THE ELEPHANT IN THE ELEVATOR #2: “TALENT” AS A CIVIL RIGHT

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Uh oh: there’s somebody who can’t write making the usual rounds as a writer. There are videos of her being interviewed about pressing social matters, there are blurbs from known writers on her books. Her just-published book of essays is a New York Times Bestseller. Ignoring the date on which I write this, I could be talking about any one of a thousand writers from the past twenty years, of course, so I’ll get specific by quoting Wikipedia to the effect that the not-writer writer in question “…holds a doctoral degree in rhetoric and technical communication from Michigan Technological University.

If Success is properly defined as “enjoying social approbation, as well as respectable remuneration, for something at which you demonstrably suck”, the first decade of the 21st century is a jaw-dropping bedazzlement of Successes. Helmeted Mediocrities, please don’t be too smug in your Segway-ing victory laps. It’s your century. We know.

The following is the sort of prose a doctoral degree in rhetoric and technical writing will buy you these days (versus the quality output William Faulkner’s doctoral degree in rhetoric and technical writing, from MTU, afforded him, in a previous century):

As the gates closed behind us, three black Land Cruisers surrounded our car. Michael’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the steering wheel and looked frantically for a way out. The doors of all three trucks opened and men we did not know spilled out, all limbs and gunmetal.

Two men slammed the butts of their rifles against the car windows. Shards of glass shattered around us, refracting sharp prisms of light. Michael and I reached for Christophe. The baby was still smiling but his lips quivered, his eyes wide. My hands could not quite reach him. My child was so close my fingers thrummed. If I touched my child, we would all be fine; this terrible thing would not happen. A man reached into the window and unlocked my door. I was lifted up and out of our car and thrown onto the street.

My body deflated. My body was just skin stretched too tightly over bone, nothing more, no air. The man sneered, called me diaspora with the resentment those Haitians who cannot leave hold for those of us who can. One of the men grabbed me by my hair, threw me to the ground, kicked me in my stomach. A small crowd gathered. I begged them to help. They did not. They stood and watched me screaming and fighting with all the muscle in my heart. I saw the indifference in their eyes, the relief that it was not yet their time; the wolves had not yet come for them.

 

It’s time for me to point out that you’re not supposed to laugh at the above-cited excerpt because it’s not meant to be funny: deflating bodies are no joke, fingers which thrum (with “thrum”, in reality, defined as meaning to “make a continuous rhythmic humming sound”) are not exactly a joke-shop gag (yet). Babies with quivering lips are likewise to be taken super-seriously, and shards of glass that shatter (after already being shards, please note) mean business. When truck doors open and men you don’t even know spill out in a grisly apparition of limbs and gunmetal: try laughing at that.

Ha! Fooled you! It is funny! That near-imbecilic “writing” is funny as a nun with hiccups (farting), no?

Well, except it’s not simply funny; it’s tragic, too. Because this corpse-green cat shit represents the state of Lit these days. Any intelligent reader has to have an intellectual near-death experience reading such sophomoric, corpse-green liquefied cat shit. The Ship of Lit is listing dangerously in a sea of it and the sharks in the corpse-green liquefied cat shit Sea are circling… they’re thrumming, too. 

Every print-published writer has a gimmick, a grabber, a hook with which to pierce, and secure, the cheek of the average mouth-breathing reader, who often has to be tricked into making a “literary” purchase. Big boobs are a good gimmick; being famous or rich or dying, going to Heaven and coming back, to write a bestseller about the experience, are good gimmicks, too. The writer I’m taking the time to denounce today has three good gimmicks which, together, generate an unbeatable publishing synergy mightier than an old fashioned mountain of writerly talent: she’s a second-generation immigrant (applause), she’s a woman of color (applause), and… but, wait. Am I nuts? My phalanx of lawyers advises me to remain rather vague on the touchy matter of the third gimmick.

Two of those gimmicks are sheer luck. I hint at the third to indict not her but the patronizing Liberal White Culture that lowers the bar, in what should be a High Jump competition, to about three metaphorical inches above the astro-turf,  in order to let the Endearingly-Afflicted “win” (wink) a certain proportion of the time. This makes the Liberal White Culture (which is not exactly powered by Spinozal savants) feel better about itself, both pseudo-morally and in comparison. Call it the Precious Paradigm (but only if you know the idiotic book, or atrocious movie, I refer to there).

In the Pop Business I call it the “I.D.”… the Ingratiating Defect. In Prince’s case, it was his shortness (he’s 5’4″ in Cuban heels), in the case of most musicians, it’s their stupidity, illiteracy or debilitating drug addictions. The gate-keepers in the Pop Business are now, overwhelmingly, not just socially-insecure, thick-fingered vulgarians but tone-deaf as well, and if you’re going to run that gamut and come out the other end (performing on the David Letterman Show, say), musical brilliance won’t merely not get you through, it will hinder your peristaltic progress as surely as though you were festooned with grappling hooks. Cock-sucking is still the coin of the realm, yes, but they have to “like” you as they debase you, too… which means they have to feel superior to you in some small way, at least, before they’ll let you start earning them most of your money. The human psyche! Exasperated eye-roll.

Publishing is just Pop in Paper now. To return to the specific case of our Endearingly-Afflicted writer: she is a threat to no gate-keeper’s ego, so she gets waved right through, with her briefcase of bog-standard drivel. She has a “story to tell”, she’s the “voice” of Immigrant Writers of Color, and both The Story and the Voice are old (trite, worn-out, lazily-templated) as dusty Poverty itself. That Narrative Bag of Tricks is as limited as the ones they use to crank out Bodice-Rippers and Procedural Thrillers and Victim Memoirs on the other side of the Schlock Factory. But maybe she’s hit the jackpot and the CIA are planning on using her “voice” (among many) in a well-orchestrated Twitter-campaign to undermine any efforts to establish a democratically-elected government in Haiti? That’s where the real money is.

Please, please, please… Brothers and Sisters of Color working in the Anglo-American sphere of The Arts! Ignore the insultingly-lowered expectations of the White Liberal Culture’s infantilizing “Helping Hand”! EARN IT. Put in the years of hard work. Master the tools and materials of your calling!  And if you can’t be a bona fide creative genius like KARA WALKER or CLR JAMES or TONY ALLEN or NINA SIMONE or WILLIAM GREAVES (who just died, RIP) or  JOSEPH BOLOGNE, CHEVALIER de SAINT-GEORGES… or at least solidly-though-unremarkably good at it, like HYLAN BOOKER… can you simply go to law school instead?

To prove that the non-writer under our inverted microscope sucks as an essayist just as hard and loud as she sucks at Fiction, read what she has to say about her “Bad Feminism” (from the bestseller of that title):

I want to be independent, but I want to be taken care of and have someone to come home to. I have a job I’m pretty good at. I am in charge of things. I am on committees. People respect me and take my counsel. I want to be strong and professional, but I resent how hard I have to work to be taken seriously, to receive a fraction of the consideration I might otherwise receive. Sometimes I feel an overwhelming need to cry at work, so I close my office door and lose it.

I want to be in charge, respected, in control, but I want to surrender, completely, in certain aspects of my life. Who wants to grow up?

When I drive to work, I listen to thuggish rap at a very loud volume, even though the lyrics are degrading to women and offend me to my core. The classic Ying Yang Twins song Salt Shaker? It’s amazing. “Bitch you gotta shake it till your camel starts to hurt.” Poetry. (I am mortified by my music choices.) I care what people think.

Pink is my favourite colour. I used to say my favourite colour was black to be cool, but it is pink – all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically. I once live-tweeted the September issue.

She’s a complex, vibrant, hard-headed mass of contradictions, isn’t she? Just like the millions of Nice Guys out there who get off on the nastiest rape-themed porn. Just like the avid Snoop/ Richard Pryor/ Spike Lee fans who shout the word “nigger” when a darkie cuts them off in a traffic jam. Just like the American “helicopter-parents” who smilingly support the current Prez as he blows beautiful brown toddlers to bits with oil-protecting drones. Complexly hypocritical.

Her bestselling book of essays sets up a Straw(wo)man of “Proper Feminism” (in which the color pink is verboten, apparently; even Andrea Dworkin wasn’t that deranged, was she? Was she?) and then, uh,  rejects its absurd, supposed-proscriptions in a “liberating”, corset-flinging gesture guaranteed to appeal to quite a few Confused Liberal White Readers who long to have a “sassy” friend of color admonish them with a “You go, girl!” a few times every working day. If only they actually knew anyone of color, right? (No I don’t mean the lady who put those nylon braids in their hair, for a fee, that time, at that carnival thing…)

Here’s my Neanderthal, phallically-poisoned, suggestion for a Sturdy Feminist Platform (as absorbed during my early-’70s adolescence):

1. EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK

1a-GENEROUS MATERNITY LEAVE

1b-EFFECTIVE SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWS

2. NO GENDER-DESIGNATED ROLES FOR HOUSEWORK

3. NO GENDER-DESIGNATED ROLES FOR CHILD CARE

4. NO GENDER-DESIGNATED PATHS IN EDUCATION

5. EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW

6. HEAVY ON THE CUNNILINGUS 

That’s pretty much it. I enforce these sacred tenets, to the extent that I can, in my own life, by doing the vast majority of the dish-washing /neatening/ “cooking” at Rancho Augustine; when our Daughter was that age, I changed the vast majority of her diapers. I’m the parent keyed to both Daughter’s hunger rhythms and her sleep rhythms (I get her to bed at 8pm on school nights and up at 6:15am on school mornings; Beloved Wife gets to sleep an average of three hours more, every night, than I do)… because Beloved Wife is a gigging musician (I’m a mere composer) who was performing all those evenings when Daughter needed burping and rocking and lullabying to sleep. Beloved Wife plays the traditional role of the clueless-at-home Father in this set-up. I play the traditional role of the exasperated house-wife when I’m trying to tuck Daughter in bed and Beloved Wife is winding her up by pillow-fighting instead. See? I’ve never worn an apron but it’s Equal Fucking Rights and Responsibilities. People seldom mention the Equal Responsibilities part.

(And re: Sacred Feminist Tenet #6: I prefer to lick my Beloved Wife after I come; in fact, I’m obsessed with the deed and writing this uxorious sentence is giving me a serious Crotch Blister. Lasting Romantic Love involves healthy pheromones).

Not quite Feminist enough, though, is it? Because, for one, here I am criticizing a Sister’s offensively-shitty writing, and her lazy take on a hazy notion of a serious Social Issue (because any era in which professional pole dancers are considered to be empowered feminists is only roughly two centuries less enlightened than the Eisenhower era when it comes to Equal Rights). I’m A Very Bad Cock-Having Man.

Wouldn’t that be a great title for a bestseller…?

 

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ps rather hilariously, the people working at the endearingly-afflicted writer’s publisher seem to have edited-out about 30% of the teaser-excerpt, cherry-picking the sentences, from the chapter excerpted on their homepage; half the howlers in the same passage aren’t visible until you click the link that says “click here to read Chapter 1”. So someone at the company clearly knows how bad this writing is. Which makes hawking the 12th-grade shit as grown-up Lit rather cynical, eh?

pps read my postmodern ultra-feminist short story instead of that ultra-cack, Sisters and Brothers.

Or this, if you find fresh new narrative forms slow-going; a nice, conventionally well-written, Feminist, narrative!

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