The Trial of

Peter notes that SWPL has just received a not-small advance. Though I think SWPL is utterly witless, and I only regret not having pointed this out earlier, I consider the advance to be good news. Many, many people are random beneficiaries of good fortune. And I’m hard-pressed to see how their good fortune impacts others in any negative way.

Think about intellectuals who are the children of intellectuals, like David Rieff (son of Susan Sontag and Philip Rieff) or Bill Kristol (son of Irving Kristol). I happen to think both Rieff and Kristol are brilliant. Actually, I find it noteworthy that Kristol is regularly attacked on grounds of nepotism and Rieff is left unscathed, but I digress: both benefited from having smart and accomplished parents, and both used that good fortune to impressive ends. Would we be better off if Rieff or Kristol had been punished in some way or hobbled? I doubt it.

Similarly, there are lottery winners who dedicate themselves to charitable work, or who find a way to pursue a more fulfilling line of work. Most, of course, end up losing everything. But in the process they enrich other conscientious, hard-working types. Some one-hit wonders, in the arts but also in finance, politics, and other fields, parlay their success into a comfortable cocoon, in which you’re no longer subject to the market test. For example, you get one prediction right — or better yet two predictions — and no one ever questions you when you make the wrong call ever again. And yet other one-hit wonders scale down their ambitions and work to help others reach their goals. The great sound engineer Steve Albini comes to mind. He’s had considerable success as a musician, but what he’s really done is help hundreds of other musicians, and thousands of other aspiring musicians, to sound better. That’s pretty tremendous.

SWPL‘s advance is not, in the grand scheme, all that big (it is a rounding error for our quantitative overlords), but it will help the author get a start on a new and exciting career. A lot of jobs are less difficult than you might think — nepotism can get you a gig reviewing mid-list fiction for elite outlets. And reviewing mid-list fiction, well, it ain’t impossible for a literate person. Same goes for writing for a sitcom, for example. True geniuses do it, as well as … people who aren’t geniuses. Sure, there are other people who’d kill for your gig, some of whom would do a better job. Given a little effort and persistence, these true talents will make it! And if the true talents throw in the towel, you have to assume there were other, more attractive options on the table, e.g., sanity, a more remunerative or otherwise rewarding line of work, etc.

And let’s not forget that the author of SWPL will probably make the advance back, if not sell billions of copies. Why? Because it seems that literally millions of people were … ahem. Millions of people have taste sufficiently different from mine as to consider SWPL a work of genuine insight and cleverness. They have disposable income, and will likely want to demonstrate to other friends in their brain-wattage weight class that they are in on the (bad) joke. So I hope those who agree with me on the virtues of SWPL don’t begrudge this guy his good fortune — indeed, I hope they celebrate the news. I mean, yes, I’d love to hand Zach of Veiled Conceit a huge check. But you know what? I’m pretty sure Zach can command a pretty high wage if that’s what he’s looking for — moreover, I wouldn’t be shocked if Zach would rather catch some waves somewhere and hang ten in the South Pacific as a beach bum. He seems like an odd duck in the best sense.

One piece of SWPL news I find discouraging, from the_Observer_ story:

The book, sold by William Morris literary agent Erin Malone, will be edited by Random House editor Jill Schwartzman, but according to a source familiar with the situation, Kurt Andersen—who serves at Random as editor at large—has taken an active interest in it and will play a role in its development.

I haven’t agreed with a lot of Kurt Anderson’s choices since the late 1990s. I love New York and have for years. I think it’s taken a dramatic turn for the better under Adam Moss. But this … boy, Kurt Anderson created Spy, which I dearly loved.

The author of SWPL is not the bad guy. He hit a nerve, which is a very valuable skill. I sincerely hope he will become the next Judd Apatow, only … less in line with my own tastes and preferences. The bad guys are, in my view, the people who celebrated him who should have known better, an admittedly small yet very culpable group. Who could have nipped this phenomenon in the bud?

One day there will be a tribunal, and these people will be judged harshly.