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Stephen King

Thursday 6/8/23

When I see people act like they know how things work in "media," there's a wellspring of firsthand experiences--tens of thousands--which starts spurting up, geyser-style, in my mind.

People usually have no clue how fake and how rigged media things often are, how agenda-driven they are, and the real reasons why things are done and said. Not always. There are places and people that will allow someone else to say the truth, or what they believe is the truth, without interference. They're honest in their work. They are out there. I could give names, but I don't want to risk excluding anyone--because it's not just like seven names--and I wouldn't want them to think I was insinuating anything to the contrary.

But a lot of what is written--and a lot of what is praised--is done so as a rule and in what is tantamount to a back room deal, and often is an actual such deal. They're preordained, pre-written, if you will. Many of the "glowing" reviews one encounters are all but completed before something like a book crosses the transom, because of who that writer is or who the people at that venue and in that industry want that writer to be. Either to be made into, or to keep being.

I deplore the tacky, shopworn work of Stephen King. He's a thief who has stolen more from people than Led Zeppelin, even, stole from musicians who came before them. Led Zeppelin are fearsome originalists compared to King. If you know mid-century radio, TV, and cinema, you will encounter things all the time that King ripped off. As a maker of sentences, he's a straight-up hack. The value King possesses--or possessed--was in what he could recommend that someone check out by someone else from that mid-century period. After all, he was stealing from so much of it, so he knew that stuff well. The stuff of his youth.

He doesn't know literature, though. Big gap in the education, because it's a pop culture education. There were writers of substance who made inroads into the pulps, but move beyond them, and King has no clue. His intro, for instance, to the collected novels of William Sloane show me a man who can't think for himself and who doesn't understand how literature functions, and who has to default to saying how good John Steinbeck is, when Steinbeck was also a hack who wrote nothing near the level of Sloane's To Walk the Night.

But Steinbeck is accepted as being a certain thing--though the few people who care about such things have finally been realizing that he is not that thing--and King, with literature, plays to the the old, unchallenged standards of acceptance and half-assed--as in not vetted and challenged--canonizing.

If things were said about Sloane that had once been said--also half-assed--about Steinbeck and by enough people who had the right cut of their jibs, King would have gotten atop that pile.

I was writing about King's book Mr. Mercedes for The Boston Globe. It's a laughably bad book. It's a laughable concept. Not in an absurd, derring-do way, that a great writer might attempt. A writer of pliancy and humor, capable of bringing absurdity to bear on truth and vice versa in the delineating of each. King could never do that; way too stilted. That requires writerly flexibility.

You have to get analogous sometimes, for people to understand how absurd something is that they take for granted as this unchallenged, even vaunted thing. You have to divorce that thing from its regular subject, because the regular subject may be this sacred cow that no one questions, the emperor without clothes, just a platformed given. And a platformed given isn't vetted. It's just accepted. Especially when someone can point to dollars. Someone prone to doing that never sees the flaw in that reasoning, because it's not reasoning. It's verbal belching.

The reasoning is--if you take that line--that if this thing that has made this amount of money is necessarily better product than this thing that has made this amount of money less, then each thing that makes more than every other thing is better than that second thing. That's all along the line. At every dollar amount.

That would mean that Skip Bayless is amazing at his job and smarter and more entertaining than almost all the people in the country. It would also mean that someone who gets $1043 for doing something is better at that something than the person who got $1034. This is how logic works. It sets up a rule and that rule must then be made to work at all levels, not just the one-off. If you just do the a la carte approach, then you're just doing relativism.

What does relativism say? There are no absolutes. Which is, of course, itself an absolute, so we're done with relativism. Relativism really means there's nothing. There's no meaning. "Meaning"--not inherent, true meaning--is to be ascribed for other factors and reasons and motivations; not because actual meaning was gleaned, understood, prised away from all of the distractions and clutter of a surrounding portion of the world and our mental shortcomings.

But this isn't reality, these examples of the dollar and what they are meant to signify, automatically, to people who will think through nothing. There are many factors at play.

Look at all of the nepotism, for instance, in something like Hollywood. Last night I was listening to an old episode of Gunsmoke. And there was commercial during this old broadcast for a radio program starring Candice Bergen's dad. She was going to be on the show, at six-years-old.

Now, do you think if that hadn't been her circumstance in life, if she didn't have nepotism in play, that she would have been Murphy Brown? You don't think someone else could have been Murphy Brown? Just as good? Better? You think she had to have been the best? You think if she was born into a poor family that she'd have the same career?

No, right? Of course not. One type and one example. But someone can say, "What do you know? She made blah blah doing blah blah," which is their way of saying, "She is the best, it's been proven." Add to that the idea that in someone's mind that Candice Bergen is so indelibly Murphy Brown, that she was the one who had to have been Murphy Brown--which is how human nature works--and you get this unchallenged association and part of the proof is in whatever money someone made. People can't imagine someone else doing or being that thing.

People also struggle with the idea of just how replaceable they are themselves. If it wasn't Mark Hamill, someone else would have been Luke Skywalker, and it all would have gone the same. Rare is the person--exceedingly, historically rare--who can't be replaced by someone else.

Most of everything like this comes down to path, opportunity, access. Not ability. Not uniqueness. Not, often, even relevance. Other things. Birthright. What is given. Why it's been given to you. Not just who you know, but what they wanted to do for you and why they wanted to do it. Because you were the best? Hardly ever is it because anyone thinks that. Not now, not before.

But then you're dealing with someone who reasons at a level lower than an ant, because the ant proves itself better at logic when it makes a determination about which leaf fragment to carry back to the ant hill, though they may look similar in size to us.

Speaking for myself, there is plenty of game left to be played. I'll get where I'm going, with all that entails. Financially and otherwise. The latter will take care of the former. My story is in the process of happening. I am by no means speaking as someone who is looking at what it was and how it ended. I am in it and I speak from within, not the outer side of the back cover.

It's similar with Twitter followers. The default thinking is that this person is more interesting than that person because they have 300,000 followers and this person has 200,000 followers. Or this person has four million and this person has thirty.

But that would also mean that this person who has 500 is more interesting automatically than someone who has 400.

Or how about this? None of those people are interesting at all. Not a single damn one. And no one truly finds any of them interesting. Nor entertaining.

How about people follow other people because they like to be able to say, "I could be him," and also because they like to see what they already think--the stupid, simple, mindless things they think--echoed by someone else. That's for their ego and their insecurity. Not for their entertainment and because it interests them in and of itself.

They are not following because they find that person entertaining or interesting. There isn't a single person in the world with a large following who is either of those things. They are simply mediocre and were positioned to be seen and thus followed. The follower is following because of recognition, as in, "Hey, I think that, too," or "I've seen that."

It's also worth noting that something like Twitter is high school for adults, but in the age of stupidity, sloth, repetition, mental illness, depression, disconnection, fear, brokenness, hidden brokenness, insecurity, posturing, illegitimacy, virtue signaling, narcissism, and the near total absence of substance, where every single thought--simply because someone had it--is deemed equally worth sharing (out of selfishness and a fear of not being good or smart enough) as any thought of value in some dystopian mental "democracy," which seeks to abolish one thing above all: standards. Or even so much as asking if something is worth saying. It is the elevation of the ego above sanity, above fostering true community, above any real thought for anyone in the world, save one's increasingly limited self.

This is the public square, huh? This is the game-changer? Really? Changing the game into what? Making us beneath what one finds under a log so that those creatures have a better chance of someday ruling us? We're trying to even out the odds?

People want to see what they already think or know. People are followed because of confirmation bias. Not because they have anything of value or interest or entertainment to say. The issue is, people want that more--being able to spot what they already know or think a billion times over--than they want to encounter something mind-blowing, new, amazing, inspiring, thought-provoking, thought-changing, person-changing, life-enhancing. So if you have a huge amount of followers--right now, that is--it's because you are so damn uninteresting. You're just saying or embodying what every simple person who follows you thinks and embodies.

This is a challenge for me: to become someone reaching huge numbers of people for a reason that no one else in the world is right now: because that person is actually interesting, actually entertaining, and who only says and writes things that are original and new.

So there's no recognition, with me, in that sense of "I also think that stupid thing that Fleming said in a stupid way and with a meme." There is also none of that feeling of "I could be him, I could do that," because you can't. I'm not a parallel move for anyone in this world.

The form of relevant recognition would be in seeing that what I speak to is what happens within you. What you've known and felt on key levels. The level of who you are. That kind of resonance. The life-level. The realest levels of being and being alive. Of being who you are. And moving from the deeply personal in which a person can identify with the truths being said or written, in their own highly specific ways, to the universal, in which everyone can do a version of that which I just described. That's what I do.

Skip Bayless, to return to that example, just says the stupid shit that you think when you're drunk or in a mood to be an annoying dick or you're indulging this dumb-assed, gossip-y, attention-needing side of yourself that never grew up, but which you keep under wraps when you're at work, because you're at work, and when you drive the kids to soccer, because you're supposed to be their dad, but that you indulge when you're on the toilet in the morning flipping through Twitter. Your down time. Your leisure time. Your you time. When you can let go. Exhale. And breathe in the shit.

And remember: People don't go looking. What is put in front of their face is what they will know and all they will know. They have limited experience with the type of product in question.

In Stephen King's case, that's with quality horror writing. Think about life. You have experiences, and the more of them you have, you end up with the more what? Sure, call it wisdom. But we can also just call it having a freaking clue as to what is really what. Life happens. But experiencing various books, various films, various works of art--that doesn't just happen. You can avoid it. You can live for 100 years and pretty much avoid it on the whole, in ways that you can't avoid life.

You'd be better at life if you didn't avoid those other things. You'd be better at thinking, talking, listening, loving, parenting, seeing, being, enjoying, coping, growing. You'd make your journey in life both easier and better.

But you'd have to try. Some. People don't. Right now, there is little impetus for them to do that in these particular matters, because there is nothing out there being made that doesn't suck. To find things that don't, you have to turn to the past, and that automatically makes people feel disconnected from the here and now, and psychologically, that tends to make people more insecure, because they're outside of the group.

It gives them a sensation of not being where the action is at, like if you were in a house and there was this party in one room, and you hear the doorbell being rung and you wonder, "Gosh, who's that now?" and you're in this other room by yourself.

The party could be terrible. Mark might be drunk again and throwing up on the floor and the cat just walked through it as your ex who is a lesbian now and makes veiled comments on Facebook that everyone knows is about you and how toxic you were when you were always nice and supportive is holding court with her latest partner that she makes a show of groping in front of everyone and saying jokes like how if she hadn't also been seeing her Asian friend Mr. Hitachi when she was with you she wouldn't have gotten off more than twice a year.

Bad scene, bad time.

You could have something in the room you're in to entertain and thrill you all year. But you think you're missing out. That's why no one is going to seek out some book from a hundred years ago, even if they were someone more likely to do that kind of thing. For the most part. It's a very rare person. Sometimes I feel like I know every last person out there who might do that. That book could be in the room with them. And they are going to be thinking about getting to the party outside, no matter how bad it is, no matter how great what is right next to them is, because they're trying to get to the group.

So let's put it this way. Let's pretend that Stephen King hadn't existed, and here I came to the pages of this journal, and I was saying, "Well, I spent another weekend on this work that is truly special, the work of my lifetime. I've been keeping it under wraps, but I work on it many hours every day. I believe in it so much. It's about this guy who gets in a Mercedes and he shows up at places where there are lots of people and he's upset and he drives through crowds and runs them down and I call it Mr. Mercedes."

You'd laugh at me, right? You'd think, "What a fucking idiot." Or, "That poor guy. He's been worn down so much that he's lost it now."

Stephen King took this bad idea and turned it into a trilogy. How do you take something that tacky and stupid and stretch it that far? And in just about every sentence of that first book in that trilogy I was laughing at how bad the writing was and how inept his editor also must have been.

There was one part, for example, where King was trying to be hip and edgy and young--one of many out of touch, clueless, desiccated Boomer moments--and attempting to show how "slutty" some woman was by saying that she was covered in tramp stamps.

Covered in them, eh? You think that's how it works? And your editor doesn't know how that works either? Or your editor does and doesn't want to say that there goes the naked guy with the pimply ass in the street, and instead praises the fine robes and impressive bearing of the emperor?

Which is it? Because it's one of those things.

I write the piece, hand it in, and then we have problems. The editor says that this is Stephen King, and because it's Stephen King, he has to be talked about a certain way. This review is way too critical. After all, it's Stephen King. Not that he's read the book and has any idea. I simply said the truth, and said that truth in writing that was as tight as tight can be, and as well-executed.

They were paying me next to nothing. I needed the money. I always need money right now. The whole bit about placing the food in the mouth, chewing the food, and swallowing it? Do you know how hard it is to get the food to do that? With these people? In this industry that has killed off reading? With all of the evil, cronyism, corruption, discrimination, incompetence?

It really came down to a sort of fine, whatever, you do it, sort of thing, and they did what they wanted and I was able to buy a little food.

What someone will say is, "Stephen King must be an amazing writer, he's worth 400 million!" He isn't. He's a bad writer. That person should have higher standards, just like the infant moves on from being entertained by the keys jangling in front of its face and finds better stuff. There are no good writers right now, essentially. There are no options. There's crap. Then there is branded crap. Crap that is a brand. No one questions the brand. It's a de facto setting. A default setting.

People swim through crap for long enough, they start to think that crap is limpid water. You might as well be swimming in the Bahamas where you can see that colorful eel making its way across the sandy bottom thirty feet below. Options and what one becomes used to and environment have so much say in overriding our brains, our eyes, our sanity, our standards. In changing our brains, our eyes, our sanity, our standards.

Tim Tebow couldn't throw a football, right? But if you went to a world where Tim Tebow was worshiped, and there were no standards, and every season Tim Tebow won the MVP, and teams looked to draft someone like Tim Tebow, and dads told their sons that if they worked hard they might someday be Tim Tebow, and then Tom Brady showed up, do you know what would happen?

Those people would ignore Brady--or say he sucks--and keep doing their thing with Tim Tebow. Like they do with Stephen King. Then you have a system looking to extol and protect that brand.

Mr. Mercedes. Come on. At one point he was like, "She even had a tramp stamp on her ankle." Great stuff.

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