Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Author
Thoughts on the Film Whiplash

Except he dumps her the instant he thinks she might get in the way of his success.

C and I watched the movie Whiplash last night. I know some people thought this was a great film, but I found the central conceit extremely problematic. Essentially, the movie says that, to achieve success in art, you must sacrifice friends, family, even life. The protagonist, Andrew, literally almost dies (and almost kills another person) because of his drive to succeed. And while I get it — yeah, we must Strive, capital S, for our art, the film’s message is toxic. It says that art is in competition with life, that they are antagonists. It says that to devote fully to one’s art means one must give up all other distractions. Andrew’s teacher, Fletcher, is the ultimate narcissist, so convinced of his own utility he is unable to see how his behavior literally destroys lives. (One kid kills himself because of the abuse he receives in Fletcher’s class, but Fletcher himself is indifferent, because he’s trying to “push” the students to reach their potential.) The film’s climax comes when Andrew walks off stage (apparently a failure) and then returns to play a drum solo of drum solos (wait, no he’s not a failure!), while a bemused and angry Fletcher at first frowns and then begins to smile as Andrew keeps playing (the student has surpassed the teacher; wow, didn’t see that one coming). We are supposed to cheer Andrew on, but it’s fucking embarrassing. Are any of the other band members important, these musicians who have devoted most of their lives to their music? The film says no. It’s only the Artiste, capital A, Andrew, that matters. Everyone else plays a supporting role in his one-man show. Andrew is the one who bleeds for his art (literally). Andrew is the one who abandons a traffic accident he caused to get to a gig (we are supposed to cheer his determination). He is the one who dumps a potentially great partner because she would be a “distraction.” He is the one who feels superior to his family because they won’t be famous when they’re dead and buried (and he thinks he will.) His father, played by an ever supportive Paul Riser, just watches from a distance while eating popcorn (as we are supposed to do), ever accepting of his sociopathic, narcissistic child.


Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that there have been times, when I’m writing, and I just want to hole up in a cabin in the woods for a week or a month or a decade and shut off all outside distractions and just do the work forever. But you have to come out of that cabin. You have to remember that you are never the sole creator of anything, that everything you are is the product of thousands of people’s labor (yes, even your art). That you are not the star of your own biopic, but one actor in a very large play that has been going on for a long, long time. I firmly believe that if you are Striving, capital S, to the exclusion of friends, family, and life itself, well, my friend, you are doing it wrong. Art is enhanced by friends, family, and life, always, always, always.

The Romanticizing of the Writer

The world is full of cliches of writers as drunks, addicts, horrible spouses, slobs, sociopaths, delusional freaks, hypersensitives, narcissists, hoarders and so on. And there are the cliches of writers as great lovers, wild adventurers, warm-hearted parents, magnanimous, free-thinking geniuses, etc., etc. The thing is, all of these are lies, cliches perpetrated by mass media, which romanticizes the writer as something one is rather than something one does.

If only I had a desk like him, THEN I'd be a writer.

If only I had a desk like him, THEN I’d be a writer.

We live in a world of images, and while this is a miracle (for example, imagine a person from a hundred years ago learning of Instagram), the nature of social media is just that: a world of images. When we log onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., we see carefully crafted images self-selected to convey a particular message. And because of this, it’s far easier for us to present an image of being a thing than to actually do that thing.

Parse that last sentence again.

It’s much easier to look like something than to do that something. If Sally Upstart Writer is looking to connect with the world via social media and the images she has in her head of what a writer is (images, by the way, Sally didn’t form on her own, but learned from the media she has consumed for a couple decades), then she will tailor her image to be what she thinks a writer is, because in the social media age, image is everything — you are your image. 

The thing is, what makes someone a writer is writing. Not images, not your clever Tweets or your Instagram pics or your Facebook shares. This is not to say those things don’t have a purpose. But when your social media presence becomes a substitute for actual writing, when you are externally validating your self as a “writer” by the amount of social media feedback you receive, you can be sure your narcissistic tendencies have taken over. 

I’ve done this myself and I’ve seen this behavior in others, especially those who are just starting out.

My advice therefore to Sally Upstart Writer is this: ignore everything you’ve ever heard about writers. It will be difficult at first, because you’ve absorbed all these images of what the media tells you a writer should be. But the only thing a writer is is someone who writes. All else is smoke and mirrors.


If you think this is funny, you’re a sick fuck
If you think this is funny, you're a sick fuck

If you think this is funny, you’re a sick fuck

So Jimmy Kimmel has this thing where parents film their kids as they tell them they’ve eaten all their Halloween candy. The kids wail and cry and generally freak out, and these classy exemplars of good parenting then send their video clips to Jimmy Kimmel, who selects among the “best” to air on national TV, for the enjoyment of millions.

Seriously, how fucking narcissistic do you have to be to intentionally hurt your child while filming them? And not only this, but you then send the clips to a national TV show to be aired? Not only do you get to laugh at your child, but now millions can laugh at your child with you. Parents think it’s funny. So do millions of people. But what about the kid? He didn’t factor into the emotional equation, did he? Not really. Most people said to themselves, “It’s just candy. The parents told their kids they were just kidding as soon as the video ended, a joke for TV.”

But did you see the parents say this? Did you hear their apology? Did you see how the kids reacted to being lied to for someone else’s amusement? No, you didn’t. All you saw were parents lying to their children in order to hurt them, while filming and laughing at them, and then sharing it with millions, who laughed too. 

Here’s the thing about narcissists, they assume their own thoughts are universal. In this case, they think it’s okay to intentionally hurt their child, because the candy isn’t really gone, and the reaction from the child isn’t really justified. But this is the parent projecting their own emotions onto the child. The parents would not react this way, so why should the child be so upset? But of course the child would be upset. And here’s the most disgusting thing: the parents knew how much it would hurt their children. This is why they filmed it in the first place. And to these poor kids, who haven’t developed the emotional capacity to know the difference between missing candy and a great tragedy, the missing candy is a great tragedy. 

I’m severely disturbed that so many millions of people see nothing at all wrong with hurting children for public amusement. But I am not at all surprised.