thirteeners

9/26/06

And so it comes around again, another person labeled “The Spokesman of His Generation” and a chorus of people lining up to pee on his coronation robes. The current smackdown occurred courtesy of Josh Levin in Slate who asks, “If Zach Braff is the voice of my generation, can’t someone please crush his larynx?” Zach’s offense? A hit TV show, one good movie, one so-so movie, and then Entertainment Weekly anointing him as Generational Spokesperson.

I speak from some experience, as I spent about three months in 1993 or so being Spokesperson For My Generation. Being poor, I did not dissuade anyone of this idea, and turned it into a couple of non-fiction books, some fun articles for big magazines, an afternoon on Oprah, a bizarre side career in P.R. and advertising, and the occasional satisfaction of my low-level sexual addiction. I thought I was a pretty damned good writer, but I also knew how lucky I was, thanks to Kyle York Spencer’s New York Times article and impeccable timing. The door opened for me, and I bloody well stepped inside.

However, one characteristic of both my generation and this current generation – whatever you want to call Zach Braff’s demographic – is the preponderance of people of your age group who want you not only to fail, but flame out in a blaze of embarrassing glory. People hate being spoken for, even if you’re doing it well. And thus I spent a lot of the mid-90s getting actual letters (and later, email) telling me that I was making a career out of crass generalizations, and I was a big fucking whiner to boot.

I never disagreed with those assessments, but if there’s one thing your peers hate more than your early success, it’s you admitting that they’re probably right.

A lot of us kids today – and I’m including everyone born from 1961 to 2000 – have an instinctual “he’s getting too big for his britches” button that is unfathomably sensitive. The second anyone our own age appears to be garnering too much kudos, the backlash will begin, and it will begin FAST and HARSH.

Hell, small examples abound on this blog. Back in 2004, I wrote about seeing a play with Marisa Tomei, and apparently I was talking too much about myself, and the comments were too positive, which led some guy to write “This guy is a giant, quivering, pink, pearly pussy. Sure, I don’t HAVE to come here, but there’s so much unwarranted ass kissing in these comments I thought a little voice from the non-dipshit world might be refreshing.” Which remains, of course, one of my favorite comments ever.

Just a few days ago, when the comments section was filled with wonderful exhortations, it got too much for “Hans,” who wrote (dripping with disdainful sarcasm): “You are wonderful. You are attractive. You are incredible. You are popular. Please, please don’t stop the blog.” I mention these not because they bum me out (they don’t), but because they are a fascinating study on our peculiar psychology. Even though we come from an era that lauds the easy dollar and finding shortcuts to success, we absolutely loathe people who seem to be “getting away with it.”

And so the article on Zach Braff. Josh Levin is filled with disgust at someone who wrote and directed a movie that made sure Natalie Portman fell in love with him. Also, he punched up the dialogue in his next movie and got to bed Rachel Bilson. And he doesn’t think Braff has anything interesting to say. I mean, I get it.

But what is lost here, and why I think OUR GENERATION (if I may be so bold) has come up woefully short in the Great Artists department, is because there is such a tightrope of acceptance any of us are allowed to walk. Aim too low, and we’re hacks. Aim too high, and we’re pretentious. Make no money, and we’re losers. Make too much, and we “don’t get it anymore.” Try to simplify, and we’re boring. Try for something courageous, and, as Morrissey said, there’s always someone, somewhere, with a big nose who knows, who trips you up and laughs when you fall.

Let me tell you something about writing and directing your own movie: it’s really, really hard. It is much harder, say, than writing a 2,000-word article about how it doesn’t speak for you. Anyone who dares, in this day and age, to do something artistic AT ALL not only deserves your respect, but your support.

I have never done two things in my life (well, three if you count heroin): I have never called anyone ugly, and I have never trashed a piece of art that was made with good intentions just because it didn’t speak to me personally. I have sat through the most boring, soporific, navel-gazing theater in Manhattan, and while I have been frustrated, I have never said it was bad.

On behalf of my dad the symphony conductor, my mom the composer, my brother and Jordana and their plays, for the commenters like Annie and Block and CL and Oliver who dare to string notes and words together for a living, I would like to extend a middle finger to those people who exist to tear us down if we start doing too well. There is no parade too small for you to rain on, and I hope you drown in it.

0 thoughts on “thirteeners

  1. Matt

    “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” — Gore Vidal
    No one deserves an extended middle finger more than Vidal (and for more than just the above quote).

    Reply
  2. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    I like Zach Braff. He is talented, and I enjoyed “Garden State.” Plus, he is from Jersey! Why all the hate? I think that it is human nature. . . it is a lot easier to criticize than to be creative.
    I remember the Marisa Tomei post, and when I clicked it, I realized that I was the first commenter. I have been reading your blog for a LONG TIME! Do you have a function to figure out how many comments each person has made?
    That reminds me. . . . I know that you don’t want to blab about celebrities, but have you had anymore playdates with Brooke and her daughter? Have you seen Lindsay at Chateau Marmont? Julia in Venice? First names will do. . . I would LOVE some celebrity chatter.

    Reply
  3. jody

    Given the last two paragraphs, I guess your next entry will be to rescind all that nasty stuff you said about the Grammy Winning Black Eyed Peas…?

    Reply
  4. jason savage

    I have sat through the most boring, soporific, navel-gazing theater in Manhattan, and while I have been frustrated, I have never said it was bad.
    so, by this logic, you can refer to someone as homely, frightful, or not-so-attractive, just so long as you never use the word “ugly”?

    Reply
  5. xuxE

    button pushed.
    i think there’s a tipping point phenomenon at work, and there are always nasty critics until the sheer idea of liking a certain artist becomes popular and then the roar of the crowd drowns the critics out or squashes them.
    but i think what’s unfortunate about artists is that the nature of it is to put your work and yourself out there for opinion. it’s not like accounting, where there is a right number of debits and credits, or like sales, where there is a certain amount of revenue you can point to in order to *prove* your worth. the only way artists *prove* worth is by other’s opinions. any other worth is internal, from within the artist, that voice that says this artistic thing is worth doing no matter what anyone says.
    and somewhere along the line, i think it was probably sometime around the greed-powered 80’s, the activity of maknig art got totally de-valued. at least in contrast with the 60’s, for example.
    actually, that’s just a guess, really, i’m no historian, but whenever it was, i think at some point art became hyper-commercialized, and people forgot that there are actually talented working class and middle class artists, artistic people engaged in making interesting or beautiful things, in addition to the rich and famous mega-celebrities we are all bombarded with every day.
    it’s really hard as an artist to keep your head up and not be self-loathing when you’re viewed as a failure if you’re not a media darling in the elite circle and yet there are probably millions of people just like you who are happily engaged in doing what they love and making a decent living at it. it’s hard to create work that by design invites other people’s opinions and then be constantly held to a virtually unachievable standard of “success”.
    i always compare it to a being a lawyer for example. i don’t think the average laywer has to answer to why they aren’t on the supreme court, or have people criticize their work for not being as well known as published supreme court opinions or something. usually, if you ask most people, it’s enough to just be a friggin laywer. they’ll just be like, ‘oh, you’re a lawyer, that’s cool’ without any hidden dis or people trying to figure out if you have another job as your day job or hinting at whether you are a *real* laywer. i mean, there’s no like disparaging “off-off-wall street” title thrown at stockbrokers the way there is for “off-off-broadway” plays, or “d-list” CPA’s the way there is for “d-list” actors.

    Reply
  6. GFWD

    I woulda voted for Zach over Ian to be the voice, but Ian knows my adolescent “it” girl, Elisabeth Shue, so Braff can go suck it. Though I do enjoy his movie and television show soundtracks. And I love Scrubs. And I’m loving that it’s on in syndication TWO TIMES a day, every weekday on Comedy Central.
    xuxE, lawyers have to differentiate themselves, too. I think litigators get more style points because there really are no television shows about tax attorneys. But we rarely get “cool” when we identify our profession. Instead, we get bad attorney jokes. All the time.
    BTW, I really dig the song “Bionic” from your hubby’s link. Which one is your hubby? Are you the lady singing in the Bionic video?
    And how do you pronounce, “xuxE”?
    Will T.O. recover from his alleged attempted suicide to play on Sunday? I’m not being cavalier about depression, I just need to know whether to slot him to start in my fantasy league.

    Reply
  7. tregen

    Hmm,
    Funny post today. You know what I hate (sorry to use that word) about today’s America? It has become politically incorrect to let someone know when they are doing a bad job or when their work sucks. Jesus. If a play stinks, the actors, the writer and the director should know it. I’m a lawyer and when my work sucks, as it does from time to time, I get it back all marked up in red with nice little notes like “What the hell is this” or “you need to get in here this weekend and try to fix this piece of crap”. I don’t take it personal. It’s not the end of the world. Sure, I’m a bit mad but in the end I knew it sucked to begin with I just didn’t want to work on the damn brief during Sunday football. God. This kind of “don’t say anything bad” about people’s work has led us to the “keep no score” little league games so that no kid has to know the sting of defeat. Guess what, defeat is out there and it stings. That’s life. But defeat is what makes us stronger, it drives us. How many of those kids who were the superstar volleyball/football/etc player in highschool are half as successful as you are now Ian? You have been beaten down, you got back up, and you are better for it. Avoiding giving people the same treatment doesn’t help them, it simply makes your life easier by avoiding the uncomfortable situation of on occassion being truthful. I’m not advocating being a raging ass but sometimes, in some occassions, people need to hear it.
    I for one, need my ass kicked every now and again. Not to often but just enough to keep me in line. We all do.
    Now, I agree with you that tearing people down for the simple reason that they are successful is horrible but this behavior is as old as history. Hell, this behavior makes up half of the plots of the shows on TV.
    Anyway, I’ve been downright negative lately, I’ll work on it but just in case I have trouble getting there please feel free to kick my ass. (here, not in person).

    Reply
  8. Beth

    Ian, this post reminded me that I’ve been wanting to go see “The Last Kiss” while it was still in theaters, so I hiked down to the Pavilion and caught the noon showing (a freelancer’s prerogative–no benefits or paid vacation, but the occasional midday movie sort of makes up for it sometimes). You were right, it’s a so-so movie, but it still made me walk out feeling a certain . . . something. It made me think a little, feel a little, and even if that’s all a piece of creative work achieves, then it’s earned its place in the world, right? And maybe that’s what you mean about not deeming a piece of work outright bad. Besides, so much of critical judgment is subjective. A. O. Scott can say he didn’t like a movie, while I can love it. Who’s right? Nobody. There’s no arbitrating taste.
    I’m not sure artistic jealousy is specific to our generation–think of Hemingway and Fitzgerald carping at each other. Maybe one difference is that there are so many vehicles for expressing disapproval today. Also, maybe it’s that so many of us are sensitive to–sensitized to care about–what others think. I dunno. You’re definitely on to something with the line between humility and hubris. I find that I’m able to be happier about the artistic success of my friends who don’t toot their own horns. I’m not sure what that’s about entirely. Does their ability to walk that tightrope make it easier for me to swallow my envy because I haven’t put my project out there yet for others’ scrutiny?
    For the record, I totally missed Hans’s sarcasm the otehr day because a) I am gullible and b) I disregarded the middle in favor of “Please don’t stop the blog,” which pretty much summed it up for me.

    Reply
  9. Joanna

    I think this has great potential as an interesting Codeword topic. What rules ( besides the obvious) do you have for interacting kindly with others? Probably too general, but something like that.
    According to the Dalai Lama in the Art of Happiness, you should approach each person by trying to see what you have in common, rather than by recognizing differences. That is a rule I try to follow.
    As for Ian’s rules, I’m with you on the “ugly.” On top of the “eye of beholder” issue is the fact that even when there’s general consensus on someone’s appearance, we’re in the realm of immutable characteristics.
    I’m not so sure about the art. Was The Butterfly Effect embarrassing, but not “bad” because it was challenging to write and direct? Or, Ian, is there bad art, but you don’t want to be the one to say it, don’t want to be mean-spirited? I’m not an artist. I shouldn’t judge, but how about a jury of your peers? Am I missing something?
    And xuxE, I never introduce myself as a lawyer (licensed, but don’t practice) with all of the horrible stereotypes out there. My husband even knows he’s in trouble if he gives me up. At least nobody thinks you’re a jerk when you tell them you’re an artist. If they find out my background, then they want to know where I went to school (UNC ’98), probably hoping for b-list, and suspect that I didn’t pass the bar (first try) since I don’t practice. Morrissey was right!

    Reply
  10. Chris M

    “…I do not mean to be so rude
    Still I must speak frankly, Mr. Shankly
    Oh give us your money.”
    The Schadenfreude Division of our media has grown enormous until there is ton of “dishing it out” by audiences, critics — and artists.

    Reply
  11. Rebecca

    There are always people who hate you because you are successful, smart, good looking, etc… It’s human nature to be jealous.
    When I was in H.S. in the “smart” girl crowd and some cool girl was mean to me, my Mother always said, “The best revenge is to live well.” Since most of those girls are still hanging around Cabarrus County, NC, I think of myself as the luckiest girl to ever get out of there! I am definitely living well, at least compared to some.
    Ian, you are clearly living well too. Enjoy it!

    Reply
  12. xuxE

    @GFWD my husband is jaswho:long locks, adidas, green lantern shirt, etc. xuxE is pronounced “suh-ZAH”. i love the bionic song too, but i’m not in his band, it’s probably Carla in the video. the spigga album is on i-tunes if you are interested in hearing more of it.

    Reply
  13. LFMD

    Tregen makes a good point. I read an article about some school systems that are eliminating the selection of valedictorians and salutatorians at the end of the school year, because to do so creates competition, etc. Duh! As a former valedictorian (hey, I earned it, I can mention it!), I think this is such a rip-off for the kids who compete academically.
    I am a lawyer, too, and I am often greeted with the same kind of love notes on my work. I don’t take it personally. Usually, the boss is right about the work product being the best, and I rise to the occasion. We are not doing our kids any favors by trying to eliminate all areas of disappointment and defeat.
    That’s all. Now I have to get back to my reading about Howard K. Stern. Is he really Anna Nicole’s baby daddy? Yikes!

    Reply
  14. LFMD

    I just read my post, and it is filled with mistakes. I meant that the selection of v and s creates undue competition, and my boss tells me when my work is NOT the best. Ugh. Good night!

    Reply
  15. John Schultz

    Well here’s some unwarranted ass kissing….this was one of your all time best blogs. Keep fighting the good fight Ian. The world is full of dumbasses with some decent folks scattered in. It’s just harder these days to find the good ones.

    Reply

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