March 7, 2014

@GSElevator is going down: Touchstone cancels parody account’s book deal


John LeFevre, the man behind the @GSElevator account.

John LeFevre, the man behind the @GSElevator account.

Alex Shephard: Hi Dustin! Read any good parody Twitter accounts lately? I know that you are a big fan of parody Twitter accounts and are always complaining that there aren’t enough parody accounts on Twitter.

Dustin Kurtz: It’s true. Sometimes I need jokes to liven up my day. And to supply me with things to discuss at the water cooler. Offices, am I right? What’s the deal? And since I am a hip young guy I get those jokes from the internet.

A: Yes. Today you just wouldn’t stop talking about Bitcoins. I bet you’d like to see a Bitcoin parody account! Or maybe an account that answers the HILARIOUS question: what do the people who work to make bitcoins talk about around THEIR water coolers, or possibly in THEIR elevators?

D: But my absolute favorite parody accounts have value beyond jokes, Alex. They shine a light. ON SOCIETY. That’s why I love the @GSElevator. Because, you know Alex, it’s funny, and it’s TRUE. Sometimes I think to myself, these tweetjokes are such good tweetjokes, I’d like to read them over and over again! I’d like to read these elevatortweetjokes everywhere, including in the elevator! Wouldn’t that be funny?
I’ve often thought, these tweetjokes are such very excellent tweetjokes they should be a tweetjokebook.

A: As we all know, if there’s anything in this godforsaken world that lends itself to a book, its tweets. And that’s how we judge what makes a good Twitter handle! Does it have a book deal? For a short, sweet, all-too-brief moment @GSElevator, normally an unfunny (though not horrendously unfunny, I guess) twitter account, was a good Twitter account. Because it had a book deal from Touchstone, a Simon & Schuster imprint. Prestige!

D: But then it all started to fall apart Alex, like… an elevator that… falls apart. Anyhow Andrew Ross Sorkin unmasked the voice behind the Goldman Sachs Elevator account. One quick note here: if Andrew Ross Sorkin’s name is ever in a sentence with yours, just, heads up, it’s time to move to the woods and leave us alone please, you’re probably a jerk.

A: Yes, as Alex Pareene wrote in a pretty sweet piece for The Baffler, ARS is Wall Street’s errand boy, sent by a coked out asshole, here to collect the check, or whatever that line from Apocalypse Now is. And he did them a solid in late-February by outing the jerk behind @GSElevator as John Lefevre, a jerk who does not work for Goldman Sachs, despite the fact that he is a jerk. That turned out to be a bit of a problem, considering that the whole appeal of the account (considering that it wasn’t very funny) was that it was ostensibly real. That’s when the elevator, as you eloquently put it, fell apart.

D: Let’s be careful here Alex. LeFevre is a jerk. Not because he’s an investment banker (he is). Not because he’s what, Texan? Not because he’s unfunny. And not because there are photos of him holding big silly guns. I’m cool with all of that. He’s not even a jerk because it is increasingly clear that he’s so desperately unfunny that he’s been stealing his unfunny material from another unfunny person, as Gawker pointed out. No, this guy is a jerk because in his public explanation of the whole debacle, he wrote about himself, momentarily, in the third person. TO THE WOODS, SIR.

A: Here’s how that open letter starts:

“Many months ago, I tweeted about totaling a new Maserati, which is something that actually happened to me. I should have seen it coming; I was so intoxicated when I bought the car (just 5 days previously) that the dealership had to drive me home in it.”

What the fuck? I think that this gets at my problems with the account itself—it’s a toxic mix of self-aggrandizement and so-so humor. The frame—the fact that it was, again ostensibly, coming from inside Goldman Sachs, like a traced call in a horror movie, gave it a bit of heft, but its overall cutesiness, its completely undeserved sense of its own brilliance always left a sour taste in my mouth. For sure, most people at work at Goldman Sachs are bad people. But if you’re a bad person using autobiographical material to—-excuse me, “satirize”—bad people, you don’t have a leg to stand on. And, to paraphrase something Sam Biddle wrote in a piece about @GSElevator, in 2014, satire is just another way to say “shit I made up.” If I had a dollar for every time someone’s defended something hateful, insensitive, or just plain unfunny as satire (or worse, performance art) in the last 12 months, I’d be living on a beach in Guam right now. (Does Guam have nice beaches? It sounds like it does?)

D: I bet this guy would be eager to tell you all about the beaches of Guam. And you’re exactly right. If you are disgustingly excited by the fact that you totalled an expensive car, it complicates your ‘jokes.’ People—some people, in some offices (what’s the deal with offices you guys, seriously?)—liked @GSElevator because it mocked the trappings of excess. But if this guy revels in that shit, than how was he reading those ‘jokes?’ Is he somehow even less funny than before?

The strange thing is, even with this guy being an undisputed jerk, and a plagiarist, I’m still disappointed with the decision to can his book. As if Touchstone went into this saying to themselves: “Sure, let’s publish a book of tweetjokes so unfunny and terrible that Reader’s Digest would have rejected them, but only if the person writing these jokes is actually always standing in a specific elevator.” You signed a dumb book from a jerk. Why does it matter where that jerk lives?

A: For me, that’s probably been the strangest part of this whole dumb saga: I certainly don’t feel bad for Mr. Maserati, but I agree completely. At the very least, it’s an odd timing for a retreat, if not an odd retreat itself. And, while these announcements tend to be vague, saying: “In light of information that has recently come to our attention since acquiring John Lefevre’s Straight To Hell, Touchstone has decided to cancel its publication of this work,” doesn’t answer a lot of questions. We had most of this information a couple weeks ago. Why now?

Lefevre justifiably feels betrayed. Here’s Rachel Deahl in Publishers Weekly on his reaction:

“S&S supported me while forcing me not to defend myself…and now they abandon me.” He added that the house is “wrong in trying to back out now” and will “lose credibility” as a result of the situation. Regarding the advance, he said that he would “rather give [it] to the North Shore Animal League than return it,” and will sue the house “100 times over” if they try to secure money they have already paid him.

Now, this is exactly how a Wall Street dudebro would react/overreact. I’m gonna sue the shit out of you, you worm! For charity and honor! But still, getting thrown under the bus stinks, no matter who you are. He has no reason to fall on his sword.

D: Exactly. He is a horrible individual. Wonderfully, laughably so when not held to twitter length. But that was the point! Obviously plagiarism is still one of the only real taboos in books, and I assume that’s what did it for Touchstone, but the whole false premise was that these were in fact other people’s words and he was just taking dictation or whatever. I guess my takeaway is that everyone should go to the woods.

A: Yeah, my favorite part of his defense is this, from Business Insider:

“This doesn’t change anything for me,” LeFevre continued. “In the immortal words of Carl Fox, ‘money is only something you need if you don’t die tomorrow,’ Since I have been able to respond, my credibility has only increased. I have been asked to write a regular column for two of the most prestigious capital markets publications, in addition to being an on-record source regarding the new investigation into fixed income allocation practices at Goldman Sachs and other firms.”

John LeFevre is Jack Johnson, if Jack Johnson was a messianic trader. Also, I know that every Wall Street investigation that’s happened in the last few years (at least) has been a total sham, but how on earth did this guy get to be an “on-record source”? He didn’t work at Goldman Sachs!

D: Yeah but he knows a good barber at a hotel in Singapore. Sounds legit to me. But whether or not LeFevre ends up having to pay back his advance, whether or not somebody else brings out a book of his ripped off ‘jokes’, he’s right. He’ll get something from this. He’ll be a talking head on CNBC or some nonsense. The only losers will be the puppies at North Shore Animal League, a couple more Maseratis, and me and you and anyone else who’d like their media ecosystem with slightly fewer jerks stealing jokes about jerks from other jerks. This guy isn’t going anywhere. Not even to the woods. Not even if we beg.

A: And thank god for that. In the meantime, I’ll be working on my ticket out of the trenches: @RandomPenguinElevator. There are so many penguins in this elevator!!! How did they all get here? I don’t know. Check, please.


Alex Shephard and Dustin Kurtz work at Melville House and are friends.