Saturday, November 03, 2007

SF Weekly: "Democracy is so boring..."

The difference in how the SF Weekly and the SF Bay Guardian cover city politics has always been apparent: The Guardian prides itself on its aggressive progressive politics and its close relationship with the city's "activist" community. The implication of the SF Weekly's approach seems to be that they are above the Guardian's vulgar involvement with left-wing politics---or with politics in general. But the SF Weekly wants to have it both ways, to sneer at the Guardian and be taken seriously when it deigns to take a political position.

Even the dim-bulb progressive politics of the Guardian look smart compared to the Weekly's current issue. Will Harper kicks it off with a weary-of-it-all account of next week's election:

There's an election in San Francisco next week. If you're like most San Franciscans, you probably haven't heard. Or you have heard, but don't really care. Or maybe you have heard, but Gavin Newsom has a restraining order against you for stalking him and thus you are unable to come within 100 feet of the mayor's polling station. Whatever the case, the point is that democracy is so, like, 2003 and it's, like, so boring now. So boring that local political consultants and pollsters are predicting a historically low turnout for this year's mayoral election...

If city voters haven't heard about next week's election, SF Weekly is partly to blame. Except for Matt Smith's ill-informed rants, the Weekly doesn't contribute much to the city's political dialogue. It's not the city's political life that's without interest; it's the Weekly's political commentary that doesn't measure up. The reference to 2003 is cryptic, since that was an interesting year politically, with the close Newsom-versus-Gonzalez mayoral race. Presumably Harper is suggesting that it was the last interesting year in city politics. The "stalking" reference is apparently to how Channel 7's Dan Noyes was covering Mayor Newsom, but there are no restraining orders and Channel 7 evidently reassigned Noyes when his relationship with the mayor became uncomfortably antagonistic [update: Dan Noyes says it can't be a reference to him. Hard to say who/what it refers to.] Thus Harper provides us with nothing but attitude, not serious political commentary.

Compared to the rest of the Weekly's political content this week, even Harper's piece looks good. Matt Smith continues his vendetta against Mayor Newsom even as he transitions from writing to the graphic arts. This may be a good career move for Smith, who is evidently incapable of writing seriously about politics, though his artistic talent also seems minimal. His three full pages of artwork are ostensibly about---guess what?---Mayor Newsom, the mayor's drinking problem, and homelessness. Artwork aside, the accompanying dialogue is witless and pointless. If Smith has something serious to say about homelessness in SF, why doesn't he just say it? Since the mayor's drinking problem is supposedly a thing of the past now that he's in counseling, why make it the focus of the piece? These aren't the kind of questions that Smith is capable of asking or answering, which is why his political writing is so often off-target.

Will Harper makes another appearance in still another comic-book like graphic piece, as he co-wrote---if that's the word for it---the dialogue accompanying a baffling comic strip featuring cartoons of Sean Penn and Matt Gonzalez, based on the short movie made by Penn and Jon Krakauer wherein they revisited the real-life "Into the Wild" site. What possible relevance can either Penn or Gonzalez have to the current political situation in SF? As the dialogue itself notes, Penn lives in Marin, and Gonzalez, once he declined to run against Newsom, is no more than a marginal political figure in the city. It looks like the kind of ill-advised project born in a late-night drinking session. It may have seemed brilliant and amusing while its creators were in an altered state but falls completely flat on the page, though Kyle Webster's artwork is at least superior to Smith's. In short, it's simply one more instance of the pointless pseudo-cleverness indulged in by local writers and artists.

Is this the beginning of a new genre, the weekly paper as graphic political novel, aka comic book? Does the SF Weekly think that its young readers will only pay attention to politics if the subject is presented in comic book form? More likely it's just another example of the dumbing-down of the city's weekly journalism.

It's not surprising that Matt Smith is in trouble about his recent piece on Randy Shaw's Tenderloin Housing Project.

Smith demonstrated his poor reporting/analytical skills in his distorted coverage of the litigation against the city's Bicycle Plan. Instead of dealing with the actual facts of the Bicycle Plan and the litigation, Smith, a dedicated bike nut, launched a fact-free attack on me.



At 1:09 PM, Anonymous dan noyes said...

Wrong on at least one aspect, Rob. I was never "reassigned" from covering the mayor. And, I doubt the Weekly reference was to me. My beat is "investigative" and I've been quite busy covering stories around Northern California -- check my website. Believe me, if a tip leads me back to the Mayor's Office and it checks out, you'll see it on the air. Thanks for the mention, though.

Dan Noyes


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