New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix Is Not Actually a Matrix


We’ll hand it to them: New York magazine’s Approval Matrix may be one of the most consistently entertaining features in print journalism to survive the last decade. Bravo even made a TV show out of the highbrow/lowbrow/despicable/brilliant axis on which the magazine has plotted its tastes. But Sarah Zhang over at Mother Jones (and, full disclosure, my friend and former colleague) has made a tear in the Approval Matrix continuum. See, the Approval Matrix isn’t even a matrix, but something called a “Cartesian coordinate plane.”


So, if you remember back to your own algebra class, matrices are an array of mathematical elements such as numbers, expression, or symbols. They look something like this:

Both our and New York‘s “matrices” are actually Cartesian coordinate planes, which you may also remember from algebra. The x and y axes represent different values that increase as you move away from the center. Simple, really.

“I consider it a multi-faceted, prismatic, 5-Dimensional environment with a hidden wormhole, impossible to fully portray on paper, so ‘matrix’ seemed to work as shorthand,” said Emily Nussbaum, New Yorker critic and former New York editor, in response to Mother Jones‘s findings.

Not quite the scandal of the century, but busted nonetheless. Question is: Where would New York magazine’s fake Approval “Matrix” land on its true Cartesian coordinate plane? We’re guessing lowbrow and maybe brilliant, which is, you know, so meta.

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