Comments: Week of July 4, 2022


“Teenage Justice,” June 20–July 3

Photo: New York Magazine

For New York’s latest cover
story, Elizabeth Weil investigated how one 17-year-old showing a nude photograph of his girlfriend at a party led to his social ostracism and a school in turmoil. “The internet immediately lit up,” Shannon Palus wrote for Slate, describing the response from readers. Many took issue with the magazine’s use of the word canceled, the term the subjects themselves used but that, to some readers, added an unnecessary political valence. In The New Statesman, Sophie McBain wrote, “The funny thing about cancel culture is that people either see it everywhere or believe it doesn’t exist at all, which means now New York Magazine readers are debating whether Diego was ‘cancelled’ or simply ‘facing the consequences’ when really they should be talking about how schools and our culture at large have failed young people.” Podcaster Michael Hobbes tweeted, “This is worth reading as a human story, but framing it around ‘cancel culture’ rather than institutional failure, social media and the entirely predictable behavior of teenagers seems way off.”

Jordan Weissmann countered, “I assume some people are going to be turned off by the title of this piece, but it’s a good, complicated story. The way it gets into how social ostracism intersects with race is especially worth dwelling on.” Journalist Nancy Rommelmann added that she was “grateful for the care Elizabeth Weil took here. It’s the story of our time, and, yes, teenagers make mistakes and sometimes over-delight in the taste of power. But how to understand adults who agree with and even relish the destruction of children?”

Slate’s Palus called the article “dazzlingly written,” “impressively reported,” but also disappointing in that it “centered Diego’s experience in all of this, and how hard it has been on him.” On her Substack, the author Jessica Valenti elaborated on that critique, calling the feature “a perfect example of how sexism and mainstream media collide and collude to convince Americans that abusive men are the real victims … Let’s be real for a second. What do you think happens more often: An abusive boy is shunned by his peers, or an abused girl is blamed and shamed? We all know the answer—so why does the anomaly get a New York Magazine cover while the literal epidemic of girls who are unsafe at school goes ignored?” For the Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi argued that the article “wasn’t published in a vacuum. When the mainstream media publish stories that imply #MeToo is out of control, it helps to accelerate an existing backlash against feminism. It helps to push a false narrative that young men are being victimized by the mores of modern America. It … isn’t just an article: it’s ammunition.”

Others observed that the dynamics the story reflected aren’t new but rather endemic to the high-school experience. Writer Kat Rosenfield tweeted, “Pretty amazing how much this kid’s experience exactly parallels what life was like for me as a kid with near-zero social capital in a small town high school circa 1998, including the goddamn spitting. Further evidence that despite what we’d like to think, bullying did not cease to exist; social capital has just coalesced in a new location, so that people who came of age pre-Y2K cannot conceive of today’s bullies as bullies.” And podcaster Michael Caley said, “It strikes me that with the demise of the monoculture that one of the most immediately available ways for kids to be awful to each other has been taken away, and they’ll cast around for new ways, and yeah one of those ways will be social justice stuff.”

Writing for Gawker, Tarpley Hitt criticized the article for not exploring more deeply the Trump administration’s gutting of Title IX, which might have provided more context about why the students organized the protests. She also discovered that one of the writer’s children had previously attended the school, and she asserted that there was an undisclosed conflict of interest, an accusation the magazine strongly disagrees with. (Weil did not know the principal figures or their families prior to beginning reporting; she did not have a child at the school during the events described nor any ongoing relationship with the school.)

In an episode of The Waves podcast devoted to the story and the public conversation around it, Heather Schwedel argued, “It would have been a different story to focus on Fiona or highlight the activism that these women are doing … and a less interesting one, I think … It just is a more interesting story that Diego did something wrong and we’re still kind of talking about whether there’s a path for redemption or trying not to write him off … The moral gray area is a lot of what’s compelling here.”

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Comments: Week of July 4, 2022