"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 November 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Cringe Factor



Everyone blames Andy Warhol for

lowering the bar to fame. But

just as importantly, he said

that art was whatever you could

get away with.



It's easy to admire those of

magisterial dash, panache, elan,

and vision - Keane, Waller,

Cristaldo - but it's really of

Stelarc, Bonaduce, and Cringely

I want to speak.



Stelarc, who gouges fishhooks

into himself, then suspends

himself in publicly spectacular

ways, all the while referring to

himself in the third person

("the body"), gets much of

everything right. If you won't

commodify yourself, no one else

will, either (it hurts to be

pretty). Ritual scarification,

celebration of self-mutilation:

These are media value-chains.



Danny Bonaduce similarly

understands the value

proposition that there can be no

shame in self-crucifixion, if

done properly. Bonaduce, of

course, wrote his own 12-stepper

tell-all book about what happens

to kid stars who can't get a

life after television, and about

his own substance-abuse

problems. Problems which,

fittingly enough, led to his

arrest for assaulting a

transvestite prostitute. (An

event itself spectacular in the

implications of genderfuck,

white-male rage, and what it

means to be a whore.)



Later, on his radio talk show,

Bonaduce called in a message of

support to media jammer

nonpareil Kenneth Lakeberg.

Lakeberg, who had first begged

for money on behalf of his

fatally conjoined Siamese-twin

daughters, now begged for

forgiveness. He had dumped all

the cash the media had drummed

up into drugs, cars, hanging out

in girlie bars, violating

probation, and dining out. "If

they make a movie, I want to

play the part of the father," he

had said.


Bonaduce, seeker after truth, had

already discovered, and had

wanted to share with Lakeberg,

how hard it is to know what to

do and be yourself - if you

don't exist as the star of your

own movie.


Which brings me to Robert

Cringely, whose career as it

enfolds itself I remain ever

more in awe of.



I remember not so many years ago

(well, it was long enough ago so

that it was before the tyranny

of web weeks, but not so long

ago that it was in another

decade) his telling me that he

wanted to write a book that

would capitalize on the success

he'd made of Cringely. What

would the book be about? I

asked. That was less important,

he explained, than capitalizing

on the brand-name recognition

he'd achieved.


[Two People]

He went on to explain that the

time was long past where you

could make a living as a writer;

money went into production and

not into editorial; that you had

to turn yourself into a

personality; and if he was able

to sell as many books as master-

evangelizer-of-self Guy

Kawasaki had with "The Macintosh

Way", he would consider himself

a success.


This was the first time I had

heard the philosophy of

book-writing as loss-leader/


tape - which all wise authors

now take for granted.


What the book would turn out to

be was less important than

opportunities for repurposing:

If it was not a good book, a

truthful book, an original book,

no matter. For he was living out

the American Dream: As he said,

everyone wants to have written a

book, no one wants to have to

write one. And we all know no

one wants to read one.



Then came this year's lawsuit

over the use of the name

Cringely; never mind that Mark

Stephens was the third Infohell

writer to take on the Cringely

persona. He was the

marketing-driven entrepreneur

(find a need and fill it) who

understood what the franchise

could be: a way for a gifted

journalist, who suffered not so

little from R. Foster Winans

syndrome ("I'm as smart as these

jerks I write about; why aren't

I as rich as they?"), to cash

out as False Self. Genius! He

was just so much ahead of the

curve: He was already on to

making his avatar as

suprarealistic as possible. You

gotta hand it to the guy.



So when the lawsuit about who

owns the name started going down

this year, I applauded.

(Dealmaking and squabbles over

intellectual property are the

performance art of the '90s.) I

applauded louder still when

out-of-court negotiations began.

They are seeking an amicable

settlement, with an eye to

perseverate the link between IDG

and the third Mr. Cringe, rather

than finding any sort of justice

in the thing.


It's brilliant, you know, that

perfect '90s media moment: Your

competitor is your global strategic

partner is your opponent in a lawsuit

is who is responsible for your

fortune and we are all

in this together, no? Because it

means we've finally arrived,

gotten past the dinosaur old-media

universe, where common sense,

copyright, and a general sense

of what's right and wrong might

have applied.



Art is whatever you can

get away with.

courtesy of  Aloysius Gambucci