It's a little known fact that there are genres in newspaper and online feature writing, just as there are in fiction.
As in fiction, you've got some stuff at the respectable end, like the Well Researched Political Exposé, the Respectful Obituary, and the Post-Electoral Think-Piece.
But there's only so many stories like that to go around, and there's a lot of pages to fill and/or web eyeballs to draw in. So there's a lot of fluff. The Listicle ("10 things you don't know about Gwenyth Paltrow's colon!"). The Partisan Bait
("Michael Moore/Glenn Beck just said something stupid!") and the Dietary Scare Tactic ("Drinking orange juice causes spongy liver syndrome - maybe!").
My favourite new genre is one I like to call Adam Smith Hates Joy.
These are stories that are usually tucked into the business section, often of ostensibly left-leaning or centrist publications, that claim anything fun, enjoyable, or family-centric is destroying the economy.
A Reuters story this week, under the heading "Meals at home mask deep economic problems in Italy," claims that an increase in the number of Italians going home for lunch is a sign of the country's imminent economic collapse.
Which sort of makes sense, in an overly reductive, Freakonomics sort of way.
The writer's thesis: about 75 per cent of Italians now go home for lunch. This is because more and more of them are unemployed, which is bad.
So far, so truthy. The writer then goes on to talk about how even many employed Italians eat at home because A) fewer Italian women are in the work force compared to other European countries, therefore they are available to cook hot lunches for the husbands or grown children, and B) more than 40 per cent of Italians who do have jobs work for small firms with fewer than 15 employees, "a sector long seen as too small to be properly competitive," we're warned. Cue the scare chords. I don't want to overlook Italy's real economic problems, but this analysis has issues. First, it seems to think that getting more women into the workforce is a purely economic issue, only distantly related to sexism. Secondly, it suggests that the best thing Italy could do for its economy would be to crush the many family-owned businesses that dot its small towns, replacing them with corporate entities that would trade local knowledge,
tradition, and the ability to go home at lunch, for efficiency, i.e. the ability to rapidly hire and fire a dehumanized workforce.
You can find these stories all over the web and in practically every business paper from The Economist to the National Post to Slate.
Minimum wage-earning fast-food workers striking for benefits and more cash? Pointless, argues a business writer who earns considerably more than $7.15 an hour. Bad for the overall economy.
An unsafe sweatshop in Bangladesh collapses and crushes or burns 1,129 people to death? Price of doing business. Those Bangladeshis will have to accept sub-standard working conditions so Joe Fresh and Benetton won't have to increase the cost of their shirts by a nickel and damage shareholder value.
You're on call for your job via cellphone and email 24/7, increasingly stressed and unable to ever really get off the clock? What are you whining about? We're competing against everyone in the world right now.
Of course, this is a race that does not end. There is no finish line, and that's by design. You'll work until you hit the extended age of retirement, and then just a little bit more, for a little bit less, in the name of the bottom line.
And don't even think about going home for lunch.
@ Copyright 2013