A Massive Swelling

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In A Massive Swelling, columnist and culture critic Cintra Wilson is a ruthlessly funny pop culture barometer. Wilson gets to the heart of our humiliating fascination with celebrity and all its preposterous trappings in these hilarious, whip-smart, and subversive essays on fame." "Wilson takes on every sacred cow, toppling icons as diverse as Barbra Streisand and the annoying diva machine, Ike Turner and the squalid decline of rock stars like him, Michael Jackson and his freakish state, and Bruce Willis for ...
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In A Massive Swelling, columnist and culture critic Cintra Wilson is a ruthlessly funny pop culture barometer. Wilson gets to the heart of our humiliating fascination with celebrity and all its preposterous trappings in these hilarious, whip-smart, and subversive essays on fame." "Wilson takes on every sacred cow, toppling icons as diverse as Barbra Streisand and the annoying diva machine, Ike Turner and the squalid decline of rock stars like him, Michael Jackson and his freakish state, and Bruce Willis for obvious reasons.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670891627
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • Publication date: 7/17/2000
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Cintra Wilson
Cintra Wilson has made her own fame with her sendups of pop culture, from her popular Salon columns to her debut novel Colors Insulting to Nature -- a brazen, biting take on the celebrity scene that caused the San Francisco Chronicle to crown Wilson as "the Dorothy Parker of the Cyber age."

Good To Know

Some outtakes from our interview with Wilson:

"The last ‘real job' I had was when I was a Jagermeister Shot Nurse at a nightclub in San Francisco. I had a reclining dentist chair and a bedpan full of Jagermeister and a large irrigation syringe, and I would wear bondage-style nurse attire and shotgun blasts of Jagermeister down people's throats for $2. Most of the shot usually ended up being dribbled down their shirts."

"I have ADD, so I really couldn't read books until I was around 28, and medicated. Until then I mostly read comic books: Edward Gorey's stupendous Amphigorey and its sequels; Love and Rockets by Los Bros. Hernandez, Eightball by Dan Clowes, all of Lynda Barry's books, plus truckloads of Mad magazines and National Lampoons from the 70's and 80's. A friend of my dad's gave me all the Mad magazines -- a huge box of them, starting with Issue #1 and going all the way up chronologically until 1972. I adored them and read them every day and worshipped them and then one day I got home from school and my mother had thrown them away because she said they made me ‘too much of a smart-ass.' I like to torture her now by telling her how much they would be worth today on eBay, and how I will be denying her that dollar amount in future emergency medical expenses when she is dependent on me.

"My marriage recently dissolved, so Benicio, baby, I got an oiled bear rug and a bottle of Cold Duck and a with your name on it. Grr-wow. Come to Mami."

"I truly love miniature golf. And never stand between me and the karaoke machine."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      G.E.D., 1984; attended San Francisco State University

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.


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Table of Contents

Statement of Intent, or How to Read This Book Without wanting to Hurt the Author
Pt. 1 The Heart-Touching Magic of Music
1 Cock Rock for the Twelve-and-Under: Little Girls and the Unhealthy Way They Love 3
2 Championship Karaoke: Singing to Win 29
3 Jacko, the No-Nosed Man from Motown (A Morality Fable) 39
4 Las Vegas - The Death Star of Entertainment 50
5 The Shipwrecks of Rock 62
Pt. 2 I Feel Pretty
6 Only the Cute Survive 77
7 Women in Sports 93
8 Jump Through the Flaming Tire, Honey...Thatta Girl 109
Pt. 3 L.A. Is My Lady
9 As a Dog Returneth to Its Own Vomit, So Doth L.A. 123
10 Crossing Boundaries: Towards a New Hermeneutics of Dumb Pimps Like Bruce Willis 144
11 Hi-Diddly-Dee, an Actor's Life for Me: Brown Dwarfs and Hungry Ghosts 158
12 You Will Now Watch the Hollywood Awards Ceremony 173
13 The Two-Headed Calf 196
Pt. 4 Orchestra Tickets to Grief
14 A Few Short Words on the Literary Life 209
15 Mein Uberkampf: The Unfair Distributions of Cash and Joy in the World 213
16 A Composer, a Director, a Writer, the Greatest Band in the World, 3 Movies, 2 Surfers 228
Acknowledgments 229
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Interviews & Essays

Barnes & Noble.com: When did you start writing? I first read you in 1997 in Salon, and I felt at the time like I must have been missing out on your work for years.

Cintra Wilson: I started in San Francisco as an underground theater playwright/actor. I had a lot of fun and got some attention for doing rowdy, no-budget, late-night theater stunts. I was working with some really talented art-weirdo pals -- blow-up dolls, fake blood, raw meat, etc. From there I got tapped to do more legit theater. Out of starvation, I used my semi-notoriety to worm my way into writing a regular column: "Kiss My Essay" for a really dumb, "hip" San Francisco rag-mag called Frisko. Eventually, Gary Kamiya (of Salon fame -- he also started at Frisko) asked me to write a piece for David Talbot, who was then the head of the San Francisco Examiner Sunday magazine. I did a special piece for them about UFO's, and they ended up offering me a subversive advice column (which I still have: "Cintra Wilson Feels Your Pain," every Friday). When they left to form Salon, they invited me along. I have since been published in Esquire, Men's Journal, Utne Reader, Paper, Surfer.... I just wrote an article for Rolling Stone, which I hope they run.

B&N.com: One of my favorite pieces of yours from Salon is the one in which you recount your ultimately doomed efforts to write for Mademoiselle magazine.

CW: Sweet Christ, I hate those people. They tried to cut my balls off. That was so miserable: Write an article about how to remain friends with your ex-boyfriend! And I figured I could, because I was friends with all of my old boyfriends. I can't remember what I said -- something truthful, like, "Keep some sexual tension in the friendship, dress like a sauce bucket when you see them, and act like you might sleep with them again someday...." The editor kept telling me the article just wasn't "Millie." The more I understood about "Millie," the more I realized that "Millie" was a 112-pound, 19-year-old, massively insecure nitwit who liked angora sweaters, Secret roll-on antiperspirant, feminine deodorant spray, and who might be threatened by anything more sinister than a colorful bath sponge. They changed my language, and that makes me ballistic -- I turn into a monster, I rant and cry. Finally we came to an impasse, and they gave me a kill-fee to go away and never darken their door again.

B&N.com: Your book confronts the ways in which our culture worships celebrity. Do you think nonindustry people who live in cities such as New York or Los Angeles view celebrities differently than people in other places view them?

CW: Yeah, I think in places like L.A. or New York, celebrities are regarded as a kind of exciting vice. Seeing a celeb in your restaurant is like finding a vial of cocaine in a taxicab: It gives a dirty little thrill. In places where celebs aren't commonplace, they are treated with more slobbering awe and reverence. I think a lot of middle Americans labor under the delusion that famous people are truly great in some way.

B&N.com: Have you spent much time in Los Angeles?

CW: I spent a year there. L.A. is really a horror show -- everybody knows they are blowing Satan's dog, and they know everybody else is too. And everybody plays along like it is the greatest thing that anyone can possibly be doing with their lives. If you contest this value, you are unceremoniously driven out of the playpen. You have to enable the L.A. game and like it, and nobody really likes it -- everybody lies all the time and takes antidepressants.

B&N.com: I had read on Salon your opinions about Courtney Love's physical transformation, and I was happy to see you address this topic in Massive Swelling. You write: "Courtney revealed herself to be, instead of a loud, angry girl with ideas, a vain sociopath who venally choked enough money out of the world to transform herself into a 'pretty lady'."

CW: Courtney always had that thing that Andy Warhol said Bette Midler had -- something like, "She'll be famous, for sure. She's desperate enough." She was going to carve her own face in the pop landscape or perish. Unfortunately, she had to carve up her own face to do it. Sadly, the girls who stick to their guns (and their own faces) looks-wise mostly get left behind and/or never achieve the kind of über-success that ol' Courtney snaked for herself. There are some non-beauty-slave musician chicks that can wield a pretty good pop focus: Chan Marshall of Cat Power, Kim Gordon (but she's already pretty gorgeous in a blue-blood kind of way), PJ Harvey.... But still, they're all ghettoized into little dark corners of the record store while Mariah f**king Carey and her airbrushed groin spread eagles over every city in America on rainbow-colored billboards. Don't get me started. I think we could probably save American radio by simply banning any female singer who ever slept with Tommy Mottola.

B&N.com: Massive Swelling takes an interesting look at the rise of "legitimate" women's sports. What do you think of two recent phenomena related to female athletes: the Brandi Chastain sports bra moment and also the loud cultural obsession with Anna Kournikova?

CW: I liked Brandi Chastain's bra moment because she wasn't thinking about it; it was a natural act of heat and exuberance, and the people that wanted to make it more than that are pretty lame and craven and hard up. But she's a sexy sport-chick, and there were bound to be repercussions. Anna Kournikova, on the other hand, is a laughable 'ho. She does bra commercials and never wins a single tournament. A total joke. She'll end up jump-starting her sports career in a couple of years by forgetting to wear panties at the French Open or something.

B&N.com: You write that Madonna has "indirectly or directly" influenced your life more than any other celebrity. How so?

CW: I was a 15-year-old poseur skate-punk when "Borderline" came out, and I realized that Madonna answered all of my persona needs -- the punky-slutty style, the physical fitness, the infantile brattiness and showboaty "look at me!" braggadocio. I was already halfway there, and Madonna pushed me over the edge, i.e. back into jazz dance class and tube skirts. After Madonna, I wasn't afraid to rock out with my cock out, no matter how many of the other girls laughed at me. She was always kind of a watermark of feminine achievement for me.

B&N.com:: While your writing is often vicious, you avoid seeming bitter because your humor triumphs over anger. Is comedy important to you?

CW: I was almost a stand-up comic. I won the "Mug Root Beer Junior Comedy Competition" two years in a row when I was 15 and 16. Then I lost interest and went into theater. I like to think my writing is funny. Generally the stuff I think is funniest is the stuff nobody else likes, and the stuff I'm really worried about turns out to be my best work ever.

B&N.com:You insult many a "sacred cow" in this book. Do you think some readers might be appalled to read your evisceration of stars such as Celine Dion or Jack Nicholson?

CW: Har har har. The truth is ugly, ya pansies. You know where you can stick your Celine CDs.

B&N.com: One celebrity you don't attack here, who is a favorite punching bag for many, is Gwyneth Paltrow. How has she escaped your laser vision?

<<b>CW: She's got a job to do: pretty American vanilla blond movie star, and she does it okay. She's...boringly okay. She doesn't seem terribly vital to me. Sort of robotic retread of used Grace Kelly DNA. A fax of a fax. She slips under my radar by being unsingular. Meg Ryan, on the other hand, needs to be reduced to a lifelong job of rending bloated livestock corpses. The smirky-cute-smart-tousle-headed-girl-next-doorness of her makes me retch. I don't buy it. I hope Russell Crowe isn't really tanking her. It would break my heart.

<<b>B&N.com: As obsessed as our culture is with celebrity, it is equally consumed with the notions of coupledom and marriage. What do you think of the recent popularity of books and television shows about professional, urban women looking for love -- Bridget Jones's Diary, Sex in the City, etc?

CW: To be frank, I know it's out there, but I never look at it or think about it. To me, it seems like Harlequin Romance fiction in the post-Madonna era -- same "lookin' fer love" content, but from a slightly sleazier (yet acceptably mainstream) perspective. Bodice-ripper shtick, except now the women are vaguely more aggressive instead of waiting around demurely for the square-jawed guy in the pirate blouse to drag them into bed. Wake me when urban women on TV are acting more like Jean Genet.

B&N.com: Any words of advice for those afflicted with celebrity obsession?

<<b>CW: Dig for worms, do anything but watch TV. Quit being so polite and passive when the media ramrods human products down your throat. Engage in discovering things that are really interesting -- whatever is too weird or profane or filthy to be very popular. Make it a point of pride to like things that nobody else likes or has ever heard of. Be more iconoclastic. Criticize loudly. Boycott anything with too much advertising.

B&N.com: What's next for you?

CW: Hollywood, baby. Screenplays. If I have to suffer the ubiquity of pop culture, I'm at least going to try to cash in and/or make it just a teensy bit better.

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