The Worst People in America: Matthew Specktor

 

The final installment of The Weeklings vaunted “WORST” series brings us this life-affirming essay. It has been a spectacular run, and we thank all the people unwilling skewered who did not consent to participate. God bless this great land.

I’m a reasonable person, and by “reasonable” I’m pretty sure I mean cowardly. I once sat next to Rupert Murdoch at a dinner —no, really— and managed to last an entire two hours without once punching him in the face. I even laughed at his jokes and agreed to take a meeting with his feckless nephew, at that time a “producer” at one of the feature divisions of 20th Century Fox where I, also, worked. I met Sumner Redstone and didn’t kick him in the teeth either, instead glad-handing him and fetching him a cocktail and pretending to be charmed by his much younger wife, who had the personality of a wet cigarette butt and clearly couldn’t stand him herself. And when I think about people I really want to write about —there’s a popular essayist/pundit whose every last utterance drives me up a tree, whose avalanche of under-baked “think” pieces (scare quotes are necessary here) seems so hopelessly knee-jerk, and so thoughtlessly embraced, I despair for the world of letters— I think, well, should I? Do I want to burn that bridge —never mind that I wouldn’t be caught dead standing on it— or antagonize the Twittersphere, or whatever? Is this the fight I need to be fighting, and is this the forum in which to pick that fight? I start equivocating, in other words, pawing the dirt and wondering if I want to get into it. Because it’s easy to go after the villains we know are villains: Dick Cheney and Ted Cruz and Tom Cruise and Jeff Bezos and —well, you know. Fuck each and every one of those people with a telephone pole whittled to a very sharp point. I can wake up every day and hate the hateful. That’s no big whoop. The trickier part is sussing out the subtler enemies, the people you loathe because you’re envious of them in some way —Tiger Woods or Charlie Sheen might be big jerks, but I wouldn’t mind driving their bodies for a few days, so long as I could give Charlie his bloodstream back— or just because they get on your Goddamn personal nerves. Is that pundit/essayist really so abysmal, so incapable of forming an interesting sentence as he climbs on his high horse to take yet another “righteous” and yet ineffably dim-witted position, or am I, also, even if just a little, jealous of his visibility? I spend so much time deliberating over who I’d like to tar-and-feather, in fact, that I’m thrown back on the obvious conclusion. The worst person in the world is —

Me. No, really. I’m not even going to bother with the whole self-loathing narrative. I suspect when it comes to loathing-of-self I’m somewhere in the middle, prone to lacerating self-criticism, but nowhere near the toxic levels found at the hardier end of the artistic spectrum. I just mean, when you look at the discrepancy between the public person —at least reasonably-polished, thoughtful, for the most part generous of mind and spirit— and the private one as expressed in texts, emails, and spontaneous outbursts that remain mercifully unrecorded, but which could make Truman Capote/Anthony Weiner/Perez Hilton blush, in terms of sheer bitchiness and sheer dunderheaded and lusty indiscretion, it’s really only possible to reach one conclusion. Namely, what a cunt I am! In my pettiness, resentfulness, casual —if unconscious—sexism, racism, misogyny, misanthropy, cruelty, and idiocy (also, my thoughtlessness, my —I certainly could go on), I’m peerless. At least, I hope I am, since if I’m not we may as well go ahead and drop the bomb now. (See? My narcissism puts me ahead, too.)

Me. I am the biggest cunt. Left to my own devices, given a country or a corporation —or even just a column, probably—to run, I’d be insufferable, progressive intentions (because really, who cares about those?) aside. At least Dick Cheney and Kanye have the courage —if that’s what it is, if it isn’t just obliviousness instead— to be assholes in public. Me, I just do the usual stutter-stepping and artful dodging (“why, it’s just a novel”) that allows me to shovel my own untenable positions into fictitious containers. In other words, I am a politician: what’s the difference between Scott Walker slinging his anti-immigration horse shit and my own, probably-not-wholehearted-but-still-they-come-from-somewhere, objectionable views placed in the mouth of a character? Is it really only xenophobia and not every grotesque, abhorrent, yellow-bellied position that divides (or unites) us? It’s difficult to fully embrace one’s own horribleness. Even here, I’m bullshitting, pointing fingers at human beings I know next-to-nothing about —I know what everybody knows about Walker, which is that I wouldn’t wipe my razor-studded heels on his face after walking a mile of toxic waste, but I have no idea what he’s like in private— instead of unburdening myself, revealing just what those appalling positions are. Partly, in fact, because I don’t even know myself.

 

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Which means I’m not just a dick, and a hypocrite, but an idiot as well. I can’t even marshal the intellectual strength it would require to codify the enemy. Instead, I just blurt out my fury behind closed doors, lashing out at whoever happens to be annoying me today, usually one of my own friends —if we allow “friend” to have it’s now-standard definition of “someone I met once at a party and now remain electronically yoked to in perpetuity.” Goddamn. You really think Tricky Dick Nixon’s paranoiac mumblings about the Jews are any worse? They’re a little broader, sure, a little more expansive —and, uh, a little more horrendous in their geopolitical consequences and implications— than the shit I say when I’m lounging in my study, but it’s a difference of degree, not kind. If we define an asshole, a true Worst American, as someone whose limited empathy prevents them from caring sufficiently, or at all, about others, well, I’m pretty sure I fit that bill to a T. In fact, it’s my very pettiness, my ability to focus my hostility not on broad groups of people but on individuals, and generally-innocuous ones at that, which vaults me to the head of the class. So fuck you, Rand Paul, and you too, pundit/essayist I’m too cowardly to name. I am the actual worst.

 

Matthew Specktor

About Matthew Specktor

Matthew Specktor was born and raised in Los Angeles. His father was a talent agent and his mother was a screenwriter. Specktor worked in film development for many years, and has written several screenplays. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Paris Review, The Believer, Tin House, Black Clock, and Salon.com, among other publications. He is a senior editor and founding member of the Los Angeles Review of Books. His novel American Dream Machine, is out in the UK on Little Brown and in the US on Tin House Books.
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