An unpardonable insult to Jack Kerouac

I’m reeling here. I’m stunned. I’m looking about for some hope for the world.

In connection with a comment I was responding to today, I went looking for when I’d written about repealing the 17th Amendment not being such a crazy idea, and there I found a link to a Christopher Hitchens piece from early 2011, which I followed for nostalgic reasons, and noted there a link to the cover of the current edition of Vanity Fair, and there I saw the thing that shocked me.

What I saw (accompanied by a photo in which she demonstrated that, however much money you spend on a glamour shoot, there are some people you can’t MAKE glamorous, because their facial expression will drag the whole thing down) was a mention of Kristen Stewart — she’s the notably underwhelming star of the “Twilight” movies — in  the same breath as Jack Kerouac. I saw her name in connection with a coming movie adaptation of On the Road. In a connection that was crafted as though she were starring in it or something:

As the Twilight-series finale approaches, Kristen Stewart is also starring in this month’s Snow White & the Huntsman,followed by an adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Ingrid Sischy finds her on the run, in Paris. Photographs by Mario Testino.

See? They even used the actual word, starring! Well, first, I had to think, so is she Dean Moriarty or Sal Paradise? Or Carlo Marx? And if so, how does that work? OK, so she’s Marylou. Well, I have to admit I don’t have as clear an image in my mind of Marylou as I do the others, except for this: I can’t imagine the wild jailkid Dean, the quintessential Mad One who burns, burns, burns across the American landscape, going for anyone remotely like Kristen Stewart. There is no way you envision her as a character produced by a brain writing on a continuous roll of butcher paper under the influence of benzedrine. (OK, so she’s based on a real-life person, but you know what I mean.)

Now, I’ve seen other people say less than kind things about this actress, and I was like, Aw, leave the kid alone, but when you start talking about putting her anywhere near the centerpiece of anything as iconic as On the Road, well you’ve gone to messin’. Near as I can tell, there’s a reason why she was the star of the Twilight movies. It’s because she was so painfully ordinary and unremarkable that teenage girls everywhere could project themselves onto her, and identify.

That’s not a quality I connect with Kerouac.

Also… one expects a Kerouac project to have a bit of an alternative feel to it, and not be cast according to mundane box office considerations.

OK, that’s about all I’m going to say, except to say that this is a little bit personal for me. Kerouac introduced me to my wife. OK, not personally, because he was dead at the time. What I mean to say is, we met at this party she threw for a mutual friend, and she was reading a Kerouac biography at the time, and I was reading On the Road for the first time, and we realized it and started talking about that, and connected in a powerful way, and started dating seriously about a week later, and were married a year after that.

So, you know… it seems like whoever was in charge of casting would have checked with me or something…

37 thoughts on “An unpardonable insult to Jack Kerouac

  1. Brad

    Ohmanohmanohman! I just looked at IMDB, and she is the FIRST-LISTED member of the cast!!!!!

    I gotta wait 40 years for this to be made into a movie, and they go and do THIS to it?!?!?!?

  2. `Kathryn Braun

    I’ve seen and admired Kristen Stewart in several indie films. She can do beatnik–at least as well as Jean Seberg did!

  3. Brad


    Kirsten Dunst I can see. This other girl, I cannot.

    And yeah, I saw “Adventureland.” Was underwhelmed.

    And it’s not “beatnik.” It’s Beat. “Beatnik” is a term invented by a square to express Squaredom’s perception of the Beats.

  4. `Kathryn Braun

    Welcome to the Rileys, The Yellow Handkerchief, Speak

    Kirsten Dunst is too old. How about Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)?

  5. Brad

    Although I don’t know if reading it electronically would work. You might have to read it in a well-thumbed, third-hand paperback that’s made its way coast-to-coast a couple of times jammed into somebody’s back pocket…

  6. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    Also, Brad–this seems like a big-budget-cast film–so you have to cast A-list actors who can open the film. Kerouac would be better served, no doubt, by indie treatment….

  7. Brad

    YES, by definition. It would never even occur to me, or to any rational person, to treat Kerouac any other way.

    Who would presume to do “On the Road” as a Teen Beat box office production? Well, obviously, these people…

  8. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    What happens a lot of times is that an A-Lister options the rights, and thus controls the project. It becomes A-List by default, unless the A-Lister is trying to establish some indie cred. It’s easier to raise a lot of money on a A-Lister’s involvement than a much smaller amount on a nobody’s involvement, despite all the evidence that few A-listers are worth their paychecks….especially on a non-action type film that won’t do as well overseas.

  9. Brad

    It just gets WORSE.

    I looked at a trailer of the movie, and something else struck me.

    Look at the two guys playing the Kerouac and Cassady characters in the movie.

    Then, look at the originals.

    What jumps out at you?

    Right. The first picture shows a couple of boys. Rather callow-looking youths at that. The second shows a couple of men.

    Used to be, even young people who were all about living their lives AS young people, without responsibility, used to look like grownups. Not anymore.

    Was this done intentionally, in a bid for the Kristen Stewart fan base? Or is this just the way young men look today?

  10. Brad

    Actually, what’s going on here can be explained mathematically…

    Kristen Stewart’s current IMDB score is 8. That means that of all the actors or others involved in movies in the world, she is the 8th hottest trending. By contrast, Kirsten Dunst and Amy Adams are merely in the top 500.

    I learned about IMDB scores from my colleague Aaron Griswold, who plays “Munitions team leader” in the low-budget “American Warships.” He gave me a primer on the subject recently. Right after the flick was released, his own score jumped from somewhere in the millions (you’d be surprised how many people there are in the IMDB) to somewhere in the hundred thousands.

    So you’re wondering who is number 1? Well, it’s not Brad Pitt or George Clooney.

    It’s Chris Hemsworth. Are you drawing a blank? He’s Thor in the eponymous film and the greatest-hit-of-all-time “Avengers.” No, not Robert Downey Jr. (IMDB score 12) or Mark Ruffalo (100), or Jeremy Renner (25), or any of the better-known actors in that film. Not even the uber-hot Scarlett Johansson (29).

    The IMDB score has its own logic, or illogic, based on clicks (or something like that).

    And Kristen Stewart is at 8. So she is the star. It’s that simple, and that dumb.

  11. kc

    I’d written about repealing the 17th Amendment not being such a crazy idea,

    Oh fer Gawd’s sake . . .

  12. Brad

    It’s interesting how people will respond (viscerally) if one demurs even slightly to our republic’s long slide downward into mere democracy…

  13. Brad

    Yep, a whole year.

    We weren’t like these kids today, who send “save the date” cards for weddings a couple of years away. Which seems the height of absurdity to me. If you know you want to get married, get married. We knew we wanted to be married to each other for the rest of our lives (38 years in August), so what on Earth would have been the point in waiting? These days, the point seems to be that it takes that long to arrange something as ridiculously involved and overproduced as a modern wedding.

    I guess I could be dramatic about it and say we were like the people Kerouac wrote about: “the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yearn or say a commonplace thing . . . but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.”

    But really, it was just a matter-of-fact thing. I saw no reason then, and see no reason in retrospect, why we should have waited. Because we KNEW. A lot of kids might think they know, and rush into something ill-advised, but we knew.

  14. Steven Davis II

    Nothing wrong with that, just saying when I read that I glazed over until the last couple paragraphs.

  15. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    Yes, Brad, you and Miz Dubs, and my parents (married at 22 and 21, and just celebrated their 60th) and my brother and his wife (22 and 23 and about to celebrate their 28th) were correct that you knew, but statistically, it’s better to wait a while. For one thing, the romantic feelings need to dissipate a bit so you can see what your more durable feelings are about the person.

    As far as the wedding-industrial complex goes–oy vey! It gets more elaborate every year, and while I can see the value of a public ritual and celebration (more than I did when I would have been happy to stop off at City Hall and be done with it), these extravaganzas are often detrimental to establishing a stable union–using the money to establish a solid financial start would be so much better! How many folks have gone through with what they should have pulled the plug on, just because they had already invested so much in the wedding.

  16. Steven Davis II

    I know couples who don’t even go to the bathroom in the same house if the person they’re dating for the past year is in it. The timing is right when you walk into the nearest bathroom and don’t even bother to close the door.

  17. Mark Stewart

    Weddings are a snapshot of character. Too much drama and display is as bad as slinking off to the courthouse.

    Either way sets the wrong tone for the first years of marriage.

    Similarly, On the Road is a paperback read. Neither ebook or movie seems right for it.

  18. Brad

    Yes. The Goldilocks Factor. Weddings shouldn’t be too big or too small, but just right.

    My poor middle daughter is right now at the point in life when all of one’s friends are getting married. (She’s 26. In our day, that fell in the 21-22 range.) And it seems like she is a bridesmaid to all of them. Every weekend, she has an event of some sort — frequently involving travel, thanks to one of the many innovations piled on to this institution in recent years, the “bridesmaid weekend.” Near as I can tell, this morphed from another innovation, the “bachelorette party.” I think.

    In any case, looking at it from the outside, it appears that going from being a huge financial burden to the bride’s father once upon a time, weddings have grown to the point that they impoverish everyone involved with them. They’re so massive they’re like a black hole.

    Fortunately for myself, about all I have to do at weddings still is show up — as we’ll be doing, according to my wife, something like four times over the next month or so, what with relatives and friends.

  19. bud

    All the expenses involved with weddings are huge racket. The worst offender is the engagement ring. The whole 2 months salary thing is a concoction by big diamond (Debeers) to separate people from their money while exploiting the poor in African nations for no particular reason other than “tradition”. A good cubic zirconia stone runs for about $100 or less and looks perfectly fine. Compare that to a $5000 “real diamond” rock with obvious flaws. As long as people get sucked into this nonsense the rich will continue to get richer off the naivety of the struggling working poor and middle class.

  20. Silence

    My youngest sister is in her late twenties (frequent bridesmaid) and her lack of marriage prospects is a source of much heartache for my mother. I’ll occasionally help out by making statements and asking questions like: “At what age is one actually considered a spinster?” or the ever popular “On our next vacation you can sleep on the couch, or we’ll make sure that they have a twin bed for you.”

    You’d better be saving up for the next Warthen wedding though..

  21. Silence

    @bud – I agree the diamond is a loathesome waste of money. They aren’t particularly rare in nature (excellent colored stones are rarer) and the high price is an artificial construct, propped up by the DeBeers organization and other members of the diamond cartel. That being said, the diamond ring is something that most women wear forever, or at least for the duration of their marriage, so at least they get some use out of it and can amortize the cost over many years. Which leads me into the true waste of capital:

    The worst offender – IMHO – is the wedding dress. $500 for a discount model, several thousand for a “designer” model (aren’t they all designed by somebody?) and the bride wears it ONE FREAKING TIME! Of course, it has to be perfect b/c it’s the princess’ wedding day, right? Can’t wear a hand-me-down, can’t go downmarket and get a cheap knockoff. Can’t even rent them, as far as I know. At least most folks don’t. So there we are. I’d be willing to bet that most married women have an old, yellowing dress that their daughter’s won’t want to wear (except for playing dress-up when they are six) dry-rotting in a storage closet somewhere. Guys can get by with a $99 tux rental, which is still a stupid waste of green.

  22. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    My engagement ring is a large garnet–my birthstone and the color of my alma mater.

    You can get gorgeous simple white dresses from J Crew for under $500, that will be more flattering and tasteful than the glued-on sequins the bridal shops sell–and they aren’t all that rarely flattering strapless cut.

    You can also rent them, fwiw, but…

    The better deal than renting a tux is buying on–Steve bought one at Lourie’s–all wool, for under $200 on sale–including tailoring. He wears it both for concert dress and for the opening night of the symphony, even if the other men seldom uphold the standard….

  23. Mark Stewart

    If I ever remarry, I’ll be sure to let her know that Bud recommended the cubic zirconia – saving us both from the appraisal bombshell. Of course, my odds of not remarrying became absolutley certain in those 30 seconds after explaining the benefits of a <$100 engagement ring.

    If a courthouse wedding works for some, I guess a fake ring will do for others. But I wonder…

  24. bud

    True story. I have a friend who bought his fiance a cubic zirconia as a stand-in ring when he proposed. She like it so much she had to have a real one just like it. He took her to the jewelery store and while they were looking at $5-6k rings he suggested that it would be bad if they got them mixed up with the cz. The lady in the jewelery store said not to worry because it was easy to tell the cubic z. It was the one without any flaws.

  25. Silence

    @ ‘Kathryn – I also bought a dinner jacket at Lourie’s (on sale of course, not quite under $200 I think), but I haven’t had much occassion to wear it lately.

    Most women seem to go for the tacky sequined bridal dresses, and very few go for anything that could possibly be reworn or a rental.

    Kudos on the garnet ring. I had an employee who was a geologist. He had taken his prospective (no pun intended) fiancee out in the field and they had actually dug out the garnet for her engagement ring together. I thought that was pretty cool.

  26. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    It’s not a fake ring. It’s a real ring. It’s a fake diamond.

    Unless I got really lucky (after being sufficiently unfortunate to be no longer married–so maybe that would be a regression to the mean?) and my intended was extremely wealthy, I’d far rather have something else with the purchase money for a diamond. Even then, I’d rather have a colored stone.

    I should think the only *real* problem with using a CZ ring would be if it were purported to be a diamond. Deception is never a good way to start a marriage.

  27. bud

    Which brings up an interesting issue. If the CZ was passed off as a real diamond and never discovered then would there be a problem? Everyone is happy with the situation. No harm no foul. I guess the deception is wrong but still, if it was NEVER discovered and the difference in the price went to a worthy charity is there really a sin involved?

  28. Mark Stewart

    If it’s under a <$100 out the door, the ring can't be too "real" either.

    Anyway, women and jewelry will always seem right. Same with a guy owning proper evening clothes.

  29. Silence

    @ bud – If the CZ was passed off as a real diamond, it would still be a fraud, I would think. Like ‘Kathryn said “Deception is never a good way to start a marriage.”

    That being said: Before I got married, nobody told me that I would not be allowed to buy a Fountain powerboat or a new Porsche 911. It wasn’t deception, but I forgot to ask if it would be a problem.

  30. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    It’s not a sin in my book, but I would be seriously upset about the deception by the man. Trust is crucial in a marriage, at least for me.

    If you are marrying a woman who cares about color,cut,clarity and carats, you need to be honest with her about where you stand on all that, or it’s a recipe for an unhappy marriage for at least one of you. It comes down to a very basic belief in how to spend money,too,and that is so crucial in compatibility.

  31. Brad

    And my bride and me were very much of a mind…

    She made her wedding dress herself. And two members of our family have happily worn it in their own weddings. Not all families have to be insane.

    We went to considerable trouble to have a sensible wedding. J didn’t want to have it in the big, sterile, arid sanctuary of her home parish, so we went and found a tiny, white frame church set back in the trees in a rural setting (Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Germantown, which in those days was considered way out in the boonies far beyond east Memphis). It really took some doing to get the priest to let nonparishioners use his little church, but he eventually gave in.

    My Dad was my best man. He wore his dress white uniform. The maid of honor wore a floral-patterned dress.

    We had no other sideboys, to put it in naval terms…

  32. Brad

    Speaking of naval terms… as simple as we kept it, there were certain considerations that had to be given to the guest list, on account of naval protocol, since my Dad was a captain.

    I was unaware of these things until my wife mentioned them in passing just the other day. All I really knew was that the admiral was in attendance, which I realized when he came through the receiving line.

    I’m glad to know that correct protocol was observed. I’m a tradition-oriented guy…

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