January 13, 2006

Wonkette's bad night in Boston


I went to see Ana Marie Cox, formerly of Wonkette, speak about her new book at Brookline Booksmith last night. It was an interesting experience, at least from my vantage point. From hers, as she might say, it was one long ass fucking.

My friend Berto and I sat down about 15 minutes before showtime. Near us were two older men -- Iíd say late 50ís to mid 60ís -- who began quizzing us on what a blog is. They had never heard of Wonkette; one didnít even own a computer. It turns out both just heard Cox on the radio that day, and decided to come check it out. After they said this, I looked around the room and guessed at least half the crowd was the same as them. I expected a young, hip, blogging crowd, but it looked more like an NPR event.

Cox came out, laughed as a bookstore employee introduced her, and then fielded a few silly questions about her experience at the now-defunct Suck.com and her presidential aspirations. I was a very Wizard of Oz-ish moment for me, having been a reader of Wonkette since its launch but never having seen Cox speak before. When you rip away the cocksure faÁade of the blog, sheís actually a casual, quiet-voiced writer. Iím not sure what I expected, but it was someone different. Someone with more swagger, perhaps.

A few minutes later, she began reading her book. I had a hard time following it -- not because of the writing, but because the bookstoreís speaker system kept fizzling and popping, vacillating volume every few seconds. Half the time, she sounded the way you might hear yourself if you speak with your ears clogged. Because there wasnít really anything she could do about it, Cox just plugged along. The crowd laughed at some of her jokes, so at least someone was able to pay attention.

Then came another round of Q&A, and thatís when things really went south.

It was clear that the people in the room had very different expectations of her: some saw her as a comedian, others as a political commentator. Most of the questions were about Wonkette (like mine and Bertoís), some about the book, and a few about politics and Washington. She gave surface-level answers to the latter ones, but that was enough to set off the people in the room who clearly didnít know who she was. Maybe itís todayís heart-stabbing political climate or maybe itís always been this way, but it seems that whenever someone appears to be knowledgeable about politics, there are people willing to challenge them to a duel to the death. Itís as if these people are desperate for a shot at the Washington establishment -- a sit-down screaming match with Dubya, perhaps -- and because they canít get it, they simply substitute anyone in some minor political role. Like, say, Cox.

The first nutcase turned out to be one of the guys who asked us about blogs before the event. He went on and on about some grand conspiracy he read about in which children were being procured for the winners of political races, and kept insisting that that -- and not the sex and booze Cox writes about in her book -- is the dark side of Washington. But he had no question. He just kept rambling as she attempted to respond, or to call on someone else, or to simply tell him to stop. Finally, he did.

There must be an art to deflecting people like him, but she hasnít learned it yet. I have a suggestion: She should follow the Jon Stewart model, in which he defuses political questions by deriding himself as a know-nothing comedian. ďI just make jokes,Ē heíd say. ďWe come on right after, I believe, puppets that make crank calls," he once told Bill OíReilly. It doesnít really work for him anymore because he clearly does know what heís talking about, but itís a card Cox can still play just fine. ďHey, Iím not a politician. I just write about ass fucking in Washington,Ē she could say. Canít argue with that.

More questions come. Once, the nutcase raised his hand and Cox responded by saying she only wants to call on new people. A few more questions. Then, a woman in the back is called upon -- and off she goes on a furious rant against elitists who forget that people in the Midwest are the ones who really keep this country going, and how theyíre forgotten, and how she perpetuates that, and, well, I kind of lost her after that. It was impossible to stop her. One of the bookstore employees even tried. So, Cox did the only thing she could: She said she had a dinner date and ended the event 10 minutes early.

She then signed a few books. Given what a lousy night it was for her, I decided it was best to forgo my usual awkward celebrity photo and instead just took one when she wasnít looking. (It's the one I posted above. If you're hungry for better photos, though, this blogger took some.) Berto and I waited in line to get his book signed. While she was writing, he asked her if crazy, vitriolic people go on rants at every event. She said they do, although that night was the worst so far. At one event, she said, she tried defusing it by making a joke about tin-foil hats. Suffice to say, it didnít do the trick.

Posted by Jason Feifer at January 13, 2006 10:52 AM


"he asked her if crazy, vitriolic people go on rants at every event. She said they do, although that night was the worst so far."

I've seen this consistently at just about every political reading I've gone to, though, you're right-- this was the worst, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was her appearance on Imus that brought them out in force that night. I think you're right in speculating that some people view any political commentator as a stand-in for whichever political issue they're agitated about at the moment. And tin foil hats just make the problem worse (http://people.csail.mit.edu/rahimi/helmet/).

But I bet someone could create a political-reading version of Hipster Bingo (http://www.christakos.com/archives/2005/08/next_time_youre.html).

Posted by Dean at January 13, 2006 11:31 AM

Will you post what you think of her book? I love Wonkette, but when I read the description of the book (part Washingtoniene, part reliving the Kerry campaign), I thought: bleeeeeccchchh! Why would anyone want to relive that? But I could just be mad that she is leaving the site. I don't want that robe guy replacement! Why was it possible for her to blog and write the book at the same time, but she has to leave to go on a book tour and start another book?

p.s. butterstick rules!

Posted by Amy at January 14, 2006 02:30 PM

Oh, she didn't blog and write the book at the same time at all. I can't remember the last time the site was written solely by her. There have been guest bloggers for a long time now, presumably so she could finish the novel.

I feel the same way about the book as you do, and so I'm waiting for a friend of mine to read it first and tell me if it's worth checking out. (If I do, I'll be sure to post the results.) She said her next book will be a non-fiction book about young conservatives, and that sounds way more interesting.

Posted by jason at January 15, 2006 12:13 PM

She's no longer with Wonkette? When did she leave?

Posted by Eric at January 16, 2006 03:27 AM

I'm often involved in these political events, and there's nothing you can do to stop these people. Sometimes I wonder if they have aspergers or something--they don't pick up on normal shut-the-fuck-up cues. The best thing to do is know who they are, and tell the author not to call on them. Poor Cox though! At least it'll give her fodder for a blog or book.

Posted by Amanda at January 17, 2006 10:45 AM