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Comments: Week of November 17, 2008

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Leonard in his study, 1979.  

1. New York Magazine’s TV critic, John Leonard, died last week at the age of 69. Leonard edited The New York Times Book Review in the early seventies and wrote about culture for pretty much everyone during his career. His long association with New York dates back to a book review he wrote for the third issue of the magazine, and he served as TV critic from 1983 to the present. An unfailingly erudite, omnicultural critic, he wrote some of the most imaginative, delightfully weird sentences the magazine has ever published (the Vulture blog has a guide to wild and wonderful Leonardisms). His criticism was an art form unto itself. Emily Nussbaum, one of his editors here, describes his work this way: “As a TV critic, John’s signature move was a wild, ramshackle, electrical spill-off of references to everything on Earth, from Freud to Darwin to literary allusions to political idioms—a poetic and outrageous technique that imbued a Whitmanesque enormity to any art he was exploring. Proudly old-fashioned in his approach to the form, he was allergic to anything that hit him as a gimmick, from TiVos to cruel reality vaudevilles. Instead, he took seriously the service role of the TV critic, aiming always to warn and inspire readers, to point them toward what mattered. John’s leftwing politics were central to his life as a critic and as a person; it was a faith he kept even when the odds were against him. It couldn’t be more appropriate that he lived to see Barack Obama elected, the symbolic end to the Bush years that he wrote against with a mixture of rancor and idealism. ”

2. On nymag.com, we invited readers to submit their own reports of Election Night revelry (“Daily Intel: The Night They Were Dancing in the Streets,” November 5) and received a batch of spirited, upbeat accounts. Well, actually, not all of them were. The serial commenter known as Comfortablysmug tried to take everything down a notch with his bitter view of the hoopla outside his window: “Among those last night dancing on taxicabs, firing off fireworks, honking their horns obnoxiously … how many of them do you think were CEOs of firms, or accomplished lawyers, or doctors? None, because you only get to a respectable position in this society by being respectful.” Not surprisingly, Smug was in the minority. Here’s how others saw it: “With me in my kerchief and Pa in his cap, we skulked down the street to see what was the hap. As we neared the intersection Metropolitan and Lorimer, none was so telling as a disgruntled Italian dude saying, ‘Don’t bother, it’s just a bunch of drunk hipsters yelling.’ ” … “All was quiet on the Upper East Side front. But then again, all the residents were weeping over having to pay taxes again.” … “The most moving thing I saw: a black man rushing up on a bicycle and asking an older white bearded guy, ‘Did he get to 270?’ The white guy assured him, ‘Oh, yes, he’s at 275 now,’ at which the black guy collapsed in his arms in tears. I don’t even know if they knew one another.”

3. In last week’s “Live Cheap” feature (November 10), the Switch Your Supermarket chart may have caused some confusion for regular shoppers of the four stores listed. When specific items we catalogued were not available at all stores, we substituted the closest approximation of those items and adjusted the prices so that they matched the sizes of the original purchases. That method unfairly represented the prices at Whole Foods; a representative of the chain wrote, “The chart leads the reader to believe that these products are available at Whole Foods Market and that we are simply charging more than other retailers for the same product. But these products cannot be ‘compared’ to products sold at Whole Foods Market. These products don’t meet our higher-quality standards.”


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