Interim: A Wall Street Journal Exercise

“I confidently commend his experience to other skeletons.”

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery; I’m in the mood to flatter. See Alone’s work on, say, this.

I had the unparalleled pleasure of reading through the Wall Street Journal Magazine’s September 2017 Men’s Style Issue today. Yes, I don’t know what I expected, or rather, I know exactly what I expected, and the magazine delivered on every front. Half the advertisements featured the models at strange angles, half had them featured as paper cutouts, another half included mirrored sunglasses in some form, and the fourth half had some form or another of bizarre androgyny, leaving the magazine at (by my calculations) 340% advertisements, the sacred ratio agreed upon at Mt Sinai by God and Ben Franklin. I’ll leave the meaning behind those as a no-credit exercise for the reader, and instead delve into something a little simpler: an article, which I can quote without the damn nuisance of a scanner. Yeah, the whole thing’s gonna end up quoted by the end of this.


Artist Alex Israel’s directorial debut is an art film in the form of a classic teen surfer flick with the goal of showing high schoolers the possibilities of creativity.

Above is a picture of one of the plainest white dudes you can imagine, jeans and a button-down (t-shirt underneath, no need to risk the shock appearance of chest hair) and sunglasses to carefully hide that his eyes are dark holes into his own personal abyss. He’s standing on the beach, which of course why he’s so carefully dressed as to make sure he can’t enjoy it at all. He’s holding a glass bottle of Coke, a luxury reserved for the terminally middle-aged. I’d like to believe he was paid money for that promotion, but really can’t convince myself to believe it.

Let’s be real: we all know exactly where this is going, but that doesn’t stop anyone watching Hamlet, so let’s follow this Shakespearean masterpiece to the end. (Or is it closer to a Greek tragedy?)

The paintings and sculptures of 34-year-old artist Alex Israel tend to be big, sun-splashed affairs that reflect and refract the sparkly Hollywood demimonde he’s long inhabited.”

I had to look up “demimonde,” and I have to say, it wasn’t worth it. Let’s cross off “reflect” and “refract” from the bingo sheet, and delight at the charming choice of “inhabit” to describe what someone does in their home.

A rapidly rising star {if you say so}, Israel is best known for his self-portraits {uh-oh}, done in profile {so he can’t see his face}, that reveal a cool-breeze hipster {I thought you had to say hipster ironically these days} with stubble and sunglasses.

At least it can’t get worse, right?

In some iterations, he fills in his empty sillhouette with Hollywood iconography-

Okay, so he’s literally trying to fill in his empty soul with Hollywood. I get the feeling I don’t need the DSM for the diagnosis of “fucked-up.”

Let’s skip ahead a little… okay, he sold something for a cool million, ‘cause art’s about the dolla dolla and this is the WSJ, he’s got connections to the famous Mr. Chow restaurant empire, he even works out of Burbank the madman…

Oh. Here we go.

“It’s really sincere,” the artist says of SPF-18, his first film, done in the vein of Beverly Hills 90210, Baywatch and John Hughes movies.

What do you tackle first? The bizarre belief that saying you’re sincere convinces anyone? The awful name? The thought that “sincere” and “Baywatch” appear in the same sentence? No, I don’t know either, so let’s leave it behind.

“I think a lot of the entertainment being made for kids right now is really kind of cynical and ironic. I wanted to make this more like what I remember from my childhood.”

Great, so you think that the entertainment made by everyone who grew up alongside you is too ironic, so you want to give kids these days the same entertainment that your crew had. Nothing at all wrong with this picture.

SPF-18 isn’t meant to just entertain teenagers; it’s meant to rally them.

Someone who thinks that a 30-something with a glass bottle of Coke is able to rally teenagers – oh, wait, but he can do it because he’s special. Never mind that he’s trying to rally them with media from decades before they were born.

“The movie was built on the idea that creativity can help find your voice,” Israel says.

What? Isn’t creativity supposed to be your voice? Oh, unless creativity is blind regurgitation of whatever you happen to have seen last – wait, maybe I shouldn’t be saying that. Whoops.

Set in and around Malibu’s iconic 1957 Wave House, the film is a coming-of-age story about four sun-kissed L.A. teenagers who ride tall, fall in love and look fantastic in Israel’s custom-designed wet suits. “Each of the characters follows a creative path, which helps them evolve and make the transition from youth into adulthood,” Israel explains.

First: neither the Wave House nor Malibu itself is iconic to the teens Israel is (nominally) trying to speak to. People still surf in California, but the surfer era’s come and gone. Second: you can’t become an adult except through death or sex, so that “creative path” bullshit has nothing to do with adulthood. Third: we now know why Israel’s making the movie. Ever heard of the forced clothes-wearing fetish? Our buddy Alex is hoping you haven’t.

Although the stars are basically unknowns, the film has a significant boldface quotient, thanks to a supporting cast that includes ‘80s-era icons

Let’s just stop here. We already know the film is actually for Israel and people like him. No need to belabor the point. There’s some more name-dropping junk after this, so let’s skip a couple paragraphs:

SPF-18 will debut on a screening tour that will take Israel to at least 12 high schools nationwide before the movie [tries desperately to turn a profit].

It’s all well and good to make a video of you stroking your own dick, but it’s considered crass to then show it to highschoolers.

“I read that early surf films were shown in high school gymnasiums… it seemed like an interesting way of distributing films – and a way to pay homage to surf films.”

I’ve really tried to avoid using the n-word explicitly up to this point, but it’s hard to imagine much more self-serving than a 34-year-old pretending he’s some indie cool-kid showing his hip underground film to his fellow kids.

This gets followed by a couple of the 80s stars commenting on how great it is to “bring art” to kids (just show them actual porn, that way everyone can get off and not just you) and what a great “art adventure” it is for Israel (gospel truth), but the real gold is at the end:

But it’s also good business. The film will help plug the artist’s new line of sunscreen, Icarus. The commercial aspect is something Israel easily acknowledges. “I was talking to one of my art dealers when I said, ‘That’s kind of off-brand.’ And he was like, ‘You just referred to your art as a brand.’ I was like, ‘Yes, I did.'”

And what exactly is that brand?

“It’s me,” he says, and smiles.

I’ve reread this section four or five times now, and I find something new every time. I’ll leave the exploration for you to enjoy, and simply rest my case.


But wait. Did you notice it?

Careful now.

See it yet?



So why am I reviewing him?

Spoiler alert: the WSJ that I picked this up from wasn’t one I ordered. I didn’t read through the magazine because I wanted to read it; I read through it because I wanted to make fun of it. Well, no; I didn’t want to make fun of it so much as I wanted to make fun of the people who read it. Who would read about Alex Israel and take him seriously, I asked? Whoever they are, I could mock and ridicule them through mocking our boy Alex. He doesn’t make it hard; he makes it easy. That’s not a good sign. But wait, I’m not supposed to be the one reading it, am I? If you’re reading it, it’s for you.

What happened as a result of me reading through this? I felt more disconnected from “the generation” who could act like Israel; I felt more disconnected from people who would read about Israel; I felt more disconnected from the very guy who actually did order the WSJ. (He’s a nice guy, incidentally.) What does this mean? I withdraw more from those older generations, and more into my own – which puts me in a neat and tidy bracket to be marketed to. Divide and conquer.

“Are you saying the WSJ produced this article with your case in mind?” No, I’m saying that the article functions the way it does as the product of the system. This is what “if you’re reading it, it’s for you” really means: in a system where people across physical communities are neatly divided into identity groups, absolutely any piece of writing, art, whatever that targets one group will alienate all the others and this very alienation is what causes this division in the first place. It’s self-reinforcing: the more you’re divided, the more you’ll divide. Something which, on the surface, isn’t for you will make you more of your own group, which means, in turn, it was for you all along. It doesn’t matter who you are: everything is for you.

This is, incidentally, probably why the whole “generation” talk only started quite recently. What better way to fuel different buying habits than to make people in the same family feel alienated from one another? No, it’s not a conspiracy, but you don’t need conspiracies, that’s the point.

“So what do we do? Shut our eyes and ears to try and close everything out?” I mean, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, but let’s try and avoid that if we can. I really don’t know what a long-term solution would be, but a short-term one would look something like: when you see something which “isn’t for you,” try to find a way of feeling closer to the people who it’s actually “for.” Sure, they may be rubes or dupes or horrible people, but that makes them more similar to you, not less. If you feel like the people around you, especially closest to you, are the Other, then that’s not just because they’re shutting you out – it’s because you’re shutting them out.

Maybe instead of spending a whole essay shitting on Alex Israel, from his appearance to his ideas, I should just sit down and – maybe not ask him about his movie, there’s no need to prod at sore spots – but maybe just see how his day was. That is, if he were my neighbor. He’s not, so instead I’ll stop looking down on him and the people who like him. Maybe if I do that, I won’t be such a goddamn asshole.

Wait, strike that. No maybes needed: if I don’t act awful towards them, then I won’t be acting awful towards them. Full stop. That’s the end of it.

2 thoughts on “Interim: A Wall Street Journal Exercise

  1. Isn’t shitting on this guy for 80% of your post and then concluding that you shouldn’t shit on him in the rest of it a bit like trying to have your cake and eat it too?


    1. Good criticism. Ideally, I would want to end up – well, not avoiding any criticism, because that’s going into gooey wishy-washy no-judgment-no-answers-no-fucking-backbone territory, but completely altering the scope of the criticism. The goal shouldn’t be mocking him and tearing him down, because that’s a disease of the mind (and also just plain mean). It also shouldn’t be a laundry list of “here’s what he should change about himself,” because he’s not in my inner circle (and thus I have no knowledge of what he’s really like) and additionally that’s not a good way to help someone ever. At most, criticism should be: here’s something that’s going wrong in a person, and let’s try to figure out what that might be like on the inside so we can recognize it when it happens to us. That’s where I hope it ends up, at least.

      So why is the rest of the post the way it is, shitting on the guy non-stop for more words than he really deserves? Because it’s a proper critique, the kind I just mentioned, but of myself. In that post, I was displaying a diseased state of mind. That’s what it looks like on the inside.

      Could the execution have been better? Definitely, and that’s why I write: to improve execution. Thanks for the comment!


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