Magazine article The Spectator

'Modern Romance', by Aziz Ansari, with Eric Klinenberg - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Modern Romance', by Aziz Ansari, with Eric Klinenberg - Review

Article excerpt

Modern Romance Aziz Ansari, with Eric Klinenberg

Allen Lane, pp.279, £6.99, ISBN: 9780241211830

An American stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari, who usually performs in Los Angeles and New York, has found time to conduct an international investigation of the mating habits of the young in the digital age. Like most other stand-up comedians, male and female, Ansari evidently bases his act on nationalistic, ethnic and sexual misanthropy, expressed with facetious cynicism. The first words of his introduction are 'OH, SHIT!', which seem to promise streetwise modernity but nothing romantic. Is the book only some kind of wise-guy scam? No, it's not that simple.

Born 32 years ago in Bennettsville, a small town in South Carolina, Ansari apparently felt restricted by what he calls his 'brown skin tone' until he moved up to the less racist north. In the bachelorhood of his twenties and the freedom from inhibition of his career in comedy, he felt well able to explore the amorous adventurism of his contemporaries, and a publisher encouraged him to record his findings in print. Before undertaking 'a massive research project', he decided to collaborate with Eric Klinenberg, a New York University sociologist, who helped to set up focus groups and hundreds of interviews, almost entirely with middle-class heterosexuals, and to present the results in generalisations of academic probity, with graphs and pie charts exhibiting slices of statistical percentages. To save his target readership from the danger of ennui, however, Ansari spices his prose with naughty informality.

For comparative purposes, a preliminary focus group was assembled in a retirement community on the Lower East Side of New York. The researchers provided Dunkin' Donuts and coffee, which

the staff had said would be key to convincing the old folks to speak with us. Sure enough, when the seniors caught a whiff of doughnuts, they were quick to pull up chairs and start answering our questions.

In spite of their crepuscular years, the subjects were able to remember how they escaped from parental control and supervision by marrying the first available acquiescent neighbours they encountered. A typical oldie, 68 years of age, confided that 'she got married when she was 21 -- to a man who lived in the same apartment complex, one floor above her'. On their first date they went to a movie and had dinner with her mother, and thereafter progress to matrimony was easy. The customary pattern of courtship in the olden days, Ansari deduced, meant that people used to get married very young, for practical convenience rather than love. …

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