Friday, April 15, 2011

A digital thumbs down

Hmm. I suppose that headline might seem like a redundancy. After all, isn’t a thumb, pretty much by definition, already a digit?

Maybe “A doubly digital thumbs down” would be more appropriate.

Anyway, in days of yore (and, sad to say, I fear I’m finally old enough to be able to refer to my “days of yore,” even if I’m not sure exactly what “yore” is and I’m still young enough to be too lazy to look it up), if I wrote something I thought The New Yorker, or any other magazine, might be interested in, I’d stick it in an envelope, schlep it to the post office, and find out how much postage I needed to put both on that envelope and on the return envelope (in the of course unlikely event that the magazine would want to send it back to me).

This required a fair amount of effort, and of course the cost of postage never seems cheap.

Not to mention that I’d have to wait a few months for a yes or no.

Well, sir – and madam and all the kiddies – times have indeed changed.

Early this week I sent another humor piece to The New Yorker. But this time I sent it as a PDF attachment to an email – which is the way the magazine now wants it.

A couple of days later, I got a response.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of those “your email couldn’t be delivered” messages, accompanied by inscrutable sets of numbers and upsettingly mysterious words like “daemon.”

Nope. Turns out my piece was rejected.

In what may have been record time.

But you’ve got to hand it to whoever wrote what I take to be The New Yorker’s standard rejection message. (I guess we can’t say “rejection slip” anymore, can we? We poor mediocre scribes are even being denied the pleasure of papering our office walls with such slips – or at least bragging that we’ve been doing so.)

The message said my piece had been rejected despite its “evident merit.”

Although I don’t know who composed this message, I’m betting it was someone who was taught by Jesuits.

I say this because the phrase “evident merit” evokes (for me at least) the concept of “mental reservation.”

In theological terms (and I speak authoritatively as a non-theologian), “mental reservation” is Catholic-speak for “yes, it’s kind of a lie, but…”

One classic example given involves the issue of what to do when someone in your home is being pursued by a killer, and said killer comes to your door and asks, “Is so-and-so home?”

Under the theory of mental reservation, you would be allowed to say, “No he isn’t” when what you really mean is “No, he isn’t home to you, and he wouldn't be if you were the last homicidal maniac on earth!” It’s not the killer’s fault if he or she can’t figure out that you’ve only uttered part of what you really mean.

Then again, I’m not sure this really qualifies as a practical example; I’ve never known any killers, but I somehow doubt many of them spend much time studying, let alone observing, the niceties of etiquette. They’d be more likely to shoot you first, and then, at best, apologetically say, “Oh, please pardon my manners, but is so-and-so home?” as the maggots begin to congregate around your bleeding body.

And now you might ask (among many other questions), what does all this have to do with “evident merit”?

I mean simply that the clever New Yorker rejection message writer might really be saying: “It obviously seems evident to you that this piece has merit, but after looking at it, we had to fumigate our hard drive – twice, to make sure.”

Eventually, I suppose technology will get to the point where a magazine will be able to see what you’re planning to submit before you even submit it, at which point a pop-up will appear and say “Don’t even think of sending this! And if you do, we’ll send a murderous daemon to your home, asking for you -- and he won't take no for an answer!”

No comments: