Thursday, October 05, 2006

Where Have All The Bad Boys (and girls) Gone?

Last night I began reading LUNAR PARK by Bret Easton Ellis. I read AMERICAN PSYCHO and LESS THAN ZERO in college. All I knew about Ellis is that he was one of the few authors who, at one time, was also considered a "celebrity." But first let me backtrack.

I was born in 1979. I grew up watching "The Transformers" and idolizing Darryl Strawberry (silently weeping). My favorite books were the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown mysteries. I knew as much about the "Literary Brat Pack" as I knew about the Rat Pack. I read LESS THAN ZERO and AMERICAN PSYCHO years after they were published, which enabled me to read the books without hearing the cacophony of hype surrounding their publications. I believe I would have enjoyed LESS THAN ZERO more had I read it when it first came out. AMERICAN PSYCHO unnerved the hell out of me, but it's a brilliant and fascinating read whose blunt satire still holds up today.

The Literary Brat Pack was composed of, at various times, Ellis, Jay McInerney, Tama Janowitz, Mark Lindquist, Donna Tartt, Peter Farrelly, and a few "glamorous" publishing insiders. They all achieved tremendous literary stardom at early ages, and gave the tabloids plenty of fodder with their booze, drug, and sex-filled escapades. They did advertisements that these days are saved for down-on-their-luck telvision stars (i.e. Teri Hatcher circa 2001), they all got massive film deals, and were the toast of the town during the decadent 80's. Reading LUNAR PARK, a mixture of autobiography and novel whose main character is named Bret Easton Ellis, it's clear these packers were everywhere, were wanted by everybody, and had the world at their fingertips.

Fast forward 20 years. There's no such thing as a literary "Brat Pack." There are perilously few mainstream writers under the age of 30, and nobody who, like Ellis or McInerney once were, could be called "The Voice of a Generation" with a straight face. There are some who have gained a modicum, or more, of stardom--Jonathan Safran Foer, Zadie Smith, Nick McDonell, Marisha Pessl-- but none of them have, like Ellis, "done ads for Ray Ban."

In the 80's, the Brat Pack was considered the epitome of literary sexiness. Brash, arrogant young kids who claimed to know the world better than their elders, who often acted in real life like their fictional creations did on the page (save Patrick Bateman, thankfully).

So where has all the brashness gone? I'm not saying authors these days need to go out, suck down a few 8 balls and have an orgy with Michael Wolff, but if you haven't noticed authors tend to get very little mainstream press coverage unless a) their books were bought for an ungodly amount of money, b) they're a celebrity "writing a book" (i.e. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie) or c) they unleash some jaw-dropping newsworthy bombshells (more a non-fiction staple). Since the late 80's and early 90's, the literary establishment seems to have lost its sexiness. And I don't think it can rely on Justin Timberlake to bring it back.

These days authors spend the vast majority of their time either writing, promoting, or writing about writing and promoting. The mainstream media (which exists far outside the blogosphere), with few exceptions, seems to believe that authors just aren't very interesting. And certainly not worth covering.

Personally, I hate how little ink contemporary authors are given compared to their counterparts in other forms of entertainment. But I don't quite know how we would change it. Surely it can't be as simple--or destructive--as, "Go on a bender, sleep with some supermodels, check into rehab and check out with a bestseller." I can't stand seeing fucking (excuse my Spanglish) K-Fed on the cover of Details and Lance Bass or Ashlee Simpson on the cover of anything, like they ever created anything worth paying attention to. Suddenly Paris Hilton is the spokesperson for our generation. How the hell did that happen? Who approved this shit?

So what are we, both in the publishing industry and behind the writing desk, to do about this? How do you bring "coolness" back to authorship? How do authors and publishers reclaim the entertainment field from vacuous celebrities? We can't concede the battlefield, but we can't simply repeat history.

14 Comments:

Blogger JT Ellison said...

Amen, brother. Who is the voice? I'm a little older than you, so I caught the tail end of the brat pack, but haven't seen anything like it since. Do you think genre fiction could have this, or only literary? And where have all the cowboys gone?

10:17 AM  
Blogger Kelley Bell said...

The pendulim swings, right and left, right and left.

Gods Own Party (GOP) took us WAAAAYYY to the right, and now, I suspect, the next election will have us breaking out the bongs and painting flowers on the hippie bus.

Whoo-Hoo! What a Ride!

11:15 AM  
Blogger JT Ellison said...

I'm confused, Kelley. Is there a correlation between political parties and decent books?

11:26 AM  
Blogger Jared Goralnick said...

Let me echo jt ellison here--amen! I'm often quite alarmed by the pop culture of our generation: partly because it's not representative of most of our lives, partly because it doesn't give a voice to all the things our generation has done right, and partly because there are so many people like us who would've preferred representation by sometihng like the Brat Pack (i.e., representation through a literary voice).

Perhaps, as you point out, it's because there has been a lot of nonfiction that's caught our attention. But I agree that nonfiction doesn't move people and speak out the same way that a novel of a generation can serve as a landmark.

Again, amen.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

The problem is, people don't read. And (worse) reviewers barely read.
It takes an Oprah these days to make an author into a celebrity.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Graham said...

Surely it can't be as simple--or destructive--as, "Go on a bender, sleep with some supermodels, check into rehab and check out with a bestseller."

I'd settle for just the supermodels.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Allison Brennan said...

Do author's need to be celebrities? Some of the top bestselling authors aren't "celebrities." Some might be wanted for speaking engagements--JK Rowlings, Stephen King, etc--but for the most part, they're dissed by not only the mainstream media, but the literary establishment (though I think King's award a couple years back went a long way in breaking the ice between "literary" and "commercial" fiction. Now it's just ice water, not a glacier.)

I don't need to be a celebrity. I just want to sell lots of books (who doesn't) and hope that when people put down the book they think, "Good story. Let me see what else she's written."

2:54 PM  
Blogger Dave White said...

"Go on a bender, sleep with some supermodels, check into rehab and check out with a bestseller"

If you need someone to try and see if this will bring back literary sexiness, lemme know... I'll be first on line :-)

4:12 PM  
Blogger Patrick F. Feeney said...

Good show! Now it appears we have a political debate on the side. Politics has nothing to do with why we are not heard, JT Ellison asked the right question...where have all the cowboys gone. There are a few of us with a set of balls around but the media likes to market "candy celebs" and feed them to us 24/7. We just can't buy into that. We need some fresh new ideas and authors out there instead of the canned stuff we get thrown at us. Why did "I'm No Saint" by Elizbeth Hayt not get more press? It was raw and gave a view of the Manhattan/Long Island sex scene like never before. Anyone for some male views about dating in the cyber age. Ala, Looking for (Mrs.) Goodbar.

11:18 PM  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

I'm still bugged about that Gawker post. If editors who are supposed to LOVE books think writers are "crazy, mean, clueless," and whatever epithets he/she used to describe us, then the lack of interest elsewhere isn't all that surprising.

1:00 AM  
Blogger Bernita said...

Funny, blogged about this yesterday, and today I'm contemplating coincidences...
Is there any post-platform publicity - other than a charity gig - that doesn't include sex, secrets and in-your face activity?

9:07 AM  
Blogger Bill Cameron said...

I'm with Allison. Celebrity is for the celebrities. Of course, the Brat Pack sold a helluva lotta books, and arguably their antics had a lot to do with that.

My problem is that I'll be a debut novelist at 43, and I just don't have time or interest in being a performer in a freak show. Will that cost me sales? Hell, I dunno. How do you even measure something like that?

I do appreciate when good writers are treated well in the media, and that seems to happen rarely at best. But do we have to have sex with Dave White to get in the papers? (Not that I wouldn't, Dave, mind you -- but for me it would be for the romance).

Ours is a strange culture when someone who can barely string two words together gets media coverage for "writing" a book, but the actual writers are pariahs. And yet, our books should be the thing that speaks for us.

Sigh. A conundrum.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Shanna Swendson said...

I think part of the shift is that the entertainment media have changed so much since the 80s. I remember when I was in high school and watching Entertainment Tonight in its early years, it was actually about entertainment (go figure). The coverage focused on new albums, what movies were coming out soon, what new TV shows would be coming on, what movies were in the works, etc. If they interviewed a star, it was to talk about what they were working on. Weddings, babies, divorces and that sort of thing were mentioned the way they mention birthdays now.

Now, "entertainment" news is really just celebrity news. It's about the people, not the content. Our local news does a five-minute "entertainment" segment during their noon newscast, and usually there's maybe one or two items that are actually about content. The rest is all celebrity gossip, and you don't have to have actually produced anything to be considered a celebrity. Plus, it doesn't seem to have to have anything at all to do with entertainment to be on an entertainment news show -- like the whole JonBenet Ramsey thing being covered extensively by Entertainment Tonight.

When you can't talk about content anymore, that puts authors even further down the list as news subjects. If they won't talk about what a movie is about, focusing instead on the love lives of the people who made the movie, they're not going to talk about those silly people who write books, unless maybe they're having a scandalous affair with a celebrity.

Part of my marketing plan for my next book is to find a tabloid-worthy celebrity to have an affair with. The challenge will be to find one who doesn't make me want to throw up.

6:06 PM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

"Go on a bender, sleep with some supermodels, check into rehab and check out with a bestseller"

So then Dave Goes:

If you need someone to try and see if this will bring back literary sexiness, lemme know... I'll be first on line :-)


To be a truly valid experiment, we'll need more than one test subject.

Jeez the things I do for science...

9:33 PM  

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