In Defense of David Cross

davidcross In Defense of David CrossDavid Cross has no wife and no kids. The comedian and actor, best known for his role as Tobias Fünke on the little watched, but much lamented FOX sitcom Arrested Development and as co-creator (with Bob Odenkirk) of Mr. Show with Bob and David, an HBO sketch series that ran for four seasons back in the Clinton Era, has a dog. Her name is Ollie Red Socks.

Ollie, like a lot of dogs that live in the city (she resides with her master in a modest but comfortable apartment full of tennis balls and squeak toys in the East Village), sometimes likes to get out for a little fresh air, run around in the country, maybe dip her paws in a fresh-water stream.

For that reason, and because her human companion likes to get away sometimes, too, Mr. Cross recently bought himself and Ollie a small cottage in Sullivan County. To make this purchase—and because everything else in the world from squeak toys to HDTVs requires money, lots and lots of money—Mr. Cross took a minor role in Alvin and the Chipmunks, a film you probably didn’t see unless you play with Webkinz after school and still occasionally have accidents in your OshKosh B’goshes.

A few weeks’ work on a kiddy flick in exchange for the down payment on a house with a stream seemed logical enough to the 43-year-old Mr. Cross, but to a certain Internet-empowered subset of his fans, this was nothing short of a betrayal.

You could be forgiven for not knowing about this during a news cycle that included the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the Obama victory in Iowa, the continued war in Iraq, and the emotional collapse of Britney Spears, but to the sort of pop culture obsessives who spent their high-school years memorizing the ‘Dead Parrot’ routine from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, own the Donnie Darko director’s-cut DVD, and whose female ideal (since the Cross agonistes seem to be exclusively straight males) runs towards, say, Natalie Portman and the Asian girl in Rushmore, Mr. Cross has done something entirely unforgivable. Think: Dylan going electric, plus Nirvana’s "Breed" in a commercial for XBoX’s Major League Baseball 2K7, times a thousand. For his Alvin role as Ian, the Chipmunks’ agent, plus other recent career choices like a one-off role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Mr. Cross has been pilloried by commenters on The Onion AV Club’s blog, where they called him a hypocrite, a "smug, condescending asshole," and "a huge prick." (Some of those observations came from commenters who professed to like him.)

After reading things like, "Cross is creating his own style comedy: Double-Standard Standup," as well as a mocking MySpace post by his friend (and onetime Mr. Show guest star) Patton Oswalt, Mr. Cross decided to respond to his critics with an open letter on his Web site, bobanddavid.com. In the searching post, which begins "Enuff Znuff" and is signed "Yours until the next piece of shit I’m in," Mr. Cross clarifies—perhaps a little too defensively—that his decision to appear opposite those adorable CGI chipmunks was born out of needing (and enjoying) work and being unable to buy his country place with his "artistic integrity."

The tone of the post—"I have no regrets at all" he says about his various endeavors—calls to mind Richard Nixon’s famous "Checkers" speech with Ollie (or maybe the cottage? or was it Alvin?—it gets confusing) in the role of the irresistible inducement against his integrity.

Speaking directly to one’s critics might not be the best idea for any celebrity—especially one with a cultish online following—but, as he wrote in his open letter, Mr. Cross "wasn’t prepared for the level, or amount I should say, of vitriol that’s been flung about like so much monkey poo."

He offered four and half "mitigating factors" for his role and assumed he’d settled the Chipmunks contretemps once and for all.

He was wrong. Displaying the sort of reasoned commentary one has come to expect from unmoderated blog comments, a reader of Defamer called the letter "the shittiest fucking defense since the Nuremberg trials." A commenter on a follow up Onion AV Club post wrote in, "He’s digging his own grave, professionally." On Stereogum, one reader simply stated that he or she "wouldn’t mind if he dies."

Alllviiiiiin!!

Speaking with the Observer a week after he posted his open letter and dozens of blogs and message boards answered with an outpouring of hostility, Mr. Cross seemed, well, cross. He also seemed genuinely hurt by the criticism he was being subjected to online.

"There’s no small part of people wanting to call you on your shit. And I think some of it’s deserved on my part, but I also think a lot of it isn’t. I think a lot of it is lazy and not really thoughtful, " he said, sitting on a leather sofa beneath a painting of Ronald and Nancy Reagan with Michael Jackson in his apartment.

"Look, do I really think that Lobsterboy103 thinks that I’m ‘evil’? Of course not … But it’s just the Internet, you know. It’s tippity-tappity-tippity-tap … [here he mimics simian typing] … Done. Hit send."

Mr. Cross thinks that much of the criticism—particularly anonymous recollections of unfriendly encounters with him at bars or events—has created an false impression of who he is.

"I’ve gotten ‘bitter’ a lot. I don’t think that’s applicable," he said. "People genuinely don’t like me. They find me arrogant and abrasive."