WOW. If New Yorker writer John Colapinto really is the "John" posting in the comments section of this post on the blog "Restricted View" (see update — yes, he is), then he really does not like it when his work is criticized. For her part, Restricted View blogger Mollie Wilson, a contributor to Village Voice , American Theatre and Nextbook did not like Colapinto's article on Paul McCartney in last week's New Yorker, called "When I'm Sixty-Four: Paul McCartney And His Music," or, as she thought he ought to have called it, "How I spent a week wasting Paul McCartney's time." Ouch! Wilson felt that, contrary to the title, the article was not at all a look at the man and his music ("There's no real criticism of his music, either then or now, and certainly no attempt is made to synthesize his body of work") and was rather a catalog of fan encounters and the writer's own "dumb questions" (like, suggesting that a fan could have been "another Mark David Chapman"). Her takeaway? "Dull, shapeless and devoid of insight."
Do you think John Colapinto — or the man we are assuming was John Colapinto* — was going to take that lying down? Oh, no! He was there at 11:07 am, a scant three hours after the post went up, to let her know just how wrong she was. "Ahhh, Mollie, Mollie--if only YOU could have been the one to spend time with McCartney!" he retorted, pooh-poohing her criticisms about the lack of analysis of McCartney's oeuvre and sort of misunderstanding her comment about wanting to hear McCartney's thoughts on Pipes of Peace. "What a missed opportunity. If only bloggers ran the actual publishing world!" Then he piped up again in another comment at 11:44 to drive his point home, namely that his article was awesome, and Mollie was a "lovable, hapless dumb-ass."
And with that, a comments-section flamewar to rival the famed Apatow-Brazill correspondence was on. Wilson responded that "I think a portrait of Paul as defined by his work, or an attempt to synthesize his solo career, would be more interesting than what you wrote" and saying "I think you could write an interesting piece that focused on Paul's fame, recognizability, etc., but I don't think you did." Oh, snap!
They both have their points — yes, he did unearth hitherto unknown arcana to delight a Beatles obsessive, and yes, that Mark David Chapman comment sort of does make one cringe — but that's not what's important about this exchange: Aside from being wildy entertaining, it's an incredibly fascinating study in criticism and the meta-dialogue that has now been made possible by the Internet. Not only can Wilson challenge Colapinto's article publicly, but he can go and challenge her right back — unfiltered, unrestrained, and unedited by David Remnick's magic pen.
It's New Media, pure and simple — and that is precisely what is driving Colipinto batty. Who is this person who dares to criticize him? Some....blogger? Oh, no no no no no. Colapinto offered the world a glimpse into the star-stalked world of Paul McCartney and "[y]ou, instead, wanted an essay on the subject. And that's why you're a blogger and not a writer." Oh, snap, right back atcha! But that's not all — Mollie also doesn't know how to read the New Yorker: "And, if you can handle hearing this, it's why you're barely a reader." Then he explains to her that "the New Yorker is divided into sections; there are feature stories, like the kind I write, and there is the critics, at the back; I do not and never will be a critic. I don't like them. They're usually up-their-ass on precisely the matters you and I have been discussing here." Anthony Lane, you've been warned!
Colapinto should hate New Media, if this is indeed him — it's allowed him to make a total jackass of himself. This is a far cry from the modualted (and often highly edited) New Yorker letters page — it's so public, it's so ranty, it's so — gasp! Dare I say it? — bloggy. Colapinto breezily points out that his article achieves its goal of revealing the True Paul "In a manner that eschews the windy pontification...that dominates the so-called 'blogosphere.'" No windy pontification here, Mr. Four Comments Inside Two Hours, no siree! Not content to take Wilson's criticism on on the merits (especially since he focuses so much on her Pipes of Peace comment, which he regrettably misunderstood), he instead tries to dismiss her based on her platform. Hmmm, where have I heard this before, Jack Kapica? That's right — it's the same dismissal of a group based on an unproven assertion (though query where one might have more room for "windy pontification," in a nine-page magazine article or four-paragraph blog post) and the same reversion to elitist generalizations about Who Has The Right to participate in the conversation. The whole thing is a telling look at how Old Media stalwarts handle New Media challenges, both in form and content, as the line between "blogger" and "writer" becomes blurrier still. In the meantime, Jay Rosen, I think I might have another curmudgeon for you.
UPDATE: The New Yorker has confirmed that the writer posting the comments was indeed Colapinto.
"Don't Have A Cow, Man": Judd Apatow vs. Mark Brazill [Harper's]
Chris Farley Interviews Paul McCartney [SNL Transcripts]
Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Read Me, When I'm 64? [ETP]
*Initially based on the vehemence and personalization of his replies, and also on the fact that he mentions dealing with an AOL tech person in his final comment, and in his Wikipedia page there is an AOL email address, which we emailed and have not yet heard a response from. We also emailed New Yorker PR; as mentioned above, they confirmed that the writer was indeed Colapinto.
**I'm no Beatles expert, but I've known the "Scrambled eggs/Oh my darling, you've got lovely legs" for years. Google hits: 86,300.