• Literature •
Whining Boys and Cheating Men
Since 1951, J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield has melted hearts around the world. But hypothetically speaking, what if Caulfield never grew out of his teenage angst? Precocious as he was, what if he never, truly, matured? What would he be like at the age of 40? Maybe he’d be the kind of man Bill Burr, Joe DeRosa, and Robert Kelly, describe as a “piece of shit”. Maybe he’d even be Burr, DeRosa, and Kelly—all of them combined, as they’ve become in their new book, Cheat: A Man’s Guide to Infidelity.
Published earlier this year, the book is written as a guide to help men cheat because, according to Burr, “Why should another man come home to find his wardrobe burned up on a three-foot patch of grass in front of his apartment complex when a retired piece of shit like me could offer some information that might prevent it?” This work of three famed American comedians would certainly make for a fatuous holiday read. Indeed, the entire book reads like a postmodern gossip sesh, almost like a dude’s version of Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City—theory interjected by jaw dropping accounts on how to cheat, or rather, how not to.
To give Cheat credit where it’s due: the best part about the book is surely the fact that every page burns—in part with the flames of hell, but also with that cheeky Caulfield voice. It captures his curmudgeonly tone, but it is also enraptured with the pithy perfection of words like “moron” and “dick.” Most importantly, the flippant storytelling stabs with a sizzling pitchfork and a devilish grin.
Due to the knock-out writing, even the most iron-fisted feminist will have to let out a chuckle at some point. “Folks would say that women wear glitter because it’s fun or sexy or enchanting. Nonsense. It’s a woman’s way of marking you. Once you’ve been branded by glitter’s wicked burn, you’re off-limits to all other women until you get that shiny shit off of you. It’s the male version of the scarlet letter,” they write in a chapter dedicated to destroying evidence.
The highlights of Cheat go beyond the Salinger-style storytelling. There is, surprisingly, some intelligence to what’s written. The book snickers itself off countless literary, political, and even historical allusions, from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter to Bernard Madoff’s infamous poker face. “You’ve got to go into a Bernie Madoff mentality and literally get offended that she would think you did what you did,” the authors write, labelling the marriage-saving tactic as the “Beautiful Mind/Shutter Island Technique.”
Despite these seemingly intellectual injections, Cheat is nothing more than … amusing. Its basic premise is morally questionable and, though marketed in the name of humour, Cheat is subconsciously—indeed consciously—justifying infidelity by presenting it in such a digestible manner. The book not only promotes dishonesty, but it validates cheating through an immature self-victimisation approach. “Here’s the good news: cheating is not your fault,” the three self-proclaimed cheaters preach, explaining that a man’s animalistic urges are natural and actually need to be relieved. “Ignore these [guilt] pangs,” they add. “The only reason they occur is because something that was said on The View somehow affected your psyche.”
In The Culture of Complaint, Robert Hughes describes how post-modern Anglo-American philosophies, with their rejection of traditional morals and value systems, are the reason for this widespread self-victimisation mentality. And with its endless whining, Cheat is a reflection of just that. Despite some tear-jerking moments of the heartbroken male (which do deserve a sympathetic Kleenex or two), it’s nothing but an unchivalrous quest for the unearned. That’s why its arguments don’t hold up. For example, after a chapter dedicated to glamourising prostitution, the men explain how cheating is sometimes necessary to reestablish the “mojo”—in which case, a man can’t just pay for sex, but must “earn” it. “James Bond was an earner. Every single Harrison Ford character ever was an earner. And earners don’t take shit from anybody. So get out there and earn your mojo back.” They write this without realising that “earning” is, literally, a value—and morals and values are packaged together for a reason.
Burr, DeRosa, and Kelly, are brilliant writers. In fact, their prose is even better than their stand-up. But with their childish arguments and absurdly chauvinistic stance, calling them immature little boys makes for an undeservedly soft slam. Perhaps one day they’ll grow into men and write a book worthy of their talent.
Haiya Sarwar is reading for an MSt in Creative Writing at St Catherine’s College, Oxford.