If you’ve been following this column with any regularity at all, then we imagine you can picture us pretty accurately: two bald yet notably virile men glistening with up-to-date cultural consciousness, simultaneously watching four video screens that are tapped into a satellite network of both mainstream and marginal entertainment, listening to obscure podcasts, perusing the hottest “blogs” and YouTubing in a smaller corner window—all while reflexively turning away the namby-pamby advice of our pollsters and media consultants and being served dim sum on the naked bellies of our harem of no-longer virginal Indonesian female mathematicians. Pretty accurate, actually—though we have to note that the mathematicians are also damn good at playing strip backgammon.
You’d be wrong, however, to think that we simply recline all day on our imported gold-silk futon, pleasuring ourselves to reruns of Nip/Tuck and brushing the Cheeto dust off our hands if it gets too thick. Not entirely true. We are men of range and searching intellectual interest. We are men with an active sense of the real world, even if we find that real world horrifying, scandalous and insufficiently stocked with Diet Code Red Mountain Dew. No: we are men with up-to-the-minute opinions about fashion, literature and intellectual property law.
The proof is right here in what we are finding unsettling this month—stuff that one must actually encounter in real life (with several exceptions because, you know, there is some TV in “real life,”—right?). We are large; we contain multitudes.
The “Life Is Good” T-Shirt
You have seen this, certainly—a high quality, “yarn-dyed” T-shirt in a Martha’s Vineyard-y faded orange or blue, with a little post-Haring cartoon smiley face guy engaged in a sport that you are to imagine the wearer has a particular affinity for, with the affirmation in a smarty-pants script just beneath it, “Life Is Good.” Also available in hats, socks, and doubtless boxer shorts and other intimate apparel.
We have nothing against T-shirts with messages on them 1. But what troubles us primarily about the shirt at hand is that the person who wears it rarely seems to believe the sentiment it expresses, but rather to have donned it in an effort to will himself into believing as much. Which makes it a true affirmation in the high 80s self-help sense—“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough”—but still not the sort of thing appropriate for a T-shirt with a smirking little Schmoo-man too busy golfing to come mow my fucking lawn.
Gentle “Life Is Good”-shirt-wearing populace: it (i.e., life) is not (i.e., good)! Not in any deep and abiding sense, and your grimace betrays your knowledge of same. Life may be rich and interesting and layered with the utterly fascinating prospect of what it’s like to find yourself thinking about your root canal at the same time that you discover and old but remarkable well-preserved Cool Ranch Dorito in your couch cushions—a typical day, we suppose for most Americans—but “good” is plainly an oversimplification that glosses over even the our most nacho cheese-flavored pleasures. We recommend to you instead the T-shirt made by a private acquaintance of ours from our callow youth; rendered in black (like our hearts), it shares the following irrefutable sentiment: “Knowledge is Power. Power Corrupts. Study Hard. Be Evil.” Take off that smarmy noblesse oblige $25 pima cotton bullshit and assume the position like the rest of us.
Other Cats Weezing Our Juice2
Just to show we are in fact Equal Opportunity Decriers [see D.M.T. Print Edition (not yet in bookstores but soon to be so courtesy of the good people at Yankee Pot Roast who are finally standing clear of This Internet Business for a while, stopping with the twenty-something text messaging, and actually making something that can be held in your hand other than your dingus) where we lovingly caress The Daily Show line by line], we refer here to that smarmy youth on the Comedy Central weekday opus who enjoys a place at The Right Hand of God as their “trend spotter.” O.K.: Our beef isn’t really that he is doing our shtick; we know everyone else is ripping us off3, and we suppose imitation is the sincerest etcetera, especially when it’s by the bug-eyed no-sleep, Harvard Lampoon veteran TV comedy writers who we know have us bookmarked and check us hourly to see if we have something, ANYTHING, for them to lift and milk and call their own in the Monday morning marathon writer’s meeting. We actually feel kind of sorry for those guys.
No, the problem is that he’s playing it (gasp) for laughs, channeling that proprietary T.D.S. smirk into cultural-tea-leaf-reading instead of defusing the currently baleful national situation, and we are a little insulted. This is serious business, boyo who has wronged us4. Not that we don’t like to have a little laugh at ourselves as well, but, like Donald Fagen and Walter Becker5, we enjoy laughing with you just about to the point when you reveal yourself as really not getting it in the first place, at which time our wrath is unsheathed. And, vaguely ethnic Princeton boy, you Do Not Seem To Get It. Look—the core problem is that you are not that funny. We DO want to see a LOT more of that “resident expert” guy. And NEVER see what’s-his-name Black again, whose grouchy kvetch-o-rama does to T.D.S. what a rain delay does to a nice day at Wrigley Field. Samantha Bee, on the other hand, can pretty much write her own ticket. She’s like a big scoop of vanilla ice cream with two cherries on top.6 7
There is nothing at ALL Disquieting about P.O.D.O.—currently in heavy rotation on “Fuse TV,” which apparently aspires to be MTV’s kid sister who didn’t go to college and is still buying Winstons for underage kids at the Cruzers—but we feel the need to express our misgiving that it didn’t happen sooner, and that more television doesn’t feature regular people in their underwear (we also imagine we have expressed this sentiment previously, so achingly do we feel it, but our cross-referencing department is shorthanded today—we are, in fact, neglecting the end matter). In its bracingly frank embrace of what we REALLY want television to show us, it resembles most of all the seminal “Shipmates”8, that brilliant link between Love Connection and Survivor: Kalamazoo that we all so sorely miss9.
Contemporary Monsters of Fiction Writing Toss-Off “Late Books” That Are Better Than Anything Really Should Be on This Forsaken Planet
We now decry the fact, simply, that David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, and Michael Chabon have defiantly refused to create any new, full-length works to satisfy our desire so ardently piqued by their previous Magna Opi (Infinite Jest, The Corrections, Wonder Boys —although The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was so good we give it an extra two years of Hip Shelf Life, not least because we saw a hot chick reading it on the bus last week10. And in our frustration at this situation, one of us picked up just such a late-career toss-off by an Acknowledged Literary Monster (specifically, The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth) and was summarily blown away. Damn, that’s a good book. Really. Until one of the aforementioned young Turks gets off something longer than a travelogue essay11, we hereby authorize even bleeding-edge types like yourselves to begin rereading the back catalogs of actual grownup authors like Mr. Roth, Salman Rushdie, E.L. Doctorow, and—gulp—John Updike12. If you can squeeze it in around your New Yorker, Blender, and Stuff reading load, which remain compulsory13.
Oh: and none of this “reading” kerfuffle may interfere with your Nip/Tuck obligations. Presumably you have been boning up on your back story like we all have from 11 p.m.–2 a.m. on Saturday nights this summer. The long wait is finally over. September 5th on FX, baby! Bring the Kink!
Next Edition: The Shocking Disquietude of Modern Technology, particularly cell phones which—let’s face it—just don’t work nearly often enough.