It Can't Happen Here: Funny and Political Novels and Non-Fiction Books, or: Toward Putting the RNC in Some Perspective

Categories: OC Bookly
If the image at extreme right makes you laugh, your mental health is better than mine, and perhaps being so darn well-adjusted means you don't need the constant reality check required by Mr. Bib in the form of journalism, essays, memoir, fiction and nonfiction, cartoons and jokes and commentaries, reassuring him that the more typical and perhaps (un)reasonable response is something darker than any laughter I, at least, can summon. Still, humor is a weapon, a reflex of intellectual and emotional self-defense, whether it arrives with screaming, weeping, anger or frustration and despair. Take last week's Republican National Convention (...please!), where rich white guys who stole from the commonweal can slam "collectivism" and Herman Cain (now that's funny!) can rant about high unemployment and then demand protesters "Get a job!"  If a joke falls in the forest, or in Tampa, and nobody gets it, is it still funny? Of course it is. A sick joke, sure, but, well, you know what I mean, bibliophiles. 

Indeed, the morbid unintentional satire of the RNC may mean that you don't require more cheering up. GOP delegates sure had fun, doing what reactionaries do: laughing at the wrong place, and at the wrong people, cumming in their pants over the porn fantasy of infinite wealth. The Democrats, up next week, are almost as bad, of course.  While both corporate capitalist parties pretend to acknowledge their (our) presumed desire for a social democracy, the Dems at least struggle just a little with how that's contradicted by the lack of an economic democracy. The Republicans don't even see the problem, or just don't give a shit.
The Funniest & the Greatest
  But as regards the theater and culture of the Reaganoids' worldview, their showbiz problem is that they don't get the very basics of funny. Making fun of sick, poor, disenfranchised and victimized Americans ain't funny.

Teasing scientists, women, ethnic minorities? Nope. Responding to Code Pink activists, anti-war protesters, Occupiers and Iraq War combat veterans by screaming "USA, USA!" like brownshirts?  Not so high-larious, but these folks seem to have missed Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory and Sarah Silverman (with whom I am deeply in love!), and I am guessing do not watch Colbert and Stewart and Mahr, no, or read Thomas Frank or Senator Al Franken.

This morning, then, a (happily incomplete) list of some very funny and politically wise, satirical and smart novels and nonfiction, with genuine and humane wit, laugh-out-loud humor, a willingness to take on hypocrisy, most of it built on the ethical preference for challenging the powerful, illegitimate authority, bullies, nimrods, chauvinists, war-mongers, misogynists, rat bastards and the rich. Naturally, I welcome your suggestions.


Easy, fun place to start: Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here. Written in 1935, Senator Buzz Windrip, a variety of "populist," beats FDR for prez and quickly organizes his "Minutemen" and starts the "Corpo" regime, cuts women's and minority rights; well, it probably sounds familiar. Presumably Jim Gilchrist, founder of OC's own knucklehead militia, was absent the day they read this in 12th grade English class.

Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King. Explorer millionaire imperialist type goes to Africa, accidentally becomes a god-leader, fucks things up. 

Richard Russo, Straight Man. Possibly the funniest book ever written about academia. Where politics is so urgent, as they say ironically, because the stakes are so low. An unpleasant if benighted protagonist, lots of situational campus administrative comedy, and a joke on every darn page. You can't be a teacher without reading this novel. Or a student.
Why a duck?

Stanley Crawford, Petroleum Man.  I've gone on and on in this blog bout Crawford's short,
Oily millionaire a la Koch bros.
 perfect, gently subversive novel The Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine already, but recommend all of Crawford's fiction, each book featuring a protagonist or narrator as obnoxious, unpleasant and completely winning as the previous. The premise of Petroleum Man is right out of "Drill, baby, drill" culture, although written twenty years ago.  A charmingly arrogant and self-involved "self-made" billionaire ("He built it!"), inventor of The Thingie, a totemically powerful, practically useless, environmentally dangerous and yet somehow essential consumer gizmo, gifts his unhappy, spoiled and unimpressed grandchildren totally unwanted small-scale reproductions of favorite automobiles which he once owned himself. Capitalism as fetishism, patriarchal arrogance as privilege, and hot-air self-delusion a la Newt Gingrich. He's also the intellectual author of the "General Theory of Industrial Sex."  His wife objects, in a cool plot twist, setting up a women's peace camp in the compound. Hijinks ensue.

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