Watching the Brain Eater Rage Within His Gilded Cage

Posted on | December 31, 2018

"You’re far too self-aware to fall victim to the Brain Eater."

That’s what my therapist told me the other day when I was angsting about watching yet another of my favorite artists fall victim to their own id and swerve deep into unpleasant territory. And what with the Louis CK discourse of the day, this makes me immensely sad and a tiny bit paranoid about dipping my toes back into writing.

The artist was Higi Shou. Shou famously wrote Prism, a shoujo-ai series about high school girls. It’s corny and touching and surprisingly sensitive, the dialogue is amazing, and if it veers off into teenagers having sexy times well, teenagers do that and it’s not actually played up as being titillating for the reader. Shou also got busted because his swipes were a little too photo-realistic; in many cases it seems that he was picking a wham moment out of his Tumblr collection and tracing it, and tracing photographs is a huge prohibition in comic art. He disappeared from the comic scene. The other day, I saw his name on a new series and looked. I wished I hadn’t; Shou is now doing hard-core loli.

Louis CK’s latest comedy set apparently includes an attack on the student activists from Parkland who have taken being shot at and transformed it into activism. They’ve done something, and they’ve earned a kind of moral penumbra that he finds… what? Offensive? Annoying? Trite? He then pivots to complaining about people choosing their own pronouns, and how that annoys him as well, and his audience laughs because it annoys them too.

John Scalzi describes the Brain Eater as a form of envy that ultimately takes over the whole of a person. Scalzi wrote that the Brain Eater happens when a mid-list writer envies what top-list writers have, and start to ascribe their failure to break into the best-seller list as someone else’s fault. "I’m brilliant!" the artist shouts, "So why don’t I get the accolades while JK Rowling owns her own island?" Even great writers fall victim to it, as Alice Walker’s recent downfall reveals.

Envy is the worst of all sins; unlike arrogance, greed, gluttony, lust, anger or sloth, envy has no upside and there is no time when envy can be satisfied. But if we’re going to ascribe envy to Louis CK, or Higi Shou, how would you do it? A lot of felons, at least the ones incarcerated for violent offenses, are narcissistic or sociopathic, and a lot of them believe that everyone is just like them, it’s just that the system is against them, or they just got caught, or dumb luck. Maybe CK and Shou really believe that the majority is just like them, they just haven’t been caught yet.

But what if it isn’t envy? What if it’s arrogance? "Hiding my feelings hasn’t done me any good, so I’m gonna let my freak flag fly!" And part of their feelings is that it’s okay to punch down. They’re both straight males at the top of the food chains in their respective cultures, they’ve been told they’re apex predators, they feel constrained that they’re not allowed to act like one, and there’s no reward anymore for being noble about anything.

For CK, it’s certainly sloth. "Kids these days" is about the laziest comedy trope you can go with. I think part of the problem is that there are only two routes for a man like Louis CK: bitterness or redemption. And redemption requires contrition and repentence. More than that, it takes work. To continue as a comedian, Louis CK has to dig deep into himself and find something funny to say about how being an asshole isn’t funny, and that takes more than one or two rough drafts.

Which brings me back to the beginning: what would I write about? I don’t have many freak flags I haven’t flown yet, which makes me wonder if I’m a bit tapped out. I could pander to the Furry audience, and I do have a couple of stories set aside where Ken & Aaden teach Wish about [redacted], but I like stories with premise and theme to them, and as I said earlier, these days my themes are anger and disgust at a world gone awry, hurtling into the abyss.

I think, if I write much in 2019, I’ll try to write either deeply personal stories about people being nice to each other, or I’ll try to hit the noblebright and hopecore high points instead. (I know people call it ‘hopepunk,’ but I don’t think the -punk suffix works here; maybe I’m just an aging fuddy-duddy and that’s the Brain Eater talking.) The world needs more hope and nobility. Here’s hoping we get it.


3 Responses to “Watching the Brain Eater Rage Within His Gilded Cage”

  1. Larry
    December 31st, 2018 @ 11:42 am

    It is so sad to no longer be able to respect more and more people I used to admire. For example, I loved reading the Ender series until I delved into the opinions of its author.

    I have long been reading and loving The Journal Entries (even though I’m way behind) and appreciate the tone of the stories: the lack of hate, the love and acceptance, the science fiction, the world-building, and, of course, the porn. I don’t know how you’ve kept up writing over all these many years, and I value everything you write.

    I don’t have suggestions for what you should write next (‘twould be very presumptuous). I don’t think you should be comparing yourself to CK; my impression of you is that you are far too innately kind, thoughtful, and normal to fall into whatever holes CK and Shou have fallen into. I can’t even recommend that you continue writing; that is entirely up to you, although I think you would sorely miss it if you *decided* to stop.

  2. Dail
    January 1st, 2019 @ 8:24 pm

    Consider Terry Pratchet: his big theme *was* raging at the world’s injustice, primarily through satire, but also by directly confronting it and showing his characters choosing to be better than the world they inhabit. If that’s the way you feel right now, it is thoroughly possible to turn that into writing. That said, it may well be more draining than enjoyable to write that sort of thing, so I can certainly understand if you decide not to.
    I’ve been reading the Journal Entries for…holy shit, over a decade now. I’d be sad to see you stop writing, but do what you need to do to be happy, okay? If you’ve got no inspiration, you’ve got no inspiration. Don’t kill your brain trying to please your fans.

  3. Falbert
    January 25th, 2019 @ 7:44 pm

    In a world where it seems that more and more people I know about (from media) seem less heroic, and more, well, human, with the whole spectrum of human behavior that implies, I choose to believe that we wouldn’t have gotten this far as a species without a great many people behaving decently to each other.

    If you’re looking, you can see evidence for this everywhere: for each incident of despicable behavior, there are a great many good ones, which often are smaller, and less-noticed. I notice that while I’m not happy with all of the policies and practices of organizations like the Red Cross… people still donate, in the sincere belief that their donations will help someone less fortunate.

    And on the local level, I have seen the Red Cross volunteers in my community get up in the middle of the night, bring blankets and coffee to people they don’t know whose house just burnt down. Then go to work as normal the next day. The local fire station is entirely volunteer firefighters, and people volunteer to help staff local sporting events. Is a free T-shirt really what the volunteer wanted, who stood out in below-freezing weather for a four hour shift, helping direct traffic for a biathlon?

    Just because some of our heroes turn out not to be quite what we imagined to be, doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds of people doing civilized things, every day, to make this world a better place in the long run. Did the Civil Rights movement of the USA of the 1960s solve all the problems it set out to solve? Was it even of the 1960s, or rather an evolution of something that had been going on since the introduction of slavery? Are all of those problems yet solved? I think the answers are No, Yes, and No… And that we are closer to solutions than ever, even if we’re not there yet.

    I too, would miss your stories if you decide to stop writing, so I would (selfishly) encourage you to continue. If anger is what you feel like writing, then write that. Many past writers have a variety to their works that few modern published authors have, due to the nature of the publishing industry of the last century – which has, in large part, been unwilling to publish any work by an author that is out of the genre of their success.

    And finally, to address the theme above: any human makes decisions, and sometimes the results of those decisions are ones that some of the rest of us don’t like. There are in fact rewards for being noble: self-respect, respect from others, and developing like-minded friends. People make themselves, that’s kinda the point of self-conciousness. But humans are also products of their environment, and can change for better or worse. Sometimes the rest of us can provide pressure that helps induce positive change, but ultimately, that has to come from within. We are what we are at the moment; and most of us are striving to be better tomorrow. Some people forget that struggle, or give up. And yes, we can judge them for that – then offer a helping hand, which they can take if they wish.

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