Introduction & Part I: Adam & Eve Were the First Assholes can be found here.
Part II: Portrait of the Asshole as a Young Artist can be found here.
Part III: Dudes (with thanks to Ian Orti) can be found here.
Many of you have written and asked what it is that makes me such an expert on Assholes. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that I am an Asshole, and that the whole series is some sort of therapeutic exercise designed to relieve guilt, I suppose making me a Self-Loathing Asshole. To those people, I say: “Thanks for your care packages and angry notes. A signed copy of Distillery Songs is in the mail.”
I don’t have a degree in Asshole, but I do have an MA in English Literature and I apprenticed under an Asshole for many many many years, so until DeVry starts handing out certificates in Asshole Studies, I’m as close as you’re going to get. So in the meantime, please find below the next step in the Evolution of the Asshole, which journeys from the Big Bang to the Apostles to Jonathan Franzen: The Egotistical Asshole.
Part IV: The Egotistical Asshole
The Egotistical Asshole has been around as long as life itself. I’m sure that right after the Big Bang, our universe was having beers with the other universes and was all, “See how big I banged there? I bang that big every time I create life,” and some other universe was all, “Oh, I was banging that big centuries ago. I’ll probably bang bigger next week,” and some other universe still was all, “I know God. We play backgammon on Thursdays.” Whatever.
It may seem at first that the idea of multiple universes is out of synch with my biblical lineage model for the discussion of the evolution of the Asshole, but not so. Bishop Étienne Tempier of Paris ruled in 1277 that God could create many universes, and in doing so overturned Aristotle’s teachings on the notion of multiple worlds. That’s some Egotistical Asshole business right there, calling bullshit on Aristotélēs.
But where do we find the first Egotistical Asshole? As with previous parts of this discussion we look to the Bible, and as with previous arguments the easy choice would be to say that Jesus was the Egotistical Asshole. It would be a reasonable assumption, given that he embodies all of the elements of the Egotistical Asshole: vanity, narcissism, open toed footwear.
But the first Egotistical Asshole was not Jesus, but rather his three buddies in the back of the crowd whispering, “Fuck that. I mean, anyone can preach. I can preach. I know all this shit. I own a robe. I own sandals. I actually told him all this shit. I wrote half of this preach yesterday while we were drinking this wine that J made.” The three were, of course, the Apostles Peter, James, and John, who along with Jesus were the cool kids back in the Golden Age of new Christianity. The four were inseparable, an entourage before anyone even had entourages. They were the perfect quartet, the ideal number for a game of euchre, good young boys rocking Jerusalem out with their cocks out. Their parents were proud (well, maybe not Joseph so much.) When the four of them went to parties, they always snuck into a backroom to drink the good wine, not the horse piss vinegar that Jesus made from water. Then, we all know that happened:
“1And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. 3And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. 4Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 5While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. 7And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. 8And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.”
After that, Peter, James, and John should have just supported their friend. I mean, he just picked up a pretty challenging gig. When Freud suggested ego was born of jealousy, he must have been reading up on his Apostles, because instead, and even after becoming Apostles and getting some pretty decent press of their own, egotism took over. As Egotisitcal Assholes, they couldn’t or wouldn’t be content with their roles in early Christianity. They always felt they could one up their boy Jesus. Peter wrote two general epistles and some uncredited rewrites on The Gospel of Mark. John wrote five books of The New Testament, but none of them are any good. John’s brother James may be the biggest of the early Egotistical Assholes, changing his name to James the Greater to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus, who then became known in the community as James the Lesser who subsequently had his role in The New Testament whittled down to a few brief cameos and a ‘thanks’ in the credits. All of their efforts were self-congratulatory and behind the scenes they were always talking about ditching Jesus and going with a trio instead of a quartet and how Jesus’ efforts weren’t nearly as good as theirs, but he had a good publicist and just happened to be the son of God.
Peter, James, and John set the frankincense standard for the Egotistical Asshole by overstating and overestimating their intellect, their talents and appearance, and their importance in the grander scheme of existence. Throughout history the template of their egos has bred some of the biggest Egotistical Assholes: actors, people who regularly perform at literary open mics, Thomas Kincaide, Russians, sports journalists, people with more than 500 Twitter followers, and DJs (seriously, learn an instrument). To go through these examples chronologically would require a more space than I imagine you care to read, so to accurately illustrate my understanding of the Egotistical Assholes, I’ll offer a few contemporary examples.
The Enabler: Ben Mulroney
Benedict Mulroney had all the advantages a young Canadian could ask for: the son of a hated Prime Minister, a child acting career, good hair, but instead of maximizing those advantages, Benji chose to aspire to being the Canadian John Tesh (or Ryan Seacrest for you younger kids) on the insult to CanCon regulations known as E! Talk Daily. Now, I don’t know Ben Mulroney, but I have booed him while drunk at two in the afternoon on a Sunday during a Montreal St. Patrick’s Day Parade, so I think I’m informed enough to judge him. His aspirations make him the worst kind of Egotistical Asshole, because they’re sycophantic. He aspires to be perpetually next to bigger lights, to work the red carpet of life, to be Paul to George Clooney’s Jesus. Except he’s Canadian, so Jesus would be Tom Cochrane or someone who once guest starred on Corner Gas. And he perpetuates the existence of celeb-culture, which is so riddled with Assholes it may as well be called A! Asshole Talk Daily.
The Privileged: Kim Kardashian
Robert Kardashian has interfered with my life as a spectator of pop culture twice. Once when he got OJ Simpson acquitted of double-murder, and once when he decided to procreate. The man spread the seed of Asshole in so many ways. Kim Kardashian is indicative of a culture gone askew, someone who is famous for no reason other than the fact she comes from a lot of blood money, and people like Ben Mulroney cover her every waking minute with the psychotic reverie of a lovelorn twelve-year-old with the temperament of a Stephen King protagonist. And as a point of reference, when I say Kim Kardashian, I mean all those tabloid column inch filling rich kids who are somehow related to Bruce Jenner.
The Athlete: LeBron James
Most athletes are Egostistical Assholes from a very early age, but when James went on ESPN to announce which team he was planning on signing with as a free agent he took it to a whole new level. The ESPN gong show in and of itself would have been enough to make him The King of Egotistical Assholes. But he made other Egotistical Assholes blush when he spurned the good people of Cleveland (seriously, living in Cleveland isn’t bad enough?) in “taking his talents to South Beach.” Metaphorically, James had a girl fall in love with him, brought her to the verge of mind-numbing orgasm on a regular basis, planned a wedding that would make Princess Diana and Prince Phillip’s nuptials look like a drunken Vegas union, and when the priest asked him to say “I do”, he left the bride to elope with some dude in Miami named Dwayne. If there was a punishment that could be given to James for being such an Egostistical Asshole, it would be to live out the rest of his life in quiet consideration of his insignificance. In Dayton, Ohio. Watching video of Jordan and Kobe winning twelve rings between them.
The Writer: Jonathan Franzen
Franzen is on here because he’s the kind of hypocritical elitist writer that forces the rest of us to the periphery to fight for scraps because the general public can’t stomach the faux-intellectual artist bullshit manner with which he carries himself. Let’s face it, Franzen wrote two average books and spurned Oprah once and somehow came out the other end of it an Egotistical Asshole with a career. Franzen, to me, is the worst kind of writer because more than wanting to be a writer, he wants to be a famous writer, and one that feels it’s his job to distinguish between what is literary, and what is not; what is successful, and what is not; what is acceptable, and what is not. There is a fine line between confidence and Egotistical Asshole, and Franzen crossed that a long time ago. Recently, no one had spoken about him in a while so he came out against the eBook. But not even just in opposition, but rather he carved a border between those who embrace the technology, and elitists like him who shun it as slop for the masses:
“The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. And what’s more, it will work great 10 years from now. So no wonder the capitalists hate it. It’s a bad business model…I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience.”
Has this dude ever spilled water on paper? Does he know what happens to a paperback that gets dropped in the lake? At least I can backup my Kindle.
Franzen furthers the notion of the Egotistical Asshole in his continued hatred for technology and progress, an ailment which many writers unfortunately suffer from. Of Twitter, the Franzen wrote:
“Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose…it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters…it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis…Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’…It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium … People I care about are readers…particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”
Again, the attempt to distinguish between serious readers and those of us with our slack jaws and picture books, is unmistakably ego ridden, as is using the word ‘semaphoring’. But what makes Franzen the culmination of all things Egotistical Asshole, is his hypocrisy. For someone who does not like to “yak about” himself, he does a serious amount of yakking about some dude named Jonathan Franzen. Also, Kafka would have dug Twitter and would have been a genius within 140 characters, a level that Franzen has yet to reach as a writer, but has eclipsed as an Egotistical Asshole.
Franzen is the worst kind of Egotistical Asshole, because he hasn’t earned the pulpit from which he preaches, and worse, he has forgotten what is like to be in the crowd listening. And so Franzen represents the Evolution of the Egotistical Asshole, from the Apostles who were Assholes born of jealously watching their friend in the spotlight, to Assholes who crave the spotlight and find it, only to and abuse it in trying to make the crowd feel small and insignificant.