Just what the hell is this thing, anyway?
December 23, 2010 7:43 AM   Subscribe

McSweeny's. Explain.

McSweeny's is mentioned here in MetaFilter a fair number of times. So, I check it out every now and then. I find it hard to navigate, hard to find out what's there, and enormously hard on the eyes. So I give up and go back to mindless you-tube cat videos.

Could somebody tell me please, what IS there? What is the purpose, goal, and/or fun? Is it a collection of blogs? Reviews? Original fiction?

And, assuming that I want to spend some time there, where is the best place to start?

Or is it all a satirical joke of some kind, meant to poke fun at people with a limited sense of humor?
posted by SLC Mom to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Lists are a pretty good place to start.
posted by mhum at 7:45 AM on December 23, 2010

The majority of the content is the regular publication of short humor pieces. If you've ever read the "Shouts and Murmurs" section of the New Yorker, they're sort of like that, but considerably more sardonic and skew younger.
posted by griphus at 7:46 AM on December 23, 2010

It's the online component of a printed periodical, which is something of a fetish item among designers and bookish types.
posted by jbickers at 7:47 AM on December 23, 2010

This is a not unreasonable interpretation of the McSweeney's approach.
posted by adipocere at 7:49 AM on December 23, 2010 [10 favorites]

McSweeny's is the Onion for people who read the New Yorker for the cartoons.
posted by brand-gnu at 7:58 AM on December 23, 2010 [25 favorites]

It was founded by author and do-gooder Dave Eggers. Which doesn't make McSweeney's any funnier, but Dave is sort of an interesting guy, in a "let's try something different and see if it works" sort of way.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:17 AM on December 23, 2010

It's a humor and fiction website with a very dry sensibility.

I don't read fiction (at all), so I just focus on the humor.

I would start with lists, letters, and open letters to people or entities who are unlikely to respond.

There's also some serious or semi-serious nonfiction content: interviews with people who have interesting or unusual jobs.

I don't really know what you mean by hard on the eyes. I find it easier to read than many websites. At least it has black text on a white background.

Note: It's the thing to do on Metafilter to mock McSweeney's. So you might want to take this thread with a grain of salt. If you're interested in the print edition, search for it on Amazon and look at the customer reviews.

Asking why McSweeney's is good is kind of like asking why jazz is good. One could go on and on analyzing why any given story is good (or bad), and one could explain why their humor pieces are supposed to be funny (thereby killing the humor), and countless volumes have been written about why jazz is good. But in the end, some people like jazz, and some people don't. Some people like McSweeney's, and some people don't. I love their style of humor because I like very, very dry humor. If you don't, maybe you just don't like McSweeney's and it's not worth your time.
posted by John Cohen at 8:35 AM on December 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

It's often not for me, but I do remember vividly the first time I laughed to tears at a dumb McSweeney's piece. I just laughed again at Bad Names for Professional Wrestlers.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd love a world where you could find professional wrestlers named Grace Kelly or The Whispering Mime.
posted by Skot at 8:53 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I feel the need to stick up for McSweeney's here, but my only reason is that I happen to like it. True, not everything that's published there is side-splittingly funny--and in some of the more US-centric stuff I don't even get the references--but there's enough I do like that I keep going back.

I have to admit that I'm also a fan of their decidedly (defiantly?) retro interface. If it had a proper menuing system and banners and nicely delimited content sections, I feel it'd lose a good bit of its charm. And I say this as someone who's day job is as a web programmer.

There's definitely a McSweeney's house style (much more so for the web site than for the periodical), so I figure it probably comes down to whether it tickles your funny bone or not. For the record, I'm also a fan of the Onion and Achewood (I feel Onstad is both right and wrong about McSweeney's in the strip adipocere linked to). For me, there's room for all of them out there. It seems that YMMV.

And, on preview: what John Cohen said...
posted by Life at Boulton Wynfevers at 8:54 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The website is really just an adjunct to the 'quarterly' print publication. There's not much to it because McSweeney's isn't a web publication. It's pretty firmly dedicated to print.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:28 AM on December 23, 2010

Also, it's worth noting that McSweeney's is an independant publishing house; they publish three periodicals plus a few books a year. So the web site is really just an online storefront for an indie publisher. The jokey stuff on the front page is just for shits and giggles.

I got my head this week.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:33 AM on December 23, 2010

The white plainness makes it look like it could totally be work. When you are looking at it at work. Much like the white Metafilter view.
posted by sweetkid at 11:49 AM on December 23, 2010

I like McSweeney's - I think the above descriptions are apt. However, I find it funnier when other people find the good stuff and link to it on MetaFilter or elsewhere, saving me the effort of visiting every week.

The Bad Names for Wrestlers is funny, but only when I pictured a skinny old Aaron Copeland getting body slammed.

I think just realized McSweeney's is meta-humor. The funny is often not in the actual piece. Seriously, a wrestler named Aaron Copeland...even if that were his stage name, most people probably wouldn't care (or know who the real Copeland was), they would just chant "Aaa-Ron! Aaa-Ron!" lofting their beers sloshily above their heads. That's not funny. Aaron Copeland might be a great name for a wrestler, if he were a great wrestler.

The funny is the "what do you see in there?" - like modern art. Much of the time the artist isn't creating an image for you to see, but creating a trigger for a response.

Of course there are a lot of intellectual references, and I'd be lying if I said I got them all. Like that occasional New Yorker cartoon where you realize it's a rather obscure reference, but since you happened to know it, you get it, and it's funny. The rest of the cartoons are just...meh.
posted by Xoebe at 11:54 AM on December 23, 2010

Meh, it's the literary equivalent of hipster.
posted by wkearney99 at 1:13 PM on December 23, 2010

Bitchslap is an ongoing column about women and fighting that's a little more cohesive than a lot of their pieces, and not always strictly humor. (It's written by a friend of mine who won their column contest last year and they've been pleased enough with her to run her columns pretty much until she gets bored writing them.)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:28 PM on December 23, 2010

Overall, I'm with wkearney99.

It may help you to understand that the thing about McSweeney's is, IMHO, that once it caught one, people who actually have some talent started writing for it.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:34 PM on December 23, 2010

I (though I do not know him) am a 'Dave Eggers Hater.'
But he is likely one of the best editors of my generation and a fine writer. The print version of McSweeney's is often beautiful and has more good fiction than bad. Eggers used to write for "NY Press" back when it was run by that other guy and when Eggers' first book came out he was kind of a dick about it (so I've heard) and treated some people in a wholly human and less-than-shining moment kind of way. No dogs were kicked, everyone got paid, eventually but still. It made it easy to resent his later success, which he has arrived at due to hard work. I hate the guy, but remember, the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:27 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.
I think it is the navigation that throws me the most.

My 'hard on the eyes' comment seems to not apply so much on my computer at work. At home it reads as gray on white and drives me nuts.

I will take some of your advice about lists and perspectives and give it a try. I like good writing, and I like dry humor. But it is possible that it is just not for me. Or maybe it is.
We'll see.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:09 PM on December 23, 2010

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