[21 April 2014]
McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, the brainchild of Dave Eggers, has been publishing witty, gust-busting pieces since the dark ages of the internet in 1998. When McSweeney’s published The Best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency (edited by Chris Monks and John Warner), they claimed to have mislead readers into “paying for a curated, glued-together version of what is available online for free.” Personally, I am thrilled to have some of their funniest pieces in an actual book, which you can curl up with and turn the pages.
The hodgepodge of absurdist musings that makes up McSweeney’s Internet Tendency relies heavily on parody. Some of the funniest pieces in the collection are those that appropriate celebrities. A good example is Michael Ian Black’s piece titled, “What I Would Be Thinking About If I Were Billy Joel Driving Toward a Holiday Party Where I Knew There Was Going to Be a Piano“. The piece imagines Joel doing exactly what the title implies while worrying that “some drunk jerk will yell out, “Piano Man!”
Similarly, some of the wittiest material comes in the form of fictitious letters to celebrities. Andy Bryan’s “Back From Yet Another Globetrotting Adventure, Indiana Jones Checks His Mail and Discovers that His Bid for Tenure Has Been Denied“ is a letter from the Archeology Department at “Marshall College“ explaining why “Dr. Jones“ is a poor archeologist. Among the reasons listed in the email for Dr. Jones’s tenure rejection are that he has yet to excavate any objects, publish any papers, and teach more than four consecutive weeks of class. Additionally, he is guilty of “unabashed grave robbing”, “desecration of national and historical landmarks“, and “repeatedly employ[ing] an underage Asian boy as a driver and ‘personal assistant’ during his Far East travels.”
Along the same vein, “A Letter to Elton John From the Office of the NASA Administrator” by John Moe informs Sir John he has been terminated from the astronaut program based on the lyrics to “Rocket Man”. Among his offenses are calling an astronaut a “rocket man”, acting seemingly high before takeoff, and complaining Mars was cold and “ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids“. He is also reminded by the Office of the NASA Administrator: “Your mission was not even going to Mars.”
Many pieces in the book combine classic literary works with contemporary culture, resulting in bizarre and hilarious mash ups. “Tripadvisor.com Reviews: Jekyll and Hyde B&B“ by Kate Hahn imagines the things that might happen in a bed and breakfast run by Jekyll and Hyde: things like mysterious groaning coming from the first floor and Jekyll having a hard time running a credit card due to his claw-like fingers. “Toto’s ‘Africa’ by Ernest Hemingway“ is self-explanatory, yet bracingly funny. “Hall and Oates and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern“ imagines what scenes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet would be like with Hall and Oates present. Just thinking of the four of them together in one room is amusing enough. Add in some “I can’t go for that“s, and it gets even better.
While the collection relies heavily on pop-culture references, there are also musings about everyday life that address things like unrealistic job opportunities, hooking up wifi for older folks, and grocery shopping. Wendy Molyneux’s “Hello Stranger on the Street, Could You Please Tell Me How to Take Care of My Baby?” is my favorite piece in the collection. As a parent, I can attest there is almost nothing more annoying than getting unwanted parenting advice, especially from strangers.
Molyneux’s tongue-in-cheek piece exposes the absurdity of some of that advice and the unbelievable willingness with which people will give it. She is able to pull this off, not by cracking the reader over the head with her aggravation, but by simple asking the imagined stranger in the piece ludicrous questions like: “Should I keep [the baby] in a bassinet or crib or should I let him just sleep in the yard, or the toaster?” and “He IS crying isn’t he? You are right. He’s probably hungry… Where do I put the food? His eyeball? His butt?”
The collection contains some of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency most loved classics. ‘I’m Comic Sans, Asshole’, is still up on the site beneath the “Popular“ heading. The essay, in which the Comic Sans font gives an imagined diatribe defending its typeface reputation, is a rollicking examination of that cringe-worthy font often found on signs advertising elementary school bake sales. “I bring levity to any situation,“ Sans says. “Need to soften the blow of a harsh message about restroom etiquette? SLAM. There I am. Need to spice up the directions to your graduation party? WHAM. There again.”
The 2002 hit by J. M. Tyree, “On the Implausibility of the Death Star’s Trash Compactor“, is an analysis of the “shoddy“ garbage disposal system that Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca find themselves caught in in Star Wars. It reflects on serious questions like how the creature inside the compactor survives the crunching machine and why the Empire doesn’t care “about reducing its organic-garbage output”. To further the discussion, the essay is followed by various responses written by readers who give their two cents on the compactor’s functionality.
One of the most well known articles in the collection is Colin Nissan’s ode to enthusiastic autumnal decorating, titled “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers”. The essay is so popular, it has its own mug devoted to it. When asked what inspired the piece in an interview with McSweeney’s, Nissan replied: “It wasn’t completely clear to me exactly how much I loved [fall] until I started writing this piece. It turned out I had some serious deadly autumn build-up.”
When asked why he thinks his article so popular, Nissan said: “I think it tapped into some closeted fall mania that lots of people secretly felt but were never truly comfortable expressing. It’s inspiring to see just how far the whole gourd pride movement has come since then.” Just take a look at Pinterest in September and you’ll see exactly what he’s referring to. (“A McSweeney’s Books Q&A With Colin Nissan”, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, 4 October 2013).
While some essays in The Best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency hold up better than others, overall, the collection is a riotous masterpiece. As an extra bonus, each piece is so short, readers can grab the book off a coffee table or bathroom counter and have a chuckle without having to be near a computer, which is always a plus in my book.