Players: James Franco, Hollywood actor who's made a name for himself for being a jack of all trades and the ultimate professional student; The New York Observer, a weekly paper suffering from Franco fatigue.
The Opening Serve: Of course this spat starts with Franco. Well, sort of. You see Franco now has a Huffington Post column, and in one of his very first entries he wrote about ghost tours in New Orleans with his Japanese hair stylist named Nana. No, we kid you not you can find it here. And James Franco writing about spooky tours and we guess, being James Franco, prompted The Observer's Drew Grant to write, "James Franco, the real voice of our generation, has taken time out from his busy schedule of Art and Teaching and also Learning to begin a Huffington Post diary. It’s about time!" Grant closes, "Let’s just hope that this experience doesn’t inspire Mr. Franco’s syllabus at NYU next semester with over-eager undergrads. Or even scarier…a new book collection."
The Return Volley: Because he's now a HuffPo columnist Franco, of course, responded with a column of his own. "The New York Observer -- a newspaper owned by Donald Trump's son-in-law that is perhaps best known for publishing a sex column in the mid-1990s ...," opens Franco. "Maybe the great journalists at the New York Observer should ... start asking themselves why, instead of covering pressing world issues, they are covering my writing, which they claim to consider petty." Franco then uses that as a segue into writing about commencement speeches.
"To prove that he in no way was affected by our portrayal of the actor as somewhat frivolous, Mr. Franco then launched into a lengthy diatribe about the time he met President Obama," responded Grant today. Adding:
Mr. Franco’s LongReads Tumblr post then goes on a strange tangent about how hard it is to write commencement speeches ...
... That speech (which was drafted by Deenah Vollmer, passed on to Seth Rogen, and apparently written by everyone in Hollywood except James Franco) ended with the audience cheering. Because nothing says 'I have nothing to prove' like a 1513-word Livejournal entry about the time you talked to the President and gave a really great graduation speech.
Observer Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Spiers jumped into the spat, too. "I appreciate all thoughtful media criticism, particularly from Mr. Franco, the author of the little read--and surely unfairly maligned--post-narrative work of art, PALO ALTO: STORIES," responded Spiers in Politico (including a quote from Publisher's Weekly so we don't forget that PALO ALTO was indeed maligned). Spiers sarcastically adds, "Not to mention the master thespian who dazzled us in that unforgettable cultural touchstone, Pineapple Express, to say nothing of his appearances in that underrated TV drama, General Hospital. I'm not sure I've seen anything that better encapsulates the pathos and misery of human existence."
What They Say They're Fighting About: Journalism? Writing? On the surface that's what it seems to be right? One writer calling out another writer for a sub-standard piece of work. Grant also isn't shy about taking digs at the Huffington Post, stating "not yet aware of HuffPost’s policy of linking to original articles that they aggregate, quoted nearly half our article about him." And of course Franco wasn't afraid to mention The Observer's embarrassing connection to Trump.
What They're Really Fighting About: James Franco's brand. It's hard to keep up with what James Franco is up to nowadays. And that's because his brand is based on him being an artist, writer, student, etc. and an etc. of an etc. Grant believes this HuffPo position is just one more label to add in Franco's prefix and perhaps one more example of dilettantism in the actor's résumé. (He's still an actor right?) But Grant is also voicing skepticism about how valid those prefixes, titles, and those extracurricular activities that Franco participates in--something that The Observer has reported on before.
Who's Winning Now: We'll give this one to Grant. Do we really need Franco telling us about commencement speeches and empathizing with Obama? If anything, Franco's extensive piece (if he did in fact write it himself) on the non-importance of commencement speeches except when it's his commencement speech, just kinda proves Grant's point of Franco being more concerned about perpetuating his brand than, you know, actually proving he deserves his many credentials.