When I was a kid of the 9th grade persuasion, in Vegas, one of the most embarrassing things you could admit was how tasty the cafeteria food was. Everyone made jokes about the supposedly inedible horrors of the cafeteria kitchen and some of us did, indeed, slingshot the tater tots or pecan pie wedges around the wide room for most of the forty five minutes of lunch break… but many of us were hunched over our plates, woofing the chow down, while the richer kids did the slinging. I looked forward to the cheeseburgers on Thursdays and I didn’t even mind the Shepherd’s Pie, which was a ’30s-style concoction of your budget-hungry school district’s leftovers. For most of us, the lunch at the cafeteria was at least as good, or better, than the lunch we would have been served at home (esp. since my home was being run by militant veggie post-black-panther hippies whose idea of juicing oranges was chucking oranges, peelings and all, in a blender: try choking that down). Admitting the goodness of the cafeteria food would have been unthinkable.
Likewise, cool kids of the 21st century would rather suck a dirty rabbit’s cock than say “The Internet changed my life!”
(Not to mention those strangers being born after Web 2.0; the Internet is their Life).
But it did. The Internet changed my Life. I can be honest about that.
The Internet turned me into a fastidious copy-editor of my texts, for one thing. I used to be a little too relaxed about typos and spelling errors of habitual ignorance (“miniscule”), out of the charming (common to young writers, back then) delusion that it would (someday/ someday soon) be a paid editor’s job to clean up all of my onion-skinned manuscript’s wee imperfections. It took only a few weeks of experience as a poster of texts on the Internet of c. ’97 to notice, with ringing ears, that strangers were catching my errors and judging me harshly, and judging my Art and my Arguments, because of the errors. Further, while accumulating a tiny audience for my big opinions, I located and polished my Voice. I know of only two good ways to locate and polish a voice: write with a real audience of total strangers in mind or imitate a writer who already has. Writing with a particular person (a friend or lover) in mind… the popular recommendation… is a good way to make sure you leave all the Truth out. No, it’s better to write for a small crowd of (dis)interested strangers and it’s better, for Truth-telling, to wear a mask while doing it. The Internet made me, as a writer, by combining these opportunities while exposing me to the blade-sharpening pressure exerted by actual readers.
I’m not talking about Virtual Lit Zines. Virtual Lit Zines defeat the purpose. VLZs combine the worst of Publishing Culture (Random Authoritarianism, Cronyism, Restrictive Norms, et al) with the worst of the Net (no money, no glamor, broken filter). When you submit (take a good look at that word) to a magazine of any kind, you inevitably pander. When you pander, you water down, or tart-up, and, therefore, inevitably, counterfeit the material. A mediocre writer writing Her or His Truth is often better than a Gifted Writer who has sunk with shrugs to the sin of pandering. Submitting to a print magazine during the Silver Age (the era from the vantage of which Scott Fitzgerald’s Golden Age felt like a glittering lie that was designed specifically to taunt and depress us) meant pandering in exchange for a shot at okay money and regional cachet. Submitting to a VLZ means dressing your muse in a clown suit or a Burka to please some random college kid named Owynn. Fuck that shit… Blog Your Lit.**
But that’s a digression.
Back to the bit about the Internet changing Lives. And back, perhaps, to the Shepherd’s Pie. But first, The Internet, which changed Ed Champion’s life, just as it changed Tao Lin’s life. But not in a writerly way.
Ed and Tao did not avail themselves of the Internet’s generous offer to sharpen their texts. The swifter of the two saw the Internet as a blank-talking, subliminal late-night K-Tel or Ronco Infomercial that didn’t cost anything to broadcast. He grasped the opportunity in that. He wanted to move a truck-load of literary Cap Snafflers.
Ed and Tao are two ambitious guys who are not especially good at writing; that judgement is a winking understatement for anyone who is familiar with Ed Champion’s Voluminous Oeuvre of Error. Years ago, when I was actually part of the Lit Blogging Continuum Ed was safely contained by, I kept a little file of the best of the flamboyant misunderstandings between Ed and the long-suffering Spirit of Written English. If Ed ever (when I was reading him) managed to string together four howler-free sentences, it was a well-kept secret and a canonical miracle. How did he keep getting writing assignments and real writers to interview? How did he even break in to that game? Maybe everyone else in the “community” already knew, at the time, that Ed had a well-connected girlfriend, but I didn’t. I was sincerely mystified. Was Ed a disarmingly-inept cyborg sent from a Pictographic Future to help kill Lit?
Tao, on the other hand, is just an ideal representative of his demographic, the generation rendered flipper-limbed and paralyzed by being the offspring of a Late-Capitalist marriage of well-informed self-loathing and ignorant narcissism. As a writer, Tao has nothing to say and he’s pretending to pretend to not say it and the only argument to be made in his work’s favor is that Tao is doing it that way on purpose. He’s no Ed-like bumbler who shoots for the moon and harpoons his left ass-cheek instead. Tao is a master of his eentsy rubber toolkit; he knows what his semi-literate target-demographic wants and he gives it to them with his trademark, the stereotype he plays up to, the “neutral expression” (friendly racists of the ’40s would have called him “inscrutable”). Yes, Tao understands the cost-efficiency of copy-pasting G-chats as a literary practise, a cheapassed expediency that would give Fred W. Taylor an orgasm in his cost-effective grave.
So far, so good: as a “writer”, Tao is no worse than the guy who invented the CAP SNAFFLER. As a “writer”, Ed is no worse than some guy who’s spent his life in a sanatorium thinking he’s Edmund Wilson. Some guy with an eighth-grade education, I mean.
I guess the trouble has been brewing, in Ed’s case, for a few years. They are both, now, Tao and Ed, on trial in the tiny courtroom of a fraction of the totality of public opinion, the bit concerned with Alt Lit and Lit Blogging/Podcasting but neither, troublingly, is in the docks (or the stocks) as a result of failures in writerly style or content.
Tao, for example, is being accused of “abusing” a girl (then 16 to his 22) he had a pre-semi-fame relationship with. He’s accused, I’ve read, of having been mean to her: too critical of her appearance! Had her shoplifting for him, too! Is shoplifting really still considered a crime, after all? In this economy? But what really drives some of Tao’s accusers nuts in a Goody Proctor sort of way was the age difference: six years (the lifespan of some vegan hamsters). Looking closely at the accusations, it’s hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that Tao did nothing worse than make the classic 21st century blunder of fucking someone in America right before becoming semi-famous. What was he thinking?
Ed, on the other hand. This is what I gather. Ed, who can’t write, accused a bunch of women (many of whom can’t write) of not being able to write. There were other crimes, too, but most of them fall under the arcane 20th century legal rubric of Normanmailerosis. Like: He threatened to punch some guy (which no one ever does). He threatened Michael Chabon’s shudder-inducing wife with legal action if she didn’t retract an Ed-directed flamelet. But this is where the horror starts, because Michael Chabon, a print-published writer one would have assumed was strapped with several rhetorical arsenals each sufficient for reducing the sesquipedalian (my spell check doesn’t even recognize this word) malapropter, Ed Champion, to a cone of headshop incense ash… forced his wife to apologize to Ed Champion! What does that say about the current state of Lit? What does it say to me about the current state of Lit when I read an article that states (on a day other than April 1st) that big-name authors were afraid not to go on Ed Champion’s podcast for fear of… Ed? I guess it says: fucking spineless re-tards, you call yourselves writers?
More ominously, it reminds us that Orwell forgot to mention that Big Brother is nothing more than Public Opinion wearing a Statue of Liberty mask (and a Dunce cap), a Tazer in one hand and a sack of severed Serf-dicks in the other. Ed in his heyday (“hay day” in Championese) thought he’d harnessed a little of that unreflective, bullying, boorish mob-electricity… the Demagogue’s Familiar… and the Big Name Writers thought they feared Ed Champion because they thought he’d harnessed it, too. I even seem to recall that torture-porn-connoisseur-Ed was galloping around calling people “sexist” when it suited him to. There’s a little Oprah in everyone who has an audience.
A hint of class prejudice in that, the stuff about Big Name writers thinking Hoi Polloi had Champion’s back, when you think about it too closely: Martin Amis tip-toeing in a deferentially big, podcast circle around the idiotic Edward Champion because Martin believed that it was Ed’s very idiocy that made him an influence-wielding Voice of the Masses?
Wait, is there some kind of media-fuelled, think-tank-funded Gender War going on? Is Sex itself now Sexist? Are Dicks the Devil’s… penis? A spurious “Catcalling” video [ed.’s note: “Rich men don’t catcall / they snap their fingers”] is busy going viral (34,000,000 views the last time I checked) while Tao Lin is being roasted by Gawker because he was mean to his girlfriend seven years ago and non-male pundits are using the word “eradicated” and the phrase “cut off his oxygen” while editorializing about Ed because can’t-write-Ed was howling, in his wounded-beast way, that women who can’t write can’t write. Is every man now enjoined to treat every woman as though she is the Queen of England, to whom one will not spoke until spoken to and about whom any hint of criticism is as unthinkable as praising the lunch-lady’s hot dish? Is it relevant or even plausible that Tao Lin’s aggrieved Ex is now not a woman nor a girl but a guy? Is the Zeitgeist all about problematizing Breeder Mating Rituals? Is this a clever, Bernaysian method of Population Control? Are they going to be feeding the dwindling future population with insects instead of Shepherd’s Pie? Are we walking right into The Overlords’ Trap? Let’s check birth-records a decade from now and blog our findings.
For two or three years, I howled that Ed and Tao sucked, as writers, in their maddeningly obvious ways. It gives me no pleasure (okay, a smidgen) to see them being pilloried, now, for “crimes” that everyone on Earth, at some point, in one form or another, has been guilty of, if we’re being honest. It’s just that we so rarely are. Honest, I mean. Or sane.
Go on: admit it. The Internet Changed Your Life. How else would you have heard of Tao Lin or Edward Champion or… uh… Stephen Tully Something?
PS By all means Google the sarcastic title of this post
**PPS Remember, anyone who enjoys reading a text they got for free is enjoying it purely, without answering to a subconscious need to justify the cost of a purchase or fall in line with a publishing craze