Tuesday, July 1, 2014

With pop culture comes great responsibility

I’m a small person who can only change small things, but 
that’s what it takes, because if enough small people change 
enough small things, eventually it will look like a big change, 
and that’s what we need. - Daniel O'Brien

In 2007 Daniel O'Brien wrote a novel called The Bartender and posted it for free online. On June 27th he announced his decision to remove the novel from publication. His reasons for taking it down are explained on his blog.

The novel is very impressive for several reasons: it's coherent and funny, it was written by a very young author and published online for the sheer joy of writing and sharing, and (maybe most importantly) it's told from the perspective of a hero who is aware that he's an idiot. The story is also flawed in several ways - it's not really so much a story as it is a grownup version of kids playing cops and robbers with all of the problems that entails.

The Bartender is adorable and inappropriate at the same time. It feels like the plot of a drawing on the back of a seventh-grade boy's notebook and, based on what O'Brien has said about the book, that's pretty much exactly what it is. The enthusiasm for the story and the palpable admiration of the author for his friends are the adorable parts. The inappropriate parts are the reasons that O'Brien has decided to take the novel down - the ideas that violence is the best solution to most problems and that women are meant to be used or not to be trusted.

I think O'Brien is making the right choice in taking The Bartender down, but I'm glad I got to read it before it disappeared.

O'Brien's decision to pull his book is based on the realization that he, as a creator of pop culture, has the power to either improve the world or to make it worse; his choice to take down this violent and misogynistic book is his acceptance of that power and his attempt to help the world be a better place.

I think that O'Brien is doing something important here and I want to take a moment to recognize that. Americans often spend more time with pop culture than they do with their families and so we should give a shit about what goes into our pop culture. O'Brien is just a little guy in entertainment - he's not a bigshot director, he's not a highly-paid actor, he doesn't have a five book contract with Simon & Schuster, but he is an entertainer and he's making a conscientious decision about what kind of an entertainer he wants to be and what he wants to put into the world and that's fantastic.

     - Alli

O'Brien, Daniel. The Bartender. obrienfiction.blogspot.com (now defunct). 2007.

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