A Hero for Our Time

Money Pizza Respect BY The Fat Jew. Grand Central Publishing. Hardcover, 272 pages. $26.

There used to be a belief—or maybe it’s just a symptom of being young—that if you yelled and expressed great dismay at something or someone, it or he could thereby be stopped. This had to happen, didn’t it, once everyone had risen up and turned against this bad thing or person? Then, just maybe, we would be free of at least one torture. We could feel good!

To be fair, this may actually be a thing that still happens from time to time. Attend carefully to the career of hipster porn star James Deen. Will fans, over time, express solidarity with his former lover and other women who’ve publicized appalling stories about Deen’s alleged sexual assaults? It seems likely they will. So we can still, as a mass culture, reward and punish with our attention.

As soon as you start entertaining this fond hope, though, Donald Trump will go and say something horrible about Mexicans and Muslims and Maria Shriver all celebrating on 9/11. And then you’ll be back in a puddle at the bottom of your emotional well.

This is the enduring nightmare of the attention economy, which seemed charming and even encouraging when it first flowered—someone might give you book-deal money for your Tumblr! A brand might sponsor your hobby of photographing your children!—and has since mutated into something sick and vast. It has even invaded our most sacred American tradition: the genteel and elegant choosing of a president. (Please print that in the sarcasm font.)

Into this frothy seascape wades the new variety of entertainers and comedians, blundering and manipulative alike. They take attention and product-ize it, in the traditional fashion. And even now, books are a primary method of converting attention into money. How many books must bomb to dissuade the publishing industry? Trick question—only one book must succeed for all the others to have a license to exist.

Most prominent among these novelty acts is the Fat Jew, the nom de blague of Josh Ostrovsky. What is a Fat Jew? He is an operation of exchange, a hybrid of the shock jocks, the eating-disorder-displaying lifecasters, and Larry David. “Companies pay me to put their product on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter and pretend that I actually use it, so that the teens who follow me will buy said product” is his description of himself from his new book, Money Pizza Respect (Grand Central, $26). He is a presentation of the idea of a personality.

Features of this particular Fat Jew–branded product include: an extended piece of erotica about Kanye West and Kim Kardashian; humorous fake blurbs such as one by George Washington; and an amusing story about how Ostrovsky’s dad took him to a strip club after his bar mitzvah, which you realize isn’t that funny because it’s basically child abuse, except you don’t know how much of it to believe. Do you extend to his stories an Augusten Burroughs amount of credence, or a David Sedaris amount? So hard to know.

“I’m sure that most of the people reading this book are like me and don’t really read that many books,” which is clearly true, because by page sixty-one he is only fourteen years old and also every page of this book strains not to be a book but instead a Tumblr post or a graphic novel or a tweet or literally anything other than something old people might enjoy.

Is he funny? Sometimes! Tampa is “where you are likely to be murdered by a guy with a toe ring.” This is funny on an actual level and also on a meta level, since Ostrovsky never bothers to clarify whether the toe ring is the instrument of murder.

Laziness is self-hatred. That’s the Fat Jew’s real failing, and why all his Amazon reviews are about how he’s a joke thief. He’s an extremely functional hard-drug user, and he likes to exhibit his self-hatred while also creating a supposedly amusing narrative about how badly he treats himself. But most of the time he’s too lazy or addled to act on his self-hatred in any dangerous way. There is, for instance, a suspiciously vivid chapter that closes with “Also, none of this happened.” What a waste. There is a sweet story about his bodybuilder brother’s bachelor party, though! Most of the other stories just seem a little sad.

That being said, we should all agree with him very strongly that if a brand wants to fly you to Cannes, you head straight for the airport. At some level, we are all shills.

“Here’s the deal: I’m the future” is his lecture about our culture at the end of the book. Probably! A few pages later, Ostrovsky apologizes to two women for making their phone numbers public on social media and causing them to be bombarded with calls. So it doesn’t matter, in the end, if you look away: The future is definitely going to be ugly.

Choire Sicha is the author of Very Recent History (Harper, 2013).