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The Ex–Prince of Condé Nast

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Life as “the prince of Condé Nast,” as his in-house mockers dubbed him, eventually stopped being so much fun. “Magazines were the white-hot center of media,” says Truman. “And then along came the Internet and it made the idea of making something when people weren’t going to buy it look utterly ridiculous.”

The inefficiency of the enterprise was at one point what attracted him to it, especially at a place as gloriously irrational as Condé Nast. But today, “I look at all of those magazines that have a million-plus circulation and all I can see is misery. Or the anticipation of misery. The circulation is unsustainable, and the content that’s in it is unaffordable given that it doesn’t convert to other media—television or the Web.” He thinks that magazines will either become very expensive or free.

“There’s no mystery left in popular culture. It’s not just me becoming an old fogey.”

He’d had lunch with Newhouse the same day we had dinner and hadn’t brought up this misery. “Condé Nast still makes money out of this muddle,” Truman notes. “My last three or four years there, it became a much, much more conventional, business-driven enterprise. There were McKinsey consultants living with us. That would have been unthinkable ten years earlier.”

In MacBain, Truman’s found a less compromised Medici. “I must say I’ve always been attracted to people who, um, approach life without cynicism,” he says. “In some ways, Si was one of the least cynical people I know. And Louise is absolutely uncynical.”

Not inconveniently for his new enterprise, the art market is, at the moment, awash in money (though who knows for how much longer). “But that to me isn’t the point,” he says. “It’s the last sphere that resists—or at least talks about—its own commodification. Whenever you buy something, it’s a commodity, but in art, there’s still that promise of connecting to history and culture and unity and beauty, and these are very real sentiments. And I feel goofy even talking about them. And I like that, the goofiness of this.”

It seems that Truman, who started his career as a Sex Pistols fan, writing for Melody Maker, wants something to believe in again. “There’s no mystery left in popular culture,” he says. That “died around music in my thirties, but I think it died in the culture too. It’s not just me becoming an old fogey. There are no secrets left. There are so many outlets revealing them.” But isn’t much of that stuff just made up? “But that’s the death of the secret, too,” he says. “When everyone is in on the fact that what is being said is crap.”


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