I guess I finally rode McSweeney's coattails into a graduate English department: McSweeney's 17 forms a key part of the honors thesis of one Flora Feltham, at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Some time ago, she emailed me the following:
The section I'm currently working on is about the blurry distinction between fiction and non-fiction in the issue and how the dynamic between the fictive and the non-fictive informs our relationship with a potentially literary text. What I would love to know, then, is what degree of authenticity your fantastic Yeti Researcher has?
Of course, I love over-intellectualizing my own work — I mean, who doesn't, really? — so I will admit that I was thrilled that someone else decided to pile on. I answered Flora's questions, and a little while ago, she sent me the relevant chapter of her thesis. Incredibly, Yeti Researcher is mentioned in the same breath as Erasmus Darwin's The Botanic Garden, part of which is a scientific work in the form of a poem:
This combination of “metaphor and scientific material” (Emery, 1) – a tangle of fictional rhetoric and factual content – is, obviously, uncommon to both literature and scientific writing. About 200 years later, “Yeti Researcher” jumbles up the conventions of fiction and non-fiction in an equally atypical style. The difference is that Darwin was writing demonstrable scientific information using the medium of poetry, whereas the editorial-board at “Yeti Researcher” uses the conventions of scientific prose to write about a fictional creature in the context of a literary magazine.
Fletham later goes on to offer an analysis about how stylistic prose choices helped define Yeti Researcher as a distinct form of "non-narrative fiction," which itself is situated in turn in the grand sweep of literature and fiction in our fragmented (super-post-)modern culture. Whew! And by way of my answers, Feltham addresses the question most often put to me back when Yeti Researcher first came out:
“[T]he idea was to make something that McSweeney's readers would think is amusingly, fascinatingly compelling and that bigfoot researchers would be able to read with satisfaction” (Bearman, e-mail). Thus, though their intention was fictional, every step of the research and writing process was subject to rigorous fact-checking in accordance with the pseudo-scientific field they were working within: the information in “Flores Man and Sumatra’s Orang pendek” could “have survived the fact-checking process at a real magazine." They did not make-up any of the information, insofar as, according to common-sense it was not already made up. “[T]he information in the articles is real. By which I mean we didn't make up any bigfoot sightings, records, theories, etc. It was all researched and cited.”
OK, so the ads were fake. And the Classifieds. And Jim Shepard's contribution, which was clearly a piece of fiction masquerading as a real document inside a magazine of fiction masquerading as a real document! And there may have been a few other fudged things. But otherwise, YR (as we at the Society for Cryptic Hominid Investigation like to call it) stands by its work. Which, I'm now reminded, was really fun to put together. Does etiquette say that four years is too late to publically acknowledge Mark Sundeen, Jim Ruland, John Silver, Jim Shepard, Erik Bluhm, Eli Horowitz, and Brian McMullen? Hope not!
All this nostalgia made me go back and take a look at the fine writing and designing and editing that went into YR, which, if you don't own that pile of ingeniously disguised fake junk mail that was issue 17, is hard to come by. Which is why, if anyone is interested, I'm going to make the whole thing available right here!
The Zombie Zeitgeist A full scale movement is on the lurch. But why the best zombie movie ever made a video game?
Believer interview with Mark Allen Digital artist and awesome gallerist Mark Allen talks about Tekken Torture Tournament and other projects where people were wired to machines and did strange things in public.
Believer interview with Marjane Satrapi Enlightening Q & A with the Persian cartoonist, memoirist, quick conversationalist in which she declares: “THE WORLD IS NOT ABOUT BATMAN AND ROBIN FIGHTING THE JOKER; THINGS ARE MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.”
Yeti Researcher Yet another 100-page issue of the world's top academic journal devoted scholarship about the Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasqatch, and other mystery primates worldwide. For researchers and lay audiences alike, the latest YR features a history of Sasquatch sightings in southern California, an update on the wily orang pendek of Sumatra, and a new look into Teddy Roosevelt's obsession with bagging a Bigfoot. As Editor-in-Chief, I promise you won't be disappointed.
Panda PowerPoint! I guess I don't mind being "the entertainment" when it's at Mark Allen's second annual Holiday Fry-B-Que. Presented: preliminary findings from my ongoing research into the most charismatic megafauna of all: Giant Pandas.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Dec 9, 2006 For those who missed it, there will be more. World, Explained is going strong! Money was raised, laughs were had, and for those paying attention, small amounts of useful information about things like the aurora borealis were transmitted. Plus: Michael Cera = lovably funny. And Nick Diamonds' renditions of Dumb Dog and Hanging Tough are still in my head. As is that horribly catchy Fresh Step jam.
Jest Fest at Skylight Books Somehow I wound up hosting the 10th anniversary jubilee for Infinite Jest at Skylight Books. Because who doesn't love a jubilee, right? Despite being delirious with Hepatitis A (that's the mild, non-lethal kind; I'm not at risk for Hep B since I always go the needle share and choose clean-looking prostitutes), I managed to not mis-pronounce anyone's name and make an erudite joke and poke gentle fun at Michael Silverblatt.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | June 10, 2006 Number Three! Last one was sold out so we moved to a slightly larger theater. Andy Richter hosted, and his opening exegesis of CSI: Miami warmed the people up right. Evany Thomas presented her very scientific findings on the Secret Language of Sleep; Starlee Kine bared her neuroses to the world (or at least the 300 people in the audience); Josh Davis showed video of his 135-lb self sumo wrestling a 550-lb opera singer from San Bernardino; and Davy Rothbart closed it out with some Found Magazine magic. Grant Lee Phillips, Sam Shelton and Zooey Deschanel provided the music punctuation! I can still hear their rendition of We Are the Champions.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Feb 11, 2006 The second in our series of precision comedy and fact-based entertainment extravaganzas benefiting 826LA. Patton Oswalt was kind enough to host, and Jon Brion joined in on the piano and guitar as thematic accompaniment. Presenters included: David Rees, Michael Colton, John Hodgman (along with his hirsuit troubadour, Jonathan Coulton), and me. Plus: a fashion show of exciting multi-user garmentry.
Little Gray Book Lecture at Galapagos How to Observe President's Day. Jonathan Coulton's technical wizardry has made this entire show available online. The summary from PRX: Sarah Vowell, John Hodgman and Joshuah Bearman on Presidents' Day, along with a fifteen-piece marching band and a new song about all forty-three presidents. My contribution? Yes, from Yeti Researcher. Again. Actually that was the first one. So I have only five stories!
July 25: TJ to LA -- A Night McSweeney's Readings I was honored to be part of a strange triptych along with Salvador Plascencia and Josh Kun. Sponsored, somehow, by La Ciudad magazine, we all packed into Beyond Baroque with no air conditions. 150 people showed at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening, which we took as a good sign of something. Sal held up and anxiously discussed drawings from his novel, Josh delivered an essay on the Dr. Moreau of Tijuana, and my shtick (again) was Pac Man and metaphysics, this time with fun slides.
October 8th: Skylight Books w/Stephen Elliott Fun times were had by all. Someone in the audience actually mistook me for an expert on the psychology human character. We ate shrimp cocktail and drank cheap wine and laughed at Bush and celebrated the certainty of right besting wrong in American democracy. A lot of good that did.