Of blowjobs and SF Weekly’s spurious claims to great (arts) journalism

|
()

The SF Weekly’s obsession (jealous much?) with our 5/2 cover story on Vincent Gallo and the Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival is forcing me to put one of my credos – “Don’t make me cut you!” – into practice.

I read, or at least glance at, the Weekly. It’s one of the less rewarding requirements of my current job. So I couldn’t help but notice that its Sucka Free City column has launched two successive attacks on a recent profile I wrote about Gallo. Got that? That’s two different Weekly articles about one alleged “puff piece.” I guess there must be something to what we’re doing for them to be so strangely fixated.

I have better things to do, and better work to put in the paper, but I’ll use this blog to pick these Sucka Free City articles off one by one, talk a little about misogyny and lame Cro-Magnon straight journalist dude posturing – a relevant topic here - and then add some real observation about the state of arts journalism as executed, and I mean executed, by the SF Weekly and their overlords at the New Times, excuse me, Voice Media.

The first Weekly Gallo piece, “Sunday Surprise” (SF Weekly, 5/2), operates from a basic contradiction. The writer devotes its entire five paragraphs to patting himself and the Weekly on the back for not agreeing to Gallo’s terms – rather than say, proactively operating by their own terms, as we did when we contacted him – by putting him on their cover. I know, silly me, I should realize that the SF Weekly is all about reacting snarkily to everything. And after all, there were hugely pressing contemporary issues that week, such as the breaking headline news that BABY BOOMERS ARE RUINING THE WORLD! (“Boomkatastrophe” cover story, SF Weekly, 5/2). Phew, I sure have benefited from that crucial bit of intensive reporting.

Look a little closer, though, and some other things become noteworthy, like the fact that when writer Brock Keeling isn’t trumpeting his and the Weekly’s horn, he’s rote-ly salivating over every obvious and old Pavlovian trigger on Gallo’s website, leading one to suspect that for all his professed interest in and admiration for Gallo, he’s really barely skirted the surface. Websites, they’re the new form of research! (Look at the Q&A on this blog for a more well-rounded, less obvious take on Gallo.)

And then there’s the piece’s contempt for Chloe Sevigny, who gives Gallo a movie blowjob in 2004's The Brown Bunny. Gee guys, what’s so bad about blowjobs? Don’t you realize they’re a part of life and can be fun? As a proud faggot (like a certain serialized sex columnist who is way too good for your publication), I’ve given as good as I’ve gotten – and vice-versa – when it comes to blowjobs. The whole assumption that someone is a skank because of a blowjob is so repressed frat boy of you. You’d think pro-sex feminism never happened.

But then of course you would, you’re at SF Weekly, where one week of blowjob fixations in ”Sucka Free City” isn’t enough -- you have to resort to two. Witness the so-cleverly titled “Bunny News,” apparently written by Will Harper, though a different reporter from the paper contacted Executive Editor Tim Redmond for comment. (Not me, natch, I’m definitely insulted in the piece, yet not mentioned by name – classy!)

Harper’s piece begins with ye olde pot-meet-kettle tactic of calling the Guardian “self-righteous.” It then gives four whole paragraphs over to assumptions – boy, assuming sure is hard reportorial work – and skepticism. What about? The apparently mind-blowing news that we had acted on our own volition in wanting to put the quotable Gallo on the cover of our extensive package devoted to the Mission Creek fest. A package containing exactly the type of thorough and specifically local arts coverage curiously lacking from the Weekly.

At the very end, the Weekly piece gets personal, repeating bits of – oops, I mean reporting on - my piece, and removing context from both my article's intro and contents in the process. That’s known in and out of the biz as a cheap shot, and I guess you need a degree in kowtowing to the New Times/Voice Media agenda to learn how to do it like any supposedly self-respecting journalist should.

For the record, the piece’s intro about turning self-into-music is in reference to what follows – not that you’d know it from Harper – which is a discussion of Gallo’s current, changing, interesting ideas about music, improvisation, and making art. As I mentioned in the piece, one thing that made Vincent Gallo a good interview subject – someone who doesn’t operate by the boring rules of personality profile journalism – is that he's a wide-ranging autodidact more interested in discussing his own beliefs about what he does, and opinions about other people’s work, than he was in repeating market- and media-ready quotes ad infinitum.

The closing lines of “Bunny News” insinuate that my article on Gallo is a blowjob. Clever, huh? Not obvious in the least. And here I thought I put forth a measured appreciation of him – one that understands the difference between Gallo the charming interview subject (in my experience) and Gallo the person. In fact, I like both Gallo's music and his movies a great deal, though there are many other moviemakers and musicians -- you won't be reading about them in the Weekly -- who I've praised more devotedly in recent years.

Writing positively about Gallo was something I thought I was allowed to do, since I might have been the first U.S. writer to issue some positive words in newsprint about The Brown Bunny (when I reviewed the film later upon its release I was more critical). This was before Roger Ebert radically changed his tune about the movie in the wake of recklessly calling its first cut the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. But then, you wouldn’t expect most anyone at SF Weekly to even consider the finer points of a movie – all they’ll know is whether or not it contains blowjobs. (And I wouldn’t trust them on that one, either.)

Here’s why: the Weekly is part of chain-turned-media monolith that essentially devoured and ruined the Village Voice recently, forcing internationally renowned authors and editors such as Robert Christgau and Dennis Lim to leave jobs they’d previously enjoyed and move on to better places. The Weekly now (and before the Voice attack, in fact) uses less esteemed critics from areas outside San Francisco to fill up the majority of its film coverage. After all, everyone knows the movie scene here in San Francisco is no different from the one in Denver!

Take a look at the Guardian and the SF Weekly any week of the year and you’ll find that we currently devote far more space and effort and originality to critical or researched coverage of movies, for example, than they do. The current Weekly is dominated by light previews, and reviews of Hollywood product written by out-of-towners. In comparison, we run pieces that interview local filmmakers and review the rep house, museum, festival, and independent programming specific to this city. (The other night I was at a movie theater, and heard one guy mention a Weekly movie piece to his friend. “I don’t read SF Weekly,” the other guy said, in a tone that more than inferred he had a good reason.)

I’ll leave it to fine self-appointed arbiters of journalism such as Will Harper and Brock Keeling to furiously read what they call the Guardian’s “crap” as if it were tea leaves. It’s a shame they aren’t better at it.

p.s.:
Hanuman Books published a little book by Beauregard Houston-Montgomery titled Pouf Pieces that’s filled with opinionated, funny portraits of gossip columnists and movie stars. If you’re looking for a laugh, I guarantee it’s better than anything (save maybe the occasional old Lessley Anderson or recent A.C. Thompson article) you’ll find in the Weekly.

Also from this author

  • Sounds of summer

    Concert and music festival highlights from air guitar to Woodsist this season 

  • Soul sounds

    The Weeknd and Hype Williams navigate music and identity in 2011

  • Snap Sounds: Jessica 6