Tube Tied-Bored to Death: The Secret Lives of Dudes?

Michelle Dean
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Because I live in Brooklyn and I like books, it's been hard to escape the name Jonathan Ames, but I haven't, admittedly, read him. His popularity among a certain set of people has triggered the contrarian in me and I gracefully skirt his work in bookstores and magazines alike. You see, Ames is the kind of person who, the Village Voice tells me, does delightfully irreverent New York things like attend charity events of which he can say, "It's to raise money for Chihuahuas." He names his protagonists after himself. If you've caught my drift, this is the kind of writer who I worry is so well-regarded because he represents a certain kind of trendy New York existence in which everyone nurtures a delightful hip Zooey-Deschanel-esque quirk so that they may safely inhabit a world without regard to responsibility or the dreary business of doing things that are true or meaningful. Or, um, wage-earning.

Someday I shall have to test this prejudice of mine out by reading his books, obviously. For now, HBO has obliged me in delivering a version of Jonathan Ames (penned by Jonathan Ames and called, of course, Jonathan Ames) in thirty-minute morsels (called Bored to Death) to confirm my prejudices. While I've only watched the one episode - which aired last night on HBO but which you can get from OnDemand or, I believe, as a free podcast on iTunes - thus far it has done nothing to alleviate my concern.

I can more or less sum up what this series is about in less than fifteen words: Immature Novelist inexplicably masquerades as detective, pines after Responsible Woman. That's it, ladies, the artsy dude you dated in your twenties when you thought it would be nice to be with someone creative and then you realized he sort of thought of you as a second mom who would save him from his inability to wash his own socks Because He Is An Artist And Still A Boy? If you're really dying to relive that portion of your life you may tune in Sunday nights on HBO.

You will be treated to a dysfunctional Ames (Jason Schwartzman, why, why?), who has just been abandoned by his girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby, who I want to like but who better watch out for this Deschanel-in-training role). His heavy pot habit is what broke up the relationship, it seems, and his good friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis) concurs that Woman Are A Problem since he is not having sex (horrors) with his. We are meant to divine from lingering shots of a cover of a Raymond Chandler novel that Ames thinks he would make a good detective and he puts an ad on craigslist. Cue bumbling that is not so much adorable as it is self-indulgent, and he discovers a woman tied up in a cheap hotel by her menacing-looking boyfriend. Hilarity ensues, unbelievably - because, you, see, we're supposed to think that this show is Too Smart for believability - and the show seems rather unclear on whether this is a consensual situation because we're told the woman broke up with the guy but then she walks off with him and hey aren't crazy women just like that? They say they want to break up with you but then they enjoy being tied to the bed!

You've heard enough, I imagine, to understand that the show is staggering under the weight of the writer's affection for his alter ego and his antics. Because despite the oh-so-Brooklyn tone of the whole thing, the show lacks that final element of irony in which there is some hint that the thing you're watching really means to say something else. Obviously it's a bit early, but one gets no impression that the right things are being ridiculed; at the end of the show Ray's girlfriend forgives him for no reason whatsoever, and Ames concludes his bumbling a success even though it landed him in jail.

The self-regard of this particular variety of artist dude is, I suppose, par for the course. It takes chutzpah to make good art, because there is an act of faith involved in trusting yourself to do something someone will actually want to look at, listen to, watch or read. And in a way I wish more women possessed this kind of chutzpah, because I want to see us getting to do some of these things. I want to see our series on HBO.

But what I want to know - because I suspect this show might be a sleeper hit - is why this kind of self-indulgence is so addictive to the modern dude. (Most of the women I know hate it, but feel free to correct me if my sample is flawed.) How many times am I going to have to hear how great this revelry in childish behaviour and juvenile antics is, just the prerogative of the creative man? How many times are they going to claim this is great imaginative work? Is this really what they think of us, of the world, as a gigantic joke in which the ladies are here to save them from themselves (but not really, because the quirk is cool) and enable their being Children At Heart? If it is, I'm starting a commune on some tropical island. All you who have been wounded by this sort of behavior are welcome to join us.

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7 Comments Have Been Posted

Completely agree.

I watched only the last ten or so minutes of this last night, and that was enough for me to come away with the impression that "Bored to Death" is a show for and about Immature Male Artists with Quirks and Dreams. I definitely sense a trend here, and completely agree with your assessment that HBO could use a show like this featuring Female Artists with Quirks and Dreams (maybe not so immature) as well.

And what was up with the Ted Danson character? Is he supposed to be a warning for Ames? Or a role model?

Here's hoping there's room on your tropical island for one more...

More thoughts on one point, less the show itself

I found myself reading this and mentally defending Zooey Deschanel but agreeing on all your other parts, and the fact that my mind worked this way was interesting to me. Sady Doyle of Tigerbeatdown had a spot on <a href= a while back about "hipster bigotry," in which she compared how people reacted to Megan Fox as being a "trashy" and Deschanel as being "girlfriend material" while they both played hollow, personality free characters. I don't quite agree with the last part (I think typically Zooey's roles have some merit but I'm not going to get into a discussion about that part here), but I found it interesting how this quirky, feminine, domesticated actress has been recently been made into the poster child ideal woman for the hipster crowd, which is sexist for obvious reasons. Now, I actually am a fan of Deschanel's work (hey, she writes some catchy music, but again that's neither here nor there), but I do take issue with the idea others have perpetuated that the ideal creative woman must be pretty, pixie-like, cute, etc.

Ok, so far this has been more a response to Sady's article than to this one, but I have a point that i'm getting to. It's interesting to me the way these gender roles play out in the hipster subculture (hipster might be the wrong word here - indie? twee? you know what I mean). The woman must be cute and creative, like i said before, but at the end of the day is still pretty grown up, which I think might be why I find female roles in these movies (including Deschanel's) to be more sympathetic. The man is also creative and artsy, but can get by being a slacker or immature. Basically, like a Judd Apatow movie but with better music (I realize now that my entire first paragraph was irrelevant to this discussion but I've already typed it out. Oh well)

Now, I don't live in Brooklyn, but I am a person who is into the creative arts and ironic humour (I mean, real ironic humour, not bigotry disguised as satire), and wears quirky clothes. Basically, I'm the target market for a lot of these shows. The first episode of Bored to Death was mildly entertaining, but I did stay critical watching it and took issue with most of the things you pointed out. I am interested to see where they are taking it and will probably watch the next few episodes. Maybe it will get better (here's hoping)


More than a few bloggers, including Sady, have covered what I sort of think of as the Zooey Deschanel Problem, which, it should be noted lest the President of the Internet League for the Defense of Zooey Deschanel catch wind of this thread, has much less to do with Miss Deschanel herself than it does with the way hipster dudes treat her: <a href=" here.</a> See also <a href=" Pixie</a> <a href=" Girls</a> (copyright for that one goes to the Onion AV Club), or <a href="">Amazing Girls</a>.

haha I am well aware of the

haha I am well aware of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl - it is a little embarrassing how many of my favourite movies have them. In my defense, sometimes they can be fully fleshed out characters (like Harold and Maude, I would argue) and other times you get, well, Garden State.

My comment didn't show up?

My comment didn't show up? oh well, here I go again. It's sort of embarassing how many Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies I love. I think some of them can be done really well with fleshed out characters (like, i would argue, Harold and Maude) and some are, well, Garden State.

I did take issue with the Amazing Girls essay though. It seemed to imply that every wide-eyed artsy chick is an unopinionated muse and nothing else. Obviously that's true in many scenarios, but they list people like Miranda july - I've never been a fan of hers, but didn't she get published in the New Yorker?

I take issue with the Manic Pixie dream girl being put on a pedestal, but at the same time the idea of dismissing any woman who likes Sylvia Plath and hangs out at coffee shops and is majoring in Philosophy just doesn't sit well with me.

oh jeez, i (sort of) comment

oh jeez, i (sort of) comment twinned myself

a vindication of the rights of poets.

Agreed. Replying to the Sylvia Plath comment, with which I wholeheartedly agree, I happen to love poetry, and I write poems in coffee shops almost daily, but that doesn't make me another starry-eyed dreamer. I have my bachelor's in creative writing, I'm working to get my masters and doctorate in poetry to become a professor at a university, (backdoor brag), so does this mean i'm just another flaky artist? I write about the subtleties of misogyny in our daily lives, about the female experience, about rape, about the daily pressure of being a woman, among other things. Feminist poetry is my focus and my obsession. This stereotype of poets and poetry fans irks me to no end, because poetry doesn't get the credit it deserves. It is one of the oldest forms of art, far older than the novel, and it seems that in today's society it is considered to be the obsolete blathering of airy dreamers. Not even close. Of course you have your Wordsworths, you always will, and there's a place for that. But consider Carol Ann Duffy, for example, who is a feminist badass. Her collection of poems, "Feminine Gospels," is incredibly thought-provoking and intriguing, and a great piece of feminist art. But no, it's poetry, it's probably about flowers and trees and the brilliant, ethereal sunshine, with no intellectual merit whatsoever. Read "Loud." Feminist essays are wonderful, I read them eagerly every day, but perhaps it is time to consider other genres to broaden our intake of feminist discourse. I won't get into an analysis of the wonders of poetry, (I could go on for pages and no one wants to hear me gushing), but check it out. At least give it a chance, and don't judge it based on your preconceived notions of what it is.

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