The wait is over. After more than a week of careful deliberation and a hell of a lot of frantic emailing, I’ve finally picked eight new members of the Supreme Court of Assholedom. I’ve also chosen three Clerks of the Supreme Court, whose jobs it will be to choose cases for the Court’s consideration.
This was an agonizing process, made especially difficult by the overwhelming pool of outstanding applicants. There was the archaeologist headed for a six-month stint in the Middle East who noted that his career path puts him right in the middle of both Jewish and Muslim assholes, with his new job posing a particular problem on the Muslim-asshole front, because “they don't understand how a traffic circle works and Amman is full of them.”
There was the South African applicant who noted that his upbringing made him qualified because “Johannesburg especially has a massive asshole-to-real estate ratio.” There was the software engineer who wrote in about his experiences living with his Filipino wife in the state of Arizona. “My wife is often… complimented on her English. She has no accent,” he writes. He added (incoherently I think but I loved it) that “I do not believe in libertarianism, because it is evil in a shiny coat and a neckbeard.”
There was the reader from Syracuse University, a student who incidentally was the only applicant who took seriously my appeal for strong drug connections. He focused his pitch on a sensitivity to the new forms of assholedom unique to the next, i.e. his generation. “Think of all the innovative ways that my generation has thought of to piss people off,” he writes. “Take this as an example: a kid is ordering coffee at a Starbucks (an asshole move in and of itself). The barista asks the kid a question. The kid has to finish up an email before answering, which not only takes up the barista's time, but also the time of everyone else on line.
“Even though it's true that these people always existed,” he went on, “what makes people of the current adolescence bigger assholes is the fact that we actually get pissed off when the barista asks the question again. Why? Because we were doing something EXTREMELY IMPORTANT on our cellphones that she prevented us from completing. You couldn’t do that 50 years ago.”
I had the historian who sent in an application based on his unique ability to “judge the historic asshole,” and for an example he sent in a sample case, People v. Jean-Claude Duvalier: “Presided over the murder and torture of thousands of Haitians and presided over the sale of body parts of said murdered Haitians… Pals with Ronald Reagan... Indulged in typical dictator bullshit of prancing about in military uniforms… Crimes exacerbated by resemblance to a mustachioed Stand by Me-era Jerry O'Connell.”
Then I had some letters that were just funny in and of themselves: “Dear Matt,” read one. “If you're still accepting applications, I'm somewhat familiar with being an asshole, though not to such an extent that it would present a conflict of interest at the court. Also, I live in Philadelphia… Signed, Daniel.”
Which was funny enough, until I got my very next letter, which began as follows: “It's easy to see as well as simple to explain why I'm qualified for this postion. I am from Boston.” This was similar to the note sent in by another young man who listed among his qualifications that “I have held several existential crisis-inducing customer service jobs in which talking to assholes was more than 90% of the job,” as well as, “For one thing, I live in Boston.”
A lot of people who wrote in explaining their theories of Assholedom mentioned the same ideas, in particular, the notion that a big part of being an asshole is total self-absorption/indifference to surrounding people, a characteristic that very often manifests itself in taking for fucking ever to order food in line at fast food joints, or exit a subway car, or give a simple and prompt answer to a logistically important letter or phone call… Some people couldn’t even put this idea into words, and just had to e-scream about it, like the writer from South Dakota who talked about the lady who “spent five minutes writing a check in front of me at the grocery store: Asshole!”
Another candidate, a reality-show producer from Los Angeles whom I had to cut from the final group with great reluctance (as you might guess, he had outstanding experience in the field), summed this idea up I thought quite well. An asshole, he noted, has “… an entirely self-centered worldview – nothing that happens outside of an asshole's personal sphere actually matters. This is totally wide-ranging: assholes use this mindset in traffic, in business, in personal relationships. Everyone else is a side character in the asshole's epic life story. (A side note: should an outside event pierce the asshole's bubble, it immediately becomes the most IMPORTANT CRISIS EVER).”
A number of writers tried the reverse-jinx strategy and made their pitch for judicial service based on an argument about what an asshole I, Matt Taibbi, am. Some were clever and some I hope weren’t, but the only one that survived the cut, sort of, was Mara Schmid, a young woman who, when told she was on a short list of candidates, sent in a sample ruling that read something as follows:
Women vs. Rolling Stone Magazine
Opinion: If ten minutes of searching your website can't bring up one current article by a female writer, and you are a mainstream news source, you're an asshole. Every blog author is a man, including the tech blog writer, Scott Steinberg; every featured music, politics, culture, reviews, etc, article I clicked on was written by a man; and definitely every photo of a writer that I could find was male.
Possible dissenting opinion: Still one of the better news sources out there. Did eventually find a slideshow article by Sarene Leeds.
I personally hate having to apologize for the maleness of Rolling Stone (I even sent Mara a letter back whining about how nobody demands Vogue or Marie Claire hire male writers), but then I immediately had a Full Metal Jacket/"Private-Joker’s-Got-Guts-and-Guts-is-Enough!" moment and decided to put Mara on the court.
Here’s the rest of the court, and I’ll be posting photos and bios for all of these people later (though you’ll already know some of them). We’ll also be hearing a case next week, though the defendant has not been decided upon. Anyway, without further ado, the Supreme Court of Assholedom. Some of the new members have submitted statements of judicial philosophy, i.e. What is an asshole? Others… well, they’re getting back to me. Which I think is going to be how this court works in general.
Clockwise from top left: Mara Schmid, Drew Magary, Tim Kreider, David Sirota, David Rees, Jenny Boylan, Jessica Kourkounis, Adam Whitmer
MARA SCHMID, 23 year-old bisexual computer technician from somewhere in California. See above.
DREW MAGARY, sportswriter, author of Men With Balls. His theory of Assholedom: "I'm of the mind that assholes are a vital part of our society, because assholes get things done. The problem is when assholedom is used for purposes of EVIL, and not for awesomeness. Michael Mann is an asshole, but he gave us Heat, which was fucking sweet. We need more Michael Manns and less Michael Savages."
TIM KREIDER, cartoonist, author of Twilight of the Assholes. On assholes: “All children eventually have to learn, however grudgingly, that they are not the only person in the world, nor are they even its center… All assholes have in common this obliviousness or indifference to other people’s subjective reality. By this definition we are all assholes inside, of course; the crucial distinction between the true Asshole and other people is in how hard we try not to act like one. “
DAVID SIROTA, talk show host, author of Back to Our Future: "Assholedom is a vast and diverse universe. Today, America has Stupid Assholes -- people like Thomas Friedman, David Brooks and Matt Bai… We also have Corrupt Assholes --think the bipartisan majority in Congress that is paid for its votes to perpetuate Assholedom. And, of course, we also sport Willful Assholes like Wall Street CEOs… The fact is, other than Rahm Emanuel and Michael Jordan, almost nobody singularly represents all of Assholedom. In that sense, there is no unifying theory of The Asshole, meaning Assholedom can only be identified in the same way the U.S. Supreme Court famously identified obscenity: You know it when you see it.
DAVID REES, cartoonist/comedian, author of Get Your War On: "I was a huge asshole in middle school. A bully. I picked on people who were less popular than me. The scary thing is, I also took real pleasure from it. Being an asshole is fun. There's a constant electric charge of controversy around you. Sometimes people applaud your behavior, in spite of their better nature. I understand why Rush Limbaugh does what he does -- the more people hate him, the more fun he has."
JENNY BOYLAN, transsexual author of She’s Not There: "I believe that the key element in Assholedom--or Assholiness, as I prefer to think of it--is remorselessness. It is one thing to act thoughtlessly; this goes along with being human. But what raises bad behavior to the level of Assholiness is the subsequent lack of regret for the pain one has caused. Thus: Guy steps on your foot as he makes his way down your row in a theatre -- bad behavior. Guy who realizes he has stepped on your foot, and doesn't say, ‘Sorry,’ that's an asshole. Someone who realizes he has stepped on your foot, who hears you say, ‘Ow,’ and who then intentionally steps on your other foot: Total Asshole."
Obviously the court has a couple of close friends of mine in Rees and Sirota; another one is newspaper photographer JESSICA KOURKOUNIS, at one time the serially underpaid (or non-paid, as it were) art director of the doomed Buffalo Beast. I can personally attest that Jessica has lived a life unusually rich in assholedom, and that isn’t all or even mostly due to having grown up in Buffalo; a particular skill of hers is capturing the photographic image of the asshole. She believes assholes are everywhere. “Gandhi was assassinated before being officially ruled an asshole,” she says.
And one of the reasons it took a while to announce the court is that there was some behind-the-scenes controversy over the last spot, so it wasn't until today that the last vacancy fell to United States Marine ADAM WHITNER, currently stationed in Quantico, Virginia, whose application was delayed owning to his being out doing field ops when I announced the court ("not many ethernet connections in the woods"). Adam's theory of Assholedom involves the idea that assholes are excellent at achieving material goals like money, sex and power, and what separates them from the rest of us is an ability to pursue those things passionately as ends in themselves -- while normal people are handicapped by the additional need for things like meaning. "Assholes don't care if [material goals] are empty," he writes. "It doesn't matter to them that they may have had to sell their souls to companies or to people they don't agree with... They don't care, because they are assholes."
Anyway, I have to get back to my actual job, but the court hopefully will be hearing a case next week. We're still working out how, exactly, cases will be heard, and how we'll reach decisions. I also remain deeply torn over the uniform issue. Kreider and I had, I thought, settled on a robe-and-handheld mask combination (he thought we should use the type of mask known as a lorgnette, popular during the masked-ball period of European history), but Kourkounis insists that shiny track suits of the type favored by New Jersey mobsters would be more appropriate. Hard to argue with either concept.
Anyway, readers with ideas for potential court cases, please write in, and we’ll get the train of pseudo-justice rolling.