Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stephen King should be fired

Here's how I imagine Stephen King composes his monthly column for Entertainment Weekly: He sits at his desk in Maine, thinks for a moment, opens the window and farts in the direction of Manhattan, where EW's editors inhale each fart with open nostrils, exhale them in mason jars without protest, somehow convert them to the page, and distribute them to us.

Stephen: You stink. Kindly resign your post. Your columns are uninspired, meandering, dull -- everything your longer prose is not.

It's worth noting that King is a kind man, a dutiful philanthropist, a wonderful fiction writer, the author of one of my favorite books ("The Green Mile") and progenitor of a couple good movies (The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption). But he has no business being a columnist, a role he's played for EW since 2003. King has run out of things to say on the magazine's back page although, really, I'm not sure he had anything to say in the first place.

What broke me was his latest column, irresistably headlined "Cool and the Gang." It consists of his normal blah-blah stream of consciousness directed at a truly, deeply asinine topic: What Is Cool and What Is Not (and it doesn't help that he's mostly wrong in making the distinction). I'm sure the editors at EW are thinking this stuff is valuable because it provides readers with a neat little window into King's thoughts on pop culture ("Look, a marquee name ruminating on the excruciating minutiae of our times!") and, yes, if written with some wit and vigor, even the most banal topics can be alchemized into gold. But King doesn't do that. His writing level (in column format) is on par with a semi-talented high school newspaper writer. He is squandering the privilege of having a primo spot in a well-read entertainment magazine. It's irresponsible.

I was an intern at EW almost three years ago and had a grand time (swag! free food! corner cubicle overlooking Time Square!), even though it introduced me to some truly baffling egos and convinced me that working for a corporate entertainment mag was not my dream job (I'll never forget being admonished after I voiced my opinions during a story brainstorming session -- a session I was invited to but, apparently, was not supposed to participate in, given the strict system of hierarchy at Broadway and 52nd). I even tied Stephen King in the office Oscar pool. But that's where our agreement ended, as did my intractable love for the magazine. I am actually considering cancelling my subscription after eight years, if only because the one good thing about the magazine (see next paragraph) is something I can just get online.

It's some consolation that King must share the back page with Mark Harris, one of the founders of EW, its former editor-at-large and, before he left to work on books, the office's sole voice of reason and true wit (at least from what I observed during my five months there). Harris recently started a column called The Final Cut, which eloquently and urgently places current entertainment into a contextual perspective that the rest of the magazine (and the industry) lacks.

Then again, both King and Harris also share the back page with EW senior writer Dalton Ross, whose faux-goofball writing style annoys the living f*ck out of me. I'll gladly read King's drivel before I subject myself to Dalton's dreck, but I'd rather just read Harris every week.


StinkyLulu said...

I must disagree:

King's column's aren't reliably good, but, when they are (as when he puzzles over a contemporary trend), they're great. I've been a subscriber to EW since the magazine began (I's old, y'know) and this is the first backpage rotation that comes anywhere close to working the way it should...

I don't always like the column, but I do look forward to seeing what he's on about...

Hurlywood said...

You and King are like Nathaniel at Film Experience and Ms. Swank! Maybe not so much?
I like his articles, because I don't feel as if he's talking down to me (which is why I like all the back-page columns). It baffles me that this is the guy responsible for the best horror fiction ever, and yes... I get a window into his thoughts. So maybe you nailed it on the head... your distaste is my liking I suppose.
EW is a highlight of my week, although I feel it's getting a bit too tabloidy with its new "scene" feature. I don't care for that change. I always look forward to their Oscar coverage, although this spring, I'll be in Europe so I'll be online for it.
Just curious... what exactly did your internship entail?

J.J. said...

Stinky: A charter subscriber! How grand. If you can think of an example of a column in which King puzzled over a contemporary trend, please link. Every time I read him, though, I'm flabbergasted that he's a professional writer.

Hurly: Whereas NR possesses a hatred of Swank, I have nothing but respect for King. Except for the fact that he seems to be sleeping on the job as an EW columnist. A window into King's thoughts would be great, if only he could convey what's inside with any degree of invention or grace.

StinkyLulu said...

I like his piece on James Frey a lot.

J.J. said...

If he could come up with a substantive piece like this every month, I'd be satisfied. Alas, he doesn't.

cattleworks said...

This is kind of a bridge-burny post, ain't it?
I'm not that critical of King's columns, although they're hit and miss for me.
I read only one column by Mark Harris (about the Buzzless Blockbuster Summer) and was pretty impressed and thought his inclusion as a regular columnist was a great move. Uh, haven't actually read anything else by him, yet.

No opinion on Dalton Ross.

But, I TOO am interested in what your duties were as an intern..!

J.J. said...

It's not bridge-burny. No one knows my identity (or could definitively prove it).

I suppose I was in a grumpy mood yesterday morning.

My duties as an EW intern involved factchecking, filing, coordinating the mail page, running to video stores to pick up DVDs for lazy writers, setting tapes to record Project Runway, and transcribing interviews (something that *I* would *never* let an intern do, for accuracy's sake).

cattleworks said...

You are so bitter.

It's not bridge-burny. No one knows my identity (or could definitively prove it).

Oh, dear. Those sound like famous last words.
But, that's so you! And that's what makes you so endearing!

Personally, I think watching Jesus kicking vampire ass would cheer your grumpy butt up.

J.J. said...

I assure you, there's no bitterness. I had the time of my life at EW. It's all just so funny in retrospect.