Film & Reviews & Web Hype

The Zachary German Documentary, “Shitty Youth”

Zachary German’s web presence was one I once compulsively checked-on for updates, that I consistently enjoyed, intriguing and funny, and now his web presence is gone, mostly, because he wanted it to go away.

Adam Humphreys’s new documentary, Shitty Youth, which shares a name with German’s possibly defunct “radio show”/podcast, portrays German as a willfully difficult or potentially alienating person socially who is very attuned to style and taste, the author of one novel, Eat When You Feel Sad, which got good attention and praise, who has released almost no writing since, in part because much writing, including his own, is not up to his very high standards.

The documentary combines footage from German’s trip to Florida with Megan Boyle to visit Alec Niedenthal and read at a reading with footage of him doing the often-awkward, often-hilarious Shitty Youth show, preexisting videos of German deadpanly reading and deadpanly trying on a dress, as well as new interviews with people who know him or of him: Tao Lin, Steve Roggenbuck, David Fishkind, Marshall Mallicoat, and Brandon Scott Gorrell.

Gorrell provides an interesting counterpoint. He was, at one point, a similarly controversial author associated with Tao Lin (Gorrell’s book was published by Tao’s Muumuu House; German’s book received a Tao blurb). Both have somewhat turned away from the literary scene—in Gorrell’s case, he’s moved on to editing and writing for Thought Catalog. But whereas Gorrell gives the impression of being a relatively friendly, social guy—an approachable guy—German is deliberately awkward and distancing. David Fishkind describes repeatedly being summoned to hang out with German only to be ignored and then kicked out. Likewise, German, as Steve Roggenbuck mentions, was notably unfriendly in his internet presence, examples being responding hostilely to questions from his readers on Formspring, deleting his Facebook friends one by one as performance art, and bluntly reviewing books on one of his blogs (a memorable and to-me humorous instance was German giving Kevin Sampsell’s A Common Pornography an extremely negative review and then mentioning repeatedly on his radio show that day how much he hated it—I’ve also read somewhere that German lambasted Sam Lipsyte on his blog and then later criticized him at a bar to his face).

Why is German the way he is?

German says (re hostility toward many of his contemporaries), “I don’t think that what they’re doing is interesting or worthwhile, so I don’t need to talk to them.” (Lol.)

Marshall Mallicoat calls German “the ubermensch…he doesn’t need anybody.”

Gorrell (who has said nice things about German despite German having publicly dismissed him) sees German as rejecting the world, being angry at the world, an unhealthy indulgence.

The somber music with which Humphreys scores the opening and closing of the film seems appropriate—this is a pretty depressing movie. But it’s an interesting document of an idiosyncratic figure, and the ideas in it—about taste, restraint, self-criticism—and the people in it—former and sort-of friends, would-be rivals, all intelligent people—I find interesting to think about. And it also gives a sampling of German’s deadpan, acerbic, sarcastic sense of humor. German is, to me, one of the funniest contemporary writers.

German says, “I don’t know that anyone would be very well-served by me spending a lot of time trying to be a writer.”

It remains to be seen if German publishes again. In a meta moment within the documentary, German scoffs at Humphreys’s desire for the movie to have a narrative arc and conclude with German finally having a writing breakthrough–“that’s so like, lowbrow,” German says.

It seems noteworthy that German’s contemporaries remain interested in him despite his standoffishness and disappearance from the scene. And that his friend, Adam Humphreys, a documentary filmmaker with no obvious motive other than interest, felt compelled to make a movie about German.

I remain interested in him. I like Eat When You Feel Sad. I’d prefer a literary scene in which German is active.

To finish, German is at the racetrack with Megan Boyle. The camera moves away. German stands, holds his position– He sits down.

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  1. Erik Stinson

      pervious edits contained additional lost material

  2. Stephen Tully Dierks

      can’t figure out how to embed the video. feel dumber than usual today. v specific directions from anyone would be very appreciated. so dumb

  3. Erik Stinson

      you should at least take that extra text out of the link and make it a hotlink

      i still don’t know how to embed vimeo

      probably should just look at the code for david’s post

      or just link to david’s post. that seems funnier

  4. Stephen Tully Dierks

      i am v dumb. arent i not able to look at the code for any post but my own? if thats a dumb q, i have already established im dumb

  5. Stephen Tully Dierks

      did someone seriously ‘vote down’ my comment abt not being able to embed the video. lol. i averaged 5 ‘vote downs’ in the realism essay comments. love all 5 of u guyzz

  6. Steven Pine


  7. Wallace Barker

      It’s interesting with ZG how people equate his decision to give up internet and social media interaction as some kind of radical, misanthropic departure from society. I realize he does and says lots of other things that indicate he is rejecting society, but people come back to the internet thing over and over. It seems like people are shocked someone would reject being a low-level internet micro-celebrity.

      Also interesting that he maintained a radio show while otherwise retreating from social interaction. It’s like he still desires social interaction but wants it to be one-way only.

  8. Brooks Sterritt

      “I’ll drop an ill LP, then DISAPPEAR LIKE BOBBY FISCHER”

  9. Grant Maierhofer

      30 minute documentaries should be required for any mother fucker willing to write a weird book and stand behind it for at least a couple of months. I don’t think I care about anyone involved more or less afterward but it really summed up the whole notion of believing in some shit and being young and kinda fucked pretty well and I enjoyed it more than that 4-hour special on Mark Twain by PBS.

  10. Beach Sloth Alone German does not need to
      validate or respond to anyone. This may explain his desire to avoid online

      Yeah German enjoys being by himself. His communication is exclusively one way whether with his YouTube account or with the on-again, off-again radio show. I liked the movie. I found it dark. But I understood to a degree that this shouldn’t be considered a particularly dramatic approach. If somebody wants to be left alone that is considered absolutely bizarre. This probably says more about how people (we) live versus those who opt out like German.

  11. Jeff Hoiland

      wonder how long tao will keep his email exchanges with zachary in the oven. i’d eat it raw. i wonder if he’d pay me 5$ to watch me eat it.

  12. HolidayInnExpress

      What a joke. Guy has zero talent. No vision. Just brainless nihilism. “It’s fun to kill cops”–really? Says the guy who would never be harassed by the cops.

      “Robert is riding his bike. Robert locks his bike to a parking meter. He walks into a Chinese restaurant. He orders food and eats it.”

      Any random twelve-year-old off the street could write this crap. LOL@ “he orders food and eats it.” Yes, that’s what people do when they enter restaurants. Thanks for adding that unnecessary detail.

      See Spot. See Spot run. Run Spot run.

      Look, Spot,

      Oh, look.

      Look and see.

      Oh, see.

  13. postitbreakup

      enjoyed this like i said in the other thread, but why is it soooo short, it’s been hyped for so long i figured it’d be at least feature-length. i guess that’s dickish of me, i’m sure making a documentary is hard, but i was hoping for way more footage

  14. abysmal

      Zachary German to me, re: the movie

      “i like it”

  15. Oscar Arias

      re shitty youth radio, ‘it was one way’, but some listeners would talk to him on gchat or call in so it was a bit like a conversation. I don’t know, i like him, and i like the film, it was good.

  16. abysmal

      Are you lost?

  17. HolidayInnExpress

      I am not lost. I wanted to visit HTMLGIANT. It is a website on the Internet. I entered the URL in the address bar and hit enter. The page loaded. It was amazing.

  18. Wallace Barker

      I like him and I like the film too. I wasn’t too familiar with German before I saw this. I knew of him only vaguely as someone connected to Tao Lin somehow. Now I’m interested to learn more and motivated to read his book.

  19. Scott McClanahan

      Man, I can’t stop watching this thing.

  20. deadgod

      Every day looking down at the grass means that nothing left for you, which is soon, is sooner.

  21. Adam Humphreys

      Did you watch the film?

  22. Adam Humphreys

      I’ll release supplementary stuff sometime in the future and will be sure to tag you on facebook :)

  23. fatlump

      “It seems *normal* that German’s contemporaries remain interested in him *because of* his standoffishness and disappearance from the scene.”

  24. herocious
  25. Charles Dodd White

      I like reading deadgod’s comments because they feel like koans.

  26. Richard Grayson

      The one time I spoke to Mr. German, he seemed perfectly normal and friendly and smiling. He was selling some books on the street on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I was looking through some of them. I’m sure he didn’t realize I knew who he was, and he was quite pleasant and affable. Maybe he was “out of character”?

      Or does this film only present the “public” side of this celebrity? In other words, “How German is it?”

  27. Mike James

      Who the fuck who?

  28. Jeff Hoiland

      I think maybe I feel similarly when i watch things you make. theres something about ZG that is just [something else]. like its similar to a thing i get with your stuff (haven’t read your stories yet, just some sweet videos) or Taos or Sams or [others] but.. I thought ZG seemed like a ‘uber douche’ for the longest time so avoided his work but then felt like i ‘allowed’ myself to experience it or something and like… yeah… wonder what that means sometimes… like i laugh out loud sometimes with those other three, but with ZG i like… .almost laugh or something stranger in like a somehow more ‘acute’ way… sometimes..idk man.. seems i could say that about anything really there’s no relief of ‘getting it’ and i also think ‘its ok, its fine’ & ‘whoa’ at the same time or something..

  29. Craig Ronald Marchinkoski

      the dog track was good

  30. Don

      This is compelling and strange.

  31. Taylor Napolsky

      Ha this documentary is hilarious.

  32. Andrew Colville

      watched it 2.5 times now

      i like it

  33. deadgod


  34. HolidayInnExpress

      Yes–it was way better than kid’s writing. Imagine that.