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America (The Book)

well i shouldn’t have been so eager i suppose. it’s laid by the bed and in my bag for a month or two and occasionally i pick it up and have a look and jon stewart is great and necessary over there (here he would be a pretty middle ground comedian — just like the idea of a lefty media in the u.s. is sort of oxymoronic) and it is put together with detail and thought and the writing is clever and it looks good, etc.

(but to be honest it reminds me of the monty python’s big red book and the brand new monty python papperbok [sic] and also the goodies file)

the humour isn’t as funny as the real thing and the irony isn’t as tragic. it’s bland where it could be biting. witty when it could be savage. light where it could be dark and… is it something necessary?

i kept wondering what the book is for i kept thinking of things like the fog of war and thomas frank and voltaire’s bastards and rising up and rising down and abu ghraib and team america and greg palast and bill hicks and the yes men and in the end i don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Book Information America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction by the writers of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart Hardcover: 240 pages Publisher: Warner Books (September, 2004) ISBN: 0446532681
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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 2288 FILED UNDER Book Reviews
PUBLISHED ON Apr.20.2005 BY graham
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Armin’s comment is:

Just as a semi-disclaimer, I asked the authors to see if anyone was interested in reviewing this book. graham obliged and I figured it would be interesting to get an opinion from someone over the pond about this book. Also, it might seem untimely and outdated, given that its heyday was this past November. Which I actually think it's a plus since now the uproar and excitement about the elections is over.

Certainly, graham puts the book in perspective by comparing it to so many other great books and movies that have tackled the subject of authority, patriotism and other topics better, funnier, sadder or more poignant. I think the book was so popular here simply because it's almost taboo to publish so mainstreamly anything that looks at this country in a peculiar way.

On Apr.20.2005 at 10:22 AM
franko’s comment is:

like other comedy works, this one is much better *heard* than *read* -- the audiobook version is awesome, because you get jon stewart's great delivery and timing, which makes all the difference.

On Apr.20.2005 at 10:54 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

The book was popular because it was John Stewart.

I found it to be an excellent parody of a traditional high school english book. Because of that, I found it rather uninteresting. It looked so much like a history book I just got glossy eyed and started reading without digesting and then pretty much started day dreaming about recess and who I was going to sit with at lunch...

Also, it lacked the delivery style of the actual authors. A big part of TDS are the reporters' own personalities and delivery styles...which was inevitably lost a bit in print.

On Apr.20.2005 at 10:54 AM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Ahhh... I miss those Python books. You bring a tear to my eye mentioning those, Graham.

On Apr.20.2005 at 11:22 AM
freelix’s comment is:

Designed by Pentagram (Paula Scher I believe) this book, at first glance, is under-designed- as it should be. At closer examination the type, sequencing and structure are truly American. Hence the title. I was actually re-reading this book last night. Its great fucking fun. I imagine the designers having a hand in some of the visual jokes playing out. Nice to see E boy and Christoph Niemann doing illustrations. A lot of work here. And a fine job that will no doubt be lost on contemptuous Europeans.

On Apr.20.2005 at 11:57 AM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

I wanted to chime in and second Franko's comment. I too have listened to the audio book and it does indeed make all the difference to hear Jon Stewart's voice delivering the lines. Any fan of The Daily Show will be a fan of the audio book.

Shame I didn't know that Pentagram was responsible for the book design, I might have been more inclined to buy it and actually read it instead. Oh who am I kidding? I'm a big Pentagram beotch and I'll probably go and check it out today.

So Graham is British? That explains his vernacular.

On Apr.20.2005 at 12:35 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

A really clever book: from the clunky/sensible Time/Life looking design (If this was Paula Sher's design, it shows a genius for getting the typicalness of the format) with sidebar columns of did-you-knows, footnotes and quotes. All of them off-the-wall funny. Jon Stewart's good humor makes it intelligent and laughable at the same time. Nice, though I can't afford it.

On Apr.20.2005 at 12:48 PM
kevin’s comment is:

laugh, graham, laugh....

On Apr.20.2005 at 01:10 PM
M. Sofa’s comment is:

Re: the Python books, the Winter 04 issue of eye magazine has an in-depth article on their production.

On Apr.20.2005 at 02:15 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

I got a kick out of this book. Hysterical. And I rather liked the internalized mental sounds of my own delivery of the various jokes...indeed I am a witty, witty man on the inside.

Funny though...I noticed the use of dumb quotes & dumb apostrophes throughout the text...odd, must've been intentional. And yes, I am a geek for pointing that out.

On Apr.20.2005 at 08:52 PM
graham’s comment is:

been travelling a bit and missed this going up . . . i really do like jon stewart and i take the point about the book being perhaps better heard than read (maybe it would make a good film?) . . . felix i got the american vernacular references etc. but it was a bit neither nor i.e. too cleaned up and slick or just not contemporary enough . . . and although there might be a bit of contempt going on (sometimes) the thing i had with the book was more that it felt like being gently tickled by a fluffy glove than being smashed in the face with a brick-and certainly the latter occasionally happens with the daily show, and i felt that missing from the book. considering the subject and the point in time and homeland security etc. it all seemed too gentle . . . but that's no doubt lost on over-determining americans.

On Apr.21.2005 at 11:36 AM
Kurt’s comment is:

If you're not American and of a certain age the pitch-perfect design is lost on you. It would be comparable to an American judging a parody of British politics and culture. I wonder at the value of such an exercise.

Paula Scher designed the book.

On Apr.22.2005 at 07:34 PM
graham’s comment is:

kurt, that's an unanswerable argument (so of course follows a long. . . answer), tantamount to saying that because i am not you, i can never understand anything you say (literally).

or maybe it's like saying that someone from outside a culture that chooses to engage with it (i.e. perhaps immigrants?) is indulging in a pointless exercise and would never be able to contribute to that (hybrid and growing) culture with something like, off the top of my head for example, the declaration of independence.

or, using your conditions (ability to comment only through direct experience), and seeing the book for what it is (satire contained in a parody) rather than what it is not (an object whose aim is to convince us of its authenticity as a textbook. an american school textbook), how does its qualities ('pitch-perfect'? i realise you said design but what's the use of perfect pitch if you can't hold a rhythm?) as satire hold up against the tradition? benjamin franklin? nathaniel hawthorne? jonathan swift? beyond the fringe? the simpsons? chris morris 'brass eye'? the onion? what do you think?

i could equally suggest that because you are (if you are american and in america) in the culture, you could never judge anything of your culture because you are unable to look at it from the outside-i.e. 'objectively' (which is an equally weak and meaningless statement but just as often as yours used on the net). where then human communication?

what your brief point does is to remove the notion of understanding (both your and my points of view) from any aspect of what you in your turn are 'judging' (do i really need to spell out for you in the review everything everywhere ever that i am and am not familiar with?). if someone from another country suggested that a contemporary work (which i felt to be successful on a number of levels) on either the culture i come from or the one i now live in was wanting in terms of its relevance or necessity i'd would want to understand why, and to try and understand through communication.

have a go at it for being a crap and puny review if you want-to be honest i really didn't feel much about the book at all because as a satire it seems too gentle-funny, humorous, yes, but from my point of view there's little inherent humour (is a deranged rottweiler funny? maybe, if you're its keeper or not standing in its path. i also keep thinking of a monkey with a gun . . .) to be had from american society and politics at the moment whatsoever. satire, polemic, agitation, yes . . . the book is humourous. it's funny. is that enough? particularly if you're american and living in this particular time. that's why i wondered at the value of the exercise of the book itself. did you think it was valuable? why? or not?

anyway-perhaps some thoughts and examples of why 'pitch-perfect' (yes it's a decent parody-but why is that useful?-see darrels earlier comment) and against what scale?

On Apr.23.2005 at 02:45 AM
Elizabeth’s comment is:

Whoa there fellas! I think you're both making two very valid, but separate points here: Kurt is assuming that your textbooks in England were not so blandly designed, and therefore inaccessible--and it might've even been a nod to the English public school system considering you lot seem to be much more educated in the history and culture of the world... Unlike Americans, hence, Jon Stewart's timely and funny book--and Graham's too-true observation that Americans lack objectivity (and knowledge, for that matter) of other cultures.

On Apr.23.2005 at 06:06 PM
graham’s comment is:

my previous post is more like an appendix to the review than a rant-as usual with these things, it reads more shouty than chatty, and it's certainly intended to be chatty.

one thing which i'd hope would be obvious-i'd never confuse or conflate the perception and government of a place (in this case america) with all of its people.

elizabeth-fair points; i'm not sure about the objectivity thing-that was more to do with an example of a facile counter argument to kurts post rather than something i was claiming as my point of view. generally speaking, for me the less 'objective' (what does that mean? how can we do it? why is it good?) the better.

On Apr.24.2005 at 03:49 AM
Elizabeth’s comment is:

Graham, not *exactly* sure what I was babbling about yesterday. Objectivity was probably the wrong word--I think I was making more of a comment about American ethnocentrism...

On Apr.24.2005 at 12:04 PM
Kurt’s comment is:

I believe that, to some degree, if you’re not American, the book is not meant for you. The specific political personalities, etc. don’t translate. Again it would be akin to my reading a satire of English politics——the particular personages would have to be explained to me, therefore decelerating the humor (I assume). Jokes that need to be explained are not funny. (I speak with some experience, having lived in England for a year in the early 90s. )

Okay, so that’s the humor. But what about the design? Well, the design is a joke. It’s meant to look like one of the innocuous civics textbooks to which we (in the U.S.) were exposed in the 70s and 80s. It’s supposed to look boring. Anything flashier wouldn’t resonate, or might step on the jokes. That’s what I meant by pitch perfect. Graham is right about rhythm ——timing is everything when it comes to jokes.

As design I'd measure it against the standard of, say, Spy Magazine, the old Topps Wacky Packs, and those movie-satire strips found in Mad Magazine.

On Apr.25.2005 at 02:44 PM
Joe Marianek’s comment is:

I showed the book to some Danish (designers) who had never seen or heard of it, much less John Stewart whom they were vaguely familar with as a "news humourist."

The naive response was; without irony, "it's very american" (accompanied by a twisted mouth and concerned, heavy brow.)

To Kurt's point: the book wouldn't have worked had it been glossed with akzidenz, grids and good photoshopping. But, who's to say that humour or editorial should be "accessible" to all, or even timeless for that matter. This book was written in response to a troubling context (now) and 2 million people bought it. That's a damn valuable exercise, particularly considering the ubiquity of the (pseudo-conservative) publisher.

The trans-continental triple-referenced jokes to ... Tab soda, are tricky. But if you're not on the "inside" you can tell there's something funny and deeper happening based on the photo juxtapositions alone; or even just seeing Whoopi Goldberg's silhouetted head--particularly in a time capsule.

On Apr.26.2005 at 01:04 AM
FYI’s comment is:

It's funnier in in person…

On Jan.01.2006 at 01:24 PM