Pushing into the late evening of this Tuesday night past, the Internet suddenly got a little more stupid. Discouraged by some comments left on a website about his 2010 book purge, Harlan Ellison finally thumbed his nose at the ‘Net and switched off the pops and hisses of his antediluvian dial-up modem for the last time. He’s done with it, with you and with us. He bought the ticket, took the ride and hopped out of the spinning teacup when it started teetering a little too precariously upon its own axis as the ridecar, he realized, was being dangerously overspun by a gaggle of waterheaded asshats who somehow managed to take control of world. So he’s out of here. Gone. Absent without leave from all of the flippant inanity that continues to consume the entirety of Web content from ass to mouth like some sort of twisted, fiber-optic Ouroboros. Good job, Internet. You just climbed another rung on the Great Ladder of Ineptitude and murdered a Titan along the way. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
I know what it was on the site in question (which I refuse to reference) that crawled under Harlan’s skin to skitter about his endoskeleton and finally push him over the edge, and I agree with him – to a point. Some say the man has built a career out of being an obstinate and irate blatherskite, but the kind of person who says things like this tends to be the sort who spends too little time with books and too much with thesauruses. Talentless hacks (to use a less polite but more succinct description), the failed and the failing always look upon the mighty and despair, not out of jealousy or frustration but out of resentment and loathing for that which they will never be. And they know it – and the more they know it, the more vitriolic their contempt grows and the greater their hate becomes. Every writer knows this, and every writer out there busily keyfucking their typewriters and cut-and-pasting their manuscripts knows in their guts that they are better and worse than some other writer out there doing the same. There is always someone you’ll never best and there’s always someone who will never best you. The difference between someone like Harlan and everyone else is that he’s earned the right to shout hate at the heart of a world gone drunk and stupid from reality television and talk show book clubs. He’s earned it not because he’s built his career out of being a loudmouthed braggart, but because he’s built his career out of doing the work.
He’s done the work and he’s sold the work while aggressively and willfully spitting in the eyes of an industry filled with vipers and leeches, who smile as they sink their teeth into the soft flesh of weaker writers too afraid of rejection to lop the heads off the murderous little bastards. The sad truth is that if more writers were like Ellison – even with half the talent, but all of the drive – the world might not be governed by the whimsical fancy of the functionally illiterate. Harlan’s “Pay The Writer” speech from Dreams With Sharp Teeth recently passed 400,000 views on YouTube – an ironic twist considering the content of the speech and its method of distribution – and still, no one gets the point. Writers are such insecure, neurotic bundles of broken dreams and phantasmagoric hope that the world is bursting at the seams with wannabes all scrambling to freely donate their souls to every slick-backed producer or priggish publisher who winks at them and offers them ‘exposure’. Websites offering publicity in exchange for the right to freely publish submissions fill the Internet with no shortage of hopeful scribblers looking for their big break. “I’m published, Ma!” and now click on over to a site called Unicorn Moonbow Press International (or something equally inane) to read my stuff! No, I’m not getting paid – but I’m published!
The same mentality pervades every level of the industry, and it’s why brilliant and successful writers still have to hold down day jobs to pay the mortgage and feed the kids. Well that, and too few people bother to read challenging books. The same industry that is loathe to pay daring writers of dangerous visions a sum they might live on is more than happy to shovel paperbacked horse crap onto bookstore shelves, because the shitstank books simply sell better than the hard stuff. It’s the way of the world, and it’s only getting worse as the chigger of the Internet crawls deeper under our skin to continue its parasitic draining of our collective intelligence.
But none of this is news. It’s an old story, but one that only grows more depressing with time. The Internet, for all its glittering promises of equality and brotherhood, of leveling the playing field for everyone and creating the world’s first true meritocracy, has amounted to little more than a collection of nut-shot videos and Stupid Human Tricks. It provides safe haven for liars and thieves, dilutes our consciousness and bends our reality. Hiding under the mask of some inverse morality where the slogan “Information is free” gets people out from under the weight of a crushing cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing that stealing someone else’s work is wrong. Books, movies, music, games – everything is up for grabs on the World Wide Web, and only suckers actually pay for anything, right?
But again, this isn’t news. Harlan has long crusaded against the digital theft of his work, and he’s won more times than he’s lost. He’s been called many names and been the unfortunate recipient of a lot of misplaced rage, but he’s always stood his ground and given as good as he’s got. No, none of this is what pushed one of the greatest literary voices of our age off of the Internet. What finally did it, I’m afraid, is the same thing that threatens anyone who puts his soul out there on the page for all the world to see and mock and shred. It haunts each and every one of us, and we defend against it all our lives. Eventually, it takes its toll.
I’m not going to quote the comments or cast light on insecurities that plague every single creative professional working in the world today, and I’m certainly not going to risk embarrassing Harlan by exposing my thoughts on exactly what pushed him over the edge and made him push the big red Abort button on his Internet presence. What I will say is simple and direct, and meant as solely for Harlan as it is for anyone else who dares to actually live:
Fighting against an uncaring world is what we do. We do it because no one else will, or can, or will do as good of a job. It’s who we are, even when we don’t want to be. We’re misanthropic because we love harder and stronger than anyone will ever understand. We see the dirt and grime of this world with keen, sharp vision that stings our souls because we know just how beautiful the filth really is because it’s part of something real, something true – undiluted and sharp and nasty and brittle and broken…and sublime. We ply our trade in artifice because the real truth of things can be excised only from the malignant tumors of our fiction. We are a cancerous lesion on the soul of humanity that must be cut out, burned off and nuked into oblivion because that’s what we’re here for. We hold up a mirror and reflect the hideous reality people would rather not see – but that they must, if they are ever to become something more. Something better. Something…like us.
That’s it. I’m done, and let the comments flow forth from your poisoned pens and chemo-keyboards ridiculing my hubris and mocking my confessions. I’m ready for it. It’s what I’m here for. It’s what I do. Kinda like Harlan, only half of a half of a quarter of a tenth as good…but I’m working on it. Give me time.
And Harlan? Get back up. Your story isn’t over yet, and you know damn well that you’re the only menacing old bastard who gets to finish it – not them. Never them.
© 2010 – 2015, Kristian Bland. All rights reserved.