Thursday, 6 May 2010

McSweeney’s Acceptance Criteria

Having read a few McSweeney’s issues now, I’ve noticed a frustrating similarity in the material they publish.

At first, I thought it was my anger or envy gene kicking in. Sometimes, during my
manstruation period, I dislike everything I read, hate everyone I meet and banish everything I write to the eternal wastepaper basket. Right now, this is not the case. Despite the looming gloom of a Conservative government, I have been feeling chipper lately.

Just yesterday I permitted an urchin to tickle my sense of indignation. That shows how chipper I am.

So permit me to explain the problem using an alphanumerical system of bi-dividers. Here are the qualities that would seem to comprise the McSweeney’s Acceptance Criteria:

a) Sardonic Wistfulness

Characters in McSweeney’s look back on their Important Life Moments with detached slacker irony. They make the significance of those moments explicit without resorting to sentiment. Stories must resolve around one or more Important Life Moment (usually a death or family separation) and balance the emotional weight of this moment with humour or a turn of phrase that captures that unbreakable love (barf) perfectly.

Meandering Structure

Something happens at one moment in time. Then we go forward in time to another moment selected presumably for its significance or profundity. Then we keep skipping forward. Or backward. Or a character does this and does that but gives us no indication of when or why. Stitch these vignettes together in a vaguely coherent bundle for McSweeney’s success!

Flickers of Amusement

Sad to report, but McSweeney’s isn’t particularly funny. Perhaps its slavish devotion to quirky indie Americanness doesn’t help much. Dialogue is where the humour lies. Sometimes. It’s achieved either through explicitness (swearing or references to sexual acts) or gentleness (observational humour), though is light on wit for something so subversive.

d) Thick Curds of Morality

Oh yes. You are also allowed to write stories about moral concerns – wars dividing communities or various nastinesses in the world that expose man’s fundamental sickness. This isn’t a bad thing. But often we only keep reading the stories because we are too shocked to stop.

e) No Experimentation

Nope. Linear narratives written so six-formers can understand. No tricksiness or interesting typographical whims. Unless Mr. McS says so (and he doesn’t say so very often).

America Forever!

These stories ooze America. Americanness seeps from every vowel and consonant. So, cram in as many references to US products or TV shows for maximum McSweeney’s success. If your story isn’t American, then the spelling will be altered accordingly. Don’t dare write anything that wouldn’t work in an indie movie with Steve Carell.

Thus concludes my grumbles. Don’t get me wrong – McSweeney’s is still a thing of beauty and should be loved for its innovation. However, they need to shoot the editorial staff and bring in some fresh blood.

Otherwise, I suggest changing the name to McSnoozy’s.


  1. I did wanr you in my facebook comment, the one after which you agreed I was a grumpy old man...

    'Literary' Magazine 'reality shows' fodder here we come.
    The concept goes, maximise sales by feeding the Lowest Common Denominator.

  2. The in-house McSweeney's style might be very samey, but I don't think we have to worry about McS plumbing the depths yet.

    You aren't grumpy really. You're just cuddly with a tinge of evil.