Striking a pose, with a smirk and a wink, Nathan Callahan is not quite as slippery as those politicians he made famous and successful with his prophetic prose. And he is by no means as slippery or as annoying as that eldest Congressman, Strom Thurmond, who courted his parents and led them down the path of truth, God, and Republicanism.
As all bright children do, Callahan turned cheek and headed straight to the side opposite his parents. He now finds himself writing cheeky columns for The OCWeekly in Southern California and holding up his half of the culturally and politically subversive team of Aul & Callahan.
How did you become interested in humor and satire writing?
I grew up in a family that took Billy Graham and Richard Nixon seriously. We were politically connected to very conservative people. In fact, Strom Thurmond used to come over to my house and call me his "little buddy." In my teens, I realized that there were two paths I could go down. One led to the Heritage Foundation and the wives of Enron. The other path the path I chose turned me into a smart ass.
Do you ever write more journalistic pieces?
I've written in a gaggle of styles and formats: political speeches, propaganda, obituaries, biker magazine, official letters to surviving family members of military plane crashes, the migratory habits of Canadian Geese in Southern California. As far as journalism goes, I was most strongly influenced by the Hunter S. Thompson school of freedom and subversion. If I can twist someone's perspective enough to make them less self-righteous, I'm happy.
Do you get different responses from each type of writing?
The political speeches I wrote, of course, got an immediate reaction from the audience. Cheering, applause, catcalls. That form of writing most closely resembles cheerleading -- it doesn't really matter whether it's supporting nuclear power or food for the homeless. I don't write speeches anymore, mainly because most of it is preaching to the converted. I prefer subversion, and satire is one of the best ways to subvert. My obituaries, on the other hand, make people cry.
Your piece for Friction Magazine Issue 1, "The State of the Audience Address," pokes fun at the fact our nation has become dependent upon media and images for their opinions and reactions. What advice would you give to combat this audience syndrome?
"Combat" is an interesting choice of verb. First off, we need to get a sense of humor about media-busting. Oscar Wilde said, "As long as war is regarded as wicked it will always have its fascinations. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular." I feel that way about anything you want to combat. If you regard the audience syndrome as vulgar, it's much easier to dismantle. Ninety-nine point nine percent of what's on television is vulgar. And it's not like what Pat Robertson thinks is vulgar, but it's vulgar because it's completely out of touch with what matters. The ice caps are melting, people are strapping bombs to themselves with the intention of blowing up public places, Pakistan and India are talking about nuking each other, US corporations are bilking the US out of gazillions of dollars, and yet the big media stories this week are about the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and the latest kidnapping of a white girl. That's vulgar. Secondly, if you have the stomach for it, throw yourself in the middle of vulgarity -- the front lines of combat -- and go to work. Living in Southern California, I'm bombarded with vulgarity, but that only means there's more opportunities for subversion.
You collaborate with Bob Aul on your strip "Bush: Pet President" and other various projects. How did you two meet and decide to form a duo of writer and artist?
Bob and I first met at Gallery Excrescence in Los Angeles. I thought he was a real suspicious character. But the next week we were both at the yearly OCWeekly company picnic and entered a three-legged race together. We won. After that we collaborated on several articles in the OCWeekly. He's an extremely talented guy. He plays jazz tuba. I think he's a tortured genius. It's a lot of fun collaborating with Bob. His drawings spark ideas for my writing. My favorite "Pet President" --because it was so prophetic coming out in September of last year -- was his drawing of Osama bin Laden as Bugs Bunny. Off to Bug's side, and unaware of the bunny, is Elmer Fudd dressed as Uncle Sam, shotgun in hand saying "Here, wabbit, wabbit." We're still looking for Bugs.
What do you read when you're not writing?
For the most part I read nonfiction -- usually four or five at a time so that the ideas can co-mingle. Right now I'm reading The Ecstasy of Communication by Jean Baudrillard, How to Watch TV News by Neil Postman, Double Trouble by Greil Marcus, and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast. As far as fiction goes I'm partial to Kurt Vonnegut, but he's nearly dead.
What other projects are you working on?
My book, Suburban Manners: The Politics, Wealth and Culture of Orange County, California will be released this autumn by Albion Publishing. I'm also busy writing my next book. It's about what you've called "the media syndrome." I just finished a chapter that will be published in the OCWeekly about the first "live" televised murder case in California history.
Visit these pages for more info:
Aul & Callahan on FrictionMagazine.com
OCWeekly.com (search on Nathan Callahan)