Thursday, March 5, 2015
Ephemera: A Few Thoughts About Satire, Entirely Witless
Wine is a relatively finite subject, especially when it comes to satire. There just aren’t that many things to lampoon, really. Consequently, much of what I write revolves around the people involved in wine. The reactions I get can be fascinating.
To begin with, I often wonder why anyone reads what I write at all. I can’t. The hardest chore I’ve ever had on HoseMaster of Wine™ was selecting past pieces for “Best of HoseMaster” (a wondrous oxymoron). I’d sit at the computer and cringe while I read old posts, give my sphincter a world-class workout. I’m not especially proud of my work; I just feel driven to write. Were it not for the Internet, and the existence of blogs, I probably wouldn’t be writing wine satire at all. It’s hard work, and takes up a considerable amount of my time. But over and over I think, someone has to do it, someone has to hurl a bit of truth, in the form of satire, at all the pompous blowhards and tired pretenders that dominate the wine business, burst all the pretentious bubbles that litter the wine terroir. So I do it. I was fully aware when I started HoseMaster that there would be a price to pay. I don’t mind. It comes with the territory.
When I was first writing HoseMaster, I tended to go after the gigantic pool of numbskulls writing other wine blogs. It was too easy. I look back now and see that period as a time when I was loosening up, like a pitcher tossing a baseball softly in the bullpen. When I finally got into the game, I went after bigger opponents—famous wine writers and publications, famous winemakers, whoever seemed to me to be full of crap. That’s when things got interesting.
It reached a point where it became something of a weird badge of honor for someone to be insulted or mocked by the HoseMaster. That’s all good, that means I’m doing something right. Some took it well, others did not. I’ve had one pompous walrus refuse to shake my hand. I’ve been verbally assaulted more than once. I’ve received some pretty nasty hate mail (I love those). And what I began to realize was that the best course of action was to completely ignore the real jackasses. Not from fear, not from intimidation, but rather from understanding that it’s the smallest people who get angry at pointed satire aimed at them, it’s the least talented and the dullest who take offense, who don’t have the wits to understand that a person who is voluntarily in the public spotlight is fair game. And my intent wasn’t to lambaste the small people, the pretenders with a modicum of talent, those morons, but to have fun with the important people in the business. So those small people have vanished from these pages. And, in my view, my work has gotten a little better.
I love what I do. It doesn’t take courage, but it takes a certain fearlessness to write satire. As well as the ability to let anger bounce off of you. What’s hilarious to me is that almost every bit of hate mail I’ve ever received (and this goes back to when I was younger and writing comedy) is exactly the same. Being the butt of a joke takes a lot of emotionally insecure folks back to their playground days. Almost every single letter reads something like, “You’re not funny. Nobody thinks you’re funny. Who told you you were funny? You’re just an asshole, a bully. Why can’t you say nice things? What you do isn’t funny at all, and I’m never going to read you again.” I never respond. There’s really nothing to say.
I do try to be fair, in the sense that satire can be fair. But that’s not my first consideration. My first consideration is to try to be funny, to make my audience laugh. I’m alone here behind this screen, and I can’t hear any laughter. I only hear the voice in my head, the HoseMaster, or maybe Lo Hai Qu. I cannot hear any reactions. But the one thing I do know about satire is that satire is intended to go too far, to push the reader’s taste limits, to tiptoe up to the lines we’re not ever supposed to cross, the line where laughter becomes cruelty, where funny becomes crass, and toe those lines mercilessly until that line is erased. And in doing so, we all become a little more human, a little more aware of our own foibles, and the foibles of those who seem more powerful or more successful than we. Laughter is the great equalizer. I express my anger, and I have a lot of it, through comedy and satire, and if I make people laugh, that soothes my rage. For a moment. And then it’s back.
I’ve been lucky. People like Tim Atkin MW and Charlie Olken and Lettie Teague, even Robert Parker, people with actual clout and reputation in the business, have been surprisingly supportive of my work. I never could have foreseen that, nor does it feel deserved. Satirists are judged by their detractors, and their advocates. I can proudly look at my lists and say that my advocates are far more impressive humans than my legion of detractors. Thanks for that.
Some mornings I spend a little time cruising around the Intergnats looking for inspiration or ideas. Primarily, it’s a way to waste an enormous amount of time. I try to view it as meditation. I have trouble emptying my mind, but reading wine blogs is a great way to deaden it. In order to navigate the thousands of wine blogs out there (does anyone know how many wine blogs there are?—my guess is there are thousands, with at least as many abandoned ones as active), I read compilation sites, like WineBusiness.com or Terroirist. But, lately, Terroirist is worthless. Or more worthless, depending on your point of view.
I did notice that David White has stopped doing the compiling on his site, and turned the job over to Shelby Vittek. If I’m not mistaken, and I may be, Shelby was 1WineDoody’s intern, and, thus, the inspiration for Lo Hai Qu (something Shelby should have on her resumé). So I owe her one. But since Shelby has taken over, the recommended blogs on Terroirist are of the most mundane variety. This trend may have begun before Shelby took over, I don’t know, or care. However, every day the recommendations are from the same tired sources—it’s always Jancis, or something edited-to-death on Wine Searcher, or the latest Blinky toss-off, or something from Wine Spectator or Wall Street Journal. In my mind, Shelby is phoning it in.
There are a lot of hard-working, if marginally talented, bloggers out there screaming for some attention. Screw them. There, also, must be some talent out there that could use some hits. Not that many hits—I can say that when Terroirist cites HoseMaster of Wine™ I average about an extra 50 hits (though I’m guessing I can say goodbye to that after this post). I get far more interesting leads from Lewis Perdue’s Wine Industry Insight daily newsletter—but I don’t expect anyone else to be as industrious and wade through as much manure as Mr. Perdue. It’s like he’s biodynamic. Just try a little harder, Shelby. Lettie Teague and Jancis Robinson MW don’t need your “clout.” Reading Terroirist lately is like playing the same Greatest Hits of the 60’s album over and over and over… Even your favorite song starts to make you sick.