A dark thought crossed my mind recently: that the World Wide Web would render the nonbook obsolete. No more would publishers rush to print thousands of hard copies on some whimsical subject of the moment, when the information could be uploaded once at practically no cost. The consumer would profit because, really, who other than myself reads a nonbook twice? The notion of Net and nonbook seemed such a perfect match that I quivered with dread for nearly two minutes.
This frightful epiphany was prompted by the arrival of Chunks: A Barfology, by Elissa Stein and Kevin Leslie. Even by nonbook standardsand there are someit looked particularly tenuous. The first reaction was to wonder why it was published at all. My suspicionsand fearswere confirmed on the last page, where I found an invitation to visit www.cyberchunks.com. (The site was still “under construction” when I checked it out, but it looked much like the book.)
In fact, Chunks is more non than many nonbooks. The authors seem to have done little work beyond polling their small circle of friendsmostly New Yorkersfor embarrassing vomit storiesmostly involving, surprise, college anticsand assembling the e-mailed results.
The problem with Chunks is that vomiting is an all too common occurrence, and the tales here are merely typical. No one enjoys the act. Like many, I have an exceptionally low threshold for puke. Just introducing the subject will incite my gag reflexthat last sentence gave me pausebut bravely, I spent part of an hour reading Chunks.
The most valuable contributions it makes are a barf thesaurus (“Bow down before the porcelain god,” “Deliver a street pizza,” “Serenade the drain,” “Liquid laugh,” “Liquid scream,” “Leggo your Eggo”) and the recipe for movie stunt vomit (green oliveswith pimentosglycerine, tabouli, and water). But the Bantam Doubleday Dell web site, “Barf-O-Rama” (www.bdd.com/barforama), is more comprehensive.
I grant points for including an account by “George” of his public spewmiliation in Japan. But I only laughed onceat a couple taking sequential turns at the bowl. (That their relationship survived convinced them to marry.) Interesting was a woman’s creative use of vomit as date-rape repellent. But all I got out of this work was a new euphemism the authors overlooked: going to the China Club.
Hollywood Confidential by Coral Amende is as snappy, kicky, and zippy as a web site. The dedication page lists seven clip-art companies. This is appropriate because there are 478 different cutesy images (some appearing repeatedly) on its 321 pages. Also, extensive use is made of the typeface appropriately named “Pixie.” But until you can install a web browser in the loo, Confidential is likely to remain a print experience.
In true nonbook form, Confidential is a compilation, a series of lists and annotations of high-profile bad behavior. Author Amende is the composer of a gossip-oriented crossword puzzle, which seems qualification enough for the task at hand; she has assembled an impressive amount of Schadenfreude. Apparently, every celebrity interview of the past three decades has been culled for unwittingly ironic and/or delusional gems. Each page has at least one out-of-context quote providing context.
There are lists of celebrity Playboy pictorials (Rae Dawn Chong?), lists of short celebrities, lists of unclean celebrities, lists of womanizers (Harry Dean Stanton?), and lists of stars who have had body work and the body work they’ve had. Lists of the “difficult” actors and lists of well-endowed ones (Roddy McDowell?!).
There are questions: Is Keanu gay? Is Whitney gay? Are Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews gay? (Julie Andrews!!!?)
There are fun facts, like producer Stanley Jaffe yelling at an underling until his nose bled. Several pages are devoted to
the thoughts and actions of Supermodel Naomi Campbell.
(Consider our engagement off, Naom.)
Confidential is historical enough to note Francis X. Bushman’s lavender Rolls Royce and the fact that “It Girl” Clara Bow painted her car to match her unnaturally red hair, and as current as Robert Downey Jr.
Not all the quotes reflect poorly on their subjects. Here’s Michael J. Fox: “I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve been called ‘diminutive.’ I’m notI’m just damn short.”
There are few sources given for any of this material, but that doesn’t matter. There’s a déjà vu quality at work here; we don’t need this to be true, we just need to believe it.
“Fame is a perversion of the natural human instinct for attention,” the book quotes Al Pacino as saying. Al appears in the book several times, often to less philosophical effect, but he’s right. Because we have made these people larger than life, their shenanigans are larger than life, and this edition of Confidential is clearly only Volume 1.
Which is sad. And the fault lies entirely with us.
If we did not pay such excessive attention to artistic folk, whose egos are already fragile, they would not have reason to imagine that their lives are so much greater than ours. If we did not interrupt their meals with stammering demands for autographs, crowd and gush over them in public, write infantile mash notes, and stake out their homes, they would not have to hire surly bodyguards, put up tall fences, hide behind tinted shades and windshields, and generally carry on like the gods we lead them to believe they are. We are the enablers of their psychoses. Of course they rant and rage and carry on foolishly when life contradicts what we keep telling them. Celebrities cannot get better until we cure ourselves of this unhealthy fascination with the meaningless minutiae of their lives.
Every week, in offices around the world, someone throws a fit because he was denied the corner office. Every week an accountant with a drug problem creates problems for her co-workers. Every week bullies are promoted beyond their abilities. Every week someone cheats on his spouse. Magazines are not devoted to these events.
But let some model-turned-actress lock herself in her $500,000 trailer on the set of a movie-of-the-week, and the TV cameras are there. It’s an ET Exclusive. America needs to relax and realize that acting isn’t magic, it’s a job. Talent should be properly rewarded, not worshipped.
This, of course, will never happen. So here’s the best advice I can give: read Hollywood Confidential, laugh, then forget everything and get on with your day. And after I sell my screenplay to Bruce and Demi for $3 million, pay no attention to my very public breakdown. CP