Titans of media navel-gazing

In this week's "Talk of the Town," a venerable column in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik raises an eyebrow at a photograph of three women in bikinis that ran on the front page of The New York Times. Mr. Gopnik notes that the photo appeared during the same week we shook our heads at the shocking news that David Manning, the hyperventilating movie critic of the Ridgefield Press, doesn't exactly exist. David Manning's praise, quoted in ads for "The Animal," had in fact been penned by the advertising department of Sony Pictures.

"The coincidence of the bikini women and the movie critic exposed an odd and oddly encouraging thing," Mr. Gopnik writes. "Though we may seem to skim the surface of television and the newspapers searching for mere sensation, we are, in fact, engaged in a constant inquiry about the mental states of the people we find there. What really mattered wasn't the quotes or the midriffs, but our belief in the presence of thinking agents behind them."

With just that encouraging faith, I called The New Yorker to ask about one of their new advertisers in this same issue.

The Titan Club is, according to its notice in the back of the magazine, "the first exclusive dating club for men of your stature" - presumably, the stature of men who pay women to go on dates with them. "The Titan Club women are intelligent, diverse, sexy and beautiful," the ad continues, "with a 95% success rate." Surely, David Manning would have raised that number higher, but with his stature considerably reduced lately, we'll have to take this modest estimate at face value.

I called The New Yorker to ask about their decision to begin carrying ads of this sort. I was looking for, as Gopnik might say, "the presence of thinking agents behind them."

The first woman in the advertising dept. who took my call transferred me to someone else. This second woman, when she heard the subject of my inquiry, transferred me again. Finally, Carrie, who declined to give her last name, admitted that they had "gone back and forth several times" over the decision to do business with The Titan Club.

"Is this the first time you've carried ads for sexually related services?" I asked.

"Well, we wouldn't see it like that," she said.

"So these women aren't, so far as you know, actually prostitutes?" I asked.

"Not so far as we know."

Where is David Manning's enthusiasm when you need it?

I called The Titan Club to pursue this question, but a recorded voice said that I should call back after noon when their intelligent and diverse women finally made it into work.

Plenty of reviewers are willing to gush in return for studio freebies, but moviegoers shouldn't equate critics with the world's oldest profession. Sony's advertising technique threatens that distinction by corrupting the value of legitimate criticism, replacing real enthusiasm with phony hype.

Similarly, journals of good taste and sophisticated judgment, like The New Yorker, should consider whether they dilute their own standards and the value of real companionship with advertisements for synthetic intimacy.

Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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