The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, by Mark Morford, Rapture Machine, Inc., 352 pages, $20
Straight white male columnists usually don't speak to me in a political sense.
The two major exceptions are Frank Rich and Mark Morford. Think of them as the journalistic equivalent of the East Coast (Rich and The Notorious B.I.G.) and West Coast (Morford and 2Pac) rivalry, but they don't use guns, just different writing styles. Rich is more of The New York Times media elite (in a good way), and Morford is a down-and-dirty leftie and modern hippie with a metrosexual flair. But they are both awesome writers and about as pro-gay as straight men can be; they may just be more pro-gay than some gay people I know. In my favorite-columnists-of-all-time list, neither of them fill the Texas-size shoes of the late Molly Ivins, but they are fantastic in their own way.
Which is why I am beyond excited that Morford has collected 92 of his best columns (out of some 1,000 he has done for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate.com over the past decade) in The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism. He's also thrown in some of the horrific hate mail he's received over the years, and even some "Mullet Haiku" to spice it up. This is self-publishing at its best, with a fun design, updates on the original columns, and an array of images to illustrate his thoughts.
When I say Morford is pro-gay, I am not sure that phrase even comes close to the reality of just how informed, articulate and crazy cool this guy is about queer issues. Being based in San Francisco might be part of it, but plenty of SF-based straight columnists still aren't as attuned as this journalist (and Vinyasa yoga teacher) is. He is daring and controversial, and takes the bullets for us from many a hatemonger across the country.
Because Morford is so edgy, some of the work in the book has never been published, and some of the columns are no longer available online. While I read the book from start to finish in one 24-hour period, I would not recommend this for most people. It is so wonderful that it is best consumed in smaller morsels, giving you time to marinate in the inspired writing. I hesitate to use the word brilliant here, but I simply can't get enough of Morford's style.
Here is an excerpt from a 2004 column about writing too much of a bad thing, and his need to sometimes write about humor or the discovery of fluffy ocean creatures (which he assesses in another column). "And I'm here to tell you, if you let it take over, if you allow the blood and guts and train derailments, the bile and the groped altar boys and Dick Cheneys, their way, if this is the only lens through which you choose to view the world, well, it is death. Slow, gnarled, quivering, genital-shriveling death, with zero naked beatific afterlife."
The book is randomly organized and can be read in any order. He has a strong obsession not just with gay issues, but also on overall sexuality (he is a very sexual straight dude), religion, spirituality, uptight conservatives, monogamy, vegans, animals, politics, Las Vegas, big-box retailers, drugs and tattoos.
Here is an excerpt from his 2006 gay agenda column: "This is, in fact, the most sinister gay agenda of all. Normalcy. Lack of fear. Happiness. The right to be miserably in love just like everyone else and have it recognized by the culture as, well, no big deal. Safe. Healthy. Beautiful, even. What nerve."
For his gay support, Morford has been called a "fag" probably more times than he could count, and in 2002 he penned a column about the name calling, "You must be a fag." He wrote: "Being called gay simply has zero negative effect, just makes me shrug and smile and wonder and in fact only makes me more grateful to live in a city where such an 'accusation' just means you probably dance really well and shun professional sports and get regular manicures and actually care about grooming. Oh hell, maybe I am gay. Don't tell my girlfriend."
While I am a big fan of his gay columns, Morford is on target and a fascinating read on pretty much any topic. In one of his non-political columns, 2006's "Behold, a furry blond monster," about the discovery of a new creature, Kiwa hirsuta, he opines about what we don't know we don't know: "It's not a lobster. It's not a crab. It's not anything anyone really understandsand why is it covered in silky blond hair? They don't know that, either. It just is. Just one of those things. Like why the whales sing. Like why some parrots can tell you who's calling before you pick up the phone. Like the existence of dark matter. We just don't know. And what's more, the sheer volume, the breathtaking amount of information we don't know is so mind-boggling and perspective-humping that you take one look at the Kiwa and only say, Hi again, wicked gorgeous unimaginable vastness of the universe."
Yes, he said "perspective-humping." There are numerous examples of his creative style. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
See www.markmorford.com for more details.