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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Do they mean us?

The hero of Jay McInerney's first novel Bright Lights Big City was a fact checker at one of America's most prestigious magazines, a thinly disguised version of The New Yorker. The job of these salaried pedants is to take the manuscript that says "it was a sunny day" and then check with the meterologists that on the day in question in the place in question the weather could fairly be described as such. But sometimes the search for what New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik calls "passionate specificness" leads them astray. There was a case last year where they said Alan Bennett came from Bradford when in fact he comes from Leeds. Trifling, I know, but they wouldn't make the same mistake if they were dealing with American cities.
Now in the course of a terrific piece about Kate Nash in the current issue, Sasha Frere-Jones describes her home suburb of Harrow as "posh". I like the fact that American publications try to colour in the social background in a way that British titles don't but they can so easily be led astray. Just because it is home to a fearfully posh public school of the same name (which is actually in Harrow On The Hill) doesn't mean Harrow's anything more than a part of the suburban sprawl on North-West London and will be home to a wide variety of socio-economic groups.

9 comments:

  1. Presumably, they also described Kate's dad as travelling to work every day on a red bus, wearing a bowler hat and carrying a brolly, as he made his way through a right pea-souper, guv'nor. I can't abide this American laziness about Britain; this started when I really did have one of those conversations with a US resident on holiday in the Caribbean who really did say he had an aunt in Leicester, and did I know her?

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  2. To which the answer should always be, "Yes. She owes me 50 quid."

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  3. DH: What you didn't mention about the article is that it heralds the start of the backlash against Adele."the unbearable neo-soul singer Adele" Are acts going to be old hat before they even pick up a mic soon.

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  4. They probably confused Alan Bennett with David Hockney. Lots of people do.

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  5. They don't understand our honours system, either. This piece
    http://www.usaweekend.com/07_issues/
    071209/071209celebs-helen-mirren.html
    refers to Helen Mirren as 'Dame Mirren'. Oh, please, just TRY to get it right...

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  6. And why hasn't my subscription copy of this New Yorker arrived yet?

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  7. My subscription copy of the New Yorker has arrived. My last two subscription copies of The Word have not.

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  8. I'm sorry to hear that. Email jerry@developmenthell.co.uk and he will look into that for you.

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  9. Let's not be too judgmental. It happens all the time going both ways.

    Last month's Uncut contained a spectacularly wrong-headed piece of anti-American social commentary disguised as a travelogue following Springsteen around.

    In fact, even our beloved Word claimed on its website that an Over The Rhine song on the free CD was a "quiet homage to the arty quarter of Minneapolis" - when in fact their name is the name of a run-down neighborhood in Cincinnati. Trifling, I know but a mistake you wouldn't have made if you were dealing with English cities.

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