Phew! This one was a doozy. This week’s short fiction post is about Everyone’s Reading Bastard by Nick Hornby. And everyone should be reading Bastard. It’s brutal. And it makes you think about some things (or it made me think about some things). So here we go!
Essentially, the story goes something like this. Dude’s married but there’s no love in his relationship (also dude’s name is Charlie). There hasn’t been for a long time. Then one day it all ends over coffee at some shop. It’s been a long time coming but he’s still a little broken up about it. He talks to his mother and of course she’s no help. Finally he rolls into work and one of his co-workers greets him with “Here he is . . . Bastard!” Apparently that co-worker is an ass, but doesn’t typically greet Charlie by calling him names. Something is up. Eventually it becomes known that Charlie’s [now] ex-wife, Elaine, is a reporter for some big paper and is known for her overly personal articles. Even when the topic isn’t Charlie, it still is, and her readers love it. Well now she has taken it to the next level. No more facades or innuendos, she’s gotten permission from her editor to write a weekly column entitled Bastard which is strictly about her relationships with men. Basically, the whole column is about bashing poor Charlie and people are loving it (although Charlie never denies any of the accusations and even uses some of them to pick up women so . . . maybe he is a bastard?).
Things this story made me think about:
1. Of course, this story made me think about Mad Men. But before you start shaking your head at me, I have good reason. Hornby actually references Mad Men in the story (well Elaine, Charlie’s wife, writes about it in her column). See:
“We watch those women in Mad Men and smile, relieved that we live in different times. But that’s still what men want. It’s just that now they know they’re not allowed to say it.”
Ouch. Harsh words Hornby. I could probably continue that line of thinking forever and this post would turn into a whole different monster. But I won’t. At least not now, and the topic will be different. However, I do think that his commentary is spot on about why audiences love that show. And it is probably a lot more succinct than I would ever write it.
2. Slander, Libel, and Defamation- After I finished Everyone’s Reading Bastard I was curious to see what kind of options poor Charlie had. Could he really put a stop to the onslaught of things written about him. It seems like, as long as he doesn’t try to deny any of the accusations (and he didn’t) there isn’t a lot he can do. Freedom of speech lets Elaine basically write whatever she wants if it’s true. And she does it extra cleverly by giving poor Charley the pseudonym Bastard. Everybody knows who she’s talking about but she has at least plausible deniability. Afterall Bastard could be entirely fictional*
*Side note: found something out there called the ‘small penis’ rule. Basically, in a work of fiction, it was determined that ” . . . For a fictional portrait to be actionable, it must be so accurate that the reader of the book would have no problem linking the two . . .” Apparently authors have been getting around the suits by describing characters however closely they like to their original counterparts and then simply adding a small penis as part of the description. The theory here being that no one will read something and be like “Hey! That guy with the small penis that the author portrays as so terrible. That’s me!!” Personally, I think that is pretty clever (and hilarious).
3. Finally, Charlie is constantly checking on the status of his reputation through media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. Seeing as that is the primary way in which news is disseminated in our “hi-tech” world (I wish I had a better word than that) it seems to make sense. It’s logical that he would keep abreast of the situation through these means. However, I did not fail to notice how precisely this places our story in time. I also did not fail to wonder whether someone reading this a generation from now will even know what Twitter or Google is. I don’t think social media is going anywhere, nor are search engines, but I’m curious what these things will look like in another generation considering the break-neck speed which our society is supposedly moving at. This almost brings me to my next topic . . . I suppose a sub-header will have to get us the rest of the way there.
Finally weighing in [this is the sub-header]
In general, I’ve been thinking I should say something about the state of the internet and the ease by which items, both positive and negative, can be published and go ‘viral’. Subsequently, the ease with which someone’s reputation can be built or destroyed in literally a matter of clicks. I think the most recent, conscious example is the ‘Deranged Sorority Girl Email’ which recently went viral. It seems apparent to me there are a few things to consider:
- It seems likely that this person will never be able to shake the reputation she has built for herself by sending one email (although likely she had something of a reputation before that only on a smaller scale).
- In the larger scheme of things, she was no one and now, for a hot minute, she was someone.
- There is no bad publicity.
I guess where I’m trying to go with all of this is that I don’t necessarily buy into what realistically amounts to paranoia about one’s image/presence on the internet. I AM NOT saying that you don’t need to BE CAREFUL, but I also don’t believe that your image is ruined because there is negative things out there either. What I do not understand at all, is the mindset that you should not participate in this aspect of today’s society because you don’t know what people will ‘dig up’ about you later. I think there needs to be a balance. Good and bad. Like everything else in life. I envision a day when we will be able to look a pictures of our presidents and congressmen on Facebook or Instagram and in all honesty, I’ll probably be a little disappointed if all there pictures are posed and perfect. Maybe that’s just me. However, I do feel that people will have to be a little more forgiving of what they see otherwise no one will ever get a job, and employers will never be able to find someone to hire. Also, while negative things can be found about people on the internet, it is also a great place to rep your more positive, even virtuous qualities as well.
But who knows. Anyway that’s all I got for now. Read Everyone’s Reading Bastard by Nick Hornby and come back next week!!!!