If you're one of those pain-in-the-neck smart people who see the idiocy on both sides of pretty much every dichotomy, from Democrat-v-Republican to jock-v-head, you'll like this guy. I've dug Dery's stuff for a few years now, having happened upon his work on the (very sadly) defunct True/Slant blog, which, looking back, was a super-rare Topps Rookie Stars bubble-gum-card collection of our greatest new journalists, such as Goldman Sachs-killer Matt Taibbi and porn-fascinated snark-dispenser Susannah Breslin.
Dery is hideously progressive, open-minded and New York avant-art-mongering, so be ready for that. If you're a news and/or culture junkie of a liberal/urban stripe, Dery's books will, I promise, wind up living on the same shelf as your Taibbi, Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky and Chalmers Johnson, not because of the implicit liberal slant but because you'll A) learn a bunch of cool stuff you never thought you wanted to know, and B) help your brain put out some psychic fires vis-à-vis our teetering American culture. This guy should be the content manager of google.com.
For instance, go reality-check his essay on Lady Gaga, which I've mentioned in a few of my own incoherent ravings on Big Corporate Music. After months of exposure to Gaga-this and Gaga-that vomited from the great media Matrix that keeps us all in line (you remember all that Gaga overexposure, right, before Katy Perry took it to a whole `nother level?), Dery - and I would have personally warned him not to do this if we were better acquainted - accidentally read a Sasha Frere-Jones article on Gaga. Frere-Jones's M.O. has always been an especially bovine blend of milquetoast-flavored suckup-ism toward and reverence for Corporate Rock. It's horrible, like reading Tom Friedman trying sneakily to justify the latest military "accidental" massacre of Middle Eastern civilians by hand-holding us through the big-picture importance of Kellie Pickler, but with fewer mixed metaphors.
Anyway, upon reading Frere-Jones's nonsense about Gaga, Dery's head finally exploded, and he went on an epic, Bowie-loving, can't-miss rant that should be required reading in every American high school. That one's here in this book.
Here's one I hadn't even thought about: non-jocks, especially guys who were bullied in school, thoroughly dreading and hating Super Bowl weekend (and don't we all, really, deep down? It's like a culture-somnabulist's Thanksgiving with Doritos instead of turkey, if you ask me). That piece, "Wimps, Wussies and W.," also covers how our modern conception of masculinity has been hijacked to mean blind obedience to authority rather than courageous, outside-the-box thinking.
In the wake of the Crocodile Hunter's death, Dery wrote a piece (that's here also) about animal attacks both wild and domestic. Delightfully gross stuff in there about killer whales, lions, "domesticated" chimps - did you know a grizzly bear can fit an entire human head in its mouth?
That last bit is what Dery's really all about. You know your buddy who likes watching bootleg videos of real deaths and stuff? Well, imagine that guy, but with intense insight into the hows and whys of each individual dismemberment, etc. and armed with one of the most fearsome vocabularies on the planet. That's Dery. He sees the information zeitgeist for what it is: a gigantic kerfluffle that's only in its gothic adolescence.
Not that he ever says so outright. That'd be too hick. A while back, I whined in some review someplace about his detachment: give those mean old dumb Republicans a nice beatdown, willya, was my intent there. But in this collection Dery solidifies his brand, not just by examining the nonsensical psychic sewage in which we all soak but by asking the right questions. And when he talks about himself ("Cortex Envy"), he's literally the greatest thing since sliced bread, at one point generally comparing his passive-aggressive, comics-fueled battles with his stepdad to a Greek tragedy starring Kevin Sorbo.
I was going to slap an A+ grade on this thing, but it's a collection of previously released items stockpiled over the last few years now, and some of it's actually still on the web, which I wasn't even going to tell you, but full disclosure and all that. But whatever, he deserves it, so I've changed my mind.
I'll warn you that you may or may not need thesaurus.com handy while you read this stuff, as he's not just a (former?) New Yawk lit professor but a good one. The thing about that, though, in this instance, is that the rewards are priceless, as are these deep, deep (bad) thoughts.
- Eric W. Saeger