New York Times: A newspaper for the one-percenters | Bleader

Thursday, June 7, 2012

New York Times: A newspaper for the one-percenters

Posted By on 06.07.12 at 07:35 AM

The poverty line for a family of four is $23,050. Some Hublot Big Bang watches cost more than that.
  • James Bond UK
  • The poverty line for a family of four is $23,050. Some Hublot Big Bang watches cost more than that.
Dwyane Wade knows what time it is. "I probably own 15 watches at any time," he told the New York Times Magazine in a feature last Sunday. ("At any time"—ha.)

That's roughly 15 watches more than I own. I check my cell for the time—a big mistake, according to Wade, the Miami Heat star. "The watch completes any outfit," he said. "My favorite is the Hublot Big Bang King Power watch, which I helped design. I have a relationship with that brand."

And not an emotional relationship. Wade is an "ambassador" for Hublot, which likely means he gets a cut from the Dwyane Wade Edition of the Big Bang King Power. The watch sells for $25,500 at Hublot's new boutique on Madison Avenue in New York, but if you're concerned about status, shop around and you can get it for more.

As I read about Wade's choice in watches, I was thinking, What a nice ad for Hublot and for Wade! This wasn't a formal ad, however; Wade was the subject of Domains, an occasional feature in the magazine aimed at readers who long to know where the other one-hundredth live.

In March, Domains featured Ryan Sheckler, the pro skateboarder and former star of the reality TV show Life of Ryan. Sheckler's Best Recent Acquisition was a couch ("You can probably sit like 25 people on this thing"), his Best Recent Gift was the Harley-Davidson motorcycle his dad bought him, and his Favorite Tech Accessory was the 103-inch screen in his home movie theater, which, he revealed, was "pretty sweet."

In April, Domains slipped us into the domain of Jeffrey Deitch, head of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. The Spanish revival mansion, once the home of Cary Grant, is as large as a small hotel, Deitch said: "We can have 100 people over comfortably." His Surprising Household Object was a piano that, when you push down a key, "plays a videotape with audio of someone playing that note in 88 locations around the world, one for each key." He disclosed that his glasses are made "in a workshop in Germany from buffalo horn."

Sunday's Domains gave Wade not one but two chances to plug goods he profits from. "In my closet you'll find [Michael] Jordan shoes, Jordan clothes, everything," he said. "I have a partnership with his clothing company."

I was reminded of Wade's King Power watch Tuesday, when I noticed an ad on the front page of the NYT for another Hublot King Power watch, this one named for Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter. If the Dwyane Wade Edition Hublot is a little pricey for you, consider the Bolt; at a mere $24,000, you can't afford not to have it.

The front-page Hublot ad two days after the free Hublot plug in Domains doesn't mean the principled Times is selling its editorial content. It's just the kind of happy coincidence a newspaper can expect when it takes on the important task of reporting on the lives and material obsessions of the wealthy.

Week after week, the NYT fills three pages or more of its Sunday Styles section with gripping briefs from the VIP wedding blotter. ("The bride, 27, is taking her husband’s name. She is an intern in general surgery at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J., and is to become a plastic surgery resident at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s University Hospital, which is in Newark . . . The bride’s mother retired as the business manager from Associated Urology of Bergen-Passaic, a group medical practice in Maywood, N.J. The bride’s father is the senior partner of the practice, which is now known as the New Jersey Center for Prostate Cancer and Urology . . .")

The vast majority of the partners in these couplings are white, but the Times does occasionally include mixed marriages (one cum laude, one not). Like the Domains column, the wedding announcements aren't formal ads. They're not newsworthy, either, but that's not their purpose, which is tonying up the readership. On the flip side of the last page of this week's wedding briefs is a full-page ad for yet another watch—a diamond-studded beauty from Chanel.

While the rich pursue swanky watches, we do have a handful of people living in poverty in this country—42 million. That's the most in the 52 years the Census Bureau has published poverty estimates. The poverty rate, 15.1 percent, is the highest since 1993. Among children, the poverty rate has climbed from 16 percent in 2000 to 22 percent in 2010. As I noted in April, the poverty rate among African-American children is an astonishing 38 percent. The poor get occasional attention in the Times, but not the steady weekly attention the rich get in the Sunday Magazine and in Sunday Styles and Sunday Business and Travel. What kind of ads could the Times sell for a Sunday Poverty section?

I've been reading Peter Edelman's So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America, which was published just last week. Few Americans know more about poverty policy than Edelman. A Georgetown Law professor, he's been working to combat poverty since the 1960s, when he was a top adviser to Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and he's married to another veteran poverty warrior—Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund.

Edelman makes clear in his book that some of our country's poverty programs have been great successes—it's not true that "nothing works"—but the overall picture he paints is bleak. "We are headed in the wrong direction," he writes. "The hole we are in is getting deeper and deeper . . . In a way we have not seen since the Great Depression, the rich and the powerful are adding every day to the bricks that make up the wall of their separation from everyone else."

It was on a break from Edelman's book that I turned to the NYT Magazine on Sunday. I was drawn by the cover story: "Innovations: An abridged guide to tomorrow's leap forward."

If ever there was a need for innovation, I thought, it was in our country's approach to poverty. A problem so complex and persistent could surely benefit from original thinking. Maybe some of the 32 innovations the magazine was offering as evidence that we should "Rejoice" because "A New Day Is Here" would give hope that a new day was arriving for the millions struggling daily to eat and pay their rent.

Alas, in the Times story, innovations was a ten-dollar word for gadgets. Most of the 32 innovations were contrivances that promise to further comfort the comfortable. Airplanes made of stronger carbon fiber will allow for a more pleasant humidity in cabins—no more of the "brutal environment" that parches and exhausts us when we fly. A shampooing machine will give us a heavenly 15-minute hair wash, and we won't have to get our hands wet. Film projectors that flash 48 or even 60 frames per second instead of just 24 will make movies seem "almost holographic." Coffee will be shipped more often in vacuum-sealed packs instead of burlap bags, which will lead to a higher quality of joe than the "dark, ashy roasts" we suffer with today.

The coffee innovation paired well with the full-page ad in the magazine for innovative Jura coffeemakers. The ad showed Swiss tennis star Roger Federer ogling one of the Swiss-made machines. "And give it your best shot, every time. Brilliant!" the quote next to him said. The ad copy went on: "A touch of the button, and the freshly ground concoction of your choice is served: as an aromatic ristretto, full-bodied latte macchiato or creamy cappuccino with incomparably frothy milk foam, thanks to our innovative foam technology." The coffee "centers" range from $999 to $3,199. As for the poor? Let them drink foam.

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