by Patrick Baker
Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is an irresistibly crass expression of juvenile male fantasy. The emphasis in the first sentence must be on irresistibly for this fleeting reviewer to distinguish himself from others whose testicular diminution keeps them out of Max’s league while simultaneously making him a hero they feel they cannot openly acknowledge. Did I laugh at Max’s stories and hop on a few as vehicles for my own personal fantasizing? Of course. There are men out there who are totally immune to Max’s appeal. They are called eunuchs. Having testicles means being aroused at some level by this book. But its value transcends arousal and entertainment. If our socialization gives us one imperative, it is that Max’s misogynistic, (ab)use-em-and-lose-em triumphalism is anathema to the proper treatment of women and adult sexualized relationships. But if Max teaches us anything, it is that the central premise of this socialization is false: some women do indeed want to be treated like the whores men like Max take them for. I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is the Moynihan Report of studies on sex and social mores, substantiating through empirical evidence the things that our right-thinking ideology does not permit us to believe. What do women want? Apparently many of them – well-educated, successful, attractive – want Tucker Max.
Anyone who has attended a state university is familiar with the kind of behavior lionized in Max’s pages. It is the kind that thrives at fraternities and which stands on two pillars of ennui-induced iniquity: binge drinking and anonymous sex. The object of this version of “life” (death, afterlife, and reckoning being presupposed in Max’s title) is to indulge the Dionysian to the utmost and thus to turn it into a vice in the Aristotelian sense of making far too much of a good thing. For one need not be a prude to characterize Max’s pursuit of happiness as iniquitous; one need merely possess the requisite amount of respect, for other human beings certainly, but above all for oneself. Its absence is what allows the indulgence in pleasure to turn vicious. In Max one recognizes not the reveler but the addict, the prisoner, not the master, of the passions. In modern parlance we might say that Max “is compensating” or “has issues,” and it comes as no surprise when he describes his upbringing in a broken and fragmented family. News to Max and his fan-club: you will never be satisfied no matter how many holes you stick your thing into. Your stuff will never fill any receptacle of pleasure. From a University of Chicago graduate I might have expected more. Tucker, didn’t they make you read Plato’s Gorgias?
Well-deserved criticism aside, Max is funny. He is a devil, but he is funny. Max is Andrew Dice Clay incarnate. Dice was flesh and blood, of course, but his jokes were not. Somehow you knew the guy had scored, as Max would put it, in the low double digits at best. Max is a bad writer but a great storyteller, which is possible only because his escapades are true yet, for all those who are not Tucker Max, simply unbelievable. This is the secret in Max’s sauce. It is what makes him so tempting, and also so discomfiting. Are we permitted to laugh out loud at his degradation of himself and others? It is a simple question of self-respect.