Wednesday, November 23, 2005

New book on conflicted SoCal surf legend Miki Dora

Dora Lives, The Authorized Story of Miki Dora by C.R. Stecyk III and Drew Kampion (Adler Books, 2005), reviewed by James McLaren
As might befit anything at all that has to do with Dora, a few exculpatory and perhaps inflammatory words of introduction:

I'm going to piss members of the Southern California Surfing Industrial & Media Oligarchy off with much of what follows, and for that I offer no apology to any of them. They have their agenda, and I have mine. The two agendas hardly overlap at all, even in the water.

Especially in the water. I'm quite sure, that in their inimitably self-centered way, they will simply fail to deign to so much as acknowledge that the following words even exist, or, should the point be somehow forced upon them, they will belabor the position as loudly and longly as necessary that the worm who had the temerity to pen this prose could not possibly be LESS qualified to write upon a subject that they have long claimed sole ownership of, even as they continue to promulgate it as far and wide as their media skills and shills will permit.


Dora was a metaphor. Dora was several metaphors. Nobody owns a metaphor. Sorry guys, but that's just the way it has to be.

The Southern California Surfing Industrial & Media Oligarchy has unremittingly attempted, for their own self-interest and no other, to exercise sole control of surfing in the minds of all persons they can reach. These are people who seek to extract money and power from surfing, directly and indirectly. What happens to the people they exploit is of no concern to them and neither is what happens in any lineup as a result of their manipulations. You, and your wave are used and then thrown away and given no more regard than a piece of used tissue paper.

Further, SCSIMO is incestuously intimate with the Entertainment Industry insofar as that industry is centered in Hollywood in particular, and Southern California in general. The Entertainment Industry is, not to put too fine a point on it, an industry that is founded upon, deals in, and purveys to the greatest degree possible, lies. Brightly colored lies, and very seductive lies, but lies nonetheless. It's all "make believe." Except for when money gets put on the table.

Our authors, our book's "maker," and our subject are all irrevocably ensnared within Hollywood's tendrils of falsehood, and no matter how hard any of them protest falsehood in general and tinselly things in particular, it's abundantly apparent that they are all, in fact, part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Dora's tale is a cautionary one, among other things, and this aspect of the story is slighted right along with all the rest of what's slighted.

I WILL get to some encouraging words here sooner or later, I promise, but for now I feel I must go on with describing this book's glaring weaknesses, ok?

Dora's story arches far above the man himself, and most certainly even farther above his chroniclers. As a character for a "story" (and I find it interesting that the word "story" was inserted into the title as opposed to "biography") Dora is the equal of anything you might find in Greek Tragedy or Shakespearean tales of fatally flawed protagonists.


The shit's that good.

In a nutshell, the man drank from the Golden Cup and then, because of irredeemable personality flaws, immediately partook in the destruction of that cup for a handful of tarnished coins.

Once the Golden Cup had been taken away, Dora was reduced to a wandering life of exile that took him to high places and low, all around the world, but never returned to him that which he so foolishly had helped destroy with his own hands.

Dora was a sublimely gifted athlete, who received scant compensation for his abilities and grew bitter with the realization that he would never be compensated justly for his physical artistry, even as hucksters, greedy manipulators, and speculators all grew fat with profits extracted from the selfsame venue that he was the undisputed master of.

Dora was a fundamentally crooked person who parlayed socially engineered connections and his athletic gifts to gain entrance to venues he had no business entering.

Dora was a small time con man and thief who rose above his venality to exert an amazing influence upon an entire arena of human endeavor, an influence that redounds through the decades and continues to exert powerful sway over surfing to this very day.

Dora contradicted himself and everyone around him and maintained a laser-straight heading through life despite it.

Dora communicated elliptically at best, and yet managed to hit the mark squarely every time.

Dora loathed people but could not escape his need to be around them, whether to draw sustenance from them, mock them, gull them, or abuse them. His social skills were without parallel, but his fundamental inability to deal with most people honestly negated almost all their worth.

He craved possessions, but owned very little.

He hated bullshit in all its manifestations, and responded by attempting to bullshit nearly everyone he came in contact with to one degree or another.

He attempted to obfuscate himself, but could not resist speaking out in high-profile situations again and again.

He loved attention but he hated attention.

His surfing was both the creator and the destroyer of his life, even as he was a creator and destroyer himself.

I could go on with this, but I believe the point is becoming clear that Dora was a Gordian Knot of writhing inconsistencies, great beauty and insight inseparably coupled with the basest of motive and deed.

So then, where does any of this leave our book?

Choking in a cloud of dust, watching its subject disappear into the distance, for the most part.

Miki Dora is a fabulously rich lode of metaphor and allegory, and yet somehow this book fails to avail itself of any of it in a meaningful way.

To begin with, let's get back to the title, especially the word "story" therein.

A "story" is not a "biography" and the differences between the two words could not be better highlighted than through the thin framework of this book. The book itself seems to know that it's thin, and seeks to hide this as best it can. The page size is small, the margins are large, and the photographs seek to fill as much glaringly empty space as they can. Much padding shows through the words, not very many in sum to begin with, that fill its pages. It seeks to hide its inadequacies beneath a veneer of "artsy" gloss and pretension.

We are treated to a smorgasbord of small details concerning the man, but nowhere is there an overarching framework of extracted worth or merit taken from those details. As it stands, the book as a whole is achingly thin and watery, with no bone, muscle, or sinew to be found anywhere inside.

Dora is without doubt worthy of a serious treatment, but this book is not that treatment. This book is hardly any treatment at all, in truth. Instead, it is a swirl of self-absorbed pratings, done in a style that most closely resembles the sort of thing that you might hear from those who would cheer a squad of high-schoolers. "Hooray for our guy, he's the coolest, he's the best, rah rah rah!"

This unremitting self absorption and woefully blinkered "cool" approach are the stake that this book drives through its own heart. C.R. Stecyk III, to judge from the contents of this book, simply cannot write. There's really no other way to put it, unfortunately. Friend of Miki Dora he may have been, but writer he is not. Biographical details are substituted by endless name dropping. The whole self- absorbed Southern California mindset could hardly more accurately illustrated than it is through Stecyk's "prose." Endless lists of names, watering holes, and trivia are placed before us as proper information, but the masquerade is a porous one and easily seen through. Nothing is given any context, other than the context of cool. Miki is associated with all and sundry when it comes to Hollywood and Southern California Surfing (as opposed to surfing, simply, itself), and the fanboy characteristics of Stecyk's phrasing and sentence structure trumpet the fact that C.R. believes that we too, should stand in awe of the mighty coolness of California in general and Hollywood in particular, with especial awe reserved for the high and the mighty of the casting call aristocracy. In truth, none of these people actually DO anything, and instead merely exist to be looked at as opposed to the actual production of sensibly worthy output. Stecyk wants so desperately to be regarded as "cool" that he willingly poisons his own well in the attempt. His is a very small, very dark little planet, where just a few well-vetted chums authenticate his claim, and all else exists on the other side of an event-horizon that none of them are even aware of. It would appear as if being a "friend" of Dora comes at no inconsiderable cost.

Kampion suffers from the identical malady, but not to an equal extent. His symptoms are more subtle, and might even escape a casual glance from someone who wasn't looking for them in the first place. But they are unmistakably there, all the same. With Kampion's writings, you begin to wonder just exactly who this book was written for in the first place. That this kind of question even comes up, speaks volumes in and of itself. A biography is just that. The biographical detailing of a given person's life. Dora Lives is not a biography, whatever else it might be, or believe itself to be. And so the unanswered questions continue to dangle. Since it's not really a biography, then what is it? Kampion's prose fails to provide an answer, and instead seems to hold fast to the high school approach, thick with detail, thin on point. This book hovers fatally near pointlessness, and is only rescued at the last second by the size and solidity of its subject, no matter how poorly treated. Faux-profundity will never take the place of real investigation and the proper elucidation thereof.

So what shall we do with Dora Lives?

Reluctantly, I advise drawing it near as one might draw a very flawed family member near despite all the transgressions that have been committed.

Within this book there are words, and there are photographs, that will surely add to your understanding of Miki Dora. Take what there is to be had, and do not begrudge the rest.

For those who have never heard of Dora, this book will be very little help. VERY little. It presumes a foreknowledge of the subject matter and makes no attempt to examine that subject matter on any but the shallowest of levels, faux-profundity notwithstanding.

The subject of Dora is a deep one and still awaits its proper telling. It may sound odd, or even presumptuous, but Dora would have made a fine subject for the likes of Hemmingway or Steinbeck. Unfortunately, neither of those gentleman are around, and I really do not know who might take their place and give Dora his due.

What we would really like to see is a work that properly explicates Dora's story in all of its highly ramified implications.

Dora Lives tells us that Dora was regarded as the best of his day, perhaps the best ever, but aside from vague remarks about cat-like agility and similar puffs of smoke, completely fails to describe Dora's surfing. Why is this so? What was Dora doing on a surfboard that caused him to rise above all others? Would a proper book about an Olympic figure skater simply fail to describe the technical details of the skating itself? I hardly think so. So why is Dora Lives completely lacking in any technical discussions of Dora's primary claim to fame, his surfing? It seems absurd that such a vital piece of the puzzle could be left out, but that's what happened.

Dora Lives details numerous scams and contradictions, but fails to seek any larger meaning. Why is this so? In Dora Lives, Miki seems to exist in a cultural and moral vacuum, aside from the thin veneer of Southern California that envelops everything in a cloying, sticky wrapper completely devoid of all real substance. No threads are tied together, no lessons are learned, no real meaning is extracted from any of it. Instead, we have to make do with numbingly shallow conclusions that are haltingly drawn, as if by a child still groping toward a simple understanding of right and wrong. All of the deeper currents of human existence and meaning are completely ignored, and this utter failure to plumb the depths with precision and insight borders on the criminal. It is, after all, the crux of the whole Dora matter, and to see it given such short shrift is infuriating.

In conclusion, I can only hope that somewhere, somehow, there is someone out there with the brains and talent to tackle this most difficult subject, and that they will be given full access to all of the jealously-guarded information that will be required to do the job correctly.

Until then, we can idly flip the pages of books like Dora Lives, and hope for better days to come.

1 comment:

Drew Kampion said...

Very enjoyable review, thanks!

– Drew