Monday, May 21, 2018


Rather than deconstruct yet another suffocating David Brooks sermonette on morality --
What Moral Heroes Are Made Of
-- it seemed an appropriate occasion to initiate you into one of the exotic pleasures of living in Chicago during the 1990s.


I consider Bobwatch to be the boozy, disreputable uncle of my own, long-running David Brooks project for reasons that I hope will be obvious in 3...2...1...

The Reader helped you survive Bob Greene, and it will help you survive the super blue blood moon

The thing that made me fall in love with the Reader way back in my bright college years of the mid-90s—1995 and 1996, to be precise—was the monthly "Bobwatch" column. Its tagline was "We read him so you don't have to," which pretty much said it all, but at the same time conveyed so little of the column's brilliance: how expertly the pseudonymous Ed Gold tore apart Bob Greene's daily columns on the front page of the Tribune's Tempo section, the detail and incisiveness with which he analyzed what made Greene so awful.

Gold delivered a mission statement of sorts in his inaugural column on January 26, 1995:

We pick up [Greene's] column with a tingle of anticipation—how awful will it be? Will he content himself with another effortless sputtering of baby talk, lavished over one of his pitiful handful of themes and interests? Or will he reach some new benchmark of idiocy?
Over the next two years, he would pick out every bit of sentimentality and sanctimony and skewer it mercilessly and brilliantly in a way that most of us (especially if we were still college students slogging away at the campus daily) could only aspire to.

What was really impressive was his stamina. Did you ever try to read a Bob Greene column in the 80s or 90s? Nobody could tolerate that many newspaper inches about the long and bitter and extremely boring custody battle over Baby Richard (also pseudonymous). But Ed Gold could! He made it a joy to get in touch with our worst selves:

Bob Greene's sympathy carries the same corrosive effect as praise from the Daily Worker did in the 1950s. Readers who would normally sympathize at the tragic unfolding of the Baby Richard case find themselves hating the child, based solely on the endless sweaty jig Bob insists on performing on his behalf.
And now a little "flava" (as the kids once used to say) of Bobwatch itself:
Running on Empty 

Bob Greene speaks for a generation, but which one? He disgorges thoughts so weird, so wrong, that I believe they are so unique in the history of the world.

By Ed Gold

Sorry. I've just finished reading Bob Greene's latest book, The 50 Year Dash: The Feelings, Foibles, and Fears of Being Half a Century Old, and his thought patterns are still infecting my brain.

Give me a moment to recover. Breathe. Think of something positive that has happened in the past 25 years: the worldwide eradication of smallpox.

There, I feel better. The fog is lifting. How can this still come as a surprise? It's Bob's 16th book. Just as scenes of London are expected in the work of Charles Dickens, there are certain elements common to every Bob product: the terrible writing; the muddy thinking; the suffocating, relentless nostalgia.

But my God, Bob really tops himself here. Let's begin with the writing. It is the worst he's ever published--perhaps the worst anybody has ever published. You think I'm kidding? Read the following sentence: "Like the father who sits in a ballpark with his son, looking at the boy but also seeing himself as a boy, looking at his boy looking at the ball game and being both the father who is there today and the son who used to be there with his own father forty years before, being the father and the child all at once, and that fact being so much more important than the game out on the diamond..."

Those are his ellipses. On page 97. Second full paragraph. Ellipses. As if at that point he had to break off the sentence to wiggle his fingers against his lips and go, "Ah-bee-bahdee-bahdee-bahdee."

The book is written in all three persons--first person for Bob's own cherished history, third person for real life glimpsed while shuffling through airport walkways, and second person so he can backpedal away from his own thoughts while trying to fob them off as universal experience...
There is something reassuring in the knowledge that the practice of handing big bags of cash to shitty writers with outsized reputations on the back nine of their careers to crank out banal, brain-stunting piffle is nothing new. 

Greene's career came crashing down when the details of a previous sexual liaison with an underage girl leaked. 

At the time Greene was on a promotional tour for his 21st book and being lauded by Time magazine as a chronicler “for people hungry for moral clarity.”

And so it goes. 
Behold, a Tip Jar!


Neo Tuxedo said...

Boosting a comment I left on one of Steinberg's blog posts.

Even then, I found his work irritating[ly] self-referential. No matter [what] he was writing about, it was all about him.

So, what you're saying is, he was the prototype for Joel Stein.

Frank McCormick said...

Regarding Bob Greene: I liked his early, funny columns.

ziply said...

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for introducing provincial moi to Neil Steinberg (Ed Gold)!