One of the signal pleasures of reading Jonathan Chait’s essay on political correctness in New York Magazine is being glad you didn’t write it. Chait makes some good points, one of which is that social media will probably excoriate him. He’s right. My personal favorite is the tweet that accuses him of mansplaining the term mansplaining, which includes a shrugging emoticon but does not say how his explanation is wrong. Perhaps the implication is that anyone but a white man should explain what that term means, which seems right. It is certainly a bitter irony that a man should establish the definition of pedantic man-talk. Something about that sentiment seems illiberal, though. Must Chait be wrong in defining mainsplaining even if his definition is correct? Here we encounter the crux of his argument, and the complicating realization that he is the wrong person to make it.
The problem with reporting on pop culture is that you’re really only reporting on your personal pop culture experience. If you see, for example, an article in New York Magazine about the new chick-lit book Brooklyn Girls,* you are forced to decide whether the “Brooklyn girl” is a real trend or just something Yael Kohen used to pitch a feature to her editor. This question is impossible to answer. Presumably there is a set number of people out there who are familiar with the concept of the Brooklyn girl and believe it describes real humans, but that number is unknowable. The trend writer is therefore forced to either risk reporting a specious trend as actual, a la the New York Times, or to present the new trend as a fake trend, ironically undercutting it even as she perpetuates it. Guess which option Jezebel chose?