I recently wrote a novel consisting of nothing but the word “fart” 100 000 times, then tried to sell it on Amazon. It was an experiment designed to provoke all points of view in today’s book publishing industry, and it worked. I summarize the rest of the story of Baboon Fart Story over on Forest City Pulp.
I won’t say much about what the success slash failure of Baboon Fart Story means for publishing. Like any Dadaist masterpiece, it speaks best through the reactions to it.* The reactions to my flatulent tale were overwhelmingly positive. Which brings up an interesting question: is it possible to enjoy shit?
By “shit” I mean: something that is both subjectively and objectively bad. Put to any known test of quality, artistic merit, or worthiness, it fails. Will people still willingly consume shit like that?
Of course. “The Bachelor is the downfall of humanity but I love it” could be stamped on the forehead of half the people watching it. Rebecca Black’s Friday has 65 million views. Troll 2 spawned a legion of fans and a documentary called Best Worst Movie.
People enjoy shit. But the next question is: does that count as genuine enjoyment?
Of course. The English language doesn’t have enough words to describe the wealth of subtly different ways in which we can enjoy something (although Mccoy and Scarborough, 2012, have labeled the enjoyment of shit I’m discussing here as “ironic consumption,” “guilty pleasure,” and/or “camp sensibility”). The end result is happiness though, and that’s kinda the whole point of existing as bags of gas on this giant spinning rock, so maybe we should just roll with it.
Which comes back to Baboon Fart Story. Reading the word “fart” for 200 pages may not be inherently enjoyable, but people liked it for a few reasons. They liked the ridiculousness of pee-pee and farts. They liked the contradiction of rampant ridiculousness living in a place where gatekeepers would typically kick it out. They liked what they believed that said about publishing in 2014. Best of all, they liked being a part of it all; the metadata for the book, rather than the book itself, was delightful. People’s reviews (kindly archived by Kay Camden here) were the funniest part of the experiment.
Those are gone now. Which is … hm … okay, maybe I’ll make one point about publishing: who the fuck is Amazon to provide a supposedly open platform for anybody to publish to, but also decide which kind of enjoyment is allowed to be derived from that platform?
I’m not the first to tap into ironic enjoyment, or explore the implications of it. For example:
- I, Libertine, Naked Came the Stranger, Atlanta Nights, and The Diamond Club were all books designed to provoke the publishing industry by reaching a lot of people despite being objectively and intentionally shitty.
- Less intentionally, there are authors like Amanda McKittrick Ros, Jim Theis, and E. L. James, who we enjoy for their heartfelt shittiness (watch me live-tweet 50 Shades of Gray here … still gotta finish that someday).
- Shout out to Leonard Delaney, fellow Forest City Pulp author, for his terrible erotica written by a virgin.
- In other media, we have Tim and Eric, Sharknado, and teh deliberate misspellings of Weird Twitter.
- The entire genre of horror relies on people enjoying things they are repulsed by. I did my PhD dissertation on this (and summarize a bit of it here). Maybe that’s why I find myself writing this encyclopaedic blog post on a similar subject. Sorry.
- You can see all the reactions on Twitter here (yes, I fed my hungry drooling ego with frequent Twitter searches). What weirds me out most is seeing some of my writing heroes react to my work. Except that work is fucking Baboon Fart Story.
- Chuck Wendig, who came up with the thought experiment, points out that it satirizes self-publishing while only existing because of self-publishing, but ended up saying more about Amazon than anything else. It’s important to note, after all, that his premise was wrong; you can’t just upload that cool motherfucker right to Amazon. However, his ultimate conclusion was that the goal of publishing is success, and as we saw, neither path will give that up easily.
- Damien Walter emphasizes that casual viral dynamics are hitting ebooks.
- Hugh J. O’Donnell used it as motivation: “I just want to do better than Baboon Fart Story.”
- David Alex Shepherd explored various lessons that could be learned from the farting baboon.
- Fellow local writer James Shelley went further down the Dadaism path, exploring the role of rejection in art.
- Edward Paul thought it proved that there will always be gatekeepers.
- Misanthropology similarly called the death of the no gatekeepers theory.
- Death is Bad went so far as to say that publishing to Amazon is not self publishing.
- Venture Labs is the only place where you can hear the words “Baboon Fart Story” said out loud in video form.
- Coventry Corner was inspired to dig deeper into Amazon’s rating algorithm, and found that it is plagued with scams and fake reviews. And they’re not even amusingly ironic.
- Laura Roberts wrote SEX: A Saucy Baboon Fart Story Parody. You can probably guess what it’s about.
- Metro New York interviewed me to find out what I think of self publishing, and how to find a picture of a baboon drinking its own pee.
- Charles Stross, as usual, took the story in a delightfully weird tangent; he proposed a method for adding meaning back into BFS by replacing all the farts with words, keeping only the punctuation and pagination, and wondered what that would mean.
— R. Mutt