There aren’t that many things to champion right now because there are so many contrivances and constructions. There’s no reason to get behind a certain TV show — it’s a commercial product, and they’ll find a way to sell it, and if they don’t, they don’t. . . . There aren’t underdog movies because the underdogs always get good buzz at Sundance.
DO YOU FIND THIS INHIBITING? If you’re a cultural writer, things are on a moving line — this time of year we have to deal with this. I feel a sinking feeling when I see those special sections in the New York Times and it’s the summer movies roundup, where they tell us what we should anticipate. If you picked up that section a year later, most things we should have been excited about came and went and didn’t mean anything.
The Oscar thing is much more elevated than it was in the ’70s, and the ratings [for the TV broadcast] today are worse than ever. They were higher back when critics didn’t care. The studios start getting word out over what could be a possible Oscar-worthy performance, then all these critics that go to festivals on junkets play along and they start reporting the buzz. I think that’s one of the great ailments of our time: by the time something happens, we’re already bored with it.
WOULD IT BE POSSIBLE FOR YOU TO HAVE THE SAME CAREER IF YOU STARTED OUT TODAY? No, I don’t think it would be possible. The scaffolding is no longer there. People tend to forget, but Fran Lebowitz became Fran Lebowitz because of what she wrote in Interview magazine. And Interview magazine then was not as it is now: it was not considered a place for writing, it was for interviews. There were people writing for a paper that no longer exists called the Soho Weekly News [and] the original Details magazine. You could start out in one of these places and be noticed elsewhere.
If you show up in Salon or Slate, you have a better chance of getting picked up by the New Republic or the Times Magazine or the New Yorker. But to me, Slate or Salon or these other ones tend to be much more elitist than the Village Voice or the Soho Weekly News . . . . It’s not an accident to me that there’s this kind of Harvard escalator from the Crimson at Harvard up to Slate and Salon and then up to the New Yorker and the New York Times. There aren’t too many places for people who didn’t come out of a certain Ivy League environment. . . . It’s not impossible, but those ground-level magazines and newspapers are gone.
There was a sense that things were important. . . . certainly with Pauline Kael at the New Yorker, when movie criticism was almost a contact sport, when the New York Times Arts and Leisure section was routinely filled with battles between film critics over movies. That almost never happens now, because even if it’s a movie is controversial, there’s A.O. Scott to come in as the jovial voice of reason and smooth everything over. The antagonisms take place in the blogosphere rather than in the print world.