The Buzz

Friedman, Chekhov and Other Illusions

The pullquote for Tom Friedman’s column yesterday perhaps said it best, “Returning to the same-old, same-old.”

Friedman’s repetitive writing has hit an a new low with his column “Pussy Riot, Tupac and Putin.” What does the piece have to do with any of these three figures? Very little, it turns out. In fact, the column’s intent is difficult to glean.

With the organization of a seventh grade essay whose author is chatting online and popping Red Bull, the column spends the lede recounting an obscure Chekhov play titled Three Sisters. This is significant because apparently Putin brings out the “Three Sisters in [Friedman].” No word on what that might mean. Being deeply interested in Friedman’s inner workings though, we are intrigued. He continues, “Every time I come [to Moscow], I expect to find that, this time, Russia is really pivoting from being a petro-state, with a heavy authoritarian gloss…to a country that has decided to invest in education, innovation and its human capital.” I can definitively say this figures nowhere into the desires or dreams of anyone in Three Sisters. This author would recount Freidman’s whole sentence for effect, but it’s nearly seventy words long.

With this bungled comparison in mind, Friedman then decides it’s time to talk about why NATO expansion was a mistake. No contest, but this has what to do with Chekhov and Tupac Shakur? We’re halfway through the column now, and these threads show no sign of intertwining. An odd paragraph that feels like Friedman wants to sit down with everyone who cares about Russia and stage an intervention ensues: “Russia would be so much more influential as America’s partner than it would be as Iran or Syria’s patron,” he pleads. After all, Russia couldn’t possibly view this situation differently than we do.

Teleport to Vladislav Y. Surkov’s office. Are we in Three Sisters? Crime and Punishment? Unclear. It emerges that Surkov is Russia’s deputy prime minister for modernization. He has pictures of Google co-founder Sergery Brin, TV pioneer Vladimir Zworykin, and Tupac Shakur up on his wall. You can almost hear the music now: One of these things is not like the others… Friedman presses Surkov on the similarities between Tupac and Pussy Riot to which, Surkov, the only sane person in this column says, “Pussy Riot is no Tupac Shakur.”

Indeed, sir. Indeed. But Friedman can’t leave it alone, “Pussy Riot is probably no Tupac.” (Did Friedman listen to either before writing this column in his sleep at 3 a.m.? Even he is unsure.) “But the band members were iconoclasts who broke the mold, albeit in an offensive and obnoxious manner. Isn’t that what critics said about Steve Jobs?”

End Scene.

I’m imagining that NYT editors have taken a “let Friedman be Friedman” approach to these situations. I’ll have to add my befuddlement with this column to the list of questions other women have for Tom. After all, I’m sure he can tell me what I should think about it.