Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cosmo book by Spencer Gordon

This is on my

Nov. 11 Cosmo book by Spencer Gordon: On the back of  the National Post article called “Self-publishers can’t afford humility” by Melissa Leong on Dec. 15, 2012, there was a book review.  It’s called “Gone Pop, like the World” by Natalie Zina Wahschots.  She reviews the book Cosmo by Spencer Gordon.  It’s a very strong article.  Here’s the whole article:

We are drenched in pop culture. We exude it from our pores, the unctuous and faintly sparkly residue of a life spent constantly plugged into the cultural milieu around us. Our relationships to television shows become love stories, the books we read provide supporting characters in our lives, the bands we listen to are as crucial to the structure of our days as the score of a summer blockbuster. Pop culture saturates us, but it is notoriously difficult to write about. The nuances of obsession and fandom, the precise and constantly evolving language of pop-cultural references is slippery, ever-evolving and difficult to manage. Most writers shy away from direct cultural references in their works, ostensibly to avoid creating an instantly dated text and alienating a potential audience outside the scope of those references, but also because writing around our relationship to the media we consume is frankly really hard. The Canadian landscape, the structure of memory, the geography of the body — those CanLit tropes are static, familiar and often relatively easy, smooth and navigable as opposed to the white-noise fizz and popping technobabble of pop culture.

With Cosmo, his debut collection of short fiction, Spencer Gordon prefers to dive headfirst into the roiling mass of the contemporary cultural moment, insisting the loud, bright water is fine. In a recent interview, Gordon stated that while he does not consider his engagement with pop culture to be a pervasive theme in his text, he does strive to “bring pop culture up to the level of other pervasive daily experiences, like using forks and spoons,” to make cultural references ordinary, and to stand against the notion that such references are somehow gauche. According to Gordon, “pop culture is culture, and ignoring it means we are deliberately distorting reality in service to a middle-class idea of what ‘proper’ literature should depict.”

Cosmo engages with pop culture in a paradoxical way; at once, the references feel perfectly natural, none overstated or artificially highlighted. The references, all of which are sharp and funny, are interwoven deftly, never heavy-handedly. Nevertheless, they stand out for their very presence, defiant simply by existing. Whether or not it was intended to be a central theme of the text, when Cosmo details Matthew McConaughey driving out into the desert on a personal journey of discovery, or explores the depth of the relationship between a young fan and professional wrestling, it cannot avoid making a statement. The relationships that the characters in Cosmo have with the culture that surrounds them are just as real, just as complex and potent, as the relationships they have with each other.

While this engagement with popular culture stands out as Cosmo’s most immediately defining characteristic, what the book reveals more slowly is the dexterity of the prose and the deep emotional authenticity of the narratives. The characters in Cosmo wear their wounds openly, defined by the damage the world does to everyone by the simple horror of living. Each character is defined by their isolation in some way, and the desire to reach out; the narratives themselves often unfold as these efforts to make connections either succeed or fail. This is especially interesting in the context of fame Gordon continually explores throughout the text. Public identity, the politics of fame and fandom come up as themes in the stories again and again, both as a way for characters to attempt to connect with each other and a lens through which Cosmo continually explores the specifics of loneliness.

It succeeds not only as a well-wrought and keenly written collection of narratives, but also as a work of analysis.

In weaving fame and popular culture into Cosmo, Spencer Gordon smudges the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, smearing real-world cultural references and famous figures, from Leonard Cohen to Miley Cyrus, all over the structure of his narratives. The stories engage with the ways in which the characters grapple with their own loneliness, forge and fail relationships, and also define their own relevance to the world, all within a larger cultural context. This makes Cosmo not only a collection of fiction but also a work of cultural criticism. It succeeds not only as a well-wrought and keenly written collection of narratives, but also as a work of analysis. The ways in which Gordon breaks down the barriers between music writing and fiction in particular (such as in the story “Transcript: Appeal Of The Sentence” which takes the form of a single, run-on sentence in which the speaker defends their love of pop star Miley Cyrus) is extremely exciting.

Perhaps the most defining moment is Cosmo comes in the very last story, “Lonely Planet,” wherein an aging porn star dons a dinosaur costume in a desperate bid to remain in the limelight. The story is notable for how well it navigates the fine lines between hilarity and desperation, the ridiculousness of the moment juxtaposed again the terrifying ache of impending irrelevance. Cosmo is a rare book in that it is brave enough to explore the ways in which being loved in private has a very real counterpoint in public, in the form of fame, public identity and cultural cache. In doing so, Gordon dissects the very idea of the authentic in an increasingly public world in which the self is ever more constructed.

My opinion: What stood out to me was in the beginning about how writers don’t write pop-cultural references because it will be instantly dated.  That’s why I don’t write pop culture in my scripts.  However, there was a time way back in 2009, the Edmonton Public Writer in Residence Chris Craddock pointed out that in my Rain script there were TV and movies references that were either real or fake.

What also stood out to me was this line: “The story is notable for how well it navigates the fine lines between hilarity and desperation.”  That reminds me of Dateline: To Catch a Predator where a 35 yr old guy was going to date a 12 yr old girl.  There were all these Youtube comments that some said it was sad and others said how it was ridiculous. 

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