Completing the MBA homework I needed those laddering interviews for made me think a lot about attention. How we get it and to whom we give it, and why. Every once in a while, I’ll make disparaging comments about some author or other–usually Stephenie Meyer or Sarah Palin. Lately, James Franco.
I make those remarks, of course, because I’m jealous. It’s the frustration of a still-emerging writer scared shitless of never making it, for whatever ‘it’ means. The fear of a newb that all the fancy education and writing learning and multiple novels will never get the attention I’ve always thought they deserve.
And of course they don’t. Because nothing really deserves attention. Attention has to be earned.
Which, I think, is where a lot of the frustration with Meyer and Palin and Franco comes in. As a writer, I don’t get the fascination, the quality people find, but maybe I’m approaching it with the wrong idea. Do Meyer’s and Palin’s readers go to those women’s books seeking depth of thought and lucidity of prose?
Doubtful. Nobody read Twilight for Meyer’s style or literary finesse. I think it’s safe to say that Palin gave so many people the hearty dose they needed of “you betcha” and “gotcha” and hockey moms. Which is to say she’s sold an ideology, mostly, as she has come to embody one. Or used to. I don’t know if studies have shown her numbers dipping (one could hope), and she’ll probably manage a successful career in political punditry (which would be happy if only it kept her away from actual politics).
She’ll continue to get attention.
Of course, that leaves Franco. The other week, New York magazine ran a profile on Franco, who is apparently enrolled in master’s degree programs in Columbia and NYU, or something, after taking writing classes at UCLA, and will be attending Yale in the fall for a PhD. Which is, as such things go, interesting, for sure; did anyone watch Freaks and Geeks and think Franco was going to have the most interesting career of the bunch? I didn’t. Maybe because he slouched too well, played stoned too convincingly.
Which is, of course, the mark of a great actor. Maybe he’s such a good actor that nobody, myself included, realized he was acting. Perhaps he’s so good that I didn’t realize how good he was.
I don’t think the same is true of his writing. Like his story that appeared in Esquire. I can’t imagine what Esquire‘s fiction editor was thinking of Franco’s story besides that it was a story by James Franco. It’s a pretty terrible story. I mean, the phrase comparing blood to “ketchup randomness” alone should have warranted rejection.
On the other hand, it is, in fact, a story that could have earned its author a place in a writing program. It shows some promise, and even reaches toward telling a story, even if it does so awkwardly and clumsily. I hope Franco learned a lot in his MFA program. I sort of wish he’d been in mine, and we’d been in the same workshop, if only so that I could have said: “Dude, ‘ketchup randomness’? Either you’ve never actually seen blood or something is really wrong with your fridge.”
I hope he sorted out his fridge, too.
It’s just it’s daunting, and frustrating for writers who have gone to programs and dedicated themselves to craft, which I suppose is what Franco did, which is at least more than we can say about Tila Tequila and the Jersey Shore cast. Is it really just jealousy to resent Shit My Dad Says? I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s solely about jealous. I think I’ve always wanted writing and books and stories to get better, to be better, to keep improving, and I don’t see, any more, how publishing helps the quality of . . . well, I wish I could think of a better–perhaps less pretentious–word than discourse, but it eludes me.
I will note I appreciate that Franco is challenging himself. He seems to have tossed himself into degrees and programs and institutions of higher learning with wild abandon.
I’m just really not so sure we all need to read about it. Esquire notes his recent “film”-slash-“art”-slash-“installation” includes (and I’ll quote so you know I’m not making this up):
One film, a herky-jerk seminarrative in which Franco dashes through the Louvre wearing a penis on his nose, will briefly feature the always thrilling documentation of human defecation.
I mean, sure, sounds like “art,” but I know a good movie when I see one, and that sure doesn’t sound like one. Just like I know good stories when I read them, and I can tell from what I read of the Esquire fiction that his work isn’t yet ready for publication.
Then again, it was published.
Does that say more about the story or publishing?