It is, in fact, almost impossible

Macdonald invoked Kierkegaard's specter as an example of the tide he was struggling against, but it wasn't until twenty years later that George Trow gave it a name - celebrity. Trow's celebrity is neither the self that supports the image, nor is it exactly the image itself; rather it is "[a] record of the expression of demographically significant preferences: the lunge of demography here as opposed to there." It lives in a history stripped of context, in which "nothing [is] judged -- only counted" and in which "the ideal [becomes] agreement rather than well judged action." And since it is neither mass nor man, but rather a reflection of statistical leanings, Trow doesn't trace its history in time, but rather plots it as a trajectory between two grids:

It is, in fact, almost impossible to distinguish Trow's idea of celebrity from his definition of television:

Within the Context of No Context, which is composed as a series of aphorisms and miniature essays, is unspeakably sad. Trow's sentences are short from grief. His italics bleed. He published the piece in The New Yorker, and largely disappeared from its pages, and public view, not long afterwards. Where Macdonald is motivated by self-interest, or, to be more generous, class or professional interest - it is, after all, the space of cultural guardians, which he himself occupies, that Macdonald is struggling to protect - Trow's concern is profoundly American. I'd like to imagine that, if we could somehow bring Whitman back to life to deliver his Democratic Vistas in person, it would be Trow we'd pick to pull him aside and explain that, ahem, things didn't work out quite as the old man had hoped.

But Trow's roots aren't fundamentally different from Macdonald's. He, too, is a member of the old guard - the scion of one of New York's oldest publishing families - and a graduate of Exeter and Harvard. And though his prose is stronger, and his sympathies wider, he is eulogizing the same thing Macdonald sought to protect.

John Seabrook comes from a similar background. An heir to the Seabrook frozen-food fortune (you can still see the brand, which no longer belongs to Seabrook's family, at your local supermarket), he studied at Princeton and wrote a master's thesis on Eliot at Oxford. But if Trow is a more generous version of Macdonald, Seabrook, who came of age in Tina Brown's New Yorker, is an entirely different animal. Like many New Yorker writers, he is a fine stylist - remarkably fine considering how unselfconscious his writing is; it seems to spill out of him wholly formed and unfiltered - and a keen observer of cultural mores. But Seabrook stands firmly on the other side of a cultural schism which the surface similarities to Trow and Macdonald don't quite bridge. For him, Macdonald's argument and Trow's lament miss the point.

"One of Tina Brown's gifts as an editor," he writes "was that she saw the American cultural hierarchy for what it really was [italics mine]: not a hierarchy of taste at all, but a hierarchy of power that used taste to cloak its real agenda." It's a revealing aside, not only because it firmly places Seabrook's position on a particular side of the culture wars, but because it doesn't allow for the possibility of taking any other side; it assumes - as Brown herself did - that the realization dictates a course of action. Namely, exploiting that very power structure for all it's worth. Thus, in Brown's hands the role of editor becomes that of trend-spotter and power broker, trading on The New Yorker's ever-diminishing collateral as a last remaining voice of cultural authority (ever-diminishing because a good portion of it was being siphoned off into Tina Brown's own account as cultural arbitrageur) to leverage her writers into positions of proximity to buzz, celebrity, money, and power - all of which increasingly began looking like one and the same thing.

Needless to say, the writer's role changed as well. Seabrook's book is a collection of celebrity profiles he wrote for the magazine over the course of the past five years, stitched together with anecdotes about how he came to write about the particular celebrity in question. The segues consists of passages like the following:

Seabrook is so forthcoming about compromises he's made in order to curry favor with Brown that it seems besides the point to fault him for making them. His book is, in almost every way, the most honest and eye-opening account of life at The New Yorker published thus far. But the fact remains that, where Macdonald spotted a blood-dimmed tide rushing his way, and Trow found himself drowning in the flood, a new generation of writers seems to have grown gills, and forgotten what dry land looks like.