Friday, May 13, 2011

On Mobutu Seko's Grantland Assasination

The notorious former African dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, seems to be done forming vast child-armies for the cultivation of blood diamonds, however, he is far from finished dictating.

His latest decree is that the ESPN owned Bill Simmons vehicle, Grantland, is going to be really quite bad.

I had a chance to interview one of his former child-army lieutenants, Jawara Onyejekwe, to get a sense of where the former dictator's head is at.

Inappropriate Thesaurus: What was the dictator like personally?
Jawara Onyejekwe: Well, he was very skilled, he was a talented man and he worked very hard to be the best he could be at any endeavor he set out to accomplish.

IT: Was he as adept at expressing himself then as he is now?
JO: Oh, very much so. He would often spend 45 minutes after a raid on a small village extolling the efficient pillaging we've done.

IT: Did he ever lambast you sternly?
JO: Well...

IT: It's okay, his reign of terror is over, he's in hiding from an army of angry ESPN fans at the moment.
JO: Okay, well sometimes... he would be very unsatisfied with our performance. Sometimes we would let some women and children live because their death was strategically irrelevant to our agenda. He would castigate us for hours and hours. There were periods when he would be impossible to satisfy. Sometimes he would shoot some of my fellow officers right in front of everybody. We feared him truly, but his methods of shooting us down were very effective and drew a lot of attention to his authority. One time, he was so miserable, that he shot a number of us down before we even left for the raid! He screamed at us for hours and hours about how terribly he expected the raid to go, based on some minor aesthetic grieving he had about the formation of our convoy. He also thought a number of our lieutenants who were very popular among the rest of the soldiers were bad officers.

IT: Who were some of the lieutenants he didn't like?
JO: Well, the main officer he despised was Senwe Simmons. Simmons was a very popular officer. His track record was no better or worse than any other officer, but lots and lots of soldiers really liked him. I think it was just his personality that people enjoyed. He had some strong leadership qualities, and he would often say exactly what was on his mind regardless of whether or not his opinion was well formed or in good taste. He had a bit of over-confidence, which we all seemed to find entertaining.

IT: Who else didn't the dictator like?
JO: Azikiwe Klosterman was friends with Senwe Simmons and was also very confident in himself. Sometimes Commander Klosterman would spend extra time re-examining various courses of action which were already presumed to be exact by most of the group, even if he would end up with the same conclusions. Other-times, he would make comparisons between a certain type of machine gun, and some other, unrelated thing like a certain variety of tiger. Mobutu Sese Seko thought these comparisons were stupid, but we all generally understood the point that Azikiwe was making, and whether we agreed with it or not, we were generally appreciative of his effort to explain tribal-militia culture to his fellow soldiers.

Then there was Cheikh Gladwell. Seko hated Gladwell because Gladwell would state the obvious in an interesting manner. He would present a new way of understanding--sometimes self-evident or sometimes exaggerated--life-lessons about how the world works in a way that people really liked, which a lot of soldiers enjoyed.

IT: Why do you think this got to Seko so badly?
JO: Honestly, nobody can say. Envy comes to mind, which was understandable because Seko was also a very talented communicator, but not as popular as the other men. Some of the officers liked Seko, especially those who found the other officers annoying. There was a final officer named Dumaka Eggers who Seko disliked because it was sometimes hard to tell if he was being straightforward when he said things. Nobody really knows why this bothered Seko so much. Most people simply didn't understand Eggers, and of those who did, some people liked him and some people just ignored him.

IT: So, what did Seko do about these officers he didn't like?
JO: Seko shot all three of them in the face.

IT: Doesn't that seem a bit harsh?
JO: Well, "harsh" is what he was going for, and when you're trying to call attention to yourself, it would be less effective to simply be reasonable. It would be less of a spectacle to show human decency. Seko was really skilled at shooting people right in the face. He could do so accurately and quickly. And there were definitely reasons why lots of people deserve to be shot in the face, perhaps Seko himself included. We all have a lot of imperfections which we can certainly be assassinated for. But a constructive, civilized, conversation benefits the recipient more than the advice-giver. On the other hand, a destructive, point-blank bullet through the cranium gains Seko the benefit of lots of other people saying, "Woh, did you see what Seko did to Simmons! That was... how do you say in Ameringlish, --Bad Assed! We should keep an eye on him because of the intense things he's capable of doing!" We weren't all that mad because Seko was just being selfish, which is understandable, especially in the blood diamond business...

IT: Fair enough. By the way, take a look at this beautiful engagement ring I got for my wife?
JO: [Jawara begins sobbing uncontrollably...]

6 comments:

Mobutu Sese Seko said...

Ahaha, I just saw this. It's a fun take on the topic.

I've never really understood the envy approach to criticism. It's the easiest shot to take with any critic with which we disagree, because it assumes that the subject of his criticism almost deserves to be envied by default. It question begs the excellence of the target and also the dwarfed talent of the critic. I think this is why it comes to mind so often, because it's the product of presuming that our attitude about the topic and the criticism bust be not only correct but connected. Not only are Simmons/Klost/Glad/Egg good, but the critic is bad or off-base because of their goodness. I dunno; maybe I'm just a good fan of old-fashioned misanthropy, but I don't really want those dudes' lives. I'd be lying and stupid if I told you that I wouldn't prefer to have their paychecks and audience, but if it required being like them, writing like them and focusing on things like them, I'm pretty sure I'd become a real unhappy dude real fast.

As for the "it's an attention-getting device" notion, hey, I gotta admit that I'd make that assumption about a third party myself. But in this case, that wasn't even remotely on my radar. I slowly but determinedly built up an audience over three years of mostly unnoticed hackiness, and I expected that I'd piss a few off and delight a few and otherwise get my same solid but unremarkable audience numbers. I was genuinely both startled and a little panicked when I woke up a few hours later and saw my site tracker explode with a lot of pageloads from Bristol. It was totally unplanned and unsought. Probably the best indicator of that is the fact that before printing it, I was trying to sucker Andrew Miller at SomethingAwful into paying for the article. If I'd meant to use it to juice attention for my own site, the last thing I'd have done would be hand it over to another site that already totally outclasses mine in terms of daily pageloads and doesn't even send 1/4 of the readers back to my site on articles I publish there.

Anyhow, that's really tedious of me, but I felt like I should try to stick up for myself a little bit—probably because I enjoyed your response, and it gives the sense that you're not gonna totally immediately gainsay me. Maybe after a bit, but not immediately....

Thanks for the read. Also, your Twitter feed is funny.

Dr. Carey said...

Greetings Mr. Dictator Sir! Thanks for chatting.

To respond to your response...

The envy approach to criticism (which, was clearly not the main approach in my interview with your former generals, but rather a flourish mentioned off-hand, a possible, unprovable byproduct--perhaps just worth the briefest moment's speculation) stems from the fact that those in the creative fields often have major problems when people they see as being less talented than themselves are awarded successes that seem undeserved. It's pretty often seen in music, and it runs rampant in standup comedy. It would be less suspicious would you be criticizing professional athletes (presuming of course, that this is not a field you are actively pursuing). However since you are criticizing writers and you are (or, at least should be, due to the strength of your prose) pursuing lofty goals in writing, it makes one wonder if you've ever contemplated what better things you would be doing if you had their audience.

However, this was not the major thrust of the "criticism". Your second paragraph addressed it, re an attention getting device.

The fact that it was a surprise that it got so MUCH attention does not make you say, "well that was the opposite of what I was going for!" And the fact that you tried to sell it to SA simply means that you were trying to make money off of your ability to draw attention to SA. Regardless of where the traffic is going, the purpose of the essay seemed (not unusually) to draw attention to the essay itself.

Something unfortunate that we all know about human nature is that if you are a highschool student and you overheard a fellow student say, "Jimmy is going to ask out my ex girlfriend, I should go have a civilized chat on how I feel about this" you wouldn't say, "i'm gonna come watch!".

However if your classmate says, "Jimmy is going to go ask out my ex girlfriend, I'm going to go punch him in the face!" it's likely you would be texting while running to the location of pending confrontation (yea, high-schoolers all have cellphones now...)

My point being, it's significantly more entertaining for you to aggressively exaggerate Grantland's conceptual flaws in your piece of criticism, like loud explosions in a Michael Bay film. It's more entertaining for you to assail the writers of the site with effective turns of phrase highlighting their perceived flaws. But it doesn't make it more artful, analytical, or correct.

Mobutu Sese Seko said...

The envy approach to criticism stems from the fact that those in the creative fields often have major problems when people they see as being less talented than themselves are awarded successes that seem undeserved.... [It] makes one wonder if you've ever contemplated what better things you would be doing if you had their audience.
I've gotten this before, too, and I think I unsuccessfully tried to ward some of this off in the piece. I thought I did a decent job showing that Simmons really did a good job running with his schtick at a time when the blog/sportswriting context really let him succeed. I can't begrudge homie that. If I'd been older and had my shit together, I'd like to think that I'd have had the wit to do the same, but ultimately he and I had different opportunities. My quibble with him really comes from what he did after smartly and capably capitalizing on his chances. Pay the guy a bunch of money for making it as a blogger type, and I'm happy. I just think his side projects since then have been conceived in a kind of arrogant lack of thought or preparation. (See the refs to that cartoon and the Kimmel jaunt and the unfocus of Grantland.) Apart from the cartoon, I'm not mad that he did these things at all. I'm frustrated that they're done badly. Personally, I can't imagine doing these things myself, but that's because I don't share that ambition really at all. I'm not staring at Simmons and wringing my hands thinking, "I have much BETTER plans for his fame!" I have none. If someone were paying me to sit around and write junk at the same price-point as he's getting, I'd probably just go to my grave happy with that rut. But, hey, I haven't earned the paychecks or the plaudits he has, yet, so I can stuff it.


The fact that it was a surprise that it got so MUCH attention does not make you say, "well that was the opposite of what I was going for!" And the fact that you tried to sell it to SA simply means that you were trying to make money off of your ability to draw attention to SA.
Not really, no. I was trying to get some money for something I would have published anyway. SA gets a ton of pageviews with or without me, and they always get way more than I do. I occasionally shop around pieces that I eventually post on my blog anyway, and doing so is sometimes to my detriment. Getting paid for something is not equal to getting signature attention for myself, and posting elsewhere actually tends to help that other publication much more than it helps me. In this case, I sat down to write something and then thought, "Well, hell, SA's mandate is to bust on shit online. Let's see if they want it." It turned out to be a hassle on their end, so I just said fuck it and posted it without fanfare, any real salesmanship or anything. I think I sent one tweet and posted on my Facebook page.

Mobutu Sese Seko said...

Regardless of where the traffic is going, the purpose of the essay seemed (not unusually) to draw attention to the essay itself.
The purpose of any public offering, whether commentary or straight reporting, is to draw people to it, first, and then draw people to its conclusions. Creating anything without any intent toward its digestion by an audience is, with rare exception, really fruitless. But there's a substantive difference between compromising content and character for slavish hucksterism and posting what you think and then sharing it with people already predisposed to listen to you.

I actually do work in online promotion, and apart from a Facebook page, some (rarely posted) Tumblr links and a bunch of Tweets, I'm very un-mercenary about my own website. It's a goof-off thing, divorced from what pays a lot of bills. I've never tweeted at the objects of my criticism, baiting them into clicking links. I don't tweet at their enemies or antagonists, trying to bait them into posting links to my stuff. I find the whole "sincerely and avaraciously tweet at/write to celebrities" thing really obnoxious. If I'd really wanted to generate a lot of instant salacious interest, I could have emailed a link to that piece to Deadspin and to a lot of different blogs, claiming to be someone else. I could have puffed up potential controversy. Instead, I tweeted a link to it, posted a link on Facebook and took a nap — S.O.P. for almost everything I've done. What other people did with that is their own thing.

Like I said, I expected to wake up to about as many pageloads as I get for everything else I do. (Apart from politics. I could goose way more pageloads a day just by hammering at "LOOK AT THE STUPIDS IN THE GOP! THEY ARE SO STUPID," but that's enervating. And I've never taken the bait to do that full time, even though it would be way more lucrative for me to do only that.) That would have been totally satisfying. As for what it eventually became, it's still not even the most popular or most read thing I've done, and that too was the product of totally unexpected affection and interest. I've learned just by watching that I might be good at promoting the work of others, but I have an absolutely tin ear for what works when I do it.


My point being, it's significantly more entertaining for you to aggressively exaggerate Grantland's conceptual flaws in your piece of criticism, like loud explosions in a Michael Bay film. It's more entertaining for you to assail the writers of the site with effective turns of phrase highlighting their perceived flaws. But it doesn't make it more artful, analytical, or correct.
I certainly think some turns of phrase were written more with an ear for punchiness than flawless accuracy, but I didn't say anything I didn't think or feel. I suppose this might be the point where we both agree to disagree, and I'm fine with that.

Mobutu Sese Seko said...

Regardless of where the traffic is going, the purpose of the essay seemed (not unusually) to draw attention to the essay itself.
The purpose of any public offering, whether commentary or straight reporting, is to draw people to it, first, and then draw people to its conclusions. Creating anything without any intent toward its digestion by an audience is, with rare exception, really fruitless. But there's a substantive difference between compromising content and character for slavish hucksterism and posting what you think and then sharing it with people already predisposed to listen to you.

I actually do work in online promotion, and apart from a Facebook page, some (rarely posted) Tumblr links and a bunch of Tweets, I'm very un-mercenary about my own website. It's a goof-off thing, divorced from what pays a lot of bills. I've never tweeted at the objects of my criticism, baiting them into clicking links. I don't tweet at their enemies or antagonists, trying to bait them into posting links to my stuff. I find the whole "sincerely and avaraciously tweet at/write to celebrities" thing really obnoxious. If I'd really wanted to generate a lot of instant salacious interest, I could have emailed a link to that piece to Deadspin and to a lot of different blogs, claiming to be someone else. I could have puffed up potential controversy. Instead, I tweeted a link to it, posted a link on Facebook and took a nap — S.O.P. for almost everything I've done. What other people did with that is their own thing.

Like I said, I expected to wake up to about as many pageloads as I get for everything else I do. (Apart from politics. I could goose way more pageloads a day just by hammering at "LOOK AT THE STUPIDS IN THE GOP! THEY ARE SO STUPID," but that's enervating. And I've never taken the bait to do that full time, even though it would be way more lucrative for me to do only that.) That would have been totally satisfying. As for what it eventually became, it's still not even the most popular or most read thing I've done, and that too was the product of totally unexpected affection and interest. I've learned just by watching that I might be good at promoting the work of others, but I have an absolutely tin ear for what works when I do it.


My point being, it's significantly more entertaining for you to aggressively exaggerate Grantland's conceptual flaws in your piece of criticism, like loud explosions in a Michael Bay film. It's more entertaining for you to assail the writers of the site with effective turns of phrase highlighting their perceived flaws. But it doesn't make it more artful, analytical, or correct.
I certainly think some turns of phrase were written more with an ear for punchiness than flawless accuracy, but I didn't say anything I didn't think or feel. I suppose this might be the point where we both agree to disagree, and I'm fine with that.

Dr. Carey said...

You're obviously a pretty contemplative guy, and that's admirable. As a part-time comedian, I can understand the value of writing for punchlines rather than sensitive examination. I guess I have just come to feel a certain disgust for punchlines designed to destroy rather than create. Perhaps this makes me a snob of sorts, because a destructive punchline is easier and lowest common denominator -- guy crossing the street falls on his face = funny. Guy crosses street and everything goes perfectly = not funny.

I guess I find it less than admirable to take shots at well known targets with no risk on your part, but I can appreciate that part of the purpose of comedy is to make the powerful less powerful (and thus make the not-powerful slightly more powerful).

I've noticed that you respond to every comment about you (on your blog and mine) at great length. I find this intriguing because the sensitive, possibly insecure but certainly exhaustive knack for thorough examination would seem to contrast your more bullying "stage persona" (If I can continue to compare blogging to comedy) from the piece in debate. And one thing that I definitely admire is the ability, for art and entertainment's sake, to construct an entire atmosphere for the purpose of fueling your main goal (which, whether I like it or not, was to criticize some sports jackass in an entertaining manner). So you are clearly a man of success in that regard.

Cheers!