Imagination Fit to Print

Wednesday 11 May 2011, 1:56 pm   //////  

If you’re heading over to look at today’s parodical “Final Edition,” allow me to suggest instead a thoughtful and compelling re-imagination of the New York Times, the special edition of July 4, 2009 by the Yes Men and the Anti-Advertising Agency. Instead of being just a joke that falls flat – one that was released on the 11th day of the month and features a New York skyscraper in flames, very tastefully – the latter “fake” newspaper is actually a productive utopian vision.

I don’t mind when parodists do the end times, but I think we should at least do them right. Take a look at the last daily page from Suck.com, or, if you want to go back to the 20th century and bust out the microfiche, the final, April 24, 1966 issue of the New York Herald Tribune. (A predecessor of that merged newspaper has a square in New York named after it, as does the Times.) Those who consciously put togther a final edition often strive for summing up, even if their organization is in the final stages of falling apart. Last issues tend to be rich in history and thoughtful about the future.

I don’t see an online record of this quip, but I recall Bruce Sterling (perhaps in the context of the Dead Media Project) stating that being first isn’t nearly as difficult as being last. To be the last in a category means enduring, and continuing to endure, as all others drop away. Even to be writing the last issue of an important newspaper or other serial means to be concluding a tremendous accumulation of context, conventions, and expectations. When it comes, the last issue of the New York Times will be a swan song, not a belly flop. I’d love to see some serious imagination of what that will be like.

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