Dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming, these days I get invited to more events than I could possibly attend, and occasionally wonder how I got invited in the first place or even why I went. Take last Thursday’s book release party at Destination Bar in the East Village—celebrating the book the world has been waiting for, THIS IS WHY YOU’RE FAT.
Cue existential crisis, mad envy, clueless drunkenness, and, yes, fear for the culture of a dying planet. But before the chilluns deride my old-fashionedness—or just my oldness—let me first say: I love the website. The food alternately grosses me out and inspires cravings of the post-bong-hit variety, and above all, Richard Blakeley is a genius. And a nice guy, alleged crimes aside. Too bad the bar was packed with Twitterbots.
First, the party: bunch of twenty-somethings downing cheap beer and taking pictures of each other, video-ing each other, passing cards out to each other, and Tweeting about each other “in real time.” The only actual “event” happening at this event was the occasional free book giveaway. The idea was that if you followed the book on Twitter, you were in the running for a free book—but the first time this was attempted it turned out that no one following the book on Twitter was actually in the bar—why attend when you can Tweet?—so the process shifted to plucking business cards from a bowl. Analog trumps digital, news at eleven.
I have to give the bar itself some props—Destination was pouring stiff ones, the bartender was super cute, and the prices were cheap. So they know their core constituency, because once you got farther than 2 degrees of separation removed from Blakeley, many of the kids in this joint were barely drinking age, many had ridden in on the LIRR, and none could have afforded to pay full NYC prices for drinks. Not and still afford all that camera equipment and them fancy business cards, that is. Yersh, this was a full-scale circle jerk, media savvy pedants spying other media savvy pedants and everyone snapping, tweeting and chatting about EACH OTHER. A full news cycle in one room, blogosphere gone live. Like a daunting canyon’s echo without the nice view.
Jocelynb81—this is how the B&T media wannabes identify themselves now, apparently—took great relish in telling me that Blakeley had been arrested on domestic violence charges, a story that was broken by Gawker in the hopes that no one else could beat them to it. Back in Mailer’s day that would have only sold more books.
(BTW, Blakeley was arrested for misconduct against a Ms. Jessica Amason, his “ex-girlfriend,” according to his Tumblr, and co-author of the book, according to its website. TWO media-savvy media professionals launching a media-oriented publication and being talked about in the MEDIA? Am I the only one who wonders if it’s all a set-up? Anyhoo, if minor-league celeb-bashing-celebs is your bag, read the investigation here.)
Blakeley told me that his site got about 3 million page views in under 3 days. “Agents came to us,” he admitted, after thinking that he would have to go looking for agents and publishers himself. Agents were coming after him in “weeks.” I asked him if he realized how completely insane this was, you know, what with all those folks out there in analog-land sending their little query letters to agents and publishers—agents and publishers who don’t even accept email. Blakeley admitted that he was only expecting “200,000 hits in the first day.” This is where I tilted. Ur… how did you figure you’d get 200,000 hits?
“We saw the gross food movement trend,” Blakeley said, “and we put it all in one place before anyone else did.” He went on to explain that no one individual was doing this—or any of the new, hot shit, really—but that it was groups of 20-somethings, operating in small groups, making things happen. Blakeley took notice, listened, and got his act together. As an editor at Gawker, he knows how these things work, and he knew he had a unique idea. “We had backlogged entries,” he explained, preaching that Tumblr was the “wave of the future,” and that user-submitted entries was the way to go. By the time the floodgates were opened, “we got linked to Perez Hilton—that got us 50,000 hits. And we kept our names off it,” which was a good thing, Blakeley explained, since Perez Hilton hates Gawker and would have never linked to them. “And it was a viral success.”
“It might be a flash in the pan, but I hope not.” He shook my hand and moved off into the crowd to mingle.
I spent all of Halloween weekend thinking about it—about why I’m fat, about why a book on why I’m fat isthe logical extension of a website about why I’m fat—after all, remember what Isabella Rosselini said about the interweb—“no way to bring the money back.”
And about what it means when an educated, friendly dude like Blakeley says that he didn’t write a single word of his book. Is it fair to call him an “author?” “We had to get clearance on 160 pictures,” he said, and no one’s saying that he didn’t “do” anything. But did he write it? No—user-generated content is the “wave of the future.”
I keep shaking my head. I remember something an old prof said to me, in a previous century, that “if art is created for the audience, then they get what they deserve.” If that’s true, then… if art is created BY the audience, don’t they get exactly nothing? I used to think that inflation—and a rising population—was cutting into Andy’s old adage that “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” But now I’m singing myself another song, one lifted from Syndrome, the evil villain from THE INCREDIBLES— “Once EVERYONE is famous… NO ONE WILL BE.”
Or perhaps I should stop confusing “Art” with “Media.” Or perhaps I should stop thinking that there is any art in media, even if there is media in art. Not that I want to believe that, either—what Blakeley did has artistry in it, even if he could never pass as an author, not even at a Chuck Palahniuk convention.
I guess I don’t really have a question, here. I have more to say, but no one reads this far down a blog anymore—too many pictures of funnelcakes on cheeseburgers to look at on the ol’ interweb. And I’m not crying me an Amis-sized Thames coz cheeseburgers stuffed with jelly donuts are FOR REALS more fun to look at than the words I’m putting down. It’s just that after that article a couple weeks ago in the New Yorker about the group-creation of popular fiction—it’s what got us Gossip Girl, yo—and now hearing about agents beating down a guy’s door to get the rights to food porn, one really starts to wonder. What is the point of artistic vision? What would be the point in ever doing anything creative as an individual? When every Hollywood ending is focus-group tested, tried, and true, why would ANYONE take a chance on anything?
I can’t help but think of the crazies, the wild ones, the individualist artists who kept doing their own strange shit, for years and years and years, often holding down unispiring day jobs and being undiscovered for decades (Henry Miller, Cormac McCarthy, etc. etc.), or cranking out their weird art in near-obscurity until the times catch up (Richard Foreman, back at it again this month with assistance from Willem DaFoe), and sometimes, just never quite making it. If Vincent Van Gogh were alive today, he’d be eating lead paint on YouTube, wilding out, getting gazillions of hits, and landing his own reality show on FOX. He’d be loaded, he’d be happy. And society would be better off for it.