I stumbled upon Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency after Googling the phrase, “Imagined conversations with a pigeon”. This was not the first time I had searched such an absurdity, it was however, the first time I came across a website that could offer outlandish articles to satisfy the needs of my overactive imagination.
Founded and edited by Dave Eggers – author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist memoir , A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – McSweeney’s offers a breath of fresh air from the longwinded online literary journals I have come across in the past. There is no ambiguity for the sake of ‘engaging the reader in the writing process’, no underlying metafictive meaning and certainly no attempt to deny the pretentiousness inherent in writing for an online journal.
In fact, one could argue that McSweeney’s writers revel in their somewhat condescending and critical perspective. Their scrutiny of the world rings with the same sarcasm and tongue in cheek absurdity for which Eggers’ work is celebrated. The pieces are neat, and concise (to comply with the submission guidelines of being ‘shortish’), and the columns are refreshing in their disregard for conventional subject matter.
Among my favourite columns is “Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond” which allows those of us who do not actively express our loathing for products, entities (or more often) ourselves to let loose and be unflinchingly passive aggressive. Spiteful letters are written to creative projects left abandoned, to people passed on morning runs, to love letters penned to former mothers-in-law, to jars of peanut butter and commercial retail outlets.
If letters are not to your taste, McSweeney’s offers a column of absurd lists that criticise, question and invite us to reconsider the world in 30 items or less. More often than not, the sheer confidence in the author’s tone lulls you into reading these lists as a educational resource, a self-help guide of sorts. Of particular educational assistance was, “Things Not to Bring to a Gun Fight” which made it clear that the Dalai Lama should not be your fighting companion, and the comprehensive guide that is, “Your Friend Made a Dubstep Album for Toddlers: How to sound genuine when he plays it for you”.
“Reviews of New Food” sees columnists from around the world reviewing bizarre culinary combinations and guilty pleasures, while weekly features expose readers to interviews, reviews and previews of books being edited and published by McSweeney’s. The journal also offers a range of poetry, comics and pithy illustrations for its readers to enjoy.
Ultimately, with the wide variety of informal, satirical columns, this journal is a pleasure to read. But the ease of reading and irreverence to the world does not undermine the quality of the works included. Instead, by publishing the noteworthy alongside the highly specific and mundane, by using a relaxed tone and questioning the normality of the world we live in, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency reminds us that literature need not be complex or explore ‘popular’ ideas in order to be enjoyed. It must simply be true, genuine and entertaining.