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.