Fratire versus subversive literature (aka, Why I prefer Mellick to Max)
Tucker Max's I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is a collection of blog entries barely edited into book form that range from the hilarious to the painfully unfunny (usually due to overshooting the mark and just running and running with it, much like a 30s gag on Family Guy running to the 3m mark). Look into the book, I found that several are calling it, and books like it, "fratire" (Wikipedia entry on fratire). I think the term shows a bit of confusion as to what it is meant to accomplish, since the core portmanteau would imply a satire of frat-boys, while Tucker Max has explained it in more gender identification terms. To me, though, his explanation given in Huffingington Post article called "Pass the Beer: In Defense of 'Fratire'" sums up one important element of it: "Fratire is, at it's essence, nothing more than men writing about being men in an honest and authentic way. I know that doesn't seem all that radical, but sadly, in the PC world that we now live in, it very much is."
If you didn't catch the magic word there, it was the term PC. Politically correct. Meaning a world where words are weighed not by their meaning, but by their perceived impact; and by doing so change the shape of action itself. While most of that article goes into details about waves of feminism and the importance of a counter-male force, there is a essentially anti-"politically correct" energy driving Max and Maddox (the other significant writer in the field, as identified by Tucker Max). Shooting down women, making them into a sexual object, that is all fine and good as a mission in life; but Max's writings delight in the shattering of taboo more so than they delight in the establishment of masculinity.
His often used mantra of "It was a joke!" in several examples shows a tendency away from his most caustic statements for their own right and more about those statement being there because they breaks verbal etiquette. Whenever someone he insults "gets it", he praises them. How many times does he or his friends break numerous barriers just to walk out more or less unscathed? What is the ultimate literary example of the failure of political correctness? When the person being attacked is neutered by their clinging to the way proper way to do things while the social ninja strikes by calling you fat, or stupid, or inbred, or whatever. The "good guy" is forced into a milquetoast's shoes, while the "bad guy" gets what he wants and stands up for his own personal freedom.
If Max's book is actually about being a man in a male-unfriendly world, it fails. Getting drunk, shouting insults, and having sex with people you hate is not masculine, insomuch as anyone can do it. Even women can do that, I am afraid. What it does focus upon, though, is the refusal to accept the bounds of polite society (outside of drunk driving and lots of inebriated sex, Max rarely breaks any big laws). It subverts the traditional value structure in which a man must learn to regret his many stupid things and settle down into a mother-wife controlled home. Max and his friends not only enjoy their mistakes, but they profit from them (at least Max does). They define themselves by their outlandish behavior. It is not masculinity that is being reaffirmed, but the self-centered part-goer that does not give a damn.
It is Nietszchean ethics gone awry.
Somewhat randomly taking three five-star reviews from the first page of five-star reviews on Amazon.com, let's see how many mention something to do with being against political correctness, or breaking barriers, or being in control of his own life (as opposed to following rules): (1) "Tucker demonstrates, perhaps inadvertently, that the health of a democracy is best measured at its extremities. [He defends] the fundamental First Amendment rights so many of the rest of us never truly exercise against the predations of self-appointed Internet censors, Tucker is self-contained, self-made, and self-supported in a manner few individuals in history have managed." (2) "If you see Tucker as a menace or as disgusting then you're just blind, an idiot, or you lived a sheltered life because this is simply put the reality of todays youth and how we date/live our lives until we are ready to settle down when we want to." (3) "I'm a good christian girl. I should find these stories abhorrent, and on some level I do, but they're also fantastic. So horrible they're terrific. So disgusting they're hilarious. I hate it and love it at the same time."
Three for three call out the book's hilarity and establishment of Tucker Max as a true individual through profanity, an Ayn Randian super-hero deified by his ability to accept his own evil. This is all tapping in heavily into the philosophy of George Bataille; the French philosopher who was highly influential in subversive thought: illuminating how penetrating the sacred opens the way to becoming sacred. How taboo is embraced, not destroyed, by transgression. Bataille held to become God (the sacred) we had to embrace the worst of things (the profane). These are all big concepts to say when talking about a book whose funniest moment involves the inability to not shit yourself in a hotel lobby (and egads, it is hilarious); but I bring them up because fratire is proving to be the economically viable second-cousin to subversive literature. Literature where the thing is to see what happens when one doesn't hold back; where one actually explores actually how far limits by breaking them; where one goes there just to find out if maybe there was a point in doing so, even if it is just for a laugh.
This is all to say that if Tucker Max's "fratire" genre is talked about and talked about in terms of being subversive, anti-PC, and rules breaking; where does this leave real subversive literature? He has a 20-something guy go to a bar, get drunk, and have sex with a woman that he hates. Carlton Mellick III has a planet made of meat and alien sex and men getting pounded by strange flesh dildos and baby-jesus butt plugs. The IHTSBIH movie has a midget. Takashi Miike, in Imprint, has incestuous abortions filmed as representative of the destructive nature of love. For Tucker Max to be subversive, then being an asshole would have to be an affront to the status quo; and any Friday night says otherwise. In other words, fratire is not subversive lit, it is affirmation of the norm. It is not about breaking the rules so much as ignoring the suggestions. It is the kind of thing that someone terrified of the unknown might can accept, because it only goes out a little way and then comes right back. Tucker becomes a god on the back of failed expectations.
Part of me cannot help but see the parallel to splatterpunk and its torture-porn cousin. Splatterpunk deals quite often with families and lovers and people with real lives and plans getting mutilated, destroyed, broken, tortured, maimed, and mentally flayed. It faces the meaninglessness of life head on, and shows how life fails against the great big black darkness past the stars of the universe. Sure, they fight back, sometimes, and sometimes it matters; but at its core it is about how the normalcy of life is a thin skin covering the meat underneath.. Torture-porn, on the other hand, more often than not focuses on buxom blondes and die in painful ways while being generally not worth the screen time they take up. Victims in torture-porn barely matter, and often earn their pain through prolonged asshattery. On a technical level, it differs from proper splatterpunk in that splatterpunk exposes the pain by selling you the character and then showing you their suffering while torture-porn often bypasses the character and goes right into the mechanics. There is a delight in the gore itself, rather than as a plot-device. Splatterpunk, even if you enjoy gore-horror, you are there for people involved and you feel bad for what goes on. Torture-porn, it doesn't matter who is being tortured.
Likewise, the fratire genre is about delighting in fart jokes, buttsex, and being drunk without the meaning that writers like Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, and even Ernest Hemingway attributed to the wastes and byways of masculine living. Screw this whole "finding out what it means to be a man" speech; those now-late writers dove deep into the honest pathos of being a man, and what they found was heartbreaking and empty, though joyous to those who could reach in and know their own death. Think about Cormac McCarthy, who often writes about powerless men versus men who do what they want; and how everyone of them goes down to the same oblivion before long. How dignity is just about all you get, and caring for your children and loved ones. This insistence that maybe, just maybe, fratire is really a screed against chick-lit only works if we ignore the other, more effective assaults on it already in place.
None of which is meant to say that I do not find I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell unworthy the cover price. I have enjoyed the book, knowing exactly what I was going into. It is just that a man who spends this long reminding us how many women he's had sex with and recants years-old drunken conversations in perfect detail is about as as subversive as a man who talks about his high school football career, and likely just as big a bullshitter, as well. It can be a delight, in and of its own self, and as far as I know, Tucker Max has never claimed to be breaking down the walls of society like many of his readers claim he is. It just isn't as ground-breaking as so many want to claim. For as long as there are people who think that getting drunk, again, and having sex, again, is an affirmation of the human spirit; we are going to need real subversive lit to remind us that the laws are largely of our own making, anyhow.
Here's to Carlton Mellick III, to Takashi Miike, to Kurt Vonnegut, to Chuck Palahniuk, to Edward Lee, to Jeremy Shipp, to Clive Barker, to all the splatterpunk and bizarro guys and to all the directors that make me close my eyes from time to time. They will always be just a little ignored, and that's okay. Fight the good fight against normalcy so everyday schlubs like myself can be reminded that things really just a bit weird and horribly fucked up sometimes.
Si Vales, Valeo
file under (...on the Words of Others)