Things I Like: Judd Apatow and Neal Stephenson

This may initially seem to be an odd juxtaposition. Judd Apatow is a writer, director, and producer of television shows and movies. His works are frequently comedies, I genre I typically dislike. Neal Stephenson is an author of speculative fiction, ranging from cyberpunk near-future to political thrillers to historical fiction. Apatow’s work is often referred to or displayed using filmed scenes of embarrassment humor. Stephenson’s work is referred to or displayed with dense paragraphs of expositional digressions.

What they have in common is men.

Specifically, what they have in common is a geeky, obsessed, well-intentioned sort of heterosexual man who finds himself in the midst of situations he does not fully understand. The process of both Apatow and Stephenson narratives is one of finding comprehension.

The way I, personally, find understanding is to talk a thing to the ground. To talk. To write. To blog. To write fiction. To read, and then discuss what I read, and then write it down. Words are my tool for knowledge. For pete’s sake, when I started exercising — a physical activity — I read about twenty books on the topic. I will not understand you unless you can write paragraphs.

This is not the way everyone does things.

What I love, what I value, about Apatow and Stephenson’s work, is the way they show — not tell — the emotional lives of men. In Apatow’s works we see men deal with insecurity, failure, and rejection in a variety of contexts. How they respond to issues that I would handle by talking about them is … different. Not emotional shut-down, by any means, but very different from the way I experience the world. In Stephenson’s books men deal with more out-of-the-ordinary experiences. But the book treats the reader as an observer of almost anthropological distance. The why of actions is explained. Not only that, but the process by which the narrator comes to understanding, and the way they arrive at their subsequent decision, is laid out in careful detail.

I really like this. I like the view into a worldview so radically different from mine, yet so omnipresent — that of the geeky, mostly successful, mostly educated and mostly white men that surround my life.

I live here, in this time and place. It’s nice to get a window into the dominant culture that explains that dominant culture. Apatow movies and Stephenson books are my field guides to men.

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