Frank Bruni, the restaurant critic-turned-op-ed columnist for the New York Times, traveled to Texas recently to attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival—and did he have a miserable time! The music seems to have been enjoyable enough, but Bruni’s own pleasure was seriously diminished by ubiquitous commercialism. During the concerts, Honda and Samsung Galaxy ads could be seen, as well as a Miller Lite banner hovering near the stage. “Someone shoved a free sample of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal at me on my way in,” he complained in his column last week. “Someone else handed out free beer cozies advertising Imperial, a brew on sale at the event.”
This was not just annoying to Bruni, but disheartening as well. Austin’s “subversive soul” is usually to Bruni’s taste, but “I was at the limits of my patience. I hadn’t expected all these corporate come-ons . . . to be assaulting me here of all places.” And from Austin, Bruni expanded his purview, finishing his essay with a list of grievances, including sports venues with corporate names (MetLife Stadium), movie stars who advertise commercial products (Matthew McConaughey), and “the way hucksterism invades everything, scooping up everyone.”
In one sense, The Scrapbook is sympathetic to Bruni—although, truth to tell, we find corporate stadium names more amusing than distressing, and lament the fact that most are sponsored by banks or insurance companies and not hemorrhoid medicines or insect repellents.
Of course, deploring the commercialization of American life is nothing new, so far as we can tell, the progressive equivalent of fundamentalist complaints about secular Christmas. But our sympathy for Bruni was, frankly, complicated by the actual experience of reading his column. Not the column itself but, just as in Austin, its immediate surroundings. For in order to get to Bruni’s column in this particular edition of the Times (October 22), The Scrapbook was obliged to wade through pages, and untold inches, of brazen commercial advertising—all with a distinctively affluent, not to say ostentatious, tone.
There were corporate come-ons for One Percenter playthings such as private banks (BNP Paribas) and elegant ads for high-end shoes (MaxMara), jewelry (Paul Morelli, Marina B), perfume (Chanel), diamond watches (Breitling, Ebel, Patek Philippe—sold at Tiffany, no less), “grape-specific” wine glasses (Riedel), luxury tourism (Caravan), women’s fashion (Dior), men’s cashmere overcoats (Frank Stella), and private aircraft (NetJets, “feel as safe at 41,000 feet as you do on your own two”).
Indeed, The Scrapbook was not just demoralized by all this, but insulted, too. When we read the New York Times we expect to be informed, not solicited, and enlightened, not assaulted by rampant commercialism. Journalism, as the Times frequently reminds us, is a sacred calling, a private expression of a public trust, not a forum for “hucksterism [invading] everything, scooping up everyone.”
At least we weren’t menaced by beer cozies and free samples of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.