4/02/2007

Gene Morgan Interview

Gene Morgan is the founder and co-editor of
Bear Parade. His site is pompadoured. His work is published in elimae, McSweeney's, Opium Magazine, The Scientific Creative Quarterly, Wrapped Up Like a Douche, and terry.

SK: Did you own a Sega or a Super Nintendo and would you mind discussing the pros and cons of each?

Gene Morgan: I owned a Super Nintendo, a Sega Genesis, and a Turbo Grafix 16. The pro of all of these consoles was that when I was young, they were a nice tool for making new friends.

My area of town was pretty mixed, racially and economically, but video games were an integral part of life for most boys, regardless of those things. So Sega or Nintendo was something to talk about with almost anyone, and it led to a lot of diverse friendships.

I still talk about games with people pretty often. It's something a lot of people do with their free time, including myself, and it's easy to talk about. I don't have a lot in common with the people I work with, so sports and video games and weather and alcohol are easy and comfortable things to talk about.

The con of most video games is that very few of them can be considered art. Most video games are just a variation of an antiquated formula, and in their repetitiveness, do not lead to any sort of personal revelation or movement. Sega and Nintendo set the standard for games that revise old formulas for profit, but even this is changing. Like books and movies, you see a lot of cliché and repetitive things, but if you look at less mainstream titles you find a lot of innovation and ideas.

SK: I'm unfamiliar with the Turbo Grafix 16. Was that one of the less popular but advanced (for the time) systems like Sega CD or Atari Jaguar?

Gene Morgan: Turbo Grafix 16 was comparable, graphically, to Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis. It was much more Japanese and didn't have the name recognition that the other two did, so it failed. I liked it. They had games like Splatterhouse, which was the first real horror game I can remember. You'd go around in a hockey mask and beat shit with a two by four.

SK: What were some of your favorite games on those early systems, going back to the original Nintendo?

Gene Morgan: I've always liked games that are different. On the original Nintendo I played a lot of the regular stuff that everyone else played, but as I got older, my tastes turned towards Japanese fetishism and weird shit. I liked anything that translated awkwardly to American culture, stuff like Mappy Land on Nintendo, which was a stupid game that consists of you, a mouse, trying to avoid cat-death so you can get presents for your mouse girlfriend, and offbeat games like Clayfighter, which was a fighting game that was done entirely in stop animation. I played a lot of games, but only the stupid ones that no one cares about stuck with me.

SK: I had a Sega Genesis. Did you ever play Comix Zone? If I remember correctly, there might have been some unique aspects to that storyline. Are there any specific games with any literary value?

Gene Morgan: In Comix Zone you could, in a way, pick your own plot movement as you went through the frames of the game's comic book. It is interesting, and very well done. I played it for the first time a few months ago on the Playstation 2 after Sega reissued a bunch of old Genesis games in a collection. There is a good literary feel to it, I guess. Like you're in a comic book.

I see a lot of promise for literary ideas in video games, but the development costs need to dramatically lower before any real risks are taken. Game developers don't take many risks on unproven or radical ideas, and the people that play video games, in general, don't read contemporary fiction or poetry. They play video games. And it's not that gamers are stupid, because most of the people that read fiction and poetry, I could argue, don't give a shit about video games either.

I think it's a good example of a greater problem with contemporary art: artists have become isolated within their own cultures. Sure, people attempt to "bring the arts together," but writers usually only care about writers, and visual artists usually only care about visual artists (unless there is money involved). And when they look to other arts, they stick to the classics and dead people.

Most of my friends in the visual arts could list maybe one living poet that isn't on Bear Parade-- and these are smart, talented people. It would also be hard for me to believe most writers could come up with a list of ten living visual artists they admire.

I think esoteric influence leads to little innovation or progress, but maybe this is a meaningless statement. The internet probably makes this concern irrelevant and stupid-sounding. If you want to know about contemporary art, type "contemporary art" into Google, and start looking. Most of it is crap mixed with very few relevant and honest things. Like anything else. The same ideas, good and bad, happen in all of the arts.

SK: Do you enjoy many plays or films? Do you have a list of favorite movies?

Gene Morgan: I like going to plays and seeing movies, but there's so much I'm open to that I don't really want to restrict myself and think of favorites. When I had a MySpace profile, I hated that part. I don't like people objectifying my tastes.

SK: Do you like / have your read Harold Pinter's plays?

Gene Morgan: I just read about Pinter on Wikipedia. I've heard his name before. People who win the Nobel Prize in Literature are alright, usually.

SK: I have this theory about David Mamet's Three Uses of the Knife, his book about writing. I think he wrote it as a monologue for a character who is an asshole. That's why he uses baseball analogies for writing. But I think he's great, and in this book he distinguishes fantastically between what is meaningless and therefore a political use of melodrama, and what he says art really is. Do you think if writing sounds good, but isn't meaningful (however subjective that word can be) it is audience manipulation instead of art? Mamet also says "Western European romance gave us Hitler, the novels of Trollope, and the American musical."

Gene Morgan: Anything that is meaningless is a failure as art. All art has meaning. If it is not art, then there is no meaning. Even ornamental art, when well done, has a place in a person's life and takes on a form of meaning for the person experiencing it. I own several pieces of what people would consider as "abstract" and "meaningless" art, but having it in my home and experiencing it for a long period of time gives it a meaning that moves beyond other work I own that is more explicit in its intentions.

The word "meaning," as you pointed out, is very subjective, so even if a work of art appears meaningless to one person, somebody else may find something that honestly resonates in that same work of art. People like David Mamet are able to pinpoint what resonates with a large number of people, and not what is necessarily more meaningful. Which may be an even greater form of audience manipulation than melodramatic, nice-sounding art, if you consider subliminally presumptive art manipulative.

SK: In what ways can art take itself too seriously, or at what point does art fail its general audience, if there is an audience?

Gene Morgan: Art fails a general audience when it becomes academic. If you are writing for an academic audience, you are writing criticism. Only a certain amount of people will take interest in whatever it is you're making, and they will apply it to what they have read before (something similar to what you have made), and they will analyze the old thing based on the experience of your new thing that is similar to the old thing and responding to the old thing. Academic art is, as far as I can grasp, a form of criticism more relevant than contemporary criticism itself.

Academic art fails a general audience in that the general audience, in terms of poetry and novels, has no reference to the old thing. Academic artists have progressed much like scientists: The general audience understands the greater intent of the work, but lacks the understanding of nuance for something like a scientific paper on AIDS to make complete sense to them. I cannot read a scientific journal and pretend to catch every reference and understand the importance of every methodology used by the scientists. It is impossible-- I took biology at a community college. So while this science is essential to my own life, I cannot begin to comprehend it completely, and this alienates me from the understanding that this knowledge would otherwise provide.

Non-academic art, which is art that can be understood with little previous knowledge (not to say that it is without reference), is based in real life experience and has less of a dependence on past structure, and more on the current state of being. It may explore the same ideas of academic art, and often does, but it is without jargon and the technical isolation from regular people who don't have their MFA in poetry. This is art that is valuable to a general audience.

SK: Do you consider any of the shows on Adult Swim literary?

Gene Morgan: I've watched every episode of Frisky Dingo. It has to be literary, somehow.

SK: How did you begin Bear Parade?

Gene Morgan: Tao Lin dared me to create a website, and I did. I made a print book for one of my events here in Houston that included a story of his, and I really started to appreciate it after about the fifth time I read it. A few months later I was chatting with him on the internet, and he brought up the fact that he hated most places that publish work electronically, and I agreed. He told me to make something, and I asked him for some poems to start things. He sent me a group of poems, expecting maybe that I would pick one, and I decided I wanted to publish the entire group. That's when I had the idea to focus on small collections rather than single works. Tao asked for fifty dollars, and I agreed to pay him. I sat down that Saturday and Sunday and thought about names for like twenty hours. Then, when I had a name, I thought about colors and design for like ten hours, made something, and then started to think about the design of Tao's book.

SK: Is there any, I don't want to say mission statement, do you think there is a way to describe the writing featured on bear parade without objectifying it? For example, I've read it generalized as minimalism or (favorably) as autistic art. Are generalizations ever useful? I blame capitalism for my question. How does one pitch bear parade to a friend in a way that humors capitalistic media advertisement, but still promotes the site?

Gene Morgan: The people on bear parade are my friends, and they influence me a lot, so it's hard for me to really say what it is they are doing without thinking it's the "best."

I think rather than describing bear parade in terms of its writing style, which is what Tao handles much more than I do, it works better for me to describe it in terms of medium. I feel like that is my focus as an "editor," and I feel more competent and will probably use less generalization if I explain it this way.

Bear parade makes sense existing on the internet-- it cannot exist anywhere else, and that is why it is successful and relevant. The people making bear parade are aware of their medium and how the audience is experiencing the work, which is something in the online literary community has had problems with, which is also why they struggle to find relevance. Print journals pay money, and print the same thing that most web journals do.

People easily dismiss the internet for that reason, but what bear parade takes into account is that people read things on the internet by certain artists, and that leads people to look into writers, and eventually people will pay for those writer's books. Bear parade is something that doesn't force the presence of itself as a governing literary body or a guardian of taste, and instead focuses on certain writers and their talents and helps them increase their exposure in a place where exposure is all that exists.

The same concept exists in music. If everyone gets mp3s cheap and easily, they will instead spend their money on band-related clothes and concerts and special edition stuff and other things that benefit the artist directly. People like supporting art and owning products, and this will not change. The only thing that will change is how people go about supporting and owning things.

SK: Would you tell me about your poem "the dark ages"?

Gene Morgan: To me, it's a poem about the inevitability of consumption, like most of my work.

I always think about the same thing when I buy something. I think about how the product I am buying is going to shape some small ecosystem of money. People that earn money, people that spend money. When I buy a product, I think about how I cannot help but contribute to the separation between the actual earth and people who live on the earth, and how this does not bother me. I usually think about how whatever I am buying probably contributes to our own inevitable extinction, and how we as humans will eventually eat ourselves. And then I buy the product anyway.

SK: In your blog, you said you work mediumly. This reminded me of something you said to me in an email that I take as great advice for submissions. It was concerning the contest you won at McSweeney's (for your piece "Birds.") You said: "I used to send mcsweeney's work on a weekly basis a few years ago, and nothing ever worked for them, so I gave up. Must have been twenty well worked pieces. And then I randomly write something in an hour as a joke, and they accept it and send me a free book."

Does a slower pace provide the freedom to not care enough to succeed, whereas getting uptight and over sending would only produce writing that wants to be published?

Gene Morgan: I think so. I would also probably modify the term "slower pace" to somehow include work that gestates for a longer period of time but may not actually be on paper. "Birds" was a piece I wrote in an hour, but I used a writing style that I had been working on for a while, and ideas that I had thought about for a long time. The uptight over-sent writing I made was usually clouded by conventional and, often times, an untruthful type of writing that isn't close to me or my actual personality.

SK: Is there any advice for dying faster than most people? I consider it a race.

Gene Morgan: Dying fast is easy, but if you want to win properly and without "fault," consider beer and cigarettes and ground red meat. They are not the quickest, but instead are the most disciplined of the available methods. Society has failed at stopping any of these man-produced things from killing people, yet no one is to blame personally for their occurrence-- So, you have the potential here to win without guilt.

SK: Do you think clichés have ever been used well in art? Out of context or as surrealist melodrama? The film Possession with Sam Neil seems to me like melodrama to such a weird and ridiculous extent that it reverses itself and turns back into art.

Gene Morgan: I think clichés can be successful; it just depends on the context.

Gwyneth Paltrow is an actress that believes in that too, and probably repeats it to herself as she starts to fall asleep at night. I picture someone like Gwyneth making a sandwich in the kitchen at one in the morning, looking over her lines and thinking:

"This line about love will make a difference in ordinary people's lives. Grey Poupon is shit compared to this organic Whole Foods mustard."

SK: Is it okay to associate one's work with an "ism" if one is aware of how wrong it is to do this, either through irony or self-conscious stupidity?

Gene Morgan: People do buy into "isms" because they are lazy and want to group things together easily and economically. If you're comfortable with showing people how lazy you are (which I am, at times), then you are probably okay with "isms." They are a useful and ugly tool for people who academically discuss sweeping and over-generalized concepts in art, and I imagine a great deal of academics are aware of this. I don't lose or gain any respect for people when they buy into this kind of mentality. It just exists, so I'm okay with it, and probably do it at times without being aware.

SK: Do you have or recommend a pompadour?

Gene Morgan: My friends all want me to get one, but I'm holding off for a few years. It's too much work for my current sleep schedule, I'd have to wake-up like an hour earlier.

SK: What is your response to the word 'morality'?

Gene Morgan: Death. I like how fragile life is, but I am scared to die. 'Mortality' makes me laugh because life is ridiculous, and makes me sad because I think about my dog dying and my girlfriend dying and me dying.

SK: Please tell me this will be available soon.

Gene Morgan: I wish. If someone wants the rights to this title, they can have it for free. I really just want to see it exist.

SK: What is your response to the word 'colander'?

Gene Morgan: uh.

SK: Are you reading anything good lately?

Gene Morgan: I've been reading "Citizen Of" by Christian Hawkey. I really enjoy his poetry sometimes. Sometimes, it is not something I can relate to at all or even enjoy, but sometimes it makes as much sense to me as my own work. I don't know a better way to explain this feeling.

SK: What is your favorite food and beer?

Gene Morgan: Hot dogs and Bud Light.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Mike Young said...

Cool interview.

Gene, what are some good contemporary/"indie" video games that "lead to personal revelation" or you would consider "artistic?"

I keep looking, but I can't find seem to find examples that make me go “aha, yes.” I don’t think I know where to look.

2.4.07  
Blogger Gene said...

i don't think it is "indie", but katamari is a good place to start.

2.4.07  
Blogger BLAKE said...

turbografx 16 i also owned. i think it was superior to the other 16bit systems. blazing lazers, as far as i remember it, was the first shootemup game that i thought was cool for a long time after playing it. good words here.

8.5.07  

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