Posts Tagged ‘The nineties’
August 24, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in occasions for self-satisfaction: a new study suggests that readers of literary fiction have an improved understanding of other people’s emotions, which doesn’t explain why that guy reading Shalimar the Clown on the train was such a jerk to me. “Academics David Kidd and Emanuele Castano, from the New School for Social Research in New York, put more than 1,000 participants through the ‘author recognition test,’ which measured exposure to fiction by asking respondents to identify writers they recognized from a list … Those who had recognized more literary fiction authors in the list were better at inferring others’ feelings, a faculty known as theory of mind.” (People have gotten very excited about this on Twitter, but no one seems to have reached the article’s devastating conclusion: “ ‘It doesn’t mean you can give Don DeLillo to an autistic child and they’ll be fine.’ ”)
August 22, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Lou Pearlman, the slippery impresario behind the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, O-Town, LFO, Aaron Carter, and about a half dozen other agreeably vacuous late nineties pop acts, has died in prison. Yes, the Lou Pearlman. The guy practically invented boy bands. I mean, he didn’t—he just ripped off New Kids on the Block—but he invented the most lucrative boy bands, and as he’d be the first to tell you, that’s the more major achievement. You couldn’t turn around in 1999 without seeing one of his acts: massively telegenic, deeply ordinary, somehow memorable. They had branded lip balms, bobbleheads, and throw pillows for sale. I know this because I spent a lot of time hating them. Read More »
August 16, 2016 | by Oliver Lee Bateman
Chasing Amy and the toxic “nerd masculinity” of the nineties.
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 »
July 12, 2016 | by Daniel Kunitz
When physical fitness meets the literary life.
Young people are a mess. They eat the crappiest fast food, make a point of drinking only to excess, barely sleep, indulge in all sorts of chemicals—and yet, given even a modicum of activity, their bodies bounce back with all the manic exuberance of a Super Ball in a many-angled room. Growing up, I made a thorough test of this proposition. Through high school and college, I neither participated in team sports (unless you count the bong-hit team) nor pursued any type of systematic exercise, and in fact I don’t recall anyone ever suggesting that doing so might be beneficial. What kept me from the obesity that has become epidemic among children today was a fast metabolism and sporadic bursts of movement: I was an avid skier, over the fifteen-odd days a year that skiing was possible for a kid growing up in Maryland; and on occasion I’d play tennis, go hiking, or ride my bicycle. Read More »
July 8, 2016 | by Drew Bratcher
I saw Garth—that’s what we called him, just Garth—with three friends when we were in the fourth grade, maybe fifth. He was touring in support of 1993’s In Pieces album. A Nashville native, I had been listening to country music for as long as I could listen, but Garth was the artist that had turned me from a passive listener into an enthusiast. My grandfather had had Johnny Cash, my parents Alabama. But Garth, Garth was mine.
As far as they were concerned, I could have him. When the guitar arpeggio at the start of “Friends in Low Places,” his first hit, came over the radio, my parents would switch the dial from 97.9, which played Top 40 country, to 95.5, which played the classic stuff. “Blame it all on my roots / I showed up in boots,” Garth sang, in a lyric that seemed to announce a changing of the guard, “and ruined your black tie affair.” Read More »
April 5, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Should we be surprised that so many writers have doubled as spies? It seems a shame to put all their observational prowess to waste when there’s a great way to monetize it—and writing is most assuredly not that way. Plus, the connection speaks to deeper truths about both art forms: “Writers create plots; spies uncover them … ‘Everything is useful to a writer,’ [Graham] Greene insisted. ‘Every scrap, even the longest and most boring of luncheon parties.’ Writers are obsessed with plot and character, motive and perspective, and with the space between interior and exterior worlds, between what people think and what they say. Le Carré has suggested that espionage is a kind of metaphor; we all live undercover and mask our private selves with projected social personalities. ‘Most of us live,’ he said, in a slightly conspiratorial relationship with our employer and perhaps with our marriage.’ ”
- Authors are great voyeurs, too, of course, so it comes as some surprise that Gerald Foos, who rigged up his motel so he could watch his guests going at it, didn’t end up a novelist or something. But he was a writer of sorts: he kept an exhaustive journal of his observations, and Gay Talese has reported on it. “As I read the sections of the journal he sent me, which covered the mid-nineteen-sixties through the mid-seventies, I noticed that his persona as a writer changed, gradually shifting from a first-person narrator into a character whom he wrote about in the third person. Sometimes he used the word I, and sometimes he’d refer to himself as ‘the voyeur’ … The entries become increasingly portentous, and Foos starts to invest the omniscient Voyeur character with godlike qualities. He appears to be losing his grip on reality. But only once, while posted in the attic, did he actually speak through a vent to a person below. He was looking down on Room 6, where he saw a guest eating Kentucky Fried Chicken while sitting on the bed. Instead of using paper napkins, the man cleaned his hands on the bedsheets. He then wiped the grease off his beard and mouth with the bedspread. Without realizing what he was doing, Foos shouted, ‘You son of a bitch!’ ”
- If writers are voyeurs and spies, poets at least get in on the action. To Garth Greenwell, cruising is itself a kind of poetry: “The two phenomena, as I experience them, can serve as similes for each other. Cruising carves out intimacies in public space in the same way poetry carves out intimacies in public discourse; and cruising is also itself a kind of discourse, with codes that have to be secret in plain sight, legible to those in the know but able to pass beneath general notice, like one of Wyatt’s sonnets. Both poetry and cruising have a structure that is essentially epiphanic, offering the sudden, often ecstatic revelation of a meaning that emerges from the inchoate stuff of quotidian life. As poetry declares a system of value incomprehensible to the world of Yeats’s ‘bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen,’ a value different from that of commerce and instrumental usefulness, so cruising depends on an idea of the value of human interactions shorn of the usual institutions that mark that value. And, maybe most profoundly, both poetry and cruising are arts of loneliness and the assuagement of loneliness.”
- A new festival celebrating Beckett’s years in Paris must ask what turns out to be a complicated question: What did Beckett really think of the place? The devastating answer: a shrug. “During those years in Paris, he lived fully in the city; he drank at the Falstaff or the Rosebud and played billiards at the Les Trois Mousquetaires. He visited casinos with Thomas MacGreevy and in his trusty Citroën he once drove a stunned Harold Pinter from bar to bar at breakneck speed. Beckett was also of course a great walker, he crisscrossed Paris time and time again. In his younger days he accompanied James Joyce in walks along the Seine; the older Beckett strolled through the Luxembourg Gardens with the philosopher Emil Cioran … And therein lies the fascination of Beckett and Paris, he’s there but ever so subtly. As he was with people—reticent, gracious—so he was with the city … Not all writers of course are obsessed, like Joyce or Dickens, with the minutiae of a particular city; there are some who, based on their work, barely seem to have walked this earth at all. With Beckett, not surprisingly, the reality is more complex, more elusive.”
- As The People v. O. J. Simpson reaches its inevitable finale (spoiler alert: he’s acquitted), Nicholas Dames sees in it something more than a dramatization of a sensational trial: “The show’s job, as its creators seem to have understood it—and at which they succeed remarkably well is not fidelity to historical detail, but evocation of a vanished era in its most intimate aspects: the moment-to-moment feeling of being alive then, the sensory and affective horizons of a time still within living memory, seen through the slight parallax of the present. Big narrative resolutions, like guilt and innocence, are beside the point. Instead, small things get magnified … What this means is that, allowing for all of its early-21st-century savvy and its very different medium, The People v. O. J. Simpson bears a surprising resemblance to a Victorian novel. It was one of nineteenth-century fiction’s most subtle inventions: the idea that realism’s gaze was sharpest when focused on the recent past, neither beyond living memory nor quite like contemporary world.”