Sean Beckwith: If a columnist writes humor in election season, will anybody read it?
October 17, 2018
I took a creative nonfiction writing class in college that featured the kind of introspective people you'd expect in a creative nonfiction class. The essays often, if ever, varied from harrowing heartbreaks. The struggles of adolescence, mother-daughter relationships and all sorts of deeply personal stories consumed the students.
Me being the cynic you know and love, I tried to bring some levity with a few trivial pieces about run-ins with various law enforcement and other stories of rambunctious behavior. After completely whiffing on the literary depth of an essay I had to find and present to the class, I reached a breaking point.
If I was going to get a C in that class, it was going to be a hard C. No C+'s, none of that. Here's what I think of your pity stories and Stewart Smiley bulls—. Essentially what I wrote was, "Why is everyone wallowing in this forlorn subject matter? If you want to be happy — and I'd like to think most people do — you should do and write about things that make you happy," aptly using a metaphor using beer and ibuprofen. (The teacher and most students loved it but one classmate wrote, "This is a diatribe" a third of the way down his proof.)
I think about that a lot when reading columns that cross my desk. Do people really read 800 to 1,100 words on how insanely pissed you are at Donald Trump or the Dems? Even the most salient points get dismissed as soon as you trigger the Trump word.
I aim to write about things that are entertaining and make the readers happy.
Instead of freaking out about the Entrance to Aspen, parking and development in perpetual futility, I'd rather offer you a blueprint for a marijuana dive bar that will never happen, the best way to create a playlist for skiing or any number of frivolous subjects.
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One of the most serious columns I wrote concerned the Lift 1A development, which didn't feature a single obscure movie reference or an attempt at a joke, and it killed a small piece of me. Even though — at what could be called a dinner party — it generated legitimate discourse about Aspen Skiing Co. and their power in the area, I would've rather been chopping it up about who's worse at Mario Kart.
When I wrote a mid-winter article about how much tourists suck, I wasn't serious. I don't actually think they're "pet peeves in human flesh." It was a joke written for all the servers and front-desk attendants who can't say that to a customer's face. Do I need to change my name to Sean "Dave Berry" Beckwith to indicate that you shouldn't always take me seriously?
Any time I write something semi-serious, it's mostly because "'The Simpsons' did it," which is a reference to an episode of "South Park" in which they reference their lack of ideas because "The Simpsons" already did most of them. In this scenario I'm "South Park" and my previous columns are "The Simpsons."
The commentary section in newspapers and online is drowning in pieces about the downfall of society due to technology, Trump or climate change. I feel like I'm back in that nonfiction writing class, waiting for anything, something to come across my desk that's nuanced, different and not terribly, terribly depressing.
Election season is here and I thought about taking on a political issue this week but you can shoot me in the face before I'm forced to Google "Ballot Measure 1A." This is a newspaper and people are understandably looking for coverage of all things important, which right now is a lot of heavy stuff, but I think people need to breathe, laugh and take a break every now and then.
I'm not asking you to put your placard down or approach politics with complacency; I'm asking you to take it easy for a few minutes. I can't even watch "Saturday Night Live" anymore because it's just Washington, D.C., performance art.
So if you ever wondered, cared or are even still reading about why I don't delve into politics that often, it's because the news can be full of disturbing, awful and, most importantly, necessary stories. But there needs to be a release.
Yes, a release, kind of like the last 700-plus words I just wrote.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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