Salvatore Pane

Tag: Facebook

Kanye West is the Public Avatar of 21st Century Digital Narcissism

Full disclosure time: I have two short stories forthcoming about Kanye West and a third I’m trying to place. Two are excerpted from my novel which has a section where Kanye West leaves Earth to find eternal life only to end up on Mars a hundred years in the future where he destroys the remnants of our current generation who have all been quarantined there on an Infinite Porch by the New Youth. Oh, and Yeezy’s riding a stainless steel horse and talks in a Shakespearen dialect. Full disclosure two: I love Kanye’s music and once actually went out of the house looking how I do below, and it was maybe only 30% ironic.

Yeah. That's me in Vegas. You wanna ball with the kid, watch your step you might fall trying to do what I did. Mama ugh, Mama ugh.

This is all to say that you should take what I’m about to argue with a grain of salt. But when people used to ask me, “Hey, Sal. Why does Kanye West show up in your novel (The Collected Works of the Digital Narcissist currently seeking representation hint hint!) about non-famous white kids?” I used to give some lame answer about how West’s journey mimics the protagonist’s, which in all honesty, it actually does. But today, I think I finally hit on the reason why West keeps inserting himself into my work again and again. It’s because Kanye West is the public avatar of 21st century digital narcissism.

This all started, like so much in this dramatic post-Obama life, over at HTMLGIANT. Blake Butler put up a post that ended with a pretty funny non-sequitor: “Kanye West still sucks.” In the comments section, I tried to convince Blake to come over to the dark side of Yeezy supporters and Stephen Dierks of Pop Serial linked to this awesome article on The New York Times about Kanye’s new video.

In a coming video for his single ‘Power’ that was created by the artist Marco Brambilla, Mr. West is seen standing imposingly with a heavy chain around his neck. As Mr. West raps, the camera slowly zooms out in one continuous, unedited take to reveal him in a classical structure, surrounded by female attendants who are partly or entirely nude; some kneel before him on all fours, others wear devil horns and still others are suspended upside down from the ceiling. The sword of Damocles hangs precariously over Mr. West’s head, and behind him an unseen executioner is preparing to strike him with a blade.

Ah, a nice allusion to the apocalypse. That’s usually all it takes to win me over. But then Stephen linked to Kanye’s twitter which he just started today. Let me share some of the radical highlights.

kanyewest: I hate stickers on laptops

kanyewest: I need this horse… Kings need horses http://twitpic.com/29suqi

kanyewest: I’m just saying… what’s your credenza game…#DON‘TTALKTOME!!! http://twitpic.com/29sqph

kanyewest: I’m not getting paid to say any of this…………. yet…….. hahahhaha

kanyewest: Sipping Molnar Family Poseidin’s Vineyard Chardonnay in the middle of the day sidebar out of gold cups for whatever that’s worth

kanyewest: my thoughts on Twitter so far… at the end of the day, God damnit I’m killing this shit!!!

AND MY FAVORITE:

kanyewest: I specifically ordered persian rugs with cherub imagery!!! What do I have to do to get a simple persian rug with cherub imagery uuuuugh

Photo courtesy of Anirudh Koul

He has a quarter million followers yet he follows no one. What I realized today is that Kanye West is the summation of every thing I think and fear about this generation distilled into one horrific/totally awesome human being. Facebook, Twitter, and other online outlets have given every one of us (and especially those of this generation) a voice and the illusion that we all have something very powerful to say, when in fact, most of us probably do not. Kanye West is walking insecurity. Despite growing up in the same kind of baby boomer controlled children media era that told kids they were all special and amazing and even their shit smelled like the gentle rains of the Amazon, Kanye is saddled with a crushing inferiority complex. He overcompensates with golden stages to perform on and is constantly barraging us with his opinion. I mean, have you guys read his blog? It’s insanity. And now he has twitter! And what does Kanye do when he doesn’t like something? He stands up and grabs the microphone off some lame teenage girl and tells the world to go fuck itself. His Taylor Swift stunt is the equivalent of writing DISLIKE under somebody’s status update.

KANYE MOTHERFUCKING WEST IS FACEBOOK TURNED SENTIENT!!!!!111

The hunger has returned to Mr. West's brain, but it never really left.

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Writing Comics and Other Alternative Careers for Literary Writers

Most people know I’m a fan of Scott Snyder. I’ve blogged about two of his comic book series, the oft-praised American Vampire co-written by Stephen King and the less appreciated Iron Man: Noir for Marvel. But I’ve also written about his short story collection, the excellent Voodoo Heart published by the good folks at Dial Press. The reason I became aware of Scott and his work is Cathy Day. During one of her classes maybe a year ago, we got to talking about career aspirations, and somehow we got on the subject of how one day I’d like to support myself financially (and also, artistically) through mainstream superhero work while also focusing on my literary fiction endeavors, namely short stories and novels. She put me in touch with Scott via Facebook and after a brief conversation, I sought out his story collection. A few months later, American Vampire came out which I liked almost as much as Voodoo Heart.

The reason I bring this up is because we’re close to San Diego Comic-Con which means a lot of the big comic-related news is going to come out now as to not be overshadowed by all the movie buzz. One of the biggest stories to break today? Scott Snyder signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics and will write a year-long run on Detective Comics (one of the oldest and most prestigious Batman books on the racks).  What does this mean? Scott gets a salary and is no longer a freelance writer for DC. Scott can’t write for Marvel. Scott gets health benefits (I think).

What else does this mean? It means Scott might not have to teach college. I don’t know any more than what’s in the above interview, but from what I’ve researched independently over the years, it would seem that contracted comic book writers easily make more than adjunct teachers. So many writers are pushed into teaching writing workshops after getting the MFA, and for many (potentially myself), it’s really what they love. But what few people within MFA programs talk about are the alternative careers. And by alternative, I don’t just mean desk jobs. I mean jobs that fulfill creatively in the same way teaching writing does (I’m not saying desk jobs are inherently uncreative). Obviously, Scott Snyder believes that writing comics is one of these alternatives, a job that allows writers to be compensated for doing what they love. Obviously^2, I agree with him. But what I’m curious about are other responses. Do alternatives to teaching exist for working writers in the 21st century? And if so, what are they? If not, why the hell not?

Ownership of Experience

Last weekend I went to the American Serbian Club. It’s a bar in Pittsburgh that caters to the Serbian elderly complete with traditional Serbian music, foods and supple Serbian granddaughters. I drank. I danced. I potentially got engaged to a young beauty. The next day, I sobered up and decided that the ASC DEMANDED to be written about.

Happiness, thy name is American Serbian Club

But who can claim ownership over such experiences? I jokingly messaged another friend of mine who attended the ASC trip and told her she could not write about it because I already had 900 words (which I did). Obviously, this was meant in jest. But now, a few days later, I’m wondering if there’s any validity in that statement. If we, as writers, can ever truly claim to represent a location, an experience, a feeling.

One of the reasons why this is so interesting to me is because I’m the type of writer who can’t imagine faces. I can do setting and internalization and dialogue, but I can never truly picture my characters if what you mean by that is actually generating entirely new humans that don’t already exist. I’m a big believer in the amalgam, of taking one real life person and jamming them into another and seeing what happens because of the inherent tension. Also, I can’t picture clothes. That’s why I’m so thankful Facebook exists, because now if I need an outfit for a trendy, thirty-something dude, I can just go onto Facebook, look up one of my friends who matches the description and get to work.

Is this creepy? Fair? Why, as a writer, do I think we are allowed to do this, that we deserve this even? In my work, if I fictionalize scenarios or characters or settings even a little, I feel as though I now own them, that I can rightfuly claim ownership. Is that outright insane? How do non-writers feel about this? And what about nonfiction? A few weeks back, Amy Whipple was telling me about the ethics involved in interviews. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around such a scenario: the idea that a writer has to consider the feelings and privacy of their subjects. Various ex-girlfriends have liked the idea that certain things they said or did would appear in my work. They figured that since people couldn’t 100% attribute those elements to them, it made it ok and even somewhat desirable. But does that really make it justifiable or should I feel guilty when I stick a close friend into a story? I never have before and always fell into the Richard Yates camp. When asked about which of his characters he really disliked, he said none of them. He told the interviewer that in some small, meaningful way they were all him, pieces of his psyche at work. That’s both a very complex and reductive way of looking at what characters and experiences writers are entitled to.

I've always had a thing for amalgams...

The Purpose of the Book Reviewer

I’m writing a panel proposal for AWP in 2011, and the subject is the book review in a post book blogger era. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s all I’ll go into detail for now as it’s fairly likely the panel will be rejected (do you know the odds on these things? Yikes.).

Regardless, I’ve been thinking about the book review a lot, and today I came across a wonderful essay on The Rumpus that springboards out of David Goodwillie’s novel American Subversive. Reviewer Eric B. Martin tries to address the purpose of reviews of any non-blockbuster book ala Solar or Joyce Carol Oates or what have you. Martin writes:

The point is that, if we think literature is still worth talking about, every book is part of that debate, which is why reviews of non-blockbuster books should do one of two things: either convincingly shout to the hilltops, “Read this book!” or, in explaining why there’s no shouting, try to find larger truths about literature in a book’s strengths and flaws. Real reviews should be essays—not gladiator thumbs-up/thumbs-down, not stroke jobs or hack jobs on the writers themselves. And that’s the point, a point easily forgotten amidst what it takes to break through the noise in today’s literary marketplace: Literature is not about the writer. It’s about the book, it’s about art, it’s about life. (Martin)

I know there are many, many people who would vehemently disagree with this statement, that the very nature of Martin’s assessment could potentially lead to completely superfluous reviews that give everything a pass, thereby making the “book reviewer” totally irrelevant (if they aren’t already) in an age of new media and linkable books on people’s Facebook profiles. I, however, think Martin makes a lot of sense. After reading his essay (Rumpus is branding it as a review, but I’m not totally sold on that either), I skimmed through the reviews I’ve written for BOMB and PANK. I gave everything a favorable review, even books I didn’t think were very good. Does that make me an untrustworthy reviewer or a champion of what Martin dubs “non-blockbuster books”?

I’d like to think it’s some form of the latter. I’ve always felt ethically compelled while writing reviews to highlight what works about a book, even if the overall effect of the book is flawed in some critical way. In many ways, I’ve been lucky. I’ve genuinely loved the vast majority of books I’ve chosen or been given to review. But it’s been ingrained in me that for some of these small press books, my review might be the only one they get. Can I ethically slam a book that I know won’t be covered elsewhere? Or is it better to celebrate what little I did enjoy and make clear my concerns about the rest of the project? The idea that I even consider these things is likely problematic for some, but I think it’s at the heart of what we’re trying to do with the book review and how we envision ourselves adding to the evolving conversation of literature. If you have anything to add about this subject, please comment below. I’d love to hear other thoughts on the matter.

Optimism in a Digital Age

A few days ago, I watched a panel from the Brooklyn Book Festival entitled “Literature in a Digital Age”. Check it out here. My thoughts are kind of scrambled considering it’s Super Bowl Sunday and that Pittsburgh, where I live, is just now emerging from a twenty-two inch blizzard in which a tree fell outside of my house and missed my car (a prestigious 1997 Saturn SL 2) by just a few yards. With that in mind, I’m going to distribute some opinions via the bullet.

  • THE FUTURE OF THE BOOK! Maud Newton, the venerable blogger and novelist, is clearly the most invested party among the panelists concerning the evolution of what exactly will constitute a book in the future. She’s filled with an optimism that is quite refreshing considering all the doom and gloom we’ve been hearing for years on end from major publishers. As I mentioned in two earlier posts, alternative avenues are rising up to replace the literary gatekeepers of old. Electric Literature stands as one of the lit mag’s great new hopes for the future, and as the major publishers announce “no new acquisitions”, university presses and indies rally around writers of literary fiction. Newton brought up the possibility of Sony, Amazon and especially Google becoming the major publishers of this century, and that shift promises a sea change (and a slew of new opportunities for writers) for how we look at writing in the future. Oh, yeah, and there’s that whole iPad thing.
  • Class Issues. John Freeman, Editor of Granta, brings up the hornets’ nest of class differences when he mentions how eReaders will fundamentally change the price of books. In the past, anyone who wanted to read could do so for free with a library card or twelve dollars for a paperback. Not any longer when the average eReader is well over a hundred dollars. Doesn’t that remove an inherent element of democratization from American letters? None of the panelists wanted to really discuss this issue, and I’ll be interested when Maud Newton comes to Pittsburgh this week to hear her thoughts on the subject.
  • The bookshelf as death. The panelists described bookshelves as a metaphor for death (basically, if you have a lot of unread books in your collection, you only have so much time before you die to read them). Interesting point but there’s not much you can really do with that observation. Ok. Is that metaphor altered in any fundamental way by PDF books or eReaders? I’m not sure. I’m not even sure if it matters. Just an intriguing tangent that caught my eye.
  • Some of the panelists lament the fact that nowadays authors have to become public personas in order to sell their books, i.e. they have to have blogs and post on Twitter. Some of the panelists fear this will be deeply detrimental to future books, but Maud Newton doesn’t think so and neither do I. Isn’t the act of writing for mass consumption an inherently public act? In an age where everyone has Facebook profiles and YouTube videos, trying to become famous is now an integral part of global culture. Isn’t it the duty of writers to grapple with modern issues? And what better way to write about these themes than actually experience them firsthand? I detected a bit of stodginess on the panel’s part during this section.
  • Speaking of stodginess, what was up with the nostalgic reverence for all those “experimental” writers of the 1960’s? Very odd references that came off as pure crankiness. The great works of the past are great works, but to say that no one today is doing work on the same level of the drug-addled ’60’s crowd is a bit much for this millennial to swallow.
  • How about all those hipsters? Every time the camera panned the audience I thought they had cut away to the Pitchfork Music Festival. Yeesh.
  • I’m getting off topic but what the hell. As long as we’re on the subject of hipsters, check out this interview with Tao Lin. A friend of mine from Boston pulled out this tasty quote: “My target demographics include hipsters, depressed teenagers, depressed vegans, happy but sensitive teenagers, people of any age who are severely detached from reality, Europeans, all college students, and I think sarcastic vegans.” Yuck! I only stumbled onto the interview because Lin’s new book is named Richard Yates after my all-time favorite author, but regardless of your thoughts on Lin, few can deny that he represents a new breed of author. He’s super-young and a whiz at self-promotion. He recently even sold away his back end royalties for two-thousand dollar “endorsements”. Is a new literary Brat Pack that far away?
  • Finally, as a counter-point, I point you to Teddy Wayne.  I recently finished his novel Kapitoil for a review I’m doing over on BOMBlog and I absolutely loved it. More thoughts to come obviously, but this is the exact opposite of what I expected from a writer who frequently contributes to McSweeney’s and The Huffington Post. Kapitoil is a turning away from postmodern irony and a return to human emotion in a complex, globalized age. It comes highly recommended.