Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hey EJ, How Come You're Not Writing About "Heroes"?

For those of you who've come to expect a steaming dose of recap the day after a new episode of Heroes, well, you're in luck. My recaps have moved over to spunkybean. You should check it out and then tell me how hilarious I am.

For the record: Season Three Premiere = Awesome

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Damn.

I was on kind of a media blackout this weekend, and I just now read that David Foster Wallace committed suicide on Friday.

Weirdly, I just started reading one of his journalism collections on Friday, Consider the Lobster, and I found myself thinking about what an amazing genius he was. Even if you didn't like his style, you have do admit, he knew a lot of things. I wondered what it would be like to talk to him, if he went off on lengthy tangents when he was speaking. Would he constantly assail you with perfectly worded arguments? Did he actually pronounce "with regards to" as "w/r/t"?

His work was stunningly intelligent, consistently funny, and always interesting. Infinite Jest blew my mind with its sheer, massive weirdness, but I think I loved the short story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men most of all. (This is something John Krasinski and I have in common.)

It's being reported that he suffered from depression, which I didn't really see in his work. Sure, it was often bleak, but there seemed to be a warm heart and a love of experience that pervaded his writing. And now I'm looking at his books, which I had shelved right next to Hunter S. Thompson's, and it really makes me sad, seeing two freakishly talented people who took their own lives.

This isn't the sort of heavily footnoted work that Wallace deserves, I know that. Somebody far more clever than I will handle that. Frankly, for the first time in a long while, I really don't feel like writing.

Thanks, David. Infinite Jest helped get me through a really hard time in my life, and the literary world will be less interesting without you in it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

How I Learned to Quit Worrying and Hate Andy Kauffman

This is something I meant to write about a long time ago, but I sort of danced around its fringes. With my recent obsession with the way George Lucas actively craps on his fans, it feels pertinent again.

A couple of months ago, Saturday Night Live ran the first episode ever as a tribute to George Carlin. I wrote about it at the time because I thought most of the episode sucked. What I didn't really get into was Andy Kauffman. And I should have, because I hate Andy Kauffman. Granted, that appearance on SNL was really funny. He did some funny things. Loved Latka on Taxi, for example. But the guy pisses me off.

It's not that I'm averse to anti-comedy. What I don't like was the way Kauffman actively tried to alienate his audience. If people enjoyed something, he immediately ditched it and cast about for something that they wouldn't like. There's a scene in the biopic, Man on the Moon, where he's doing a show and he just reads from The Great Gatsby. The audience hates it, so he turns on the record player, only to have the record be him, reading from The Great Gatsby. And that was his entire show.

That was a stunt designed to alienate his audience. There is no way anybody in the audience enjoyed that. Maybe some pretentious d-bag pretended to find it hilarious in its audacity, but they were kidding themselves. They felt ripped off.

While I'm not saying that artists should pander or never try anything new, Kauffman spent his career alienating his fans. And then, miraculously, when people started to enjoy something that he'd done, he ditched it and moved onto something that was even more esoteric and further away from actual comedy.

I guess the reason it really clicked with me is that I watched than SNL repeat in a hotel room in Columbus after a Tom Waits concert. One ticket to see Tom Waits cost me $90. The hotel room was another $70, and then there's the gas for the five-hour trip (each way). Tom Waits did not ask me to spend that money, true. But me, along with another 2,000 or so people (I'm terrible at estimating crowds) spent that money so we could see somebody whose work we enjoy. This is a significant outlay of money for a lot of people. Imagine a married couple who bought two tickets and had to get a babysitter on top of that. That's money we spend of our own free will, because we want to see Tom Waits.

And Tom Waits, pushing 60 years old, came out and did a two-hour plus show. He did songs he'd never done on stage before, he involved the audience, he created the kind of energy that made us all glad to be there. This is why Tom Waits is awesome.

Fans are people. Fans are people who make a lot less money than the artist. Fans willingly spend that money to be entertained by the people whose work they enjoy. For a guy like Kauffman to then do a show that it is actually impossible for people to enjoy is simply malevolent. He screwed his fans. I'm not saying that he has to give them exactly what they're expecting, but the social contract is to at least try and entertain them. Call it "Performance Art" if you want, but most performance art is masturbatory desperation. If you willingly go to see that, you deserve what you get. But people paid money and set aside their time to see a comedy show, not Kauffman smugly proclaiming his brilliance by playing a record.

Everybody has an off day, but Kauffman had a history of performing this kind of stunt, and retroactively, people treat it as an example of what a fantastic comedian he was. No, it's evidence that he was a lousy comedian who realized it was less effort to alienate than to entertain.

Stan Lee was famous for saying "Never give the fans what they think they want", and that's a good dictum. But he still gave the fans something. And more often than not, it was what they didn't realize they wanted. Absolutely, an artist should try to grow, and not all the fans are going to go with them. There are people who bailed on Tom Waits when his style changed dramatically with Swordfishtrombones, but that's natural. If, at the concert, Tom Waits had played a copy of Mule Variations over the PA while reading the newspaper onstage, yeah, that would suck. You can't please everybody all the time, but if you're lucky enough to have fans, you are obligated to try and produce quality.

I write. I perform. I don't have fans, but sometimes, people read what I write. Sometimes after a show they take two seconds to tell me that they liked a joke. And when that happens, it feels really good. If you can do something creative and people will take time out of their day to read it or watch it or listen to it, that's a gift. When people squander that, it makes me sad.

Kauffman wanted the fans to support him but didn't want them to enjoy him. People like Tom Waits and Jackson Publick and Steve Carell and Matthew Weiner and Amy Sherman-Palladino bust their asses to do good work. They don't phone it in. And just because I didn't like The Return of Jezebel James doesn't mean that they didn't try. It's the people who treat their fans with respect and dignity who really impress me.

So, yeah. The revisionist history is that Andy Kauffman was a misunderstood genius. Me, I think he's just a guy who was spoiled and never learned how to treat people. Still, the Mighty Mouse bit is pretty funny.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"Rolling Stone" is Incapable of Learning

OK, I don't like to get political here, for one reason. It's boring, and you shouldn't care who I plan to vote for. The last thing I want to read about is what some douche thinks about Obama v. McCain. I'm not saying that it's not worth thinking about or caring about. It's just wrong to think that anbody cares what you believe, politically. Unless you have an interesing take on things, your political opinions are much less interesting to everybody else than their own. Also, "righteous indignation" is not "an interesting take".

That said, I want to touch on the election just a bit, because of how much Rolling Stone's political coverage sucks. On a regular basis, the editors make the dangerous mistake of assuming that all of their readers share the same political leaning. Sure, I'm willing to bet a high percentage of their subscribers swing left, but their coverage is built around the deeply patronizing idea that you already agree with the magazine's editorial position, and they just have to remind you of that. At its worst, Rolling Stone shares President Bush's most irritating habit -- they deal with dissent with a know-it-all smirk and a smug air that suggests that you're the stupidest person alive for not getting it.

They spent primary season using Matt Taibbi as their main reporter, where he turned in the exact same profile of all the Republican candidates. "(Blank) seems nice, but his campaign is poorly run and he believes crazy things." Not only is this boring, but Taibbi's writing betrays a venomous hatred for middle America, and that's where the real problem is. Not only is the Rolling Stone philosophy that disagreeing with them automatically makes you wrong, but they try not to acknowledge the existence of those who disagree.

Feel like reading some articles reporting a Barack Obama win in November as if it's already happened? How about a t-shirt comemmorating his first day in office? It's all there!

The current issue has a cover feature on "How Bush Destroyed the Republican Party". And I assume they mean the Republican Party that currently holds a slight lead in the national polls. See, their political reporting comes from the angle that Republicans have been vanquished, and we're all just waiting it out until January. Exactly the same as the angle they took in 2000 and 2004. For pete's sake, they wrote the same laudatory articles about John Kerry they're writing about Obama. Kerry! Nobody was excited about Kerry, but he was written up as the second coming. So was Gore. Heck, they airbrushed a portrait of Gore to give him a giant unit.

Here's the thing, right or wrong, middle America shows up to vote. They really show up to vote when they feel threatened, like when major publications proclaim that they don't matter, and probably don't even exist anyway. Young people and potheads, key parts of Rolling Stone's readership don't vote, because they're lazy and often stupid. And they're especially not going to vote if they think the election is already won.

Rolling Stone caters to those buttholes who hang out and talk about how unfair the world is, and don't actually do anything about it because they're congratulating themselves on how deep they are. Instead of motivating them, the magazine strokes their egos and righteous indignation. And this is now the third consecutive election where they've done this. I would think by now they'd realize that creating the idea that "their" candidate has already won, rather than reminding people of the importance of actually voting, is probably not the best strategy. Obama's anything but a lock, and they're only hurting his campaign by pretending anything else.