The death of Norman Mailer over the weekend has left a hole. Yes, he was a great writer, but I'm not talking about his contribution to American literature, no, what I'm talking about is the massive persona that was Mailer. Mailer was equally known for his lifestyle as much as for his writing. Of course, it helped that Mailer was frequently in the limelight for other endevours, such as running for mayor of New York, biting off a piece of Rip Torn's ear and stabbing his wife. I mean, is there a writer alive who even comes close to filling Mailer's legend, or is the culture of the celebrity writer dead as well?
Has the fascination of characters like Mailer turned to empty shells like Paris Hilton? What does that say about America when we choose to focus on the exploits of the intellectually bankrupt (no, not bankrupt; that insinuates there were some brains to begin with; more like just enough mental power to walk and breath) rather than the bad behavior of someone who has at least a thought or two, no matter if you may agree with those thoughts or not? And if there aren't any intellectual bad boys (or girls) out there, perhaps we should invent some. If the mass media can make Nicole Richie a household name, surely they can exaggerate the exploits of some writer out there. (OK, you have your James Freys and J.T. Leroys; but how about someone with talent who actually makes meaningful contributions to American letters?)
Mailer once said that the novel was on its way out, which is perhaps a forced polemic of a egotistical man whose books were never the universally accepted darlings he thought they should be; but there may be some truth in there in regards to the literary environment. There are no big personalities anymore. Sure, there are well-known writers, but not one of them can capture our imagination like Mailer. Which of today's writers are willing to resort to fistfighting with just a hint of provocation? Isn't there some dark part of you that would love to hear about Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon getting into a wrestling match at some National Book Awards party?