A saffron shadow has fallen across America, as gilded rage has become the new pervasive—and perverse—affectation. The country’s most coddled coterie has finally ridden the cries of those they fleece to the very top. It is the reflection of the Reagan ‘80s in a convex mirror, the gross gavage-to-bursting of that decade’s avaricious approach to “help” embodied by one of the last living holdovers: a cruel crab bucket with none of the style or grace of history.
This is why Tina Brown’s The Vanity Fair Diaries arrives at the perfect time. Brown turned around a struggling Vanity Fair during the Reagan years, castigating the excess even as she surfed it to massive success. Her diaries of that time—festooned with all the best names in literature, art, media, business, politics—open with her burning love of media.
The oxygen-rich environment of the 1980s proved a media bloom; could Donald Trump inspire another? It seems the spirits—and eyes, and trigger fingers, and tongues—are willing, even if the capital is not.
Reading Brown on her march through Media—sexist fools and Old Lions scattered in her wake—engenders a longing for crusading media heroes again. The New York Times and the Washington Post rage every day in the trenches; The New Yorker launches its rococo fusillades; BuzzFeed, VICE, the Gizmodo Media Group—the entire roaring cacophony of the Digital Media—assaults every new screen.
We desperately need these media heroes, especially as more and more of the old guard are revealed to be predators prowling the twilight power of the traditional media. It’s heartening when one considers where these new voices come from—Silicon Valley? Fleet Street? New York? Basements, coffee shops and home offices?—and seemingly inevitable that they will continue to rise.
In an era of a business-stooge conman for president, one requires David Cay Johnston, Maggie Haberman. In an era of racist rhetoric and American Nazis marching, one requires April Ryan, Ta-Nehisi Coates. In an era that is fighting sexism, one requires Jodhi Kantor, Stephanie McCrummen, Megan Twohey, Beth Reinhard, Ronan Farrow, Alice Crites, Diana Moskovitz, #MeToo.
What Brown’s fiery diaries make clear is that in times of chaos and tumult, when celerity threatens to tear us apart, the battlements will be manned by the voices of our best and our worst. We can only survey the current media scene and keep our mouths open wide. We must seek out and amplify the sources encircling the globe, and wring from it change. And we must pray that the inspiring, powerful and people’s media of which Brown writes will build a redoubt against the flood.
Sans cocaine-decade cash and facing the officially sanctioned scorn of the highest office, the Media in the Age of Trump must be what Brown’s Vanity Fair was: intelligent and approachable, incisive and fun, hearing aid and bullhorn, crusader and sybarite.
And above all else, impossible to ignore.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayis, and book/art critic based in Chicago. A former book critic for The Myrtle Beach Sun News, he is a contributing reporter to A Beautiful Perspective and has been seen in The Atlantic, Hazlitt, VICE, Jezebel, Sports Illustrated, VICE Sports, Creators, Sports on Earth and New American Paintings, among numerous other publications. You can find him on Twitter or at his website.