Modern Beats: Diablo Cody

by Steven O’Sullivan

In Issue Three David knocked out a solid run down on Tom Waits, while at the same time managing to avoid saying anything that might get our asses kicked. Hopefully. This time around we managed to find a writer… screenwriter and former stripper: Diablo Cody. Let’s hear it for the girls…

In the world of the Beats, women held a precipitous role. Men like Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Corso were not so much interested in the ladies as creative individuals as they were simply in them being ladies. Independents like Joan Vollmer and Elise Cowen had apartments, money from jobs, and thus, drugs and food. They were valued in their ability to cultivate social scenarios reminiscent of Parisian salons. Writers, musicians, junkies, and madmen of all types could gather in their pads till the wee-dawn hours ranting on and on.

Yet when one of the girls turned out to be a fantastic poet, no one really cared all too much (Cowen). Or when it came to pinning down these women in their rightful image for posterity, the lines tended to get blurred (see article on Alene Lee).

But if you’re stuck in the freezing cold of Minneapolis and your daytime job is getting naked… you don’t have too much time to be cultivating salons for the intellectual suede of your young generation. You’re Diablo Cody and all you can think about is maybe, hopefully finishing that damn screenplay and not getting mauled every night at work by the large, intimidating Nigerian man that swoons over your ankles.

Perhaps you don’t know Diablo Cody by name but more than likely you know her screenplay. She’s responsible for the dripping-with-sarcasm comedy Juno that every 8th grade girl mimics and every 21 year old guy secretly loves.

But like I said, long before Juno‘s breakthrough, Diablo was stripping to make the bills and trying to fit in writing wherever she could. I managed to dig up her old, pre-fame blog (the aptly titled Pussy Ranch) that focused mostly on the bizzare aspects of life as a tease artist. One finds accounts of stripping till 4 a.m., stumbling home in the cold, getting drunk off a bottle of Boone’s, crashing for maybe a couple hours, then lugging herself out of bed to beat up her screenplay some more.

And I think it’s in those cheap-sheen annals that Diablo shows her brilliance. Forget her screenplay, I mean it’s great and everything, but it’s easy to see where she got it. Entry after entry is a knock-down riot. The girl’s got a barbwire tongue and does everyone she encounters justice. Nasty, gritty, honest-to-God justice.

You want to talk about embodying the counterculture (that same ideal the Beats lived out)? Just look at her, man. Shock of red, psychobilly queen hair, tattoos on her arms, and a crazy-eyed stare that could suckerpunch you in a second. She lived in a rundown apartment on the sketchy side of town working in sketchiest skin shacks around. There’s one entry I remember where she and her man-at-the-time are so broke they can only afford 3 dollars in gas, generic-brand lunch loaf, a loaf of bread, cheap ass cigarettes, and a bottle of Boone’s. And then that’s it. But man, you read it the way she writes it and you know she loves it. She’s okay with the down and out and dirty and broke.

And maybe we need a little more of that mindset. Not just with women either. With everyone. Scanning thru the backlog of her blog I noticed that she occasionally returned to straight jobs that operated in the daytime and not under the film of sweaty crumpled dollar bills. Yet she’d always end up bailing and slipping back to the underworld of glintzy stages and half-shock disco balls. She could get straight jobs easily. Cody worked for an insurance company for quite a while. Did great too. Steady paycheck, benefits… but really, what’s the thrill of that? Just as her Beat brethren did, Diablo continually sacrificed the straight-laced comfortable life for the… well, the madness. After all, isn’t there something thrilling about not being too sure when your next stack of cash is gonna appear? Hell yes.

In fact, Cody’s unique lifestyle and experiences (transmitted via her blog that was growing steadily in popularity) managed to land her a book deal around 2004. The book was essentially a one-year memoir detailing her stripping experiences in the harsh cold of Minneapolis. The somewhat steady money of stripping helped to support her as she attempted to build a writing career. She became a regular contributor to City Pages, the local alternative paper. And of course work on the screenplay trudged on. But the experience paid off. Two years ago she scored a gig as the newest columnist for Entertainment Weekly’s Backpage section. The position was a rotational one she shared with celebrated horror-mind Stephen King. And of course, you move on down the line a little bit more and she’s winning an Oscar for her Best Original Screenplay (yes, it finally found completion). And now she’s got a TV show and another screenplay on the horizon. She’s been interviewed God knows how many times but she maintains a grounded ego it seems at least. And I’m more than sure that she’d be willing to give the cheesy lights and sweaty pole another go round in the near future, just for the hell of it. Once a stripper always a stripper? Maybe. Or maybe just beat and crazy at the least.

David S. Wills

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David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult. He travels a lot and currently lectures in China. He also runs an ESL website. You can read more about and by David at his blog, www.davidswills.com or on Tumblr.

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