David Shapiro Isn’t Much Use to Anyone
David Shapiro and his Tumblr Pitchfork Reviews Reviews once felt “big on the internet.” Roughly five years ago, Shapiro—then fresh out of college with a shitty job and some self-esteem issues—started writing meta-reviews of the music reviews published on Pitchfork each morning. As he commuted to a conservative clerical gig, he’d frantically type out ranting but sharp essays on his Blackberry memo pad (sans-capitalizations and with few paragraph breaks), deconstructing the music critics’ arguments and logic, and even commending certain reviews a “Best New Review” tag—a play on Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” symbol of indie gold status. From his office bathroom, he’d often write colloquial personal essays in the afternoon about his relationship with music, which are the only remaining fossils of his site today.
The website got very popular, earning Shapiro over 100,000 followers, writing gigs at The Wall Street Journal, Interview Magazine, and The New Yorker, as well as a profile of his Tumblr in The New York Times. Shortly after he stopped posting on Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, he wrote a screenplay and a novel, both which sold and made it out of production limbo. Despite the success, Shapiro has sworn off writing (save the occasional New Yorker piece), and has since finished most of law school and now works at a white-collar firm in Manhattan.
His new book, You’re Not Much Use To Anyone, which comes out later this month, is a semi-autobiographical account of Shapiro’s life right out of college. It details the creation of Pitchfork Reviews Reviews and what was going on in his life at a time when he was especially insecure and looking for a form of authority and influence.
The book’s main character, David, is both anxious and hyper-analytical—fanatical with trifling metrics of success like how many Internet followers he has, or ways his life doesn’t compare to the lives of Pitchfork writers he both idealizes and envies. So even though his Tumblr is just a Tumblr, he feels validated and important when people he was once infatuated with start paying attention to his thoughts and ideas.
On a surface level, You’re Not Much Use To Anyone, sounds nominal: a physical book about a Tumblr about a music reviews website. But the story is a punchy and sometimes poignant read for any young person trying to figure out how he can become significant or simply noticeable to the people he/she admires. Over the course of a boozy, four-hour interview, we talked about his book being “almost desperate” to get you to finish it, feeling guilty about writing a semi-factual story about friends who didn’t sign up for being characters, and on his relationship with Pitchfork today.
VICE: The inspiration for your Tumblr and writing came from an unlikely source, but can you tell me about the actual inspiration for this book?
David Shapiro: I was seeing this girl who was working on a novel and she wouldn’t tell me anything about it. I felt a little resentful that she wouldn’t share it. Later, she broke up with me. And I thought, what better way to get back at her then to write a book myself? It was months after I stopped posting on Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. I refilled my prescription for anti-anxiety medication prescription and wrote a draft in a week.
This must have been insane to pitch to a publisher. It’s a physical book about a meta-Tumblr. How would you describe it to someone with zero context?
[Laughs] I still don’t even know how to describe it. I don’t know how to talk about it. I don’t have an elevator pitch. It’s a book about a blog about a popular music reviews website—after a certain point of shopping it around to publishers, I realized it was better to stay quiet during meetings and let my agent talk.
To me, I mean, if you read the book, in many ways, Pitchfork is not the focus.
Definitely. You could say Pitchfork is incidental. In another time, it would have been… I don’t know, like a car a magazine? It could have been written about any fountain of authority.
That’s what I found really interesting. In a lot of ways, your book details the rise of social media as a platform for anyone to assert their opinion and influence.
Yeah, or throw rocks at the throne.
Read the whole interview
Have You Watched Our Profiles Series Yet?
In our attention-deficit throw-away society, very seldom is there room for the little guy (or gal) to say their piece in the spotlight. Our new series, Profiles by VICE, aims to change that. Profiles by VICE is a weekly distillation of our eccentric and idiosyncratic world. In each episode we take an intimate look at issues, people, and communities that burrow deep into the underbellies of society.
If this piques your interest—and we can’t see why it wouldn’t, unless you’re one of those humans who’s not interested in other humans, in which case we don’t know what to tell you other than, “Get your head out of your ass”—watch the series trailer here, and check out this handy episode guide:
- Slut-Shaming Preacher: We travel to Arizona to meet up with campus preacher Brother Dean Saxton, a student at the University of Arizona, whose “You Deserve Rape” sign has caused outrage among the student body.
- An Inside Look at the Exotic Animal Trade: We travel to Ohio to rescue a cougar, then to Texas for an exotic livestock auction and undercover visit to a gaming ranch where the animals are sold and hunted for up to $15,000 a piece.
- Reserection: The Penis Implant: We travel to Miami (obviously) to speak to one of the leading penis doctors in the country and find out what it scosts to get your penis operated on.
- My Homie Sells Homies: We travel to New York City’s forgotten borough, Staten Island, to find out how a guy named Sugarman created a small vending-machine empire—and how he subsequently lost it, one quarter at a time.
- Blind Gunslinger: We travel to North Dakota to meet Carey McWilliams, the first completely blind person in the US to acquire a concealed-carry permit.
- Prison, Bling Ring, and Redemption: We travel to Los Angeles and talk to Alexis Neiers about her struggles with addiction, her criminal involvement in the real-life Bling Ring, and her new life as a sober mother.
- Teenage Bullfighters: We travel to Merida, on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, to meet Michelito Lagravere, who at 14, became the youngest bullfighter ever.
Profiles by VICE airs every Monday on VICE.com.
Will smoking credit cards, a Lindsay LohanDVD, the Bible, kale, artificial sweetener, caffeine, and a Sarah Lawrence diploma get you high? We found out.
Confronting Campus Rape
A growing wave of grassroots activists is forcing universities to take a stronger stand against sexual abuse—and now the Obama administration is joining the fight.
I Helped Division I Athletes Cheat in College
People were outraged when basketball player Rashad McCants admitted on an episode of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that student athletes pay tutors to write their term papers. What the former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill basketball player revealed wasn’t a big surprise to me. But the sports world freaked out and commentators, columnists, and fans bickered over ethics, the lack of oversight in the NCAA, and the opportunistic nerds who get the athletes A's.
For years, I willingly did homework for a number of student athletes. To this day, I don’t consider any of it unethical. It all started back in 2007, when I was finishing up my degree in radical economics at the University of Utah, which is also a Division I school. To help cover food and booze, I worked a variety of odd jobs including tutoring undergrads.
Tutoring worked like this: I’d tell the campus tutoring center which classes I could tutor, and when a student came in and asked for help in one of those subjects, the center would pair us together. The students would pay $10 for a “slip” from the tutoring center. They’d give me that slip at the end of each session and I’d turn it back into the tutoring center and wait for my measly check. I made a whopping $6.25 per hour, which was just enough for a pint and a bagel. The school pocketed the leftover $3.75 an hour—I guess they had to make theirs too, on top of my massive tuition and the beaucoup bucks coming in from sporting events.
First, he came for our Four Loko, and we said nothing. Then, he came for powdered alcohol. Now, New York Senator Chuck Schumer is coming for Phrosties, the clandestine alcoholic slushy delivery service that has taken off across the five boroughs over the past few months.
“A 12-year-old can probably buy these ‘sloshies’ online, get it, and enjoy it because it’s filled with fruit juice and fruit punch and all the things that taste sweet and nice,” Schumer said at a press conference Monday. “A few weeks ago, I talked about powdered alcohol. I’m making an effort to prevent that from being sold. I would like to see the same thing happen to these ‘sloshies’” if they’re not regulated.
The remarks, coupled with the news that the New York State Liquor Authority is investigating the “unregulated and unlicensed” slushy merchants, has scared the creators of Phrostie out of business, or at least driven them deeper underground. By Tuesday, thePhrostie Instagram account had been scrubbed clean, its delivery contact details replaced by the warning “WE DO NOT DELIVER.” After that, my texts to the previously listed phone numbers went unanswered, until Wednesday night, when I got a reply from the Brooklyn delivery service saying that if I wanted any more Phrosties, I would have to order “ASAP.”
Twenty minutes later, a delivery guy showed up and handed me a black grocery bag full of slushies. “That’s it for the Phrosties,” he sighed. The service, he explained, was selling the last of its inventory and closing up shop, thanks to “Schumer and the regulations, I guess.”
Class of 2014, You’re Fucked
It’s that time of year again, when deans across the country wear out their palms like chronic masturbators, shaking the hands of glee-eyed diploma recipients. Collegians of America are aiming high; the class of 2014 has helped push total student debt in the United States to over a trillion dollars.
A person could make it more than a fourth of the way to the moon traversing the tower of cash that would arise if all those loan dollars were stacked up one on top of the other—all $1,181,622,000,000-plus of them. It would make a great dare for pledge week, but unfortunately most of this year’s graduates will likely be crushed beneath their debt rather than surmount it.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would have just gone to work in a factory,” Cindy Klumb, who borrowed $30,000 to attain graduates degree in art and design at Pratt University in Brooklyn in 1992, reflected.
After consolidating and re-financing her loans over the years, Cindy owes $87,000 on the principal and $42,000 worth of accumulated interest. She is four years away from retirement and her social security will likely be going into the hands of Ed Financial, which took over her loan from the federal government. Cindy is one of 40 million Americans strapped with student debt, many of whom will never be able to pay off their loans.
“College is a bad investment that only pays off if you don’t have to go into debt to get your degree,” she said. “Borrowing to get an education guarantees you will never get anywhere or have even the most basic aspects of the so-called ‘American Dream.’”
You are not a man. You are not a woman. You are not a neuter. You are a construct. Maintaining your gender is a constant performance. These ideas don’t seem that radical now, but before Judith Butler adapted them from Foucault and laid them out in her 1990 book Gender Trouble, they seemed alien. “What do you mean getting hammered with your pals is a culturally ingrained performance? Are you saying I’m gay? Are you saying I don’t like pounding beers at the bar and then going to the club to throw up on my best friend, Steve, whom I fucking love?” A bro might have said those very words to Judith Butler in 1990. Now, he’s read Gender Trouble, and is content as can be sitting around watching Sex and the City with his girlfriend.
Read a Slob’s Guide to Critical Theory
A Slob’s Guide to Critical Theory
If you decide to get any kind of arts or humanities degree at college you will probably have to read post-modern, neo-Marxist, social and literary critics who write in the kind of language that makes your head cry with pain and your body long for porn. As a breed, these people are known as critical theorists.
Now, you might be thinking, I won’t have to read these people, I’ll just read CliffsNotes. In which case, all I can say is: fair enough, you’ll probably do pretty well. There really is barely any reason to read the books, let alone the theory around them. Further education comes cheap (not literally, sadly) these days and you really don’t have to be very smart to get a humanities degree from a decent university.
But if you feel up for doing a little more work than you strictly have to, why not read some stuff that will be hard to understand and may not actually mean anything? After all, that’s what studying is about. A year after you leave school you’ll have no idea what it means but you’ll have a better, instinctive (i.e. borrowed) understanding of society and for a brief moment you’ll be able to say: “I read Roland Barthes and I sort of got where he was coming from.”
With the intellectually challenging end of the library—as with everything at most universities—it may just be best to embrace it and then look back on it with raised eyebrows. “Oh, those were the days,” you can chuckle, 40 years from now, as you come across a forgotten copy of Jay Prosser’s Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality.
In the meantime, here are some of the characters and situations you’ll run into on your journey into the logic jungles of critical theory.
Dear Elaine wields some serious power in this world from her throne at Harvard. Scarry’s big achievement is a book called The Body in Pain, which is about different kinds of pain and how pain is inflicted. The crux of the book is that hurting someone is bad, whereas creating something (anything, unless it is painful) is good. When you do that you “make” the world, whereas when you inflict pain, you “unmake” it. So, if you relentlessly torture someone then you are not helping the world out, whereas if you write a book about why people relentlessly torture other people you are totally helping the world out. Still, she is responsible for one of the greatest pieces of Biblical analogy you’ll ever read, in which she compares the creation of God to the making of a table that can think for itself and change its form whenever the time dictates it. Could you have thought of that? No. But you might be able to turn that idea into a zingy sitcom.