Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Bad Books

George Carlin rightly said "there are no bad books. Bad thoughts, bad ideas, and words…." With the possible exception of one word I choose not to say, believing it's social connotations to be the sole usage of the word and a venomous usage at that, I agree. There are no *bad* words. Just words on paper. It is the intent behind them that forces a moral meaning.

Then again, it is the combination of those words, in sequence, which create artistic works, themselves to be taken as a whole and–in text–throughout a period of time, creating a changing, evolving thing.

And that thing can be a bad piece of fetid shit.

I ask authorial intent, I ask if this intent is clear and purposeful, or if raising questions and obfuscating itself was that intent. Is it known, and is that knowledge meaningful? A part of the lesson, or the clockwork behind the machine face?

I watched that first movie and I didn't see one goddam apple.

The other day I had to touch a copy of one of the Twilight books. I grasped it loosely between thumb and second finger, much as I had the dirty diaper I found perched on the handicap stall's safety bar in the men's room several days previous. To my great chagrin, helping a customer forced me to take firm grasp of the book as if its contents and quality did not nauseate me. I did it, but I felt unclean for several minuted after, finding myself wiping my hand on nearby counter tops and my trousers.

The feeling persisted, until finally I applied some anti-bacterial hand sanitizer and I merely felt as though a taint had been irradiated, if not outright scraped off.

Fascinatingly, I do not feel this experience when shelving the Fifty Shades of Gray books, ironic, as Fifty Shades began its existence as Twilight fan-fiction, and continues to bare those birthmarks. For this book to be a #1 Bestseller, lends credulity in the public eye to that off of which it was based. If Fifty Shades is a guilty pleasure send-ff, then Twilight must be an act of literature. That is an SAT English equivalency I am not prepared to accept. Thankfully, there are truly awful fan works associated with every trendy franchise, and invariably some great spinoffs of terrible sagas. And sometimes, yes, popular things with huge followings can be terrible too. I cite all of Pop music since 1974 as an example.

That this book could make Chopin, Bach, Rachmaninov, and Pachelbel
a part of cheap, popular smut without an understanding of their own merits
disheartens me greatly.

However the question of either Twilight or Fifty Shades being literature is beside the point. Holding an English degree, in Writing no less, I can assure you both are awful and neither is "literature." Having read a book, I can tell you both are awful. This is moot.

What I wrestle with is the fact that I can juggle copies of Fifty Shades and not care, literally juggle them, but I am hesitant to touch a year-old copy of it's sire like a former "Fear Factor" contestant coming back for a second challenge, more expectant than not of seeing the bull testicles that stymied him once before.

My best hypothesis as to the cause of this, comes own simply to the quality of the work, and by that I mean the abject industrial quality of the mass-produced, commercialized commodity. Normally, I'd cite Althusser and Scott McCloud, and talk about how the commodification of artwork abstracts the reader from the artist and lines the pockets of merchants and middlemen more than the originator.

However Twilight is literary shit, so fuck Stephanie Meyer sideways on that. Bitch has a million dollars anyway, I don't care if she should be entitled to a higher percentage of millions.

Twilight books are fairly well-made. They are all still available as hard-backs, with fancy embossing and dust jackets. The soft-covers are glossy and surround high-quality paper. Fifty Shades, to the contrary is a thin gloss cover over some seriously paltry pulp. I frequently come across mistaken diecuts, and truncated pages. It feels like a piece of trash in your hand. The textbook you never read all semester, and then were unable to sell back to the draconian librarian at the end of term.

Hardcovers are in the works, but Fifty Shades was, initially, a self-published, print-on-demand title. That's why no one could get a hold of a copy at first; they were literally not made until someone paid in advance. Since, the mass-production started up and any lonely housewife and teacher could get a copy, but they were made to look exactly the same as the originals, I suppose. Hence the terrible quality. (I'm sure printing cheap paperbacks and still raking in profits hand over outstretched hand didn't dissuade Random House, either.)

At least Fifty Shades knows it's trash. It doesn't care. It does it's own thing, and god bless it for making money. Somewhere in England, middle-aged former T.V. exec Erika Leonard is living very happily off her trash romance novels.

But Twilight has the gall to put on the pretense of being a real piece of artwork. It is a book insofar as it has a binding, a bestseller insofar as it was sold for profit, and literature insofar as it is a collection of English words arranged into a series of predominantly sensical phrases and adjective clusters.

Twilight is a fraud of English works. It is the evidence of the descent of Western civilization and cause for the more intelligent among us to become the more brutal as well, that they might stage a bloody uprising an mandate from on-high the purposeful outmoding of faded notions and galvanized mediocrity among the common citizen. If the whole of English literature were to be judged by a single qualified expert, Twilight is the Eliza Doolittle to that expert's Professor Henry Higgins.

I simply hope the desire to fuck a familiar face does not ruin the reputation of the written word as it did that bastard Henry.

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