We see the writer stereotype in the movie, “Her,” with Joaquin Phoenix playing a character named Theodore Twombley. Wimpy, weepy, withdrawn, “walled-off,” crying at the drop of a hat. Reclusive. Soft. Dependent. To call him feminized would be an insult to women.
We’ve come a long way since the days of Ernest Hemingway and Jack London!
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Hemingway was like a rock star. He had a greater cultural footprint, as a celebrity and personality, than any actor, singer, or sports figure. That’s when literature still mattered.
Since those days, the position of writers in the culture has become marginalized. We had a recent example of this with the announcement of nominations for the NBCC awards. NBCC? What’s that?
Meanwhile, awards for the feckless and untalented, Golden Globes and Grammies, grab the TV space and headlines. Writers don’t try to compete. They’re, uh, withdrawn. They’re absorbed with the personal. Such careful, cautious, and withdrawn thinking is why literature in America is a declining cultural phenomenon and a dying art.
The writing game is well-regulated. If you try to make noise, the mandarins who control things can’t stand it. The entire system from top to bottom, MFA programs to editors and agents in New York, is designed to screen out dynamism and noise.
Philadelphia novelist Lawrence Richette didn’t fit the stereotype. He was, yes, egotistical and outspoken. He believed in himself. He didn’t make artistic decisions according to the whims of the Insider literary crowd. Book editors wanted nothing to do with him, despite his talent. Imagine if this philosophy were practiced in the worlds of movies, music, and sports!
One of the objectives of the Underground Literary Alliance was to turn the writer stereotype on its head. That’s why I brought larger-than-life macho roots authors Jack Saunders and Wild Bill Blackolive into the outfit.
To me, to be any good, and not just a mass of solipsistic sensibilities, the writer needs to be MORE engaged with the world than the average person. Outgoing and out there; amid human society and the organized chaos of nature. A public figure. The lit game needs public figures, of greater personality and larger presence than Jonathan Franzen and Alice Munro!
Sixty years ago, professional American football was a niche sport. On Superbowl Sunday tomorrow it will be the centerpiece of the nation—focal point of the economy. What happened?
It’s not that football is very intrinsically exciting. A few minutes of action punctuated by constant breaks. Football gained prominence through:
A.) New outlets; chiefly television.
B.) Unparalleled marketing.
C.) The creation of striking characters and storylines. Richard Sherman to Wes Welker to Peyton Manning. Quick: name one character from Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.
But as I’ve said, the literary world doesn’t even try to compete.