Media Monday: He's back! City Paper contributor loathes pretty much everyone
- (Flickr/Qole Pejorian)
Love him or hate him, freelancer Franklin Schneider is very good at what he does: pushing buttons. Which is to say, many people do hate him. But that, in the age of digital journalism, when stories are considered failures unless they're relentlessly debated (in the comments section) and shared (on Facebook and Twitter), is a valuable skill. If I were running City Paper, I'd publish his jeremiads, too. It's Internet gold.
The arc — or flatline, or descent — of Schneider's adult years can be traced by his occasional articles for the alt-weekly. In 2005, he lamented his "life among the cubes" as a writer for a technology company in D.C., concluding, "But you need that paycheck. You need those benefits. Your only hope, then, is to live in the moment, keep at it as an animal might, with consciousness tethered securely to the present."
A year later, he had become an unapologetic womanizer. In "Your Unfinished Basement or Mine?," he describes hunting women in bars with a friend, writing, "But as we met more and more women, we realized that we couldn’t fucking stand at least 95 percent of them. Maybe 99 percent. This was fine with me." It goes without saying that he slept with some of these women, their awfulness be damned. He was heartbroken; the world owed him.
By 2008, he was jobless. "I’ve been on unemployment three times in the past six years," he writes in "Doing More With Less." "Each time was better than the last, and each time I stayed on until the last cent was exhausted. I didn’t even try to get a job; it was a paid vacation." Again, he's remorseless: "Not only do I feel no guilt whatsoever about sucking from the state’s teat, I feel that I’m absolutely entitled to it."
Now comes his latest diatribe, last week's "Against Adulthood," with its 156 comments and counting. The first two paragraphs are fairly brilliant:
I recently found out, on the very same day, that one of my friends was engaged to be married and was expecting his first child, and that another had been diagnosed with late-stage cancer.
I felt terrible. Such a tragic waste of life. So much needless suffering. As to the other friend, I’m hopeful that against long odds, chemo can reverse the cancer’s progress.
There are other choice moments, as when he decries the "fetishization" of food, "the sanctification of something that’s going to be shooting out your ass in 72 hours." Schneider is at his best when he's cracking jokes. When he's not, though, he comes across as a bitter man-child so entrenched in unemployment, in professional failure, that the only way he can justify his way of life — his very existence — is to shit on everyone else's. Most of our jobs are "either absurdly pointless (office work) or actively makes the world a worse place (marketing, advertising)." Meanwhile, he believes being "a welfare exploiter ... does no harm." Wouldn't it be nice to live on unemployment benefits, which are funded by the employers of working taxpayers, and just write a City Paper cover story every few years? (No, seriously, wouldn't it?) If we all lived like Schneider, we would be citizens of a failed state where, for starters, unemployment benefits wouldn't exist; his way of life depends on ours.
That's not the only thing Schneider doesn't quite understand. He also can't fathom why anyone would want to marry another person. "Couples who stay together over the long run don’t seem happy so much as codependent," he writes, using one friend as the lone example. "In the end, the only rationale that strikes me as remotely sensible is that marriage is essentially a partnership whose purpose is to rear children." Which, of course, he also doesn't understand. These days, he writes, "the only thing more forehead-slappingly stupid than 'accidentally' having a kid is having one on purpose." That's because we "don't need kids like we used to," he says. "If you really try to pin a breeder down, they usually give you some garbled rationale involving 'the human race' or 'passing on their genes.'" Really? Then you have some weird breeder-friends, Franklin. I think many couples have children because it's an extension of their love, and because there's something profound about giving life to, and raising, another human being.
I'm a year older than Schneider, who is 33, and have no wife, no kids. I'm employed, but was was on unemployment for a stretch last year. (Remember when?) I can relate to the essence of his argument: that American society overvalues cohabitation and procreation, not to mention careerism. The difference between us, though, is that I don't begrudge people who value those things, so long as they don't try to impose them on me. Schneider, by contrast, feels that the very existence of these values is an imposition.
Schneider joins a long line of writers who have railed against the concept of "settling down." Christian Lorentzen, now a senior editor at the London Review of Books, did this much more effectively in 2010, for n+1. In what's ostensibly a review of the movie Greenberg, he writes,
Oh, the glory of “having it all” (career, spouse, spawn), a curious mantra whereby life is conceived as a series of choices: make the proper choices in the appropriate order, and you will have it all. Failure is a matter of faulty decision making, mismanagement of options, turning down the job offer (or record contract), dumping the girlfriend you should have clung to. On this view the only adversary an individual faces (besides, implicitly, himself) is time. Years pass, and the options dwindle until only two remain: seeking and settling. Seeking for the aged means running the risk of total failure; settling brings a decorous end to risk. The dichotomy affords the settled the privilege of gloating. More important, it denies the agonistic nature of life in a market economy. Individuals don’t simply choose, they compete against practically all friends, foes, and strangers, buffeted by the tides of history, and mostly they are defeated. The lie that goes by the name of “settling” disguises this defeat as a matter of choice.
Here, in a single paragraph, is what Schneider has been trying to say in the pages of City Paper for the past six years. And I don't disagree with the sentiment. But it's one thing to feel similarly, and another to disparage anyone who earns a living, gets married, and has kids. It's good for sparking debate and drawing clicks, sure, but that doesn't make his argument any more cogent. As one commenter wrote, "I smell a troller."
And maybe that's all Schneider is. Maybe he's just having a laugh, knowing how his barbs will rile the commentariat. But the tone of his article suggests otherwise; he seems dead serious. My favorite line from Lorentzen's piece reads, "The smug self-righteousness of the young parent knows no bounds." Few statements have felt truer to my adult life. But Schneider's essay has made me realize that the smug self-righteousness of the young, single, and unemployed man knows no bounds, either.
After the jump: The Post needs to chill out on all this innovation stuff.
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