Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Perils of Overreliance on the Times

I'm just wondering. Is it possible to enjoy New York as fully as it should be enjoyed without reading the New York Times regularly? How could one ever know what is going on, especially with respect to cultural events, in this amazing, crazy, mixed-up city without having the Times as a guide? On the other hand, you probably can become too reliant on the Times and begin to view the city only through the lens the Times so generously provides, thus abdicating your responsibility to develop your own individual, unique perspective on the city's many wonders.

I am mildly convinced that both of these concerns have merit. I just can't do New York without the Times. For one thing, there is so much theatre, art, film, music, and other similar stuff in the city that I just don't see how I can get by without using the Times, at the very least, as a winnower of what's possible. But of course for me it goes much deeper than this. I do use the Times to decide what play to see, what art exhibit to take in, what movies to consider and which ones to reject out of hand.

Which brings me to the second point. Am I merely a mindless follower of the Times's suggestions and recommendations? Do I not have a mind of my own in deciding what to see and savor? The answer is almost certainly that I am pretty much as slavishly attached to the Times's opinion makers as it appears. What the Times affirms, I affirm. When the Times says I should go and see something, I dutifully obey. 

Now, of course, there are hundreds of events I never witness because of lack of money and time. But I am sure if I could, I would follow through on virtually every one of the Times's recommendations. Is this a good thing? Well, on the one hand, I have come to trust many of the paper's critics and commentators for their good taste and am probably better off accepting their suggestions than just deciding on what to see on my own. On the other hand, can I really let the Times do the work for me of deciding what is worthwhile and what is not? If I were really trying to be a savvy New Yorker who knows the city and enjoys it thoroughly, I should become much more independent. But there are two things, well, maybe three things stopping me. Time, of course, is one. Lack of competence to judge is another. And, well, I guess the third is this sense that I am not supposed to decide for myself, that I should be deferring to the world's leading experts, most of whom, one way or another, end up writing for the paper. 

Lack of time to keep up with what is going on in the city is probably the best reason to rely on the Times. But the other two don't seem terribly convincing, do they. Not because I have expertise to judge well what is worthy and what is not, but because I am the one judging for my own amusement and edification. I should know best, right, what is going to be the best use of my time, what is going to be an event or a show worthy of my consideration that I will enjoy and leave me more or less satisfied and eager for more.

On the one hand, I can't imagine not reading the Times as an important guide for what is going on in the city. On the other hand, I have relied too heavily on the Times for what is good and worthwhile. As I move on, I need to work at paying attention to what is going on in the City without constant reference to the daily newspaper. The web, of course, helps a lot with this, and I do learn about events all the time that go unreported in the paper, including things at the Library, the New York Historical Society, and at the 92nd Street Y. But I want to do better to stretch my wings, to stay abreast of stuff that is inexpensive or even free but also really interesting. This may require me to engage in more purposeful flaneuring, dropping in on different places, picking up tips about what is coming next, even engaging people in conversation about what's potentially hot. But, hey, as a dedicated New Yorker who wants to make the most of the city, this is the sort of challenge I should meet with a wry, inscrutable smile and a hearty, uninhibited laugh.

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