“Fucking James Franco”

Fucking James Franco.

Social Malpractice Publishing and Container Corps.

by Daniel J Glendening

Fucking James Franco is a collection of short stories and poetry constructed around the titular act. The book, edited by Sean Joseph Patrick Carney and published by Carney’s Social Malpractice Publishing and Gary Robbins’ Container Corps, is somehow, despite all rationale, more complicated than it has a right to be. Fucking James Franco is a joke, a shaggy dog story – long, drawn out, crude, and lacking much of a punch line. It serves also as an examination of the cult of celebrity, of the rickety scaffolding of fame, and the slippery nature of delusion and fantasy.

The volume contains work by fifteen contributors, all of whom are, as Carney writes in his introduction, “involved in creative endeavors of some sort; visual arts, poetry, music, and so forth.” The individual contributions are somewhat scatter-shot, the writing haphazard and the narratives lazily constructed. Under scrutiny, Patrick Melroy’s Piqued becomes a jumble of point of view and temporal shifts, and First Date, by Nadia Buyse, is just a few paragraphs too long, lingering past its climactic punch line for an unnecessary cuddle, while Brandon Scott Bosch & E.L. Shaw’s San Franco stops short, giving us the set-up without the payoff.

Elsewhere, the craft of writing is well displayed. In (Aunt) Susan’s First Orgasm, Ellen Lesperance builds a well-crafted exterior and interior world for her character:

“She was upstairs, lying in one of the two twin beds that her mother had once arranged to straddle this single window draped against the sky in tones of black, and she was naked beneath the covers. She listened for the hum of the neighbor’s television, a comfort to her by this point (others!), but it was too late for that. She hadn’t changed the linens on the bed up here, and it had given her sad pleasure to find them just as her mother had left them: neat as a pin, with a waffle-weave cotton blanket tucked as tightly as humanly possible over flannel sheets. As always, the starch in the coverlet belied the softness of the interior.”

Lesperance’s contribution also, most explicitly, gets at a central theme of this collection: fantasy. The protagonist of the story, Susan Lesperance, struggling to achieve orgasm, indulges in a sexual fantasy revolving around James Franco and his role on General Hospital.

Fantasy is the primary theme of Fucking James Franco, more so, even, than the titular act of fucking. Read not as a collection of individual works but as one kaleidoscopic whole, Fucking James Franco is an examination of that mise en abyme described in Sydney S. Kim’s “Two Lesbians Get Stoned,” between fantasy and delusion.

This edge of the abyss takes many varied forms. Buyse gives the reader a meta-narrative about an encounter ending in sexual role-play between herself and Franco not long after the publication of a book by Sean Carney to which she’d contributed a story, “the book is called Fucking James Franco…” Ryan Pierce, in Jonquil, relays a narrative, taking place in a prison yard and featuring a character, Frank, with “a mug like a silver dollar” and an education in the arts. In the end, the characters are delusional, method acting gone too far. The title is enough in Sally Gotfredson’s Eight Poems to Serve as a Declaration/Evidence of the Mutual Feelings James Franco and I Feel for Each Other, to be Read by James Franco in Bed Post-Intercourse With Sally Gotfredson, and the fantasy is turned on its head, clinical and blue-balled, in Sarah Johnson’s spare and finely crafted Franco, Good Morning. There are those aids and prosthetics of fantasy in Emily Wolfer’s The James Franco Collection, a catalogue excerpt of sci-fi flesh-clone Franco-phile sex toys, and what begins as a porn-vid review in Fucking James Franco by Arnonymous Poet, unwinds into a tale of a teenage trip with Franco to Amsterdam, where the narrator and his daydream protagonist smoke hash, look for “Houses with Boys” and conclude with some possibly non-consensual anal-fisting.

One has to wonder what, as a cultural figure, the actual, living James Franco, has to do with the project. Carney writes in his introduction, “The point here, Mr. Franco, is that there is nothing outside of this text (whoa). It exists solely because you do, and, simply put, it had to happen. Luckily, I fucking thought of it before you did.” Leading up to the publication of the book blog writers and commentators on sites including A.V. Club and Nerve were questioning the books origins, positing that Franco himself had a hand in its manifestation. Not the case, but it raises the point that Franco has positioned himself in the cultural sphere quite differently than most of his celebrity peers. As an actor, he takes on projects ranging from stoner slapstick, to superhero-blockbuster, soap opera to art film. He exhibits, with Peres Projects, work heavily influenced by Paul McCarthy, and he recently published a collection of short stories, Palo Alto: Stories, primarily concerned with the lives of teenage boys in suburban California, drinking, getting stoned, and committing seemingly random acts of violence, including, if memory and interpretive skills serve, rape. Franco was Salon.com’s 2009 Sexiest Man Alive, and received a BA in English in 2008 from UCLA, an MFA in writing from Columbia University in 2010, and is now pursuing PhDs from both Yale and the University of Houston.

In other words, the man is everywhere, at all times, and is, undoubtedly, a man of his moment. It would appear that he is not satisfied with a fixed identity, but is seeking a multiplicity of identity. Along with this multiplicity comes some sense, or at least projection of the sense, that he himself is in on the joke, that he recognizes to some small degree the ridiculous nature of his position, and that, as many of his cultural critics would state, much of his success in the fields outside of acting are due, in part, to his status as an actor. If he didn’t appear to be in on the joke, to be winking off camera, the speculation that Franco himself was the mastermind behind Carney’s project would likely not have surfaced.

This is to say that James Franco is the perfect foil for Carney’s project. As a celebrity and cultural figure he molds a multitude of identities for himself, each one another facet of James Franco the Actor, the Artist, the Writer, the Sexpot, the Auteur. None of them are James Franco, the human. In the case of Fucking James Franco, James Franco the human does not exist. He is Rebecca Steele’s generic Nacho Franco reefer hazed, hung-over hotel room, “ITS OWN AUTOCRAT / IN LACKING ANYTHING PLAUSIBLE FOR / PERSONALITY / THIS COULD BE THE PLACE FOR THE LAST WEEK. / FOR ALL THE FUCK I CAN TELL / ART FASHION AND FASHION ART.” There is a total collapse of fantasy into delusion. James Franco the Public Figure is what anyone wants him to be. He is without a determinate gender, without a determinate sexuality, without a determinate face or even a determinate name. He is that perfect Renaissance man, the charmer, and the one who can do anything he wants to do.

He is the one we all want to be, to love, to be loved by and to fuck.

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