Lurid & Cute — Adam Thirlwell

No one knows anything and no one beyond the protagonist has any consciousness in Lurid & Cute. It’s the sort of book whose good reviews make one learn to distrust good reviews. The book is not bad. It just sort is, as if someone hoovered up the thoughts of a bright but unambitious hipster and failed to organize them adequately. The narrator isn’t as intellectually associative as someone like Roland Barthes or Camille Paglia, whose styles can sometimes be forgiven for their insights.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I’ve been unable to sell Lurid & Cute on Amazon, where repeated price drops get matched by bots with excess inventory. Sometimes the market speaks and it’s wrong; other times, it speaks and it’s right. The novel starts cleverly:

I liked the bright vibe. But also I knew that although I liked the vibe it was not the vibe of my usual bedroom, just as the girl who was sleeping beside me in what seemed to be a hotel room was not my happy wife. It was that kind of problem situation, and while I acknowledge that some people would not feel that this is after all so bad – and that waking beside a person who is not ethically your own is just the usual way most humans enter the moral realm and therefore, kiddo, live with it – still, I could not be so suave.

But it goes nowhere, albeit in a way that’s hard to describe. The preceding sentences are representative: Thirlwell or his narrator is fond of length, and if you too are fond of length and of digression loosely related to whatever is kind of at hand, you may like it too. The style is often simultaneously too normal and too weird: “The entire history of my wasted time seemed sad to me, like it turned out to be a menace where no menace seemed to be visible, and I berated myself that, vigilant as I always was for signs of menace, I had not noticed that the true menace was right there [. . . ]” The book seems to offer itself as an example of wasted time, too, on par with the YouTube videos mentioned on page 22, but maybe its point is that time wasted and time well-spent are similar. Or more likely the point is the lack of a point, in which case there better be a great story in there. There isn’t here.


Try Merritt Tierce’s Love Me Back instead. That novel stays with me long after I finished. It’s a novel about struggle that’s not a struggle to read, a novel indirectly about politics that doesn’t slap readers in the face with politics, a novel about sex as it’s had now without being polemical. There’s so much there and so little in Lurid & Cute.

Life: The writer edition

“Isabella, if you really want to devote yourself to writing, or at least to writing something others will read, you’re going to have to get used to sometimes being ignored, insulted, and despised and to almost always being considered with indifference. It’s an occupational hazard.”

—Daivd Martín in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Angel’s Game

“Uber [or Airbnb] for Private Tutors”—I’d sign up

Tyler Cowen suggests “Uber for Private Tutors,” which sounds like a great idea, but I’m not sure Uber is the right comparison group. Rather, the better comparison is to Airbnb: I’d want to be the penthouse of tutors, so to speak, and charge appropriate superstar fees. The best tutors are probably worth orders of magnitude more than average tutors.

Uber by contrast dictates fees to drivers, which drivers can take or leave. I’d rather see the opportunity for markets to decide how much I’m worth. Rides are also probably more similar to each other than tutors are to each other, so Airbnb is the comparison choice I prefer. One could also begin to imagine a combination of MOOCs, things like Coursera, tutor matching, and the like nibbling away at the current school experience.

I have the academic credentials and experience necessary to sign up for Airbnb for private tutors, and I live in New York City, which probably has a lot of pent-up demand for tutors-on-demand. I’m working as an adjunct professor at Marymount Manhattan College, and while I enjoy and appreciate the work it isn’t hard for me to imagine a better-paid situation arising. Uber for private tutors could supplement the large, existing adjunct workforce or even supplant some people who are currently adjuncting.

That being said it isn’t clear to me that people hiring tutors would care about credentials so much as they’d care about personality, though maybe both are important.

Links: Manhattan, drugs and sex workers, the education myth, campus madness, mega construction, and more!

* The myth of the Manhattan construction boom.

* “America’s Newest War: As the war on drugs loses its luster, legislators are intent to make the same mistakes with sex workers.”

* The Education Myth.

* “All About Eve—and Then Some,” hilarious throughout, including: “Even fun, though, can get to be a drag if you have too much of it.” She seems to have understood men, including brainiacs, and to have had a sense of humor: “Dear Joseph Heller, I am a stacked eighteen-year-old blonde on Sunset Boulevard. I am also a writer. Eve Babitz.”

* Inside the passionate “girl-topia” of BookCon: Where authors are rock stars and geek-chic girls rule.” Maybe.

* “Things I Learned about Credit Bureaus This Week.” This is the sort of thing that would appear in major newspapers, if we had any real journalists left.

* The Campus Crusaders,” and not in a good way; much of the academic study of the humanities has been distorted and disfigured by an overweening obsession with the topics discussed.

* In Tyler Cowen’s words, “Blatant discrimination against Asians, from academia at that, remains an under-reported story.” Highly marketed schools may be less racist than they once were but they’re still racist along different axes.

* “Global aviation is the fastest-growing cause of climate change. And the EPA might let it off the hook.” Facts not much discussed, apparently because the environmentally noisy class is also the travel-and-leisure class.

* Crossrail: Tunneling beneath London. I have a jones for giant projects.

* Why has Apple spawned so few startups?

* “You hear the playback, and it seems so long ago…” Jeff Sypeck on eight years of Quid Plura. Like him I feel this:

When Facebook and Twitter prompted an exodus that made the blogosphere feel as empty as Iceland’s interior, I stuck with it. The culture craves pithier social media—photo memes, five-second movies—but I like long-form writing, even if some days I feel like a ham radio operator or a shut-in dialing into the Internet with a screeching modem and a Commodore 64.

I now have a Twitter feed, which functions mostly as a glorified RSS feed, but I don’t participate much in Twitter or Facebook. They’re too short form to be interesting to me, most of the time.

* 22 years after Verizon fiber promise, millions have only DSL or wireless.

Life: The novel edition

“It would seem that fiction writing is trying to satisfy two needs that are at loggerheads: to tell and not tell.”

—Tim Parks, Where I’m Reading From; out of context the quote seems almost nonsensical, but in context it is brilliant. The book itself is brilliant too, and I may write a longer post covering it, if I can get past how much I have to say about it.

Art is filled with weird paradoxes and contradictions, which is one reason it’s so hard to talk meaningfully about it.

Thoughts on “Hot Girls Wanted,” the Netflix documentary

Is it a sign of getting older that more than seeing the hot girls featured be nude, I want to see them take an economics, psychology, and human sexuality class? I’m not ideologically or otherwise opposed to porn—quite the opposite, actually—but I am opposed to ignorance and Hot Girls Wanted is arguably about that subject, rather than its putative subject. The girls followed remind me of my least sophisticated students and do not seem to have a sense of future (or life trajectories) or of past (and where their industry comes from). Often on this blog I write about the perils of academia, but if this is the alternative then academia looks really, really good. Ignorance has tremendous costs and rarely have I seen those costs made as stark as they are here.

That being said I wish the filmmakers had asked more questions about what these girls would otherwise be doing. What’s their opportunity cost? At what margin are they operating? They are getting paid for what they do, and from what I’ve heard, usually after a couple drinks, from women I know who’ve been in adjacent industries the college hookup scene is often not much better or more satisfying than getting paid.

hot_girls_wantedThe New York Times and similar publications have a trope: some Bad Trend occurs and then the writer adds, “Women and minorities hurt most.” Hot Girls Wanted does something similar; although perhaps being a porn actress is for many women not the world’s best job, it is possible for straight women to have straight sex on camera and make a lot of money at it, which isn’t even an option available to the vast majority of men. How many attractive 18- and 19-year-old guys would love to make a couple hundred or thousand dollars to have sex on camera? I haven’t done a formal study but let me guess “a lot.” Yet those jobs don’t or barely even exist. Having an option to trade heterosexual sex for money is still valuable, even if the makers of Hot Girls Wanted disapprove and/or think women don’t really have the agency necessary to consent to the job.

To me the girls seem sad not because they’re doing porn, exactly, but because they’re dumb and don’t understand what they’re doing. How was their relationship with their high school teachers? My reactions to them doing porn would actually be similar if they were doing, say, currency trading: The people on the other ends of the trade are not there to help them. If you want to trade currency you really need to understand what you’re doing. Failure to know will have real consequences. Arguably porn is similar.

Hot Girls Wanted could be compared and contrasted with Belle de Jour’s work. Both are about women in sex work but the tones couldn’t be different.

There are intelligent, empowered ways of being in the industry depicted in Hot Girls Wanted, but they are not evident here. It is at best very difficult to protect people from being from themselves, and attempting to do so usually has distortionary outcomes in other areas that make the protection itself not worthwhile. Arguably much of the sexual revolution since the 1960s is a demonstration of this, and we’re now seeing the outcome in terms of family and economic structure (link goes to Robert Putnam’s latest book). The wonk-o-sphere is abuzz about family structure issues but I wonder how many, if any, wonk-o-sphere members will connect them to Hot Girls Wanted. People want what they want and the elite pundit class, left, right, or Alpha Centauri is maybe not good so good at understanding or emphasizing this.

You will not learn much. That said I don’t regret watching and my interest did not waver.

Links: Wasting time, counterintuitive claims, technology won’t fix education, population problems, the modern laptop, and more

* “Why do people waste so much time at the office?

* From “The department of unintended consequences:” “It turns out that generous maternity leave and flexible rules on part-time work can make it harder for women to be promoted — or even hired at all.” Basic economics holds that making something more expensive means less of it is consumed.

* Why Technology Will Never Fix Education.”

* “The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education,’” which is news to me and fascinating throughout.

* An obvious point, but, a story about how people can’t be saved from themselves. In this post I wrote, “It is very hard, if not impossible, to fix most broken people.” Penelope Trunk tried, and failed.

* “Ashley Madison: Is infidelity a billion-dollar business?

* Tugg: A Kickstarter-like method for getting Indie movies in theaters. Brilliant.

* “Germany passes Japan to have world’s lowest birth rate;” the real problem in the developed world is underpopulation, not overpopulation.

* Tech billionaires aim for cheaper spaceflight.

* Someone found this blog by searching for “do musicians get laid alot.”

* The creation of the modern laptop:

Pick up your laptop. Actually, scratch that—read this paragraph first, then pick up your laptop. You are holding one of the most advanced machines ever built in the history of humanity. It is the result of trillions of hours of R&D over tens of thousands of years. It contains so many advanced components that there isn’t a single person on the planet who knows how to make the entire thing from scratch. It is perhaps surprising to think of your laptop as the pinnacle of human endeavour, but that doesn’t make it any less true: we are living in the information age, after all, and our tool for working with that information is the computer.

I use an iMac. Point stands, though, and the iMac’s screen is incredible.

* An interview with Tim Parks.

* On food culture, an interview in which Rachel Laudan points out that industrialized agriculture allows us to live the way we live now, and to romanticize inefficient processes.

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