Sunday, September 25, 2005


Local alternative media are united in their disregard for Sidekick, the new Boston Globe section serving as a “Guide to a Better Day” with comics, puzzles, television listings, things to do and assorted junk. The Boston Phoenix calls it “muddled” and “confusing.” The Weekly Dig reached these conclusions first in a piece marked by a tone of revulsion over the Globe “groveling” in establishing the section.

In general, the complaint is that Sidekick lacks identity, which smacks of the media’s usual overthinking when confronted with something pushing the boundaries, however incrementally, of U.S. journalistic tradition. There’s a meaningful kind of navel gazing that goes on when, for instance, advertising and marketing invade once sacrosanct parts of a newspaper or the reporting process. It becomes narcissistic — if not downright masturbatory — in examinations such as this, about Sidekick, from the Phoenix’ Mark Jurkowitz:

Some features — those steering people to nightlife, music, and food — are apparently designed for younger, hipper folks ready to hit the town. But others — such as the comics and TV listings — were newspaper nomads looking for a home and happened to find one in Sidekick. Do the demographics of people who like crossword and jumble puzzles and bridge columns match those of readers who send in messages trying to hook up with people they spotted at Supercuts or Avalon? Or those debating whether Snoop Dogg or Metallica produced the best album of the last 20 years? I’d guess not.

Like the panicky probes into what stories can jump from what pages, this kind of media criticism is along the lines of arguing over the proper way to diagram a sentence instead of looking at whether a sentence works on its own merits. Were Sidekick a standalone publication for which people paid daily, such criticism might matter. But Sidekick is just a section in a newspaper that crams together a bunch of features that may or may not work well together, but are needed or wanted wherever they are. If it anchors features, allowing readers to find them easily, Sidekick is doing its job. And by serving readers, the Globe is serving advertisers.

Cramming together a bunch of features into an uncomfortable package is, frankly, what newspapers do. That’s how they include something for everyone — and a fair amount of nothing for a whole hell of a lot of somebodies.

It’s easy to tell critics just need something to write about when the Dig spends a paragraph on this:

First off, the name. Sidekick? Sidekick? Who the fuck named this thing? It’s promoted as “Your guide to a better day.” Your guide. Save for Sherlock Holmes and Don Quixote, who is guided by their sidekick? A sidekick is a occasionally clever little guy who follows you around. He’s not a leader. He’s not the hip, young dude who turns you on to the hottest trends (ick). He’s a sycophant, a tagalong, an ancillary character. Robin to your Batman. Messina to your Loggins.

This may be funny, but it’s supposed to be funny because it’s true. This is less funny because it’s weak, and you can tell the argument is weak when this staff-written piece begins by making allowances for Holmes’ Watson and Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza.

Without thinking too hard you can add Indiana Jones’ Short Round and Salah, both sidekicks by whom our hero is guided, Wang Chi in “Big Trouble in Little China,” Billy Kwan in “The Year of Living Dangerously,” Ron Eldard’s fellow workers in the “Blind Justice” television series and Grover in Gregory McDonald’s “Flynn” detective novels. In short, any time a protagonist ventures into unknown territory, the friendly person who leads them is their sidekick and guide. It’s just not that rare or odd, which makes the Dig’s point somewhat ... pointless.

There may be nothing all that right with Sidekick, but there’s nothing all that wrong with it, either.

Our local media critics would do better to contemplate why they’re spending time on such minutiae.


Brian Wanamaker said...

"Our local media critics would do better to contemplate why they’re spending time on such minutiae."

Is this intended to be ironic?

Scape7 said...

It wasn't intended to be, but I certainly noted the irony upon writing the piece. I guess I was hoping no one else would notice.