The responses from readers after HCwDB officially shut down yesterday have been incredibly moving and heartfelt. I’m just so glad to see that my rage and douche mock could entertain so many for so long. Here’s a nice email I just got from Ken:
—– This is going to sound really gay, but… here I go…
As I start my 26th year as a police officer (the last 12 as a sergeant), I have seen people killed in front of me, burned to death in front of me, shot in front of me, comforted kids who’s parents had committed suicide in front of them, etc., etc. I can bore you for hours with this shitty list. Well, you get the picture.
That said, I became a very hard person. Too hard. Only an act-of-God could get me to laugh-out-loud by this point.
But, that’s where you came in.
Like a kid on Christmas day, I routinely ran into the office to click-as-fast-as-my-little-fat-fingers-would-type to double click on HCWDB. Suddenly, I laughed out loud on a regular basis. Donkey, Fish Slap, Poo, Joey Porsche & the endless stream of Hott and Pear reminded me that there was more to my life than what I was seeing at work. Always a smile on my face when the site was updated. And, literally, a scream of “woo hoo!!” when I got a pic posted on to the site.
Yep, as father of one child – a daughter – I get it. You, Sir, will never be the same.
That said, I am ridiculously sad this is coming to an end. Pics of DBs and Pear are one thing. Escape from my otherwise shitty world is another.
I wish you great success in your future plans.
ps.. can you hand the reigns to another trustworthy person? Just sayin’…
Thanks Ken. We’ll see if we can find a forum either on this site or elsewhere for the regs to convene and continue the mock.
So nice to hear from long time HCwDB readers over the past few days. Here’s one a particularly enjoyed:
——— THANK you for the many years of great writing. What an incredibly sustained and inventive writing effort. I’ve got this idea that to be a good humorist, you’ve kinda gotta know about everything. As you seem to. Well, my nephews now know at least about URC. And Pumpy will live on in my heart–those posts and their comments are dearly warm. I’ll be following Lucky Punkass. Tom
P.S. I once saw part of Allen Ginsberg’s glasses through a crowd of admirers in Seattle–”Yow! Is that the part of Allen Ginsberg’s glasses just before it goes onto the ear part?!” And a friend once played didgeridoo while he read poetry at a performance. In Boulder. Son.
No matter how depressing life gets, there is always a didgeridoo.
Sad news, fellow ‘bag hunters, readers, and internet wanderers.
Actually, strike that.
Not sad news. Appropriate news. The end of an era, I suppose.
I am currently in the process of officially ending Hot Chicks with Douchebags as an every-day blog. I’m planning on migrating over here to my long dormant, sadly neglected sister site, Lucky Punkass, where I’ll post more regularly.
If you’re a fan of my writing, or think I suck (either is fine), please stick around and check in every so often. And we shall see what becomes of what becomes.
In the meantime, I’m quite proud of this in-depth podcast interview I did with Mandy Stadtmiller last week while I was in New York. I thought it would be appropriate to do a quality interview at the moment HCwDB ends and Mandy did an amazing job. Check it out here.
I’d seen it before. On book covers. On the cover of the Village Voice.
Even with stooped posture and grey coat, his visage was unmistakable. This was no mere mortal old New York Jew. This was Allen Ginsberg. The poet. The iconoclast. The aging Beatnik Howling analog at a world taken over by Alanis Morisette pre-packaged irony and post-flannel power chord mediocrity.
It is 1995. A cold New York winter day in February.
I sip a bowl of Cantonese noodle soup and stare. Mee’s Chinese Noodles. 13th Street and 1st Ave.
Mee’s is a tiny shithole of quality food and crappy service. Next to a deli and just below the too-crowded intersection of 14th and 1st by the L Train and the bustle of Stuyvesant Town.
But for all its cockroachitude and tables unwiped since the 1980s, Mee’s is my home. My only place for Chinese food in the city. At least once a week. Maybe twice. Egg drop soup. Sesame noodles. A certain quality of consistency. Was it MSG? Perhaps. But it worked. A momentary respite from a confused and chaotic New York struggle.
Allen Ginsberg was in my home.
It didn’t take much to bring joy to my post-NYU poverty. Just noodle soup. I scrounge the city for jobs in the entertainment industry and wondere if my Dad had been right all along. I believe I might be an artist. But I fear that I’m not. Sometimes I chase young women in bars. Other times I sit at home and try to write.
Mee’s is my friend. Mee’s is a respite.
Warm soup and crappy tea in dirty glasses. Together, harmonic.
I would find out later it was Ginsberg’s favorite. But at the time, he is an apparition. I stunning reminder of the city I hope to measure up to even as I struggle to pay my rent.
I don’t talk to him. Just watch him as he eats. The ghosts of Dean Moriarity and apple-shooting Burroughs haunt his visage. The residue of a 1950s fantasy come to life in my noodle shop. The intellectual rebellion by the City Lights and road trips of a pre-counter culture youth movement. I ponder the photographic record of his journey at the end as mine is at the beginning.
Where once were young men breaking out of conformity there now sits Old Ginsberg. No stopping the road trip into the Now. Just aging bodies. Sipping noodle soup.
No country for old poets. Not in the Seinfeld era.
I fancifully think of a baton passing from him to me. Then my face flushes with shame. I have no howl to give. No kaddish. No poetry. Just a desire to eat noodle soup and hope for a job someday. With health insurance.
He shakes some salt into his soup. A young Asian companion hands him a napkin. They don’t talk. Eventually he is done. His companion helps him to his feet and struggles to get his large wool coat around him. Together, they shuffle out the tiny door.
The flames leap from the stir fry in the kitchen. The windows are foggy with beads of water. Dim, grey New York awaits on the outside.
Ginsberg passes by my window. Outside now. Across first avenue. Into the mist.
The Abbey Victoria. Never heard of it? Why would you. It’s a myth. A ghost. A phantom.
A tiny, twinkling little piece of New York City’s frothing, churning past. A memory of something that never was. Something forever lost to the pace of New York rhythm.
Maybe the Victoria was always relic. A grand hotel for the poor and semi-transients of midtown New York alternating as a fading imprint of a mythic, quasi-fictional city. A place that should have been filled with 1940s-era New York newsmen. Fast talking Sammy Glicks. Smoking cigs. Hitting on dames with great gams and names like ‘Patsy’ and ‘Gloria.’ Making calls from the pay phone at the corner malt shop. Men with chins like Kirk Douglas. Broads bobs and ankle skirts.
You’d rent a room and find yourself greeted by a Barton Finkian subcutaneous hallway. Creaking metallic elevators wheezed and groaned as you ascended up dozens of floors to your dark, fungal room. You’d walk down shag rugs of Kubrickian Overlook Hotel, minus the creepy twins and Big Wheels, to find a dark wooden door with a tinny brass number clinging to it.
Once inside, the moldy smell of peaches and cigarettes filled your nostrils. Peeling wallpaper and a small, wooden window looked down at cab-filled New York traffic.
You were home.
The beds were lumpy and springy. Jump on them too quickly and they’d scream like a thousand recursive Slinkies crying out in pain. And then silenced. The sheets were sandpaper soft. Cheap high school toilet paper sheets soaked with the sweat of a thousand New York tears. The curtains were scented by Lucky Strike and cough syrup. Dog hairs that avoided the cursory monthly vacuum curled up around ancient 1940s-era wooden chairs and tables. The bathrooms had chipped tiles and roaches. The paper-thin walls coughed and wheezed with neighborly advice and sex crimes.
But that’s how it was. The Abbey inspired dark, Film Noir monologues amidst the faded New York dreams of yesterear. Sore heads and broken bodies had curled up and sighed by the thousands.
And yet there it still stood. A monument. A fading relic of semi-fictional New York imaginarium. A stubborn link to a past that never was clinging desperately to a fast-paced world that had long passed it by. Even worse. A world that now ignored it.
Some said the Abbey was haunted. Not literally, in a Ghostbusters Stay-Puft sort of way. This was a thematic haunting. Conceptual more than literal. For the Abbey was a place totally and completely out of time. Like some Twilight Zoneian dissolve had shifted the scenery and now Rod Serling waited to tell your plight. Right after stepping out from behind the room’s linty window curtains.
The Abbey shouldn’t have been there. Yet it had made it across the great thematic New York pre-war/post-war time divide in one piece.
And there it stood. In 1982.
A hulking relic of the garment trade. Refusing to move. Refusing to be mowed down. Holding its wrinkled, defiant brick facade to the wind and cursing and piss and dirt and grime. At the corner of 51st and 8th Ave.
I know this because I stayed there. I was Kilroy. It was real. And I remember it.
For the Abbey Victoria was my very first home away from home. My first place of rest upon my very first vacation trips to that magical island of Manhattan.
I stayed at the Victoria with my father.
Those rare and incredibly special occasions when he took me from all the way from Boston. For a weekend trip. To visit New York. To visit Times Square.
Dad and I first stayed there on New Years Eve in 1980. Glowing Flash Gordon ads ran in giant block pixels on the primitive Jumbotron. We waited for hours in freezing rain for the ball to drop.
I was six years old.
We were there again for various work trips that my father had to take throughout 1981. Two more times in the Spring of ’82. Dad nicknamed it “The Shabby Victoria.” The name stuck.
We’d wander Times Square. Eat a slice of pizza. See a Broadway show.
The Shabby was our getaway spot. The one vacation that my recently divorced and penniless father could still afford. At least every so often. A place we’d go when Dad needed to escape the pressures and chaos of Boston after he and my mother had finally split up for good in 1978.
The Shabby was our oasis.
Our time to be men in the big city together.
Father and son.
When the trips were over and we’d come back home to Boston, I would spend months begging my dad to return to that magical, mythical place. A place I still wasn’t sure had actually existed. The city of endless skyscrapers transcending the sky that now haunted my childhood dreams. Loud cabs. Fast people power-walking through traffic. Salty warm pretzels sold on the street.
I’d beg and beg to go back.
And then one day Dad would have enough money. So off we’d go.
Hop on the Amtrak. Four hours. Check in to the Shabby. Rest up. Get dinner at Tad’s Steakhouse. Get tickets to see a show.
Annie. Barnum. Pippin. A Chorus Line.
A respite from the suckage of life that was post-divorce Boston. My father was living in a broken down apartment in Boston without a kitchen. I was staying with my mother in Brookline for the school system. Then I’d switch. Go to Dad’s place. Downtown. Right at the base of Beacon Hill. We called it “Beacon Ditch.”
When the phone fights got too much and my father had me for the weekend, we’d lit out for the Northern Light. Take the Amtrak silver bullet for the holy landcape that he’d once called home and my young mind could barely comprehend.
This giant gleaming pearl of clusterfuck exhilaration. Entirely unfamiliar. A loud, shrieking primal scream of metal and flesh pouring through the dirty crevasses of a pornographic wasteland. I began to grasp the concept of sin in a Times Square that reeked of violence and sleaze. Travis Bickle America. You could smell it on the pavement. Or maybe that was just puke. A dead pigeon. Just make sure that you don’t talk to that guy selling watches out of a cardboard box.
Boom boxes on street corners played Fab Five Freddy and Wyld Style. Card hustlers asked you to find the Queen. Street performers break-danced and wore red jumpsuits.
It was dangerous. Corrupt. Entirely too adult.
Dad would buy me trinkets from the camera-shop hustlers on Broadway. A Mickey Mouse wristwatch. Two dollars. Once he even bought me one of those pens with a picture of a girl in a bikini. When you clicked the pen, her bikini would come off. Not an appropriate gift for a six year old. But I loved it. And I adored him for it.
We’d return to the Abbey Victoria after dinner and a show and I’d curl up in the scratchy sheets on the cheap bed and never want to leave. Never ever ever. This was my real home. I was Eloise. I was free.
———– So, my white relatives that fought for the Union in the civil war should be lumped in with the whites that used slaves?
Our system is imperfect, but did it not eventually end slavery?
You just went on and on about how you went to a prestigious school and were a little jealous of your friend who made it big in the business. It sounds like people that vote for lefties are full of nothing but envy. Envy is the root of the class warfare language and tactic used by the left.
You are a smart guy, but you should step away from the liberal brain washing you were given in school and look for some other sources for historical perspective.
I’m sure the old Soviet Union would have allowed you to make a living such as you do now. And I know China is so awesome with their civil liberties, and Venezuela and Cuba are just booming with internet tycoons.
It’s funny that so called intellectuals and the college types in the USA are the first to bash it. No appreciation for those who fought and died to end slavery and abuse. No appreciation that they were born here and able to be the spoiled brats they are – and don’t appreciate that they aren’t living in some mud puddle in Afghanistan…
I look forward to the when the day when the chip on shoulder dies.
The ‘Merika, luv it or leave it, B.S. went out with the 60s, clown. The chip on my proverbial shoulder comes from watching a decade of the last dying embers of white privilege and rage set fire to an America that had a surplus and was on the way to leading the world into the 21st Century. But the Bush Rage blew it all up, and all because the world had become frightening and strange and filled with non-whites and non-Christians.
Sorry, bub. The future is mine. Not yours.
Reagan on a horse in the 1950s may have never happened at all, but you can content yourself with that fraudulence, while the rest of us rebuild the world you set fire to because you didn’t understand it.
Okay, not really. But sort of really. Or maybe I did in a parallel dimension. I’m not sure.
This may seem an odd claim to make since I never actually watched “Lost.” Back in the mid 2000s, I was more of a Gallactica kind of guy. Don’t get me wrong, “Lost” seemed well produced and engaging. But I just never tuned in. Besides, I was busy.
Some of my friends from college weren’t buying the too-busy argument. The claimed that my refusal to watch had deeper issues. Plumbing the psyche kind of stuff. My good friend, Fred, laid into me over beers one night at St. Nicks, a dive bar for the perennially struggling in Hollywood.
“Dude, you gotta watch “Lost!” It’s amazing! That hard sci-fi stuff you love!” he practically shouted at me.
“Meh, I’m busy and it looks silly.” I responded quietly.
I looked down. A place of cold onion rings sitting on the table. It smelled like feet. I ate one.
“Besides,” I added, “It’s just Survivor with scary music and less boobies.”
“It’s not, dude, I promise. It’s seriously good storytelling. You’d love it.”
He poked at the ‘rings. He was having none of it. The rings, or my bullshit.
“Just not my thing.” I took a swig of Blue Moon. Could still taste residual ring slime.
“C’mon. We both know what you’re not watching it. It’s because of Damon.”
“It’s not because of Damon!”
“It’s all right, just admit it! You’re jealous of him.”
“I don’t care about Damon! I got my own life. And it’s good. I have things like… these onion rings. Onion rings are good.”
Onion rings are good. Even cold. I ate another one.
Fred looked at me and sighed.
“Dude, I love you like a brother. but you have issues.”
I do have issues. Fred was right.
Damon was one of my first friends and collaborators during my freshman year at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts film school. We became writing partners in two classes. We spent many days planning projects and riffing on our futures in Hollywood.
Watching Damon soar to success in Hollywood in the mid 2000s was a disquieting sensation that could best be described as involuntary anal pucker. I was a struggling screenwriter and post-producer building a mediocre career in commercial advertising. You know the talking blob of mucus in the Mucinex commercials? That was probably the highlight. When Damon’s career went nuclear hot, around 2006, I was living in a one bedroom apartment in Los Feliz, eating frozen dinners, and struggling to finish a screenplay I wanted to bonfire with shark laserbeams and a bag of flaming poo. I’d also just started a blog called “Hot Chicks with Douchebags” out a mix of sexual constipation and cultural rage. But that’s a story for another time.
Damon and I first met during freshman orientation at NYU in August of 1991. Both arrogant dickheads. Both obsessive film fanatics. Both thrilled to have been accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Damon was from Jersey. I was from Boston. Nerdy Jewish movie-obsessed suburbanites filled with ambition in film school were not exactly rare in those days. We were similar. And so we bonded.
We met during some “Welcome to NYU!” freshman meet and greet when the dean gave us the lecture about how special we were to be there. My dorm roommate, a drama major named Chris Finnigan, was the only person I had actually become friendly with in the forty-eight hours I had lived in New York. Chris went on to become a highly successful comedian in film and television. But at the time, we were two dorky eighteen year olds, unsure of how the hell we’d ended up in New York or what to do next. But as much as I dug Chris, I knew was hanging with the drama majors was going to get me nowhere. I had to meet another film student.
Since it was 1991, I was wearing the requisite backwards baseball cap. Do not judge me. No seriously. For I will hunt down your school pics from 1991 and mock your ass as well. The backwards baseball cap was standard-issue to identify one’s self as a film major. Drama students wore scarves. Screenwriters wore tweed. But film students wore backwards baseball caps.
I noticed another freshman who had one on as well standing near me. He looked me up and down. Noticed my Red Sox cap, turned at requisite 180 degree angle, and shot me a question.
“Yo, you a film major?”
“The cap, right?”
“The cap. But what’s up with the Red Sox?”
“You’re in New York now.”
“Where you from?”
“Your cap says Yankees.”
“Jersey ain’t New York.”
“Touche, mon frere. I’m Ferris.”
“Ferris? As in Bueller.”
“It’s my nickname. Got it in high school. Everyone said I was just like Ferris Bueller.”
“Okay then, Ferris it is.”
From there it was film school simpatico. We bonded over a love of Star Wars and The Coen Brothers. And swore we would own Hollywood someday.
On my second or third night in New York, Damon invited me to join him at a screening of “Barton Fink” at small art cinema on 8th Street. A number of film freshman were there. Sizing each other up. Who was the competition? Who were the serious filmmakers? Who were the wannabes?
Even in those first days, we were hyper-aware that some of us would go on to unbridled glory, fame and success. Others would drop out of the Movie Lottery and reenter the real world. This was long before the mid-1990s indie film fantasy sold fraudulent KevinSmithitudes to every schmoe in range of a video camera. We were still exclusive. The youngest of the Star Wars generation to make it to college. To be a film major was to take a flying leap into the unknown. Massive rewards. Huge risks. Glamour. Hot actresses. A time when film was still film. And video was for pussies.
There wasn’t even a Tarantino yet. Just Scorsese. And Spike Lee. We were at the same school they went to, so we were next in line. Star Wars had marked the beginning of our lives, since we were four years old when it came out. Goodfellas marked the bookend. Goodfellas was the dream.
As we came out of Barton Fink, a film we quickly agreed was a masterpiece, the pop culture references riffed among us like freestyle rap. We were on a collective rush. We were eighteen-year-olds on our own for the first time, steeped in the VHS pre-internet movie subculture that only the most encyclopedic of film-nerds could keep up with. It was a climate of intense competition mixed with unbridled teenage ambition. All stirred by the cocktail of life in the still-dangerous city of Manhattan.
We went for burgers and fries at some greasy diner on 8th street. I asked Ferris to be my partner for Sound Image, a radio drama class we were both taking in the fall semester. Ferris agreed.
And so I’d found my first professional partner in the film industry.
Our biggest collaboration for Sound Image was a project we wrote together called “Go To Hell.” A six or seven minute “apocalypse” comedy, the plot was unusually ambitious for a medium without images.
The preamble begins with a nuclear holocaust accidentally being launched from a nuclear silo by two bumbling lieutenants (voiced by Damon and myself). We then cut to an underground submarine vehicle able to tunnel through pure rock. It’s heading for the center of the earth. On the ship, we meet three men, the last three survivors on earth. They’re being led by a blind Messiah, Judah, and his seeing eye dog. Judah had a vision that he must build his “Ark” and lead the last survivors on earth to tunnel to Hell. Once there, Judah senses that a major event will take place.
We then meet God and the Devil. God has the voice of a sexy woman, as it should be in a just universe. The Devil, of course, was German.
A falsetto-voiced creature, Goblin, appears as Satan’s personal assistant and groveling creature of the underworld. Or something. Goblin explains the premise of the entire universe. God and the Devil are engaged in a competition to win the most souls. Whomever has the most souls at the end of civilization wins the universe. Then they create a new universe, and the game starts all over again.
As our three souls reach Hell, we reveal that the Devil is up by one soul. The fate of the three men will decide the “game.” But their choice has to be voluntary. And so the courting begins.
That was the premise. We wrote it in a haze in Damon’s dorm room one afternoon. But the piece went over extremely well, and our professor even entered it in a radio competition of some sort. Although I never found out if we won.
Here’s a very poorly mixed version that I dug up recently. Listen for yourself. It runs about 7 minutes:
Damon and I are the voices at the beginning of the piece playing Lieutenants Frost and Allen (named after two of our professors at NYU). It was Damon’s idea to start with the biting of the apple (the fall from grace), and then he and I toss the apple back and forth before starting global thermonuclear war. Later, Damon also voices David, one of the followers of Judah, the blind prophet who leads the expedition on the rock-tunneling ship to Satan’s underground dwelling. We never explained how one of the lieutenants who started the war got there. Did I mention we were eighteen?
Time and memory have blurred the names of most of the classmates we cast in the other voices in the piece. Especially the hot blonde girl we cast because Damon and I were obsessed with her hotness (neither of us got anywhere). I have no memory of who played Judah. The voice of Satan was a German student named Oliver that helped us write the piece. A fellow student named Carlo Martinelli was the voice of Paul, the other follower of Judah, and Paul Hough played Goblin.
I voiced the dog.
Obviously, this silly, amateur radio drama made by a bunch of teenagers played no real role in Damon’s “Lost” odyssey. I call this the “Lost Demo” purely facetiously. I claim no connection or role in Damon’s success. He earned that on his own merits, and he deserves all the success he has found. But I’ve been told there are vague allusions to God and the Devil playing a temptation game on the island. So I got that going for me, along with total consciousness on my death bed.
When an oral history of “Lost” appeared as an article on Grantland in November, I read it with bemusement. I’ve long since processed the volatile mix of emotions that greeted me when I first watched Ferris/Damon win the Golden Globe for season one. Now I follow the guy on Twitter and he’s genuinely hilarious and self-deprecating. Any bitterness faded with my own career that popped up unexpectedly in the past few years.
What doesn’t come through in articles like the one on Grantland is the burning fuck-you ambition we all had back then. Once, when Ferris and I were eating lunch in Washington Square after class, he announced to me, out of the blue, “You know I love you, bro, but I’d fuck you over in a heartbeat if it’ll help my career. I just want you to know that now so you’re not mad later.” If you think that was a dick comment, it wasn’t. It was how we all felt. By Any Means necessary, as Spike Lee had written in his book, and my personal bible at the time, “Spike Lee’s Gotta Have it.” By any means necessary.
By Sophomore year, Damon befriended actor Jerry O’Connell and was on his way. We didn’t talk much over the next few years. After film school, I learned he was working in the mail room at a major talent agency. I always thought he’d have made a great agent.
Now I guess we can look back at “Go to Hell” as an audio curiosity of the early 1990s arcane.
An immature, silly piece of trifle made by kids.
But for me, it is a token reminder of that heady cocktail of potential and New York a-go-go. When the future was full of potential rocking chair sunsets on the kickass path to cinematic fame, glory, and hooking up with Winona Ryder. The internet wasn’t yet a pixelated glint in the digital pie. Cell phones were some jerkoff Jetsons fantasy. All we did was watch movies, hit on hot chicks, and play the film school lottery. Times were good.
Fare the well, Ferris. You’re a multimillionaire and an enormous success, and you deserve it. But at least I got to mock douchebags on MTV. And I discovered Snooki.
Crap. Maybe that radio drama was the highlight of my career.
In the last two years, the unholy Wonderbread known as the Nerdist Podcast has exploded in popularity. The format is perfect for Hardwick’s brand of next-gen Dick Clark genericism. Each podcast features hour-long interviews with everyone from cast members of Star Trek to A-Listers like Tom Hanks and Bryan Cranston. With free-flowing banter, the podcast creates the feeling of a warm, intimate, casual conversation between friends.
That’s the good part.
The bad? Everything, and I mean everything, is super awesome awesomeness. Unadulterated ass-kissing superlative puke.
And it works.
Hardwick has nearly two million followers on Twitter. A ridiculously hot girlfriend. And various pilots, scripts, stand-up specials, and other sundry Hollywood baubles handed out in service of a youth market demographic.
Central to Hardwick’s address is a recent phenomenon that can best be described as a shift in understanding of what celebrity represents. This self-reflexive performance can be thought of as the Proxy Fan. The Proxy Fan reformulates celebrity away from an us/them understanding of media culture and towards an us/concentrated-us relationship.
The proxy fan is the “us” who has become a celebrity, yes, but denies all celebrity claim. It’s a fraud construction, of course. But it works.
Hardwick’s Proxy Fan persona operates as a condensed, singular version of the masses of fanboy/fangirl Comicon fantasy. The fictional audience. Those who cheer and celebrate the variety of mass entertainment as it comes off the Hollywood assembly line. The proxy fan claims to be a stand-in for pop-fan culture, nothing more. But the Proxy Fan is a carefully calibrated carnival pitch-master. Selling. Always selling.
Other Proxy Fan celebrities include new-media superstars Kevin Smith and Wil Wheaton. Each are famous, successful Hollywood success stories who resist and reject the codification of their idenity with other, more easily understood classic-era celebrities. Instead, they appear at Comicon as moderators. Commentators. They speak not as a performer/creator but as a fan-boy privileged to also act, direct, and appear in pop culture artifacts.
But the clearest distillation of this formula remains Chris Hardwick.
In Hardwickland, everything is amazing. The word “super” is dispensed with the pathological regularity of a Woody Allen stutter. Everything from comic books to bland comedies to sci-fi pseudo-drama to cartoons are lauded in the same geekgask expression of joy. But by making everything cool, Hardwick makes nothing cool. He is a pitch man carnival huckster. Billy Mays for the Treme set. Hardwick may self-consciously lay claim to the redemption of the 1980s geek/nerd/fanboy. But Nerd, as the formula now goes, is the new mass effect.
This is how Hardwick puts it on the website:
Nerdist is a place where we nerds come together and share the nerdery that we find. It’s also my home to various elements of the Nerdist Empire. You might recognize me from TV. You don’t realize that’s where you know me from, but it is. You think you went to college with me or I look like your cousin’s friend, but that is not the case. At one time or another you stumbled upon me on your moving picture box in such cerebral gems as MTV’s “Singled Out” and Noam Chomsky’s “Shipmates.”
The blending of pop-culture high brow referencing via the Chomsky is interesting. It tries to position Nerdist as willing to engage in a cerebral reference framework that mainstream pop entertainment would not. It is branding by way of exclusion. Nerdist is not The Tonight Show or E Entertainment.
But even the most casual perusal of the site realizes this is a fraud.
Nerdist is simply a rebranded version of E Entertainment for the Comicon target audience.
Harwick’s interviews perform Geek Ryan Seacrest as kabuki theater. Ass-kissing interviews with the entertainment industry as the center of the universe. Hardwick refuses to dislike anything at all and speaks of comedy and pop culture as the pinnacles of creation. Even D-list celebrities such as Brian Austin Green are heralded as icons of mass consciousness, and lauded for their work no matter how crappy the venue.
It is no surprise, of course, to discover that the Nerdist Podcast is recorded in the E Building.
Removed from the equation, of course, is the dark side of nerd culture.
Worst. Episode. Ever.
The anger, resentment, judgment, and parsing of media by nerds resulted in the small pile of isolated texted proclaimed “genius,” and the massively large pile of mainstream suck.
This is what nerd culture is and has always been.
Harwick is nerd culture as castration. His “no balls” geniality creates an illusion of nerd culture but without the bite that might limit marketability.
This, of course, has never been true. Opinionated celebrities do not suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous non-bookings. Even the great Joan Rivers called him out on this on a recent podcast, asking him to name one celebrity who was a pain in the ass to interview. Hardwick, naturally, couldn’t name anyone.
For the ad wizards of Madison Avenue, the question remains: How to sell something to an audience by inverting the desire formula? How to push something but creating the illusion of demand? Find the proxy “fan” and endow him with mimetic association. The “fan” stands in for the masses. Speaks for the crowd. The “fan” then seemingly organically demands the product you are selling.
Hardwick is that stooge. For there’s money to be made in them there role playing games. Hollywood ain’t stupid.
Of course, subcultures always break down and sell out, by their very nature.
That is how it should be.
No authentic and organic creative movement, created in that heady and uncertain way, can ever sustain itself. The seminal rock band The Who made this very point in 1967.
Nor was nerd culture ever a coherent concept.
The idea was already a cliche by 1984. Nerds were computer, math and science based subculture. Geeks were sex and horror obsessed juveniles, the kind that ultimately led to movies like this and this.
So it is perhaps unfair to say Hardwick has stolen from and misappropriated a subculture in service of his own ambitious desires to become Comicon Seacrest. But it is important to note that whatever authentic pleasures remained in nerd/geek subculture, the profit motive and the exploitation of mass media comic book dazzle has sucked it dry. Hardwick is the symptom. But not the disease.