American Decline

Look Behind The Curtain: Discussion with Author Walter Kirn

By Matt Taibbi

The terrific humorist, journalist, and novelist talks about the downfall of journalism, bureaucratic absurdity, and class cruelty in a blistering indictment of an America turned upside down.

Walter Kirn is from the Midwest, worked for Time magazine, and has written a pile of wonderful novels, from Up in The Air to The Unbinding. I’m from Boston, worked for Rolling Stone, and only wish I could write fiction. But, it turns out we have a lot in common, and we had a charged and hilarious discussion on Callin yesterday, aided by great audience questions.

I know there’s frustration that Callin is still exclusive to iPhone, but in an effort to share some of yesterday’s wide-ranging talk about the state of the media, vaccine madness, the new urban snobbery, and the lost art of talking, I’m reproducing a partial transcript here. The first question came from a caller named Nick:

Nick: Where the hell is this thing coming from?

Walter Kirn: I had a psychiatrist once and when I came in with some dysfunction or problem, he said, “What happened right before that?” So I would say, “What happened right before?” What happened right before this was social media. It has created a sort of hyper-consensus engine, because these ridiculous takes that you’re talking about all just exaggerate a basic take.

It’s basically an arms race that’s going on now, in which people attempt to agree more intensely than they agreed before. I do credit social media, at least that’s the place where we see these takes. We don’t tend to hear them by CB radio or over the phone necessarily, but there’s something about this third particle accelerator of opinion that we call Twitter which seems to inflate the craziness.

Now, as to whether the liberals have changed? Yes, they’ve changed! They used to be gentle, interesting, controversial, humorous people. Now they’re strident ideologues who love every institution which they professed to detest and suspect in the old days…


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