It's a man's world

"Maddox," the Web programmer turned pop-culture hero whose book "The Alphabet of Manliness" recently leapt to the top of Amazon's sales list, talks about obedient wives, the craze for all things manly, and whether the next generation is going to be "totally puss-onified"

Published June 2, 2006 12:00PM (EDT)

George Ouzounian, aka "Maddox," creator of "The Best Page in the Universe" and author of the forthcoming "Alphabet of Manliness," is making more hay on testosterone than a bull breeder. His Web site, which he started in 1997 while a programmer at a telemarketing company and which trumpets his disregard for authority and political correctness, gets 1 million unique visitors a month. "The Alphabet of Manliness," a letter-by-letter guide to all things male, macho and masculine, is pumped full of aggression toward the weak, the flabby, the girly men of the world. The book, and its author, have become this season's publishing phenomenon: When it became available by preorder, Maddox sent a note to his mailing list and, overnight, "Alphabet" shot to the No. 1 spot on Amazon. "Alphabet" is a triumph of word-of-mouth publicity: The book's publisher, Citadel Press, has done very little to promote it, and Maddox himself has given only a few brief interviews, but it has hovered in the top 70, often in the top 20, for the two months since its initial ascent. All this, and it doesn't hit shelves until Tuesday, June 6.

Others besides Maddox have discovered there's money to be made in the XY genotype: A manliness assault has been carpet-bombing bookstores and television stations for some months. Along with Tucker Max's "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell," Maddox was dubbed part of a new genre of "Fratire" by the New York Times last month. There's been Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield's much derided homage to potency, "Manliness." Also on my desk is "Manthology: Poems on the Male Experience," from the University of Iowa Press. Turn on a television and you'll find one of the summer's phallustastic ad campaigns: Burt Reynolds and company sell Miller Lite with man laws forged by the "Men of the Square Table"; Burger King boys sing a nonsensical "Manthem" ("I am hungry! I am incorrigible! I am man!") about their refusal to eat "chick food" like quiche; TGI Friday's even has a campaign in which dudes bang their utensils on a table and shout about the meat products they are about to consume. Pork! Beef! Sausage! You get the picture!

"The Alphabet of Manliness" is very much in this masculinity-as-sketch-comedy mold, and some of it is pretty funny. Take the entry for "N," which is "Norris, Chuck." "Chuck Norris eats rocks and shits lightning bolts," the chapter begins. "One time Chuck Norris was walking around in the forest, looking for hippies to use as firewood, when a wild boar suddenly crossed his path. Big mistake. Chuck lifted the boar into the air with his mind, spun him around, and digested him telekinetically. And Chuck wasn't even hungry." The "Alphabet's" illustrations (by eight artists, two of them women) are a varied affair, depicting pirates ejaculating leprechauns, physically combative sperm, a wide variety of boners, and Xanthippe's frozen tundra of a vagina inhabited by some penguins and a polar bear.

Intentionally outrageous, Maddox's humor waves its anti-p.c. flag high. Women, naturally, are the main foils. Again from the Norris chapter: "Chuck Norris has no mother, as crawling out of a vagina is unbecoming of a man of his stature."

Some of Maddox's over-the-top riffs are funny, but others are tone-deaf and dumb. Warning his readers to be wary when picking up women at bars, he writes: "Listen for a faint whistling noise coming from between her legs, as if wind were passing through a large, hollow cavern. If you hear this sound, your prospective woman may have a condition commonly referred to as 'whore.'"

Still, it's tough to get too worked up about even such retro-grody passages. Maddox's brand of humor -- in which pirates, lumberjacks, farting, quickies and beef jerky are good, and babies, vegetarians, hippies and Mozart are bad -- is typical of a certain species of amiable, clueless 20-to-30ish males, who may take cathartic pleasure in rhetorically rampaging around like big swinging dicks but who probably eat quiche and are nice to their girlfriends at home.

When Salon spoke to the 28-year-old Salt Lake City native and his publicist by phone, it was his first extensive conversation with the press. Maddox -- the nickname comes from an old anime cartoon called "Maddox 01" -- turned out to be a soft-spoken young man, short on media training and practiced answers, who seemed slightly stunned by his own success. He couldn't help but snigger at references to some of his own jokes, like the one about committing suicide by "licking a hooker's ass."

You run an extremely popular Web site with a cult following. What is it that readers get from you?

When you're trying to send a message to someone, if you wrap it in humor it sticks a lot better. It's like the sugar with the medicine. People remember things when they laugh. I've never studied marketing, but I'm guessing that that's why lots of commercials try to be funny. And if "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" did dry political shows they wouldn't get nearly as many people watching. So hopefully people can take away something more from my site than just the humor, but the No. 1 reason people come is to laugh.

But what's the sugar-coated message you want them to take away?

The No. 1 thing is my resentment of trends and this group-think mentality. A lot of people feel the same way I do when I see someone in a brand-new $200 pair of jeans with holes in it, or premature fades. The people who wear these jeans are people who are trying to buy this genuine aged look that only comes from years of hard work and not being able to afford new jeans. Trying to artificially buy this look upsets a lot of people. So it's a rejection of pop culture and trends. But I guess I have to be aware that the larger my site becomes, the more I'm becoming a trend myself.

What are your politics?

In terms of the two major parties, I'm politically neutral. When Clinton was in office, I wasn't happy and I wrote articles bashing him, and people called me on the right. Now that Bush is in office, I'm not happy and people say I'm on the left. So I think I'm doing something right. The very first year I could vote, I voted for Perot. I think Ross "The Boss" Perot was the man.

How did you move from your anti-trend Web site to a book about manliness?

Well, I was reading this book about lesbians, and it had pictures in it. It was almost like a graphic novel. And I was thinking, "Why hasn't someone done this kind of book, except for guys?" The way I've written the book is as a parody of a children's book and a reference book. And I always wanted to write children's books, except I hate kids.

Is that true?

Oh yeah. My favorite kids book is "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." It's so creative, and that's the book that sparked my imagination as a child and here I am, bitter and balding, and I never got to write that book. But I did write this book, which is kind of a parody of a children's book. I didn't write a book about food that falls from the sky, but I did write a book about boners.

Right. Masculinity.

The new masculinity.

What is the new masculinity?

The new masculinity is a muted version of the old masculinity. When I talk about old masculinity I'm talking about guys like my dad. My dad is a really tough guy. He fought in Korea, and if you took a look at this guy's hands you would see [that they] are big and callused and gnarled and there's stuff just oozing from them, and I think he has oil stains that are there permanently. And my hands in comparison are not like that. Sometimes he grabs my hands, and he calls me a pussy, and he walks away. To give you an idea what kind of guy he is, we went fishing once and he didn't have anything to gut and clean the fish, so he bit into its stomach and bit its guts out and spit them on the ground. True story. I was 13 or 14.

Were you horrified?

Yeah. I pretty much was. When I was a kid I was scared of June bugs, and he would take them and eat them, I guess to scare me more or something ... I've never seen my dad listen to music in my life. Radio in his car is probably the least-used piece of equipment. I've never seen him intentionally watch TV. The only thing that guy likes to do is work, and usually with tools.

Is your dad's model of masculinity what men today should be aspiring to?

It's hard to say because the world is changing. Obviously we're working with computers, you and I, and my dad and his generation didn't. But the reason books like mine and books like Harvey Mansfield's are coming out is that it's a callback to this feeling of the manly man, like this nostalgic feeling. It's a good feeling to know that there are guys out there like that.

You don't think men are going to start acting like that again?

No. You have, I hate to use the word, but the "metrosexual" revolution: guys who know what conditioner is. My girlfriend's been trying to convince me that it's useful for years. Guys today know cosmetics. Guys know these things that are traditionally feminine and books like mine are a callback to the old-school masculinity.

But Mansfield's book is a call to arms, hoping to get men to behave like that again. Yours seems to be making light of that kind of man.

My book is a much more lighthearted approach to the subject. Mansfield is a Harvard professor. His book has a thesis, and he's talking about wars, and the things that shaped man, and the people who read his book are much more the NPR crowd, people who are actually really interested in the subject. Whereas in my book, I don't have a thesis. I'd be surprised if there was a single fact in my book that people could take away. There's satire in my book about modern life. It's a much more cynical approach to manliness that will eventually have a larger impact because people like comedy.

OK, but the things that have altered the role of men -- computers, as you said, and different kinds of wars and the feminist movement -- would you say they were bad things?

No, I would not. It's just that the world has changed. It's gone too far forward to go so far back. I can't even foresee a world in which that [kind of man] could happen again unless there was a nuclear holocaust and we lost most of our electrical infrastructure. Then you would see manly men like my dad. I wouldn't necessarily say that how things have changed is all for the better, but most of the changes were necessary.

What changes have not been for the better?

I'm not sure the feminist movement accomplished all its goals. People today have a backlash to the feminist movement. The [figure] who is remembered when you think of feminism, by people who haven't studied it, is the [un]shaved girl burning her bra, standing on campus screaming at everybody. That's definitely not a positive image. I think the feminist movement went a little too far. But a lot of things have changed for the better from the eras of segregation and huge racism and the civil rights movement.

I noticed on your site that you seem sensitive to issues of race, in entries like your rant about the term "African-American." Some of the things about women in your book -- for example when you write about the wind whistling through a woman's cavernous vagina -- would you be able to make those kinds of derogatory jokes about, for instance, black people?

No, definitely not. Because first of all, I'm not black. I think if someone makes those types of jokes about racial or ethnic groups, they have to have viewed it themselves. Very few comics are able to do that and get away with it, and the idea is if you understand the trouble or the pain that that stereotype comes from, then it's OK to laugh at it because you're laughing at it yourself. As for the writing about women, one interesting statistic is that 40 to 45 percent of my readers are female. The types of women who read my material and don't get offended and like it are really smart women who get it. They know at end of the day [what the reality is]. I wrote this piece once called "Why change your car's oil when your girlfriend can do it?" and it was about how I was sitting inside my house on a lazy Saturday playing videogames and my girlfriend was out trying to change my car's oil and it was this crazy misogynistic piece. [In life] I treat my girlfriend with respect; I don't expect her to do the dishes or the laundry. The section on owning a woman was written as a parody of a dog-training manual and it originally had a lot more offensive stuff that my publisher made me take out for people who didn't understand dog manuals. I had stuff about checking her stool for worms before you choose a girlfriend.

OK, but back to the part about how you wouldn't make jokes about black people because you're not black -- you're also not a woman.

That's a very good observation. And the women who read my writing, who read these misogynistic observations, understand that I have in fact studied, and I do in fact live the opposite way. My dad is probably [more] traditional and he thinks women have their role in society and that role is to take care of children and to cook and to clean. At the end of the day the reason I write this stuff is because guys like it, and the majority of my audience is men. It's so out there; it's so wrong; and I think I'm going after some easy targets here.

But why are women an easier target than a racial minority?

Well, that's a really tough question but probably the difference is in the scope of the suffering. Talking about not being able to vote versus picking cotton in the field ... I don't know, it just seems the civil rights movement for blacks in this country was against a much stronger evil. Teasing women about not being able to vote is different than teasing a black person about the history of slavery. I'd have to think about it more. [Institutionalized racism] is a much more extreme version of discrimination; there's a lot more pain and suffering associated with the civil rights movement.

But can I be a humorless feminist for a moment by suggesting that the lesson here seems to be that women are a group it's still OK -- and funny! -- to say mean and derogatory things about?

Publicist K. Darryl Pierce: I was just going to say that. The bottom line is, you can say these things about women. We're not saying you guys don't have a point!

(In a follow-up e-mail, Maddox clarified that "my jabs at women, taken in context, are not serious, which is why it's okay. At the end of the day, I'm writing these things in a book where I also write about lesbian robots, boners, Cyclopses, and pirates, so people know I'm not serious, which is why I can get away with it.")

OK, back to manliness: Why choose it as your topic?

When writing this book, I did so much research, and before mine there was only one book that was even remotely like it, called the "Big Damn Book of Manliness." And that book approaches manliness in a very traditional fashion, like writing about golf. I don't really write about sports at all in my book -- it's so cliché. But literally there was nothing written before it about manliness except for a few academic papers and that one book. Now it's everywhere! My editor called it the "zeitgeist."

Have you seen these ad campaigns for Burger King and Miller Lite?

Yes, we love those!

But in those ads, as in your book, old-style manliness equals buffoonery. Do you think that they're treating traditional masculinity as a joke rather than an ideal?

I would say so. It even goes back to why it's OK to make fun of women in the way that I do: It's because it's not realistic anymore. I'm sure somewhere in some backwater city it's still happening, but for the most part men realize it's not OK to treat women as they've been treated in the past. Perceptions have changed, and for the first time in history there's a woman who might run for president and has a good shot of winning. We live in different world. So this callback caricature of manliness we're seeing in pop culture -- the old knuckle-dragging man -- it's a stereotype, and with the stereotype of man comes the stereotype of woman.

Do you think that the fact that that stereotype is evoked humorously means we are saying goodbye to it?

Yeah. I was thinking about it, and that's the end of it. The end of a generation. I shudder to think what our kids are going to be like. Is the next generation going to continue to be totally puss-onified? I think I just coined that! But are they going to continue the trend toward being pussies? I don't know. It's kind of unsettling. But when I talk about women within their roles, I mean it nostalgically. I don't mean it in the way that people do when they want to plot some nefarious scheme to keep women down. I mean it in the nostalgic sense. When I came home it was a nice feeling to know that my mom was baking cookies. It was just a nice feeling. It's not an intentional conspiracy to keep women down.

Are you now doing the site and the writing full time?

Yeah. It was a difficult decision to make. I've given up a lot of money in order to do this for my fans. I could be making a pretty decent living as a programmer. And I could be making a really good income if I had ads on my site.

Pierce: Maddox turns down 10 to 12 thousand dollars a month in ads.


I think that ads cause self-censorship. For example, if I had gone the route of selling ads on my site, there's a possibility that there would have been Orbitz ads on my site. So if I ever wanted to write about Orbitz, as I did, I might have thought to myself, "This money-making is really good. Maybe I'll write about something else." I'm not saying I necessarily would have, but it's possible. I don't want that level of self-censorship. Also, ads are annoying.

I know the book hit No. 1 on Amazon early, but do you know how much it's sold so far?

Pierce: No. We don't have any pre-release numbers. What we're hearing is that we have a legitimate shot of taking the No. 1 spot, beating Ann Coulter, whose book comes out the same day. And if not, hitting the top 10, which for someone like Maddox is amazing.

Maddox, how do you feel about being up against Ann Coulter?

It's a David and Goliath fight. According to the Drudge Report, her print run is going to be 500,000, and she's going to get buzz from the usual suspects: Fox News, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh. How can I possibly compete with that? I don't have that kind of pull in the media. Around 70 million people have seen my Web site but I still struggle when I sit down in meetings to explain who I am. I'm the little guy.

Do you like Ann Coulter?

No. I don't. I very much don't. I think a lot of the things she says polarize this country. I don't think she's a very nice person, and I don't think she believes a lot of what she says. She's the political equivalent of a shock-jock.

Well, some people might compare you to her. You say things that are controversial and un-p.c. and I don't think you believe a lot of what you say.

The difference is when I joke about a woman going to make me a sandwich, people will shrug it off. But there are significant numbers of people out there who take her word as gospel. I have a lot of pull with my fans; I have credibility; and I haven't made money on ads. So my fans trust me, and I if I attack someone I have to be very careful ... There was a guy in Atlanta who plagiarized me and I wrote about it and my fans went nuts. Finally he read an on-air apology. I didn't want the guy to lose his job. So there's a lot of responsibility you have to have when you have a voice. People listen to you. My fans, a lot of them are really smart, but some really aren't. And they take some of the things I say at face value. It's almost a fight-club mentality. I've even received e-mails from people in militias, saying "Hey Maddox, we have 20 soldiers around the country waiting for your orders." It's kinda scary. But better that someone like me can command these people not to do anything rather than someone who's really nuts or more nuts than I am. So back to Ann Coulter: She's a good example of someone who has a voice but isn't acting responsibly with it.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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