Time and Jay-Z

jay z.jpg

Two developments of interest:

1) Time Magazine has launched a new editorial strategy.

2) Jay-Z has become a record executive.

I think these are related, but you decide.

Pam subscribes to Time and I think I have read enough issues (3) to detect a theme.

One recent story is called Is God In Our Genes?: A provocative study asks whether religion is a product of evolution.

Another is called Cosmic Conundrum: The universe seems uncannily well suited to the existence of Life. Could this really be a coincidence?

This incursion into Globe and Mirror territory suggests that Time is up to something: the demonstration that God is in the details, particularly those of the natural world. Both stories suggest that there are natural foundations for religious belief.

This is a Weberian exercise, a refusal of what he called the disenchantment of the world, the unseating of religion and folk wisdom by the rise of reason and science.

More pertinently, it represents, perhaps, a possible rapprochement of the Red and the Blue state. If Time can build a bridge between belief and science, it might build a bridge between parties that don’t agree on very much and especially new presidents. It’s a win-win exercise: rationalist Blue Staters would see Reason prevail. Red Staters would see faith vindicated in the proof of a divine intelligence.

In a second story, the WSJ tells us that Jay-Z is giving up performing as a rap star to turn himself into a record executive. In this, he follows in the footsteps of Madonna and Fred Durst, both of whom run small labels for larger ones.

This can be seen as an attempt on the part of record labels to create a rapprochement of another kind. Now that it’s clear that the old system of trend and talent spotting (scouts, A&R specialists and executives) does not work, the labels are seeking to elevate the acts themselves, so to install their intelligence in the wheel house of the corporation. Thus would they build a bridge between all the innovation taking place “out there” and the system that must somehow harness it.

If these developments have anything in common, it’s that they both attempt to connect disparate parts of our exploding culture, and somehow build a bridge between them. Contrary to Weber’s notion, science and religion are, in some camps, increasingly at odds. In another far corner of our expanding galaxy, music consumers and producers are moving away from one another at speed.

Most of us (mixed metaphor advisory!) keep to our corners. But commerce, for its self-interested, not at all ecumenical, reasons, wants to bind things up again…at least enough to sell magazines and records. For Time, it’s is a matter of showing unsuspected harmonies. For the record labels, it’s a matter of promoting someone who can travel the entire cat walk of contemporary music.

Will this work? The good thing about capitalism is that it doesn’t care. In its mechanical, wind-up, way, it will just keep trying. It will try almost anything to put the Levithan of contemporary culture (aka Humpty Dumpty) back together again. And surely this is a good thing. Politicians, academicians, museum curators, most journalists, and almost all of the rest of us have pretty much given up.

One thing to keep an eye on is the several strategies corporations will use to create these bridges. Some of their success and our culture may hang in the balance.


Kluger, Jeffrey. 2004. Is God in our genes? Time Magazine. October 25, 2004. pp. 62-72.

Lemonick, Michael and J. Madeleine Nash. 2004. Cosmic Conundrum. Time Magazine. November 29, 2004, pp. 58-61.

Smith, Ethan. 2004. The Executive formerly known as Rapper Jay-Z. Wall Street Journal. December 13, 2004, pp. B1, B5.