for 16 May 1996. Updated every THURSDAY.


Ego Sum Wrecks

Liars, cheats, and scoundrels,
or "Why didn't I think of that?"
The three subjects of our present
exercise all have in common a flair
for stretching minor talents and
even more minor insights into well
over a quarter hour of fame.
Derivative, annoying, and juvenile,
these men embody the ideal of
influence in 1996. Self-styled
freaks, and brilliantly aware of
their own level of artistic, if not
cultural, inconsequentiality,
they're content to let others do the
analysis while they turn whatever
modicum of skill they possess to the
far more rewarding practice of
self-promotion. Suck deconstructs
the obvious, and applauds the
overlooked aspects of their
respective oeuvres.
Damien Hirst answers criticisms that
his work is simplistic and
reductionist - the old "Anyone could
have thought of that" argument -
with, "But they didn't, now did
they?" So snotty that you'd think he
owned Kleenex stock, Hirst's attitude
alone would be enough to give him
our squeal of approval, but what
really puts the cream in our coffee
about Hirst is his Barnum-like pride
in putting one over on the art
world. His most infamous pieces are
gorgeously extravagant installations
of decay - rotting fish, lambs
floating in formaldehyde. And, far
from obfuscating the crass
commercialism of these pieces -
essentially pricier, limited edition
versions of plastic vomit and faux
turds - he celebrates it: "Show me
something that can't be sold and
I'll show you a way to sell it."
To be sure, Andy Warhol is a sort of
spiritual Encino Man for all
high-culture pranksters, but Hirst
has distinguished himself from his
forefathers (Duchamp, Warhol, Koons)
through his grinning forthrightness
and the popular appeal of his
gross-out/cash-in aesthetic. Whereas
such work often finds its
strongest critics in the general
public, Hirst recognizes
the true audience for his
audaciousness is neither the
individual collector nor the art
critic - it's the Cockney cabbie
and his mates who really get the
joke: "As long as they didn't pay
for it, they quite like it," mumbles
Jake Fogelnest cleverly parlayed a
Beastie Boys fetish into an
all-expenses-paid, year-long Spring
Break courtesy of MTV. Granted, it's
taking place in his own bedroom, but
that's probably where he'd spend it
anyway, and hey, that's part of the
charm. High-pitched, awkward, and
prone to fart jokes, he's one of the
few people whose humor might be
considered below our own snake-belly
standards. And he's on MTV! We laugh
even though we weep - and we do
weep, through every desperate moment
of the chickenhawk-bait SquirtTV.
One episode placed Fogelnest in the
midst of Yo! MTV Raps. Billed as
"multicultural relativism
reminiscent of Married With
Children's David Faustino," the
visit was a queasy attempt to parody
both politically correct demographic
crossover promotion (Arsenio on
Leno!) and the episode of the Brady
Bunch where Bobby and Cindy get a
lesson in community from a local
Native American.
That the bit winds up insulting the
intelligence and racial sensitivity
of even the average MTV viewer makes
it a laff-riot of Pyrrhic
proportions. And that, of course, is
the point. You're not laughing with
Jake, you're laughing at him, and
he's laughing all the way to bank:
"I bet that when this show goes on,
every guy my age is going to fucking
hate me. And it works out pretty
good, because I don't really like
guys my age either."
Quentin Tarantino has long since
passed from Hollywood wunderkind to
Hollywood what-the-fuck, but there
is still wisdom to be found in him,
a nugget of knowledge buried like a
marble in his cleft chin. Far from
suggesting his failure as a
successful scam artist, Tarantino's
relative decline in the pop milieu
provides us with a stunning lesson
in the art of the steal.
Back when Pulp Fiction reigned and
Destiny Turns on the Radio was just
a bad dream, Tarantino so completely
saturated our flickering media world
that he became his own card in the
Pop Culture Tarot. This permanence
is evinced most clearly by his role
in Spike Lee's Girl 6. By so
quickly compressing the traditional
arc from self-promotion to
self-mockery, Tarantino has set
himself up for the comeback that took
John Travolta the better part of a
This list is by no means complete.
Cheats and liars rise and fall on
the face of popular culture like
adolescent acne. While the most
charismatic blemishes often worm
their way towards incarceration and
martyrdom, lesser deities litter the
media landscape, eager to amuse,
easy to abuse. Perhaps the key to
grasping why they're such a pleasure
to spot is cloaked in the
(self-consciously) employed terms of
"self-aware" and "self-referential."
Damien, Jake, and Quentin may
reference themselves and the world
of two minutes ago (same thing,
really) with a relentless passion,
but the "self" in self-referential
is almost always aimed squarely at

words by Ann O'Tate
pictures by Charlie Powell