The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Ghost World’

The Big I

August 16, 2016 | by

Chasing Amy and the toxic “nerd masculinity” of the nineties. 

Still from Chasing Amy, 1997.

Kevin Smith’s romantic comedy Chasing Amy, now almost two decades old, was a big deal for my generation of nerds. Back in 1997, all of our dorky interests, from comic books to video games, remained hidden, far from the prying eyes of the American mainstream. To us, the unapologetic fanboy Smith had emerged as something of a nerd culture Shakespeare—the best of us, a man who captured our hopes and dreams in his character’s lengthy, pop culture–laced monologues. Chasing Amy, which concerned sensitive-yet-sleazy Ben Affleck’s pursuit of the bisexual comic-book artist Joey Lauren Adams, constituted Smith’s first serious attempt to tell a meaningful dramatic story against the backdrop of the geek demimonde he’d explored in his previous slacker comedies Clerks and Mallrats. We were supposed to identify with (or at least pity) Affleck’s comic-book penciler Holden McNeil as he tried to come to terms with Adams’ sexual history, which involved group sex and gay sex and all sorts of other activities alien to his own heteronormative experience.  

Chasing Amy was always an uncomfortable movie, a film that encapsulated the worst aspects of narcissistic nerd entitlement at its late-nineties peak, but twenty years later I couldn’t even bring myself to finish rewatching it. When it was released, I begged my father to drive me to Raleigh’s Rialto Theatre and left that first showing enraptured, believing that some aspect of my privileged nerdy male “struggle” had been set to film. Kevin Smith was the first director whose scripts I had ever read; before I’d encountered his work, I hadn’t ever considered the form. It helped that Smith was such a dreadful cinematographer, a fact he admits without shame, because it meant his movies were the equivalent of ninety-minute script readings. Yet why, in the course of dreaming about becoming a “Hollywood writer”—whatever that meant—had I lingered over this material? How had it ever resonated with anyone at all, myself included?

The answer was simple but painful: I was one of those stereotypical “guys who liked movies,” and I was stupid. Read More »

Paul Murray and ‘Skippy Dies’

October 21, 2010 | by

Photograph by Cormac Scully.

Paul Murray’s second novel, Skippy Dies—recently longlisted for the Booker Prize—is more than six hundred pages long and tackles subjects ranging from string theory to World War I. Set at an Irish boarding school, the darkly comic tale (Skippy actually does die in the first chapter) is populated by a sharply drawn cast of confused, self-destructive teens and self-involved, irresponsible adults. Recently, Murray spoke to me from his home in Dublin.

Did you draw any of the characters and themes from your own experiences? Were you bullied at school?

I went to quite an illustrious school in Ireland called Blackrock College, and Seabrook College, the school in the book, physically resembles the school that I went to. But other than that, it wasn’t hugely autobiographical. I wasn’t bullied or anything; I wasn’t brutalized in any way. There were much nerdier kids in my school, and they would draw more of the fire, but I could see it going on around me. It wasn’t an evil place. But there was such a limited view of the world. It was a big rugby school, and I was incredibly bad at rugby. They would make you play it until you were about fifteen, no matter how incredibly pointless that was. So if you weren’t any good at rugby, then you sort of didn’t really have any kind of standing in the school.

I think being a teenager is really, really hard. You’re caught in this double bind: You’re struggling to establish your own identity, and at the same time you have absolutely zero of the tools that you need. You’re completely dependent on your parents, you have no money, and your day is mapped out for you from beginning to end. My school was a boys’ school; there were no girls, so life really felt kind of pointless in that regard. You’ve got these huge sexual transformations happening, but if there are no girls, obviously all the energy is just going to be turned into brutalizing whoever is smaller than you.

There was also a real emphasis on grades. The school would push students to perform well on exams and get a lot of points and get into good universities and so forth. The education system in Ireland is a real sausage factory. You go into class and you learn as many facts as you can and you regurgitate them in your exams, and there’s not a huge amount of respect for learning or a huge amount of respect for education. And because a lot of the kids were quite wealthy, some of them looked down on teachers. And the combination of a might-makes-right brutality and also getting a glimpse of the economic hierarchy that held sway in the country—all those things were really disappointing lessons to learn as a kid. It felt like my life began as soon as I left school.

Read More »

3 COMMENTS