John Jeremiah Sullivan's GQ profile of Levi Johnston sounds like Sullivan wrote the entire thing as high as a kite...but in a good way. And although Sullivan implicitly indicts the rest of us for projecting too much onto the poor Alaskan teen, he's successfully made Johnston into the Every-Ex.
Levi's that guy in high school or maybe college, before you knew yourself or what you wanted, who was sweet and who loved you but with whom you really never had that much in common. For Levi, his thing is hunting — so much so that Sullivan keeps coming back to the idea that someone should give Levi a hunting show.
About the hunting he is more open. One night we were discussing the possibility of his starring in a hunting-themed reality show, an idea for which I did not have to fake the enthusiasm I showed. People had already come after him for Survivor, for Who Wants to Date Levi? This seemed much less degrading. Plus I imagined Tank in the show, too. Tank being guided by the surly white redskin Levi on these polar adventures, a hallucinogenic skewing of the whole jive-ass colonialist Tonto narrative!
Levi told me that in his estimation, he possessed "as much fishing, camping, and hunting experience as anybody my age in the country, if not more." I asked how he could possibly know this. "I'm 19 years old," he said, "and I've never done anything but hunt and fish and camp. I don't see how any of them could get more."
But in all the hunting stories he's told and tells to Sullivan, Bristol has only ever featured in one of them — about how he lost the ring she gave him and thus tattooed her name instead.
Levi's ill at ease, in Sullivan's piece, wondering who sold him out to the National Enquirer, cutting off friends who he knows have sold him out, feeling his way through the maze of saying enough to tell his story without crossing boundaries he's unwilling to cross (like discussing the ins and outs, pun intended, of Bristol's pregnancy). He goes around doing television interviews almost in competition with Bristol, but Sullivan only sees him relax when he's finally made contact with her (when he's in Seattle for a television appearance) and knows she isn't angry with him.
Levi wanted to text Bristol. Tank thought he should. Of course I said he should, spreading vulturous wings. "Screw it," he said. "I'm doing it." He texted her while Tank and I watched over his shoulder. "You looked great on TV," he typed with his thumbs. A few blocks on she texted back, "Thanks. You too! I tried to call you on your birthday." They went back and forth some more. Tank and I gave them their privacy.
But he won't say that he loves her or wants to get back together.
I think we were in love. I wasn't one to stick with a girl for three years if I wasn't. I'm pretty sure you can call it love, but it's just amazing how fast it can change like that. We were together every day. The feeling we got when we were with each other, it was just totally gone.
Who hasn't been there?
Levi is easy for us to project onto because he's such a blank slate — he's an 18-year-old kid, a father, his sister's older brother, his mom's son, Bristol's ex, Sarah Palin's foil, Rex Butler's client. Like most of us at 18, he doesn't know what he is yet to himself, and so neither do we. You feel sorry for him, you feel angry at him, you like him, you hate him... just like whatever boy (or girl) you first fell in love with yourself. Sullivan's the same... only its himself he starts to hate a little for exploiting, like the rest of us, a confused, sad 18-year-old kid.
By the end of the piece, like at the end of your teens, you don't really want to date Levi anymore. You kind of want to go out with Tank, his bodyguard, who's cool, interesting, funny, self-aware...and the focus of half of Sullivan's piece. Anyone got his number?
He Shall Be Levi [GQ]