Guilty Pleasure Monday: Jose Canseco, Man Of Letters, Man of Ideas

Guilty Pleasure Monday: Jose Canseco, Man Of Letters, Man of Ideas

Guilty Pleasure Monday is an ongoing semi-regular blog feature celebrating the skuzziest, least reputable delights of the entertainment universe posted whenever the hell Nathan Rabin feels like it, and sometimes even when he doesn't.

Every once in a while I'm overcome with an overpowering desire to read something with no artistic merit whatsoever. I'm a voracious, undiscriminating reader in general (book about the XFL? Sign me up! Oral history of the Eagles or Jane's Addiction? I'm there!)and every now and then I want to sink my teeth into the literary equivalent of a White Castle slider with greasy French fries. I've even infected my father with this impulse. More or less as a joke I recently gave him a copy of Lance Bass' autobiography and he gave me a detailed report on it a week later. He even rented an N'Sync DVD so he could see all the fuss was about.

That curious impulse recently led me to read Jose Canseco's Juiced, a book-length advertisement for smart, informed steroid use from an untiring advocate of performance-enhancing drugs. I think it's safe to say that Canseco wrote every monosyllabic word of Juiced himself. Here's a representative passage: "In May 1993, when I was playing for the Rangers, we went to Cleveland for a series against the Indians, and some friends on the team and I decided to go get something to eat. There was a Hooters restaurant near the ballpark, so we decided to go there. (The food isn't bad, actually, and if you don't like those tight orange shorts the waitresses wear, then something's wrong with you.) When we sat down to order that day, there was one waitress I couldn't take my eyes off. The second I saw her, I knew I was going to ask her out. She was tall, blonde, beautiful, and confident, with beautiful blue eyes and a body that wouldn't quit. That was Jessica. She became my second wife".

Wow she was beautiful, had beautiful eyes and a "body that wouldn't quit?" What more could anyone ask of a Hooters waitress/second wife? Judging by Canseco's turbo-charged prose style I doubt that David Foster Wallace or Don Delillo ghost-wrote the book for him. Those guys have zero appreciation for those tight orange shorts the waitresses at Hooters wear. Something clearly must be wrong with them.

In a delicious bit of irony Canseco wrote the book to counter his public image as an angry, agitated steroid freak but ends up reinforcing that caricature instead. According to Canseco, his image woes are attributable almost exclusively to anti-Cuban racism and his unwillingness to pander to the press. He lashes out repeatedly at what he perceives as the press' coddling of white baseball players. In Canseco's telling, he could innocently tap a stranger on the shoulder and meekly ask her for the time and instantly SWAT teams would materialize out of nowhere and he'd be hauled off to jail for assault and battery, if not attempted homicide. The next day the headlines would scream "Steroid-Crazed, Dark-Skinned Cuban Criminal Canseco Punches Out Pregnant Woman in Yet Another Barroom Brawl". But if Cal Ripken, Jason Giambi or Mark McGwire blew up hospitals with bazookas during a month-long crack spree the media and the press would give them a free pass.

Racism undoubtedly exists in baseball but it's also a distinct possibility that Canseco's public image problems might have something to do with using illegal drugs to cheat at sports and frequent run-ins with the law, not the color of the skin. Canseco goes out of his way to depict himself as a calm, mellow, sensible man but his book overflows with free-floating rage towards the media, towards his fellow players, towards owners, towards book-learning stat nerds with their "statistics" and "ideas" and just about anybody who isn't Jose Canseco.

Juiced is powered by a strange combination of self-righteousness and sleaze. When not chronicling his love of Hooters and strip clubs or rattling off the tricks baseball players use to cheat on their wives with hundreds of groupies Canseco depicts himself as an innocent victim oppressed by a racist society that will do anything to keep a proud Hispanic man from succeeding.

Juiced is also a detailed primer on steroid use from a self-professed expert on the subject. It's fascinating and creepy and voyeuristic and just plain wrong to find someone nakedly advocating a practice almost universally condemned as immoral, unethical and illegal. It's like reading a memoir from a rock star all about how cocaine has gotten a bum rap and is an underrated and overlooked weight-loss secret, not to mention an unbeatable energy-booster.

Of course I wasn't just reading Juiced for fun. Not many people know this but film criticism is over ninety-percent physical. I had to beat out eighty contenders in a cage match to the death to become Head Writer of the A.V Club and every day I engage in no-holds-barred free-form freestyle martial arts competition just to hold onto my job. Just yesterday I angrily hurled my computer against the wall in a fit of roid-induced anger and stalked down the street yelling "Nabin mad! Nabin smash!" It was not a pretty scene.

So here's my question for you, dear reader. Could Canseco be right? Can you foresee a day where steroid use is legal and socially accepted? Is Canseco at the forefront of a revolution in how we perceive the human body and its unlocked potential or a sleazy criminal trying to justify his misdeeds? Has anyone else devoted an hour to two to reading this masterpiece of literature? Discuss.

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