Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The McSweeney's Campaign for Niceness

ONCE he became successful in 2000, Dave Eggers launched a preemptive strike against potential criticism with interviews in places like the Harvard Advocate declaiming strenuously against critics, deeming all negative commentary that a writer or literary group might receive as coming from places of resentment and envy. Over the next few years he continued to blast and destroy any and all who said anything bad against himself and his organization. This was accompanied by a facade of niceness.

The result? Absolute phoniness from what passes for literary media. Tom Bissell was able to smear the Underground Literary Alliance in an essay-- reprinted this year in his book of essays-- and receive applause from reviewers everyplace, because the smears were made in a setting of empathy and niceness. Reviewers' brains were short circuited while reading the essay.

An example of this, and of the essential contradiction of those reviewers concerning the McSweeney's empire, are these quotes from two of the reviewers of Bissell's Magic Hours. The remarks are about Tom Bissell's essay on the ULA.

Ron Hogan at
“I was struck by his willingness to approach them with empathy, even when he was unrelenting in his analysis of their deluded assholery.”

Brian Wolowitz at Spectrum Culture:
 “he often attempts to understand or defend easily dismissible figures like the clownishly clueless ULA members. . . .”

Do these remarks make any sense?

With their facade of niceness, all the McSweeneyites have done is reach new levels of hypocrisy. "Niceness" has been a way to enforce absolute conformity. Doubt it? Try to find anything critical about Dave Eggers and the McSweeney's organization appearing over the last seven or eight years in mainstream media. What you get now, about their publications and themselves, is an unending stream of puff pieces. Any semblance of legitimate literary media has vanished. We encounter instead a series of gullible pod people, for whom everything produced by insider literati is by definition deemed to be great. Dare criticize these wonderful people doing such wonderful things? You're not being nice!

The niceness works only for them, of course. Behind the Fake Face masks they're liable to kick and stomp opponents as ably as anybody. More ruthlessly, in fact. Wearing the faces of nonstop niceness must be wearing on their psyches. They take ample advantage of opportunities for release.

Stay tuned for more examinations of the literary world and how it operates at

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