Thomas Friedman may be the most read syndicated columnist in America. As such, he gets sent all around the world on the New York Times’ dime so he can offer expert opinion on trade, globalization, and anything else unlucky enough to get filtered through his dumbed-down banality-making mind. And we, the readers, suffer from his steady stream of verbal diarrhea. And yet for some reason (I’m guilty, too) we keep reading his crap en masse. He’s the Dan Brown of non-fiction.
In case you’re lucky enough to not know Thomas Friedman, he’s a bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winning columnist. When not on assignment in Israel or Egypt, he can be seen every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at Six Flags in Bowie, Maryland, where it’s “all aboard” for Tommy’s famous mustache ride.
Friedman, like Malcolm Gladwell (the love child of Carrot Top and Sideshow Bob), has made a career pumping out trite commonsense platitudes and spinning them off as Columbus-like discoveries. Or, better yet, anti-Columbus discoveries. Literally. Thomas Friedman’s popular book is actually titled “The World is Flat.” As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi puts it, Friedman walked out the door, made a phone call to an American company, talked to a receptionist in India, and became the first person ever to discover globalization. And then he wrote a 600 page book telling us that we can see Coca Cola signs in China. But what does that have to do with the world being flat? Was Columbus wrong?
In The World Is Flat, some guy tells Friedman globalization puts us all on a level playing field. Then Friedman has one of his patented aha! moments (that show up in every. freaking. one. of his columns) and says “level…hmm…flat. Aha! My God he’s telling me the world is flat!” (That last sentence is not a paraphrase.) Never mind that level and flat are totally different words (level means even, a social or economic concept, NOT remotely the same thing as flatness, a physical reality). Flat is a stupid fucking metaphor for globalization because a round world can actually be better interconnected. In a round world metaphor, all sides are connected in a pretty sphere. Just like the real world! In a flat world metaphor, you go too far in one direction and you fall off a cliff. It’s the opposite of globalization. Friedman thinks he’s being profound when he says “Look at this! People used to think our round world was flat; but now globalization (I discovered it! Just like Columbus!) really is making our round world flat.” He’s not profound. He’s breathtakingly stupid.
But what more can we expect from a writer who opens his columns with paragraphs like this one from last week:
“One thing I can tell you about Egypt: It is not Las Vegas. What happens in Egypt does not stay in Egypt.”
Now that’s one mindfuck of a poop sandwich intro (yes, a mixed metaphor, but I learned from Friedman—the master). It simultaneously manages to be offensive and give away the column’s entire argument up front.
Thanks to his job at the Times, Friedman gets to bring his inane and hackneyed writing around the world. A few weeks back, he visited Singapore to report on their school system (another Friedman trope: he can’t find a foreign school that doesn’t have the answers to all of America’s woes). He let some 5th grade students test his DNA for their CSI-style science class project. It had the makings of an interesting column until Friedman let out this turd-nugget:
“A couple of [students] checked my fingerprints. I was innocent—but impressed.”
What does “innocent but impressed” mean? Innocent and impressed are not opposites. There’s no bullshit paradoxical contrast to present. I dunno, maybe say “I was innocent, but arrested by their science learning” or “I was innocent, but guilty—of jealousy. Singapore’s kids are way smarter than ours.” My suggestions are cheesy, but at least they make sense. However Friedman’s “innocent—but impressed” line manages to be inane and retarded at the same time. Just like almost everything Friedman writes.