How Things Begin (The Approval Matrix, part 7)

NUSSBAUM The other thing is it [The Approval Matrix] got picked up all over the place. Which was exciting for me. We would start noticing people started refering to things as highbrow/despicable.

ROBERTS By “picked up” you mean by other magazines? People on the street?

NUSSBAUM A lot of people did imitations of it. Some of them mentioning it, other ones ripping it off. I’ve seen 10 or 12 other magazines doing things that were like The Politics Matrix or whatever. A bunch of European magazines did things. At one point Stuff magazine did something and we put their matrix on our matrix. I wasn’t involved in the placement at that point. We put their matrix on our matrix, and then they put our matrix on their matrix. It was this strange little down-the-rabbit-hole issue. I would occasionally read different articles or online things where people would start refering to something as lowbrow/brilliant. And at one point we talked about making stickers to put around town so that people could tag things as lowbrow/brilliant or highbrow/despicable like that. It never happened. There was a New York magazine event where they made t-shirts. I think the t-shirts are going to be a problem because I don’t think people are going to get a t-shirt that says highbrow/brilliant.  Everybody will want a t-shirt that says lowbrow/brilliant or maybe lowbrow/despicable. It was an interesting question: What labels are people willing to put on themselves? Which t-shirts would be more popular than others?
Later they created a online interactive Matrix on the website, but I don’t think it was that successful even though it was incredibly beautifully done. To me that was because people don’t want to place things on the matrix, they want to argue about the matrix.

ROBERTS I did it once and everything landed in the middle. It was no fun.

NUSSBAUM It was an interesting idea in theory because it was a Wiki-matrix. But to me it missed the point of what people liked about it. First, people like the authority of it being set and then responding to it. They don’t necessarily want to create their own.  The other thing was that the jokes out of context of their actual placement are not that interesting. If you just see a factoid about a particular fashion show that week — it’s not that meaningful unless you see where it’s placed on The Matrix. To me, it wasn’t supersuccessful. Did you find it that, technologically, it was lovely? I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t take off.

ROBERTS I did it once and the average answers were so boring I stopped. I don’t care what I think, I’m more interested in what other people think.

NUSSBAUM Exactly. I think that that’s the case. I launched it, and oversaw the editing for — I don’t even remember how long, I was working so hard at the time, the whole thing is such a blur to me. After a couple of months, like I said, we hired Sternbergh and he came on and he was the overseeing editor of it for quite a long time.  If you want to talk to him, he’s another good person to talk to.

ROBERTS Well, I’m just writing a blog entry about this, not a book. This is wonderful. This is so interesting to me, you can’t understand how interesting this is to me.

NUSSBAUM So why are you interested in it? How did this become a thing for you? I’m just so excited when someone likes it. It’s nice. What interests you about it?

ROBERTS Partly it’s that I worked at Spy . . . No, the first thing that happened was that I read Spy. I loved Spy. The interesting thing is not that I was so into dissing powerful people, it was that Spy made me interested in New York City in a way that I’d never been before. Spy did all sorts of things that made New York come to life and made it seem like a wonderful place. This was the city that has The New Yorker, remember? Spy did better, way better. Then I worked at Spy and I talked to the editors, I know they were very interested in coming up with new ways of telling things. I could see that it was very successful at this. And then Spy goes away, and a long time later The Approval Matrix comes up which has the same quality as Spy of making me interested in stuff. In a big way. It really succeeds in ways that other magazines don’t do so well.

NUSSBAUM I was very into Spy as well.

Interview directory. Behind The Approval Matrix.

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