Feb. 14, 2016

Politics! The Musical

In recent years, the Internet has been overrun with the rise of satirical websites, Twitter feeds and blogs. The publishing and entertainment industries have come bounding at the heels of these trends, trying to turn a profit by repackaging Web-based material into book form and, sometimes, even into a television format.

Though there have been successful transitions of print media to the Web, there has yet to be a truly successful transition in the reverse. For fans of Internet-based satire, such as the kind found on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, this is wildly disappointing. Unfortunately, the new book “The McSweeney’s Book of Politics and Musicals” doesn’t successfully translate Web to paper either. 

The book’s 100-plus comedic vignettes were written specifically for the Web. They are short and punchy, which is generally the best way to get a laugh. But in book form, these flashes often fall flat and land just to one side of funny. Most likely it’s because by the time the jokes move from the Web to the page they’ve been heard over and over, leaving the reader with a uncomfortable feeling of comedy déjà vu.

Still, there are some items that translate, with the jokes that are fresh and hit the mark. The laugh-out-loud piece “The Only Thing That Can Stop This Asteroid Is Your Liberal Arts Degree” by Mike Lacher is one such example.

An asteroid the size of Montana is careening toward Earth and America doesn’t “need some pencil neck with four PhDs, one thousand hours of simulator time, and the ability to operate a robot crane in low-Earth orbit,” the narrator barks. “I need someone with four years of broad-but-humanities-focused studies, three subsequent years in temp jobs, and the ability to reason across multiple areas of study. I need someone who can read ‘The Bell Jar’ and make strong observations about its representations of mental health and the repression of women.”

For the bookish among us, it is nice to think that for once, the country might call the nerdy, introverted English majors to serve in a pinch, not just the roughnecks and mavericks. But no matter how much the geeky dreamers in liberal arts colleges around the nation might hope, most people would rather survive than make us feel better about ourselves by demanding a critical analysis of a classic feminist novel STAT! Go figure.

“Don’t think I don’t have misgivings about sending some hot shot Asian Studies minor into space for the first time,” the narrator continues. “This is NASA, not Grinnell. I don’t have the time or patience for your renegade attitude and macho bravado.”

What Lacher does in this piece is reveal the soft spot between Hollywood clichés, secret desires of those who smirk at clichés and the reality that neither a roughneck on an oil rig, nor a comparative literature major will be called in to save the nation on a grand scale. The item also archly suggests that the country does need critical thinkers, though perhaps not so obviously in times of immediate crisis.

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