Book Review: Paper Bullets

Eric Lister, Artsweek

May 31, 2001

Kip Fulbeck is fluent in the language of pop culture.

It is a vocabulary of songs everyone in a graduating high school class knows by heart and the handful of advertising campaigns that creep into homes as plush toys or prime time television movies. It is the collective voice of soundbites from films based on characters from Saturday Night Live routines repeated ad nauseam in social interactions. It is a language of a million bits and pieces of information that mutate our thought processes, individually and as a culture.

Award-winning video maker, performance artist and UCSB professor Kip Fulbeck presents the fictional autobiography Paper Bullets. Fictional autobiography?!? What, no reality-based television show mentality with the promise of the dirt on a real person from the most intimate of sources?

Fulbeck promises the reader it’s all there and offers up personal stories of the relationships he’s had in his life—relationships with people, nature and one’s inner self.

He deals in no small part with his own self-identification as a Hapa.

Raised in Southern California, in “a Chinese household with an out-of-place American father,” Fulbeck pays acute attention to his relationships with the women in his life. He talks bluntly about the politics of race and culture, gender and sex. In everything from Saturday morning cartoons to forms filled out in triplicate; from surfing the break on a foreign beach during a storm to his “first time” (in his living room, awkwardly, while watching “Enter the Dragon”); Fulbeck examines the language involved in living.

This is not a wistful voice quietly sharing stories over tea. These stories blare with all the bright light and volume of advertisements shown during halftime on Super Bowl Sunday. They run as if they were spun by a DJ slapping in bits of samples we can recognize—movie quotes, schoolyard taunts, song lyrics—to contextualize what he says pop culture was reflecting back to the public that invented its forms.

The tone is direct and unapologetic but not threatening. The stories, like life, are rough at points; they grow and develop. They may crescendo in an enormous pouring out of question after question, like a speed-metal guitar solo after the drums and bass have dropped back. But they retain the certain and gentle guiding hand of an author who quite literally would not hurt a fly.

Touching and tough, intelligent and entertaining, Paper Bullets really hits the mark.