Monday, May 15, 2006

Fallen Idol

Our heroes are in the habit of disappointing us, and my most recent experience in this vein starts with a curious but quite engaging Web site,, where the major issues of our day are argued passionately, insightfully, humorously, and at length by two complete, total nerds.

Being a nerd myself, I do not use this word pejoratively, but rather to illuminate the beauty of our wired world, in which a nerd like myself has an audience who would otherwise see me and cross the street for fear of being nerd-infected. Nerds are not the same as "losers," though I have been called both in the same sentence.

These two gentlemen, Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus, score extremely high on the Nerd Meter. Wright is a science geek, Kaus is a policy wonk, and between the two of them, there is enough dorkiness in their virtual room to fill M.I.T. and the Kennedy School of Government.

Perhaps I sound harsh in my assessment, which is no reflection on the quality of their program. With the magic of modern technology, Blogginheads pits Wright and Kaus, side by side, in a "diavlog" (you know, combine "dialog," "video," and "blog"), where the two protagonists debate the issues of the day.

Kaus, former writer for The New Republic and Newsweek, is now best known for "kausfiles," a feature on which at its best exposes conventional wisdom and at its worse is a dull micro-parsing of the New York Times.

On the other hand, I've been an unabashed fan of Wright's wonderful prose since reading "Three Scientists and Their Gods," and will force "The Moral Animal" on unsuspecting friends. I love the man's written work. But on Blogginheads, Wright doesn't come off as gracefully.

He's always interrupting poor Mickey, and framing everything like a debate. "Here is why your argument is intellectually and morally inferior," is a common refrain of Wright's. And while I almost always agree with Wright and he is wholly eloquent, it bugs me he can be kinda rude and long-winded.

But the problem, ultimately, was the contest. Wright and Kaus asked viewers to send in suggested slogans for Bloggingheads, which they would paste on T-shirts, mugs, and temporary tattoos for sale. As a fan, I eagerly e-mailed suggestions. And Wright dissed me, on air.

Wright and Kaus: They bloviate so you don't have to

Sure, he didn't mention me by name, and his dismissal was so innocuous that it couldn't even be called "mild," but still. Bookfraud does not take an insult to his honor lightly!

My slogan entries included the following, which, to be honest, suck complete, total ass:

"Two talking heads. One serious throwdown"
"Cyberspace Meets Cybergenius"
"Where MickBob and Friends debate the world"
"Intelligent discussion by scary disembodied heads"
"No girls allowed"

Merely ignoring me wasn't enough. No. On air, Wright mentioned my favorite entry: " Where we bloviate so you don't have to." But he wasn't approving, just dismissive. He didn't even bother to print it out! And the winners were totally lame, that's all I'll say about that.

(To see the clip, click here. If it doesn't play the right part, click on the "Viewer e-mail..." link. It doesn't work well with Macs).

When you see your idols fall, it's usually best done at a distance. There's been lots and lots of fallen literary "heroes" of late, from the sublimely fraudulent (James Frey) to the ridiculously plagiaristic (Kaavya Viswanathan).

Nothing has really hit me personally. Oh, I've heard stories, witnessed very good writers acting very poorly, and seen people crushed in numerous ways: an MFA student sees his story taken to shreds by the man who inspired him to write. Conferences are a veritable cornucopia of Writers Behaving Badly, with married people engaging in misbegotten hookups, and vomit strategically pooled all over campus, and those same hung-over writers trashing anyone and anything in class just because they were wasted and didn't get any the night before or perhaps because they did get some, trashing them worse, even, than if they saw "veritable cornucopia" in a story.

Maybe because I expect fiction writers to act like this, when something particularly awful comes to light, it doesn't bother me.

History is replete with besotten, cruel, terrible people who happen to write (that's for a whole other blog). You usually just don't find out about it until the writer is dead. Unlike the drug-inhaling, wife-beating jock or the prostitute-patronizing, bribe-taking politician, writers are usually discreet, and if they're famous enough, they get the "monstrous artist" get out jail card.

I mean, I don't think Wright is any of these. I will still read anything he slaps his byline on. He really didn't do anything wrong. But he dissed me, anonymously, granted, and perhaps I just have a delicate constitution these days. O.K., enough already! I got some rejections this weekend! I admit it. It's my right to be pissed and act in stupid, immature ways unbecoming for a middle-aged man, writing blog entries with no singular theme, idea, or decent ending. So I'll repeat my favorite kicker.