How Things Begin (The Approval Matrix, part 5)

NUSSBAUM For good or bad there was actually a lot of conversation and real analysis about where to place things. In the very beginning one thing I did try was to make it a policy, if we could avoid it, to not snark on things that we hadn’t actually experienced or really knew nothing about, just make jokes at the expense of the names of books that we hadn’t read. I wanted to make the jokes about things that were very specific. Instead of saying we don’t like the movie Godzilla, saying “the ridiculous scene in . . .” — a specific scene, a specific performance, or a specific song in a musical, or something like that. Because to me it makes it more useful and more authoritative, and less just striking out at the general world of culture and saying good, bad, good, bad, good, bad, which is always a danger with something like that. Because we were under a time crunch.

ROBERTS Yeah, a little less Entertainment Weekly with its A+, B+. . . . I happen to like that.

NUSSBAUM I don’t actually have a problem with that. What Entertainment Weekly does with that is very basic, and a lot of places do that, is using a school metaphor thing to judge things. They’ve read the book. They’re actually writing a review of it. The Matrix isn’t writing reviews. but because it’s putting things on this chart, I do think we have to have some sense of responsibility about not just throwing something on just because that doesn’t sound good.

ROBERTS You’re real critics. You actually know about what you’re talking about.

NUSSBAUM The whole thing works better if we know what we’re talking about, if it actually seems like…it operates as though it has its own consciousness and  it’s this weird hive mind of a lot of different opinionated people who’ve experienced a lot of different culture.

ROBERTS If a book is on The Approval Matrix, someone at New York has read the book.

NUSSBAUM Ideally, yes. I’m talking to you because I began the thing. But I’ve switched jobs now, I’m not the head of Culture now. Sternbergh isn’t editing it, either, it’s been passed on. But even if it was a very silly book, you should at least take a look through it. That was essentially the premise. Some things are about news items. Those don’t have the same necessity in terms of . . . I feel like I’m being so crazily over-analytical! Of course it is a charticle.

ROBERTS A charticle? There’ve been many charticles in the history of journalism.

NUSSBAUM Of course it is a visual device. It’s supposed to be entertaining.

ROBERTS I think it’s wonderful. Not because it’s entertaining, although it is, but because it’s enlightening. It’s opening up a world. It does it so well. Let’s take Entertainment Weekly. If they give something an A, I’m going to look into it. If they give a book an A I’m going to check out that book. But they take two pages to give one book an A. The Approval Matrix can give something an A or A+ five times in one page.

NUSSBAUM This is the transcendent beauty of the reductive. We can chart something in this pseudo-scientific way. It does have some kind of …

ROBERTS Pseudo-scientific? I don’t know about that. I think it’s scientific.

NUSSBAUM Just in the sense that it’s so absurdly hyper-specific that it’s unreal. 

Interview directory. Behind The Approval Matrix.

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