Check it, Peons: Your CNN Humiliation Compartmentalized

Thursday, October 08, 2009


This may seem hard to believe today, but there was a time when writers had a starring role in the media circus. And they loved it. They put on a show, feuding with each other publicly, revealing professional jealousy and petty grievances, but still showcasing incredible charm and intelligence. 

People like Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer sparred over "intellectual pollution" on Dick Cavett's talk show. Truman Capote sniffed, "That's not writing, that's typing" about Jack Kerouac's book, "On the Road". Later, he kicked off a classic feud with Jacqueline Susann by proclaiming on the Tonight Show that she looked like "a truck driver in drag." Susann threatened to sue Capote and NBC. So Capote apologized, "to truck drivers everywhere."

But this was back when authors had big personalities and even bigger advances and didn't try to look like they were teenagers at age 35, shuffling around in ill-fitting t-shits, jeans and sneakers. They were witty, bitchy, well-dressed and went on talk shows, not just to promote their books, but because they were actually interesting. Audiences wanted to see them. At one point in the late 1970s, Truman Capote had the highest television Q rating of any celebrity around. Even more amazing, unlike today--these writers were famous for writing, not because they were celebrities who got book deals because of their fame. 
Authors of this era had style. George Plimpton threw incredible parties at his East 72nd street apartment, where only the sharpest, most articulate people were invited. Attendees were served plenty of booze--but his personal quirk was that he only offered cheap Dinty Moore stew to eat.

Norman Mailer, John Updike and Tom Wolfe had protracted arguments about literary merit versus popular success. This battle played out for years in publications like Harpers, The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. One writer would posit a theory or make a criticism, the next would respond to it. They almost read like classic Rhythm and Blues answer songs.

Many writers in this era were urbane, occasionally pompous but always fun. It was proof that the literati could be raucous.
Now I don't even know if a literati exists.

I started my show, Mama D's Arts Bordello as an attempt to create a bawdy literary event. I had attended far too may of those dull, dry, bullshit readings in stale cafes and bookstores where pasty, nervous writers stammer over their prose. Writers can (and should) be lusty, witty, cruel and full of life. Books and book discussions should not be relegated to musty libraries and twee coffee shops. Nor should the literary world be separated from popular culture. It should be careening, crazy and succulent. 
So I'm on a crusade: bring back the literary rock star.
And while we're at it--
Fuck those smug, masturbatory Book Clubs that are held on sober Saturday afternoons in some boring do-gooder's chintz-festooned, Thomas Kinkade-friendly living room too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well played, VJ Dutton!