Internal Memo: Malcolm Gladwell

  •  Welcome to the New Yorker Festival. My name is Malcolm. Have I made a good impression so far? Because that is critical. Permanent feelings are formed in the blink of an eye. If you were to shake my hand right now, you would make a judgment that I would never be able to live down. But as it is, I stand before you on a stage beneath a magazine you subscribe to for $25 or $40 annually, depending on your practical intelligence. And you paid another $30 for a ticket to be here tonight, at a sold-out show, to partake of my cultural capital. You are a consumer in the prestige economy, so chances are you are going to respect me–if only to feel like you got your money’s worth. You are going to think that everything I tell you is true. And I can promise you, not only is everything I say true, all of it is blatantly obvious.

 

  • My subject tonight is “The Magical Year 1975.” It was the year Saigon fell. It was the year Bill Gates founded Microsoft. The first episode of Saturday Night Live was broadcast. President Ford pardoned Robert E. Lee. Phil Collins replaced Peter Gabriel in Genesis. The term “fractal” was coined. Michael Ovitz started the Creative Artists Agency. The Weather Underground bombed the State Department. Queen Elizabeth knighted Charlie Chaplin. Nothing would ever be the same. Bill Gates, Gerald Ford, Phil Collins, Queen Elizabeth–these were people who thought without thinking. Nineteen seventy-five was a tipping year. But what makes history itself capable of this kind of tip? And what’s the point? How do people accomplish anything? The problem with 1975 is that so many problems were solved, so many successes were sown, so many crises unfolded, it was as if everything all over the world were happening all at once: being solved, being sown, being unfolded. Only time itself could bring us to where we are today. Time, which is itself a mixed metaphor, is like nothing else. But what if time had stopped? Would it still be 1975?

 

  • There are other mysteries and puzzles I intend to solve in articles and books slated for the next decade. If stories have a beginning and an end, why do they need a middle? Does self-knowledge necessarily lead to self-loathing? Why does language require letters? Why do older men leave their wives for younger women–is it because of the hair? Am I having a good hair day? If history had never happened, what would be happening now? How does a bill become a law? Why do criminals think they can get away with it? Do sophists believe in their own wisdom? If you bring a woman to a certain restaurant on a first date, is it acceptable to bring her there on the next date as well? If not, why not? The problem with me is that I can’t answer all of these questions. At the end of the day, I’m just a journalist.

 

  • Does anyone know if n+1 is having an after-party tonight, and if so, can I share a cab?
Internal Memo: Malcolm Gladwell