During my month-long vacation in the U.S., one of my pleasure reads was Chuck Klosterman’s Eating The Dinosaur. This was the first Klosterman book I’ve read and I found it highly digestible and somewhat addictive, finishing it in three quick sittings over two days. After an excellent essay on Ralph Sampson, my other favorite bit was a short section that felt like an interstitial joke where he prints a series of public apologies from various high-profile celebrities for various inane misdeeds without any contextualization at all. For example, here’s Plaxico Burress, the New York Giants wide receiver who accidentally shot himself in the leg with an unlicensed gun he was carrying in a nightclub:
First of all, you people probably don’t know anyone who’s been shot. I, however, know lots of people who’ve been shot. I know lots of people who claim they want to shoot me, and some of those people are technically my friends. So that’s why I carry a gun. Second, you people probably trust the government, and you probably trust it because your personal experience with law enforcement has been positive. I’ve had the opposite experience all my life. I’m afraid of the government. I’m afraid of the world, and you can’t give me one valid reason why I shouldn’t be. So that’s why I did not apply for a gun license. Third, I shot myself in the leg, which is both painful and humiliating. What else do I need to go through in order to satiate your desire to see me chastised? The penalty for carrying an unlicensed weapon is insane. How can carrying an unlicensed firearm be worse than firing a licensed one? I broke the law, but the law I broke is a bad law. Would you be satisfied if the penalty for unlawful gun possession was getting shot in the leg? Because that already fucking happened!
This is awesomely looney and yet strangely persuasive at the same time, right? The section as a whole is kind of silly, but it also plugs into some larger, recurring themes. Like David Foster Wallace, Klosterman seems to worry a lot about the idea that it’s almost impossible nowadays to relate to other people in an honest and unselfconscious way. Fame and celebrity therefore naturally come up in his writing a lot as nothing involves more examples of people acting in a dishonest, calculating fashion towards one another. Klosterman seems to say that there’s something inherently really screwed up about any dynamic where one person is being observed by either an individual or public that doesn’t actually know the person in question. The asymmetric nature of the observation leads to all sorts of bizarre assumptions, expectations and distortions that eventually result in the convoluted spectacle of one person ‘apologizing’ to a group of people whom he or she doesn’t know from adam.
Eating The Dinosaur is a great read– given the choice, there’s only one thing I would change about the book if I could, and that would be to add the public apology of German artist Jörg Immendorff to this section, as I think it’s the greatest such ‘apology’ I’ve ever heard about.
Immendorff was one of the most successful post-War German painters, an artist who had practically become the patron artist of the city of Dusseldorf by the early 2000s (I only know about this story because I happened to be traveling in Dusseldorf in 2003 right after it happened and was told about it by friends who lived there). He even designed Dusseldorf’s Monkey Island, a kind of tiki beer garden island in the middle of the city that exemplifies the phony exoticism beloved by Germans (the music of Manu Chao being another such instance). Immendorff had also drawn some attention for marrying a model 30 years his younger who looks more or less like Kobe Bryant’s wife.
Then, in 2003, the 57 year old was caught in a hotel with a bunch of cocaine and seven prostitutes. Plus, four more prostitutes on the way. Scandalized, the citizenry of Dusseldorf demanded a public apology. Cantankerous and unrepentant, Immendorff released an awesomely defiant statement where he insisted that the matter was between him and his wife and nobody else’s business:
“My wife knows how much I love her. Sometimes I have to live out an Orientalism that has nothing to do with that.”
As my friend likes to tell it, a tidal wave of ‘Orientalism’ naturally swept over the city of Dusseldorf on the heels of this kick-ass justification. It also provided a fine running joke for the rest of my stay there: ‘Who’s up for a little Orientalism?’ someone would ask when it was time to go hit the town in the evening. I only hope I have the presence of mind to invoke it as a cover for whatever debauched misdeed I might commit down the line.