Snooki vs. David Brooks

How the New York Times op-ed columnist fails to understand America.

A smirking purveyor of the obvious, David Brooks is everywhere. There he is on The New York Times' op-ed page twice a week, on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and on NPR. He's probably saying that both sides have to compromise, and that the truth lies somewhere in between. The answer to any question is always easy for David Brooks. Everyone should simply be moderate and levelheaded like David Brooks. Or like the two fictional subjects of his new book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (Random House, $27). Is it the glasses? Somehow this guy is able to sell the most banal generalizations as insight. Here he is in the Times recently on Egypt: "If led wisely, it has a reasonable shot at joining the normal, democratic world." Yes, nothing succeeds like a cliché to drive home a no-brainer. And here he is (again in the Times), going with the winning team back in 2004: "There's something about our venture into Iraq that is inspiringly, painfully, embarrassingly and quintessentially American." Safe in his little bubble of droll observation, blown this way and that by the prevailing winds, Brooks hovers 100 miles above charred body parts and weeping orphans. What makes this vile neocon horseshit palatable to liberals is that, unlike the belchings of Limbaugh and company, it's couched in New York Times–ese—it sounds thoughtful, even though it's gibberish. Which brings us to The Social Animal (a better title: No Duh), in which Brooks has decided he'd rather be Malcolm Gladwell. The Gladwell formula is to take a commonplace observation, armor it with scientific citations, and froth it up into a grand theory of human behavior. In producing his own Gladwellian opus, Brooks has neglected to provide an actual theory. In its place is a rambling mess of random observations on success and the unconscious, barely held together by characters Harold and Erica. This elite pair of cardboard cutouts is deployed in scenarios of love and work that illustrate Brooks' position that yuppies are pretty darn neat. Thus: "[Erica] loved the company and made it new in ways that were deeply consistent with the old." And "Harold felt fulfilled during his think-tank years." How wonderful for them. Now excuse me while I read something with actual relevance to The Way We Live Now: A Shore Thing (Gallery, $24), the novel by Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi. Unlike Brooks, Snooki is an actual human being, not a priggish automaton and moral scold. We care about her not because we're stupid, but because we're drawn to her instinctively. She's winningly vulnerable and perpetually in-the-moment, an unstoppable orange sensualist, an unabashed enthusiast of liquor and cock. Now, having read—well, skimmed—A Shore Thing, I can't recommend it any more than I can The Social Animal. (Though in contrast to the sodden pile of disconnected factoids that is The Social Animal, it does at least come to a coherent conclusion: Tears are shed, friendship renewed, love found.) She didn't actually write it, anyway (you can easily Google her proud ghostwriter, Valerie Frankel). Unlike Brooks, Snooki has better things to do than write ridiculous books or engage in smug-offs with Robert Siegel on All Things Considered. Also unlike Brooks, she has a way with words, though one has to turn directly to Jersey Shore to hear them. From season two: "It's just a big ball of fuckness. That's a new word: 'fuckness.' " Fuckness is exactly what's missing from The Social Animal, which is creepily abstract on sex. Even when the otherwise perfect Erica has an affair, Brooks turns prissily away from the act itself: "The sex was nothing," he writes. "Literally nothing." But back to Snooki, now astride a novelty camel: "It hurts my vagina." The Situation: "OK, come down." Snooki: "No, no, I like it!" Brooks once wrote in the Times, "The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality is an epochal change." As if in direct response, Snooki is on record as saying, "If you have to think about it . . . IT IS." And even more to the point: "I'm not kissing you because you have throw-up breath." Brooks seeks in The Social Animal to deliver a figurative whack to the side of the head that will unlock human potential (or some goddamn thing), but Snooki lives in the real world. Her potential has already been unlocked by a real knock to the head—the famous punch thrown by a drunken gym teacher that, looped in slo-mo on YouTube and turned into an animated gif, elevated her above the rest of the Jersey Shore cast, tripled her appearance fees, and eventually scored her a book deal. Jersey Shore has been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes, but Snooki herself is profoundly nonchalant on the topic of race. Snooki: "I'm not white." JWoww: "What are you?" Snooki: "Tan." Contrast her casual transcendence with the 2007 Times column in which Brooks announced, with mock sadness, that "Maybe integration is not in the cards. Maybe the world will be as it's always been, a collection of insular compartments." As if in perfect rebuttal, the Chilean-born, Italian-American-raised Snooki once said, "You're a white rat, and you're fucking pale, and you're nasty."

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