Cars and Vampires

I used to be all about a Mustang Mach 1 or or a 71 Cuda or a new Corvette Z06. All aggression and sexual thrust. A shark, leaping out of the water, with gnashing teeth, ready to ram 3000 pounds of death into anything unfortunate enough to get in its way.

Now the car I want and deserve to drive is a black 1963 Lincoln Continental. The kind of car that would would slip along in the dark, undetected but deceptively powerful, like a nuclear submarine. Smelling like oiled leather and good rye whiskey and carefully measured conversation. Perhaps the lingering aroma of conservatively applied perfume and feminine excitement encased in a black, leather lined steel coffin, sailing through space.

I will have it one day.

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In one of my stories (The Death Game) I explore a bit into the idea of cars and the way people use them to define their place in life. How they work as personal symbols or totems. The story takes place in the ’70s, and one character (there are only two, really, and they’re both immortal) was around to witness the rise of the automobile in America. She drives a white 1965 Cadillac Eldorado with a red interior.

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I chose that car because it suits her aesthetic. Even though the story takes place in the ’70s, her style and awareness of culture petered out somewhere in the late ’50s, early ’60s. I wanted her to appear somewhat out of sync with the rest of the world. The character appears in a number of my stories, and at this point, she’s taken on a young apprentice. A 16 year old girl, who has only recently been made immortal (it’s a vampire story) and the story is about the two of them living together in a suburb outside of Flagstaff Arizona, and using increasingly elaborate forms of suicide as a way to entertain themselves. The story is called The Death Game, because that’s what they call what they’re doing. It follows five “deaths” and through each one, we watch as their relationship deteriorates.

The reason I bring it up is because one of the deaths (the second to last) features Caroline (the woman with the white 65 Cadillac) driving a stolen 1971 Barracuda at full speed into a rock wall. Though I didn’t think about it specifically when I wrote it, I realize in retrospect that the character was smashing her young protege’s freedom and youth, symbolically. Even the year works out, because the two of them got together in late 1971.

There’s a bit in the story about how the invention of the automobile opened the world up for vampires. It’s weird, because I’ve never really been a car guy. I don’t know anything about how they work or which cars have which engines and which ones are better. I just know what I like stylistically and I’m interested in how they relate to culture in America.

Anyway, I thought I’d share that segment:

Caroline pressed the pedal to the floor and the Barracuda lunged forward like a charging bull. It had been years since she’d been behind the wheel of a car with the kind of balls that Cuda had. It hurt her heart to think that she was about to destroy it. The Cadillac was a powerful car, but it was also a boat and it was designed for comfort, not pure unchecked aggression. The Barracuda was an automobile built to intimidate and show off. A machine for strutting roosters and overcompensating men who needed a mechanical dick to rev-up at anyone within earshot. This one in particular, with its yellow and black paint job like some kind of giant wasp, was just as ostentatious and mean looking as any car she’d ever seen. Caroline didn’t care about any of that. She just loved to drive fast.

It was a love she’d come by gradually and organically. Caroline was around to watch the automobile spring up into existence and stood back in amazement as the country shifted and rebuilt itself to accommodate the contraptions. She’d seen the railroads transform America from a scattered collection of outposts in the wilderness into a mechanical web of money, traveling back and forth across the country. Towns grew out of the ground around railroad tracks like vegetation on the banks of a river. That was a fascinating thing to watch happen. It was the automobile that excited her though. Cars brought all of that freedom and power to the individual.

For a vampire, a car was a doorway to a new life. Both as a vampire and as a person, she loved and respected cars. It gave them the ability to move freely in the world. Little towns and massive cities could suddenly exist anywhere a car could get to. Each one of those towns would have a number of hotels full of travelers and transient people who could be fed off of or disappear entirely without much fuss. Caroline watched all of this happen over the course of twenty years or so.

The fact that she could keep driving that Cuda west until she hit the ocean if she wanted to filled her with a sense of pride and glee. That is until she remembered that she wasn’t allowed farther west than Las Vegas. She dismissed this unpleasant thought and imagined heading east instead, tearing up Route 66 all the way up to Chicago and then over to Pennsylvania, where she was from. Caroline hadn’t been back to Pennsylvania since she first left in 1866. She wondered if there was anything left she would recognize. She guessed there probably was. America is nostalgic to a fault, and surely some of the landmarks in Pittsburgh had survived the last hundred years or so.

Writing

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For me, writing is kind of like digging for dinosaur bones inside my brain. I know the stories are in there, and sometimes I’ll spend days or weeks digging holes in the dirt and finding nothing. Or, more often, finding garbage that I think might be something but isn’t. Sometimes I’ll dig around a big something that might be a dinosaur, and I’ll keep chipping away at the edges and maybe it’s something and maybe it’s nothing.

Sometimes I know exactly where the dinosaur is, and I know roughly what kind of dinosaur it is and what it’s supposed to look like, but it’s in an awkward place, and requires months (or even years) of careful, delicate digging to get it out. Even then, I have to clean it off and put it together and stand it up and try and make sense of it. Then, hopefully, I end up with a nice, solid dinosaur skeleton, looking fierce. Or I end up with a big pile of mismatched bones that I don’t know what to do with.

Or, there’s times like right now, where I stick my shovel in the dirt and right away a big, grinning T-Rex skull is looking up at me like “Hey dude, let’s do this shit” and I barely have to do anything at all. I just keep sweeping away dirt and this almost perfectly formed, totally bad ass dinosaur is just sitting under the surface, waiting for me to find him. He was there the whole time, and I’d dug little holes all around him and never knew he was there.

I’m still digging and I’m not even entirely sure what this thing looks like or how much of it is intact, but it’s definitely big and it’s definitely cool. I’m excited.

Jack 4.2 Excerpt

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I’m still in first draft mode, but it’s going awesome and I wanted to share a bit of it. We’re in 1944, roughly five years after Jack 4.1. and three years before Bette 4.0

“What do you want, Caroline?” Jack asked, still attempting to watch the movie. He’d seen it half a dozen times already, and knew every shot and every set up, but he enjoyed it more with each viewing.

“Who is Bernie Zuckerman?” she asked, still watching the screen and taking long drags from her Chesterfield. Jack froze. He knew this would happen eventually but he’d hoped it wouldn’t be so soon. He still had work to do. He was just getting started.

“Who?” Jack responded, knowing full well that he was caught and that she already knew the answer, but he had to try.

“Every couple of weeks two or three checks are deposited into your bank account. They’re from a company called Peppermint Bay Productions and are signed by Bernie Zuckerman. I’ve looked into Peppermint Bay Productions and I can’t quite figure out what exactly it is they do. Care to elaborate?”

She was looking at him now, the light from the screen dancing across her eyes.

“Would you two please shut the hell up?” a voice hissed at them. Jack and Caroline both looked at who’d spoken. It was the man from two rows up, turned around in his seat and glaring at them. Caroline looked back at Jack, a wildness in her eyes that excited him. She crushed her cigarette out in the armrest ashtray.

“One moment please,” Caroline said to Jack, as she stood and walked along the row of seats, down to the row where the couple were sitting, and then directly up to them. He watched as she bent forward and whispered, first in the man’s ear, and then the woman’s. Jack desperately wanted to know what she was saying. She stood up straight again.

“Do we understand each other?” Caroline asked, her hands on her hips, standing in front of the couple. They both nodded emphatically. She walked back around and reclaimed her seat next to Jack.

“What did you — ”

“Shhh.” Caroline interrupted him. After almost a minute of awkward silence, the couple gathered their coats and hats and shuffled out of the theater. Caroline shook her head and lit another Chesterfield. That woman smoked more than anyone he’d ever met.

“There was a time not that long ago, right here in California, when I could have hung that cocksucker from the rafters by his guts and danced under his raining blood while his little girlfriend cried in the corner,” she shrugged. “C’est la vie.”

Jack laughed.

“Parlez-vous français?” he asked.

“No. Who the fuck is Bernie Zuckerman?”

 

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Stuff I researched While Writing

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I actually have three or four writing projects going at once, but for the sake of this post, I’m focusing on my next story What Danny Did.

Industrial Sized Garbage Bags – 40 gallons. Probably not for what you’re thinking.

Sheeple – Just that it means what I thought it meant. It does.

The Birdcage Theater – Dollar theater in Sacramento that we used to go to back in the day. The theater in my story is in Southern California, but I wanted to keep the name. Mostly I just remember seeing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas there, though I know I saw a ton of movies at that theater. I couldn’t remember for sure what it was called so I asked my mom. It was torn down ten years or so ago. Last I remember, there’s a Barns and Nobel there now. I wonder how long that will last. Apparently The Bird Cage was also the name of a showcase theater in Tombstone back in the 1800s. As well as that Robin Williams movie.

Movies that came out in 1997 – Yep. Found some.

Jack Ketchum books – Needed a horror paperback for this kid to be reading, and I wanted it to be something particularly dark and nihilistic, so I went with Jack Ketchum.

Okay, I lied earlier, I’m going to start researching for Jack 4.2 now. 

What kind of camera Weegee used – 4×5 Speed Graphic camera, standard press camera. Apparently he didn’t even adjust the settings and knew very little about how photography actually worked. He just fell into being a genius photographer.
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What kind of film a 4×5 Speed Graphic camera used – still haven’t really figure that one out yet. Think I’m going to just whistle past the whole process tbh.

Leather Jackets – Mostly used by aviators and soldiers in WWII and WWII. Really came into fashion in the 50s. 

Stockholm Syndrome – 1970s. I knew that actually. I thought maybe there was some other name for it beforehand. 

The price of cameras in the 1940s – $25 could get you a halfway decent Kodak camera

Developing film for consumers in the 1940s – Take it to the drug store and drop it off!

Fuck that Speed Graphic camera Weegee used. That thing seems like a pain in the ass. What camera did Kubrick use for his photojournalism career? – a few, but I’m going with the Rolleflex Automatic.
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(That’s not the Rolleflex Automatic, but it’s a cool picture of Kubrick from his photojournalism days) 

What’s that magnifier thing that photographers look through when they’re looking at little thumbnails on a proof sheet? – dome loupe. Cool
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Movies about Jack the Ripper from the ‘40s – The Lodger works

Wait. No. Pandora’s Box, from 1929

Hair Spray – 1948. Nope

Dracula – Book was released in 1897, the movie in 1931

When people started using the word “movie” to describe a film – 1910s

Writing

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Took a break from What Danny Did to try and see what I could do with a new Jack story and the pages have been flying out. It’s actually surprising me a little because I wasn’t even completely sure what I was going to do with Jack next, but I certainly know now.

It’s weird how these things kind of sort themselves out. I was really floundering on what I should be working on. I was writing on What Danny Did but wasn’t sure what exactly I was doing with it, then I was considering going back to the next Charlie story or even starting a new, non-Bloodletting story. I knew I wanted to work on Jack soon, but I didn’t even know where to start. So I opened up the document, and started with the same image the other two Jack stories started with, a woman hanging from the ceiling, and then it was off to the races.

I also made a cover for the story, once I figured out what it was actually about. It’s a pretty different style from the other covers, but I like it. It’s perhaps a little too busy for an ebook cover, but I think it gets the job done and is striking and interesting. I’m sure I’ll mess with it and change things here and there before I’m done.

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Delta Washington vs The Zombies

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I’ve been bummed about a thing for the last couple of years. I had a story that I’ve been developing for a long time. I wrote maybe 75% of the screenplay, and it’s called Delta Washington vs The Zombies. The very first seed of the story was “What if there was a zombie apocalypse in a Pam Grier movie” because I thought that that would be a really fun movie to watch. It would take place in the 70s and have a lot of the old Blaxploitation tropes. It was going to be horror/comedy hybrid. But then Black Dynamite came along and did the Blaxploitation tribute far better than I ever could have hoped to, or had the right to. I realized, ultimately, that as a white guy I had no business trying to insinuate myself into that arena.

So instead, I changed directions and wrote (most of) the screenplay as a straight forward zombie horror movie, with heavy comic book influences. There was a “villain” who was very much a comic book villain, and I kept the lead character, Delta Washington, as the kind of character that Pam Grier might have played in a more straight forward, Hollywood movie. Smart, attractive, flawed, politically aware and with an arch that forced her to step up and be a badass, as most zombie movie heroes do. I like that story. I like my approach to the genre in that story, and I really, really loved that character. Delta Washington was a fucking great character.

Then The Walking Dead came along, and Michonne shows up and is a super badass black woman totally dominating all zombies. She had a signature weapon, like Delta (though Delta’s wasn’t a sword exactly) and a no-bullshit attitude. I figured that since TWD had pretty much done the tough, black woman fighting zombies thing, that my story was now irrelevant. So I just stopped developing it entirely.

But then I was thinking about it last night, and I realize how incredibly stupid that is. And frankly, kind of racist when I didn’t even realize it. Why can’t there be more than one badass black woman fighting zombies? It’s not like there’s one spot in all of zombie pop-culture for a black woman to occupy. She’s different from Michonne. She has a different history, a different way of dealing with characters, and a different role in the broader story. Besides, how many generic fucking white guys have starred in zombie movies? It’s a stupid reason not to write a story. If anything, the fact that there’s only really one badass black chick fighting zombies in pop culture (unless you count Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later, which I do actually) is all the more reason to write MORE diverse characters. I wrote that character because I felt like there was a distinct lack of that kind of representation, so what, I’m going to just throw the whole thing out because there’s ONE other character out there that happens to also be brown? That’s idiotic.

So I will write Delta Washington vs The Zombies. Maybe not next, but eventually. It’s on deck. Maybe I’ll let zombies cool off a bit first, since I already dove into vampires in the middle of a massive backlash. But it’s in the pipeline.

I’ve recognized that the characters in Bloodletting are overwhelmingly white and I’m actually taking that into consideration as I’m move forward. There are more characters coming down the line, and I’m planning on adding some color to the stream. The lack of ethnic diversity so far has frankly been out of my own experience. I’m not a particularly social person and for the last 15 years I’ve lived in a place where I’m surrounded almost entirely by white people. Most of my own experience has been decidedly vanilla, racially, and I’m working on broadening my vision a little. Also, because I’m writing about vampires, my brain goes to pale skin as the aesthetic. But I recognize that as a content creator, it’s important to take that opportunity to bring more diversity into my work, and I’m going to make an effort to do more of that as I go forward.

Patricia

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I reread Patricia last night and decided I really disliked parts of it. Specifically the first page or two. I don’t exactly know what I was thinking when I started writing it. I think that because the “introduction” of the story was the part I knew the best (the scene with Patricia and Charlie in the bathroom was the first Bloodletting thing I wrote ever, way back when I was a teenager). For some reason, the first few pages had this like folksy, “here’s an old story” quality to it, like Waylon Jennings narrating an episode of The Dukes of Hazard. ‘Round about this time, the Duke boys were getting into some trouble with vampires!”

I wasn’t happy with it. I think I’ve become a better writer since I started writing Bloodletting, and it shows in that first story. Then I figured, hey, this is self publishing! The wild west of writing! THERE’S NO RULES. I do what I want!

So I rewrote that shit. Mostly just the first half a page or so. I took out all the overly familiar, self aware narration and wrote it more like an actual story. I made a few minor changes here and there, as well as cleaning up some grammar issues and the odd clunky bit of writing.

The first half of the first page of Patricia (Book 0) goes like this now:

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Patricia’s teeth were chattering uncontrollably. It happened every time she took X. Chattering teeth was one of the less fun side effects of the otherwise enjoyable drug. She had a lot of experience with Ecstasy and knew that by the time she got to the club, the chattering will have mellowed to a low, mostly imperceptible rumble in the back of her mouth.

The Aston Martin let out an electronic yelp, like a dog in a shock collar, when she pressed the ‘unlock’ button on the plastic fob hanging from her keyring. She slid into the car, pulled down the zipper on her boot and slipped it off. Sitting against the dark gray leather of the seat, the red bottom of the boot looked like a blood soaked weapon, and that made her smile. She liked the boots quite a lot. They were black, leather, made in Italy, designed by Christian Louboutin and cost her well over twelve-hundred dollars. That said, she never quite mastered the art of driving in heals, so the right boot was in its place on the passengers seat. All of her right high-heals had ridden shotgun at some point or another.

This would be the last night that Patricia’s Shaefer’s black suede Louboutin boot would get to ride in the passenger seat of the Aston Martin, because Patricia Shaefer was going to die in just under an hour and a half. It would be an ugly, ungraceful death and entirely unexpected.

While certainly a case could be made that all human life is precious, it’s also accurate to say that the number of people who would truly mourn her death was limited to a very select few. By nearly all accounts, she was a vile, occasionally cruel woman who was arrogant, condescending and treated retail workers and cleaning staff like human garbage. Perhaps she didn’t deserve to go out quite as harshly as she did, but honestly, not many tears would be shed for the loss of Patricia Schaefer.

The night all of this happened, Patricia was 26 years old and living in Laurel Canyon, in a house far too large for a single woman. The building itself was more of a novelty than a practical home, though she was fond of it. For a year or so in the late sixties it belonged to Peter Tork of The Monkees and at the time was notorious for hosting legendary parties. Patricia had no personal nostalgia or connection with the history of the house, but she did appreciate its location and aesthetic. The area had a diverse and distinctly Los Angeles history that appealed to her. Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa and Jim Morrison all owned houses in Laurel Canyon at one point or another. The Wonderland Murders happened not more than fifteen minutes away.

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Something I’m thinking about

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I was reading a blog post about a guy and his debut novel and how well it’s doing, and it got me thinking.

So all along my plan has been to do what I’ve been doing, which is writing and releasing Bloodletting as a series of short stories that I would ultimately consolidate into either one massive novel or a series of shorter novels. That’s why they’re divided up by character and book number. While each story is meant to be able to stand alone, the intention all along has been to collect them.

Originally, I planned on having an A-story and a B-story in each  “book” and flip back and forth between them. I ended up only doing that in two of the books (2-Victoria and 3-Danny) and in the other two (1-Charlie and 4-Jack) I stayed pretty much exclusively in the past.

What I’m thinking is that I’ve got another Charlie story (1.4) that is just about done, and then probably one more that I still need to write (1.5) and that should finish up the entire Charlie “book.” Or at least this phase of it. I’m still deciding how I want to approach the second half the main story. Either way, once I put out those two stories, I’ll be able to compile the whole Charlie series into one book and essentially have a complete novel, following Charlie from when she runs away from home in book 1.1 to when she ends up where she ends up in at the end of book 1.5. I suppose book 0, Patricia, is also part of the Charlie series, though I’m not sure I’d put it in Charlie’s book.

Either way, my point is that I’m considering finishing up the Charlie story entirely next. Finishing and putting out the mostly done Charlie 1.4 and then powering through 1.5, just so I’ve got a full novel under my belt. A book I can charge 5.99 for or whatever and put in the print store and see how it sells compared to the shorts.

It’s a something I’m thinking about. I’ve got a pretty solid idea of exactly what happens between when I left off with Caroline and Charlie in Arizona and where that story ends, so it’s really just a matter of writing it. The first three Charlie stories (excluding Patricia) are between 13k and 15k words each, and I expect the last two will clock in around that as well. all together that should be about 75k words, which is roughly 200 pages by Amazon’s count. Not great for a print novel, but not completely unreasonable either. And for an ebook, that’s perfectly acceptable as a full length novel.

I dunno. I still have to write What Danny Did, so it’s not like I need to decide anything right now. It’s just something I’m thinking about.

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The Gail Story

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So I should explain this a bit before I post it.

First of all, I wrote this a while ago. It was something of a sequel to another story I wrote about Carly Simon. To say that they’re fan-fiction is perhaps not entirely accurate, in part because I didn’t really know what that meant when I wrote them, and also in part because they aren’t very pleasant stories. Neither this, nor the Carly Simon story present either of their subjects in an accurate context or a realistic portrayal of who they are. It’s not even right to call it speculative, because I don’t believe that anything about either story is even remotely close to true. They’re just weird, dark narratives that entered my mind at 2 in the morning, so I wrote them down. It’s an old piece of writing and I believe I’m a better writer now, and it pains me to put this up “as is” but I think it would be disingenuous to rewrite the particularly glairing bits of clunky writing.

This story is dark, sexual, entirely unhealthy and completely untrue. I want to make it clear that at no point do I believe in, feel positively about or endorse anything that happens in this story. I generally don’t feel the need to put disclaimers before my stories, but this time, because it does center around a real person who probably uses the internet and probably googles her own name, it seemed like a good idea.

I cut a fair bit of the lead up to the Gail story out, just because it wasn’t really relevant and while it presented the story in an interesting way (springing forth from a fairly juvenile blog post about the breasts of cooking show personalities) it’s a product of a time when I was far less concerned about objectifying and frankly, dehumanizing women. It was played for humor and was fairly cynical and while not mean spirited, it was at least insensitive, and I’m just not that guy anymore. That said, the following story doesn’t exactly paint a pleasant picture either. The difference is that the lead character in the story isn’t speaking on my behalf, but the blog post was. So I cut the blog post and  jump right into the part where I was explaining what it was that I found attractive about food writer and frequent Top Chef judge Gail Simmons.

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The Office Bully

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This was originally posted on my old blog on December 18, 2013

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So I’ve had something on my mind lately. I think that the Jim Halpert character on The Office is the most accurate and honest portrayal of a bully I’ve ever seen on TV.

It’s weird, because it’s almost as though the writers understand that he is a bully, and kind of an asshole, and there are a few scenes where they touch on this, but not many. For the most part, we’re meant to view Jim as the hero of the story. One of the few sane voices in an office full of supposedly annoying and unbearably quirky characters. Yet, if he were a real person in the real world, he’d be fired for the way he treats Dwight. Or, one would hope.

The show is a perfect example of how bullies are able to continue bullying. The relationship between Jim and Dwight is established immediately. Dwight is annoying and strange and socially awkward and Jim finds it amusing to “prank” him and laugh at how he reacts, mostly to impress the secretary he has crush on. We’re meant to go along with Jim and laugh at Dwight. It’s meant be amusing that Jim antagonizes him, winding him up for the entertainment of the rest of the office. It doesn’t matter that Dwight is clearly suffering from some sort of emotional and/or personality disorder, in addition to an unconventional and culturally secluded upbringing. They make it clear that Dwight is a “nerd” by establishing his love for science fiction (especially Battlestar Galactica,) heavy metal, a myriad of computer games, and an obsession with history and natural science. These qualities are all used against him to portray Dwight (both by Jim and by the show itself) as strange and therefor annoying and deserving of belittling harassment.

(I should probably point out that I quite enjoyed The Office. Both the UK original and the US version. They both had moments of brilliance and while I think the US show fell apart a bit after Steve Carrell left, up to that point it was pretty consistently hilarious.)

Something that’s interesting about this particular perspective on Jim as a bully, is they make a point to portray Roy (fiance of Pam, the secretary and focus of Jim’s pining) as a bully in the traditional sense. Physically imposing, aggressive and dominating. Yet, Jim was the one perusing his fiance. When Roy came into the office to confront Jim after finding out that he’d kissed Pam, he’s portrayed as borderline psychotic. Certainly it’s wrong to assault someone (which Roy was threatening to do to Jim) but in that particular scenario, Roy was justified in being upset to the point of an altercation. Perhaps not a physical one, but few would argue that he was wrong for being angry and confronting Jim. That was a direct reaction to Jim’s active pursuit of his romantic partner. Yet the show portrayed Roy as this awful brute and Jim as the poor victim. It’s worth pointing out that in that particular incident, it was Dwight who actually stepped up and defended Jim (literally, physically) and stopped Roy from attacking.

This dynamic between Jim and Dwight went on for most of the show. It seemed like they would occasionally throw in a friendly moment here and there to act like “Aww, we’re just having fun here. These guys really love each other” which, to me, is an even more disturbing example of how the show justified and normalized its portrayal of bullying. That’s the exact attitude that allows people to be harassed endlessly. The idea that the person being harassed is playing along with the fun, even though they clearly aren’t. Or that they’re overreacting to harmless teasing.

Was Dwight Schrute an annoying character? Certainly. He was designed specifically to be. He had a painful lack of self-awareness (as most victims of bullies do) and was socially awkward to the point that he was difficult to be around. He had a peculiar sense of entitlement and arrogance (though I wonder how much of this would be called confidence and initiative in a less annoying character) and often an disturbing lack of common sense, and he was dismissive of the feelings of others in his pursuit of approval from his boss. He was ruthless in his attempts at upward mobility within Dunder Mifflin.

Yes, as a real human being, Dwight Schrute would be difficult to deal with on a regular basis. That doesn’t justify years of harassment. It would be one thing if Jim was responding to specific incidents or slights made against him, but that’s not the way the relationship plays out. It’s made clear over and over again that Dwight is trying to do his job and Jim is systematically and repeatedly harassing him. To the point that, by all appearances, he invests more energy and time into bullying Dwight than doing his actual job. As much is said directly, on multiple occasions on the show. Throughout the show, they make it clear that Dwight makes countless complaints to human resources and his manager about Jim’s harassment, but is never taken seriously. It’s another source of humor, how hard he tries to get his employers to protect him from Jim’s “pranks.” Again, another example of the kind of environment that facilitates bullying.

Then there was the time Jim pushed another character, Andy Bernard, into a full mental and emotional collapse, using the same tactics he used on Dwight. Andy ended up freaking out, punching a hole in the wall and having to take time off work go to anger management courses. The implication being that he was the problem. Ha ha.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this bully dynamic was carried over directly from the UK show, and it made even more sense. I’d argue that the relationship between Tim and Gareth on the UK Office (the characters Jim and Dwight were based on) was an even crueler example of bullying. In the US they went to great lengths to establish how obnoxious and insufferable Dwight was. His social awkwardness was, at times, nearly sociopathic (though it seemed to stem from a deeply emotional and passionate love for his job and family) and so it was easy to laugh along with the crowd as Jim taunted him. Gareth, on the other hand, while socially awkward, came across more as just an incredibly simple man. A kind of Forest Gump-esque man-child. Tim’s bullying of Gareth was far crueler just because Gareth appeared to genuinely not understand why he was being tortured. At least Dwight had a kind of battle minded approach to his job. Gareth was just pathetic and sad.

It made me realize that this is likely the influence of Ricky Gervais, the co-creator of The Office. Gervais himself is something of a bully. It comes through constantly in his comedy. Whether it’s shaming overweight people (or, specifically, those more overweight than he himself) or his incessant need to ridicule and badger anyone who isn’t an atheist. While I understand that it’s the job of a comedian to poke at the sensitive and silly aspects of culture and society, and I would never suggest that they shouldn’t do that… there’s also a point where the comedian stops being funny and is just being a dick for the sake of it. Winding people up for the entertainment of the masses is a pretty lowbrow, brutish style of comedy. On the internet these people are called “trolls” and I’d say that’s accurate description.

an-idiot-abroad

Then there’s Ricky’s relationship with Karl Pilkington, which seems to be a real life example of the Tim/Gareth relationship. Karl Pilkington has served as a kind of springboard for the comedy of Ricky and Stephen Merchant (Ricky’s writing/producing partner) for the last ten years or so, and they’re both consistently unbelievably cruel to him. It’s hilarious, because all three of those people are naturally very funny, and the only reason it works is because Karl seems to be immune to it. I don’t understand why. I don’t know if Karl is some kind of elaborate Andy Kaufman type character played by a comedic genius but somehow he’s able to spin the way Rick and Stephen treat him into something funny rather than simply cruel.

Either way, my point is that the foundation of most of Ricky Gervais’ humor seems to be bullying. That came across clearly on the UK Office and it carried over directly into the US version. It’s something to think about next time you catch an episode. It’s certainly made me rethink the show itself and the environment it facilitates, seemingly with a sympathetic eye to the bully rather than the victim.