Wednesday, July 07, 2010

GRADUATING CLASS WAR. I think I have discovered (via Josh Treviño) a new watershed in the internet's slow strangulation of journalism:
The daily routine seldom varied. Mr. Nicholson, 24, a graduate of Colgate University, winner of a dean’s award for academic excellence, spent his mornings searching corporate Web sites for suitable job openings. When he found one, he mailed off a résumé and cover letter — four or five a week, week after week.

Over the last five months, only one job materialized. After several interviews, the Hanover Insurance Group in nearby Worcester offered to hire him as an associate claims adjuster, at $40,000 a year. But even before the formal offer, Mr. Nicholson had decided not to take the job.
Having been in the business I can spot the signs, and the story of apparent layabout Scott Nicholson in the New York Times seems like obvious link-bait. Though it appears sympathetic to Nicholson, the coddling by his upscale parents is right out of old Al Capp parodies of befuddled permissiveness.

When we are told Nicholson "gradually realized that his career will not roll out in the Greater Boston area — or anywhere in America — with the easy inevitability that his father and grandfather recall," those of us who have long toiled at unexalted jobs may be forgiven the impulse to punch him in the nose; ditto when those of us who are not of his generation, and already imagine it to be weak and gutless, learn that such as Nicholson "were raised by baby boomers who lavished a lot of attention on their children."

I was surprised, though, when I came to reconsider the story, how my prejudices, thus inflamed, had caused me to overlook some pieces of information. Young Scott's of a particular class; his Grandpaw was a stockbroker, and the family seems in no way hurting for money. When I was told, “'Going it alone,' 'earning enough to be self-supporting' — these are awkward concepts for Scott Nicholson and his friends," I forgot immediately that both Nicholson and his friends were sufficiently privileged that this variation from the family tradition of smooth career transitions is mostly an emotional problem, rather than the dire economic one it is for millions of less-well-fixed kids and post-kids. (Three of them are entering law school as a fallback. Yeah, why didn't I do that instead of waiting tables?)

That is, I was roused to contempt for Nicholson's whole generation based on the example of some rich kid.

Were I a more paranoid sort, I might think that by using Nicholson as an avatar of disenfranchised youth, the Times was trying to minimize the situation of all jobless young people by making me think of them as slackers. But having been inside the sausage factories I know better. The story is more likely to have had its genesis in a specific access opportunity than in a memo from the Committee for Manufacturing Consent. But a clever editor who heard of it may have foreseen how it would come out, and looked forward to a wave of outraged and dismissive linkage from across the internet. So far I've only seen this, from an apparatchik who can read but still wants to believe ("On the other hand, this story shows that even the privileged, spoiled, affluent youth are hurt by the ObamaEconomy"). But give it time.

UPDATE. Some commenters think, no, this is just the Times typically looking at the nation's problems through the lens of the upper class -- as Linda puts it, "stories about the recession where people struggle along without their nanny, and find that the recession reconnected them with their soul, instead of making them live in a refrigerator box."

That's an understandable analysis but, being profoundly conservative in my outlook, I still tend toward a market solution, and believe that not even Times editors would fail to anticipate the reaction such a story might provoke among normal people. Back at the Voice I used to notice Times howlers about yuppie communes, how successful career women couldn't find husbands, etc. Those I put down to patrician cluelessness. But the Nicholson saga really seems to be asking for it. It's like their version of those hipster stories on which the internet has been fattening for a couple of years.

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