Friday, October 20, 2006

New York Mag Approval Matrix

The writers for New York magazine's "The Approval Matrix" do their best to position their column as a wink-and-a-nudge take on the what people and events they consider to be "lowbrow" versus "highbrow" and "despicable" versus "brilliant." Clever captions and Spy magazine-esque graphics are clearly designed to ward off any attempts at serious critques of the content, and then there's the column's tagline, which admits outright, "Our deliberately oversimplified guide to who falls where on our taste hierarchies."

If you're not familiar with it, here's an image of this week's column:

^^You can click on the image to enlarge it, but the copy in the box on the left side of the Matrix reads "Despicable" and the one opposite reads "Brilliant." Up top, the box says "Highbrow" and down on the bottom it reads "Lowbrow." In this image, you can see that Jay is positioned in the lowbrow/despicable quadrant.

I read the column, but in terms of its quality in comparison to other sections in the magazine, I find it to be a lowmark. But at least it does get me thinking about how self-assured the authors are when it comes to matters of taste. I mean jeez, talk about a sense of entitlement!

The other thing I've noticed about the column is that it's strangely segregated. That is, if the item is about a black or Latino person, s/he is almost always positioned as lowbrow. I say strange because New York magazine is far from a disaster when it comes to issues to race so you'd think someone their would have noticed this little tick by now.

In the name of striking down accusation of paranoia, I read back through the mid-August archives to test what was initially just a gut feeling and documented my findings. If nothing stood out as particularly segregated, i.e. no people of color were menioned in the Matrix at all (notable in and of itself given the city the mag is based in), I didn't link to it.

Oct. 23:

Jay-Z gets placed in the dispicable/lowbrow quadrant for his release of "Show Me What you Got." Diddy is beneath him for announcing that Burger King has crowned him the king of music and fashion. On the other hand, Corcoran real estate agents who are caught steering buyers away from black neighborhoods gets placed in the despicable/highbrow category. Well okay then, CEOs and music moguls Jay-Z and Sean Combs are lowbrow, but a real estate company that is owned by racist white people is high brow? Well that's interesting!

Oct. 9

Toni Morrison is both highbrow and brilliant. Well, she did win the damn Pulitzer prize!

Oct. 2

The Mets clinching their division gets stuck in the lowbrow/brilliant quadrant. Naturally the two players used to illustrate this event are brown-hued.

Sept. 25

Grillz on the models at the Baby Phat show are lowbrown/despicable, and yet Maxim magazine regular Carmen Electra sporting a bizarre-ass head of hair at the Imitation of Christ show get a higher ranking of highbrow/despicable. On the bottom-right, Sean Combs is lowbrow/brilliant for surrendering the name "Diddy" to someone who had it first in England. He ranks below a designer who put Birkenstocks on the runway, which is seen as highbrow/brilliant.

Sept. 18

This one completely confirms/refutes my theory. On the one hand, we have Jennifer Lopez condemened to the bottom of the lowbrow/despicable quadrant because of the all-silver outfit (how dare she!!!) she wore to the VMAs (coming in way below a sculpture of Suri Cruise's first shit in the highbrow/despicable quadrant) versus a high-right placement of the death of Willi Ninja, a cross-dressing black man. Make of it what you will.

Sept. 5

I have no idea why he was placed in the lowbrow/despicable section because all the copy says is "Diddy," but there he sits. He's outflanked by the musical inspired by John Lennon, which ranks highbrow/despicable cuz John is great and all, but the show about him sucked.

Aug. 28th
Now this one is interesting cause it's throws water on the idea that the reason Jay and Diddy keep getting downgraded is cause their musicians: The Roots concert is lowbrow/brilliant, but what sits right above it in highbrow/brilliant? Try a Sonic Youth and Yeah Yeah Yeahs concert on for size. For good measure, the captain of the New York Yankees gets a lowbrow/despicable rating for the launch of his fragrence. And then "sending Samuel L. Jackson Snakes on a Plane voicemails to all your enemies" (huh?) gets tossed in to Jete's right in lowbrow/brilliant.

Aug. 14

No people of color at all are mentioned in this week's Matrix, but I admit to feeling very confused by the ranking of Mel Gibson's "anti-semetic lunatic meltdown" as highbrow/despicable. What is it about bigotry committed by white folks that New York finds so upper crust? It can't just be because he's a millionaire cuz Diddy and Jay-Z aren't exactly living paycheck-to-paycheck.

And that's about where I stopped. I suppose you could go back through the entire archive for this column and find all sorts of examples that even out everything I've listed above, but I kinda doubt it.

In fact, I checked in on "The (Year-End) Approval Matrix" for 2005 and whadya know, The Black-Eyed Peas status as "craven, hit-hungry sellouts" makes them lowbrow/despicable, as is Dave Chappelle for going AWOL on his show. Smack dab in the middle of the Matrix is actor Terrance Howard and to his right in the lowbrow/brilliant square is R.Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" video saga. (And if you have ANY insight at all on how Kelly is brilliant but the Black-Eyed Peas are despicable, please don't hesitate to contact me!)

Some of you may read this and think I'm picking nits--especially given the light nature of the column, but if you figure that the the mindset of the writers for this column is fairly reflective of folks who write more "serious" stories then you catch a glimpse of how mainstream media is full of minetraps for people of color.

No comments: