaggy," who believes that the NYT's careful examination of what it costs for us to have cool phones and computers is an example of the newspaper jumping on a "bandwagon" to "pump stories."
And the idea that the NYT doesn't regularly examine other industries and companies is, if anything, even more ludicrous. It does so all the time, on a continuing basis. Did "Snaggy at GeekCulture.com" hear anything about the NYT's investigation of Wal-Mart, the results of which were published just last week, exposing the company's cover-up of widespread bribery by its executives of government officials in Mexico? Did "Snaggy at Geekculture.com" actually read the Apple stories? Judging by the comic, it would appear not.
And while we're at it, what does Boner at Nerdland.net think? Or Skeeter at PallidVirgin.org?
I know, I know -- it's just a comic. But it's a popular one among techies. And I'm criticizing it as a comic, just as I would criticize any parody. If Stewart or Colbert based their bits on premises that were completely false, they wouldn't have shows. The underlying truths of their comedy are unassailable: Dick Cheney really is an evil character, so making him out to be a cartoon villain works as comedy. Fox News really is a Pravda-level propaganda shop, so calling them that is ... not even parody; it's just true.
I'm all for making fun of the New York Times. Just pick up the Styles section, and you'll find plenty of fodder. And columnists like David Brooks and Thomas Friedman sometimes seem to be trying to inspire vicious parodies. The Mustache of Understanding, a spot-on spoof of Friedman, is one of the best comic strips ever written. The reason it works is that it, like all good parody, is based on an underlying truth.