Must Malcolm Gladwell Mean What He Says?

Malcolm Gladwell on Dave Eggers and Tom Scocca:

When [David] Eggers says, “Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one,” he does not mean you can’t criticize a book or a movie unless you’ve made one….

Eggers is not Wittgenstein…He says pretty much what he means.


  1. Critical Reading December 11, 2013 at 10:34 am | #

    Gladwell’s statement makes sense so long as it is possible to criticize without dismissing, but it is bad advice either way.

  2. Jonny Butter December 11, 2013 at 10:46 am | #

    Gladwell’s statement makes no sense either way, either part of it. Doesn’t say nice things about our culture to observe that he is the kind of hack we sort of deserve. Pity!

  3. Roquentin December 11, 2013 at 10:47 am | #

    Gawker recently put up this great essay on smarm vs snark which referenced this specific quote and mocked Eggers:

    “It is also no accident that Eggers is full of shit. He is so passionate, and his passion has such rhetorical momentum, that it is almost possible to overlook the fact that the literal proposition he’s putting forward, in the name of large-heartedness and honesty, is bogus and insulting. Do not dismiss … a movie? Unless you have made one? Any movie? The Internship? The Lone Ranger? Kirk Cameron’s Unstoppable? Movie criticism, Eggers is saying, should be reserved for those wise and discerning souls who have access to a few tens of millions of dollars of entertainment-industry capital. One or two hundred million, if you wish to have an opinion about the works of Michael Bay.”

    I would like to get Hegelian and call the relationship between snark and smarm dialectical. I’d call this essay important because a lot of people don’t recognize the power relationships which are behind the call to be polite, civil, and “positive” even when wildly inappropriate.

    As for Gladwell, he always has been a corporation’s sort of intellectual. I’ll be honest and I admit I found both Blink and The Tipping Point to be informative and rewarding reads, but as time has gone on he just appears more and more like a mouthpiece for neoliberal ideology. It reminds me of how long ago, Paul Nizan attacked certain public intellectuals as the guard dogs of the ideology of the ruling class.

    • Freddie DeBoer December 11, 2013 at 10:59 am | #

      Perhaps you should have clicked through, friend.

      By the way– going after Dave Eggers AND Malcolm Gladwell? Wow, you really are an iconoclast. Somebody get this guy a job at a major website. You can’t get this kind of criticism just anywhere.

      • jonnybutter December 11, 2013 at 4:24 pm | #

        Why would anyone *want* to be an iconoclast for its own sake?

    • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg December 11, 2013 at 11:22 am | #

      Look, when Eggers was unhappy with the publishing world, he went out and started his own publishing company. When Eggers thought that disadvantaged children needed better educational opportunities, he founded two nonprofits. He didn’t just whine about it like you little people. If you don’t like what Eggers says in the Harvard Advocate, then do like a proper fellow and take a seat on their executive board where you can alter editorial policy. But for heaven’s sake, don’t _speak_ about it.

      • Roquentin December 11, 2013 at 1:26 pm | #

        While I at least find Gladwell interesting on a basic level and he does bring up good points now and then, I’ve never read Eggers and have no desire to. If there’s one thing the book publishing world needs less of if it’s syrupy-sentimentality and sanctimonious posturing. God forbid we say anything that gets in the way of him selling thousands of books, which is all that really matters, right? It’s much better to be cheerleaders for mass consumption. I guess his suggestion is that if we didn’t like the taste we should just smile, choke it down, and pretend it was champagne. The thinking and opinions are best left to professionals like him.

    • Glenn December 19, 2013 at 11:46 am | #

      Snark: Madella’s opposition to empire, South African and its US sponsor.

      Smarm: Praise of Mandela by the empire that assisted, by means of the CIA, in his capture and imprisonment; this by an empire that no longer imprisons embodied threats to its order; but expeditiously kills them.

  4. Cate December 11, 2013 at 11:20 am | #

    Ah, classic Gladwell. A pinch of culture, dash of philosophy and voila! A statement that perfectly expresses his misunderstanding of both.

  5. aletheia33 December 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm | #

    nothing of any significant substance to be found either in gladwell’s piece or in his quotes from the other 2. embarrassing if this is what passes for serious discourse in the new yorker.

  6. William Neil December 12, 2013 at 11:10 am | #

    Corey:  Just to let you know, and advise other possible commentators, I’m still having problems using the normal comment process at your site, when I click comment Internet Explorer disconnects; it also does this at the RealEconomics blog site; both are WordPress systems.  I don’t have this problem with NY Times comments.  This has just surfaced this week, a week when “updates” have come pouring out of Microsoft, and I don’t know if there is a connection.  I tried trouble shooting with Internet/Microsoft, and they said disable XXS “cross scripting” filter, but that didn’t help. Just a heads up and to see if others are experiencing the problem – a tech. one between Internet Explorer typing and WordPress?  Bill Neil


  7. William Neil December 12, 2013 at 11:13 am | #

    Just checked to see if what I wrote via the Email page appeared, and it did, but the same “Internet Explorer has stopped working message appeared” – but this Email comment process is a way around it, if a bit clumsy.


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