Wired has an article today about James Erwin, a 37-year-old computer manuals writer who has quit his job to become a full-time screenwriter after posting a successful comment thread on Reddit. Sure. After microwaving a snack in the office kitchenette, according to the article, he returned to his desk and found someone posing the question: “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit]?” As a former history student, Erwin clicked on the link and joined the thread with a detailed fan fiction of what would happen in this scenario, and supposedly this led him to Internet stardom, a movie deal, and all that. I’m not saying that this didn’t happen. The War on Fact-Checkers ends here. Besides, I’d already heard about this whole James Erwin Reddit thread via my Deadline Hollywood iPhone App Insta-Blasts or something. It’s a true story! But it’s also a myth.

James Erwin seems very genuine and nice and like a good guy who deserved a good thing to happen to him. He still lives with his wife and son in Des Moines. The article ends with a rumination on how good Miller High Life is. He’s real folks! And again, this is a real thing that happened to him. Congratulations! The problem lies in the article itself, and in our fascination with virtually impossible overnight transformations. If romantic comedies and sitcom marriages have given people an unrealistic idea of what it means to fall in and hold onto love, then stories about people being “discovered” in soda fountains, or on Reddit threads, create an equally unhealthy view towards risk and reward, effort and success. Doing anything is hard. Anything. Buying milk is a fucking disaster. Showing up anywhere on time is borderline heroic. Life is a complicated mess! And the more we lean into that wind and keep our heads down, the more we struggle to find happiness behind that boulder, or whatever, the better off we will be. I think.

Now, you might argue that stories like this give people hope, and maybe that’s true. Hope is nice. But what, exactly, is the hope it offers? James Erwin, for example, didn’t have any particular aspirations towards screenwriting. It is just a thing that fell into his lap. So is the hope that something you weren’t even sure you wanted will just hit you in the head? Is it just the hope that something, ANYTHING will relieve the dull, underpaid ache of this existence? I’m getting real INTO IT now, but seriously, what is the hope here? It’s one thing to hold onto a specific dream, that you will get the thing that you want, but so many of our American Myths these days are not even that focused. We just want someone to give us something for nothing, and we don’t even care what it is. Give it! So everyone gets a Twitter, even if they don’t know what to say. And everyone gets a YouTube, even if they don’t know what to do. Because if we fill the whole world up with enough useless noise then maybe, just maybe, we will be interviewed on TV or something it doesn’t matter what it is it can be anything please one day.

Another counter-argument might be that I, or someone like me, is just jealous. This is a very popular refrain. And the most obvious response to it is, well, yeah. I mean, of course? That pretty much goes without saying. If you’re NOT jealous of the guy who won the lottery, then you’re the one who is weird. (“The guy who won the lottery,” of course, must always be an abstract, single sentence story. We don’t want to hear about his chronic ailments or dead spouse or the self-destructive ways in which the windfall ruins him. Keep it light! Similarly, we do not discuss the ways in which the lottery, as with all low-bar-of-entry vices, adversely affects the poor, who cannot afford the tickets. Bummer, dude. #WINNING.) The world is built on jealousy. Everyone is jealous of everyone else. But we are taught this attitude through myths just like these. It’s a self-perpetuating system. We are taught to WANT, and to see people who HAVE as being better, more whole people. If they have and we don’t have, they are winning and we are losing. And so it stops being a process of attempting to live within the structures of our own lives, which are the cumulative results of a million little things, many of which are completely out of our control, and finding some kind of happiness there. Instead, we begin to live within the imaginary structures of other people’s lives and wonder why the pictures don’t line up. It’s no good. Enough with the myth-making. Everyone just go back to work.

In conclusion: FAKE AND GAY.

Comments (49)
  1. I am just hoping that somehow, some way, Tilda Swinton stumbles upon my comments here and invites me to a picnic with her and James McAvoy. And also then I become her henchperson. And we live in a house like the Beatles did in Help. That’s all. Reasonable stuff.

  2. I just hope we all stay BFFs foreva and we don’t drift apart when we go to college.

  3. Dreams CAN come true, Gabe! Or have you not heard what happened with my fanfic, “Ashton Kutcher In Space?”

  4. I was really disappointed when the microwaving a snack in the office kitchenette didn’t turn into a cooking show on the Food Channel overnight. But maybe it will…if I do it! YEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!

  5. Could I kill Hitler if I went back in time with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? (Come on guys, this is our big shot!)

    • Well as everybody knows, the Ninja Turtles are a part of the Marvel universe, having been mutated in the same accident that blinded Daredevil. That means they co-exist with Captain America, who once punched Hitler. So I think you COULD, but you’d have to be careful not to go too far back in time to do so, otherwise Cap never throws that punch, continuity is altered, what’s canon becomes non-canon, and there’s probably a whole universe-rebooting catastrophe.

    • I mean, you know they were created by Nazi scientists in the first place, right?

  6. What the article doesn’t tell you is that the whole thread was in the Men’s Rights subreddit

  7. This doesn’t affect my plan to become a successful comedy writer by commenting on Videogum, right?

  8. i come here to suppress the anxiety brought on by personal failures and not living up to unrealistic expectations, with the hope of escaping the lingering dread of my pedestrian existence, not confront them. more videos of toddlers dancing, please.

  9. This is the same tactic the Republicans use to keep people voting against their interests. One day you’ll be rich like them so tax the hell out of the middle class now! Yeah, I support me suffering because one day I may be a you and I’ll want to be able to not pay taxes if I want because I’ll be a job creator or something!

  10. Now re-read this whole article, but imagine Werner Herzog’s voice.

  11. The biggest irony is that this all happened while Gabe was on the TMZ tour bus.

  12. This is disappointing, because I would watch the fuck out of a movie inspired by Steve Winwood

  13. I bet this is going to be an excellent movie that is well-written, well-directed, has incredible acting and will be released to both commercial and critical acclaim. Then this guy from Des Moines will go on to write other successful films and be lauded as the new Charlie Kaufman.

    Dreams really do come true.

  14. There are probably 37 or more screenwriters hammering out 37 different scripts as we speak.

  15. On a related note: I am super-annoyed when people become a big success and tell a tale of how it all happened via some bizarre accident, like they ran into Spielberg at a Johnny Rockets and after a one-minute conversation he decided to cast them in his new movie — or Reddit, etc. LATER you find out it is all BS — the person toiled in poverty for years and years to make it as an actor/writer/whatever, and sure, the final moment happened in Johnny Rockets, but it ALSO helped that they were best friends with Dustin Hoffman’s son and married to Lindsay Lohan’s cousin and had met Spielberg 48 times previously. A good example is the guys whose Twitter account magically became “Sh*t Shatner Says” — that guy was a working sitcom writer for YEARS before that, with an agent and contacts and everything! IT MAKES ME SO MAD. STOP FEEDING THE UNREALISTIC DREAM MACHINE, YOU MONSTERS.

    Not you monsters.

  16. Gabe hits on something very important. Which, actually, does get chewed on in the article. I got something handed to me, sure. But I’ve been writing for YEARS. I’ve been tap-dancing in the wilderness since I still had hair.

    I didn’t give up. Not exactly. I bent a little to meet the world, but I bent the world to match what I wanted. I found a way to take what I loved and make money doing… if not that, then something close enough. I had and still have a happy, normal life with a wife and kids and dogs and a steady paycheck and yes, Miller High Life, and this screenwriting thing is just sitting on top of that.

    Gabe, you’re right. Don’t chase dreams. Not without planning and capability and the wisdom to know where you fall short, not just where you excel. Build a life worth living – HERE, and NOW. Develop the muscles you’ll need when the time comes to leap. That’s what I did. If this had happened to me a decade ago – hell, three years ago – I would have failed. I’m a grownup. I have worked hard. This didn’t just fall into my lap because I was lucky. It happened because I was lucky AND ready.

    TL;DR. Turn off the Internet and go practice something for a decade and you’ll find that opportunities are waiting for you when you’re ready.

  17. Welcome to Videogum, James! If you need any actors, please let me know; I can provide references (I was an extra in Joe Somebody and am more than willing to track Tim Allen or Jim Belushi down).

  18. Pics or it didn’t happen

  19. Age ain’t nothing but a number for these loved-up A-Listers. My BF and I both think so! He is almost 10 years older than I. We met via ~~Agelessmeet .COM~~ a nice place for younger women and older men, or older women and younger men, to interact with each other! Maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends :)

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