What The Dog SawImage by Bill McIntyre via Flickr

Would somebody tell me why, oh why, Malcolm Gladwell is hottest thing since sliced bread?  It irritates me to no end that he is a regular contributor to my favorite magazine, “The New Yorker.”  The magazine is usually quite discriminating with its writers/contributors.  Although by no means do I find them all interesting, Gladwell stands out- like a sore thumb- for his widely celebrated, yet plainly obtuse, articles and books.
This guy’s “talent” is in stating the obvious. Period.  That’s bad enough, but he states the obvious, and then analyzes it to death (as if analysis is needed).  He does this, ostensibly seriously, in order to enlighten readers.  So, he must believe one of two things.  Either he fails to see the obviousness of his craft, or he himself does see it, but counts on most readers to be ignorant.
If the former, he is simply ignorant himself. If the latter, he is making a bet (a rather safe bet) that Americans don’t know very much, and don’t care, and are willing to accept what he presents, uncritically.  And, with astonished admiration for this apparently innovative, profound thinker.
Not only does he state the obvious, he supports his grand theories with evidence that he propounds in such a manner as though he were the first to figure this out, the first to describe the support for the theory, as if he is the only one smart enough, or skilled enough, to do this.
Is the joke on me?  The fact that his books are on the NY Times best seller list for weeks is not surprising- so is Dan Brown, John Grisham, Dr. Atkins, and that “Twilite” author, whatsername.  What is surprising is that “The New Yorker” features him so prominently.  There must be something amiss here.
One thing I thought of was that perhaps Gladwell sees himself as writing “Game Theory for Dummies” – or, insert any of these:  Neuroscience, Economics, Sociology, Nanotechnology, etc.  And he takes his ideas from scientific and medical journals, from philosophers long dead; etc.  because he knows most people are not knowledgeable on these subjects.  I can see it now.  His next article:  “The Earth Is Indeed Not Flat.”
 He takes the idea and provides it in Cliff’s Notes form to make it as simple as possible to understand, and presents it as his own novel, astonishing, ground-breaking idea.  The credit he gives is minimal and seems like an afterthought.  It’s almost like he data mines, then pawns the stuff he discovers off as largely his own idea.
The book “Blink” presented supposedly new and incredible ideas, when the science it is based on was already at least five years old and common knowledge to those who care about the subject matter.
The thing is, Gladwell doesn’t appear to be any specialized professional – just a rehasher.  I wonder if that could be a title, Professional Rehasher?
You may say that his talent is IN the rehashing, providing “scientific” and other esoteric, obscure theories to the average reader, because he knows the odds are that the average reader does not know.  If he can simplify it and make it somewhat “sexy” to appeal to the masses while presenting himself as an authority, he will laugh all the way to the bank.  I guess.
I never considered doing that.  So perhaps I am envious of his ingenuity (of course there are others like him, but he’s the “it” guy right now).
Whether he’s ignorant or somewhat of a shyster, I must admit, he has mastered the art of presenting the obvious, or old news, as something fresh, up and coming, perhaps radical, and as something he himself largely figured out, and he deigns to speak it to the undereducated masses.
He has managed not only sell scores of books and become wealthy, he is also presented as an intellectual authority, as someone to be reckoned with, and to be taken seriously.  Hence, his writing takes on a gravitas it does not deserve.  However, I am just surprised that the common knowledge he writes so incredulously about is not common knowledge to more people.  At least to those interested enough in the subject matters of his stuff to bother to read him.  And to the readers of The New Yorker, who haven’t complained enough to get his stuff banned from the magazine. Not that he should be banned.
My own theory is that this situation is like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Readers of his work all know it is b.s., it obnoxious, and takes no genius to write…..however, since he, like the Emperor, is “royalty,” or a favored son, we readers fear to point out that the Emperor has no clothes.  We mistrust our own judgment—we can’t believe that the Emperor would be so silly and inept, and who are we to say anything? Maybe we’re blind.
And maybe I AM blind.  Maybe the Emperor IS wearing clothes and I’m the one so simple-minded as to think he’s not.
But I’m going to be like that lad in the tale who yelled out that the clothes were missing. There’s a chance I’ll embarrass myself for doing so, but I’ll venture that I’m not the one who should be embarrassed.
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