Culture

In Praise of David Mitchell, or, Amazon Still Controls Our Lives

Culture

In Praise of David Mitchell, or, Amazon Still Controls Our Lives

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I’m going to put my cards on the table, in case they weren’t there before. I love David Mitchell. Not the novelist–I’m sure he’s fine. I’m talking about the David Mitchell, he of the disgruntled Guardian column, of the incisively hilarious Guardian webisodes on under-examined pockets of social conduct, of the televisual movement that is Peep Show, a series which for some reason not everyone in the states knows about and/or watches with the same fervor that they bring to Game of Thrones. Why this is I can’t  say. I’d like to think it’s because people don’t watch enough TV, but that’s not really true is it? When I ask people ‘have you watched Peep Show‘ it’s always been a subtle way of asking, ‘have you hit upon this brilliant way of seeing the humiliating circumstances of your life played back to you in a pleasant way?’ I have also more than once said that an episode of Peep Show would be the thing I would use in conversation with a suicidal person as the definitive argument against suicide, convinced that it could be the thing to make them see the light. I have yet to test this theory, but I have a feeling I would be disappointed by its results: living as I do in America, I can never be sure that Peep Show will have the same empowering effect on everyone as it does on me, much less a person poised to jump off a building. But the fact that Peep Show‘s fanbase is not wider spread or its brand of humor as widely celebrated in the states is evidence of the very thing that David Mitchell exists to combat: forms of nationwide stupidity.

Mitchell may be the only living person I actually admire, not in small part because he’s the only person who seems as rightfully pissed off as me about stupid-seeming, trivial-seeming shit that on closer inspection reveals a devastating cultural laziness and apathy that has overtaken America (and apparently Britain?) in the past 10 or so years. Why Mitchell’s columns, webisodes, frequent and hilarious references to Hitler, and artistic endeavors gratify me is because I am unusually fond of anger in its many forms. I enjoy rage–feeling it, seeing it, though strangely, not so much being the target of it. But I like that it’s there, because when someone is really, intelligently angry, it reminds me that I’m not the only person who gives a shit and I feel slightly less like crawling under a rock to live. Or at least gives me the feeling that when I finally do crawl under a rock to live, beneath that same rock there would be David Mitchell, and while we probably wouldn’t become best friends (that would be too good) we might, as in a 40s war film, develop a grudging respect for one another as compatriots fighting against an obscure but highly organized enemy. Yes, this is my dream scenario–taking place under a rock, and resembling a genre of film that only students in Holocaust Studies classes still watch.

Back to the matter at hand. David Mitchell is the one living person I think I can really, truly say I’m a fan of, and being an extreme fan, you can imagine the frequency of times I wet myself on hearing that he has a book out–a memoir, no less. You can also imagine the number of times I punched my fist into the wall on realizing that, as a primarily UK release, I have to use Amazon to purchase it. Presumably because of the problem of Americans, by and largely, not quite ‘getting it’ about Mitchell. Or at least, not getting it enough to constitute a demanding enough supply-and-demand relationship in smaller US bookstores. Never has there been this big a UK-related disappointment in the life of Henry since hearing that Lady Sybil is dead. I’m sorry if I spoiled that for you, but I’m still in denial about it, so in my mind, it’s still not quite true yet.

Why must Amazon be the soul-crushing bridge across which everyone must walk in order to buy such essentials as Clint Eastwood: Sexual Cowboy and The Letters of Nunally Johnson? And now, David Mitchell’s Back Story? I’m aware that this is probably the most benign thing you can complain about in regards to Amazon, small press-eating behemoth that it is. But none of those other complaints are important right now. What’s important is that something is standing in the way of myself and David Mitchell’s autobiography, and that something is an evil empire. Plus the however many days it takes to ship from the evil warehouse, located in the kingdom of evil (probably Connecticut). And yes, yes I’m aware that if I simply joined the depressing 21st century I could buy an ebook copy for literally a nickel and I could get my hands on it in a hot second but that’s not the point. The point is that for all the destructive, horrible things that Amazon does, it’s still stupidly necessary to the substratum of society known as David Mitchell fans and lovers, those of us who have for years hung on the promise of an 8th series premiere of Peep Show (when the fuck is it!), and those of us to whom his brand of “defiant untrendiness” and social criticism endlessly appeals.

But if somehow none of this is selling you Mitchell, just hear what the critics have to say:

That’s Amazon for you: succinct. At least they didn’t confuse him with the other David Mitchell on their author page in the well-researched way of Barnes & Noble. Clearly there can only be room for one David Mitchell on the internet book warehouse database.

In a perfect world, I could have gone down to a local bookseller on the day of Back Story’s release and bought a hardcover version without any bells, whistles, or weird, oddly intuitive upselling (Amazon really does know what I might like). But it’s not a perfect world, and so I am forced to be evil. And there’s the moral of the story for you, in short. America forces its citizens to be evil by its lack of appreciation for British geniuses. Why this isn’t a question upon which the liberal platform has built itself this election is anybody’s guess.