Survivor Alliances Banned? But Edgy Alliance Rules

The Survivor

alliance is over. Long live the (real) alliance, The Edgy Alliance.

According to Sean, the goofy alleged neurologist from the

first Survivor (if you ask me, anyone

who would go to Sean for a neurological consultation ought to have his head

examined), the key difference in the new Survivor

is that the show now bans alliances. Of course, I’m not sure Sean is the most

reliable source in the world about anything, but it’s right there in cold type,

in one of publicity-shy Sean’s gazillion or so exclusive interviews in the

run-up to the new Survivor , this one

in the Post . After crudely dissing

the looks of the women in his Survivor

group and telling us, of the women in the new

one, “They are just great looking! Great looking! I could have had a great time

with a couple of them, believe me,” the super-suave Sean proceeded to drop a

bombshell about an alleged new alliance policy. One he takes credit for

himself. One so stupid , you can

almost believe him on that basis alone.

“At the end of the

taping for Survivor I ,” Sean told the

Post , “the creator Mark Burnett asked

us what we would do to make the next series better …. One of the things I told them

was to ban alliances. And this time they’ve done that. The rules say it’s

illegal to collude on a vote. That’s going to add a new dimension to the


Yeah, Sean-the dimension of boredom . Way to go, you neurological nitwit; way to ruin the single

most (perhaps only) interesting and novel element in the show. Hey, why not

just cut out the heart of its popularity, the only thing that gave it any

unscripted drama amidst the schlock.

What did you think was the source of the show’s success,

Sean? The dumb relay races? The island-legends trivia contest? Your moronic

alphabetical voting strategy in the tribal council? No, you brain-challenged

brain doctor, it was the drama of alliance formation, the Machiavellian

scheming, the rise of Richard Hatch as a great pop-culture character archetype,

the way the alliance formation and freeze-outs tapped deep into the nation’s

primal junior high school insecurity fears (primal fears that carry over into

the rest of life for many of us). The way it made human character and human

relationships the real subject of Survivor

in a brilliant, pop-novelistic way.

Jeez, banning alliances: an idea so dumb only the deeply

addled, self-infatuated Sean could have thought of it. Well, we’ll see. Since

I’m writing this in advance of the first episode of the new Survivor , I’ll reserve comment until the

end of this column, which I’ll append after I see it.

Instead, this column will be devoted to another kind of

alliance: to The Edgy Alliance and its members, and their responses to my idea,

in the aftermath of Survivor, to form

a different kind of alliance.

As I wrote back then, I was stunned by the success of

Richard Hatch’s Machiavellian scheming, stunned into re-evaluating my life and

realizing that I wanted an alliance too .

Not to win some game-show prize, but an alliance of kindred spirits,

enlightened obsessives and enthusiasts-and who better to turn to than the

readers of this column?

Thus was born The Edgy

Alliance. I provided a handy coupon-sized application form with space for readers

to make their own suggestions for topics to be treated in the column, as well

as a list of some 60 or so writers, artists, thinkers, songwriters, films,

books and music I’d previously praised, so that prospective members could see

if they felt simpatico.*

I spoke of the way I hoped the Alliance could serve not just

as solidarity for like-minded souls, but as a kind of “mobile cultural strike

force to galvanize support for deserving works of art.” And cited, as

precedent, successful campaigns by this column to get the works of the

brilliant, reclusive novelist Charles Portis back in print (if you haven’t read

Dog of the South yet, I’m tempted to

ban you from the Alliance), to save the smartest, funniest show on TV, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (for a couple

of seasons, anyway) and to get the new owners of the Chrysler Building to keep

its beautiful spire lit all night long instead of turning it off at 2 a.m. (If

you’re out late at night and you gaze up at the spire, you have this column to

thank for the sight.)

Anyway, the response was truly gratifying. Letters began

pouring in to the postal box I’d rented (The Edgy Alliance, Box 105, 577 Second

Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10016). I was invited to appear on Christopher Lydon’s

National Public Radio program, The

Connection, prompting a new wave of applications-and after one further

mention in my Jan. 8 column on Thomas Pynchon and Captain Crunch, the total is

now nearly 400 Edgy Allies. (By the way, I was pleased The Times cited my essay on Crunch in its recent profile of the

hacker legend, but a little bit dismayed that they said I characterized Crunch

as an “American anti-hero.” My exact words were, “a true American hero.” How does that become “anti-hero”? O.K., O.K.,

I’m edgy.)

But what was most gratifying was not the number of responses

but the range, variety and quality of the suggestions and obsessions shared.

To paraphrase Wayne and Garth in Wayne’s World : I am not

worthy . The erudition, the passion, the eclectic and imaginative aesthetic

taste in your suggestions floored me. Edgy Allies don’t just rock the house

down, they rock it back up again and re-arrange the porch furniture.

So I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with all of the suggestions, many of

which deserve an entire column in response. And I thought maybe the best thing

would be to go through the coupons and letters and select a few suggestions

this week, some just to list, some to comment briefly on-kind of an interactive

thing-hoping this will inspire more people to seek to join and send in

suggestions (did I mention the address: The Edgy Alliance, Box 105, 577 Second

Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10016).

Let me begin with:

· Oblomov , by Ivan Goncharov. No fewer

than three requests to write about

this lovely 19th-century Russian novel that is, in a way, a hymn to lassitude.

I think it’s no accident that Oblomov

is such a favorite with The Edgy Alliance, because over the years I’ve noticed

that Oblomov enthusiasts tend to be,

like Edgy Enthusiast types, above all deeply devoted readers. The kind of

reader for whom reading is a deliriously sensual pleasure. The kind of readers

for whom Oblomovian lassitude represents a realization of their secret fantasy

of abandoning the onerous demands of the real world-going to work in the

morning and all that-and, instead, getting to stay in bed and read as long as

they want for the rest of their lives. Anyway, I know that’s my alternate-life

fantasy. Well, one of them.

· “William

Empson’s essay on Marvell’s ‘Garden,’ Scrutiny

1932, pp. 236-240.” What I like about this suggestion is not just the poet

(Marvell is my fave among the later metaphysical poets), not just the poem

itself. “The Garden” is a lovely pastoral in which the poet imagines himself

going into a synesthesia-like trance in a garden, annihilating all into “a

green thought in a green shade.” (Interesting: another instance of sensual and

spiritual lassitude. I think there’s a theme here.) And it’s not just the

reference to Empson, who, as I’ve confessed in previous columns, is my

20th-century lit-crit hero, still a giant (you’ll note the appearance of his

great work Seven Types of Ambiguity

in my original list). I’d commend to anyone who doubts the continuing relevance

of Empson the chapter on him in Jonathan Bate’s valuable recent book The Genius of Shakespeare . Mr. Bate

makes a lovely analogy between Empsonian ambiguity and Heisenbergian

uncertainty, both of which intersected in Cambridge in the 1920’s.

But what I particularly like about this suggestion is its

specificity. Although Empson’s Marvell essay has been reprinted elsewhere, the

specificity of the citation to ” Scrutiny

… pp. 236-40″ suggests the reader actually has in his possession an original

copy of that legendary (in lit-crit circles, anyway) magazine edited by F.R.

Leavis. Marvell’s “Garden,” Empson, Scrutiny :

a trifecta of good taste!


Gram Parsons’ “Thousand Dollar Wedding.” In this case, a reader sent me an

entire essay he’d written about the version of this song on the Gram Parson

tribute album, Return of the Grievous

Angel (a duet cover version sung by Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando), an

essay entitled “$1,000 Wedding: Gram Parson’s Faulknerian Mini-Opera.” It’s

really smart, the essay, and it made me think again about why I’m drawn to

country music. Not only me, but a number of Edgy Allies who requested more

about both Johnny and Rosanne Cash (which led me to go buy Johnny’s new album, Solitary Man . Check out his

heartbreaking version of Bono’s great anthem, “One”). Maybe it’s the lassitude

again, the pure lassitude of longing and sadness at the heart of every great

country song.

It also made me realize that if I got to choose another

person’s life to have lived, I’d have wanted to be Gram Parsons. To have

written his songs, lived his brief tragic life, given birth to his legend and,

perhaps most of all, to have Emmylou Harris write “Boulder to Birmingham” about

my death, how they burned my body in a desert canyon near Joshua Tree.

· Here’s a

multiple request that I record here for its wonderfully strange eclecticism:

the reader who wanted me to write about “Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian , Bar Kochba [the

second-century Jewish rebel], Buddy Greco, and the cello.”

I’m sort of fascinated by whatever it is that links those

four, but it gives me an excuse to cite one of my favorite lines from one of my

favorite film comedies, The In-Laws ,

the cult fave scripted by Andrew Bergman. Not a Buddy Greco reference exactly,

but a Jose Greco reference.

It’s in the scene in which Peter Falk, who’s playing a

wacked-out rogue C.I.A. agent, not quite housebroken in polite society, arrives

for dinner at the home of his son’s prospective in-laws, a suburban dentist

(played with deadpan aplomb by Alan Arkin) and his wife (Nancy Dussault). Mr.

Falk proceeds to weird them out by telling a disturbingly over-the-top story

about some operation down in Central America, a place where, he claims, the

tsetse flies were so big they carried off young children in their beaks. He

goes into an elegiac description of the flies flapping off into the sunset with

the children drooping from their jaws, and then tells the wigged-out in-laws

the name he claims the frightened native people have for the giant tsetses:

“They call them ‘ Los Jose Greco del Muertes ‘-the flamenco

dancers of death.” Thank you for giving me an excuse to repeat that. You’ll

see: Rent the movie, you’ll thank me.


Ed Sanders. Yes! Great request. Here’s another alternate life fantasy: If I

were a Beat, Sanders is the Beat I’d most like to have been. Virtually the only

one I really admire as a poet: his Egyptological and classical Greek learning

inflect, in a brilliant way, his vision of the East Village as a site of comic,

mythic, pornographic legends. Beatitude fused with grungitude: a sensibility

best exemplified in prose in Sanders’ Tales

of Beatnik Glory and Shards of God .

Plus he wrote The Family , one of the

scariest true-crime books ever (about the Manson family) and co-founded the

Fugs with the great Tuli Kupferberg. I rest my case.

· “Joel

Carmichael’s translation of Anna Karenina .”

Not familiar with it yet, although I have written in the past about the

mystical vision of the One and the Many to be found beneath the surface of

Tolstoy’s opening line in Anna Karenina

(“All happy families are alike ….”) as an analogue to Flannery O’Connor’s

mystical vision of beatitude in the title Everything

That Rises Must Converge, another true fave .

· “The Sex Life

of Krishnamurti.” No comment yet, but I’ll look into it.

· “The Tao of

Jackson Browne.” Yes, he’s very unfashionable now, but I’ve confessed in the

past to having a weakness for J.B.’s work, even to searching for and

celebrating “my inner Jackson Browne” every time I go to L.A. The first two

letters of lassitude are “L.A.,” and Late

for the Sky -isn’t that a classic of sad lassitude? And yes, it’s true: My

heart still stirs in a sad, neo–Popular Front way (a “Pop Front” way?) whenever

I hear Jackson Browne’s “For Every Man.”

· A

thought-provoking analysis of the metrical anomalies in King Lear’s

grief-stricken words (“Never, never, never, never, never”) and their thematic


· On the Shoulders of Giants by Robert

Merton. Described as ” Pale Fire

footnotes in non-fiction form.” I’m down, dude. I once owned a secondhand copy,

but somehow lost it. Will now search for another.

· Jimi Hendrix

and Randy Rhoads. Who is Randy Rhoads again? Oh, okay-the dude who played

guitar for Ozzy Osbourne. But I will say something about Hendrix: We share the

same birthday! James Agee, too-Nov. 27. Nonetheless, apropos of Hendrix:

doesn’t “Voodoo Chile” in the Mazda commercial just completely blow away

Bowie’s “Changes” in the Nortel ad? “Voodoo Chile” dominates, subverts,

shatters the framework of its commercial exploitation, but “Changes” becomes,

with repetition, subservient to it. Very sad.

· “The aggressive

machiavellian alliance forming game play in King Herod,” with a citation to

Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities , Books

14-17. A worthy subject, but isn’t Josephus a suspect  source?

· One of my

favorite requests: “Could you write about what is a liberal today? When I was

in college in 1938 I took a liberal conservative test. I scored 85% liberal 15%

conservative I dare say the questions would be somewhat different today.” A

good question and I’ll get to this and some others I have in hand later on. But

I think I have to stop now. Not because I’ve run out of great suggestions from

Edgy Allies, but because I’m running out of space.

But I kind of like this

free-associative, interactive way of responding to Edgy Alliance suggestions.

So I hope readers will continue to sign up for the Alliance and send their

suggestions for possible discussion in future columns.

And by the way, I promised an update on goofy Sean’s

“alliance ban” claim about the new Survivor .

What do you know: No mention of any

rule change on the first show, and you’d certainly think they’d mention it if there was a change. Way to go, Dr. Sean! I think what we have here, with

the neurologist turned show-biz analyst, is the first case of infotainment malpractice . Still, I’ll

forgive Sean, since his claim did prompt me to get around to writing about the

Alliance suggestions. I’d even let Sean join the Alliance, on one condition:

that he reveal the one remaining secret of the first Survivor -when he claimed that Colleen and Greg were “covering up for

another relationship” when they’d go off together (followed by a camera crew)

at night. What was that other

relationship, Sean? The Edgy Alliance wants to know.

*Here’s the original list:

All the King’s Men ,

the Cowboy Junkies, Dead Souls , Mystery Science Theater 3000 , The Long Goodbye , Peter Brook, Badlands , Smokey Robinson, Chimes at Midnight , Don DeLillo’s Libra , Chrissie Hynde, Murray Kempton, Larry Sanders , the Dixie Chicks, De Rerum Natura (Lucretius), Persuasion , doo wop, Pale Fire , Brian Kulick, Sandra

Bernhardt, David Berlinski, “Shipping Out” (David Foster Wallace), Tom Petty, The Third Man , Julie Taymor’s Titus , Lingua Franca , Willie Nelson, Tom Frank, the Shirelles, Eric

Ambler, Blade Runner , The Anatomy of Melancholy , Charles

Portis, Blood on the Tracks , James M.

Cain, Bruce Wagner, Rickie Lee Jones, Sam Cooke, Errol Morris, Ann Magnuson, Seven Types of Ambiguity , The Woman in White , The Simpsons , “Losing My Religion,” Christopher Ricks, Renaldo and

Clara, the dream of Clarence (in Richard

III ), Edith Wharton, Jon Stewart, George Herbert, The Pat Hobby Stories , Nicholson Baker, The Crying of Lot 49 , Other

Inquisitions (Borges), Chinatown ,

Bill Murray, Rosanne Cash, Hart Crane, and Bruce Cutler, John Gotti’s lawyer.

(No official Gotti endorsement implied.) Survivor Alliances Banned? But Edgy Alliance Rules