Jason Vuic is a non-fiction writer who has chosen, apparently, to specialize in writing books about things that were spectacularly bad. His first two cover The Yugo, that punchline of the late 80s, and the legendarily winless and incompetent 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who lost their first 26 games as a team).

If you were born before, say, 1985 and have paid even passing attention to professional football at any point, you probably recognize the Buccaneers for their legendarily bad uniform – color – logo combination. "Creamsicle" is a commonly used metaphor. It turns out, Vuic describes, that they originally (and unbelievably) decided simply to copy the orange-and-aqua colors of the Miami Dolphins and the "pirate" logo of the Oakland Raiders. When the league (and lawyers) complained, team execs – with no focus groups, relevant experience with design, or particular forethought – changed the aqua to red and had a new mascot, "Bucko Bruce", redesigned in a less pirate-y, more Three Musketeers style. Oh, and Bruce is winking. He was supposed to wear an eyepatch but the Raiders complained. So the swashbuckling rake is winking.

The fashion faux-pas underscored the team's punching bag status, and in the 1990s they redesigned the colors and uniforms to something more aggressive and manly. And you know what? Before long, people missed the Creamsicle uniforms. Now, of course, the Creamsicles, Bucko Bruce, and all the other garish stuff is back.

The logo and color scheme devised in the 90s was what we would expect: professionally done, carefully market tested, and in every respect it met expectations of what a uniform might look like. It was absolutely, totally Fine. Competent. Guaranteed to appeal widely. The old logo and color scheme, in contrast, was drawn up without much thought by people with (apparently) bizarre taste and no real interest in getting feedback from the public. And that simply is something people don't see a lot of anymore. It might have been bad, but its "badness" made it unique in the era of highly polished public image crafting. Bucko Bruce would never happen today, and that, to people who like it, is precisely the point. Now we get things so generic – "Las Vegas Black Knights", most recently – that I guarantee you will forget everything about it ten minutes after you see it.

And now, the payoff for the extended metaphor.

Lately I've made an effort to expand into Serious Writing, the kind of thing that appears in legitimate media outlets rather than a self-maintained blog. In that process I've learned that one of the hardest things about Serious Writing is that in the process of bringing it to the standards and expectations of a Real Media Outlet Editor, the less interesting it is. The more Serious my writing is, the more it sounds exactly like anyone else. I understand the industry conventions and professional obligations that require writers to omit things I like (gratuitous profanity, constant parentheticals, the non-sequitur, seemingly out of place historical anecdotes, dick jokes, odd metaphors). I do. I get it. But once I take all that out, what is there to make it worthy of notice? It feels (and is) generic, anodyne, and tepid. It is easy to digest and easy to forget.

Nothing. It's Fine. It sounds reasonably Professional and Serious. But an Editor could (and will) see it and conclude correctly that a thousand other writers could have turned out the same thing. And that is why it is very hard to succeed in Professional, Serious Writing. If you have a particular voice that stands out, you're not giving them what they're looking for. If you smooth out all the quirks, you're bland and unlikely to stand out.

It's not a grand conspiracy. Again, it makes complete sense why Editors and publishers can't have writers who talk like longshoremen making odd and oblique references that will confuse rather than enlighten. It is disappointing, albeit unsurprising, to see the way the Machine is designed to churn out a consistent and predictable product and that only the rarest writer – and I know some damn good ones – can produce work that comes out of the cutting room with any sort of personality or recognizable Voice. Publishing has some uncomfortable similarities to the music industry, designed to ensure that everything sounds essentially the same.

66 thoughts on “THE CONTENT MILL”

  • Ed:

    Drop the Thesaurus and step away from the word processor!

    I think the difference, for about 95% of "serious writers" and the rest of us is that we have a lot more fun. The pay for us and that 95% of "serious writers" is virtually identical-"bupkis mit kaduchas*".

    I've been writing bad poetry for many years. I've had numerous people suggest that I do this or that to "punch it up" (or tone it down). The situation with my photography is much the same, ditto with my "chefing". Thing is, with changes it won't be mine–it will be my voice run through your filter. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I am saying that I don't want to do it. Everyone has to decide for themselves what they need from their "art" (and, yes, to me that is all art, at some level).

    I know that you have a teaching position that prolly pays something south of "jack shit" but, for so long as you can make life happen, you can stay there and do this. I know a number of people who write for a living. Most of them don't get to write what they want to write. A number of them have complained, a lot, about the legions of writers who will work for free, thus depriving them of an honest day's pay.

    I say, by all means, write. Just write what you want to write in whatever style feels like "you". If it's any good (and I as well as others here know that you are able to do "good") you will at least have the pleasure of knowing you did it right. If somebody is willing pay you, too? Suuuuweeet!

    * "Shivering shit balls":

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    My only fear with this is that someone will read it and say, "he's right, my self-indulgent rough drafts kick ass, and fuck everyone who doesn't think so." That person would almost definitely benefit from working with a sympathetic editor. It's the only way for most writers to reach a baseline of competence and coherence.

    When you've spent 15 years grinding away, honing your own voice, and building your own audience that loves it, you risk losing something special if you bring in someone who isn't a big fan. But that's a rare case.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    If one wants to both write his own personal style and be economically successful, then one has to be outrageous…like a Howard Stern level of outrageous.

  • Excuse my contrarian mood, but:

    1) There are so many ridiculous things about the NFL as an industry that it would be much more appropriate if ALL NFL teams had logos as ridiculous and as honestly shallow and cynical as the original Bucs'.

    2) If you treat any industry as monolithic and try to appeal to the perceived standards of that monolith, your product will be as bland as a monolith. There's got to be one, or even five, like-minded publications out there. Write for them. I agree with democommie–be like the 70s Bucs and just have fun with it.

  • I wouldn't mind proper citations sometimes, but would rather we have more cursing and dick jokes than less. And barbecue instructions.

  • @Ed*,

    Vonnegut faced similar struggles with editors and making a living. Perhaps his success was partly due to having a particular voice (not polished) that resonated in a particular time (Vietnam era), and having the good fortune of getting a writing fellowship. We need another Vonnegut for our times – someone who can speak truly about the absurdity of the human condition and weirdness of American life, but also meld it with outrageous comedy. Produce something to read that assures us that we're all lost together – crazy and beautiful.

  • Well, me bhoy, I've been writing for publication on and off since 1957 with never a care for editing, although I do reread and self-edit on occasion.

    I like your voice just fine as it is, and suppose that this feuilleton was a subtle hint you need stroking.

    Stroke stroke stroke. Carry on.

  • It is a Serious Reasonsibility to be The Best Thing on the Internet.

    Fuck everyone — you're *the only* writer that I've read consistently for almost 10 years. You transcend the norms and bring so much Ed into your writing that strangers want to befriend you and support you. That is a goddamn gift, even if dinosaurs in a struggling publishing industry don't understand.


  • Fascinating to consider this from a writer's perspective. I've had very similar thoughts about jazz musician friends. Their work is outstanding, yet they're very poor because it doesn't sound like WNUA ninety-five point fiiiiiiiiive… (I was definitely born before 1985)

    It stinks. Ramen noodles aren't a very good meal, but watered-down passion tastes crappy, too. I'm thankful for your writing.

  • Ed, wasn't your dissertation experience roughly the same thing? At least for me and everyone around me, we started out bright-eyed and all that with what we thought were paradigm-shifting draft proposal (we called this proposal something fancy, and for the life of me I can't remember it, and it makes me feel old), took it to the faculty, and over the next 6-12 months got it edited and revised and re-scoped and diverted into something that was too boring to say out loud. Then again, maybe I self-selected cynics and ne'er-do-wells and most others had a fine experience.

  • Whitt Staircase says:

    Interesting post. I suspect that a lot of people who make their living by writing have their great American novel (or whatever) tucked away in their sock drawer, which they haul out & work on when they get tired of producing the sort of prose their market requires. I selfishly hope you will continue to put posts up here.

  • Whitt Staircase says:

    O & I forgot to say: it was a sad day in New England when Pat Patriot was replaced by the Flying Elvis.

  • Ed, congrats for working on the Serious Writing, and best of luck with it. Not everybody's allowed to be Matt Taibbi, but that does not mean that their less uh, flamboyant writing is unimportant, especially if the IDEAS are important, well thought out, and clearly presented.

  • Unlike Krauthamer and his ilk my IQ doesn't a dive after reading your verbiage. Just take it down to mild profanity and keep sending it out.

  • I was talking to somebody, many years ago, about how the Rolling Stones managed to sell so many albums. Their A&R guy, back in the day, told them–without a doubt–to make sure that they had something that sounded a little like "Honky Tonk Woman" on EVERY FUCKING ALBUM.

    Fans are fans, because they identify in some way with their chosen team, writer, actor, chef, musician, painter, yada, yada.

    Miles was a musical genius, as was Warren, Hendrix, Vaughn, Monk and dozens to hundreds of rockers, jazz guys–let's not forget Hank Williams*. Most of them had critical success (some only posthumously) but not much success in the way of MAKIN' MONEY!. "Ka-ching" is the sound I never learned to play. I've written maybe 20, mostly crappy, songs but the only ones I hate are a couple I co-wrote which got bowlderized by idiots trying to make them, "accessible". Fuck.That.Shit.

    Besides, Ed, look at all of the brilliant, perspicacious and, like me, indigent fans you have already! And, in looking down the thread, I see names I am not familiar with–new readers, new commenters or just new to me, hard to know.

    Do what you do. Make more t-shirts. Maybe work with the guys from "Jammies" to come out with a line of "Blogwear" or with some guys from Silicon Valley to come with a line of "Blogware"…

    @ Whitt Staircase:

    The novel will prolly stay in the drawer, there are no readers out there, statistically, of anything that's not on their "faves" list (or someone else's). I buy books at $Tree and have gotten some terrific reads for the price of a shitty burger @ sMackDonalds.

    The Patriots logo, when they changed it, immediately made me think of the "Alien" movie. As for Elvises, these are my favorites:

    * Country music, in that dynasty, died in the back of his car.

  • Assistant Professor says:

    You know, I think that this is also a good explanation of why a disproportionate number of writers for the Internet Content Mill who are actually making a decent wage are grads of Ivies. When content is all the same, you default to hiring within your personal network, which, in publishing, is usually folks with degrees from Ivies and other fancy-ass private schools.

  • anotherbozo says:

    Ed, you need to advertise your brand, so that people follow you wherever you go. I will read Charles Blow or Katrina Amy Davidson or Charles Pierce anywhere because I know the names. But people read Gin and Tacos all the time without knowing either your first or last.

    But wait a minute. Your last name sounds funny. Too ethnic. Maybe change it to "Burgess" or "Burton" for professional reasons. And "Ed" is too informal. Maybe "Edward" or better still, "Edwin." Doesn't sound like anyone who'd swear except under his breath.

    You're good to go!

    And Peggy Noonan won a fucking Pulitzer Prize?

  • For what it's worth, people seem happy to read Matt Taibbi, who doesn't strike me as being particularly bland or conventional. Similarly, they read Charles Bowden and, in the far off days before Peter Thiel decided to beat the First Amendment into meaninglessness, the Gawker people. Perhaps you are pitching your stuff to the wrong people/publications. Or possibly you should try expanding the Gin and Tacos empire and making it into more than a blog.

  • @democommie

    Country music today sounds like bad 70s pop with pickup trucks and cowboy hats. It's like every crappy Eagles song that never made it onto an album back in the day.

    I think there's an assembly line in Nashville cranking this stuff out.

  • Ed, you are great. Follow your bliss.

    In other news, how about the new female AL governor? Got her job 'handed' to her by the former gov, just like the last female gov of AL, kinda…but not.

  • The parallel between Ed and Vonnegut just kind of blew my mind. I'm a huge fan of both and now I know why.

    Ed, we love you, man!

  • GunstarGreen says:

    Publishing has some uncomfortable similarities to basically everything in mass-market capitalism: Bland, Safe, and Guaranteed To Move Units. Appealing to the largest number of people possible requires being as indistinct and generic as possible. General Public. Generic. These words have the same roots for a reason.

    The more unique your thing is, the fewer people it appeals to, by definition. If you want to continue being unique, you have to be okay with reaching a smaller audience.

  • "And Peggy Noonan won a fucking Pulitzer Prize?"

    For similar reasons to the Ivies grads getting those jobs. She's already in the right tribe. It's horseshit. The Pulitzer is nothing but a marketing tool. Better, FAR better stuff is written by people with no resume–daily.

    @ Major Kong:

    Yeah. I have seen Nashville turn out some superior music, none of it country (imo) in the last 15 years.

    Probably 20 years ago I was sitting in a bar and there was a music video on with, IIRC, Faith Hill, doing a thing that looked like "Addicted To Love*" but with boytoyz on the instruments.

    Kid Rock, Steve Tyler and Darius Rucker have all become Born again cowboys in the last several years. Like Rock'n'Roll wasn't enough?

    Back in late 1992 when I moved back to Omaha for about six months (mistake but not a career killer–I never had one) I was asked to go to a "Country Western" place called, "Guitars and Cadillacs". The bar was in a former Burlington Coat Factory and had a dance floor the size of a basketball court. There was a dance lesson offered which I declined. The other people I was with all went up and did the lesson. When they were through one of guys said, "What do you think of this place?". I said, "I see a lot of 'High wheele 4WD's' in the parking lot, a lot of expensive boots and hats in here. I don't smell any horseshit. There aren't any cowboys, here.".

    It's the last time I've been in one of those places, I can't imagine it's improved.

    I didn't like Bluegrass until 2008 when I photographed Grey Fox in Oak Hill, NY. Amazing musicicans, solid folks, too. I am happy to see that the vast majority of them seem to be content to do what they do without going fucking Hollywood. It's prolly as close as I'll ever get to "country music", which IT actually is.

    * Robert Palmer is said to have loathed that song, too bad, he did it well.

  • @ GunstarGreen:

    Word, bro. I'm so "unique" that I haven't had an invitation to dinner at someone's home in abou three years–and I'm okay with that.

  • I agree with NIckT, "Or possibly you should try expanding the Gin and Tacos empire and making it into more than a blog." You already have a fan base here and on Facebook. We love your posts, I read them every day, for free for god's sake. I don't even know your last name. I'd pay to go to a "lecture", I'd buy a best of Gin and Tacos book etc. I know you sell Tshirts and I tried to buy one but it seemed I had to have Paypal (?) and I don't want to have anything to do with that.

  • Yep. And David Wong has already crawled out the escape hatch first, having the advantage of not being shackled by a professorship with a modicum of dignity to maintain.

    Maybe if you write something that causes a riot in the ballroom of the next poli sci convention, sufficient to draw the attention of the media:

    "The Speaker then drew his concealed carry firearm and crouched behind the podium, firing into groups attempting to rush the stage…"

  • Good insight, Ed. I also think this is why the genuinely talented & hilarious people on Saturday Night Live end up making a show that's hardly ever funny.

  • @ Matt:

    I'm only surprised that it's not the Las Vegas Boogie Nights.

    No pay walls, please.

    I hate pay walls. I can't afford internet at home. I skate on my neighbors when I can and every time I talk to Time-Warner Scrotum they tell me that the $ 29.95/month fee for internet only is only if it's bundled. Otherwise it's $39.95 and a little extra for a modem and something for the gummint (which is pretty much bullshit) and taxes and it'll come to about $50-70/month unless you want something a little faster than your old 14.4 baud modem. It is usually at this point that I'm acting like a reichwinger who just saw someone on an EBT driving a CAR!

    So,where was I? Oh, yeah. No Paywall, please. Just pick up some of Bill O'Reilly's fleeing advertisers. Dick pillz, Diapers, trusses, all of the stuff your aging readers require!

  • HelloRochester says:

    You're following in the footsteps of Molly Ivins and Charlie Pierce. Or Mencken (but without the racism).

    I suspect you need to find the right agent who knows the right publisher rather than trying to find the right publication yourself.

    Dunno, but keep doing stuff because we're all big fans.

  • postcaroline says:

    People do what they have to do to make a living (very profound statement, I know), but personally I would be bummed to see Gin and Tacos become some sort of slick "brand". What if instead G&T became its own publishing platform, providing an outlet for other unique voices that are compelling but considered "unsuitable" for Serious Writing outlets? I know G&T used to have multiple authors…just an idea. It would be a way to reach more people without having to compromise editorially. It looks like NickT suggested something similar.

    If making this endeavor more profitable is a concern – although that's not what I gleaned from the post – what about just suggesting people become supporters? No paywall, no ads, but the option to become a monthly supporter or something like that?

  • Serious Writing? Serious Writing?

    I have a pile of accumulated riffs on writing, publishing and readership but will only say that this blog IS Serious Writing. Please continue. Thanks.

  • Ed,
    I used to think you were the best political writer this side of Mike Royko grave.

    Correction. Your better.

    Don't change nothin'. Editor's are a dime a dozen.

  • Skwerlhugger says:

    Don't foresake capybara flotillas. There's truth in rodents. And get lucky, because thats what most of it is. You make it across the road to the better nut tree, or not.

  • I was a country music fan in the 1970s, when the car radio was AM-only and that's one of the few stations it got. From the 1970s into the early 1980s, country music was okay. Now? It's "gawd 'n' gunz 'n' if yer nawt a PAY-TREEE-YOT lak me, imma kick yer ass" or else it's no-talent, professionally-skinny blond chicks with rich parents (looking at YOU, Taylor Swift).

  • @anotherbozo: "…and "Ed" is too informal. Maybe "Edward" or better still, "Edwin." Doesn't sound like anyone who'd swear except under his breath."

    Just go full Game o Thrones: Eddard.

    I do like postcaroline's idea of bringing the mountain to Mohammed. Might work, and sure beats churning out generic copy for a living.

    I enjoyed the Tampa Bucs history vignette.

  • arjun jobil says:

    I've never tried my hand at writing, but I suspect it's not that different from the music industry. You have to find a balance between convention and shaking things up.
    Remember those neat suits the Beatles wore when they first came out? I still remember Paul Harvey complaining about their hair and their use of "multiple microphones" when the convention at the time was a singer standing in front of the band with ONE microphone. That was before the Bill O'Reilly of the 60s came out against the Vietnam war, of course.

  • Ed: What you're doing here is providing a unique perspective on events that can't always be found on the (PC) sterile news. It's a tough job, but please keep up the good work! The comments posted herein also assure us that there still is a real country out there, and that much of it still has a mind of it's own.

  • Haven't read the other comments yet, so I don't know how often this has already been said, but I disagree that you (i.e. Ed) have nothing to add except weird non sequiturs and jokes.

    I'm not here for those, for the most part. You throw light on odd corners I wouldn't otherwise notice, and your knowledge about how government (is supposed to) work is also illuminating. About three times in four I learn something here. I'm not in high school. I have a bio Ph. D. and (try to) pay attention to what's going on, and I've been doing that for many moons. And I regularly learn something I didn't already know. Which is why I keep coming back.

    Don't sell yourself short.

  • You should write what you want, then podcast it (I'm sure you've heard Hardcore History and Common Sense by Dan Carlin as a model). I think the medium would be fantastic for your type of writing and style, and you have a potential to build an even larger fanbase that you can show to publishers. Heck, even the fact that most of your posts get hundreds of replies and interactions speaks extremely highly of the fact that you have a rapport with your readers. That's the way you stand out from the crowd – prove you can help them sell books.

  • I hope you find someone to publish you that won't try to stifle what we love about you. I look forward to buying an Ed [redacted] book at some point in the future.

  • @sluggo

    My father ran into Mike Royko once in a convenience store in Chicago.

    He said Royko gave him such a look as to say: "Don't you DARE recognize me!"

  • @ Major Kong:

    I grew up reading Mike Royko's columns on an infrequent basis in my hometown paper, the Omaha World-Herald (sort of rightwing Pravda on the Missouri) and in the late 60's and early 70's found his sentiments off-putting.

    I read a biography written sometine in the 80's, that I came upon at a jumble sale of some sort. I now hold a much different opinion of him. He could be coarse, profane and polemic. He also had a few bad qualities! {;>)


    If you've never read it, I recommend a book called, "The Gift" which is an examination into the blending of art and commerce. I came away from reading it with the sense that art is our best expression of beauty in word, shape, color, sound and even food. But the "our best
    expression" is the part that's important for me. I can't put my hands on it at the moment but when I do, I will come back and put the author's name and publisher.

    I will cut and paste something I wrote several years ago. Apologies for it being displayed in some way other than originally composed; it's been saved on multiple different platforms and I never can get it to be the same way twice:

    Mother Tongue

    Not understanding Spanish;

    I listen to the words as fragments of indecipherable knowledge, innocence, playfulness, desolation and celebration.

    Fragments that are as enigmatic as the hieroglyphics; before the Roseta Stone.

    I think of the “English Only” people;

    “English Only, learn our language or go!” people.

    I think of some of the people who do not write in English.

    Neruda, Yevtuschenko, Basho, many others:

    The famous and anonymous alike.

    Filled with the language of their mothers, learned in the womb.

    That first “I love you.”

    In the voice that vibrated in our exact frequency.

    Then, as we grew into our new bodies, our frequency changed,

    And we refused to listen,

    Because we could no longer hear the womb sound, “I love you.”

    In that exact same, blood warm, pulse beat frequency.

    Poets, painters and musicians

    Striving to find the note, the word, the color of light, the vibration of that first, unconditional, “I love you.”,

    Spoken, hummed, cooed in the universal frequency.

    Poets, writing in languages I cannot read have not lost me
    by not speaking English.

    It is I who have been wandering in search of the sound of my mother’s voice.

    They have, somehow, once again, heard the voices of their mothers.
    They fit the love they wish to express into the sounds of the languages of nations.

    We read the words, see the color, hear the note

    And at last, finally knowing our own true love; we hear again, the voices of our mothers

    The voice that whispers, a breeze in our souls, the lullaby of the womb.


  • "Anodyne" is precisely the right word, and it applies in nearly every endeavor that has been corporatized. Add to that "constrained," "closed off," "pinched," "neutered," "soothed," and "robbed." The two obvious reasons for chasing the Serious Writer credential are cash and cachet. To get those, however, one must jettison the very things that make creative endeavor and expression worthwhile. (And it's not about profanity and dick jokes; that itself was just a joke.) Maybe that's a worthwhile trade for fame whores and money grubbers. Personally, I can't bring myself to (try to) join that club.

  • I would recommend self-publishing through Amazon. You could lay a hot turd in a cereal box and sell it on the Kindle store. Seriously, there are entire anthologies about women who get gangbanged by minotaurs: pretty sure nobody's watering down their voice.

  • "Seriously, there are entire anthologies about women who get gangbanged by minotaurs: pretty sure nobody's watering down their voice.".

    Uhh, where, uh, where might those be found? I'm asking for the same friend who wanted capybara repellent last week. Some people!

  • I'm thirding or fourthing or whatever the idea of a Gin and Taco truck on every corner. You have a gift with words. We just need to get more people to come to you,

    Your Sounds of Real America cassette tapes are brilliant, have you thought a out doing any more stuff like that?

  • Hey demo, (or is it demon?) I like your sensibilities.

    As for our host, how can you go wrong with a poly-sci wonk who's car crazy and a drummer to boot? (Drummers and bakers, they're all nuts.)

    And the writing, eso tambien. Solo bueno.

  • Ed:

    I got it.

    What you need to do is get a "University Press" thing goin' with blogs. Then it'll be subscribed to by every Uniliberry in the country. They'll pay for it, we'll get to read it and you'll get rich! Well, maybe not. But it would make a really cool plot device for your first ever Roman a clef about the sordid, yet tender underbelly of the education bid'neth!

  • Andrew John says:

    (1/3)I read one particular blogroll these days that sends me to a variety of authors, but the only ones I know I am going to enjoy reading the moment I read the byline is Noah Smith, Charles Pierce and you. Sometimes Matt Taibbi when his writing crosses my screen. The rest all kind of get lost in the hum. Can't even think of names.

  • Andrew John says:

    (2/3)It's a lot like the music industry, really. Write what the fuck you want to write, understand what's hot at the moment, but not necessarily do anything different with this understanding, and make art that stands the test of time by being the genuine output of your abilities. The pendulum of taste may swing your way, and you'll be

  • Andrew John says:

    (3/3)in the right position to grab on to it, or it won't, and all you'll have are the people that read you now. But whether that happens isn't up to you.
    Your writing makes me angry and it keeps me sane. Thank you!

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