Deep Thoughts & Pronouncements

WestWorld May Be Too Clever for Its Own Good

Marsden is Either Bored or Constipated

Marsden is Either Bored or Constipated

So, I’ve been watching WestWorld on HBO. This enrages my brother, Yan, who more or less believes that all remakes, reboots, and reinterpretations are bullshit. The moment he learns that a remake is looming, he goes off on a rant about how no one writes new stories any more.

He’s not wrong, but he’s not right, either. HBO’s version of WestWorld is entirely different from the original film. Everyone has a lot of affection for the original, mainly because of Yul Brynner’s classic performance as the Gunslinger and because every young man who watched that film in the 1970s and 1980s immediately began thinking about Sex Robots.

There are plenty of Sex Robots in HBO’s WestWorld. There’s also a lot of video game stuff, because some clever bastard obviously thought that a place like WestWorld would basically be an IRL video game. So when a guest arrives in town it’s like being in a sandbox-style video game, where you have a main storyline, but there are endless side-quests you can get sucked into that add content and depth (and playing time) to the game. That’s all well and good. That’s interesting and quite clever for a modern reboot of the concept.

The downside? The god-damn Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and the god-damn cutscenes.



Not These Pants

Jorts Are Pants Too.

Jorts Are Pants Too.


Friends, the worst part about advancing age is easily the self-awareness. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be back in my dullard youth, completely and blissfully unaware of what a massive asshole I could be. I had some good times back then, believe me, secure in the myopic knowledge that I was awesome.

Today, I can’t fool myself so easily. I’ve seen too many repeated patterns, and too many poor results. After a while, you either have to admit you’re doing it wrong or accept the fact that your existence is going to be an increasingly awful existential hell of your own making. So, I am finally ready to admit it: I am not easy.


In my youth, which is to say up until a few years ago when someone accidentally spilled paint thinner on my Dorian Grey painting and I melted like the Nazis in Indiana Jones, I thought I was the easiest guy in the world, because I didn’t give a shit about a lot of stuff other people seemed really worried about. Like, what a group of us did for fun at night. Or what did I want for dinner. Or what I wore. I prided myself on being easy, like Sunday morning: Just tell me what we’re doing, and I’ll wear whatever I have lying around, and anything is cool for me for dinner.

When something becomes part of your self-image, it’s hard to shake. For a long, long time I was convinced that I was Easy. Everyone else complicated things, stressed over unimportant stuff, and wasted time. Case in point, the first time The Duchess ran her yellow eye over me and decided I needed new pants.

ME: What’s wrong with these?

HER: We will dub them the So-Called Pants and their fame will be eternal. Now drive me to Old Navy.

ME: Yes’m.

I can now admit it: I am not Easy. I am, in fact, a royal pain in the ass, because my ideal is always whatever I’ve been doing. When it comes to pants, I like the pants I have. Any attempt to replace those pants will be met with petulant resistance and passive-aggressive plotting to undermine you as a person. It’s not that I don’t care what pants I wear, it’s that I want the pants I already have.

This extends to every other aspect of my life. I used to think I was easy, but now I realize that not having a strong opinion about anything actually makes me an enormous pain everyone’s ass. And this sort of personal epiphany is going to serve me well as a writer, because it’s exactly what the characters in your stories ought to be dealing with.


Nobody likes characters that are too woke, too self-aware, perfectly in tune with themselves. They come off as flat and obvious, and they resist character arcs, because they have nothing to evolve from. In real life, of course, no one is 100% self-aware. And just like when you write dialog and have to find some artificial patois and rhythm that seems realistic without being at all how people really talk, when creating a character you want the semblance of real people.

An essential part of that is a lack of awareness about their limitations or annoying traits. Think of it this way: We all go around thinking we’re pretty cool, that we’re the heroes of our own narrative. We usually aren’t, but we think we are. Your characters have to have things about themselves that they are unaware of, at least at the start of your story. They can have epiphanies as the tale goes on, but saddling them with things they don’t know about themselves is powerful, and feels natural.

Getting a POV character to convey things to the reader that they themselves are not aware of? That‘s where the old chestnut about “show don’t tell” comes into play. For example, years ago when some girlfriend took me shopping for pants, I thought I was being Easy. My inner monologue was filled with self-congratulations on how chill and easy I was being. BUt anyone watching would have been aware of how difficult I was within moments. That’s your job as a writer.

So, don’t say my pants have never done anything for you.


“You’re the Worst” & Subtle Unreliability

It's Not Funny

It’s Not Funny

Used to be, things like unreliable narrators or breaking the Fourth Wall on television was a bold and uncanny thing to do. It shocked viewers who had been trained to rely on the narratives and narrators TV offered up. But as TV shows have gotten more and more novelistic in their approach, the Fourth Wall is getting demolished. And unreliable narration is almost assumed.

Novels, after all, don’t have a Fourth Wall. When you read a book the narrator’s voice is in your head, addressing you. You’re basically there, following everyone around. So when a TV show like Mr. Robot or Fleabag deletes the Fourth Wall, it edges closer to being a novel in visual form. When those narrators prove to be unreliable, it can still pack a punch, but often it’s easy to see. Who, after all, was at all surprised when Fleabag or Elliot turned out to be unreliable? No one who was paying attention. It still worked, it just wasn’t a surprise. Which is neither a good thing or a bad thing.

Another show that transcends typical TV comedy work is You’re the Worst, which could be a dumb show about trying to disgust the audience as much as possible with how truly terrible the characters are, but is just smart enough to back up off that level of depravity. The characters on You’re the Worst are in fact terrible people, but there’s just enough decency sprinkled in to keep your attention.

It’s also a show playing with unreliableness, which might come as a surprise, as it isn’t a show with a fixed POV or narrator, and always seems to be presenting these awful people more or less as they are. But the show has been revealed to be subtly unreliable because of S03EP05, “Twenty Two.”

Shitty Jimmy & Company

So, You’re the Worst, like most TV comedies, has a core cast who play specific roles. The main characters are Jimmy and Gretchen, two awful assholes living and striving in L.A. In their orbit are some friends: Shallow, monstrous Lindsey, her milquetoasty husband Paul, and Jimmy’s odd roommate Edgar. Other characters orbit at increasing distances from these. This is a pretty standard comedy setup: Main folks, second-tier characters, and a diaspora of decreasingly important characters.

What’s interesting about comedies is that there are funny folks and straight people. Straight people are often used to bring context—and in the case of You’re the Worst, the straight person is usually Edgar. Edgar has PTSD after his service in Iraq, and lives with Jimmy in exchange for acting as a cook, housekeeper, and general servant. In the past he regards Jimmy as his friend, but he is always somewhat disturbed by the callous and terrible nature of the people around him. His character serves as an important contrast, because he’s fundamentally decent, always means well, and registers his hurt when Jimmy and the others treat him awfully, which they always do. Without Edgar the show would be 100% assholes, and as anyone can tell you, a show that’s 100% assholes is Seinfeld, or Veep, and that only happens once a century or so.

So, Edgar’s usually not the funniest person on the show. He reacts, and sometimes he’s in funny situations, but he’s not actually all that funny. In fact, the show puts a button on this by having Edgar become involved with Improv Comedy, and be more or less terrible at it. He’s not funny, because he’s not the main character of the show.

Which becomes very interesting in “Twenty Two,” which is the first episode of the series from Edgar’s point of view. And it’s not really a funny episode. It barely has any jokes. Because suddenly we’re seeing it fro Edgar’s point of view, and the people around him aren’t hilariously callous—they aren’t hilarious at all. They’re just terrible people.

What If You’re Just a Character in My Sitcom?

This is interesting because it forcibly reminds the audience that in the previous episodes of the series, they’ve been seeing everything from the main characters’ POV. From Jimmy and Gretchen and Lindsey’s POV, everything is hilarious, because they’re the center of the show. Their POV dominates everything. Yes, they can sometimes see the pain and suffering of others, but it’s marginalized, distant, and easily ignored.

The audience of course always identifies with the main characters; we can’t help it. Even the Walter Whites of the world, we want them to succeed. To survive. It’s human nature.

So “Twenty Two” shifts away and offers us Edgar’s POV, and suddenly the people we’ve been laughing at and with, the people who we unconsciously regard as the protagonists of this story, are revealed to be braying, not-particularly-funny assholes. And Poor Edgar, rather than being a supporting player in a comedy, is the lead actor in a tragedy, and we’ve been watching him for dozens of episodes without a thought, and that makes us complicit assholes as well.

It’s a sobering, exciting moment. While Fleabag‘s cheeky glances and funny asides and Mr. Robot‘s paranoid lectures might be flashier and more obvious breakings of the Fourth Wall and reliability, You’re the Worst‘s is more powerful, because even as you watch it some time goes by before you realize you’ve just seen a complete shift not just of POV but of tone, inviting you to realize that your impression of the show has been carefully managed all along, and you’re part of it.

You’re always part of it.


A Drop of the Dull, Hard Stuff

I Miss Typewriters

I Miss Typewriters

When I was pup, sipping small beer and learning all my curse words from VHS tapes, I imagined the Writing Life to be pretty leisurely. I’d sell a novel, be recognized as a genius, and spend my days tapping out words while publishers delivered a steady stream of gifts in order to win my favor.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way.

A lot of writers, however, still think that way—that writing is all about being creative and creating and butt-in-the-seat and all that. Which it is, of course, Except there’s a lot of other stuff involved. Dull, boring stuff. For example, here’s what I’ve done over the last thirty days or so:

  • Written and revised a 15,000 word book proposal
  • Written a half dozen idea pitches for stories
  • Written a short story longhand
  • Transcribed a short story from longhand
  • Submitted a dozen short stories to various markets
  • Discussed a reprint of a previously published short story
  • Written a few dozen freelance pieces
  • Negotiated a reprint (in Sweden!) of an article I wrote
  • Completed a novel
  • Began two novels

Aside from the freelance stuff, none of this has an immediate or even certain paycheck; it’s all spec. And it’s a lot of work, between staying organized and awake (and sometimes sober). And that’s what a lot writing careers look like—a whole lot of hustle.

Now someone go buy one of my books so I’ll have beer money.


How to Survive the Crushing Inevitability of Your Own Death



Friends, you’re going to die.

As certain as you’re sitting on the crapper right now reading this, you’re going to not be here soon enough. Terrifyingly soon. Death is so pants-shittingly terrifying, in fact, that all of the world’s religions – and by extension all of the atrocities and wars that have been waged in their names – were invented with the sole purpose of making you feel better about it. You may think – or have been told – that religion is about philosophy, or morality, or some other aspect of life. You have been lied to. Religion is about telling you there’s a fucking purpose to all this and you will continue on as a mind forever voyaging after you croak.

You won’t.

Of course, I don’t know that, any more than you know you will. The universe is infinite and unknowable and for all we know we will be greeted by Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard when we die, handed a Monster energy drink, and asked who we’d like to be reborn as. Why the fuck not.

Until we find out what’s going to happen, we have just one job: Keeping the faith that all this somehow, impossibly, matters. Otherwise, what’s the point?

That faith is powerful shit, isn’t it. Because no matter what you tell your friends, your wife, your therapist, your priest or your mullah, you don’t know anything about what’s going to happen to you or to anyone and so every plan you make, every precaution, is raw faith, isn’t it. The fact that you think you’ll still be here in five seconds is startlingly optimistic, my friend, considering the incredibly complex machinery inside of you, whirring and clicking and somehow hitting every beat.

But if you start to think about it, you start to realize that any thought that you might get of this life alive is just faith. And once you start down that rabbit hole, there’s no going back: Being conscious of your own demise is part of the human condition. It causes grown men to weep and everyone to ingest all manner of numbing substances, but the simple fact is, once you you realize you’re going to die someday, how do you keep going? Because what’s the fucking point?

Here’s how you keep going.

The Inner Swine’s Guide to Keeping on Keeping On in the Face of Certain, Doubtless Futility because You Yes You are Going to Die and Even if You Somehow Survive in Defiance of All Known Natural Laws the Sun Eventually Explodes and There. You. Are.

Step One: Denial

Difficulty Level: Infinite.

Reach down deep inside and find that part of you that is convinced that medical breakthroughs or wishes extracted from a Leprechaun or alien technology will save you and you’ll live forever or until you choose to stop flipping channels thousands of years from now and just die on your own terms.

That’s what it takes to handle your own eventual death, isn’t it? Faith that it won’t actually happen.

This might seem difficult, but of course if you think about it for a moment you’ll know that it is, in fact exactly the sort of faith you have every day when you get out of bed. Because when you get out of bed it is, apparently, with the expectation that you not be swallowed by a giant Leviathan, turned to pudding by a flesh-eating virus, or crushed beneath something so heavy it actually becomes a gravitational singularity and consumes the Earth. In other words, you’re living on faith already, my friend!

But you knew that. That’s why you chose to read this instead of making out a new will and getting your affairs in order.

Step Two: Booze

Difficulty Level: Molto Facile

Or, you know, whatever you’re used to using to cloud your sense of doom and make yourself feel better. Some people knit, or make their pets wear adorable little costumes and pretend to have tea with them.

Here’s the thing: Life is either short or infinite. Or maybe something very lengthy but not infinite somewhere between those two extremes, which is the same as short, so whatever. If life is short, best to enjoy your cocktails before your liver gives out, right? If life is infinite, then drink all you want, my friend, because why not?

So: Assuming you have enough faith to get out of bed in the morning, you might as well sit around day drinking. Really, nothing else makes any sense.

Step Three:

There is no Step Three.



A Million Ways to Fail

How I Feel Most Saturday Mornings.

How I Feel Most Saturday Mornings.

One of the most awesome things about writing has to be the almost infinite chances it offers you to fail.

Even if we stick to the slim piece of reality that mortal minds can comprehend, we have quite a list:

  1. First, you can fail to even start writing that idea you have. It’s a nice, clean failure, but a failure nonetheless.
  2. Then, of course, you can fail to finish it. I estimate I’ve failed in this manner about 5,000 times. That’s a conservative estimate.
  3. Or you can finish it and then fail to do anything with the raw material.
  4. You can fail to heed feedback, advice, or proofreading marks.
  5. You can fail to show it around or submit it or make any other attempt to sell the piece or at least have it be read.
  6. You can submit it, and fail to sell it. And fail and fail and fail to sell it.
  7. You can sell it, and then fail to, you know, sell it.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. And the glorious future world we find ourselves in offers even more ways to fail, in terms of promotion and social media. So now you can not only fail to write something, or fail to finish something, or fail to sell it, but you can also fail to be interesting or clever enough on Twitter. The failure involved in writing just one novel is monumental.

And you wonder why writers drink and talk to cats. Well, why they drink more and talk back to cats, anyway.

The worst part, of course, is that most of the time this kind of failure is necessary in order to write anything and then get it out there. In one of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker books, he has a thing about people learning to fly in which he describes it as throwing yourself at the ground, then distracting yourself at the very last possible moment so that you forget to hit it. And that’s writing, sometimes, most times: Throwing yourself at a mountain of failure and then, somehow, distracting yourself from hitting it at the last possible moment and sailing over.

And how do I distract myself from Mount Failure? You guessed it: Whiskey. And cats.






For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

The Good Old Days.

The Good Old Days.

Writing Short Stories is Crazy

I wrote my first short story when I was about 15 years old—that is to say, the first story I consciously set out in the form of a short story. Ridiculously enough, I wrote it solely to join my high school’s literary magazine, one of my most shameful moments. I mean, seriously. The fucking literary magazine. I can now safely say that this is perilously close to being my worst decision ever, right up there with gaining twenty pounds when I was thirteen and getting an English degree instead of something useful, like contacts in Russian organized crime.

The story was titled Bricks. I still have it. In about 1,000 words I tell the story of a family in the future where everyone lives underground because of a plague, and their son’s decision to leave home and go topside. It ends with the son wondering what will happen to him as he takes his first breath of fresh air on the surface.

Oh, it’s not good. It’s derivative, but it’s derivative in that special way you get away with when you’re fifteen and not named Mozart: People are so impressed that you wrote something that superficially resembles a real story they forgive all sorts of shit. I wrote it on a Commodore 64 in an application called Kwik-Writer I got from some friends; my friends and I were running a serious underground software piracy operation in grammar school, and I had thousands of stolen applications, and Kwik Writer was one of them. It was kind of awesome and terrible at the same time, which basically describes almost all of the applications available for the Commodore 64.

Since then, I’ve written about 500 more short stories. Bully for me. Getting them published isn’t easy, though there are more difficult projects in the world (self-surgery, perhaps, or tunneling under your house to the nearest mountain range) but the real challenge, as anyone will tell you, is getting paid for them. So why write them? Because I love short stories. Writing them and reading them. And, to be honest, selling them when I can—and I’ve sold quite a few over the years, with a few more on the way.

I write a lot of them, and since the chances of ever selling one are slim, it’s kind of a crazy waste of time. Plus, let’s be honest here, 99% of every short story ever written deserves to stay right in the notebook it was scrawled into, because most of them are terrible, and as luck would have it that goes twice for mine. Even the ones that I think are not terrible aren’t easy to sell; I recently had a story rejected very reluctantly by one market, which sent me a very sad note all about how great the story was and how distressed they were to not be buying it. I immediately submitted the story elsewhere in a frenzy of optimism—after all, this was obviously one of my better efforts.

The next market rejected it within 18 hours.

Writing and trying to sell short fiction sucks. Still, I write a lot of it.

Part of it is an exercise. You get some crazy ideas for stories after a few drinks, and while most of them are awful, some of them ain’t bad, but if you don’t put some flesh on them they disappear. So to keep them alive, I write them, even though most are pretty stillborn.

So, let’s see: Failure and no market, obviously these are fantastic ways to spend my time and mental energy. Then again, I’m an author; futility is what I eat for breakfast.


Man Baby

Artist's Rendering of the Author

Artist’s Rendering of the Author

When I was a young’un, I was never, you know, the Cool Kid. I didn’t exactly have a tragic childhood or anything, but I was definitely aware in grammar school that I was a pudgy, glasses-wearing mascot for a lot of kids. I had friends, this isn’t a tragedy or anything, but there it was.

I got invited to a birthday party one weekend. I don’t know about you, but when I was like nine or ten getting invited to a birthday party was like the Social Event of the Season. Making it onto some other kids’ elite list was thrilling, and I was excited. It was in the summer, there would be a pool, and it was like 1,000 degrees out. My Mother, naturally, insisted I wear Church Clothes. I was mortified, but Mom insisted. No child of hers was showing up at someone’s house in play clothes.

Cut to: Jeff, the only kid wearing long pants and a dress shirt and shoes, sweating profusely. I didn’t get invited to a lot of birthday parties. I can’t swear that was the reason why, but … that was the reason why. That and the cursing and the habit of breaking into liquor cabinets.

Anyway, I digress. Cut to 2016, and I am a middle-aged married man (MAMM) and my wife, The Duchess, and I make plans with another couple to have dinner at a fancy shmancy restaurant. And the following conversation occurs:

DUCHESS: You’re not wearing … well, I assume those are clothes.

ME: Why not? They’re street legal.

DUCHESS: This is a nice place. Don’t you have anything pressed?

ME: … I do not know what that word means.

Needless to say, The Duchess, much like my Mother thirty-five years before, insisted on Church Clothes. I registered my vehement protest, but if the evening was going to end with me drinking Scotch and ordering a $50 appetizer, Church Clothes it had to be.

We walk over to the other couple’s house, and when the other husband walks out, he is also wearing Church Clothes. We share A Significant Look and spend the trip to the restaurant grumbling. Naturally, we walk in and the place is packed with very comfortable and happy people wearing shorts, T-shirts, and the like. We each turn to our wives and glower darkly, and spend the rest of the evening drunkenly threatening to take off our pants right there in the dining room.

This of course leads to the inevitable moment when we do take off our pants and are chased out onto the street, where we call an Uber and

What’s my take-away from this? It could be

  1. I really have no idea how to dress. There is much evidence that this might be the case, including three open indictments against me in several states, or
  2. The Duchess learned her Rules of Polite Society in the 1970s Texas Hill Country, which is like the 1870s everywhere else, or
  3. I need to burn all my clothes except what I’m wearing right now so as to have no other options (except that won’t work because a) The Duchess will just march me to The Gap for a shopping spree and b) that means I’ll be wearing Superman Underoos to all my fancy literary events), or
  4. I am a Man Baby and need constant supervision.

Actually, I don’t need to know. Thank you for your time, please forget this ever happened.


The Most Interesting Scene in “Mr. Robot” S2E1



I remain absolutely riveted by USA’s Mr. Robot. It’s like a slow-motion horror movie—like literally if you took a horror movie about a man losing his mind and slowed it to like 1/8th speed, you would have Mr. Robot‘s episodes. Then a brilliant fan theory starts going around online that makes me appreciate what the show is doing even more. I mean, there simply isn’t another show out there operating on Mr. Robot’s visual and atmospheric level right now.

The show’s not perfect, of course, but every episode offers something, usually a sequence that is simply a brilliant mini-movie. This got me thinking about a sequence in the season two premiere that isn’t getting a lot of heat, but I think should: the hacking and takeover of Susan Jacobs’ smart house.

It’s no secret that Mr. Robot often films its episodes like a horror movie instead of a techno thriller or a story about hackers who actually kinda sorta resemble the real thing instead of the Hugh Jackman speed-typing sort you usually get. The lighting, framing, angles, and music all combine to offer up a tableau of dread that is very effective. And this scene is like a mini-horror movie without a payoff—or perhaps a delayed payoff to come.

Mild spoilers to follow if you care about spoilers.

Susan Jacobs is very rich woman, counsel to E Corp. She has a very nice townhome. It’s got a pool, a spa-like bathroom, and a “smart home” system that allows Susan to control everything via iPad. It’s kind of awesome, until she comes home and everything is misbehaving. The alarm won’t stop going off. Music blares at unbearable levels. Her shower is burning hot and the air conditioning has the place at 40 degrees. The TV won’t shut off.

She’s lost control.

The whole sequence is filmed like a horror movie and so it should, as the idea that by bringing these technologies into our homes we’re giving control of some of the most essential aspects of our lives—our shelter—into the hands of a) unseen corporate interests and their drones or b) hackers is kind of scary. By the time we get a smash cut to Jacobs, wearing a winter coat indoors and screaming into the phone that she can’t unplug anything because the wires are buried in the walls, we know she’s totally screwed. She schedules a service call, calls a car, and flees to her country house because of course she has a country house. And literally moments later, F Society shows up, turns everything off, and takes control of the house. They set everything to go crazy just to drive her away. Now they have weeks of using this awesome house for free.

Clever, but what’s really clever about it is how this sequence underscores something interesting: The hackers aren’t the heroes of this show. There are no heroes on this show. The hackers are just as menacing and destructive as the evil corporation. The hackers managed to erase the debts of millions, but this supposedly Robin Hood-like move has destabilized the world, and regular people are shown having to deal with the negative side of this Fight Club ideal: Sure, their debts have been erased … but so has all evidence that they paid those debts in the first place. As a sequence showing a woman desperately trying to convince the bank that she is up to date on her mortgage show, erasing all that data won’t cause the banks to shrug and say well, we can’t prove you owe us money so we guess you don’t! Instead, the more likely scenario is that we’d all find ourselves forced to prove the negative: That we don’t owe them money.

The theft of the smart house should be a chilling sequence for anyone who has a Nest installed and is thinking about an Internet-enabled lock or something. It should also serve as clear evidence that the show doesn’t think there’s really any difference between the hackers and the corporations. They both steal whatever they want, and the people who don’t understand the complex systems they administer—computers and the Internet Vs. money and finance—are doomed to be the victims of the people who do.


Smug Bastards Can Go Pound Sand



I’ve never been what you would call a “hip” person. Or cool. I’ve never had my finger on the pulse, as it were; I tumble along, more or less lost in my own thoughts (you folks I’ve walked past on the street while you shout my name to no effect know exactly what I mean) and only occasionally surface to note the things around me. I’m more or less one step from living in my own fantasy world, and the only thing keeping me rooted to reality is probably whiskey.

In short, I’m blissfully unaware of most things.

My memory is also famously awful; my brain lives in the present, bro, and the past melts away and the future has no meaning. The memories I do retain tend to be powerful enough to gain some traction on the smooth, wrinkle-less vastness of my brain. One of the memories I came still summon up dates back to when I was about ten or eleven years old, and I just started to become aware of my social status. Up until then my identity had been wrapped up in my grades and the fact that my teachers thought I was adorable, and the opinions of my fellow children never really mattered; in my neighborhood I could beat all the kids in a footrace and thus considered myself King of the Block.

But then something shifted, and I realized I wasn’t King of the Block, I was a pudgy, glasses-wearing nerd. And this troubled me, because who wants that? So I began an incompetent and lazy campaign to make myself seem cooler, and part of this campaign involved the classic Jeff Somers strategy of pretending to be very knowledgeable about things all the other kids considered cool. And so, when challenged by a bullying classmate to name my favorite rock band — because this was back when rock bands were still cool, you see, which if you carry the two and divide by pi will reveal just how fucking old I am — I said Led Zeppelin, because I had vaguely heard the name before. Unimpressed, the kid demanded I name a favorite song, and, my knowledge of rock music exhausted, I was humiliated.

Now, since that day I’ve rectified both my knowledge of Led Zeppelin (favorite song: Black Dog) and my need for approval (somewhat) and am happy in my slightly obtuse existence. I have accepted myself and my limitations, even though this means I don’t get a lot of stuff. Like Pokémon Go. I barely understand what it is and have no desire to play it.

But, to paraphrase Voltaire, I will die to defend your right to play it.

The Smug Bastards

You know them: The killjoys who can’t stop announcing what they refuse to enjoy, or don’t consider interesting, or are mystified by. It might be Pokémon, it might be Game of Thrones. It might be Star Wars or sports or whatever — the only defining characteristic of the Smug Bastard is that they don’t share your enjoyment of something, and they wish — oh god how they wish, they wish hard — to let you know this fact.

The classic example has always been and will ever be the Person Without a Television. These days you could update that to The Person Without Any Sort of Screen. These folks have been waddling about for decades, proudly announcing that they are certainly not stupid and lazy enough to waste their time watching programs. They prefer reading books, collecting stamps, listening to the opera or some other Smug Bastard Approved form of entertainment.

These days, with pop culture fragmenting, Smug Bastards, much like bedbugs, are proliferating. It’s easy to fall into the trap; someone says “Hey, I love that show!” concerning something you’ve never heard of, and a cursory investigation reveals a cartoon whose premise seems silly to you. So you dismiss it. Now, you’re not required to like or even know about anything in this world. If you choose not to partake, no worries. It’s when you decide you have to let the rest of us know, in awful, horrible detail why you don’t care for it that you become a Smug Bastard, living in the damp, dark creases of the Internet.

The Dark Creases

Resting. Smug. Bastard. Face.

Resting. Smug. Bastard. Face.

The Internet, of course, is where most of the Smug Bastards thrive. The disconnect, the digital wall between you and everyone else — plus the other Smug Bastards who rally around you — makes it seem almost okay to shit all over someone else’s enjoyment. You meet Smug Bastards in real life, of course. People who will dismiss all of rap music, for example, as unworthy of their attention, or people who love and praise the worst movies made before 1970 but despise everything since. But it’s on the Internet where the Smug Bastards thrive, clogging up your Facebook feeds with smug declarations that what you enjoy is stupid, or less worthy.

Fuck ’em all.

I’m just as guilty of Smug Bastard Syndrome as anyone else. In fact, where some folks have a Resting Bitch Face I often have a Resting Smug Bastard Face, and my kneejerk reaction to just about, well, everything is bored, superior disinterest. But you know, at least I don’t post it on the Internet or walk around announcing it. When with my fellow humans, when something like Pokémon Go comes up, I smile and feign polite interest.

Because that’s what you do in a society.

So, to repeat: Fuck ’em all. Have a good day.