Trilobite

“Before Softboi”

Sean Turner McLeod

All books should be red or white. Their titles should be opaque self-contradictions and their imagery should sexualise the familiar.

Matches are sexual---violent peri-intimate immolations and languorous plumes of spent affection. All books should have matches on the cover. Morrisons sells nothing but matches and books with matches on the cover, and there is always a queue at the self-checkout.

Beyond the cover, style-guides vary and decisions are (largely) left to the author, which is where the problems begin.

See: celebrity novels.

Not the glossed-out beach litter biographies (auto, being here, a fiction) coughed out by broken-down ghost writers who hate their subjects almost as much as they hate themselves, but the earnest cris de cœur of beautiful people who can't imagine anything worse than living in the obscurity of total cultural dominance in a single field.

Desperate entreaties from sad-eyed auteurs: I am more than the thing you know me for---these mansions and private jets and constant praise are the side-effects of a stopover in a much longer journey. You've saddled me with too much love and the least you can give me is a few quiet hours of getting to know my deeper side.

Guaranteed publication, granted best-seller status by default, these vapid tomes are just weighty enough to beat Barthes' brains out and resurrect the author as the medium.

With apologies to Ethan Hawke, the Platonic ideal of this type of celebrity, from whose ribs tiny Chalamets were planted and who may well be (as the dust-jacket of his most recent novel, A Bright Ray of Darkness declares) 'one of the most acclaimed artists of his generation', this is not a review---it will not engage with the merits and drawbacks of his prose because they had nothing to do with its arrival in the zeitgeist.

Ethan's publishers understand the value of a match on the cover as well as they do the enormous, bead-necklaced spectre of his face on the back, exiling the blurb to the interior where it is much less likely to influence the average shopper's decision to buy it.

The internet is now turgid with humanless art---hideous monkey placeholders that serve as unregulated currency and lichenous indicators of the basest consumer cynicism jostle with neural nets sifting and regurgitating alien fragments of the entirety of recorded knowledge. Meanwhile, literature by committee like this book with Ethan's face on it is itself becoming an anachronism (as are self-satisfied rants about it from much less successful writers). However, there is still value in confronting them.

Not only because, in the hypochondriac industry of Big Five publishing, which drafts its own obituary every few months before declaring record sales, recognisable faces are safe bets, hoarding the oxygen which might be given to new writers, but because uncritical support of celebrities is anathema to both creative expression and accountability.

On a small scale, this sycophancy might manifest a John Krasinski, so drunk off his hungry friends' approval that he genuinely believed a show focused exclusively on Good News during a time of abject global suffering was either original or necessary.

Left unchallenged, it grows darker: swarms of Peterson-reared quasi-mass shooters and Tumblr rejects proving collective action is a double-edged sword by setting a legal precedent that prevents abuse victims from speaking out, all because they loved Captain Jack Sparrow; alleged (obvious) rapists like Bill Clinton being rebranded as jovial crime novelists, sharing shelf-space with (the admittedly blameless) Ethan.

As the prevailing culture rolls corpse-like down an embankment to a state in which every creative space is invested only in celebrities and computers, perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to remove the reader all together. Every bot that can be an artist is also by obligation an audience and can therefore be a critic. Reprogramme Goodreads and the New York Times book review that said Ethan had 'a fluid storytelling voice and the imagination to create complicated individuals' by replacing the uncomplicated individuals in both with a code of universal acclaim; corral the wealthy in blockchains of unremitting praise and leave them to it.

They will be happy, and when the winter comes, we can all freeze in peace.