When I was at UCLA, I held a position on the editorial board for the university literary magazine. Rather inconsequential, you would think. Except for the fact that James Franco went to my university as an undergrad and insisted on having his voice heard (or read, I guess) in print.
James was not a stranger to me at the time he sent his work in to the magazine for review. I had spent 6 weeks with him in England, studying Shakespeare in Stratford and London. I watched him go from girl to girl, putting his arm around each and I watched the girls, in turn, giggle and smile uncontrollably. I once asked him why he was speaking with a British accent (seriously, why?) and he looked embarrassed. I am not magnetized to douche bags, especially ones that wear the same leather jacket every day and chain smoke like James Dean wannabes.
So, yeah, okay, I was a little biased when his stories arrived in my email inbox. Still, I tried to turn off my disgust as I read the story that is now the opening story of his underdeveloped, sophomoric short story collection, Palo Alto. I thought my perception of it might be clouded by understanding who he was as a human being. Yet when I got to the meeting, all of the other editors felt the stories were immature and could have been written by an angsty high school kid. Also funny is how he chose to portray women in his stories as vapid, lacking in agency, empty. It directly reflected the way I had seen him treat women. We decided not to publish it. But we were weak, and published one of his more “avant-garde” bullshit pieces. We debated the decision for hours.
Somehow, though, the story we rejected has ended up in print, published by Scribner. I could have predicted the terrible reviews (see SF Chronicle’s spot-on review here— also the picture they used is amazingly creepy, which is why I’ve re-posted it). Still, it’s surprising to me that something like that can make it into print. From a publishing business perspective, I think it will do well. It will probably do really well. If people try to read too much into his writing, they may find themselves thinking he’s trying to mirror malaise with malaise. But what he’s really doing is lazy. He wants to be recognized for being a scholar, a filmmaker, an actor, a poet, god knows what else, but when people actually see what he’s produced with all of this scholar-talk, they’re going to scratch their heads and wonder.
The very fact that he’s studying for his PhD at Yale now, with a book published, makes me want to throw my hands in the air and declare scholarship and important writing dead. It’s a bragging point for him, and it trivializes the gravity of good writing for so many others.
To top it all off, on October 5, I heard an NPR discussion on James Franco, which called him a “Renaissance Man.” I laughed out loud, which is something I rarely do at 8 o’clock in the morning. If James Franco is being labelled the same thing that Thomas Jefferson was once labelled, I think the future of scholarship is in a lot of trouble. He’s not a Renaissance Man. He’s a completely confused person, like everyone else in his generation. He just happens to have a lot of money and really good bone structure.
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