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A Massive Swelling

A Massive Swelling

5.0 1
by Cintra Wilson
A columnist for both the San Francisco Examiner and Salon, Cintra Wilson is a ruthless pop culture barometer saying what everyone thinks but no one can say about modern celebrity culture. And no one can say it quite like her. Cherished for her "laser-light prose," and for being "more fun than an electric eel in a pool filled with sycophants," Cintra gets


A columnist for both the San Francisco Examiner and Salon, Cintra Wilson is a ruthless pop culture barometer saying what everyone thinks but no one can say about modern celebrity culture. And no one can say it quite like her. Cherished for her "laser-light prose," and for being "more fun than an electric eel in a pool filled with sycophants," Cintra gets to the heart of our humiliating fascination with celebrity and all its preposterous trappings.

In A Massive Swelling, she takes on every sacred cow imaginable, toppling icons as diverse as Barbra Streisand and the diva machine, Michael Jackson's sorry state and Bruce Willis, because he's Bruce Willis. Events like the Oscars and even athletic jamborees are part of a fame virus that infects us all. Wilson's scathing and irresistible dissection of Las Vegas as "The Death Star of Entertainment" pulses with her enlightened rejection of all things false and vain and egotistical. Written with her trademark zeal and intelligence, A Massive Swelling is the book Cintra Wilson's devoted fans have been waiting for.

Cintra Wilson is the most popular columnist at Salon, voted best Web site by Time magazine. She also writes a weekly column for the San Francisco Examiner, and her articles have appeared in numerous national magazines including Esquire, Men's Journal, and Mademoiselle.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble, Inc.
She has lambasted Michael J. Fox and Heather Locklear "TV's meaningless finger-puppets," castigated the mayor of New York as "Herr Giuliani," and titled one article "Bring Me the Fat head of Elton John." Not known as a punch puller, cultural columnist Cintra Wilson delights her San Francisco Examiner and Salon readers with harsh readings of everything from museum exhibits to Las Vegas strip shows to the Ben Affleck-Matt Damon "Velvet Mafia." Wilson believes that in our glitzier-than-thou culture, fame virus infects us all. Her prescription for cure has the electrifying directness of an elegant sock therapy. Certainly, Jack Nicholson, whom she once described as "that desiccated old vampire," has learned to bite his tongue in her presence.
Bust Magazine
[Wilson] is one of the smartest, funniest feminist savages of pop culture I've ever read, the kind of fiendish companion to whom my friend Dan says, "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me!"
Chris Nashawaty
Wilson is a brilliant writer with a deliciously warped and blisteringly wiseass take on such topics as the girly-porn appeal of boy bands like 'N Sync and the crazed-diva insecurity of Barbra Streisand. For the most part, Wilson's targets are pretty easy ones (Michael Jackson?). But kicking a dog when its down can be a hoot when the person doling out the body blows is so hilarious.
Entertainment Weekly
Deirdre Donahue
Wilson should watch out. If she keeps being so funny and brutal, she'll end up famous herself.
USA Today
Sarah Goodyear
…sick, funny, subversive and cleverly nauseating…
Time Out New York

Product Details

Viking Adult
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.37(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.83(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Cock Rock for the
Little Girls and the
Unhealthy Way They Love

Mother Nature determines what is poisonous to the soul and body, and sometimes it is easy to avoid that which is baneful and unclean: e.g., we naturally have no desire to eat fetid corpses or drink motor oil. What nature does not provide in the way of an instinctual deterrent, societal and karmic law handles by providing terrible disfiguring diseases and jail sentences and vast financial punishments. Without these, we would all naturally swerve towards being illiterate and obese sex-crazed criminals, engaging in heroin-addled blood orgies from the time we turn six years old, chain-smoking and eating nothing but bacon and cans of whipped cream and Starburst fruit chews. Our knee-jerk tastes, as a species, tend to swing towards the disease-causing, as opposed to the healthful.

    In a similar way, the collective emotional palate of mankind at this phase of evolution is too skanky and immature to be able to readily recognize and avoid the fever-blistered hue of Unhealthy Love. When one is an infant, one can happily stick sand and garbage and house keys in one's mouth and feel an enormous sense of loss when they are taken away and replaced by a nourishing biscuit. The unfortunate human animal continues to hysterically refuse to advance past the crack-and-glue-huffing exhilarations of Obsessive Lustful Desire and to replace them with more benign forms of realistic love and/or intimacy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the unhealthy love of rockstars by little girls.

    Aside from soft-core romance novels and the emotional smut of movies like Titanic and My Best Friend's Wedding, nobody's ever been quite able to deliberately and successfully devise a hardcore pornography for women. Playgirl magazine attempted to invent it in the seventies, utilizing the primitive theory that women got as sweaty and overstimulated by brazen, naked pictures of the opposite sex as men did, and introduced a magazine with a hairy, brick-jawed brute in the centerfold, earnestly displaying his semi-engorged "Hollywood Loaf." Of course, the magazine was totally laughable and not particularly erotic to women, and Playgirl ended up being patronized more or less exclusively by gay men. The pop sensation machine has found the answer, however, to the age-old marketing conundrum of What Makes Girls Randy, and now all media outlets are saturated with bedroom-haired, cologne-marinated, undergraduate-age dancing boys.

    Musician boys are invariably the first big crush of a preteen girl, her first big sloppy emotional response to the world. The creation of teen sensations is now a multinational Moloch, and such phenomena as Menudo, New Kids on the Block, 'N Sync, the Spice Girls, and the Backstreet Boys represent a whole vital stage in the sexual/ emotional development of the preteen—i.e., the kind of biological confusion and obsessive hysteria which causes little girls to wallpaper their rooms with gratuitous posters of dreamy, hard-nippled thugs and tarry kinderwhores and throw high-pitched grand mal tantrums until albums and T-shirts and concert tickets are bought.

    Twenty thousand girls stood outside the MTV window at Times Square in New York City and screamed for teen-masturbation-focus the Backstreet Boys in the summer of '99, and a few days earlier, another twenty thousand girls stood outside the MTV window and wailed and wept and beat their breasts for multinational superpasteurized Hispano-sensation Ricky Martin. America seemed slightly shocked, as if we expected all that weird screaming hysteria to have died along with the Beatles.

    Preteen girls want two things: a crazed amount of unwarranted, worshipful attention, and something ridiculously exciting and magical to happen to them suddenly, which would enable them to turn sneering and tall towards their ignorant parents and various preteen enemies and have them all shudder with the recognition that they were critically, mortally wrong in underestimating the preteen girl, and that they will now Pay. The idea of this kind of powerful social revenge is so tantalizing, it is basically in itself a version of prepubescent sex. This fantasy usually extends itself into a whole obsessive scenario involving one or more of the members of a boy band, in which the following takes place:

1. First, the teen pop phenomenon receives the incredibly special fan letter from the preteen girl and immediately recognizes the special trueness of her love and her unique qualities. The icon falls in love with the girl from her amazing letter and school photo.

2. The icon writes the girl back and makes arrangements to visit her on the sly, in his private plane. (It is amazing the way the plane shows up in almost every young girl's whack-off fantasy scenario. It's practically a Jungian archetypal phenomenon.)

3. The pop star then spirits the girl away from her horrible parents (who die, tragically and bizarrely, soon afterward, leaving the girl with no governing mechanism whatsoever) and establishes an indelible love contract with her, which involves performing songs about her, songs from poems that she's written, and even possibly discovering the girl's uncanny singing and tambourine talents. The girl and boy star then live happily ever after, deeply in love, modeling together on the cover of all magazines, and they can buy everything they want, forever, and nobody can tell them what to do.

    All little girls know they will be kind and magnanimous and well loved when they are famous; all little girls are kind princesses and just queens. As it is with most celebrities, after the advent of their fame has camouflaged what an utterly unwholesome canker on the gums of existence they are and finally proven them Right in Every Way, they will gradually allow themselves to unbuckle their latent kindnesses and show the inferior people how a Truly Special Person behaves. There is a hidden assumption in all people, but little girls especially, that once all of their dreams come true, they won't need to improve their personality or character in any way—they will have been perfect all along, and everyone around them too flicking dumb to have noticed it before.

* * *

When I was growing up and in the prepubescent emotional stage that is the primary feeding ground of rock-icon phenomena, we had the Monkees (despite the fact that the show had long been canceled and was already in syndicated reruns by the time I was hip to it). The Monkees were great; they were goofy and moronic and they wore ponchos, and they existed outside of worldly angst and the hazards of physical romance. A date with the Monkees would consist of jumping out of an oversized box of Froot Loops and playing freeze tag with wigs in a penny arcade. My six-year-old friends and I kissed pillows named Davy, Mickey, and Mickey (Mike was too mature, Peter too doglike and retarded).

    We just LOVED the Monkees. We never imagined them without pants, but if we did, they had the same hairless nether-mound GI Joe had in lieu of an actual unit. We talked about marrying a Monkee vs. marrying Speed Racer, or marrying half-Mickey-half-Davy—it was all the same. This amorphous nonsexuality was factory-built into the Monkees along with the string you pulled on their chests to hear "Last Train to Clarksville," and is the crucial difference between prefab-musical-teen-crush-bands-assembled-by-teams-of-marketing-experts then and now. Now, instead of castrating the stars, like the TV spin surgeons did to the Monkees, band creators imbue these quasimusical teens with frightening levels of artificially generated erotic power.

    Children moaning in trained vibrato and writhing in sexual anguish have always been a big attention getter for old talent-contest shows like Star Search and other questionable TV experiences. On The Mickey Mouse Club, back in the fifties, fresh-faced little teen vixens like Darlene and Annette once sang unabashedly doltish ballads about puppy love written by fifty-year-old men. The Little Rascals dressed as adult hipsters and sang each other speakeasy songs of cheap drunken courtship, winking and wiggling. Now children barely out of training pants are wearing asymmetrical Victor Costa ball gowns and belting out how Their Man Is Gone in the smoky tones of world-weary, dope-sick B-girls who've been beaten like donkeys for loving too intensely. Naturally, most of this can be blamed on the parents; overzealous soccer and ice-rink moms have nothing on the white-sweatered harridans who seek entertainment-industry success through their unblemished tykes. No bog-banshee wailing for untimely death in an Irish family could send more freon up the spine than a Backstage Mother howling darkly at her toddler in showgirl makeup, "Pretty FEET! Make PRETTY FEET for the agents, Missy!"

    The recent rash of female pop singers have already figured out that crawling around in their panties on MTV is the best thing they can do for record sales. As singers proceed to get younger and more naked, child versions of lingerie bands like Vanity 6 are sure to ensue: undulating eleven-year-old boys and girls wearing Cuban-heeled fetish nylons and tiny athletic-support cups will be filling an arena near you, running microphones suggestively over their undeveloped chests, grabbing their unfinished nether parts, flipping their hair, pouting, feigning sadomasochism with the mike stand. Oversexed R&B tykes like Immature and Tevin Campbell have already been down this catwalk—they were boys who were not old enough to drive, who frothed crowds of grown women into surging jungles of wrongful lust. Somehow, to the wanton fan of any age, a charismatic stage presence means that the performer is possessed of a mature, diabolically supercharged megasexuality, and the fan responds to the performer as such, even if he is barely over four feet tall.

* * *

New Kids on the Block had a frighteningly sexual, Jesuslike sway over the female species. At the peak of their success, I remember, I read an actual newspaper column about how a three-and-a-half-year-old girl who had been displaying nothing but autisticlike behavior for her entire life was watching a New Kids concert with her older siblings, then suddenly snapped into lucidity, grabbed her mother by the arm, and drawled out her first words, her maiden voyage into the English language, a fiery demand: "I want Joe!"—Joe, of course, being Joe McIntyre, the youngest and shortest of the New Kids. In the early nineties, he was probably singlehandedly responsible for more kundalini-firehammers of sexual explosion in the twelve-and-unders than Elvis and David Cassidy and Mickey Dolenz combined. All of the New Kids, at one time, had to suffer being regarded as Emissaries of the Divine or worse.

    I was once given a box of actual fan letters, left behind by a vacating fan-mail-distributing service, that were written to New Kids on the Block. These things were gut-freezingly weird and evil: they weren't just stacks upon stacks of love pleas from little girls, but bold propositions from forty-year-old women who had been sucked into the most terrifying brand of slavering fanhood by their preteen daughters. You could just see these desolate single mothers with posters of Donnie Wahlberg's shiny naked chest on their walls over the breakfast table, arguing viciously with their fifth-grade daughters over which of the New Kids was "more fine." Receiving countless amounts of these letters is the type of thing that would screw up nearly any boy under the age of twenty that I've ever known, forever—and just to prove it, I've supplied some prime examples from the collection that provide a fairly good overview of the bulk of fan mail in general.

EXAMPLE #1: The Pink. Faced-Teenybopper Letter

This letter, written to Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids on the Block, typifies a "normal," "healthy" fan letter. There were at least two hundred more of these, with minor variations, in the box.

    All spelling and grammar in this and the following examples were left exactly as I found them.

    All small i's in this letter were dotted with a circle.



    My name is _________________ and i am 17 years old! With this letter i have written 1,450 times "I Love You"!! Because i really do baby!! Not because you are rich and famous, but because you are Donnie Wahlberg!! You could be pour and not famous and i would still want you!! I got over 600 posters of only you, and i love them all! I think you are so cool! I love the way you walk, talk, sing, dance, well i might as well say I Love everything about you!! The other guys are alright too, but you are number one in my heart and soul!! I got everything there is on you!!


    I just want to say that you are the best and don't forget it!!

    Well bye!!

    Love ya lots

    Your #1 Fan

EXAMPLE #2: The Bored-Slutty-Young-Mom Letter

This next letter, also to Donnie Wahlberg, represents another cross section of fans whom I still consider "healthy," if somewhat squalid and pitiable:


    This will be the first of many letters. I am 26. + I also have two sons, one 8 1/2 and the other 4. My 8 1/2 bought a NKOTB tape. I admit I have heard your music before, I liked it but honestly did not think much of it. I saw you on that Disney special. I must admit, I really thought you were really tough looking. I have seen your tattoo it's a killer. I have two one one my left breast a rose on a vine. A butterfly on my back. I like to dance and stay in shape. Really only flaw, I can tell is that I am short 5'2". But dynamite comes in small packages they say.

    My music tastes tend to run wild. I like Patsy Cline, Tchaikovsky, but I also like Warrant, Great White, Bobby Brown + especially Def Leppard. I am not a blockhead. But I wouldn't mind having a blocks head. Get me. I know I am five years older. But you know the song older woman. Baby let just say, I'm clean + don't believe in screwing around, I'm to safe. One thing I hate is condoms. But I use them until I am definitely sure. I like the real thing. I wrote to you on kind of a dare, I just wanted to see if you would write back. I have a bet with a friend, its between me + her, + now you, I will have you, just one night if you can take it. I'm giving myself a year. If you do write the letter it will stay between you + I. It's stupid putting things in the paper. I am no teenager, but I know what goes where and believe me I can show you.


EXAMPLE #3: The Drowning Teen

Stop reading, all ye faint of heart. Herein begins the real squirminess. If you are a would-be teen idol, I hope you regard this letter with the same trembling and apprehension that Ebenezer Scrooge does when shown the tombstone of Tiny Tim:


    Hi. My name is ______________. I know you don't know me, but I really want you to pay attention to this letter. I really really need for you to know how I feel. Right now, I'll bet I can say that I'm your number one fan, and mean it. I'll also bet that I can talk to any New Kids fan out there, and none of them love you half as much as I do. Well anyway, about three or four years ago, I was a very happy person. Until I saw your cute little face on the cover of a tape that one of my friends had. Well ever since then, my life has been turned upside down. I mean, all I do anymore is think of you. I'm always miserable. I'm never happy. My grades have slipped rapidly, and every night I lie in my bed and cry. I asked my mom why the Lord made people so miserable. She told me he didn't, but he would only give you what he thought would make you happy in the end. She told me that I'd never get to meet you, because you won't make me happy. But I know that's not true. I know you'd make me happy. Very happy. I mean, you wouldn't even have to try. It would make me happy to wait on you hand and foot. I don't care if I never get anything else in my life, but I really really need you. Just to be a friend to you would bring lots and lots of joy to me. I mean since I've known of you, I can't picture myself with anyone else. I have no social life anymore. I can't seem to get you out of my mind long enough to even consider liking anyone else. My mom takes me to a shrink, but he's no help. He can't help me get to meet you. I really wish I could express just how badly I feel. But I've never been good with words. Or even writing them for that matter. I just want to take you into my arms and hold you and protect you from life's heartache and pain. I know you're probably never unhappy. I guess that's just what I want you to do for me. Sometimes I sit and think "Why am I hear." I feel as if my only purpose in life is to sit around and be miserable. I told my mom that I really want you to know my pain. She said he wouldn't care. But I don't think that's true. I think you'd care. Wouldn't you? I wish I could spend just one day with you. I know that's a lot to ask, but I've waited so long. When is it my turn? When do I getta be happy? When do I get to meet you? Sometimes I think that if I don't get my turn soon, that I'm just gonna give up. I'm gonna kill myself. The only reason I haven't already done it is because of my love for you. People always tell me to hold on to my dreams, and that they'll come true. Well to tell you the truth, I'm sick of hearing that. Of course I'm gonna hold on to my dreams. And I have been for a long time. But nothing's happened so far. I feel as if there's nothing for me in this world. And you're the only person who can change that. I mean just to spend one day with you. My best friend told me that I'd be even worse off then I am now if I met you, but again I know that's not true. Well I guess I shouldn't listen to what people say. I don't know, I'm just really confused about this.

    Well I gotta go. I'll write again.

    With Love,


(The signature is accompanied by a disturbing salivating cartoon head, with a talky-balloon that says "I Love You.")

EXAMPLE #4: This Woman Is Out of Her Fucking Mind

This is a genuinely unhealthy letter. On a fan scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the first letter example and 10 being John Hinckley, this letter is about a 7.5. I should explain that at the time these letters were written, the Gulf War was going on and the New Kids performed at the American Music Awards. Donnie Wahlberg shocked and outraged most of the flag-waving dolts in Middle America by brazenly wearing a WAR SUCKS T-shirt and sporadically grabbing his cock. People were really livid.

My Dear Dear Jordan,

    I went over and visited with my friend today. She was very kind and understanding. I took over the book Our Story [presumably the NKOTB authorized biography] for her to read. She is very strict and disciplined so I wasn't sure she'd want to see it. But she was just thrilled to see it. She wanted to know right away which one Jordan was. I told her the best looking one, of course. She narrowed it down right away to you + Joe, then decided Joe was younger than the 20 I told her you were. Now I see no contest between you and Joe. Joe is cute. You, on the other hand, are "Drop Dead Gorgeous!" I'm glad she isn't making any quick judgements.

    Sometimes I think she has direct lines to God. She sometimes just knows things ahead of time. She wanted to know how my job hunting is coming along. This is just not like me to be picking up and moving across country. She said that normally she would have been devastated by my thinking about something like that. She said she is totally at peace with it. Of course, she has been right here with me watching my children be abused by their father. Her own husband, our doctor, had to report the sexual abuse of my 9 yr old. Then together we had to watch the law protect him (her father) and destroy the files. They have suffered through this as much as I have (Me—nothing—my little girls are the real victims here.) I can do nothing to protect them. Yes—moving across country seems right. Well, God has given me the will. He's put you in my path for desire and inspiration. Now He just has to provide a way.

    I read in one of the teen magazines an article on the making of the "No More Games" video. It will be great to have another video. I can't wait.

    Oh, Jordan, I've lost 60 lbs now. I feel so good. We are going to the Y to work out at noon every other day. I need to lose another 40 lbs. My mom said that she doesn't want me to get anorexic. I wouldn't be the best I could be if I were anorexic. Besides, I finally feel that God is totally in charge of my life. I get scared and on real shaky ground at times, in fact, all too often, but things are just so different. No, things aren't different, I am different. I am different because you sneaked up when I wasn't looking and grabbed my heart. I was not ready for this. I'd have never been ready for you. I have to meet you.

    Dreams have a way of shattering for me. There are times I just don't think that you are real. Well, dream or real, I love you. I wish I could know you better. I can't believe how you make me feel. You said at the end of the Fantasy special that you like to make people happy. Well happiness was not a part of my vocabulary or life until you entered my life. Now I'm smiling and laughing all the time. I see you on TV or the videos or my posters and my heart just flutters. I feel all warm and wonderful inside. I've never experienced this before. I really cannot believe what you do to me. (for me).

    We are somewhat recovering from the Music Awards. My 7 yr old is smack dab in love with Donnie again. My 9-yr-old ignores it completely and surrounds herself with Joe + plunges into her books. She loves to read. My 12 yr old + 19 yr old are not so quick to recover. ____ is angry. She wants him out of the group and said she won't even buy any tapes of the groups he produces. Her brother backs her up. I'm working on them though. She adores Danny and I told her she shouldn't take it out on any of the other groups any more than she should blame Danny. Then I also explained about Donnie having a real problem with the criticizm. If your friend has a problem you don't just give them the boot. They are trying to understand, but I guess he is really going to have to re earn their respect. You guys are in such a tough position. I look at my little gal's joy over Donnie and I can't help but like him despite his outspoken, harsh nature at times. My point is that we are recovering and still loving you. Donnie disappointed me, but you, Jordan, have never been a disappointment to me. I love you and "I'll Be Loving You, (Forever)"

    Much Love,



(Heart drawn around the name "Jordan," surrounded by smaller hearts.)

    As you can see, the deep, widespread, and dangerous hysteria a seemingly inconsequential boy band can spread is absolutely staggering, and all the more depressing since the driving push behind the whole teen music deal is grotesque wealth.

    It is a swell deal: all a savvy promoter with the naked greed of a pederast Svengali needs to do is find some mildly talented teens all lousy with fresh libido and stuck in some lame section of America, promise them a bucking, eight-second ride on the Magic Bull of Fame, and he or she can forge a sensational golden windfall as long as the kid stays on. After all that happens successfully, the stars might figure out that they are giving 90 percent of their salary away to some carpet-chested cigar aficionado who tells them what they can and can't wear all the time, and decide they'd like to try their hand at "going solo," a career move that has only really worked, so far, for the perpetually drunk Mr. Whitney, ex-New Edition R&B guy Bobby Brown, and now for Ricky Martin, ex-Menudo boy. The managers of the new breed of band coming out must have a whole clause in the contracts that says when the boys are too old and fat for the metallic plastic jumpsuits, and have squandered all 10 percent they owned of their careers, they are not allowed to appeal to any human tendencies in the manager and beg them for more cash to get back on their feet. There ought to be a Child-Corruption Czar in government, maybe. Somebody who can keep the pop machine honest, if not clean.

When Malcolm McLaren, the coolest of all the evil music producers, did his puppetmaster thing back in the punk era with toothsome filth like the Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow, he gave the world the impression that everything going on in his sphere was a collaborative group art project. He was a good chef about the whole thing; he knew how to throw together different talent elements while retaining the individual flavor and charm of the players. Even if he managed them poorly or tried to stick his hand up their blouse every now and then, he didn't quite eat their souls. (Well, Malcolm may have been partially responsible for the debacle that was Sid, but Sid was arguably old enough to know better.) The saddest part about the whole thing is how little true flavor any of these new young lover-boy bands have; they're wholly inoffensive. They don't stand for anything, they don't question The System, they don't introduce anything challenging or new, even in the world of fashion; they're as instantly pleasing and comestible and forgettable as a bag of Funyuns, and they all taste the same.


What People are Saying About This

Greil Marcus
If the subjects of Cintra Wilson's loathing continue to appear in public after this book is published, it must be because they can't read.

Meet the Author

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Place of Birth:
Chico, California
G.E.D., 1984; attended San Francisco State University

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