I Hate the Internet by Jarett Kobek
We Heard You Like Books / February 2016
“The plot, like life, resolves into nothing and features emotional suffering without meaning” (21). Fair enough, a wee vague, a level of hyperbolism that makes me uncomfortable— but a sentence such as this allows readers of Jarett Kobek's I Hate the Internet to see early on how they will be spoken to for the next two hundred pages. If there is enough humor, the book works; if not, the possibility of it lapsing into long-winded click-bait snark would be disheartening. Kobek, the author of ATTA—a bold, under-appreciated 2011 imagined biography of world trade center hijacker Mohammed Atta—centers on the who’s and why’s of the gentrification of San Francisco. Sometimes the coal runs out and cities disappear; sometimes the consumer habits of a society change and towns are forced to shutter; and sometimes a swarm of profligate, albino locusts with more silver than the olden mines of Potosi descend on an area known for its beaten-but-never-broken charm, its obduracy to conformity, its almost mythic haven for Strange, and proceed to fossilize a place like Medusa catching Midas giving her a golden enema.
If you want to read a hilarious and depressing account about how the tech boom ruined a once-great San Francisco, here is a great place to start. If you want to read an even more depressing account about the symptoms of gentrification literally killing San Francisco residents, look up the unprovoked death of Alejandro Nieto. If you want to learn about the condoned racism and modern day lynchings by the Police Forces of America, look around you. (Descends soap box.)
Kobek never leaves the soapbox. And his critiques are so acute, biting, and skillfully humorous that it never reads like proselytizing. He deconstructs norms by guiding the reader to his own selective version of history, rather than offering thoughtless judgements. Each character has listed the quantity of basal stratum their epidermis’ contain. “An entire social hierarchy was built around mustard stains in the epidermis. This is one of several reasons why many people consider the human species to be a bunch of dumb assholes”(8). Pop music gets the same treatment: “Their songs were about the same six subjects of all songs by pop stars: love, celebrity, fucking, heartbreak, money and buying ugly shit” (61). Modern literature, the history of the comic book industry, science-fiction, the Arab Spring, journalism, higher education, poly-amorism, and of course, the internet, “which was nothing but the intellectual feudalism produced by technological innovation arriving in the disguise of culture” (22). He lambasts the absurdity of created words in science fiction novels by creating new definitions for existing subjects.
Adeline, a well-off comicbooker with a transatlantic accent, that placeless pronunciation that can be heard in old movies or spoken by moneyed brainless debutantes, gives a lecture for a professor friend’s undergrad class, and it goes viral. She had, as yet, abstained from the world of social media. She’s in her forties and has successful bohemian friends, trite and opportunistic lovers, learned opinions and an estranged son, and had “whittled away her teens and her twenties with questionable sex, drug use, and novels in translation” (154). This lecture propels Adeline into a minor celebrity status and forces—or allows-her to take a position on the super-connected 21st century America. I Hate in the Internet is not a critique of modern capitalism, race and gender relations, or what happens to communities when those with the power to enact change decide to do so. It is not a luddites’ examination of our world and subsequent call to action. It is, instead, a hilarious and honest account of a story in progress, one with a beginning often overlooked and an ending far from inevitable.
Review by Craig Chisholm