Tao Lin Now Selling Videos of Himself on Ecstasy to Pay the Rent: An Interview with MDMA Films

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11/23/2010 3:02 PM |

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While it is reasonable to despair of the possibility of ever truly bridging the intractable divide between people, Tao Lin’s enactment of this despair—his “Concrete/Literal Style,” using a prosaic vocabulary for automaton-like description of bland action, so as to preemptively void words and gestures of any but the most banal, functional, inconstestable meanings—is of the I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I school of relativism (he would prefer to not to be asked questions which “would imply that i have consistent, specific, ‘active’ definitions of certain abstractions/terms“).

Lin’s pose, of being averse to affect or self-analysis—a blanket refusal of literary or emotional spin—may have originated in an authentic ambivalent/depressed young-artsy-American ethos. But it’s so smugly unbroken—across interviews, appearances, blog posts, lukewarm-stream-of-consciousness literary output—that some have taken to calling him a “performance artist“. (Although, a few years ago, he did break character, emailing The L to complain that our skeptical review of his collection You Are a Little Bit Happier Than I Am didn’t really *get* one of the poems.) The comments fans leave on Lin’s blog are generally nakedly imitative of his literal, pop culture-knowledgeable prose style, to an extent bordering on cult-like sycophancy; this suggests to me that, despite his outlook’s claims to unfiltered, uninflected purity, it’s an outlook imposed on the world the same as any other. (And a rather limiting one beyond its initial usefulness.)

Last week, I was emailed a press release announcing the formation of MDMA Films, “an “extreme mumblecore”/”drugcore”/”emo” film/documentary/”event coverage”/production company established yesterday by Megan Boyle & Tao Lin” (links theirs). The press release said that films—which turned out to be videos of the cofounders on various drugs—were now on sale for $20 a pop. It also said that Lin and Boyle (with whose tumblr I was previously unfamiliar) would be available for interviews, and I felt like it was a pretty good time to ask a couple of questions.

First, the press release:

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Dear Media/People,

MDMAfilms is an “extreme mumblecore”/”drugcore”/”emo” film/documentary/”event coverage”/production company established yesterday by Megan Boyle & Tao Lin. MDMAfilms’ “event coverage” arm specializes in mid-to-high-profile events held in Chelsea galleries. All movies are recorded/edited with iMovie. 

Go here for more information, a promotional “event coverage” film, and a promotional trailer.

The first four feature films are:

MDMA (20 DEC 2010)
COCAINE (20 JAN 2011)
PODCAST (20 FEB 2011)
HEROIN (20 MAR 2011)

Future feature films include:

MUSHROOMS (?? ?? 2011)
BILL CLEGG (?? ?? 2011)

Feature film DVDs are currently available for preorder. Cases/packaging are environmentally-friendly. Shipping is free internationally.

Simply respond to this email for media inquiries, to hire MDMAfilms to cover an NYC-event, or to exchange information about hosting a screening/[other].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
MDMAfilms

The preview for the feature-length MDMA is two-plus minutes of Lin and Boyle asking and answering questions, and walking around Manhattan, on ecstasy; the “event coverage” preview has them asking Chelsea gallery-goers about cake. Here’s Ecstasy:

MDMA (TRAILER) from MDMAfilms on Vimeo.

Now, the interview. When I asked with whom I was emailing, I was told “Tao Lin” and “Megan Boyle.” So that’s who I’m talking to here. Lin and Boyle were uncommonly prompt in their replies, generous with their time, and happy to supply the art to go along with this post. My questions are in bold.

People have been filming each other under the influence since at least Thomas Edison’s Cripple Creek Bar-Room Scene. What is it about these films, of the two of you on various drugs, that’s exceptional enough to warrant charging $20 for them instead of posting them on YouTube?
They’re too long to post on YouTube. They come in environmentally-friendly digipaks. People don’t have to buy them.

Of course, but—and I’m sorry if this seems at all combative, it’s not my intention—you don’t have to charge for them, either. You could edit them down, or divide them into segments for YouTube. Or make them free beyond the cost of shipping (or whatever other overhead). $20 is putting a very specific valuation on the footage, and I’m curious why, and how, you came to that valuation.
It will cost us something like $400 to order 100 DVDs in digipaks. Combined we currently have something like $900 in all our checking and savings accounts. Megan has one steady income source of $10 an hour ~10 hours a week. Tao has no steady income source and his next royalty check in April will be something like $7000.

When, and why, did you make this determination of value? “Established yesterday” aside, a certain amount of planning seems to have gone into this…
We wanted to film ourselves answering questions on drugs and not on drugs to edit into things to put on YouTube because those videos seem to get a lot of views and there aren’t a lot of them and they seem funny. We did that while on MDMA then continued recording. We thought of things to do while on other drugs that seem interesting and that we feel excited to do.

In your press release you refer to MDMA films as ‘an “extreme mumblecore”/”drugcore”/”emo” film/documentary/”event coverage”/production company’. Are you putting all those descriptors in quotation marks to parody them, or to denote (or parody) your own ambivalence about claiming them as your own? Why not put “film/documentary” in quotes, too? And if you’re uncomfortable with the process of marketing your production company, why send out a press release?
“Extreme mumblecore” is in quotation marks so the reader knows the “/” is in reference to the entire phrase, not just the word “mumblecore.” “Drugcore” is in quotation marks because it’s a term. “Emo” is in quotation marks because it’s being used in a tone that isn’t 100% earnest. “Event coverage” is in quotation marks for the same reason “extreme mumblecore” is in quotation marks. “Film” and “documentary” aren’t in quotation marks because they are nouns with definitions that a large percentage of people agree upon easily and we are using them in an earnest tone.

We aren’t uncomfortable with marketing the company.

Fair enough, but I guess the cumulative effect of all these ironically and unironically deployed terms suggests, to me at least, a sort of willed disengagement from the process of self-definition in which you’re participating (and which is a crucial component of marketing). Something, perhaps, to do with quotation marks suggesting the words aren’t your own. Is that an inflection, and implication of which you’re conscious, or at all what you intended?
Words seem able to have more meanings than their literal definitions. Depending on a person’s tone a word can mean different things. Quotation marks can indicate a different tone, which indicates a different intended meaning, in the way a person’s facial expression or a different word can indicate a different meaning. In terms of that we seem conscious of what we are doing.

If a gallery did approach you to make a film out of their opening, in what spirit would you approach the assignment?
We would try to get people to talk about shrimp, steak, ground beef, and other kinds of meat and drugs.

Why meat?
Meat seems funny.

16 Comment

  • is this what our generation has come to??? so sad!

  • Tao Lin and Megan Boyle are good writers. Is it wrong to market yourself and do ‘gimmicks’ to pay rent? Wouldn’t we all like to be able to film ourselves on ecstasy and get paid for it (at least if we are young enough to still want to take ecstasy)? I think people takes Lin’s internet wackiness, and use it to disregard his writing. It’s hard to write of Lin w/o writing of his marketing and internet presence, but if his work was taken solely on his writing, people would veiw him with more seriousness as a literary force, instead of an internet presence. But, maybe, not as many people would have heard of him, and not as many read his work. And writers want to be published and read. He’s hustling to survive as a writer without another job. He’s living the dream. And Megan has great stories: Clams, Rhinnan Goes to Hospital, Guide to Casual Relationships. She’s one of my favorite Muumuu house writers.
    I liked this also. Thanks

  • “one of my favorite Muumuu House writers”

  • @brian sweet comment

  • “sweet comment”

  • who the fuck is “MooMoo Cao” is that you tao

  • “MooMoo Cao”

  • “is this what our generation has come to???”

  • worst commenst section ever

  • If Tao Lin’s April royalty check is for Richard Yates, then he can keep only 40% of the $7000. It was widely reported and repeated endlessly that he “sold” 60% of the novel’s profits to “investors.” No one ever checked this: every magazine and newspaper reported this. It’s OK if they were people just giving money away to help a writer they liked, but then they weren’t “investors” and his “innovative” financing to “support” his “art” was just — like this article — an example of his taking the stupid media like The L Magazine for a ride. You’ve been punk’d by Tao Lin, Aschhole.

  • The seething resentment and jealousy of this interviewer is hilarious. He seems like someone I would not like to eat an Italian ice with.

  • @MooMoo Cao
    Not being able to stay in character: -10 hit points.

  • @jonny diamond

    only being able to stay in character -100 hit points