As I am writing this, I am listening to a Dick Cavett interview with John Updike and John Cheever, posted on Cavett's New York Times blog. It's lovely to listen to these two great writers speak in complete sentences with round vowels. They were giants of 20th century literature. I like Cheever more than Updike, but both wrote Literature when that pursuit was something important.
Listening to them reminds me of a thought I've had recently: about the fall of the WASP princes. It seems to me that the world was run by white men (not just white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but Jewish and Catholic men, too) for most of my life. It was the world of "Mad Men."
Newsrooms were run by men when I began working more than 30 years ago, although journalism has long had more women than many other businesses and occupations. Now, it seems that the changes that are shaking newspapers to the core seem to be affecting middle-age men disproportionately.
Many of the people who are being laid off at my newspaper are middle-age white men. Among them are people I like and respect, writers and editors who have worked hard and well for years. I worry that these men will face an especially tought time when they leave The N&O. I wonder if they are bearing more than their share of the sacrifice. Of course, it could just be that they are the most numerous and highest-paid group in our newsroom. It could also be that they seem more expendable, that their services are just no longer needed. It could also be karma: They ran the show for all these many years and now it's time for them to move over for others. There could be office politics involved that I am not privy to. The executive editor, who is apparently staying, and two of three senior editors are middle-age white men, so I can't say that white men are no longer in charge.
Princes do still run the world. We have a dark-skinned president for the first time, and he too seems like a prince: smart, handsome, well-educated, successful and charismatic -- especially capable of getting people to follow him.
I am not sorry that white men are sharing power now. It's just different. Sometimes they've made a mess of things: starting wars, causing economic upheaval, running companies with too much debt and a failing business model. But they also fight those wars and lead us out of dark times. The best of the princes are courageous and brilliant, and I hate to see their contributions denigrated.
Maybe I do have a dog in the fight because my father, brothers, husband and son are all white men. Maybe I am just feeling vulnerable. Maybe I am just worried for my colleagues.