Gone Girl, MO
Gone Girl, a piece of sophisticated trash by Gillian Flynn that’s been turned into even more sophisticated trash by David Fincher, is a work of marital art that is also, kind of, just a really violent Preston Sturges film. The book contains sentences like ‘Ever since I’ve been married to Nick, I always wave to people dressed as food’; the movie exacerbates Ben Affleck’s doofus latency and has a cat that hits every mark. Taken together, book and movie are quite a perfect piece of pop entertainment that won’t change the laws of marriage in this country but shd, probably.
But the geography of Gone Girl, its American spirits and liberties, is what concerns me wholly. Like the good husband Nick Dunne, I am a Missouri boy gone coastal. I have yet to marry, but if I ever do and it doesn’t snow powdered sugar someone’s gonna have to cancel the caterer.
Seen briefly in two or three frames of the movie is a big bridge, spanning the Mississippi. Bridge-colored, it turns from Illinois into Missouri and back again, all day long, binges and travels overlapping. That bridge is not the one that haunts my dreams, but it’s close.
Unconscious, I have been driven over and off the bridge in question, have fallen from its height while bullets spangled off girders. I’ve seen the river lashing at its stanchions, opening its teeth for me. In the most horrifying dream of all, there is a flood and the bridge disappears short of shore, the car I’m in scuttling straight toward miles of underwater mud. I don’t know if it’s fear of drowning or fear of falling that motors these recurring dreams, and I don’t know who’s driving the car.
That’s me on the right; we are so #squad. Part of my childhood occurred in Carthage, which is nowhere near the North Carthage of Gone Girl, which is played by Cape Girardeau in the movie. Looks at Cape are never long; the movie is a collection mostly of the usual impeccably-lit interiors, and one overhead shot of a swimming pool the poverty of which made me laugh it was so dead-on Ozarkian. If that were a real pool in that part of Missouri it wouldn’t be Rosamund Pike floating in it, no sirree!
Cape Girardeau/North Carthage, is in southeast Missouri. Carthage is in southwest Missouri, near the convergence of four states—Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. I became a reader at the Carthage Public Library, but I had the first books read to me in Anna, which is just across the bridge from Cape, on the Illinois side. Anna is a palindrome, which cld be the name of any town in the saucer-flat Land of Lincoln. They are the same front to back: Normal IL, Skokie IL, Palindrome IL. If you are a kid there, you are a kid anywhere.
There in Anna, months before my parents moved us, a literal escaped mental patient murdered an elderly pastor. The latter’s body was found, bizarrely, in a tree, either a comment on crucifixion or just the nearest place to put it. In an unrelated case, I lived in fear of my next-door neighbor, who worked on his motorcycle every day. I got it into my head that this man wished me ill and I still believe it.
The mental patient stabbed the pastor 98 times after he, the pastor, gave him, the mental patient, a ride. They stopped at Wal-Mart so the old man cld buy fishing tackle. The escapee walked to a nearby apple orchard and took an apple.
The number of stab wounds was in dispute at the trial, which my mom attended. She sat near enough to the defense table to hear the defendant insist to his attorney that he had stabbed the victim only 93 times, not 98. The defendant was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity.
The real Carthage is a town so picturesque it has to be streetviewed to be believed. Its town square still looks adorably businesslike. Its courthouse, a Romanesque structure airy and poisonous as dark Disney, is the second-most photographed building in Missouri.
Carthage is mere miles from Carl’s Junction, site of a Satanic Panic murder that got a lot of national press. One of the kids had a wolf’s head in a net in his bedroom which seemed scary and was the point I guess. The point of its being reported.
But the only violent crime I remember was directed against more old people; a wealthy couple were kidnapped outside a bar in Joplin and found murdered a few days later. I might need a microfiche to prove it happened; Google is mum. It would help if I remembered the name of the bar, but it probably burned down, or was damaged in the tornadoes or foreclosed upon.
The house I occupied with parents and sibling, at 1117 W Olive, still exists but in a different color, and without the glossy chunks of petrified rock that littered the front yard. The public library where I read as if in a panic is copper-domed and gracefully-stepped; across the street is a park where I once rode an elephant.
The accursed bridge that won’t leave me alone was the Cape Girardeau Bridge, a continuous through truss bridge that lived from 1928 until 2004. Its replacement, which is the bridge in Gone Girl, is the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, a more modern cable-stay structure. You can see construction underway on the replacement bridge in the image below.
In the last years of its life, the Cape Girardeau Bridge had fallen into such disrepair that selected swatches of rust were reported as falling onto maintenance workers. Motorists insisted they felt the bridge tremble unnaturally as they drove across it, or they claimed to view shards of river thru holes in the road. My tenure as a toddler being driven across it, child as passenger, ended two decades before the Cape Girardeau Bridge was put down, so none of its symptoms could have reached me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel them, or that I don’t feel them still.
1. This is the part when I say I don’t want ya
Alt-lit is kind of the EDM of publishing: mostly monstrous with the occasional bolt of brilliance. Indie and emo have started to inform EDM even w/o the obvi input of Skrillex, and they always did alt-lit. But if half of Disclosure drew a rape charge, the boy would mic-drop his apology and everyone would just go off to Latch again. Tao Lin being the Skrillex of alt-lit, the same allegations against the latter are easily hypothesized. Picture a wrist red from slap. At least if s/he had a statutory beef with Skrillex the plaintiff wouldn’t write a series of stylized tweets all starting with ‘when I was 16’ and then delete them, probably.
Since writers think they’re better than everyone else in the most intrinsic, practical way, every flesh wound smells instantly of rot. Writers and editors are policed, behaviorally, better than any occupation[s] in the arts. By better I mean worse. Impossible consequences are imagined for writer-on-writer crime, which is unconscionable I suppose. Media is a flagellating form.
I never liked alt-lit. Never one to fully disappear into even a scene I felt seduced by, I always found the horizontal structure of alt-lit, not to mention its haptic dependency and native aversion to anything complex, slightly callow if not outright icky. Nevertheless, certain streamers of alt-lit, like the fact that it’s inherently quite good on Twitter, have slipped in thru some of my own writing’s ducts, and for awhile now I’ve found its air a lot cleaner than the clotty exhaust of most of the rest of the internet confessional.
I contributed to the For Every Year project, and there were moments over the years when I felt sort of quietly watched by alt-lit figures who would do things like fave a two-month-old tweet w/o following. My loathing of what I largely consider a useless product was at least, in the word of Anthony Lane, cordial.
Stephen Tully Dierks friended me on Facebook a few years ago. I only know this bc he was one of several distinct ppl/personas who linked to Instant Crush the week it dropped, and that song had a particular use that hasn’t been matched in the 18 months since. Melissa Stetten, the model/philanderer-hunter who’s kind of egregious tbh, did a Vine that was just her in a mid-traffic car, in the spring heat of LA, with the song playing and it was the newness of Vine, mebbe, that made it slightly electrified. I remember Ryan Hemsworth tweeted the line abt no one giving us any time any more, and that was it that was the spring of 2013.
A miracle of timing as much as it’s a modern classic, The Social Network launched the careers of Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, and Dakota Johnson. Geek culture’s crossover episode with that of frats would, as predicted, soon be extended to series. More latently, Aaron Sorkin’s script is an accidental capsule of emosogyny. Empires were always founded to get girls, but not always by boys who convinced themselves, and the girls, they were somehow not like the other guys. No matter how micro your scope or small your scene, it will always have men running around like ants who pretend to just want a queen. The beginning of the movie, when Erica (Mara) breaks up with Mark (Eisenberg) and he literally asks her if it’s real, is not the beginning of the character’s entitlement. When will we as cis-males ever get that not being a bro is not good enough?
It occurred to me rather cruelly while reading the trash/gossip over the last week that Dierks’ initials add up to STD. Or actually it was while in DM with a friend who had just matched with him on Tinder, like he woke up that day and decided it had been six days since anyone accused him of rape and he shd probably get back out there. I remember Dierks being credited as an editor at Thought Catalog back when I hated them but didn’t yet know why; I know if I suddenly found myself underneath or in bed beside someone like that w/o even his exact physical debits, I would characterize it as traumatic. A lot of male writers are not attractive, which makes them conniving. With them, sex is always a little bit of a con or ruse, a cyclical, Republicanic convincing of girls, girls who shd know better, to vote against their own sexual interest. Perfect geek-asshole hybrids, Dierks and his sincere ilk hide in plain sight, in their hoodies if not fuck-you flip-flops, putting a body of work before you instead of a body. Too often, it works. The boys of alt-lit asked their doctors if they were healthy enough for sex, and the doctors said well yes technically but will you ever need that skill? The most interesting seducers, Elizabeth Hardwick wrote, are actually rapists.
2. This is the part when I break free
Except for like an hour six or seven years ago, I’ve never really been promiscuous. When it hasn’t been serial monogamy, it’s been asceticism or anhedonia or other decisive lacks, a rounding-off of desire that stops at skin’s edge. I was lonely but I couldn’t let just anyone hold me. More recently I started thinking of casual sex as being bad for the brand, something you’d think these alt-lit dicks would give a fuck abt.
The point of all, by my standards, this autobiographical goo is that I’ve never been in a sexual scenario that wasn’t highly mutual, terms and conditions ironed out or understood way beforehand. Trying to get laid, in a way that isn’t non-concentric or that involves bypassing channels or doesn’t involve heavy vetting, seems so embarrassing I don’t know how dudes over a certain age countenance it. Which is whatever, but the modern interface seems so dicey and prolix and the climate so conservative I don’t know how anyone gets laid anymore, or even talks abt it. Celebrity nudes were casually discussed and/or laughed off when it was just paparazzi shooting Uma Thurman in her bday suit, running into some surf. Now they’re taken off the Cloud straight to an evidence locker.
If such a thing as rape culture exists, it follows that said culture can be appropriated. Looking at the transcripts and thinkpieces that suddenly littered the landscape of the Dierks/Lin controversy, a hostile mindset would divine from it all something like frustration—not that these hos ain’t loyal, but that they’re using language they possibly don’t understand. Terms like ‘he had sex with my body’ are clever and gain a lot of yardage but are so perfect they cld seem coached—not in the strictest sense, but indirectly or osmotically. Smart girls who read books and the internet know by now how they’re supposed to talk abt sex and consent. By definition the words they use are the internet’s own, not theirs.
I’m not saying women don’t always know when they’re being raped, or if they were. I’m saying they’re as capable as being glib abt it as men are. Women also make kaleidoscopes of logic to color behavior, can abrade a truth’s surface until it cobbles, can and do stick up for each other when it makes no sense, out of blind solidarity.
What we can’t have is boys and girls not much better than fetal-aged going around saying they know what rape is when they’re in no position to make that call. Adults are no better: they pretend rape as a legal term is an umbrella full of cracks that only permits rainfall on someone else. Rape exists endemically and can be named. But when its discussion starts getting down to a demotic level the definitions start to fracture, move inexorably outward. You can’t reverse-engineer a rape like it’s the nineties and you’re a studio trying to make the next Pulp Fiction. It happens in real time or not at all, and retouching real with more real is something pretty much only Robert Bresson can do.
There are as many ways to rape as there are dicks, but having bad sex with someone you don’t like because it’s easier than not and then calling it rape is another kind of misconduct. There is an epidemic of rape in youth culture/everywhere, and every epidemic has a panic.