The 'Former' Success of the NY Times
By Staff News & Analysis - August 13, 2010

GIVEN that most young people would prefer to be older and most old people yearn to be young, coming up with a new in-between life stage is an inherently thankless task. Many would be all too glad to be rid of dicey concepts like "tweens" and "adultescents." … But Stephanie Dolgoff, the author of a new book, "My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches From Just the Other Side of Young" (Ballantine Books), is undaunted. According to Ms. Dolgoff, women in their late 30s and early 40s fall into a "new category of person: adult 'tweens, not quite middle-aged, but no longer our reckless, restless, gravity-defying selves." Their new moniker: Formerlies, as in formerly hot. – New York Times

Dominant Social Theme: Growing up is awkward and self-referential and only the New York media can capture such tribulations in their entirety.

Free-Market Analysis: This caught our collective eye (it's one heckuva strange looking eye, sort of like an insect's with many facets) because it is so quintessentially a New York Times article. The New York Times has always specialized in "insider" big-town articles, which provide new ways of looking at the way people live in Metropolis. An elaboration on the dominant social theme might be, "We live in a hermetical bubble and have not yet caught up with the rest of the world, and we don't want to."

Now we don't want to sound as if we are directly attacking Ms. Dolgoff who seems like a very nice woman. But we wonder if she – or her editors at the Times – have noticed that, well … times have changed. How about the 20 or 30 percent unemployment figure in the US? The war in Afghanistan, or the increasing hostilities Iraq, where the war is supposedly over? Ms. Dolgoff admits she has a thing for shoes.

In fact, Ms. Dolgoff's main professional preoccupation at this point in her life is how to deal with her "former hotness," and with the awkwardness of being a "'tween." What strikes us about this navel-gazing is not that Ms. Dolgoff has involved herself in it but that as soon as she put up her website five agents called her, a book-deal was inked, a New York Times article appeared and a Today Show slot was booked. You can bet that if Ms. Dolgoff had set up a website on neo-Austrian free-banking concepts, or the upcoming inflationary depression, there would have been no calls from agents, no book deal, no Times article and no Today Show appearance.

No, please … this is not sour grapes. We have no dreams of appearing on the Today Show, or the Swiss equivalent (Lord help us). Our point is mainly that articles like this are a metaphor for the increasing divide between the US mainstream media and the rest of the country (and it goes for Europe, too, of course). This article could be written in the 70s, the 80s or the 90s. Its tone is so specific, however, its concerns are so parochial, its vocabulary is so particularly regional that it could only have appeared in the Times.

This being the aughties, what started as a joke with a colleague at Self blossomed into a Web site,, in 2008 … But what to wear on a book tour, assuming you're not among the 20-under-40 set? Ms. Dolgoff's closet — a narrow but deep space whose door will not close — presents a compact illustration of Formerly aesthetic and sartorial challenges … THE closet was ground zero for Ms. Dolgoff's "crisis of fashion" … She had put on a leather skirt from Diesel purchased five years earlier, and, she recounted: "I couldn't tell if I looked like downtown rocker girl or like I was upholstered in Jennifer leather. It didn't quite feel right, but I wasn't ready to get rid of it." … Shopping for clothes in the uncharted netherworld between Forever 21 and Eileen Fisher can be a travail. But, she said, "You don't have to stick to jewel-toned twin sets or shop at Talbot's just because you've hit 40."… Ms. Dolgoff has turned to the Web for dalliances: membership sites like Rue La La, Gilt Groupe and Ideeli are favorites."

We visited Ms. Dolgoff's website and it's an entirely professional enterprise. She's got stories from "Formerlies" and anecdotes about how it feels to be a Formerly: "When I was 28 or so, I was out with a lady friend who was about 10 years older. A huge knockout with an adoring husband, she bears a striking resemblance to Mariel Hemingway. Nonetheless, that night, after she walked into the little French place in Chelsea where I was waiting for her, she sighed and said: 'You get past a certain age and men just stop looking up when you walk into a restaurant. They stop whistling. They stop ogling you. And you miss it.'"

The big commercial banks are still located in New York as is Wall Street. The Times is located there, along with major magazines and of course the "Sisters," the various women's magazines that help set the tone for how America talks to itself. We've documented how the mainstream media led by Rupert Murdoch is lurching toward a kind of pseudo-libertarianism, grasping at an audience that might entirely desert them otherwise, but articles like this one show how far the US New York-centric media still has to go.

This is, in fact, what the New York media has been so good at for so long. Take a phrase or a bit of an insight and package it in a way that makes it seem far more significant. Ms. Dolgoff now refers to herself as a "Formerly," and those who deposit insights on her website call themselves "Formerlies." It's a kind of promotion in fact. Analyze life from a number of itty-bitty angles and make them all self-referential. The boundaries of one's life have to do with shoes, restaurants, friends and aging. Ms. Dolgoff is happy to be packaged, apparently. But given what's going on and the nature of the web itself, such an approach increasingly seems like an anachronism to us.

Bless Ms, Dolgoff. We hope she has much luck with her book and her professional alter ego – a "Formerly." This kind of storytelling is on its way out, in our opinion, but the New York publishers still crave it. For us it only illustrates the increasing divide between the media gatekeepers and the rest of the world. It is in fact the reason that Businessweek and Newsweek were recently spun off for a hypothetical dollar. The reason that the Times itself almost went bankrupt last year. It's the reason the US publishing industry itself is going to have an increasingly hard time of it, even with Kindle.

After Thoughts

After a full century of refining their art, the editorial trend-setters are actually behind the curve. The vocabulary and preoccupations of the New York media crowd are increasingly dated. New York no longer speaks for the West in our opinion. Hollywood no longer speaks for movies. TV's demographic is aging and American magazines and newspapers generally, are losing their audience. The entire mechanism, based on avoiding the reality of power-elite social, political, monetary and military structures, is breaking down. Soon the mainstream US media leadership may be "formerly."

PS: In fairness to Ms. Dolgoff, we should point out that the book was not publicly available at the time of this article and that we have not read it individually or collectively. The book itself apparently uses the term "Formerly" to delve more deeply into issues of aging, motherhood, maturity, etc. This is obviously more substantive than what the promotional material implies. Nonetheless, the article we analyze above and the slant of the promotional material is in a sense determinedly trivial. And these are not trivial times. The disconnect widens.

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