Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Alessandra Stanley Sends Us Scrambling To The Dictionary

Cowardly N.Y. Times Editors Decline to Force Star TV Critic To Write In English

Alessandra Stanley is smarter than you and she wants you to know that.
The multi-lingual N.Y. Times TV critic is obviously slumming on the Arts pages. So, until Bill Keller can find a more suitable assignment to stimulate her out-sized brain, she's left to "The TV Watch" to spew out comments that are sometimes saucy and trenchant, but just as often puzzling and even incomprehensible to the English speaker.
To wit: Stanley's column on tonight's final "Nightline" with Ted Koppel in the anchor chair that revisits the program's wildly popular visits with Morrie Schwartz of "Tuesdays With Morrie" fame.
"He built his career on being different -- professorial, not telegenic; cerebral, not entertaining; coolly amusing, not genial or avuncular. "A Tuesday With Morrie" tonight is Koppel's last chance on ABC to epater les bourgeois."


OK, I realize there are a lot of educated people who read the Times. And a groupe of them even know some French. But epater les bourgeois? Sacre bleu! It actually means to "shake middle-class attitudes," the best I can reckon (do the French reckon?).
The point is Stanley writes like she's still pining to be the foreign correspondent she once was rather than stooping down to our level to write about something so crass as TV. And shame on her editors (copy readers, in this case) who let her get away with that.
It's interesting to note that at the same time she takes the high-and-mighty road, she jabs Koppel in her lead when she writes he "quit Nightline in the same wry, superior way he began it 25 years ago."
But then she contradicts herself by observings how tonight's farewell is not a clip show laden with testimonials or a "foreboding look at what network news will be like without him."Stanley appears to praise Koppel for "eschewing the self-referential pomposity" that infects other anchors by dwelling on somebody besides himself on his valedictory broadcast.
So how is that superior?
Stanley's use of superior is more in the "above it all" way than the "better than the rest" vein.
Yet, it is the latter approach that enabled Koppel to last as long as he did. He asked the questions we wanted answered, but didn't put himself front and center -- a lesson many a cable anchor badly needs to learn -- yet was always in control; a ringmaster who rarely had to crack the whip.
Alas, the same cannot be said for the Times arts editors, who are apparently so impressed by foreign words and pronunciation symbols, that they blithely let them run in the paper, even when they don't make any sense.

P.S. Gawker, which has made Alessandra bashing something of a cottage industry, also makes note of one of her many excursions into Error-land, including a doozy from the Koppel article.

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