The Sager Group, 2019
It takes a certain kind of courage or, rather, daring to write a satirical novel or send-up of the MeToo movement. Comedy in the wake of contemporary cultural progressing towards an intolerance of not just sexual abuse and assault but casual sexism is a difficult vein to mine. Certainly so if the comedic writer is a well-off Boomer white man known for helping to create one of the most iconic television series of all time (Mehlman helped write and produced Seinfeld). And yet, here we are with Peter Mehlman’s novel #MeAsWell, a glimpse into the life of a man who just can’t seem to understand how or when he became a ‘bad guy.’
The characters we all came to know in Seinfeld were beyond flawed; they were bad people. We watched because they got themselves into ridiculous situations by making bad choices, were so committed to being selfish that things always spun out of control. And we laughed. We laughed at them just as often as we laughed with them–we were the perfect audience, smug and sympathetic. So when Mehlman gives us another such character how are we to respond? Watching Seinfeld now is often difficult as, beyond nostalgia, comedically the show doesn’t really hold up. We’ve grown beyond that kind of humor thanks to that kind of humor. Mehlman’s Arnie Pepper finds himself in this situation and has no idea idea how to respond thus making his every move both overwrought, overthought, and earnestly, non-pejoratively ignorant.
Mehlman’s novel moves quickly and his prose is that of someone who knows how to usher a script along. Yet at no point will readers feel they’re enduring a scriptwriter turned wannabe novelist. Mehlman has a genuine gift for inhabiting his character’s mind and making readers feel it’s natural and believable even when the situation when pondered for even a moment is not. Arnie Pepper is a sportswriter. The kind of old school sports writer who every few years breaks out an article decrying ‘soccer,’ the kind of funny, nuanced sports writer talking head pundits like Skip Bayless, Alexi Lalas, and Stephen A. Smith think they are. But, we know they’re not. And Arnie Pepper discovers thanks to an off-hand comment, he isn’t what he thinks he is either.
It’s a bit over the top at points, but when writing this kind of satire caricature is necessary. Mehlman writes with a tone similar to Christopher Moore’s and, honestly, the humor is much the same. The flaws we see are less Mehlman’s than they are Pepper’s and remembering that as a reader is vital in not appreciating but understanding the satire. Throughout the whole of the novel as Pepper endures the fallout on social media, mainstream media, and his personal life due to a joke we are consistently told was really funny at its core but these days…
Fact is, nothing Pepper says is as funny as Pepper thinks it is. None of his observations on the events around him rise much beyond the level of willful hypocrisy. But Pepper desperately wants to be liked. There is no Gen Xer, Millennial, or Gen Z person alive who cares more about what others think of themselves as a Boomer. This is funny. Not ‘ha-ha’ funny, but, you know, funny. And while Pepper doesn’t really do anything to interrogate his own motivations and actions preferring to spend his time obsessing and ranting about how ‘if they really knew me,’ readers can see themselves. They can see not just themselves but their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, husbands, son and daughters. Readers realize they’re like this, attracted and repulsed, and that is what makes for good satire.
#MeAsWell isn’t a perfect novel nor does it need to be. What it does do is scratch an itch many will have to both blame and exonerate social media and cultural conventions. In this way, Peter Mehlman has given readers a primer for dealing with Joe Biden as well as BernieBros and all the petty, myopic Instagram stars in the world.
About the Author
After graduating from the University of Maryland, Peter Mehlman, a New York native, became a writer for The Washington Post. He slid to television in 1982, writing for SportsBeat with Howard Cosell. From 1985-90, he returned to forming full sentences as a writer for numerous national publications, including The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Esquire. In 1989, two years after moving to Los Angeles, he became a writer for the iconic TV show, Seinfeld. Over the eight-year run of the show, Mehlman rose to executive producer and coined such well-known Seinfeld-isms as “Yada Yada,” “spongeworthy,” “shrinkage,” and “double-dipping.” In 1997, Mehlman joined DreamWorks and created It’s Like, You Know…a scathing look at life in Los Angeles. In recent years, he has written screenplays, novels, and humor pieces, many of which were collected in his book, Mandela Was Late. Mehlman has appeared on-camera for TNT Sports and the Webby-nominated Peter Mehlman’s Narrow World of Sports. He’s the creator of the lifestyle brand Bravely Oblivious. He lives in Los Angeles.