John Mayer, His Stupidity, And Journalistic Integrity: An Analysis
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Following the fallout of the recent John Mayer Playboy Interview, Rob Tennenbaum, the interviewer, gave an e-mail interview to his colleague, Ann Powers, at the Los Angeles Times music blog, Pop & Hiss. Yes, you probably have to go back and read that sentence again. It’s a head scratcher. It’s an Escher painting, virtual style. This whole story is.
During the interviewer’s interview, Tennenbaum and Powers fawned over poor, misunderstood John Mayer and the disastrous results of his interview as if it were a novelty, as if he hasn’t said on record oodles of inane things before. They then proceeded to defend him from the Twitter-Blogosphere skewering, and touted Mayer so enthusiastically, one can only assume they were playing vintage Mayer tracks in the background as inspiration. Honestly, reading the interviewer’s interview was sort of like walking in on your parents.
On The Daily Beast that same day, Tennenbaum made a compelling argument that the reduction to 140-characters of his nearly-7,000 word interview, into a single John-Mayer-Is-A-Racist Cliffs Note, is regrettable, if not incendiary. Like that old game of telephone you played as a kid—where one child whispered a secret into the ear of another, and so on and so on until the message at the end resembled the original about as much as Jessica Simpson resembles a brain surgeon—something is lost. It’s hard to argue with this.
But to do so, one must read the original article and make up her own mind. And so, unlike the many people who skipped the Playboy article and instead took the reductive tweets about Mayer’s racist tendencies to be gospel, this writer took it upon herself to read that Playboy article. Twice. After having returned from the dentist, no less. It. Was. Brutal.
The thing is, Tennenbaum is right: When one small part of a larger whole is clipped and shortened and paraphrased, other important parts are lost, while others are overlooked. And in this instance, the remark that was most clipped and shortened and paraphrased was pretty much the only one that was actually meaningful (there will be no extraction of the quote here; you’ll have to read the original piece if you want to know what was said). And yet, all the meaning in the meaningful quote, was stripped in twitterizing. And anyway, who has time to read a 7,000-word piece when you can read a fraction of it and get the gist?
As Tennenbaum put it in his e-mail to Powers, “you have a white musician commenting on the privilege of race, and warning other whites that they can’t ever presume to know racial disadvantage.” An extremely important point, to be sure, but one that was completely lost thanks to Mayer’s ineloquent, cool-guy use of the N-word.
The blogosphere instantaneously lit up with accusations of racism. And while bloggers and tweeters were busy raging and getting this part wrong, they failed to miss the other offenses in the Playboy interview also worthy of reduction-by-tweet, namely those in which Mayer revealed himself to be a misogynistic, ageist, homophobic, demeaning, self-important, pillow-talking, developmentally-delayed, off-putting cad. The collective whole of the article, makes the Tennenbaum/Powers pep rally quite perplexing, indeed.
Powers calls Mayer “smart and totally reckless with his opinions and disclosures,” and then goes on to mention only the two racially charged statements made by the guitarist. And she phrases the conversations in terms of how he’s been so maligned by the Internet crowd. She mentions none—not a one—of the many other offensive comments that prove only the second half of her assessment is correct.
“I hope the story will have a revisionist phase,” Tennenbaum told his friend, “where more people address the non-repulsive things he had to say. I think you and I agree there’s a lot in it to contemplate and discuss.” Get a room, you guys!
Tennenbaum asked provocative questions (“Do black women throw themselves at you?”), if not questions aimed at baiting Mayer (“If you didn’t know you, would you think you’re a douche bag?”). But John Mayer sank himself in the interview much like he has in others. There isn’t a whole lot in the Playboy article that’s “non-repulsive.” Even when taken in context, it’s a cringe-at-the-question-gasp-out-loud-at-the-answer read.
Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker used his tweet effectively when he said Tennenbaum’s interview was, “like a U.N. drop for the Internet. Food for weeks.” That is 140-characters that isn’t distorted in the least.