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« Age, Exercise, and the Soul | Main | Excellent Neighbor »

August 21, 2007


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Kids need fat.

* The one time I saw Elvis perform -- in Vegas, about a year before his death -- he was awful: porky, dripping with drug-addict sweat, and so zonked that he couldn't remember the words to his biggest hits. Add about a million sweat-drops, and this is how he was.

* Cowtown Pattie's mom has been struggling with some serious health challenges. Drop by and send some love.

* Agnostic has a small nit to pick with Paul Fussell's "Class."

* Happy fourth birthday to the ever-lively, ever-resourceful, and ever-enlightening Marginal Revolution.

* Yahmdallah celebrates the voyeuristic pleasures that the Web offers.

* Darby Shaw takes a hilarious look at the architecture of the building that houses the Portland Oregonian.

* Should people on their way to see the new "Bourne" movie take some Dramamine first? (Link thanks to David Chute.)

* Soon to be coming to your neighborhood too ...

* E-book enthusiast Robert Nagle turns up some provocative e-book links.

* The heads of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have been meeting, and Allan Wall is convinced that they've been up to no good.

* Alias Clio sizes up two famous waif-neurotics, and disses Neil Strauss' how-to-pick-up-chicks epic "The Game."

* Steve Sailer awards a failing grade to Karl Rove. Hard to imagine anyone taking issue with that evaluation.

* MBlowhard Rewind: I marveled at how truly strange and bizarre many people in the cultureworld are.



posted by Michael at August 21, 2007


"The Game" is a terrific book. Neil Strauss is an excellent writer, really thoughtful and self-aware and really funny. I can't think of another book where the writing *about* it differs so widely from the actual book. It's actually in its own humorous way a profound piece of work, although with a very light touch (as always with Strauss's writing). It really can't be described briefly, but I'd say it's a classic coming of age story, first learning one's independent power and then the limits and flaws of that independence. Strauss's other books (on Motley Crue and Jenna Jameson) are also excellent, far better than you'd think from the topics. I think "The Dirt", the book on Motley Crue, is the best book ever written about rock and roll. (And probably his best book -- even better than "The Game").

I actually think Strauss is an important writer, he has the openness and true respect for popular culture of the new generation that naturally saw pop culture as more important and prestigious than "high" culture, but at the same time he's a really penetrating and intelligent writer. Very light on the surface, his books are entertaining and go down easy, but then you realize how much is there.

Anyway, the book is far richer and more complex than Clio makes out. In fact, she admits in the comments she hasn't even read the book! Posting about a book without reading it is uncharacteristically careless for her. It's as though the subject matter set off such an intense negative reaction that she couldn't wait to judge the book, reading be damned.

Posted by: mq on August 22, 2007 12:48 AM

Bronchitis is keeping me awake, so I'm going to comment now at 1.30 am, in the hope that any oddity in my response may be attributed to those two facts.

Now, about the strange and bizarre people you met in cultureworld: I read through your post and found myself very confused by it, and I couldn't think why at first. Although I agreed with your general point, I found myself shaking my head over the assumptions behind it. Then I understood. The problem lies in the way you've confounded several completely different kinds of abnormality, and then treated them all as if they were equivalent.

Types of Abnormality
1) The first is the kind that comes from genuine artistic vision and insight. It's probably the rarest; it's possible that you've never encountered it, even in Manhattan.

2) Then there's the abnormality that comes from serious emotional problems or mental illness. This is less rare than no. 1, but probably more common in cities like Manhattan than it is elsewhere, which are a magnet for the miserable as well as the talented and ambitious.

3) Then there is the kind of abnormality that is in fact nothing more than a moral flaw. This is the kind that ends in the raving anger, egotism, or cupidity that you spoke of finding in doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers etc. Again, it may be a little worse than usual in Manhattan, which attracts so many ambitious people.

4) Finally, there's the kind of abnormality that's peculiar to the art world: the abnormality of the poseur who is really not especially gifted or even particularly unconventional, but who, anxious to conform to his vision of artistic genius, acts out or plays up his eccentricities.

It's easy to confuse these kinds of abnormality with artistic or intellectual gifts, partly because there's often some overlap between them. Artistic vision can have an impact on people's behaviour. Those who possess it may be eccentric in behaviour because they're preoccupied with what's going on in their heads. They may suffer from mental illness, no doubt at a somewhat higher rate than average; and of course they may very well have serious moral flaws.

On the other hand, there is a big difference between the eccentric genius and the poseur. The former, however sick or rude or eccentric he may be, doesn't have to work so hard at being different as the poseur does. He just is different. For example, if he wears strange clothes to parties, it's probably because he forgot to change, and not because he was trying either to shock or impress his acquaintances.

Of the examples you cited, I would guess that Andrea Dworkin was emotionally damaged, probably to the point of mental illness, especially where sexual issues were concerned. I don't think she cultivated oddity; she was odd (without being artistic), and tried, as far as she could, to fight it. That's why she was nice to you until you hit her red button.

Susan Sontag was, I suspect, an ambitious poseur: everything I've heard of her points to someone intelligent who had little artistic talent. And so she cultivated her oddities like mad, hoping they proved she was a genius. Probably she grew older and was indulged by her acolytes, her character flaws grew worse.

Your friend who snarled at you about the horrors of being gay in Middle America, and how you didn't understand, was probably right enough. Doesn't mean that his sufferings made him special. But he was probably hoping that his childhood miseries would be compensated by some kind of artistic success in adult life. That's why he clung to them like a badge of honour.

As for Middle America itself, it probably contains as many of types 2 and 3 as anywhere else does. On the other hand, it probably doesn't hold that many type 1 folks, because they are truly rare. And the type 4s? They all move to Manhattan and make up for their failed artistic ambitious by mocking the suburbs.

p.s. A point to remember is that some people really are eccentric, without having any artistic abilities, or serious personality flaws, or mental illnesses, or pretensions. My uncle (a physicist) is the most un-self-consciously eccentric man I've ever met, and without being remotely unpleasant with it.

Posted by: alias clio on August 22, 2007 2:30 AM

Michael, I'd made a resolution to cut down on negative blogging. sarcasm etc...then you led me to the Oregonian building! I understand that the Oregonian is a nest of nasty Trotskyite authoritarians, but...they're still human beings, aren't they?

By the way, did you know that, thanks to the efforts of King Leopold, 'architect' came to be a term of abuse in Belgium? What is it about assholes and architecture?

Posted by: Robert Townshend on August 22, 2007 4:05 AM

Karl Rove a failure, eh? What does that make Bob Shrum? At last count he was 0-21. Rove was instrumental in winning two national elections, saving two nations from murderous tyranny and leading a remarkable economic recovery from the worst attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor. And we're winning in Iraq. Oh, and he's a nice guy, too.

Posted by: Robert Speirs on August 22, 2007 9:47 AM

There is a rather large category of poseurs who do have a real artistic or literary talent, yet want to pretend to more than they have. I mean, it's pretty clear (at least to me) that Susan Sontag was a notable but pretty minor talent, which puts her ahead of most of us (certainly of me). But I'm sure she wanted to think she had more than she did.

Artistic production for the public is hard as hell, those of us sitting on the sidelines and don't try to play that game should perhaps have a little more humility and go easier on those who get on the field and take the hits.

Posted by: mq on August 22, 2007 9:51 AM

Actually, having read your older post, I see your point now. I think the issue is that you actually tried to build a professional and personal life that was dependent on wacked-out, embittered, artistic egomaniacs. You couldn't just sample their production but keep them at a distance. Of course that would be difficult.

The comments thread to that old post was excellent. We've lost a lot of good commenters -- I particularly miss Chris W.

Posted by: mq on August 22, 2007 10:04 AM

Re: Oregonian building. Horrible thing, yes - don't even want to know what's inside (I usually reserve judgement till I see the interiors): not even the most brilliantly planned layout and finishes could save the monster. That's why City of NY, f.ex., has comissioned our office to redesign Bronx' Family Courthouse, built in the same brutalist style (you could just imagine families(!) crumble under its iron-and-concrete mass).
But this is what I noticed:
Absolutely no windows to see what is ACTUALLY happening in the REAL world, says the poster.
On the other hand, architects who design for the most transparency (95% glass exterior) trigger indignation and even hatred on this blog.
I won't say, like our Queens-raised receptionist, "you can't please every freaking a$$hole in the world", but sometimes I do think there is a hint of wisdom in street argot...

Posted by: Tatyana on August 22, 2007 10:26 AM


it wasn't the subject matter that set off an intense negative reaction, but an interview I read with the man who calls himself Mystery, who sounds like a real horror, a man who regards women as the Enemy. I was also disturbed by the ranting of some of the frustrated young men posting about Strauss's book, and apparently attempting to use its recommendations, on various websites.

I apologise for not making it clearer in the original post that I was reacting to the effects, as it were, rather than the cause. (One final point that may excuse my intense reaction: I was a little horrified to realise that one of the Mystery techniques, which you say is called the "neg", or studied insult, had been used on me often, at one time in my life, before Mystery ever came to light.)

Sorry, Blowhards, for taking up so much space. I posted that first comment before mq's words appeared.

Posted by: alias clio on August 22, 2007 10:48 AM

MQ - I should give Neil Strauss a try then, tks. I love the idea of reading a book about Motley Crue.

Clio -- Fun taxonomy. I'm not sure what your trouble was with my posting, though, or what you thought the assumptions behind it were. I'd say that my main line was that 1) people tend to assume that the presence of art talent creates distortions and eccentricities, 2) as a consequence, ambitious people in the arts often reverse the arrow of causation, and devote themselves to acting like difficult or eccentric creatures out of the hope they'll be taken as talented, 3) we have an arts ethos in this country that promotes this general attitude, which worsens the condition, and 4) it (the idea that art talent creates distortions and eccentriticies) in fact isn't true, or at least not in enough cases for it to warrant generalizing.

Since you've got me thinking in taxonomy terms, I'll propose a way of looking at all this that I've found more helpful. A given individual in the cultureworld has 1) some talent (or not), 2) character, and 3) life experience. They blend and interact with unpredictable results. One person might have a lot of art-talent but have no drive to use it professionally. One person might have been spotted as having a lot of art-talent as a kid, and was treated as special, and that whole vision of himself has dominated his life, and he's turned into a big infant-monster with surprising pockets of yearning and generosity. A person who looks like a poseur might have some talent too, and even be able to step up when the crisis arrives. A person with a lot of character might have no talent, and a person with a lot of talent might have had life experiences that have crushed it. All these are possible -- I've run into examples of each.

So, while I came into the artsworld certain of one particular generalization (talent distorts people, and tends to make them weird), I now find myself thinking, Hmmm, 1) that really doesn't hold often enough to be useful, 2) it's too bad we have this silly romantic idea and that we let it color the artsworld, because it makes life there really difficult and probably reduces the amount of good work being done, and 3) I'm not really sure if there are super-huge generalizations to be made about how having an arts talent affects, or will affect, a person.

Certain modest observations seem valid to me. I mean, poodles are so bright that they'll go a little wiggy if they aren't given tasks and games to apply their dog-brains to, I hear. I assume similar things hold generally true for people. A person with visual talent is probably likely to spend more time and energy than most of us fiddling with the visuals of his environment. But beyond that I'm wary to go.

Robert T. -- That final sentence of yours sums up a lot!

Robert S. -- So it *is* possible to think Rove has done a good job ...

MQ - Those were a lot of good comments, weren't they? The role of the good blog-commenter is undercelebrated, I think.

Tatyana -- There's some reason a building has to be either 100% bunker or 95% glass? Whatever became of such ideas as "balance"?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 22, 2007 11:02 AM

MB: of course.
Balance is the goal, from the persentage of windows in a building exterior, to the amount of transparent buildings in otherwise red-bricked city.

Was walking in Chelsea from an open house this past Sunday, following at some point 21st Street for few blocks. Grand as some buildings are (and drab the rest of them), my eyes were positively relieved when I passed new glass condo stuck in between 2 taller buildings, with their all-brick&stone facades and mismatched decoration.
On the other hand, that new Gehry lantern of an office building on the West Side gives me shakes...

Posted by: Tatyana on August 22, 2007 11:29 AM

Michael, that Elvis video is so sad. How did he allow himself to fall apart in such dreadful fashion?

The amazing thing is that members of the audience are cheering and applauding his self-immolation.

I listen regularly to Elvis singing the hymns. Apart from a few of his hits, the hymns are his greatest works.

Musicians, obviously, dream of the kind of success Elvis enjoyed. How and why did he piss it away? I remember when Richard Manuel of The Band committed suicide. That was a profound blow to other musicians. How could a guy who had everything we wanted hang himself in a bathroom?

It is a mystery of life, that people who are in position to enjoy such greatness find a way to demolish themselves. Michael Vick is doing it now in grand fashion.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 22, 2007 11:49 AM

You wrote: "Yet what I found was that a fair number of people in the American cultureworld seethe with bile and contempt towards the mainstream."

I had a recent internet-mediated encounter with Cultureworld, along these exact lines. I wrote an essay titled Art or Propaganda? Postwar American Photography ( suggesting that MOMA's photography branch as led by John Szarkowski for many years had exactly that attitiude.

I then naively (read: stupidly) posted a link to this article on a photography website( The vituperation of some of the comments in that thread, were, perhaps, more interesting than the original article.

Posted by: Allan Nadel on August 22, 2007 12:21 PM

Michael, what bothered me about your initial posting on artists and their eccentricities was that it failed to distinguish between moral failings like egotism, the effects of mental illness, and mere eccentricity, among the inhabitants of what you call cultureworld.

I was trying to get at the fact that some people, artists or not, can't help being difficult. I'm rather sensitive on this subject, since I have a (very musically talented) brother who happens to suffer from schizophrenia. There are other less debilitating conditions which can make normal life equally difficult for some people to achieve.

I agree that there's no necessary reason why artists should suffer from mental illness any more than anyone else. It does appear to be somewhat more common among them, though. I don't believe that all the oddities you witnessed were mere artistic posturing or egomania.

Posted by: alias clio on August 22, 2007 12:49 PM

Two of the links you posted are actually related. The border skirmishes and drug trafficking are now being played up in the press to further integrate Mexico, Canada, and the US. Bush is working on sending American military to help with the Mexican drug problem--a precedent of having the US and Mexican military conducting joint operations. You just watch this. The North American Union is no joke. It will be done little by little. Remember that the EU started with a steel agreement between France and Germany. Now Europe is one giant superstate, with increasingly onerous laws being imposed on them from Brussels and eroding national sovereignty (at least of what sovereignty is left).

BTW, not being exactly the arty type, I thought your discussion on creatives and weirdness to be outstanding. I learn a lot from people here in terms of the arts. Thanks for the link.

Posted by: BIOH on August 22, 2007 1:21 PM

The building shown in one of your links is the Portland Oregonian printing plant, which is next to the minor league ball park. The editorial offices are in a building downtown which is ugly, but has plenty of windows.

Printing plant buildings are often windowless, since they're just boxes around a giant multi-story machine. I don't really know why they chose that style for their building, but since it's visible from the ballpark they wanted people to notice it.

Hmm, thinking about it now, I think I know. The building facade is supposed to resemble a newspaper, with the name on the masthead and vertical columns with narrow whitespace. But it ends up looking like one of those "starved classicist" buildings built by totalitarian regimes.

Posted by: Nathaniel on August 22, 2007 5:00 PM

Nathaniel, that's interesting about the facade's resemblance to a newspaper. Sydney's Darling Harbour development was designed with conscious references to ships' rigging. The authors of such unholy parodies would no doubt look down on the Australian public's taste for themed tourist-stops like 'The Big Banana', 'The Big Oyster', 'The Big Merino' and so forth.

The architects that I've met have been either angry tut-tut types or clammy don't-wound-me-again types; sometimes it's an odd mix of the two. If I had to nominate the single worst contribution of the 'Built Environment' fraternity to culture I'd have to nominate...the language of architecture mags! As smug, precious and over-written as any New Yorker article, yet dank and humorless like a Calvinist sermon.

Now, after that blast, I really am swearing off negative blogging. Every comment for the next week will be flattering or neutral. (Michael could help by refraining from posting on Thom Mayne and the like.) Drought-breaking rain is falling on the mighty Australian bush and on my acreage of Moso bamboo, the kettle is coming to a cheerful boil - and I realise I shouldn't be getting upset over an ugly printing plant in Oregon. It's just that I really like dropping in on Blowhards, and one thing leads to another...

Posted by: Robert Townshend on August 22, 2007 7:50 PM

it wasn't the subject matter that set off an intense negative reaction, but an interview I read with the man who calls himself Mystery

Clio, it will interest you to know that the book starts with Strauss dragging a deranged, apparently suicidal Mystery to a mental institution in order to get him treatment before he kills himself (over a woman who spurned him, of course). That chapter ends with Strauss musing "it wasn't supposed to end like this...", and the flashback to the main plot begins. Like I said, it's a rich book.

Mystery himself is an interesting if troubled character who it's hard not to like. He's somewhat of a lost soul, but he's a genuine seeker and has some real courage and charm of the performing artist variety (he's miles more original and interesting than the standard net guy who cites his "method"). He tries his damndest not to be vulnerable to women, but of course he is.

The examples of "negging" that come up in the book have more in common with the tart exchanges you see in romantic comedy than any kind of real assault. From the main characters at least.

There's an extent to which men and women in the dating world *are* enemies, precisely because we need so much from each other and don't always get it. Of course, making a genuine transition to friendship is necessary to make a deep connection.

Posted by: mq on August 22, 2007 8:47 PM

Well, mq, what you say is both intriguing and reassuring. Thanks. Now I'll have to read that !@#$ book...

Posted by: alias clio on August 22, 2007 10:57 PM

Re: Elvis. When John Lennon heard of Elvis's death, he said, "Elvis died when he joined the Army." I think of Elvis as the musical Marlon Brando. They blazed the way with a new style, peaked early, had a couple of comebacks, then degenerated profitably.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on August 23, 2007 5:34 AM

That post by Agnostic about Paul Fussell's "Class" is very interesting and is straight up MvB's alley - it's an attack on the pretensions and self-delusions of the "bohemian" class. I recommend it.

Posted by: jult52 on August 23, 2007 9:35 AM

Just to add to mq's judicious comments about 'The Game'...Near the end of the book Strauss ends his involvement in the 'seduction community' by entering into a relationship with a woman he's clearly in love with. About the time he realizes the depths of his feelings for this woman, he has the sexual dream encounter for many men--a threesome with two beautiful young women. He describes the experience as intensely erotic, but 'empty'. It's not what he wants anymore.

He ends 'The Game' by concluding that the 'PUAs [Pick Up Artists] were wrong', and flees the nightmare commune/frat house they had set up. Flees to what? The last sentence in the book is 'The real world beckoned.'

Oh, and clio, it IS a fun read.

P.S. Not to reveal (ahem) too much about myself, but I have been following Strauss' post-Game work. He's been pushing the seduction community very hard in what I can only describe as an 'ethical' direction. Toning down the manipulative aspects, and even going so far as to claim that the best way to seduce women is to become the kind of man that women want to be with. So much for 'running game' on the ladies!

Posted by: PatrickH on August 23, 2007 2:17 PM

"Seduction community"? LOL

Posted by: Tat on August 23, 2007 3:04 PM

A good alternative to "The Game" is Doc Love (look him up on Wiki or at askmen dot com.

His techniques are focused on finding, creating and maintaining a lifelong relationship (marriage) with a woman.

What he has in common with PUA techniques is his rejection woman-professed advice as bad even if well-intentioned, such as advice a woman psychologist or a sister would likely offer, on the assumption that what women say they want and what they reward are different things.

Where he probably differs (I haven't read other PUA techniques) is that he rejects seducing women as an end and not as part of a larger goal of finding a mate.

Posted by: hugh on August 23, 2007 3:13 PM

the best way to seduce women is to become the kind of man that women want to be with. So much for 'running game' on the ladies!

Well, even though many won't admit it, the truth is that kind of man women really want to be with is a man who has some game. But also a lot more than that. A good thing about the book is that it's loyal to the full complexity of relations between the sexes. Toward the end of the book, Strauss's lover tells him she's in love with the man he really is, not the "player" that he is on the surface. He responds by saying that's true, but she never would have met the man he really is unless he had understood how to approach and charm her. Exactly.

Posted by: mq on August 23, 2007 5:28 PM

Christ, anyone who approaches dating as a game will wind up unsatisfied and lonely. Being genuine and comfortable with yourself coupled with a good sense of humor (both the ability to make her laugh and to laugh at oneself) is a winner every time. Worked for me, at least, and I'm no looker.

Posted by: the patriarch on August 23, 2007 5:41 PM

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