Tattoos and the NYT’s ‘Game of Thrones’

May 18, 2014

Game of Thrones

Some people are for­tu­nate enough to be born into the right fam­ily. Oth­ers have to find their own way.”

I can’t help but be fas­cin­ated by Jill Abramson’s tat­too. The ‘T’ of the New York Times inked into her skin. It’s like Car­son, the but­ler in Down­ton Abbey, reveal­ing that he has the Earl of Grantham’s armori­al bear­ings embroidered on his box­ers.

Eng­land still has its Down­ton Abbeys. These days people pay to look round at week­ends. Cab­in­ets do not retire to them at week­ends for shoot­ing parties. There are no staff, no fam­ily to serve. All to the good. But will New York still have its Times?

For the Car­sons (and per­haps the Abramsons), the idea of these won­der­ful polit­ic­al edi­fices no longer being cent­ral to a way of life, no longer hav­ing cul­ture (below stairs, above stairs; busi­ness and edit­or­i­al) is ana­thema. Whilst the rest of us migrate to Quartz or BuzzFeed or Vice, the staff at the New York Times still care about journalism’s equi­val­ent of the right way to lay out the sil­ver and the cor­rect glass for port.

Abramson’s tat­too tells you so much too about the way journ­al­ists — and people — con­struct their iden­tity. The way we endow organ­isa­tions with val­ues, sub­or­din­ate ourselves to their cul­tures. For all the talk of indi­vidu­al journ­al­ists as brands, here is a journ­al­ist brand­ing her­self and remain­ing res­ol­utely inter­ested in the task she is paid to do (find­ing things out, hold­ing the power­ful to account, sound­ing off to read­ers), whilst stead­fastly res­ist­ing the idea that she simply works for a grand but fad­ing fam­ily busi­ness.

Forced into the bloody busi­ness of mak­ing journ­al­ism pay, Abramson reacted like a neg­lected cir­cus lion eye­ing a new tamer. The spec­tacle con­trasts pity at the hum­bling of a great beast with fear for any­one forced to make money by stick­ing their heads in such a hungry mouth.

But Ms Abramson’s edit­or­ship has cer­tainly roared. A China edi­tion launch. This. A new Chief Exec­ut­ive. This. To raise the bar from pop­u­lar to clas­sic­al drama, she has delivered the full Anti­gone — a super­fluity of right — and if it is Claudi­us rather than Creon that she faces, well — nev­er under­es­tim­ate a Claudi­us.

Abramson, who I met under the bland­est of cir­cum­stances a couple of times, appears to have been a con­nois­seur of good journ­al­ism. Whatever her mer­its, she cer­tainly wasn’t polit­ic­al enough to sur­vive.

Journ­al­ists are fond of believ­ing that know­ledge is power. Game of Thrones view­ers might recall Cer­sei Lannister’s scene with Lit­tlefinger. In a gender reversal for the New York Timesmise-en-scène’, she is from the rul­ing fam­ily, and he is the self-made man. When he over-reaches to remind her of the frailty of prom­in­ent fam­il­ies, she has her guards seize him. A dag­ger is pressed to his jug­u­lar. It’s not know­ledge that is power, she reminds him, “Power is power.”

Previous post:

Next post: