Jim Holt

Jim Holt

A weeklong electronic journal.
Feb. 28 1997 3:30 AM

Jim Holt

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       Although I am mainly actuated by vainglory and resentment, there is one moral imperative that I do my best to live up to: Be cheerful. Recently I heard that the Girl Scouts had dropped the duty to be cheerful from their oath, feeling it was simply too much to ask of the girls in these troubled times. That is sad, but I am doing my best to compensate by installing a regime of cheer at the magazine I have taken over. American magazines, it seems to me, are generally run on the pain principle, and the New Leader has been no exception. (A woman I know who works at the New York Times claims it is far worse there; whenever she goes into the ladies' room, she says, there's always a colleague or two sobbing in the stalls.) I am trying to extirpate the pain principle and replace it with the pleasure principle. Frankly, I don't think I could boss the place any other way. What if I tried to let my Inner Ogre, with all the accompanying alpha-male hormones, come out, and nothing happened? It would be pretty shy-making.
       By the looks of things today, this hedonic experiment has not been a great success. A horrid, cloying sort of niceness pervades the office. Amid all the bonhomie, no one seems really to be doing anything. I made one fellow "literary editor," thinking this would give him pleasure. He has since disappeared behind great mountains of review copies that have been accumulating around his desk, but no actual reviews have come in. I have a terrible feeling that when he emerges he is going to look like Leon Wieseltier.
       With so many magazines turning into romper rooms these days, I am very glad the New Leader has a distinctly geriatric cast. The average age of the contributors to my first issue was well above 70, and the reviewer of a Rebecca West biography mentioned meeting the subject at a cocktail party in the early 1930s. (One callow editor refused to believe that this was possible; no living human, he insisted, could be that old.) It was with great reluctance that I removed someone from the masthead who had actually been dead for a while. Perhaps our interns will be retired people instead of recent college graduates; it would save them from the indignity of working at McDonald's.
       I don't know why advertisers "covet" the youth market. Aside from being ignorant and oafish, most young people I know don't have two dimes to rub together.
       O Lord, let me grow cheerful as I grow older.

Jim Holt is the editor of the New Leader, a political biweekly.