Graydon Carter was editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair for 25 years during a golden era of magazines. He is now co-editor of Air Mail where he serves as a tastemaker for the “worldly cosmopolitans.” Graydon shares his musings with On The Money: Why the internet is an acid pit and how the Met Ball has become the Greenwich Village Halloween parade for the rich.
Lydia: You get The Post every day in NYC. Why The Post?
Graydon: The New York Times tells you about the world and the New York Post tells you about your world. I read the Post every single morning. I always have. I read it before The Times. The Post is the daily biography of New York in all its glory and grimness.
Lydia: You co-founded Spy magazine which was biting and funny and sarcastic. Given the cultural climate, is there a place for that kind of humor today?
Graydon: The internet is like an acid bath. Spy was like a slightly astringent cocktail. It was written in a pointed, clever way during a period in New York when money was on show for the first time in decades. And most of the people we wrote about were “overdogs” — as opposed to underdogs. There probably is still room for Spy but without me, and I suspect without my partner, Kurt Andersen. You need someone in their 30s willing to spend a lot of time in the muck of contemporary culture — and a further willingness to burn bridges.
Lydia: Did Gawker fill that void at all?
Graydon: Without ever really looking at it, my estimation was that Gawker was intrusive and just plain. It didn’t have the sophistication and wit of Spy.
Lydia: Are we as a society simply too woke to appreciate pointed humor?
Graydon: If you watch Seth Meyers or John Oliver or Jimmy Kimmel or SNL, they’re really funny on a regular basis.
Lydia: You have said that one of your overriding mantras as an editor is to “treat people fairly.” Is that in conflict with the rampant advocacy journalism we see today?
Graydon: I think I care about treating people more fairly now than when I was younger. At some point you just come to the realization that simply surviving in this crazy world is an accomplishment. I think advocacy journalism continues to be vital. The work of ProPublica over the last couple weeks on the Supreme Court, specifically Clarence Thomas, was extraordinary. And I do think, that for all the damning revelations in their investigations, they have treated Thomas fairly.
Lydia: You created the highest-profile event during Oscar season outside the Academy Awards itself: the Vanity Fair Oscar Party. Were the 90’s and the aughts “peak Hollywood”? Have the streamers and tech giants sucked the glamor out of the studios? Is it over?
Graydon: A certain part of it is over. I’ll be honest, my wife and I haven’t watched the Oscars since I left Vanity Fair almost six years ago. We do very little Hollywood coverage in Air Mail. The entertainment business is not exactly an under reported subject. I do get interested in Hollywood stories when things go terribly, terribly wrong. Hollywood may not be as glamor-centric as it was in the past, but maybe it never was.
Lydia: You’ve said glamor moves and shifts. Can glamor come back to news and magazines?
Graydon: The Internet can be unrelentingly grim, but most people want something other than that daily dose of awfulness in their lives. People watch coverage of the Met Ball just to see the insane clothing. Although I would say over the last couple of years, attendees are wearing costumes rather than clothes. You could get a version of many of the outfits worn that night for a fraction of the cost at any Halloween shop in October. The Met Ball of today is not all that far removed from the Greenwich Village Halloween parade.
Lydia: Do you miss the longevity of print?
Graydon: With print you actually have to keep the magazine with you. The great thing about the internet is your archive is always available. Even on your phone.
Lydia: Do people even read books anymore?
Graydon: I think people read as much as ever. Just in different ways. They’re not lying down with the volumes of Charles Dickens but they’re reading. There’s always been a percentage of the population that doesn’t read. I divide the world into two groups: readers and non-readers. Readers you want to be around. Non-readers, not so much.
Lydia: Of course, people used to read Charles Dickens in installments over the span of weeks.
Graydon: They were serials. Chapters would run in the small London weekly magazines of the day. His books were essentially what series like “Succession” or “Game of Thrones” are today. And like good television, Dickens exited each chapter with a cliffhanger.
Lydia: Any other projects you are working on that excite you?
Graydon: I have a documentary on Michael Chow — the owner of Mr. Chow, who is simply remarkable. He is 83 and has a new wife and a toddler. As the film, directed by Nick Hooker points out, Michael had the hot London during the swinging 1960s; the hot restaurant in LA during the libertine 1970s; and the hot restaurant in New York during the boom years of the 1980s art world. Michael, who is now a painter, has more energy than a 25-year-old.
This story originally appeared on NYPost