Magazine | June 11, 2018, Issue

Superposed Wor(l)ds

Outside the New York Times building in Manhattan (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Recent days were eventful. The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem opened. Tom Wolfe died. The Supreme Court cleared the way for legal sports betting. We learned that there may have been an FBI informant in the Donald Trump campaign. A teenager murdered ten people at his Houston-area school. Americans and Brits swooned over the royal wedding.

So what was the most read story on the New York Times site the week all those things happened? “Yanny or Laurel? How a Sound Clip Divided America.”

The week’s blockbuster story took off when one of those bright young things of YouTube posted a Twitter clip that was viewed more than 26 million times. The post was an audio file together with the words “What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel.” The clip (taken from a demonstration of how to pronounce the word “laurel”) sounded like “Yanny” to many, “Laurel” to many others. Husbands and wives, children and parents split on the question. “It depends on what part (what frequency range) of the signal you attend to,” linguistics professor Patricia Keating explained to the Times. The news site featured a helpful sliding scale with “Yanny” at one extreme and “Laurel” at the other; by moving the slider, one could adjust which frequencies in the sound were emphasized. Muting the higher frequencies yields “Laurel”; muting the lower ones produces “Yanny.”

With so much other news happening, why did America react to “Laurel” vs. “Yanny” with a level of obsession suggesting a Game of Thrones season finale times a Beyoncé appearance at the Super Bowl? Are we all just hungry for the respite of the uncontroversially trivial? Sure, maybe. But maybe “Laurel”/“Yanny” is the key to everything.

“Laurel”/“Yanny” isn’t a question of spin. One side is literally unable to hear what the other side hears. To most people it seems self-evident that “Yanny” (or “Laurel”) is the only possible answer. And yet those who give the opposite answer clearly aren’t crazy. They aren’t lying. They have nothing to gain. Neither side is associated with a cause. Neither side is tainted by the proselytizing of Vox or Fox. For once, even President Trump stayed out of it. “All I hear is ‘covfefe,’” said POTUS. It’s solely a matter of which frequencies your ear is attuned to, not your merit as a human being. I heard “Laurel,” and no doubt about it.

America immersed itself in “Laurel”/“Yanny” because America needs “Laurel”/“Yanny.” Wouldn’t it be lovely if you thought your ideological adversaries were motivated by honest disagreement rather than malice, stupidity, or corruption? It would be so much easier to get through the day.

Take the New York Times’ editorial about how dozens of Palestinian terrorists urged into the breach by Hamas died in a mass suicide/riot/publicity stunt on the same day the Jerusalem embassy opened. When I hear “dead terrorists,” I think, “My favorite kind!” and I can’t imagine anyone thinking otherwise. The Times hears “human-rights tragedy.” It and CNN and most other news outlets oozed with sympathy for the dead Hamas fanboys and pinned their deaths not on their own Jew-hating rage but on the Jews, including Jews not present, such as Ivanka Trump. The front page of the Daily News, New York’s left-wing tabloid, dubbed the president’s daughter “Daddy’s Little Ghoul” for attending the embassy opening. The Times’ editorial found fault with Israel and the U.S. for opening the embassy doors in a manner “dismissive” of Palestinian feelings, suggested “nonlethal measures” should have been used to quell the hypercharged rioters, and gushed with sympathy for “the agony of Palestinians in Gaza.” Agony? I suppose Mohamed Atta and Co. probably experienced a moment of agony when they crashed those planes into the World Trade Center, but their agony was rather beside the point. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on whether we should wring our hands about the agony experienced by suicidal terrorists. I hear “Laurel,” the Times hears “Yanny.”

Same goes in the case of Karl Marx, whose bicentennial the Times celebrated with an op-ed entitled “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” This encomium followed 2017’s year-long celebration of the Russian Revolution, which the Times observed with such columns as “Why Women Had Better Sex under Socialism,” “How to Parent Like a Bolshevik,” and “Lenin’s Eco-Warriors.” Say the words “Soviet Union” and I hear “forced starvation, show trials, mass executions, terror, poverty, and brutality.” The Times hears “well-intentioned beardy eco-feminists.” Laurel, Yanny.

MS-13 is also back in the news, and when it is, I hear “ruthless international gang of Satanic assassins and behead-ophiles.” The Times hears “undocumented immigrants” and beats up President Trump for hearing “animals.” When Jordan Peterson talks about despondency among men who fail to find marriage partners, I hear concern. The Times hears misogyny. As Peterson was telling Times reporter Nellie Bowles about this, she tells us in her profile of him, she could not quell a snort of derision. “I laugh, because it is absurd,” she interjects in the piece.

No hard feelings, New York Times! You’re providing a completely different take on reality than I would, but who’s to say who’s right? Maybe you’re not biased, mendacious, or obtuse, just on a different wavelength. But here’s the obvious solution: How about publishing a separate, parallel edition for all us Laurels? Current readers could stick with the New Yanny Times, while the New Laurel Times would be attuned to a different range of frequencies, in which marriage sounds good but Marxism, MS-13, and Hamas terrorists sound bad. You laugh, because it is absurd. But maybe not quite as absurd as the status quo.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners


The Week

The Week

Barack Obama signed a contract with Netflix. Now he’ll be working for the media instead of the other way around.

Going Postal

The president is displeased with Amazon, which seems odd; it’s like reading “George H. W. Bush was spitting mad at Sears.”

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