American gross-out: The frat pack

'Fratire' is a new literary genre that celebrates male debauchery and describes women as pigs and dogs. A hit in the US, it's now coming to the UK. Johnny Davis investigates
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The Independent Culture

A couple of months after finishing law school, Tucker Max drove to Washington DC to visit his buddy SlingBlade, who already worked in the legal profession. They got drunk at SlingBlade's house, then hit bars to pick up women. After teasing one woman about her weight - nicknaming her ElephantLegs and her friend OtherGirl - they all went back to her house. While Max and ElephantLegs were making out in the hot tub, there was a scream. OtherGirl had refused to kiss SlingBlade. So he stormed out, saying he was going to get his gun and kill everyone. He didn't return. After ElephantLegs then refused to sleep with Max, he passed out drunk, swearing revenge. Next morning he woke early, filled the lavatory with paper and defecated in the cistern. He wrote "whore" on the toilet seat. On the way out he flushed, flooding the bathroom. End of story.

This anecdote, one of few that can be repeated here, is from Tucker Max's book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Max, 31, really did graduate from law school - North Carolina's Duke University. He says the tales in his book are all autobiographical, too. Mostly they involve Tucker Max drinking until he vomits and Tucker Max's sexual encounters.

"My name is Tucker Max," he writes on the back cover. "And I am an asshole. I get excessively drunk, disregard social norms, ignore the consequences of my actions, sleep with more women than is safe and generally act like a raging dickhead." But, he adds, he contributes to humanity in one respect: he shares his adventures with the world.

Max's stories first appeared on the internet, where for several years they enjoyed a cult following: today his website boasts 60,000 hits a day. What may be more surprising is that when Hell was published in America in January, it entered the New York Times's bestseller list. Meanwhile, The Alphabet of Manliness, another book by another internet writer, known as Maddox, hit number one on Amazon. The latter is a guide to such activities as groping women's breasts on public transport and how to housetrain your new girlfriend (with a cartoon of a man throwing a Frisbee and a woman catching it in her mouth).

It's all been too much for some American commentators, who, roping in other titles - The Modern Drunkard, The College Humor Guide to College and The Game, the recent female seduction guide - have trumpeted a new publishing phenomenon: lad lit. Or "fratire". These books are being talked up not just as a reaction to chick lit, but as a post-PC reassertion of masculinity after an over-feminisation of the culture.

"I'm the first guy who's written a book for guys, in an authentic and honest voice, capturing what it's like to be a twentysomething," he says.

Where there's mucky stories, it seems, there's brass. Max is now brand - Tuckermax.com is lit up with advertising for absinthe, gambling sites and, curiously, the new Tom Petty album. His own company, FesteringAss, is an empire to all things Max. He has been finalising a Hollywood movie and TV deal.

There's enough truth in the book for two of Max's acquaintances to have sued him: a former Miss Vermont (for invasion of privacy) and a former friend (for "emotional and commercial harm"). So is America, allegedly more uptight, puritanical and Christian than the UK, revelling in the lad culture we lived through in the 1990s?

The monthly lad mag concept was successfully exported there a few years ago, though the bottom has recently fallen out of that market, just as it has here. "Maxim exported British lad culture and retooled it into fratboy humour," says Greg Williams, who has edited men's titles on both sides of the Atlantic. "But American magazine publishing is still deeply conservative. You couldn't put Loaded on the newsstand."

Lauren Henderson, author of Jane Austen's Guide to Dating, has recently moved back to the UK from New York, and thinks fratire is a worrying symptom. "The [British] lad was a rogue who made you laugh," she says. "This is George Bush mentality. It's nasty. It's rich, spoilt, white jocks with a sense of entitlement." She blames a disconnect in dating culture. "America takes dating much too seriously, in a 1950s-way. This, and things like Girls Gone Wild [films in which women are encouraged to bare their breasts] are an immature reaction to the over-mature way twentysomethings live."

Britain can now make up its own mind: Max and Maddox have just been published here. "I had one of the worst publishers in America," says Max. "In England, I've got Penguin. They're, like, one of the best."

"I think this will reach out to both the younger market and grown-up-but-not-quite-grown-up lads, much like myself," says Alex Clarke, Penguin commissioning editor. "A surprising choice for Penguin? I'm sure the same things were said about Lady Chatterley's Lover."

Max predicts his book will be even bigger here. "You guys have a much healthier attitude to drinking and sex. Whenever I travel, I get drunk with English people."

Andy Capper, editor of British Vice, the magazine that's cleaned up here and in the US with gonzo journalism and smart, on-the-knuckle humour, isn't having any of it. "Tucker Max is amazed at himself that he can drink 10 drinks. His stories are like the stuff we reject: 'After copious amounts of alcohol much hilarity ensued.' You can't write stuff like that, can you? People here will just think [these authors] are obnoxious American idiots."

It's water off Max's back. Ask him the worst thing that's been said about him and he's in no doubt. "That I'm a misogynist. I hate, hate, hate that. It's, like, there's this extreme version of feminism." Perhaps the extreme feminists took exception to his rating system for women, with classifications such as "common-stock pig".

Max loves his fans. "I get recognised like, once a night now," he says. "I can't remember the last time I had to pick up a girl. There's always a new one willing to hook up with me."

Fame comes at a price. "When a hot girl recognises you, that's awesome. But when some doofus, douchebag guy who thinks you're his hero wants to stare at you all night, that's weird."

Max recently did a book tour. "And it kind of shocked me to see my fans. The majority were, like, these really young guys.

"Dude," he says, "they were really dorky."

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO TUCKER MAX

On oral sex

"The problem with oral sex is that it's like writing. When it's done right, it's amazing. But there are just so many ways it can go wrong."

On sleeping around

"I don't know how many girls I've slept with, but it's well into the triple digits. You start to forget last names somewhere in the 30s, first names around the 60s and entire girls altogether around the 90s."

On women

"Ladies. Let me give you some advice. Men will treat you the way you let them. There is no such thing as 'deserving respect'."

'I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell' by Tucker Max is published this week by Penguin, price £7.99

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