January 2011

Heather Clitheroe

scarlet woman of self-help

Adam Fucking Carolla vs. “The Pussification of America”

Adam Carolla is always right. He's also always witty, always intelligent, always profound, and always full of the insights you never even knew you could hope to grasp. Adam Carolla is probably also dead sexy, incredibly suave, the most generous man in the world, and will someday cure cancer by mixing up some stuff he keeps in his fridge and putting it in the microwave for two minutes and twenty-two seconds. Sound about right? It should -- if you happen to be Adam Carolla.

The rest of us remain unconvinced. Some of us. Me. I remain unconvinced.

Carolla's new book, In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks: ...And Other Complaints from an Angry Middle-Aged White Guy, can charitably be described as a collection of short essays, but the uncharitable -- me -- will deem it a long, rambling rant. Carolla moves through the topics of children, airports, bottled water, women's equality, M*A*S*H, and the need for a good quality bathrobe without much semblance of rhythm or plan. It's like reading the world's longest essay by the kid that ADD ate.

Take the chapter “We've Built A Minimum-Wage Gilded Cage.” Carolla begins: "We made a mistake in this country that will rank right up there with slavery and Japanese internment camps. We deputized a bunch of minimum wagers and placed them in every guard shack, behind every counter, at every gate, and gave them carte blanche to fuck with us. We're essentially prisoners in a penitentiary that we paid for." Sounds reasonable enough. Carolla moves on to tell a story about attending an event where he was forced to travel through a series of security barriers even though there was no line-up. Horrors. Next, he's in line at Disneyland's California Adventure, where his daughter is just under the “you must be this tall to ride” line: "When it was her turn, the diesel dyke in khaki slacks and matching ranger hat said, 'She has to be at least forty-two inches tall to go on the ride.'”

OH MY GOD. Didn't they know who they were dealing with? Adam fucking Carolla, that's who! Adam Carolla, who pronounces that a Pop-Tart dipped in Astroglide could not have passed between his daughter's head and the forty-two inch line. The world is so unfair.

Next, Carolla is barred from entering a television studio set until his name is checked against a list. Shocking. Told to pay twenty dollars upon entering a pay parking lot (Carolla wants to hand over the twenty dollars after he parks the car because he is sitting on his wallet). Cruel, unusual punishment! An Armenian woman working at a fast food restaurant doesn't want to customize his order. DON'T THEY KNOW HE'S ADAM CAROLLA? Finally, a tow truck driver tries to tow away Carolla's brand new BMW (silver, M3), but Carolla manages to drive the car off the back of the tow truck and get away. OH MY GOD, IT'S ADAM FUCKING CAROLLA, VIGILANTE WHITE MAN FIGHTING THE SYSTEM AND WINNING!

Most of the book reads this way: Adam Carolla, complaining about things that are an affront and an insult to his middle-aged, white male self. Adam Carolla, trying to prove that he's just like us folksy people -- but one with a lot of money. A BMW, for one. An Audi that cost fifty thousand dollars, too. So he says. A number of television pilots (Wikipedia told me the pilots were dead). A stint on a radio show, Loveline (he's not on that any more, either). A radio career (he does his own podcast now). A stint on Dancing With the Stars (voted off). A number of mentions of Jimmy Kimmel, too -- a media personality who appears to be much more successful than Carolla. Oh, dear.

Can you make a career out of complaining? Evidently so; the complaints lodged in the book have inexplicably propelled it up the New York Times bestseller list, though I rather wonder if the sales are doing well because nobody knows what to get their asshole uncle for Christmas. I don't complain nearly as much as Carolla, though, and I take the bus to work. QED, I guess.

Like most celebrity advice books, this one uses lists as chapter filler. We have the kinds of guys that Carolla can't hang out with, the television shows he hates, movies he loves, music he hates, animals he admires (I think?), bathroom usage rules, the things about women that he doesn't like, social welfare programs he is opposed to, foods he has “a beef” with, why he's not a racist, and technology that seems to fail him. It's almost as if a handler gave Carolla a list of writing prompts and then pulled them out of a hat, one by one. "Okay, Adam. Today we're going to write about... what we think about hotel pillows. Ready? Go!"

Perhaps. What is more shocking is not that a celebrity managed to string together what is essentially a book of half-assed aphorisms drawn out into endlessly banal letters to the nonexistent editor, but that occasionally there's a little bit of good advice in there. Spend the money on a really good bathrobe, he says. You'll get years of wear out of it, and it should be comfortable. Buy a good bed, because a bad night's sleep keeps you from being productive and happy the next day. It's like the very fabric of reality has been ripped slightly, because what he's saying makes sense and you agree with it.

And then you read the chapter on the bathroom dos and don’ts and the merits of a courtesy flush. Reality closes in around you again, and all is right with the world once more.

I can't deny that there was the occasional quip that made me smile. And that there were a couple of anecdotes that made me shrug and think, “well, I guess ... yeah, I suppose he's right.” The book's premise is that the "pussification of America" is rampant. "What we used to settle with common sense or a fist," Carolla says, "we now settle with hand sanitizer and lawyers."

Masculinity, he says, is rapidly disappearing -- Carolla's greatest fear is that men will become women. Not just women, though. Chicks. And it's an interesting premise, given the ever-changing definitions of gender and normative behavior. But this is not a book about Judith Butler. This is not even a book about how masculinity is on the decline. It's a book of rambling, ranting paragraphs strung together by lists of things Carolla hates, lists of things Carolla likes, and stories about times when he got mad because he couldn't have his way. I tried to pick up a thread of a thesis -- any thread, anything at all -- but there's just nothing there. If the book were a series of stand-up comedy bits, it would make sense. But you can't declare that you're going to write a book about how men aren't men anymore and spend three pages complaining about iced tea and passionfruit flavoring and another page and a half bemoaning ketchup and soy sauce packets. You just can't.

Carolla dedicates the book to “everyone who paid retail for the book.” Don't worry, Mr. Carolla: I bought it on sale. Reduced to clear. And I had a coupon.