Neal Pollack “Keep Mars Weird” (47 North, 2016)
In my mind Neal Pollack is lumped together with a group of humorous writers & musicians who came to some popularity in the late 90s. Their work has always leaned heavily into ironic distancing. I suppose that they are all the children of David Letterman in a way – there’s a batch of us Gen X kids who grew up watching Letterman’s irony, & have deeply absorbed its rules.
Don’t get me wrong – I like these people. Sure, the music side of it is a bit difficult for me, but the writing especially does tend to resonate with me.
But I think that Keep Mars Weird shows one of the worst tendencies of this movement. Namely, where does Pollack stand in all this? There’s a real danger with a reliance on ironic detachment that you end up alienating the audience and refusing to take any sort of creative stand. You begin to take the piss out of everything and eventually there’s nothing left that isn’t mocked or worthy of being mocked. At some point it’s important to show that value X is better than value Y. Simply saying that they both suck may be attractive to high school students everywhere, but it ends up like a meal made of candy. Unsatisfying and leading to a stomach ache.