Last fall, I went to hear David Sedaris speak. After reading a few of his own essays, he chose one by another writer, regaling us with a series of hilarious letters to a faux advice column called “Ask Mr. Optimist”. I finally picked up the book from our local library.
“The Braindead Megaphone”, (©2007 Riverhead / Penguin Books), is a collection of essays by George Saunders, a writing professor at Syracuse University. This diverse collection of wit and wisdom covers topics ranging from a trip to the city of Dubai, (which has been called “Vegas on steroids”), to the narrative styles of “Johnny Tremain” and “Slaughterhouse Five”.
The title essay refers to the nonstop assault on our senses by a dumbed-down media, and the effect it has on our national psyche and political discourse. Here is an “E = mc²” for our times: “The shortfall between the imagined and the real, multiplied by the violence of one’s intent, equals the evil one will do.”
Even though it can be argued that our mass media has always been “sensationalistic, dumb and profit-seeking”, Saunders asserts that “we’re in an hour of special danger, if only because our technology has become so loud, slick and seductive, its powers of self-critique so insufficient and glacial. The era of the jackboot is over: the forces that will come for our decency, humor and freedom will be extolling, in beautiful smooth voices, the virtue of decency, humor and freedom.”