What Is Obscene?
Recently, a printing house refused to print a novel set to be published by Tyrant Books because they found it obscene, which seems extremely lame. There are still such things as “obscene” books? I traded some emails with Giancarlo DiTrapano, Tyrant’s publisher and frequent VICE contributor, to try and figure out what sort of puritanical printing houses are able to stay in business in 2013.
(Full disclosure: Tyrant published my most recent novel, Sky Saw, in November.)
VICE: It’s been a long time since I can remember feeling offended—especially about obscenity in art. Honestly, I’m having trouble thinking of a time ever when I saw something and was like, “That’s so fucked up it shouldn’t exist.” Do you remember the last time you felt offended?
Giancarlo: That’s a hard one. I was talking to someone the other day about Max Hardcore’s legal problems, and how some of his porn is about the only thing I have ever been offended by. Like the ultra-violent, five dicks in a crying girl’s mouth, her eyeliner running down her face stuff. Have to admit, that shit is pretty unpleasant. But I wouldn’t ban it or anything.
What was it about the video that got you? That it seemed against her will?
Yeah, that. The look of like pure terror on these girls’ faces. There is something about gagging in porn. It’s almost this biological line of consent. But it can be hot. Why’d we start talking about porn? Can you imagine being offended by Piss Christ or NWA or any of that shit people have freaked out over that made it to the cover of Newsweek? I feel like the one thing that would seriously offend me would be child pornography, and that is probably the only type of pornography I haven’t seen. There’s something about kids. Adults, I don’t really care what happens to them. They can do whatever, so long as it’s consensual, but kids need to be watched over.
Yeah, I can remember feeling upset—or at least emotionally stressed—by things where a person seemed to be inflicting sexual shit on someone against his or her will. I’ve never looked at child porn either, but I’ve read a bit by Peter Sotos, who has been arrested for possessing child porn and writes about it in great detail. I’m not sure about his personal preferences, and wouldn’t support him doing anything to kids, but I also think it’s good that someone is out there thinking about that stuff in a way no one else is—exploring ideas of why it exists and what it does. I think people immediately turn their brains off when they hear shocking keywords like “child porn” or “rape” and almost act as if they want to pretend it doesn’t exist. I think being open to thinking about things while also knowing they are wrong is important to not only understanding the world, but to intellect. Like anyone who could get that upset about Piss Christ, no matter what god means to them, I’d question their emotional intelligence.
People don’t like when I talk abut this (a friend once dragged me by the arm from a house, because I was offending the host), but whenever that show To Catch a Predator comes on I find myself not “rooting for,” but kind of sympathizing with the “predators” instead of Chris Hansen and his camera crew. In Germany they have billboards with phone numbers to call where you can seek help if you are attracted to children. That is what you call civilization. On To Catch a Predator the cops get online, flirt with lonely men, and lure them onto national TV. And it’s not like the children are eight or nine. They’re like 15 or 16, which in a lot of countries is not against the law. Wow, this is hard to talk about without sounding like a fucking creep. OK, I know that what the men are doing is wrong, and pedophilia is bad, but how about, “Hello. We’re here to offer you help” instead of “I’m Chris Hansen and you’re on NBC. Care to tell us why you’re such a sad and awful loser whose life is now going to be a hundred times worse since you’re going to jail and when you get out you won’t have anyone waiting on you since you’re a child rapist?” You know? Pedophiles do not choose to be pedophiles. Who would choose that? Did you choose to be into whatever it is you’re into? Because I definitely didn’t choose to be into what I’m into. I am only grateful that it falls on the right side of the law. I have this deep sympathy with pedophiles, especially the ones who make it through their entire lives without ever acting on it. That is a lot of repressing.
Tao Lin Talks Taipei
The interview below was conducted in the wee hours of the morning (from 1 to 4 AM) on the bed of Tao Lin, in his apartment on the east side of Manhattan, with a small party going on in the other corner of the room. Tao and I later tightened a few things up through email. This is the first, definitive interview with the author after finishing his novel, Taipei, which will be released this spring from Vintage.
PART I: ANNE SEXTON
VICE: Were you happier before, during, or after writing Taipei?
Tao Lin: I think… after.
During… I got into a routine of doing like 80 to 120 milligrams of Adderall and not sleeping for like 36 hours. Then using Xanax or Klonopin and eating, then sleeping for like 12 hours, or not sleeping another night and using more Adderall. Which mostly felt bad, like a constant state of desperation, thinking the novel was incoherent. And I would have days without Adderall, so that it would still work, but it gradually worked less—and on those days I would just eat and use Percocet or whatever I had and be zombielike, then sleep. Wait, did you say you didn’t want drugs in this?
Well, I was saying maybe we won’t mention them since we’ve done that so much already but it doesn’t matter. What were you reading while writing Taipei?
I was rereading Fernando Pessoa and Schopenhauer. I had eBooks of different editions of their stuff on my iPhone. I mostly read eBooks off my iPhone. I remember reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir, More, Now, Again, about her trying to write a book while using a lot of Ritalin and feeling interested because it was like what I was doing. Except she was writing a nonfiction book and rich enough to move to Florida to focus on her book. I was writing an autobiographical novel and borrowing from strangers on Twitter. When she described her worst times, like going into a shopping mall and feeling insane from Ritalin, I was like, “shit, that’s… normal, for me.”
When would you read? Before you wrote?
Mostly after. Like when I couldn’t work anymore and wanted to be asleep but my heart would be beating really fast. I remember thinking I was probably going to die of a heart attack… and [long pause] another book I read… it was a biography about… what’s that poet who killed herself?
The other one.
It’s a famous one? I don’t know.
Well, I read her biography and it was really depressing. She was committing suicide but not dying, and people were afraid to be genuine with her because anything might cause another suicide attempt. But people were afraid that she might sense them being not genuine… so it was just, like, impossible to be her friend. Then she finally killed herself. Reading was kind of my form of social interaction for like a year. I hung out like once a month, like I’d go to an event with you, but mostly had no IRL interactions.
Can you think of any books that directly affected the writing you did for Taipei?
For a while, because I felt like horrible about everything I was writing, whenever I read anything—even things by me, from my other books—I’d be like “that seems good, I should do it like that.” And desperately try to change the tone and prose style of my entire book, while viewing it as an unfixable piece of shit, compared to whatever I’d just read. I remember reading half a sentence of a Gore Vidal novel, like the first five words, and closing the book and feeling convinced that I must rewrite my novel in the tone and style of the five words I had just read… I was in a constant state of desperation about what choices to make in my book, except for like the two hours each day when I was peaking on Adderall. I used ecstasy a few times when I didn’t have Adderall, to get into a mental state where everything didn’t seem horrible.
Why write at all?
Well, I’ll talk about this book: why did I write this book. I was just barely making enough money… I don’t remember how. Oh, probably mostly off royalty checks every six months, and writing for Thought Catalog and other places, and selling art. The checks were getting smaller every time, and I think, at some point, Richard Yates and Bed became unavailable on Amazon and currently still are unavailable, except as eBooks, which I think means those books are out-of-print, so not in bookstores. So I was going to need to do something for money. I emailed Bill Clegg, who had reviewed Richard Yates positively for Amazon, and asked if he would be interested in trying to sell 20 pages and an outline of my next novel, and he was, and he did. So I got one-third of a $50,000 advance, and a timeframe, to write my third novel.
You know how certain writers are like, “I have to write. If I didn’t write, I’d die.” Do you feel that? That if you couldn’t write you’d die?
No, I never got that. I’ve never gotten the thing like “it’s a voice inside of me” or when writers say they start with an image, then try to figure out what it means, and like the image just “came to them,” so they really want to find out what it means… I’ve never related to that. And I think I view myself as always writing, like nonstop, because I view thinking and talking—because they use language, the same language as writing—as forms of writing.
Do you have another book contract?
How much money would it have to be for?
Not that much, I don’t think.
Like not as much as you were paid for this one?
If someone were offering $50,000 for another novel, I’d do it. I would like that.
PART II: BRET EASTON ELLIS
What movie is most like your book?
Shit… what’s a movie where they use drugs a lot but no one dies and there’s no violence, and it’s funny, but everyone is depressed?
I don’t know.
Maybe Husbands and Wives with drugs and younger characters. I can’t think of movies where people use a large variety of drugs. It’s usually like… focused on one drug. In movies, I don’t know, it’s like—
—it’s like somebody dies or there’s some kind of fucking moral to it. Bret Easton Ellis tweeted one day something like, “Why can’t somebody write a drug book where they just keep partying instead of going to rehab and getting clean?”
The Great Manhattan Masturbation Crawl
Between 44th and 48th on the west side of Manhattan’s 8th Avenue (the side of the street that gets dark a little earlier), there are four shining establishments where one can go to enjoy a wide selection of pornography, and to masturbate inside of a box. I did a quick after-work tour in the interest of helping you nail down the place that best suits your sensibilities.
GOTHAM CITY, 48th and 8th
My stop at Gotham City was by far the most pleasant. Walking in, I was greeted by a pale, chunky, hippie girl. She immediately set me at ease with a welcoming smile, and I began to peruse the wide selection of adult entertainment Gotham has to offer. This place has it all. The first floor is mainly hetero-ish DVDs for purchase, along with around 8 booths for
private viewing jacking off. The same feature was playing in all of the booths (Facesitting Volume 10), so if I had to offer a bit of advice, it would be to maybe mix things up a little? Sure, you can change the channel once you’re in there, but starting out with the same asses on the same faces in each booth is boring. Give your customers a little variety and they will repay you with dollars and come.
At Gotham City you get 90 seconds for your dollar, and the seating inside the booths is like some kind of huge-ass Star Trek chair with tons of space in case you really feel like throwing your whole body into your sesh. To test, I sat way back and spread my legs into a V at full extension with my toes pointed at the ceiling (as is sometimes required when bringing to the surface an extra-powerful jizz). Inside the box you have one main screen, the control panel, and a smaller separate screen above showing you four other features currently playing in your booth. The gay booths are downstairs, and seem equally as clean and comfortable as the upstairs booths. What sucks is there is an attendant downstairs who sits directly outside the doors of the gay booths. That’s not exactly a deal breaker, but if you’re a little shy about how loud you get when you crank one out, you may be slightly put off.
5 out of 5 chubbies
DVD DEPOT, 45th and 8th
A couple of blocks below Gotham City, you will find this three-boner establishment. Once again, you get 90 seconds for your dollar, and you have basically the same screen features as a Gotham City booth. What really sets DVD Depot apart from the other guys are their buddy booths. You can go into the store with a friend, he can get in the booth beside you, and a single dollar will play the same porno into both booths so you can synch up with your pal. There is also a three-inch wide slit about waist high on the divider where you and your bud can touch fingers or maybe penises by way of encouragement. You could also use the slit to check out each other’s stroke style if you’re looking for some new moves. The possibilities are truly limitless for this little bipod of brotherhood. When I stumbled in the other night to scout it out for this piece, three folded bills and two chubby old man fingers slid through to my side. Just because you don’t come into DVD Depot with a friend doesn’t mean you won’t leave with one. I was enjoying being alone though, so I grunted at the fingers, making them and the bills disappear.
The slit in the “buddy booth” stall that you can wave to your buddy through. “Hey buddy!”
The downfall of DVD Depot is they only have shitty little cafeteria chairs in their booths and there is no room to move around in there. On the edge of your seat (how you sometimes get), your knees are basically up against the wall. The gay stuff is upstairs this time, but there is gay stuff everywhere on the first floor too.
3 out of 5 chubbies
Below is the second installment of Tao Lin and Giancarlo DiTrapano’s texting history that began during the summer of 2011 with the infamous, ground-breaking “Andrew,” which has been hailed as both “total shit” and “the best internet writing of 2011.” Some texts were altered to save the reputations of the peripherally involved parties.
Jun 28 2011
Giancarlo: The past 6 times I have texted ‘Andrew’ he responds with “RE:|Okay” Seems like a DealerBot
Tao: He’s evolving, seems promising
G: Here’s to another year of invincibly polite texting. Perhaps, if we live to see it, a 2012 VICE post.
G: That last text had a devilish quality to it. I only mean well.
T: Nice lighting in that pic…nice…working on our sweet ass collage tomorrow.
T: Next year’s post can just be us discussing it for a year. A year’s worth of texts like this text I’m typing now.
G: Yes. Also peppered with life and more kindness. Seems like mostly negative comments so far. I wonder if we will still be texting for drugs this time next year. Hope so.
T: Just reread most of it and felt ‘engrossed,’ seems so sweet. Posting on FB now.
G: The piece is indomitable. Excited to see if our extreme politeness cues the commenters to also be extremely polite. Would be sweet if our kindness caused the commenters to be filled with love and to only post kindness-related thoughts.
T: Could be a turning point for Vice. That would be sweet.
G: Just thought, “this post seems like we are Andrew’s apostles, spreading his Word of kindness”
T: Or seeding the Vice demographic for him to expand his drug empire into.
G: The same job. We bring His word, and His word is drugs.
T: We should’ve included a coupon for people to print out and redeem with Andrew at the end of the piece. Or written “this post is a sponsored by Andrew.”
G: Lol. Would have been sweet. Write it in the comments. Sweet.
G: From comments: “I STILL can’t tell if this is real or not. Will somebody PLEASE answer me? I just want to (k)now if this is real or not! PLEASE!” lol
G: Oh shit, I missed your birthday! Happy Birthday, Tao! Feel like I failed on continuing to be thoughtful and kind. :( damn
T: You redeemed yourself with this kind, humble, repentant text, I feel. Hate 4th of July…so loud everywhere…
G: Sweet. I feel whole again, and at peace.
T: Would you or your friend mind calling or texting eric please? He wants confirmation from you or your friend that i’m ok. I could give you some ritalin for your troubles… - T
T: Sorry for all this trouble, will give you the Ritalin I get - me
G: Should be cool now
G: Let me know if there is still a problem.
T: Thank you
G: No sweat