It’s a little hard to believe that it’s been four years since I read and reviewed Marty Beckerman’s last book, Generation S.L.U.T.: A Brutal Feel-up Session with Today’s Sex-Crazed Adolescent Populace. Combining real world statistics with a brilliant fictional narrative, Generation S.L.U.T. was brash, abrasive, and strangely insightful. You can read more about that book through my review on The Commentary. Yes, I was even writing for websites back in 2004.
Following up on the success of Generation S.L.U.T., Marty Beckerman now turns his attention to the culture war and political game in the United States with Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots. He hung out with extremists on both ends of the political spectrum and dissected their outlandish perspectives. Too bad he decided not to keep the original title: Retard Nation.
Just as I interviewed Marty Beckerman four years ago, I do it again with Dumbocracy now on store shelves. Enjoy!
Beyond the Rhetoric: In Dumbocracy, you expose the hypocrisies of both sides of the political spectrum, but there appear to be more attacks on conservative views than liberal ones. Is this more a result of your own political leanings or is it simply a response to the resurgence in right-wing thinking in the United States?
Marty Beckerman: Ideally I’d keep the attacks 50/50 for the sake of iconoclasm—and I hope I did—but the American Right has become a vicious, unthinking coalition of bigots and religious fundamentalists who seek to destroy the Bill of Rights and possibly the world. Anyone with a brain has abandoned the stinking carcass of the Republican Party; there is no credible intellectual defense of the GOP.
The pendulum has swung dangerously far to the right in the last decade, and it’s time for it to come back to the center. There are extremists on both ends of the spectrum—one side wants America to be more like Cuba, the other side wants America to be more like Saudi Arabia—but most Americans are moderates, and we are sick of hearing that if we disagree with the Republican Party, we either hate God or the troops or unborn babies.
Granted, I hate babies—have you ever been stuck on an airplane with one?—but the Republican Party is far more deserving of “abortion.” What a bunch of douche bags.
BTR: Seeing how you grew up in Alaska, I have to ask you about Sarah Palin. Is there something inherently disturbing about a potential vice-president that winks and says things like “you betcha”?
MB: The folksiness isn’t disturbing—it’s merely annoying—but it is disturbing how she’s a pathological liar who believes half of Americans aren’t “pro-America,” and genuinely seems proud of her own stupidity. She can’t name a single Supreme Court decision besides Roe v. Wade, she can’t name a single publication she reads, and then she blames the “elitists” for looking down on regular people. Guess what, Sarah? The president of the United States should not be a regular person; he or she should be an exceptional person with exceptional intelligence and exceptional judgment.
Going back to Palin’s mayoral days, she fires anyone who disagrees with her or simply airs a dissenting opinion. She is Bush with a bush. She is the darkness in Plato’s cave personified, which is a reference she would probably need explained to her.
BTR: Just as in Generation S.L.U.T., Dumbocracy pulls information from a number of legitimate and pseudo-legitimate news sources. In fact, there are over 800 sources named. A bit much for a non-university textbook? Does this take away from Dumbocracy as casual reading?
MB: As for “pseudo-legitimate news sources,” I tried to fact-check every story I cited, relied heavily on mainstream publications, and spent a ludicrous amount of time in the library ensuring the quotes I found on the Internet actually existed in old books and periodicals. As for the research, Dumbocracy is very fun. There are jokes on every page—it’s hardly academic—and I did my best to balance the shocking facts and the shocking humor. I’d definitely call it a casual read. I wrote it for people my age, for crying out loud, so a prodigious attention span is not exactly a prerequisite.
BTR: Speaking of Generation S.L.U.T., I remember you mentioning a Hollywood option that would see the book made into a movie? Did that ever happen?
MB: HBO Films hired a director and wrote a screenplay, but the option expired before they started filming. The screenplay had a few good elements, but overall didn’t do the book justice. The rights have reverted back to me, and I’d like to see it turned into a movie someday, but don’t hold your breath.
I have very mixed feelings about Generation S.L.U.T. these days. First of all, I’m completely embarrassed by the promotion I did for it… blaming feminism for casual sex is absurd. “Genitals and hormones” would have been a much more appropriate response to that question. I sounded like a puritanical, foaming-at-the-mouth right-winger, but also made a bunch of edgy jokes, and the combination actually seemed way more unnerving than I intended. I look back at those interviews and cringe, but I can’t change what I said, so I hope people understand I’ve mellowed since then. That’s how normal college guys talk, but most of them don’t have to answer for it years later.
The funny thing is that I had plenty of sex while writing the book—it was absolutely not an anti-sex tirade—but somehow I gave people that impression, which is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. Just a few weeks ago I was at a literary party here in New York, and a young lady asked if I was “the guy who wrote the book that said women shouldn’t have sex.” And I just wondered: Is that my reputation? Is that the rock I’ll live under forever?
Plus I’ve grown uncomfortable with the message of the book. First of all, novels shouldn’t have “messages,” or at least they shouldn’t have overt messages… if you must write moral fiction, take the subtle route instead of the preachy route. Secondly: mindless, anonymous, drunken casual sex is not the end of the world; it’s a pretty decent weekend.
But I was 19 when I wrote the book, and 19 is a very strident, earnest, melodramatic and preachy age. In its defense, S.L.U.T. captures the psychology of teenagers very honestly, and if I were to rewrite the book today, it wouldn’t be nearly as genuine. Yes, it would be considerably less melodramatic and infinitely less preachy, but it is what it is—it’s real—so I’m proud of that. Growing up is a bitch.
BTR: Some critics may say that you are trying too hard to offend in your book and it was written simply to get a rise out of people. For example, you say that lesbians are “filled with rage because they’ve never encountered a Man with the endurance, technique and flesh-span to stimulate their Siberia-like innards.” Your response?
MB: Whoa, whoa, I said bitter lesbians feel this way, not the hot ones.
Listen, I’m a humorist, satirist, comedian, whatever you want to call it—I make jokes for a living—and the best jokes tell a forbidden truth, or say something counter-intuitive about the human condition. Yes, I use profanity like most people use punctuation (as one reviewer said of my writing), but I have deeper motivations than to simply “get a rise out of people.”
I’ll let former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel defend it for me: “Dumbocracy is a thoughtful book with great shock value geared to awaken, entertain and enlighten Marty’s generation about the freedoms embedded in our Bill of Rights. Beyond the spoofing, it is passionate, scholarly, and delivers the message that young people need to hear.”
BTR: Is the US democratic process broken? In Canada, we just went through a campaign and an election. It took about a month in all. By contrast, it took what seemed forever just to get through the primaries for the States. If the political process is too complex for the Average Joe to comprehend, can he still be expected to make an educated decision next month? Do special interest groups have too much power?
MB: The candidates must appeal to the crazy activists and lobbyists in the primaries before they run back to the center for the general election, and it’s a hugely corrupting process. Sen. John McCain, formerly the most centrist and beloved politician in America, has become a fascist parody of himself. He gleefully accepted the endorsement of a pastor who said Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for the sins of New Orleans. McCain used to oppose overturning Roe vs. Wade, but these days he labels the majority of Americans “pro-abortion” for being pro-choice. The man is an American hero, blah blah blah, but he sold his soul for power, which wouldn’t have been necessary if the mullahs didn’t control his party.
BTR: We’re raised in a society that is supposed to separate church and state, but when the Republicans call themselves God’s Official Party (GOP), doesn’t this create inherent problems? If it’s one nation under God, how do atheists fall into the mix?
MB: The Republicans love to wrap themselves in the flag, and claim they are the only patriotic citizens in the nation, but if you go back to America’s founding ideals—separation of church and state, freedom of speech, pursuit of happiness, equal rights under the law—it’s obvious that right-wingers are the least patriotic. Listen, I like the flag and I like the national anthem, but every country has a flag and an anthem. America is special because of the ideals we brought to the world, which are the exact same ideals right-wingers around the globe—whether they’re Republicans or the Taliban—want to crush.
BTR: You argue for the decriminalization of marijuana, because it has been shown that pot does not lead to increased crime or negative health effects. By taking on the War on Drugs, are you leading yourself down a slippery slope?
MB: Yes, there is a possibility that Americans might even—gasp!—get to legally drink alcohol between the ages of 18 and 21.
Making a vice illegal always—always—exacerbates its usage; it becomes a forbidden fruit, which tastes a whole lot better than mundane bullshit. Studies have shown that a “No Diving” sign at a swimming pool convinces far more people to dive. The best way to curb a behavior is to make it seem boring, not give it a mystique. But I’m a drunk, not a stoner, so I don’t really care too much.
BTR: Do you support gay marriage? Would “civil unions” better appease both ends of the political spectrum?
MB: If two gay dudes want to say they’re married, it doesn’t hurt me—and it won’t hurt my future family—so I don’t see any reason why I should vote to stop them. (For whatever reason, the majority of Americans support civil unions but oppose calling it “marriage,” even though the benefits are similar.) Right-wingers shove their religious beliefs down everyone’s throats, but hate the freedom of others to shove things down throats.
BTR: What is the single greatest issue facing America today? What will be the single greatest issue that will decide next month’s election?
MB: In the short run, our economic problems, which is why Americans are actually willing to vote for a Democrat this time around. Nobody cares if gay-married transsexuals are aborting their third-trimester fetuses while burning the flag, if none of us can afford food, and we’re cannibalizing one another for protein, and Mad Max has become reality. The Culture War doesn’t matter this year; we’re finally, finally, finally discussing reality.
In the long run, the greatest threat to America is the never-ending crusade against our greatest ideals: the freedom of speech, the pursuit of happiness, and the separation of church and state. At this moment in history the Right is far more dangerous than the Left—to be a moderate now is to be a liberal—but that could easily change in the next decade. Same bullshit, different day.