There used to be a phrase in America, "Banned in Boston", which
referred to publications deemed so salacious by the puritanical
standards of Massachusetts and other New England states that they could
not be sold upon pain of fine or even imprisonment.
At first, the words were proscriptive, then descriptive. Later, they
became a sort of sales pitch, implying that the contents were
sufficiently spicy to warrant tracking down no matter how much
censorship impeded the purchase.
So it was delicious to learn that Britain has banned the sale of Tina
and Harry Come to America: Tina Brown, Harry Evans and the Uses of
Power, a new book by Judy Bachrach, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair
The book was published by a division of Simon & Schuster named the Free
Press - such delectable irony! - to widespread attention on this side of
the Atlantic, where perhaps Brown and Evans have grown even more famous
than they were originally at home.
It's unclear how much the phrase "Banned in Britain" will add to the
marketing efforts for the book here. (As for curious Brits, I'm told
that with Amazon.com refusing to ship copies, the best way to obtain one
is via FedEx - when it absolutely, positively has to be sneaked in over
there, to paraphrase the old ad slogan.)
Short of being banned from the Conde Nast building, the book's sales in
America will probably have to rise or fall on its merits. As such, it
may be hard to resist for the increasingly large number of ardent fans
of what's called dish, especially dish related to the media.
The phenomenon of the growing popularity of the media's reporting on and
gossiping about the media is not a new one. But it still surprises
people who can recall a time not that long ago when the results of how
movies performed at the box office each weekend were disseminated only
to a tiny handful of moguls in Hollywood and tycoons in New York rather
than to an entire nation via Sunday evening TV newscasts and Monday
Brown and Evans fascinate media dish devotees for myriad reasons, wholly
apart from what some perceive to be the romance-novelesque aspects of
their personal lives.
Between them, they have run or led the editorial efforts of some of the
nation's most fabled media properties (Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, US
News and World Report, Random House, The New York Daily News) and worked
for two of the nation's most closely watched media magnates, Si Newhouse
and Mort Zuckerman.
Then there's the most recent chapter in Brown's career, Talk, which is
not only a joint venture of two pillars of the media establishment,
Disney and Hearst, but a magazine that competes against two she
previously edited for Newhouse, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.
In sum, it's the stuff of night-time soap operas, but it's better
because it's real. Who cares about JR Ewing when one can read about Si
Besides, devouring the contents of books such as Tina and Harry Come to
America enables us simultaneously to wallow in media mania while
pooh-poohing it as a frivolous waste of time. It's the feeling that one
of the brightest lights of The New Yorker, the late film critic Pauline
Kael, once described as brushing your teeth with a candy bar.