Kinda like this but in reverse…and better.

Douglas Coupland

Costume: Brent Butt’s bank account

Douglas Coupland once chewed paper currency into mush in order to construct synthetic replicas of insect nests. He’s also responsible for a giant canoe installed near the Gardiner Expressway and a book on Terry Fox. Coupland’s art project might have lowered inflation an infinitesmal amount by decreasing the real supply of money (if he hadn’t chewed American currency)—but he would have more than made up for this by decreasing our nation’s capital through reckless overspending on Canadian schmaltz. Art school saved his life, apparently, but not our wallets.

The sitcom Corner Gas, while usually funny, inspired a disproportionate level of affection from Canadian viewers, many of whom realized for the first time that television wasn’t just beamed into existence as it crossed the 49th parallel, but produced using real actors who looked something like themselves (kind of ugly). This patriotic fervor had the effect of reducing college funds nationwide in favour of the obsessive collection of Corner Gas talismans, such as DVD seasons, mugs, and hideous tchotkes. While we’re sure Coupland is doing well financially, he could afford to take inspiration from Brent Butt, since Coupland’s own television show, J-Pod, not only sucked, but, even worse, didn’t make any money.

Vladimir Nabokov

Costume: A football referee with a Heroes pin (and supplementary material).

Though Vladimir Nabokov was well aware that Lolita would be his legacy, he was unhappy with the portrayal of the book as of a doomed love affair between the tragic Dolores Haze and the vile Humbert Humbert. But the reason Lolita is often misinterpreted is because he conveyed Humbert so convincingly and undermined him too subtly, through deft feints that only careful readers catch. Nabokov gave up chess to focus on his writing, but that doesn’t mean he ever stopped playing the game: his ideal reader has to work hard to maintain the most literal positions of his set pieces as well as those of two or three additional boards superimposed over the first.

Heroes was a science fiction drama that ran for four years on NBC, never returning to the heights of popularity promised by its first season, the tagline of which was “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” While Lolita wasn’t a cheerleader, she was a talented tennis player. After four or five hundred pages of Nabokovian association and sleight of hand we might begin to doubt their differences. They at least wear similar outfits. Some people think that Ada or Ardor and the incomplete The Original of Laura were attempts to revisit the themes in Lolita, as if that first book could be “saved” by a second or third. In Heroes, themes of redemption are personified by Hiro Nakumura, a Quixote with the power to travel through time and space. Hayden Panatierre, who played the cheerleader future Hiro tells himself to save, was also in Racing Stripes, a movie about an abandoned zebra who grows up to be a racehorse voiced by Frankie Muniz, or something.

Football referees are sometimes referred to as zebras, and Nabokov, who referred to his characters as “galley slaves,” might have appreciated their authority, as well as the slimming effect of vertical stripes on his own once-svelte form. The Heroes pin is for those who can’t make the connection on their own, and the supplementary material, an entirely new book, ties Lolita to Hayden, or might, if anyone at his Halloween party bothers to read past the salacious parts. More than likely Nabokov will just end up in the corner, spurred into writing furious notes to Vera whenever another bro walks up, smashes an empty into his head, and yells “NFL!”

bell hooks

Costume: Veronica Mars

In her essay “Postmodern Blackness,” bell hooks challenges readers of all colours to use postmodernist criticism to disrupt established power structures and reveal the bias inherent in our institutions and modes of thought. To my mind, this was never done more engagingly than in Q McCall’s essay “Just Another Black Man Caught Up in the Mix,” published on the now-defunct basketball blog Free Darko, in which McCall uses hooks’s work to question the dominant narratives surrounding former Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson. McCall successfully argues that the white sports media went out of its way to demonize Iverson, once reliably one of the top five basketball players in the world, because of prejudices associated with the colour of his skin and the way he chose to represent himself.

The television show Veronica Mars only ran for three seasons but has enjoyed steady popularity since, unlike its eponymous protagonist, a high school private eye whose loss of status, thanks to her rape and a disgraced father too intent on finding (unrelated) justice for his own good, is almost as traumatic as the violent murder of her best friend. No joke here. While Mars isn’t black, the show is about challenging the ideathose in power have gotten there because of their inherent virtues, rather than luck or institutional biases. It also aggressively deals with the falsehoods of good and bad reputations, which are shown to be more about what your standing is than what you’ve actually done. That seems like something hooks might appreciate.

Donna Tartt

Costume: Larry King

It’s only halfway through The Secret History that readers of Donna Tartt’s 1992 campus novel (partially based on her experiences at Bennington College) will be able to judge with any certainty the approximate year the book takes place. Prior to a few scattered mentions of rap music, which seem to place the plot in the mid-to-late-80s, the most recent major cultural markers are The Grateful Dead, a ceramic plate with an image of President Nixon, and exclamations of surprise when a main character discovers that the United States has already walked on the moon. One hundred pages later we know that the novel definitely takes place after 1982, but that’s pretty much it. Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch, features cell-phones and Google, but the general impression of the reviewer for Salon was that its characters were more or less living in an ahistorical bubble, much like the exclusive-campus-within-an-exclusive-campus that is the intense classics program in The Secret History.

The format of Larry King Live, which ran successfully for 25 years, hardly changed in all that time. King would interview a guest, and, occasionally, take calls. King himself seems ageless; in a perverse way he always looked like the old man he would eventually become. Larry King Live was a throwback to a time when the pace of television was slower, a time when conversation was celebrated because it was more exciting than watching characters on Bonaza spend whole minutes riding silently on their horses. But it was also a reliable fixture in an ever-changing television landscape. The Secret History is about a bunch of classics students, and Larry King is not only really old, but a kind of modern-day Socrates, an interviewer who often claimed to take the “I” out of interviewing. This one’s a no brainer.

César Aira

Costume: Vince Gilligan

This one’s a bit of a stretch, but that’s appropriate for César Aira, who often seems to conjure his novels out of thin air, frequently introducing surreal plot developments and details that he convincingly reconciles with his hyper-realistic style. In one of his books, the main character’s gender switches back and forth indiscriminately, with no explanation. In another, an office clerk composes a masterpiece of Spanish literature after an exceptional night caused by being paid with fraudulent money.

Like Raymond Roussel, who wrote an entire book by linking the homonymic puns billard (billiard) and pillard (looter), Aira often seems capable of anything. I would imagine that network executives, when first meeting Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, might have had a similar reaction to Aira’s readers when they heard “terminally ill high school teacher” and “meth dealer” in the same sentence. Okay, maybe this one isn’t a stretch at all.

Leave a Reply