The usual disclaimer: 1. I admit these are not great music; 2. I claim copyright anyway, so there; 3. No, I cannot do anything about the general quality of the mix, as I am incompetent.
The usual disclaimer: 1. I admit these are not great music; 2. I claim copyright anyway, so there; 3. No, I cannot do anything about the general quality of the mix, as I am incompetent.
So, this essay is going to be about the film Ted, directed by Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame and co-written by him as well, starring Marky Mark and Mila Kunis. You may have seen it two years ago when this essay might have had some cultural relevance.
Anyhoo, I was thinking about this movie again for reasons impossible to explain. It’s not a terrible movie. Like all of MacFarlane’s work, it has flashes of quick wit and even brilliance muddied up with poop jokes and a frenetic over-reliance on the flashback. Still, all in all I enjoyed it. Except something has always bugged me about Ted. Something’s always been a bit off. Can you put your finger on it?
The titular Ted in this movie is an enchanted teddy bear who magically comes to life. But he completely, totally, absolutely does not need to be.
Let’s consider this. No, seriously, let’s. There is absolutely no story reason that Ted has to be a magical teddy bear. None. Let’s play a thought experiment: Imagine watching this movie, and Ted is replaced by a CGI Benny Hill. Everything except some minor dialog would be exactly the same: Marky Mark and Ted become friends as children, Ted has some brief fame (for a reason other than being a magical teddy bear, of course – stay with me here), and Marky Mark’s girlfriend is fed up with their immaturity and lack of focus.
Every single plot point and scene still works with Benny Hill instead of a teddy bear. Every. Single. Plot point. Even the kidnapping at the end makes sense if we assume that Giovanni Ribisi’s character is just insane. Which, since he’s being played by the always-disturbing Giovanni Ribisi, we assume he is. Heck, even the one liners and jokes generally wouldn’t have to change, or not change much.
So why is Ted a teddy bear? Why bother when the movie’s really a buddy film about two friends finally taking the plunge into independent adulthood? I can only speculate, but I think he maybe didn’t trust his material.
I’ve done that: Dressed up a story as something else because I didn’t think I had anything funny or exciting to say. Turned a detective story into a SF story, a love story into a horror story, all because I thought I needed a lot of scares and flashing lights to keep people’s attention. I can’t say that Seth MacFarlane did that. Maybe he had a meeting with your typical Hollywood Producer:
MacFarlane: I have this idea for a coming-of-age comedy starring Marky Mark.
Producer: I am so stoned right now you appear to be a magical talking teddy bear.
MacFarlane: Okay … uh, it’s really warm and witty with my trademark –
Producer: This briefcase is filled with cocaine and cash. You can have it all if you make a movie about a talking toy bear. Otherwise I will dedicate my life to destroying you professionally.
MacFarlane: … SOLD!
You know it’s possible. In fact, I am now 100% certain this is exactly how Ted – and several other recent Hollywood films – came to be. My only question is, why won’t someone with a suitcase filled with cocaine and cash show up and force me to make films from my books?
When people live in New Jersey, the borough of Brooklyn is viewed with much anxiety and excitement, because it’s relatively unexplored by we Jerseyans. Myths and legends abound, but there’s is precious little actual information. We hear tales of men with outrageous facial hair and people amassing small fortunes via Air BnB, but when you go there it’s pretty much just like every other urban area. When I was given the opportunity to spend an hour signing We Are Not Good People at the Mystery Writers of America‘s table at the Brooklyn Book Festival recently, I agreed because so far wishing very hard hasn’t resulted in anyone paying attention to my book, and because I am always looking for ways to defy the various restraining orders that bookstores have on me.
It was a sultry day. So sultry I almost swooned several times, and had to be resuscitated by my friends Ken West and Sean Ferrell, who showed up demanding I pay them monies I owed them, then stuck around on orders from The Duchess, who feared I would slip away without supervision to the nearest bar.
Ah, other people. You mysterious, dreadful beings. From afar, I can appreciate your beauty and the exotic ways of your mating rituals and territorial pissings. Up close, I usually at least have the sensation of an open doorway behind me so I can make a fast getaway by shouting “Look!” and just running really fast.
But then, sometimes, you live next door to me.
Now, to be clear, almost all of my neighbors in my life have been good people. Polite, respectful, and if a little strange around the edges well I’m sure some misguided folks think the same about me, even though I am kept in a lab in Switzerland next to the International Prototype Kilogram as the Standard Person. But just because my neighbors have by and large been totally fine to live near doesn’t mean I don’t watch them carefully at all times, looking for signs of Weird.
Because it’s there.
Now, I’ve always had a healthy distrust of other people, a distrust that grows stronger the nearer they are to me and sprouts into full-blown paranoia when they’re within my Sphere of Influence, so to speak, but since I started working from home a few years ago I’ve had the opportunity to just sit here and sip whiskey … uh, I mean, work really hard in case my wife is reading this … and observe my neighborhood at my leisure. I’ve seen fights break out over parking spaces. I’ve seen people having sex with the windows open. I’ve seen one neighbor mysteriously deliver a gallon of milk to another once or twice a month. I’ve witnessed public lovers’ quarrels and I’ve overheard entire conversations about home renovations.
Once, a group of neighbors gathered under my window and sang songs to me in soft, angelic voices, but to be honest I was halfway through a bottle of Scotch that turned out, upon closer examination the next day, to be a bottle of really old cough syrup that had turned from ruby red to brown, so that one might have been imagined.
I’ve become a sort of Groundhog Day Godling of my block. I know all and see all. I know when you’re having work done, and I know when you shop for groceries. Also what you consider the word groceries to be, which is often a surprising and not very comforting grouping of innovations. I know when you leave in the morning (unless its super early, in which case I assume there is a insomniac godling doing my job at night, glowing softly, like the moon) and I know when you get home at night.
Come to think of it, maybe I’m the weird neighbor in this scenario.
If so, it’s not on purpose. My desk just happens to be next to a window.
Naturally, all of these observations will end up in books and stories under changed names and sometimes genders and ethnicities, usually long after I’ve completely forgotten the original moments I witnessed. My memory is a feeble thing, and everything I’ve seen recently will swirl into an imprecise haze, allowing me to take your humiliations and churn them into stories. It’s what I do.
Growing up, I had what I imagine was a fairly typical Western middle-class relationship with the automobile: Indifference at first, followed by an adolescent lust. When I purchased my first car – a 1978 Chevy Nova for $1 – it was an amazing moment: The whole world was open to me. A year or two later I took that beater cross-country, and it suffered catastrophic problems in the Black Hills and I barely limped home.
After that, I experienced the phenomenon of Car Envy; I was carless, and I would walk the streets and study everyone else’s cars and wish I could afford to buy a new one. Or knew how to steal one. Cars filled my thoughts. I felt trapped and constrained.
I did eventually buy another car (not as cool as Laverne, the Nova, who had style) and later got rid of it when I merged everything with The Duchess. Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and our car got flooded and towed away … and we simply never replaced it.
We live in a walkable town, with plenty of public transportation and access to New York City, so we’re kind of ideally positioned to not have a car. There are plenty of places in the world where not having a car would be impossible. And our circumstances could change at any moment and require us to buy a car, since the world today is designed for car travel. So this isn’t a statement about how awful cars are and how everyone should go carless.
That said, it’s been pretty nice. No parking woes. No insurance and maintenance costs. Any time we’ve rented a car to go somewhere, there is a fifteen-second period of “Wow, driving is hella fun!” followed by sitting at a stop sign for ten minutes and then crawling another four blocks followed by inching our way along an access ramp followed by oh holy hell someone shoot me in the head. In other words, every time we rent a car it reminds us how awful driving in this area really is.
What’s really interesting are the disbelieving reactions we get. Even people who live in this town and know what it’s like always give us what scientists call The Fisheye when we tell them we not only don’t own a car, we have no desire or plans to purchase a new one. It’s like we just announced we’re communists and that we’re keeping our cats not as pets but as a food source. Granted, it’s a bit unusual to not have a car these days, but the awkwardness the revelation inspires is a little off-putting.
Then again, I sit at my office window in the early evenings and watch people literally fight over parking spaces, and I feel this smug sense of peace settle over me. Plus there’s the fact that when I irritate and irritate my neighbors with my pantsless antics, they can’t slash my tires.
Friends, we all need a Literary Meddler in our lives. The Literary Meddler is that person who foists unwanted books on us and demands we read them, and is unperturbed when you hate 90% of the books they force you to read.
Of course, I’m kind of disagreeable: A smug know-it-all who deprecates anything he didn’t discover himself. You know the type. If I wasn’t so devastatingly handsome and effortlessly charming, I’d be kind of an asshole. This is why having a Literary Meddler has been so important to me.
Early on, my Literary Meddler, as with many folks, was school: School was constantly popping up at unwanted moments, dancing around my knees like an over-excited puppy, and demanding to know if I’d read those books yet. Had I? Had I? Had I? What did I think? What about that one part, huh? And then when I finally did read them and wrote up a paper on it School was a dick and gave me a B- on it and then handed me a pile of new books to read, many of which I would never have read in a million years on my own.
Today, my Literary Meddler is my wife, The Duchess, who gets incredibly excited about books I would walk right past in the book store and then hectors me to read them incessantly until I do and then is very sadfaced and irritated when I (usually) don’t like them nearly as much as she does.We’ve even had real-life, bitter fights when I didn’t like a character she loved. But the effect is the same: I am forced to read outside my comfort zone, and this is generally a very good thing. Because I have a disease that’s very common in my family (it might be genetic) which causes me to become increasingly cynical and convinced that something is crap the more popular it gets. This is one reason The Duchess and I fight: She assumes I am pre-disposed to dislike things, and when I dislike things it means I never gave them a chance.
Which, to be fair, is often true.
As a writer, this also means I am exposed to a lot of tricks and deceptions I’m not aware of, or have never thought in using in certain ways. Having a Literary Meddler is an essential part of an ongoing education. While their constant insistence that you read things often results in horrifying journeys into fictional worlds you’d rather not visit followed by vicious arguments over whether or not you’re a closed-off poopyhead who wouldn’t know a great story if it hit them on the head much the same way your wife is hitting you in the head with a sock full of quarters right now, it also sometimes broadens your world just a tiny bit.
The take-away? If you don’t have a Literary Meddler, get one. Even if it has to be that weird guy on the subway who always smells like Salmon and is always trying to hand you a handwritten novel in a box.
This essay originally appeared in The Inner Swine Volume 15, Issue 3/4, Summer 2009.
ONE OF THE greatest things about being a writer is the ability to engage in all sorts of eccentric and bizarre behavior and have it laughingly accepted by society because you’re an artist, an artist traditionally known as either a drunk or a madman. Being a writer is more or less like being publicly diagnosed with Weirdo Disease and from that point on everyone’s willing to believe anything about you:
POLICE: Sir, you’re not wearing any pants.
ME: Is OK. Me writer.
POLICE: Ah. Published anything I’da heard of?
This is of course partly due to the plethora of examples from history showing writers to, in fact, be either drunks or madmen, often both. As a writer, you’re free to do all sorts of odd things and have people just shrug their shoulders, accepting you for who you are. This is because as a writer you’ve already made the choice to earn something akin to what a third-world cobbler for Nike might expect to earn over their lifetime, and are thus excused from society’s normal requirements. Let your beard grow wild and free? Why not, you’re going to be living on Top Ramen for the rest of your life. Wear suspenders and a belt? Vote Libertarian? Spend your life murdering every living thing you’re allowed legally to murder?
The world shrugs, as you’ve already made the insane decision to write for a living.
So, while wallowing in the pants-free and deoderant-optional lifestyle of the working author, I can understand why, despite the obvious social and financial drawbacks of such a lifestyle, so many folks aspire to be professional writers. After all, financial security and respect within your community are overrated, especially when compared to the ability to wake up at four in the afternoon, immediately begin drinking, and call it ‘research’.
So I’ve decided to help anyone who wants to be a writer by outlining some of the main tools you too can use to establish yourself, since ‘writing’ these days is more of a lifestyle choice than a profession, based on the fact that for something to be a profession you have to actually earn money at it. There are many things a writer must have in order to prosecute their art and look writerly while doing it, but I thought we’d start with the most basic, the most fundamental, the single thing that tells the world that not only are you a writer, but you’re a serious writer: A cat.
Or cats, plural; the more the merrier.
(This originally appeared in Brutarian Quarterly #54; for a while I wrote a column there about ignorance in general and my ignorance in specific. It was a lot of fun and I figure I’ll post them here now and again.)
My wife teaches me things every day, alleviating the huge welter of my ignorance little by little. Admittedly, most of this education concerns my many, many failings, but hell, ignorance of something is ignorance, and through her violent and painful lessons I emerge a smarter—and slightly anemic—man.
Sometimes, though, these lessons are a little more general, if no less painful. Like, for example, the following recent example:
ME: Wha? Where am I?
THE DUCHESS: On the couch. Watching TV.
ME: Wha? What is. . .what is that?
THE DUCHESS: This is a television show called Bromance.
ME: . . .I wish now I could have remained ignorant of this show.
THE DUCHESS: Too late! HEY! Keep those eyes open or I break out the clamps.
Bromance was a show on MTV starring Brody Jenner, son of former Olympic star and current plastic surgery victim Bruce Jenner. The show was all about Brody trying to choose a new best friend. The reasons why he needs a new best friend and why we’re imagined to care are difficult to explain if you aren’t forced to watch this sort of terrible, terrible TV show in the first place, but, sadly, I now know all about Mr. Jenner and his awful show. I am, sadly, no longer ignorant about Bromance. Pray for me.
Of course, you never know—this unwanted knowledge of Bromance might come in handy. Bizarre and impossible as it might sound at first blush, you have to remember the fact that none of us know what’s coming—there are no spoilers in life. So who can say that Bromance might not someday save my life? No one can say, that’s who. As far as any of you can prove, knowledge of Bromance could certainly save my life someday.
So, if you were one of the very small number of people who watched Halt and Catch Fire on AMC this summer (possible reasons for your interest include being fascinated by 1980s-era computer technology and hacking [that would be my excuse] or possibly a fascination with bad television [also, strangely, me]), you likely share my reaction to the Season One Finale: A disgusted shrug. Put succinctly: This show was awful.
Also, the Whitest Show Ever Produced (and I watch Mad Men, y’all). But mainly: Awful.
It was, however, awful in a curious way. Yes, the writing was slipshod, the show reached for ridiculous dramatic moments far too often and failed to pull them off, and for some reason thought simply giving a character a “mysterious backstory” and then immediately revealing it to be a shallow and poorly conceived …. non-moment was somehow deconstructive or brilliant. Sure, stipulated.
The real reason this show sucked? It was too real. Halt and Catch Fire was the realest fucking show on television.
Hey, have you heard about this new movie Guardians of the Galaxy and its breakout (human) star, Chris Pratt? Who’s getting a lot of press because he’s charming and funny and quite good in the film?
Someone out there wants you to know he’s a douche. Specifically, Tracy Clark-Flory over at Salon.com in this stunningly awful piece (do me a favor and don’t click on that link). In it, Tracy admonishes our praise for Pratt because he’s been “acting douchier than ever before.”
Now, I’m all for deflating Hollywood egos and frankly I don’t give a shit if anyone likes Chris Pratt or not, but this is a prime example of the new Age of Antagonism that our click-baiting culture has immersed us in. The way it works is simple: Take something simple and generally agreed upon in the sane world (e.g., Chris Pratt is charming and entertaining) and write something that walks up to that generally-accepted idea and shits all over it. For no other reason than to sop up the traffic that such ‘controversy’ will generate.
If you read Tracy’s piece on Salon, you’ll note her examples of “douchier” behavior are all based on the fact that he lost some weight, started working out, and seems proud and excited about his new physique and the acting opportunities it gives him. There’s also a vague and poorly-worded glance at sexism and how women are treated differently when they lose weight, but mainly her argument is that Chris Pratt posted a shirtless selfie and thus sucks.
Does Tracy really believe this? Who knows, or cares. I doubt Tracy knows, or cares. The point is simply to get a lot of Chris Pratt’s fans to share that article far and wide with disgusted and outraged commentary, and keep those sweet, sweet clicks coming in.
This shit is becoming more and more common. How many times have you seen a headline that is so obviously wrong and stupid you couldn’t wait to give the author a piece of your mind? You just got used, friendo.
It’s all about the clicks, and if you can’t get those clicks by writing something interesting, why not get them by trolling everyone, because that’s what this shit is. If this was 1977 someone would be writing the STAR WARS IS SHIT AND YOU ARE FOOLS FOR LIKING IT post right now, dreaming of the explosion in their Google Analytics. It’s trolling, pure and simple, except on a slightly more sophisticated scale than simply posting something profane on a message board and running away. And instead of feeding the trolls with attention, we are literally feeding them with advertising money earned from the ad impressions they’re getting off the traffic.
Sigh. Nothing illegal about this of course. I guess what offends me really is the insincerity. Which – me complaining about insincerity – is ironic in many, many ways. I’d like to starve this particular breed of troll, though, because, frankly, it wastes my time.