Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Measure of a Story

December 29th, 2010 · 6 Comments

I toyed with the idea of doing a couple of “Best of…” lists in these waning days of MMX, much as I did last year. But in the course of trying to pull together some worthy candidates from the realms of filmdom, books, and booze, I got to thinking about the criteria I was employing—at least for the works of art. (The judging of beer, wine, and whiskey is fairly straightforward.) Why, exactly, do I find some narratives more praiseworthy than others?

As I pondered that question on Boxing Day, I started in on a New Yorker piece that I’d missed: Burhard Bilger’s tale of underground foodies and their affection for Dumpster diving, rotten meat, and pungent fermentation. The story’s main character is a bloke named Sandor Katz, who’s created quite a career out of preaching the virutes of fermented victuals. Like most pundits, Katz has attracted his fair share of virulent critics, never more so than after he once advocated for the ethical production of meat. Bilger turns the response to this revelation into the article’s absurdist pinnacle:

Needless to say, this argument didn’t fly with much of [Katz’s] audience. Last year, the Canadian vegan punk band Propagandhi released a song called “Human(e) Meat (The Flensing of Sandor Katz).” Flensing is an archaic locution of the sort beloved by metal bands: it means to strip the blubber from a whale. “I swear I did my best to insure that his final moments were swift and free from fear,” the singer yelps. “But consideration should be made for the fact that Sandor Katz was my first kill.” He goes on to describe searing every hair on Katz’s body, boiling his head in a stockpot, and turning it into a spreadable headcheese. “It’s a horrible song,” Katz told me. “When it came out, I was not amused. I had a little fear that some lost vegan youth would try to find meaning by carrying out this fantasy. But it’s grown on me.”

Why do I love this passage so? Not necessarily for the use of the word “flensing,” though that’s certainly a bonus. Rather, it’s because it leaves me wanting to read a whole ‘nother piece, about the vegan punk rock scene in Manitoba and the “lost youths” who gravitate toward its rules, messages, and camaraderie. What I would give for Bilger or some other great reporter to spend the next few months in Winnipeg, checking out hardcore shows in an effort to understand the peculiar sort of angst that makes the musical culture so enticing.

And that, I’ve decided, is the measure of a great yarn: It has to leave me thirsty for a tale about the various minor players who cross the stage. Winter’s Bone achieved this, too—as soon as it ended, I lamented the fact that I’d never find out more about laconic meth lord Thump Milton. So, too, did Big Fan—I, for one, would love to see an HBO series about the life of star linebacker/coked-out asshole Quantrell Bishop.

Rather than go through a list of books and movies I dug this year, I’d like to hear from y’all about stories that left you hungering for spin-offs featuring minor characters. But, please, no Joanie Loves Chachi jokes.


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6 Comments so far ↓

  • scottstev

    Definitely the best movie I’ve seen this year was A prophet which was choc a bloc with fascinating well-drawn minor characters from the European underworld. You could make an entire film just based on the Corsican revolutionaries.

    This was first film where I felt the same experience as a page-turner novel. I started it way too late when I should have been packing for our Christmas trip. I could have stop streaming at any time, and kept watching the entire 2.5 hours which were very well paced and not at all indulgent.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: Thx for the nudge on “A Prophet.” Been dying to see this for months, but always make excuses not to start it due to the length. Will have to cue it up ASAP.

  • ADW


    A Prophet was the best movie I saw this year. And, I’m the only one I know who saw it (I snuck out to a matinee by my lonesome), so I’m stuck with this lonely feeling of having experienced a great film with no one to share it with. Oh well, I’ll keep trying and guilting my loved ones into seeing it.


    It’s a very quick 2.5 hours. The action is so well done, amazing stuff. And, i have a hard time dragging myself to movies over 1.5 hours. You will not regret spending time with this movie. It’s a nice parent break from animation heaven and hell that parenthood brings. Or, maybe you’re just entering this phase with mini-BK, but it sure made me appreciate well done adult movies.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @ADW: Now I’m really amped to check out A Prophet. The missus will be working a lot of nights this month, so I should be able to carve out some viewing time after putting the young’un to bed. Looking forward to what seems sure to be the anti-Go, Diego, Go!

  • scottstev

    @ADW – it is a shame that film is not better known. It’s very approachable despite having a tag of “french film 2 and a half hours long.” It’s a great example of brains triumphing over brawn in criminal enterprise, plus a touch of magic realism

    The Beat My Heart Skipped , Audiard’s other film to make it over here, is quite good as well, but not nearly as approachable.

    I always enjoy visiting this site to find such good-looking and like-minded polymaths. The community definitely makes the blog.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: Liked “The Beat My Heart Skipped,” but didn’t love it. My biggest memory from that film is the iconic shot of the glum protagonist wearing big-ass, ultra-modern headphones. But the plot left me a little cold (as it did in the film that inspired it, Toback’s “Fingers”).

    Was gonna set aside Saturday night for “A Prophet,” but the Colts-Jets game is at 8 p.m. But promise I’ll get to it this month.