Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The tippling point

A reporter in a bar would be the definition of an unreliable source. Same with Malcolm Gladwell at a storytelling performance. In Slate, Jack Shafer calls out the author of "The Tipping Point" for a performance at the NYC story event The Moth. Bunk, the subhead claims. Well, yeah....

Gladwell's tall tale of journalist apprenticeship reminded me of the after-hours yarns told at Chicago newspaper hangouts, as well as Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's insider scenes in "The Front Page" and satirical novels from Evelyn Waugh's "Scoop" to Charles Dickinson's "Rumor Has It" and Calvin Trillin's "Floater." Like most fiction, all germinate from a seed of truth. Nelson Algren's short stories from "The Neon Wilderness" is my current occupation on the 66 Chicago bus. Algren wrote fiction and nonfiction set on the West Town streets where this bus now trolls, and often it's hard to tell which is which.

One of Gladwell's conceits was a variation on the "Order of the Occult Hand." Old-school reporters were initiated into this virtual society by getting an article published using the phrase "It was as if an occult hand..." Fans of The Onion would appreciate this sendup of journalistic convention, documented by (among others) editorialist Paul Greenberg of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and reporter James Janega of the Chicago Tribune. Gladwell looks to be an Occult Hand apprentice.

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