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'Synergy' Killed the Radio Star

[whitespace] The New Yorker

By Jon Roemer

'Synergy." Go figure. Who knew? Who knew that in the age of Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner, in the summer of Godzilla and Armageddon, who knew that an intelligent, liberal-leaning, Oxford-educated Englishwoman like Tina Brown could make us all sit up and pay attention and start expecting something more? "Synergy" is her own favored way of describing her move from The New Yorker to Miramax, and who knew it would be "synergy" that would mark the end of the hypersensationalized, low-brow, feeding-frenzy media world as we know it? Who knew that all it took was a little "synergy?"

Now all that's left to do is figure out what the hell "synergy" means--and, just as importantly, how we all can get some. Somewhere between "silly" and "synonym" lies the answer: in Webster's, "synergy" is defined as "an interaction of discreet agencies, agents or conditions such that the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual effects." Different folks coming together with results that--bam!--transcend categories, explode expectations, emerge bigger than the pieces and exist on another plane altogether, phenomenonlike.

Ah, yes. Good old synergy. It was synergy, after all, that would take a couple of slices of white bread and, joining forces with a chunk of ham and a few ordinary eggs, give us the high-concept "croque monsieur." It was synergy that married propaganda with military and political authoritarianism to give us Nazi Germany. And synergy made both Standard Oil and Microsoft milestones of 20th-century capitalism. And need I mention the sublime synergy of chocolate-chip pancakes? And what of the inherent synergy in each and every Beanie Baby?

Which is not to confuse "synergy" with "buzz," the very currency of Ms. Brown's destination--Miramax, Disney, Hollywood. Everyone knows what "buzz" is. "Buzz" is a little more dirty than synergy, it's less profound-sounding, it lacks any post-New Age airs, and it just doesn't smell very fresh. Not at all. "Buzz" is almost everything "synergy" is not.

And yet it's "buzz" that makes the trains run on time. It's "buzz" that keeps lights on, the bills paid and shrinks in the pink. "Buzz" is what we run on, it's what makes The View great, and it's what fills our screens and inhabits our imaginations. When you think about it, "buzz" may be a little gritty, but it's really the life force of our culture. "Synergy," in comparison, is just a grandiose way of explaining personnel shifts. Nobody sits down to a breakfast of high-fiber synergy and pretends to like it.

Don't get me wrong. Any time a liberal-minded woman with an Oxford education breaks into mainstream American media and has her way with it, I'll be among the first to push and shove my way into that ticket line. Magazines spun off into movies developed into Web sites--whatever it is I can expect out of this new Tina Brown-Miramax synergy, I am hungry for it. With my wallet in one hand and the other on my modem, I hold a pencil between my teeth and start flipping back through Webster's, trying to find what exactly she means by this other delicious neologism of hers: "content."

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From the August 10-23, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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