- A Conversation with Nathan Rabin
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Nathan Rabin is dad, columnist, and the author of five books, most recently 7 Days in Ohio: Trump, the Gathering of the Juggalos and the Summer Everything Went Insane, which has just been rereleased in an “If We Make It Through November Hugely Expanded” edition. He was the first head writer at the A.V. Club, a pop-culture review and commentary site that began as a nonsatirical subsection of The Onion. At the A.V. Club, he wrote the column “My Year of Flops,” which reexamines box-office underperformers of yore to determine if they are “failures,” “fiascoes,” or “secret successes.” In 2007, in the very first of these columns, he decided the film Elizabethtown is a fiasco and coined the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to help explain why. “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” describes a certain stock character frequently found in indie cinema who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” The term gained such traction in the pop-cultural lexicon that Rabin wrote a piece in Salon in 2014 called “I’m Sorry for Coining the Phrase ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl.’” Rabin lives in Decatur, Georgia, with his wife, dog, and son, Declan.
This interview was conducted in late summer 2016.
Your first book, The Big Rewind, follows a fairly rigid form, where you bookend your own experiences with a piece of popular culture, letting it serve as both intro and coda to these experiences. In thinking about what to match up, were you most concerned with the tone of the pop-culture works or their lessons or the similarity of their arcs?
That is a good question. Here’s the thing. I signed my contract to write The Big Rewind when I was thirty years old. It’s crazy to think that I felt it was time for me to set quill to paper and finally share how I overcame incredible obstacles to accomplish jack shit as a mediocre pop culture writer. The way The Big Rewind came about was that I wrote a manuscript about my experiences on a poorly rated, mildly disreputable basic-cable panel show called Movie Club with John Ridley. I wrote it in about nine months, and it was, more than anything, an attempt to understand what had just happened to me. I’d grown up worshipping TV and wanting to be Roger Ebert or Gene Siskel, so the idea [End Page 122] that I could, while still in my twenties, land a TV gig where I would fly to Los Angeles every weekend and do this crazy show with these larger-than-life characters, one of whom has died tragically (Anderson Jones), another of whom won the Oscar for Best Picture, and have NOBODY notice the show’s existence at all, I found fascinating. So part of the draw was just to scream out loud to an indifferent world, “I EXIST!”
I finished the manuscript, my agent believed in it, and a week after I sent it out, he sent me an e-mail saying, “Yeah, this is dead. There’s no future in this book. Nobody is going to spend $20 to buy a book about a TV show nobody has ever heard of.” And this bummed me out, because I felt like I’d done something really good and I wanted that story to get out there. So my agent, who is brilliant, told me, “Some of the editors, they like your voice and your story, but the subject matter, it’s a deal breaker. And some of the editors, they just don’t like you.”
So he pitched me the idea of writing a memoir where every chapter of my life would relate to something in pop culture. Being an idiot, my first reaction was “That’s way too gimmicky. I have a great story that does not need gimmicks.” But then I got over myself and realized my agent knew a whole lot more about the...