When you first buy an HK45, the Ferrari of handguns, two thoughts are likely to pass through your mind. The first is “Can I really kill people now in a reckless and irresponsible way?” And the second is “Wow, I can finally murder all the people who disagree with the pablum published at Slate and argue it was self-defense!”
At least those are the thoughts I had after Heckler & Koch slipped several Benjamins into my maximizer codpiece brief in a creepy hotel room several weeks ago and claimed that anything I wrote about this fine German defense manufacturing company — which also specializes in assault rifles! submachine guns! grenade launchers! and other assorted weapons that are fun for the whole family! — would be of the highest journalistic integrity.
I hadn’t planned to make this purchase; indeed, I had not purchased anything. I was bent over with fellow hack journalist Catherine Price while several greasy men from Madison Avenue were throwing dirty dollar bills onto our naked backs and swaying our spent forms with their privileged equipment beyond the Marquis de Sade’s imagination. I’d merely followed some malnourished J-school grads with mountains of unpayable student debt to the Heckler & Koch demonstration stand, where a fast-talking young man with a headset, a phony smile purchased by venal corporations, and an impressive set of handguns pointed at quavering heads was telling several promising writers to sell their souls to the lowest bidder or be blown to smithereens on the spot. I watched as he shot down an aspiring Glenn Greenwald type who believed in principles. I witnessed him puree twenty years of carefully cultivated journalistic tenets with a smoothly delivered threat.
There were regrettably no samples. I wouldn’t be able to fire a gun until I had signed an NDA with a team of attorneys hovering above me, watching me with the cold look of casual traducers trading the last of their morality for a small piece of the pie. I capitulated everything: waived class action, my right to privacy, my very soul. A dumb bitter man named Dan Kois stood next to the attorneys, insisting that signing the contract meant that I wouldn’t have to eat my ethical vegetables. Comrade David Haglund, an easily manipulated ex-Mormon who had sold out his PEN America principles for a pittance, ensured me that the chow was better on the other side of the line. Comrade Matthew Yglesias said, “Selling your soul? No worries. The remaining shell’s got electrolytes.”
The Longform people were right behind me. But I knew I could get there first. I’d taken out my credit card. The damage? $900.00 — payable back to me once my sponsored “fact-checked” article ran.
As I crossed the exhibition hall, feeling the burden of a moral code drift away from my body like a human trafficking victim shrieking her last cry of innocence, I began to question what I’d just done.
That’s when I heard a voice call out to me.
“Oh, grow up!” the voice cried in a vaguely Canadian accent. “Do you think you’ll get a paying job anywhere where you’ll be able to practice unimpeachable journalism?”
I turned to find Malcolm Gladwell waggling a finger at me, a huge smile on his face. This man had some connection to the Heckler & Koch booth and had apparently bribed Jacob Weisberg with just enough cash to get a review-sized space purporting to address his critics without actually addressing the criticism. And because skepticism and critical thinking were swiftly disappearing from the American psyche without anyone noticing, Gladwell was able to move a few more copies of his latest volume, David vs. Goliath.
Gladwell purported to just feel so passionately about the handguns, in much the same way that he had professed passion about tobacco years before. He had been paid by Heckler & Koch to shout enthusiastically at any sad bastard who had just sold himself down the river. The Germans knew that Gladwell’s presence would rub away all tears. Gladwell was the human Kleenex for those who extruded any remaining snot of doubt.
“I love my HK45,” continued Gladwell, enunciating every syllable, before launching into a soothing and simplistic presentation of how every dyslexic on the planet would grow up to become all-powerful mutants, conquering the humans with newly discovered powers that included the manipulation of energy, sonic scream, an ability to pass through solid matter, telekinesis, and the ability to project misleading messages on other people’s tablets and smartphones in exchange for tracking their every movement and text message. Everyone who signed on to the Heckler & Koch contract, overseen personally by Beelzebub, would also become dyslexic. Would lose the ability to read. But who needed to do that anyway after the soul was compromised?
It was a strong, if odd, endorsement. And as I walked away, Gladwell’s words ringing in my ears, my anxiety over the price of selling out (did I really value myself that low?) quickly morphed into something else: excitement. Perhaps I might destroy the earth in a vengeful frenzy with my fellow dyslexics, to pay the bastards back for ignoring my secret genius for so long. I had worked 10,000 hours, dammit. And what did I have to my name? A few articles published for no compensation on The Awl. But now that I had crossed the line, I would join my companions. We would write more incoherent listicles for BuzzFeed. We would flood Tumblr with more animated GIFs that nobody would care about in three weeks. We would write more dumb articles for Slate. We would watch our fingers type unwise and unedited words on screens until the very last American had capitulated the ability to shout into the streets, “Oh for fuck’s sake! Enough is enough!”