“Herc” Broadsides, coach: Well, if you’re asking me about Ryan… oh, okay. Sorry. Didn’t realize his name was Brian. I mean, if you’re asking me about Brian, I’m not sure how much I can help you. I taught phys. ed for just that one year, and all I remember is that he was the only non-obese kid who couldn’t finish the mile run during the “Presidential Fitness Challenge.” Asthma, I think. Real scrawny fucker, too. Parents probably raised him in an iron lung. I wonder if he’s still alive and kicking.
Jonas Ruggleteapot, expert: If nothing else, the first two movie versions of The Brian Powell Story made clear that it was not only okay but actually encouraged for filmmakers to use words like “jagoff” and “fucking” and “shithole,” and that random acts of sex, violence and assorted scraps of… of, uh... you’re right. But more important than those breakthroughs is the fact that the film—the original Lana Del Racism hot take even more so, I suppose—showed that one needn’t have any talent in order to create worthwhile art. One merely had to keep writing. Do you mind if I smoke my pipe?
Camden Camden, acquaintance: He kept pretty strange hours. Used to message me on Friendster direct chat at one or two a.m. He said he just wanted to talk... you know, about life and whatnot. About whatever things I thought were really “now” or “with it,” the stuff “the kids” were into. He’d browbeat me about topics that might “go viral” and really “flood the zone.” I mean, I was 30 at the time, and he was a few years older. We weren’t kids anymore, but since he was living in some tiny broom closet in New York City, he was stuck in a state of arrested development. He’d share all this insincere mumbo jumbo about social justice that he claimed to be into, but the way he described it, it was like advertising language that you’d use to sell toothpaste or hair plugs. Huh? No, no. Not at all. No way. With Brian? Wow. I… couldn’t even imagine it. What is this about, anyway? Did he do something wrong?
Micah the Cat, former graduate student: Yeah, everybody read that hot take back in grad school. Kind of stale now, I suppose, and utterly devoid of any meaningful engagement with historical materialism. A product of its identity-obsessed time, sort of like being “good, giving, and game” for “pegging” will forever be associated with Dan Savage and the 1990s. Not that I’m making the scene anymore. I’m a cat, for crying out loud. Onward goes the forward march of popular culture, I guess. As for the movies? They’re garbage. They didn’t get a damn thing right, and that ending they tacked on…
David Edgarstein, script doctor: Look, I love Brian. I’ll be the first one to say that he’s great, he’s a genius, he’s a great genius, he’s a genius great, however you want that said. But—and I would say this to his face—what I was given by the studio was a huge steaming pile of seabird excrement. Yeah, guano. What they fought wars over in 19th century South America. So, get this: the script was 789 pages long. At a minute a page, that’s... hell, they were thinking of breaking it up into three films. I said to the execs, “Fuck that, let’s make this hot take a one-hit wonder.” Of course, it was my idea to end with the death of God. Brian was an atheist and probably hadn’t even heard of God. But looking at this from a pure cash-flow, cost-benefit perspective, what could be bigger? God dies! Had that ever been done before? Sure, but had God ever been shot by a hot Hawaiian chick before? It was the missing piece. I don’t care if the people who read the book didn’t like it. Who reads books, anyway? Every single book is like “Blah blah blah, Miss Marple reclined on her divan, languorously contemplating the Eastern Question.” Nothing but minor titillation and intricate descriptions of flower petals for bored old biddies to kvetch about at their reading clubs.
The Chief, editor: Nice to meet you, Eddy. Really liked that handshake, Eddy. May I call you Eddy? Thank you, Eddy. As for Brian Powell, let me tell you: he put the pants on the puck like a man on a mission, to be perfectly blunt and honest and whatever other qualities people attribute to us salt-of-the-earth types. And since web-based newspapers, like the United States economy in general, are powered by vast amounts of written content, we need as many stories as possible. Now, we didn’t run 9/10th of the crap he wrote, and we didn’t read 10/10th of it, but that didn’t change the fact that we needed big blocks of boilerplate text to insert between the ads for “late night adult party” chat-lines and out-of-state bookmaking services, and Brian… well, Brian delivered. He was our hot take man. He had his finger on the pulse of what “the kids” wanted, and what they wanted was this jibber-jabber that sounded vaguely progressive but meant absolutely nothing. “Hot air,” you might call it. So he’s gone and kicked the bucket, huh? In my humble opinion, even the most worthless, hopeless, miserable depressed piece of shit can think up a whole bunch of excuses not to commit suicide, if he allows himself to. But those excuses eventually run out for anybody who keeps making them.
“Reek” Bonut, underground author and scene kid: I remember that, uh… All this is is, uh, is, you know… This life is all just one big, long attempt to, uhm, attempt to, uh… something happens here. I don’t know what it is or why it happens, but it does. I remember this. What was I saying? See, to kill the, uh, time until death comes. You know? It doesn’t matter what you do to, you know, try to stave off the boredom, because, uhm, no matter what you’re… what you’re doing, you’re doing, you know, just that—staving off boredom until you, uh… die.
The Chief: Let’s think for a minute about what I just said, because it was very resonant. Yes, it certainly bears repeating: “Those excuses eventually run out for anybody who keeps making them.” What does that mean? Most people would assume it means that anybody who has to keeping making excuses not to kill himself will eventually end up killing himself because he’s run out of those excuses, and I’ll side with them on this one.
“Reek” Bonut: I have this fear that someone will say something to me or ask me a question and I won’t know how to respond and their expression will sour… hmm. I guess the one thing I regret most in my life is that I haven’t lived it like I wanted to, and it’s too late to start doing it now. It’s always too late to start doing it. Once someone knows you as one kind of guy you’ll always be that kind of guy to that person, and if you get in the habit of being different kinds of guys to different people you end up like me—confused about what guy, if any, you are. I don’t know the man in the mirror. Not because he’s changed, but because he’s a stranger. Just some person I see when I go to the bathroom. He doesn’t speak to me and I don’t speak to him. We exchange a glance, a “hello there” sort of nod and then that’s that. I wish I could help you more with your Brian Powell hot take. I’m trying, and you’ve been so patient.
Jonas Ruggleteapot: As they do with most cult heroes, the followers of underground or “indieground” journalist-provocateur Brian Powell have blurred the lines line between fiction and reality with exaggerated tales of his misadventures and exploits. Since Powell was an extremely private person, not much is known about his background, upbringing and so forth save that he frequently engaged in “toxic masculinity” and “gaslighting.” What we know for sure, though, is this: He was conceived and raised in a log cabin, where his parents forced him to write manuscripts—”Brian Powell Stories,” he called them—from the time he was three years old until running away to join the United States Merchant Marine on the eve of his 16th birthday.
David Edgarstein: Have I met Brian Powell? In a manner of speaking, yes. In another manner of speaking… hey, I am cutting to the chase. I write endings for a living, miss. Excuse me, I meant ‘ma’am’ or ‘marm.’’ But everything else still stands.
Oscar Berkman, classmate family friend: The last time I saw Brian was in 19XX. We were playing the “Gods and Robots” third edition card game. The game was wildly popular back then. However, there had been some significant rule changes between the second and third editions, and I don’t think Brian totally agreed with them. He favorite play in the second edition was always the “wild card.” A “Hot Hawaiian Chick” card, to be exact. Also sometimes called a “Hula Girl” card. And I said, Brian, that’s not how it’s going to work in the third edition. They nerfed her. You can’t just mix things up like that. You have to play by the rules. So I beat the living shit out of him, is what happened. Put him on his deathbed, more than likely. I outweighed that little creep by five stone, so he got whipped like a government mule and held down for the long three-count. Never saw him again after the fight. He didn’t press charges, either. And why would he? He was clearly in the wrong. But I didn’t forget about him. When I wrote my memoir The Brian Powell Story, the events at the card table took center stage.
Jonas Ruggleteapot: But what little we do know about Powell only supplies us with more questions. For instance, why did he choose to commit suicide by dying at a ripe old age? That’s as unconventional a move as the Bubsy Berkeley dance recital ending of the 1952 The Brian Powell Story movie, starring Robert Mitchum as Brian Powell.
Ted Tunnell, another expert: No, no, no. Brian Powell wasn’t born in any “log cabin” and he didn’t start writing until he was well into his 20s. There aren’t any records of him serving in the Merchant Marine, either. In fact, he had a perfectly middle-class childhood sandwiched between Reagan’s two terms as president. It’s the misinformation and disinformation that “an historian” whom, er, who is dumb as a post has disseminated over the years that has obscured the true meaning of The Brian Powell Story. After all, isn’t the true meaning obvious? It’s a long allegorical argument in favor of Schumpeter’s theory of business cycles.
“Reek” Bonut: I went out drinking with him sometimes. He didn’t so much drink as he started fights, though. One time he said, “Reek, I’m tired of drinking,” and smashed a bottle over a stranger’s head. Then he wrote a hot take about his mediocre white male nerd rage and privileged white male nerd fragility. Yep, everything he said or did or even thought pretty much became a hot takedown. I tried not to hang out with him all that much, because I didn’t want to wind up in them. And I wasn’t the only one, believe me.
Brian Powell’s second wife, as played by Leah Remini: It was always something with him. He was scared to leave the house. Literally. People think I’m exaggerating when I tell them that, but it’s true. He’d go weeks without leaving the house on account of how he needed to come to terms with his “toxic masculinity” and all the “gaslighting” he did. Studio apartment, I mean. We never had a house. How could we afford an entire house on a pizza boy’s salary? He was convinced that as soon as he stepped outside the door he’d die in a hail of FBI gunfire. I told him he hadn’t done anything they could kill him for and he punched me in the mouth and tried to shove my hand down the garbage disposal. I assumed he’d eventually write a hot take about that misbehavior too, but some real journalists beat him to it when they outed him as an abusive, hypocritical son of a bitch. He had to lay low for a while after that, to keep the heat off until he could start writing hot takes in which he apologized for engaging in whatever buzzwords happened to be trending on the tweetdeck that week.
The Chief: Joyce said the same thing about Finnegans Wake that Powell would say about his hot takes: “It’s a doozy, Chief.” Hell, every hack with a no. two pencil or a no. five typewriter or a no. nine calligraphy brush has said the same thing and it always is the same thing: They’re untalented, uninteresting losers who’ve failed at everything else they’ve ever tried to so they punch up a manuscript or paint a bunch of dots and claim it’s a commentary on contemporary society. It’s a lot of bullshit is what it really is.
Oscar Berkman: What was it like working with him? It was a chore. He might have been the most pandering and lowdown dog of a hot take writer who ever lived. And he was lazy, too. Never met a deadline in his life. In the early days he could at least be made to work with the threat of docked sweat equity, but later it was… I wouldn’t even know how to describe it in words, Mr. Eddy, and I’m a man of words. Yes, well, still… as I said, I can’t describe what it was like in words, Mr. Eddy, so I’ll just use some letters: Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Brian Powell, speaking on a voicemail left for Oscar Berkman: I’m a fraud. I told you all about how, you know, this… this was all about doing it outside the box or whatever, but all I’ve done is… I’ve ignored everything I claimed to believe in and tried to… tried to… fuck, I mean, I abandoned everything. Refusing to write those stupid fucking query letters to publishers? How long did that last? Hmm? Not long. Not long at all. Nothing lasted. I kept hoping each hot take was going to be the one that pushed me over the top, but I just stayed right where I was. I thought I was a sorta-somebody, but it turns out I was a real nobody. I can’t even remember all the shit I pretended to be sorry for when I was hustling these virtue-signalling takes, but I’m sorry I took this long to realize there’s zero difference between good and bad things. Oh, you imbecile, you fucking moron...
“Reek” Bonut: I know what he meant when he left that message, man. You never kill yourself when you think you will or when you’re expecting to. It’s like, the more you think about it, the less likely it is that you’ll do it, you know? No, it’s on a (relatively) happy day that you kill yourself because it just comes to you all at once. You don’t have time to chicken out. You just grab it in and stick it in and hope it hits a vein or an artery or an organ and then it’s, “We’ll see you in heaven, folks!” And the credits roll and Porky Pig comes out. Yep, that’s how it ends, all right.
From the Fall 2015 Mideastern Quarterly review of the third edition of The Brian Powell Story: Brian Powell (born John Bryan Powell, 1/15/1980) may go down—probably has gone down—in history as nothing more than a “one-trick pony,” but what a trick he pulled in 2013 with his “Lana Del Racism” hot take. An impenetrable 1500-word screed filled with random, surreal and frequently quite violent or graphic asides, fragments of plagiarized hot takes written by better writers, made-up anecdotes about his abusive childhood, etc. Additionally, it was completely unedited, just like all the other posts on the website where it appeared. That’s right—even Powell’s typographical errors were preserved in the hot take. In retrospect, given its painfully gimmicky nature, it’s not so surprising that “Lana Del Racism” is mostly forgotten, but at the time of its release the hot take was considered “the wave of the future” by insincere social media-based social justice weekend warriors, hack writers/poetasters, and other untalented but nonetheless pretentious “influencers.” If nothing else, it proved that there are some people who are willing to publish almost anything, which, in itself, is a sort of feat.
“Herc” Broadsides: A one trick pony? I wouldn’t know, geek. I’ve never read any of his Internet poems. Yeah, I want nothing to do with that geeky stuff. It’s for wimps and turkey necks, you know. What? You’re goddamn right this interview is over, you hockey puck! Who gives a shit about this dumb shit? Everything on this world wide web of lies is a big old wet fart. Fuck you!
Brian Powell, via voicemail: This… I had very clear intentions when I started writing these hot takes. I don’t know where I… lost sight of the big picture. I just, fuck… What is this now, hmm? Some sort of fucking… It’s just some, some, some pathetic attempt to see, you know… how… how fucking viral I could get by convincing other people I was “doing the work.” How much of a brand I could become. I mean, fuck… I-I… I mean…
Cast (in order of appearance).
“Herc” Broadsides: Himself.
Robert Mitchum: Don Mattingly.
“Reek” Bonut: the late River Phoenix.
Mr. Eddy: Joe Rogan.
Brian Powell (v.o.): Jocko Willink.
Ted Tunnell: Himself.
Jonas Ruggleteapot: Charles Nelson Reilly.
Vice-President Ronald Reagan: James Brolin.
The Chief: Ralph Bakshi.
Niels Bohr: Robert Loggia.
Ernie Bohr, Sr. aka “Books”: Burgess Meredith.
Young Brian Powell (Age 5): Haley Joel Osment (Age 18).
Joseph R. Powell: Gary Oldman.
Brian Powell’s second wife, as played by Leah Remini… Cheryl Hines.
And Camden Camden … Herself (Age 24).
Special appearances by Micah the Cat, Oscar Berkman, Brian Powell III, and Emily Twiggs.