Sunday, June 2, 2013

Freddie DeBoer Is Terrible And We Should All Stop Reading Him

Freddie deBoer is a grad student who writes at a variety of publications including his own blog.  While being quite obscure to the vast majority of people, he retains a large following among the higher ups of the liberal blogosphere.  I've seen Ta-Nehisi Coates link to him, and he pops up from time to time among other writers.  I'd admit that deBoer has a skill for wordsmithing; he is good at crafting and argument and hammering it home.  But after reading a recent post of his, I really can't understand why so many people treat him as some Oracle of Delphi.  He is a bitter and vindictive young man who takes it out on everyone.  He also doesn't seem to understand politics very well.  Personally, I think we should all stop reading him. 

The post in question was a response to an Alyssa Rosenberg post where she gives some advice to young people who like to write.  Alyssa's post is a standard breakdown of the difficulties of trying to work full time in a highly competitive and shrinking industry.  This description is very true and anyone thinking about trying to make a living by writing should take this into consideration.  But the rest of her post is also pretty helpful.  She makes the most important point you can about writing, that the best way to get better at writing is to write, write and write some more.  Great writers from Barbara Tuchman to Stephen King have said this all before.

The interesting thing is that while deBoer portrays his post as being "for balance",  it is actually based on the same argument about pursuing writing as a career:
You probably can't make it as a writer. That's the very first thing you should understand. Start everyday by looking into the mirror and saying: I'll never write that novel. I'll never write that novel. I'll never write that novel. Hopefully after you've gotten it through your skull you can get to work on something that will put money in your pocket. (Spoiler: it won't be a lot. Within a rounding error of $0 is a nice, conservative assumption.)  
Which is a long winded way of saying that trying to make a living by writing full time is very difficult.  Which is, of course, true.

But rather than making this important and oft noted point and then going to a baseball game or having a beer, deBoer then goes on to unload a volume of professional cynicism about the cruelties of the world with passages like:
Nobody gives a s*** that you used to cut yourself. Nobody gives a s*** that your parents divorced. Nobody gives a s*** that you have cancer. Nobody cares.
In the time it took you to read the last paragraph some 48-year old was laid off by The Village Voice, and they're smarter than you and have lived ten times what you've lived and can write so much better than you I actually almost feel bad for you, and now they're on the same job market trying to scramble for the same s**** 10-cents-a-word gig recapping a show about couponing for the AV Club in the hopes that they can bang out some soul-destroying tedious b****** so that a pack of talentless losers in the comments can pick their words apart from the safety of their beige plastic cubicles as they try to distract themselves with pop culture for long enough to keep their all-devouring self-hatred at bay. You might get that gig over them but if so it's only because you're young and cheap and stupid and the scuzzy editor thinks he might be able to f*** you after the Christmas party.
For the record, Freddie is wrong.  I and other people do actually care about the things he said "nobody" cares about.

I don't think a person who would slam this out deserves to be treated as an intellectual saint.  I also don't think people who write passages like the the top one above deserve to be treated as if they are on a higher moral plain than other writers because they are against the use of drones "more" that you or me.  I don't know why Freddie writes things like this, if I'd have to guess I'd say there is a lot of frustration in Academia, mainly because it offers few opportunities for advancement.  Much like professional journalism.

I guess it's the cynicism that burns.  One of the biggest things I've taken from my career in politics is that in our disillusioned age being cynical is not some act of rebellion.  It's the easiest thing in the world.  Being cynical is fine, but doing it when you've made a career out of proving you are morally superior to other less deserving liberals (that is people who like Barack Obama) shows a self-aggrandizing narcisicism that doesn't deserve respect

What I can say is I'm going to give Freddie a long break.  Maybe he will change his tune in the future, which would be welcome.  He's obviously a very smart person and a great writer.  But I'm not going to subject myself to intellectualized teenage angst any more.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I think you're missing a couple things. First, I do think you're underestimating the degree to which that post is intended to be tongue-in-cheek. There's a certain category of enthusiastic rah-rah out there that I don't think anyone involved, reader or writer, really buys completely, and yet it still gets published all the time. I think that there are a lot of posts and essays of the "You can do it!" type that are marked by a certain crass insincerity, and I was a bit raging against that. Not against Alyssa, whose post was quite levelheaded. Just against that form. As I said, people should write-- and if they really want to, they won't listen to me anyhow.

    Second, I think you're underestimating the degree to which people simply don't know how hard it is to be a freelance writer. I meet and talk to a lot of kids who think that they're going to make it. And while I don't tell them "don't try," I do tell them "don't trust all the people who tell you that you'll make it." Because most people don't. As you are aware, I've always been willing to be an asshole, and if I can be a helpful asshole to those kids, why not?

    As for my angst, well.... It's interesting that people think that. I am indeed passionate about politics and consumed with the notion that this world and human life are deeply and permanently suboptimal. But I'm also someone who is quite happy, on a day-to-day basis, as happy and content as almost anyone I know. Maybe my online persona is just angsty. Could be. In any event: terrible or not, that piece was not intended to be bitchy. It was instead intended to be like the cranky old uncle.