If one is given to fulmination (as I certainly am) then any random perusal of Slate will likely make one crazy, if not render one’s immediate surroundings uninhabitable due to the Cassavetes-in-The-Fury-like mess which follows exposure to any of the reliably insane stylings of – well, just about anyone who writes for the damn thing.
Slate’s been around just long enough to become a dreary fact of life, like Chuck Grassley or MRSA. And like MRSA, there is an ebb and flow to its primacy; the attack makes a splashy appearance (weeping skin lesions; William Saletan) then recedes into something unpleasant yet somewhat easier to live with (painful scarring; Jack Shafer) before metastasizing into something completely out of hand (necrotizing fasciitis; Dan Kois.)
Did I mention Dan Kois? Well, I certainly don’t have to – he and nearly every other logrolling hack online and in print will do it for me. He made his bones, of course, with the notorious Cultural Vegetables piece in the New York Times, which serves as the Koisian template, the grand Statement of Principles: metareferential comparisons of clever television and art cinema; guest appearances by his children; wheezy, vaguely misty references to his college days (University of Phoenix, perhaps?); trashing of formidable works disguised by glancing, aw-shucks, nice-guy rhetoric; all wrapped up, often, with a heartwarming paean to church and (again, always) children which is best read while blasting some Max Steiner on the Ipod. He covers God and Family like a champ – if he’d just branch out into Country he could become what he is clearly destined to be: an unholy admixture of Greer Garson and Jerry Lewis for the Adderall Age. And he likes charts. With arrows. Lots of arrows.
I don’t have a dog in this fight professionally. (I moved on from paid criticism around the same time I gave up feathered hair and enthusiasm for the collected works of Steven Bochco.) I’m way too busy raising my family (cue strings!) and not writing a book to harbor any grievance other than those regarding Kois’s rank puppydog-slash-lachrymose idiocy. Not to mention his sheer ubiquity. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this guy is EVERYWHERE. Pick up the Times to do the crossword and THERE HE IS, going on about YA novels and Solaris. Click on the football talk at Slate (featuring two knowledgeable guys, Stefan Fatsis and Nate Jackson) and THERE HE IS, going on and on about being jilted by his team, as if he were Emily Bronte suffering a fuck-and-run at the hands of a Deadspin staffer. I now fully expect him to pop up in one of those Witold Rybczynski slide shows, standing in front of the Bilbao Guggenheim, waving madly, wearing Mickey Mouse ears, a Sharpied lightning bolt on his forehead and a t-shirt that says I’M WITH STUPID. Only one that has no arrow.
Remember that charming MRSA analogy? Like I said, if you’ve got it, you’re stuck with it, in varying degrees of remission and explosion. Kois is never really quiet, but he must have decided to lie low-ish for the holidays before declaring that he is, like Carlotta in Follies, STILL HERE! The last few days have been a pip. This past weekend he started an epically moronic Twitter exchange about character inconsistencies in Contagion with the estimable Jennifer Ehle (how on earth did she ever get roped into this?) and, in displaying a third grader’s grasp of both dramaturgy and epidemiology, made a complete fool of himself. And yesterday he unleashed what may the Ultimate Koisian Epic, his Purest Expression, his Stately Pleasure Dome: a whiz-bang hyperlinked blogged-out message-boarded supersized all-access day-and-nightmare of – wait for it! – OSCAR COVERAGE.
I haven’t really taken the Oscars seriously since The Towering Inferno was jobbed out of a Best Picture win, so I wasn’t prepared for the level of gravity about what is, in the end, trivial fun. Slate’s always been bad, but this is an all-time seizure-inducing Circus Minimus of Nothingness, with DFK as its ringmaster-cum-hit whoring business manager. (I trust you, Gentle Knowing Reader, to easily decipher the initials above.) And he’s not only roped in anyone with a laptop, it seems, to join this, what, coven, he has, as is the latest fashion in bozo monetization, opened it up to the public. Win fabulous cash prizes (well, a gift card) telling Dan Kois your grand plan to save the Oscars! It’s all very vox populi, because, as Kois never fails to imply in anything he touches, he is, if nothing else, a man of the people.
So I figured, hell, I’m people, and I sent my own proposal for Oscar Night improvement to Slate. I titled it, simply and directly, DAN KOIS & THE CULTURE GABFEST GANG HOST THE E! RED CARPET. (I was going to subtitle it “A Fantasia on National Themes” but I seem to remember it’s already been taken.) Here it is:
DAN KOIS & THE CULTURE GABFEST GANG HOST THE E! RED CARPET
00:00 – Introductions. Kois, nattily turned out in formal scuba gear, sees Jamie Lee Curtis on red carpet and exclaims (!) his love (!!) for Trading Places (!!!) which TOTALLY should’ve been up for Best Picture back in the day instead of The Right Stuff, which was based on that bo-RING book by that guy who uses all the exclamation points.
00:18 – 15 minute discussion of Oscar snubs, centering on Harry Potter and Shame. Mention of the latter prompts Dana Stevens to lead the crowd in a chorus of “EWWWWW!” while Kois waves a flipper around, yelling, “I KNOW, RIGHT? FRAUDULENT, RIGHT?”
00:37 – Kois reveals trademarked “SUPER OSCAR MATRIX-FLO PIE CHART” with “Oscar” scrawled in crayon beneath a crossed out “Razzie.” He informs us, quietly and emotionally, “My kids helped me with that.”
00:38 – A Koisian frenzy of laser-pointing and cross-referencing Freaky Friday (“The remake!”) and Meek’s Cutoff is interrupted by two large gentlemen wheeling the corpse of John Ford down the red carpet. Stevens gamely attempts an interview, asking Ford, “So, who are you wearing?” and “What do you have coming out next?” Kois loudly notices that Ford wears an eyepatch (“Just like Mad-Eye Moody!”) and repeatedly attempts to get Ford to say “Horcrux” so he can retort, “You said `Horcrux`!” Ford cannot, of course, respond; Kois says it anyway.
01:19 – A parade of bo-RING global film luminaries enter the Kodak Theater. Steven Metcalf hails the arrival of A Separation director Asghar Farhadi. Metcalf, reading from notes, somehow pronounces the name correctly, if phonetically. Kois corrects Metcalf anyway, insisting the gentleman’s name is ACTUALLY pronounced “Fassazkaban Clooney.”
01:30 – More foreign filmmakers. The crew keeps things lively by positing an imaginary remake of 8 ½ starring Michael Fassbender. Stevens suggests to much I KNOWing laughter that the title necessarily be changed to “10 ½.” A trussed, gagged, and obviously drugged Jean-Luc Godard is introduced. Stevens refers to Godard`s latest film, loudly and eye-rollingly, as “Feeee-ILM Soshuh-LEES-MUH.“ The crowd takes it up as a mocking chant.
01:34 – Kois introduces Stefan Fatsis for a sabermetric analysis of the Best Song contest, even though there are only two nominees. This somehow morphs into a lengthy breakdown of the NFL playoffs, with gnashing and wailing about the untimely demise of Kois`s beloved Packers. The conversation then turns to a discussion of placekicker Billy Cundiff`s awful form. Kois invites Fatsis to demonstrate a point by kicking the immobilized Godard in the balls. Fatsis displays excellent form but misses Godard completely, instead kicking Kois in the balls.
01:58 – The long day at the red carpet closes. Backs are slapped, fists are dapped, and, off-camera, the E! executives beam. As Kois delivers the wrap-up, his thoughts wander… dappled finger-painted visions! Congratulations from good church-fellows on a job well done! A new pie chart exploring nonexistent plot holes in films that, to suckers, maybe, seem tightly plotted! A skyrocket to the top of New York Times (dare he dream!) EDITORIAL! With a staff of interns to supply him with gags (!) about that which lurks within Michael Fassbinder`s trousers – but classy jokes, jokes for the ages! (Because if it bends, it`s funny, but if it breaks – RAZZIE!)
2:00 – Repair to the nearest karaoke bar to watch the returns come in. A nice bottle of wine. A crisp vegetable platter. Then everyone draws lots to see who gets to sing “New York, New York,“ preferably at a nice even tempo.
Just the way it should be.
And that’s really all the mental effort I can afford to expend on the Koisian Phenomenon right now. I can’t help but notice the editors at Slate still haven’t posted that which was offered in such good faith. Huh. Perhaps it isn’t… contrarian enough. But we do what we can do. As David Mamet wrote before he went off the rails, I look down at my feet shyly and say, “Aw, shucks – just trying to level the playing field…”