Monday, November 08, 2004

A book review?

This isn't a true blog entry. This is something that I wrote some time
ago, for a website which is now dead. But I liked this article too much
to just let it fade away. So it goes.

-Penn Jillette

“All the true things I’m about to tell you are shameless lies.”


As I begin to write this, I have no idea what it’s going to be. It’s
something that I’ve been thinking about all day, while I washed some
cars, while I felt sweat escaping down my back, while I watched “The
Professional,” and wondered why they were playing Jean Reno as Italian.

I want it to be about a book. But like the book, I want it to be about
truth. Truth about the world, truth about religion, truth about me. I
want it to be about art, the artistic, and those people who say they’re
artistic, even if the really aren’t. I plan to ramble, I plan to
preach, I plan to come off as the stupid asshole that I know I am. I am

I’m afraid because the truth is a frightening thing. It scares the shit
out of us every day, so we turn to lies to soften the blow. To make our
peers look at us like they look at everyone else, instead of with eyes
that show derision and disgust, or that morbid curiosity that might be
the worst look of all. We lie to make ourselves feel better as well,
explaining things away, taking the edge off of something that could
otherwise be terrifying. We lie to protect ourselves.

But the truth shall always be more important than lies. Sure, everyone
lies, it’s a fact of life. Lies have their uses and their place.
Parents tell their kids different, to always tell the truth, but while
they do this they lie more than anyone, and as harmfully as anyone. In
their attempts to protect the innocence of their children, they weaken
them towards the world. A lie about truth, is the worst lie of all.

It also happens to be fairly common. The things that claim truth
above all else, usually lie the most. Look at psychics. Look at
evangelists. Look at your own damn parents. Look at Fox News, with
their campaign for “Fair and balanced.” Everyone knows it’s bullshit,
but they don’t care, and just lets them lie to our faces. The liberal
media is no better, claiming to be not sway in either direction, but as
with Fox, the bullshit is the same. And we let them get away with it.

Look at politics as a whole. We need a Mr. Smith, but we get a Mr.
Bush. Governments thrive on lies, which is inevitable. It simply stems
from human nature. The “power corrupts,” quote may be overused by
now, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. Bush lies.
Cheney lies. Reagan lied. Old Bush lied. Clinton lies, and he’s just as
bad as all those other fuckers. However, the thing I will give Clinton
credit for is for being a first class politician. He smoothed things
over so beautifully, it could be seen as beautiful. Few things are as
satisfying as seeing someone do their job really well.

So when everyone lies, where do we get the truth? From the ones who say
they’re lying, of course. You can find so much more truth, meaning,
life, soul, heart, and peace from someone who admits from the get go
that they’re lying through their teeth. Which is why fiction is such a
wonderful thing.

The book that lies at the core of this article, rant, bitching,
whining, whatever you want to call it, is from someone who isn’t taken
as seriously as he should be. Penn Jillette, the taller, louder half of
Penn & Teller.

Most don’t take these two seriously because, well, they’re just a pair
of fucking magicians. Entertainers. They do tricks. They act. They work
a profession which is built on nothing else than lying with a straight
face. And when they do it, they show nothing but truth.

That’s the sensibility that transfers to this book, Sock. Penn is a
forty-nine year old atheist from New England (no god and none of your
goddamn business) who has managed to put himself into a book about sock

monkeys, police divers, and murder. It comes together as a whirlwind
pop culture noir, where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
This is him.

This is a book that is about living in general, more than it is about
odd occurrences and a search for something. Like Murakami’s masterful
Wind-up Bird Chronicle, it’s about moving through things one step
at a time, as well as taking things into your own hands. But it’s a
book for atheists, by an atheist. It’s a book that speaks about death,
from a man who just lost his parents. A book that’s more frank about
sex than any of those cheesy romance novels that our pumped off an
author assembly line (and by the way folks, Gone with the Wind is not a
fucking romance novel. It’s about fighting the odds and living in the
aftermath of the Civil War). It’s genuine. It is, dare I say it…art.

It is the best kind of art. The art that comes not from book-learned
technical excellence, instead being the kind that stems only from
passion and understanding with oneself. The kind that isn’t trying to
be art at all. The kind that you can FEEL, more than you can feel any
random deity that is supposed to save your soul, or any politician that
claims to be on your side.

It’s about truth, and about argument. Arguments are a wonderful,
wonderful thing. The ability to argue is the greatest thing set forth
by the Constitution, and it’s one of the best things that human beings
can engage in.

Certainly, when we’re in the midst of a real argument, you don’t feel
that way. When it boils down to hate and distrust of things and people,
and you let opinions and insults fly, you make your point and they
counter, and you storm off with murder on your mind. Fuck debates. Fuck
them with their notes and their plans, their sterile feel. I love the
real ones, where logic is the king, but fuck them anyway. Arguments are
where the real human drama comes loose.

The trouble is when people refuse to argue, or debate. When they
decide, “Gee whiz, I’m obviously right, so I’ve got to TAKE ACTION!”
It’s why 9-11 happened. It’s why this stupid pointless war happened,
like oh so many pointless slaughters before it. It’s why Michael Moore
makes movies. It’s why instead of making something challenging,
entertaining, or uplifting, Mel Gibson instead made a glorified snuff
film. It’s one of the reasons why the world is so fucking sad.

I share some similarities with Penn Jillette. We’re both at least 6
feet five inches tall. We’re both Atheists. We both don’t drink or do
drugs. We both don’t like tomatoes. We both have done magic tricks at
some point in our lives. But the similarities end there.

Still, it doesn’t matter. Sock is something that grabbed me, and
punched me in the gut. Hard. It’s about truth in a world of lies. It’s
about Penn, even though he isn’t a police diver, or a sock monkey. Penn
is a man with more balls than anyone I can think of, because he tells
the truth about himself. The hardest thing to do. So why not, as a
gesture of stupid bravado, I’ll do the same fucking thing.

I’m a tall guy, as I mentioned, but I’m really fucking skinny. I tend
to have a half assed beard because I’m too lazy to shave it. I’m 19
years old. I’m a virgin, at least in the finality of the cock-in-pussy
sense(This is actually no longer true). I’ve had girlfriends,
I’ve had my dick sucked, and I’ve been
familiar with a vagina. I find the words cunt and pussy to sound odd
out of the mouth of an American, but Russians can say Pussy and Brits
can say Cunt. I believe in love. I believe in romance, which is
somewhat contradictory, because I’m also a bit of a realist. I’m afraid
of war, and of causing pain to my loved ones. I’m also afraid of
grasshoppers. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. I’m simply a citizen.
I constantly argue violently with my parents, but I love them down to
my bones. Eli is my best fucking friend.

I take English in college, but as you can tell from my submissions to
this site, it’s not something I generally talk about. I’m much more
comfortable talking about movies. I don’t read enough anymore. All I
really want to do is write. Not in the shoveling of cultural snow sense
(<= reference), but in any kind of creative sense. I’m in the middle of writing a novel that I really think I like. I wrote a screenplay two nights ago, locked in a room with a bottle of Dr. Pepper and my best friend. I love violence in movies, but I’m a pacifist. That doesn’t mean I won’t fight in self defense, or even out of anger, it just means that I hate real violence. You already know that I hate booze. I love the rain more than anything in nature. I don’t think I’m particularly smart, but I do think I’m smarter than some people. I’ve been called a genius before, and it really freaked me out. Last year I was roommates with a born again Christian, a pompous movie buff with a stupid goatee, and another serious Christian who insisted on loudly playing show tunes. They knew I hated them and I knew they hated me, which made living together easier. I love the Beatles. There. You know lots about me now. Does that mean anything? Not really. But it sure felt nice to put out there. Buy Sock if you want, and watch Penn & Teller’s show on Showtime if you wish. Doesn’t matter to me either way. This article wasn’t for you, just like almost none of the stuff I put here is. It’s for me, and my friends. And hey, maybe all the true things I said up there were nothing but lies. I didn’t even give you my name. Funny things, truth and lies. You have to keep your eyes open.


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