Meanwhile, Kilgore has hitchhiked to New York City and is trying to sleep in a movie theater. He can’t afford a hotel, and while he has never slept in a theater before, he knows it is “the sort of thing really dirty old men” do. He wants “to arrive in Midland City as the dirtiest of old men.” Kilgore will be speaking at a symposium at the Arts Festival called “The Future of the American Novel in the Age of McLuhan.” Kilgore already knows what he will say when he gets there, which is: “I don’t know who McLuhan is, but I know what it’s like to spend the night with a lot of other dirty old men in a movie theater in New York City. Could we talk about that?”
As an anti-artist, Kilgore doesn’t want to arrive looking clean and presentable—he wants Midland City to be repulsed. Kilgore hopes to embody the ugliness that he has found in his search for truth and beauty. Kilgore isn’t a typical “artist,” which is reflected in his ignorance of McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher who studied the theory of media. Vonnegut’s mention of McLuhan becomes more interesting when considered in context with Vonnegut’s people-as-machines narrative and the use of corporate advertising as a means of control.
Kilgore has already found two of his books, Plague on Wheels and Now It Can Be Told. He also purchased a magazine with one of his stories in it, a tuxedo shirt with “ruffles,” and a package containing a cummerbund, boutonniere, and bow tie. He also bought a razor and toothbrush. Kilgore hasn’t “owned a toothbrush for years.”
Kilgore has written over one hundred novels, yet he is only able to find two, which again highlights Kilgore as a failure. Furthermore, his other purchases highlight just how ridiculous he will look when he arrives in Midland City.
As Kilgore sits in the empty theater with his books and clothes in his lap, he makes up a new novel about an Earthling who goes to an alien planet where all the plants and animals have been “killed by pollution.” Only humanoids survive, and they eat “food made of petroleum and coal.” The humanoids ask the Earthling if there are dirty movies where he comes from. “Yes,” he answers. “As dirty as movies can get.” The humanoids take this as a challenge and force the Earthling to watch one of their dirty movies for comparison. The movie is about a family who eats a feast of “soup, meat, biscuits, butter, vegetables,” and so forth until they can eat no more. They then proceed to throw the leftover food in the garbage. The audience in the theater “goes wild.”
Kilgore’s new story again underscores the destruction of the planet, but it also reflects the postmodern understanding of the fluidity of language. The Earthling defines a “dirty movie” as something sexual and salacious—as something offensive. To the humanoids, the most offensive thing is the wasting of food, and this becomes their own version of “dirty movies.” The both use the same word to describe different movies, which underscores the unstable nature of language.
When the Earthling and the humanoids exit the theater, they are “accosted by humanoid whores,” who offer them food instead of sex. They don’t really have food, however, so the humanoid whores offer to cook “petroleum and coal products at fancy prices” and “talk dirty” about fresh food while they eat it.
Again, Kilgore’s story underscores the destruction of the planet. The humanoids’ planet is so polluted that fresh food cannot be harvested, and Vonnegut implies that Earth could potentially suffer the same fate.