In Tacky (Vintage, Nov.), essayist King revels in pop culture, from Guy Fieri to the band Creed.
You write in the introductory essay that “Everything worth doing, it seemed to me, was tacky.” How did you choose the word tacky?
Cheesy, kitschy, and campy—they’re all pieces of the puzzle. Tacky encapsulates this judgment call that people make when they are confronted with something they think is cheesy or corny. It was my mom’s word, the go-to word for any time she saw something that she thought was cheesy or gauche. Anything that seemed gauche to her wasn’t just gauche—it was tacky. That made it seem unpleasant. As time went on and I internalized this way of thinking a bit, it occurred to me that stuff that got called tacky a lot was often the stuff that I liked. I’m not going to say I seek to reclaim it—I think that’s a little self-serious—but I am genuinely drawn to things that other people find tacky.
How has your life on social media influenced your writing?
I’ve always been fairly online since the days of AIM and LiveJournal. Even then I was kind of shy and awkward in person, and online, I found it was actually pretty easy to make friends without all the stuff that I found stressful about making friends. All that stuff disappears online. I would say that’s still the case with my Twitter use. I am very much myself on social media, and it’s like that in my writing as well: I try to be very true to myself and to make sure that I always sound like myself.
I was struck by how the essays shifted between memoir and cultural commentary—the essay on the band Creed, for example, does this. How did you find a balance?
Initially the essay about Creed did not have nearly as much of me in it. It was much more about the band and its treatment at the hands of critics over the years and how we might go about giving them a second chance, if that’s something we wanted to do. But I found that it was really hard for me to talk about something like that, that’s indeed very personal to me, without feeling like there was an elephant in the room and there was something I was hiding. That was the first essay that was truly blending so much of me into the mix.
What role did sincerity play in the essays in this collection?
I think some people will read the essays and think, there is no way that she genuinely feels all of these feelings about this goofy stuff, especially with something like Jersey Shore—you know, it’s a reality show. And I have, admittedly, a very strong relationship to it. I think that’s going to seem a little unusual. But I do want to state for the record, every feeling that I have in that book is one hundred percent sincere. I just don’t know any other way of writing about myself. I have no poker face. I never have. To the extent that my opinions seem maybe a little overwrought or over considered, I really am this neurotic.