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Friday, April 29, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 12

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that makes the dictionary seem like a well-plotted drama. Last time Danny Bailey rambled on at length about a variety of conspiracy theories. Or I think so at any rate- the various paragraphs had so little logical connection that I have to assume that's what he was on about. What happens this week? Noah is called up on stage, treats us to yet another boring speech, and then gets beat up. So at least we have that to look forward to.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Aussiesmurf for a useful observation:

"Have you registered a firearm? You're on a list!"

Well, one would hope so, because that sort-of maybe is the point of something called registration.

And this whole book falls into the 'Left Behind' syndrome, where "the prophecy which I have made in real life is coming true in a work of fiction which I've written. Therefore, clearly, real life people should accept that my prophecy will definitely be coming true."

In other news, black is white and purple seals dance the foxtrot.

Yeah, as it turns out? A list is, in fact, a list. I guess some people might refer to that point as a tautology, but I prefer to think of it as having no loose ends. Well done and keep at it, folks! The crap, it just keeps right on coming.

And, with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag. My footnotes use the traditional star system (e.g. *, **, etc) while references included in the Afterword to the book are noted with numbered parenthetical tags (e.g. (1), (2), etc.). Fly like the wind!

Dramatis Personae: In an order chosen by tarot cards.

Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.

Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.

Noah Gardener: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high". Works Vice president at a PR firm. Went to NYU. Not good at talking to women. Is "witty". Frequently forgets where he's going and why. Not really inclined to help out cab drivers. Low tolerance for alcohol.

Molly "Hottie McPretty" Ross: Dresses like a hippie, but not really. Looks like a free spirit. Perfectly captures the essence of womanhood. Auburn hair. Green eyes. Pale skin. Has a tattoo on her chest. Wears a silver cross around her neck.

Arthur Gardner Noah's father. Owner of Doyle & Merchant. Megalomaniac. Surprisingly vigorous for a 74 year old man.

Khaled: Lebanese cab driver. Sold out by Noah Gardener.

Hollis: Friend of Molly Ross. Very polite. From the country. May be a Yeti.

Danny Bailey: Some kind of YouTube celebrity. Former lover of Molly Ross. Kind of a dickhead. Loves conspiracy theories and incoherent speeches.


Chapter 12: In which Noah tells it like it "is" and then gets his ass kicked, albeit not by who you would expect.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 78, Line 1-3:
For an eternal few seconds, Noah held out hope that Danny Bailey would blow right past the interruption, but it just wasn't that kind of a night.

So, for the record, he's a Vice-President at a major New York PR firm, but he's afraid of a public confrontation with a conspiracy theory spewing, YouTube star wannabe. When it comes to underwhelming, Noah Gardner is an over achiever.

Page 78, Line 5-7:
"Well, well, well." Bailey moved to the edge of the platform so they were facing each other. "Looks like we've got a junior ambassador from the Ivy League among us."

Sigh. You know, it would really be nice to be able to get through one of these awful books without authorial scorn for education and learning. I mean, seriously, is studying hard to learn about the world really viewed as cause for derision? Of course it is, I know that, but it still depresses me that people who think that education is for chumps are taken seriously in polite society. Moving on, Bailey invites Noah to come up on stage and share some of his "wisdom". One can only hope it won't be the variety that he gets from Maxim (Page 8, Line 13-14) but, hey, you never know.

Page 78, Line 12-14:
"I [Bailey] doubt you can tell us much about the Constitution or the Founding Fathers, but maybe you can enlighten us with a little racist, communist wisdom from a real hero... like Che Guevara."

I feel like it's worth noting that Martin Luther King Jr., who was praised as recently as Chapter 10, was kind of a socialist. I mean, not if you ask Beck, but if you ask Beck southern blacks marching for voting rights despite water cannons, attacks from dogs and death threats is basically the same as a bunch of people bitching about taxes while Fox News worships the ground their crazy feet walk on. In any case, Noah tries to get out of it but Bailey won't let him and Noah ends up taking the stage for an extemporaneous address. So will he use his expensive education to explain why most of what's been said for the past few hours is crazy, semi-incoherent nonsense?

Page 79, Line 7-10:
"I want to start off by saying," Noah began, adjusting his voice to make the most of the sound system, "that because of my job I'm in a unique position to know for certain that most of what's been said here tonight is absolutely true."

Okay, apparently not. No, instead, he's decided to confirm pretty much the entire basket of crazy. I cherish the notion that this is because he thinks it's the best way to placate an angry crowd, which makes sense since Noah is basically a feckless coward, but given that this book takes place in bizarro world, I think we're meant to assume he's actually telling the truth.

Page 79, Line 13-17:
"Let me see if I can confirm some of the speculation from earlier speakers... The Federal Reserve isn't federal at all: you're right, it's basically a privately owned bank, a cartel that loans you your own money at interest, and its creation was the beginning of the end of the free-market system."

So, there we have a nice pastiche of opinion and interpretation masquerading as fact. I'll readily admit that my knowledge of the Federal Reserve is insufficient to go off on this. What I will say is that any comment along the lines of "X was the beginning of the end of Y" is almost certain to be hyperbole. And, for fuck's sake, how is the creation of a consortium of private banks the end of a free-market system? Wouldn't the creation of a true Federal bank, operated by the government only, fit that description better? So, are they pissed that it is private or that it isn't? What's next, the suggestion that "We had to destroy the free market in order to save it"? But, alas, it gets worse.

Page 79, Line 23-30:
"The Committe of Three Hundred exists. And the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Bilderburg Group, the Trilateral Commission, the Club of Rome- they all exist. And they are globalists; they're wealthy and powerful beyond anything you can imagine. There are predators among them, absolutely ruthless people, but all of them together really do run things in this world, just like you say they do. There's nothing secret about those societies, though. No hidden conspiracies: they do what they do right out in the open."

Well, on the bright side at least he didn't pull a Mel Gibson and start ranting about the Jews. Likewise, I haven't had to hear about the Knights Templar yet, which makes this book an improvement over Dan Brown at least. That said, he isn't even trying to correct misconceptions about any of the above groups, he's just saying, "Yep, they really do run the world, bow to your plutocratic masters, worm!" And this is all pretty interesting because, despite Beck's claim that the Danny Bailey character was meant to show how conspiracy theorists would never be taken seriously, here we are with the crazy conspiracy theorist being confirmed by an "authority". Moreover, events throughout the remainder of the book are going to continue verifying the conspiracy theorist, so how exactly is Bailey showing anything other than conspiracy theorists being correct?

Page 80, Line 8-13:
"There really is a New World Order on the way, but it isn't new. It's been coming for a long, long time. You let yourselves get distracted with a thousand conspiracy theories, but there's only one truth at the heart of them all. George Carlin said it better than I can: Up at the very top, it's a big club, and you're not in it. They've got all the power, and you've got none of it."

So, if George Carlin correctly identified the way the world works, and that way is basically an oligarchy, then how is the New World Order oligarchy... new? On another note, it's a bit murky what the point of all this is. The best I can figure is that, like Left Behind, the authors of this book have confused claims made in their fictional universe for evidence in ours. Or, put differently, Noah's fictional opinions are supposed to validate their readers' beliefs about the real world. Tiresome as hell, but probably true. Anyway, one of the audience shouts belligerently that they aren't really powerless because they can vote, and Noah promises to explain how small things like voting can be dealt with.

Page 80, Line 18-31:
Noah pointed out a particularly hefty man near the bar.

"Can everybody read what it says on this guy's T-shirt? You know, a shirt that was probably sewn in Bangladesh by a ten-year-old girl who worked sixteen hours that day? Turn around so we can see it, big guy; be proud of it. It says, 'Born in the Jew S A.'"

"If he's not already an infiltrator or agent provocateur, then your enemies should hire him immediately. That guy is exactly why I'm not worried about telling you things that should be secrets: With him standing next to you, who'd ever believe a word you say? At every rally you hold, if you're lucky enough to get the press to cover you at all, he's the one guy who'll get his picture on the front page. If you want to know why you can't get any traction with the other ninety-seven percent of America, it's because you let yourselves be lumped in with people like that."

Yeah. Because anti-semitism has never been a problem in the U.S. Still, I regard it as a positive that the authors are essentially telling the readers not to blame the Jews. I try to be grateful for small favors, you know? At the same time, this passage is interesting because it could also be taken as a sort of subtle suggestion that any signs of intolerance or prejudice at TEA party rallies are because agents of the enemy are trying to make them look bad. I can't prove that such isn't the case, but I have a really hard time believing a whopper like that. And what are we supposed to make of that aside about the shirt being sewn by a ten-year-old girl in Bangladesh who worked sixteen hours a day? I mean, the main reasons we don't have child labor and routine sixteen hour workdays here in the U.S. are labor unions and the labor laws they fought and bled for. So does this mean that the authors are actually pro-union? Somehow, I doubt it, which is what makes that reference so damned bizarre. Anyway, Noah goes on to point out that name calling is another excellent way to marginalize a group, implying along the way that the media routinely use this tactic to deliberately discredit certain groups, and then in an odd reversal begins talking about elections.

Page 81, Line 12-14:
"You say you want a revolution? That Constitution the lady was holding up a while ago? It gives you the power to revolt at every single election."

Hyperbole aside, this is an odd reversal from exactly one page ago (Lines 14-31 or so, most of which are quoted above) wherein Noah explained that voting is pointless. So, I guess what he's saying is that voting would be the way to go if voting actually worked but, as discussed earlier, it doesn't so you're fucked. That's... quite the pep talk there, Gardner. And on a related note- and I'm pretty sure most of the founding fathers would agree with me on this one- anyone who says that they "want" a revolution probably doesn't have a very realistic notion of what revolutions actually entail. Just sayin' is all. Anyway, Noah explains that even though Congressional approval ratings are quite low (1), most Congresspeople will still be reelected (2), and implies that this means the system is broken. Alternatively, it might mean that most people are happy with their own local representatives and just wish that the representatives people in other districts and other states elect weren't such assholes. Because, you know, my satisfaction with Congress as a whole is not the same as my satisfaction with my own Congressperson. But who needs nuance when you have a microphone?

Page 81, Line 25-26:
The crowd was listening intently; it seemed they weren't sure if this was just another part of the show.

Look, no offense, but by this point it's pretty obvious that this crowd listens to everything intently. And you only get that kind of indiscriminate attentiveness from people who are stoned, mostly because they find pretty much everything to be basically awesome. So, I guess what we're supposed to take from this is that TEA partiers are total potheads. Anyway, then Noah goes in for the big finish which, sadly, does not include jazz hands.

Page 81, Line 27-29:
"That's all I've got," Noah said. "I'll be outside waiting for a car if anyone wants to take a swing at me. To tell you the truth, I think a fistfight might just be the perfect way to end tonight's festivities."

Perhaps I'm selling Noah short, but given that the term "fight" implies that there are two combatants, I don't think Noah is liable to get in a fight. I think it more likely he'll get a swirly in that same bathroom where he changed into his current "top" but a fight is just not in the offing. Anyway, he gets down off stage and heads for the door.

Page 82, Line 1-3:
He heard Danny Bailey behind him back at the mike, picking up where he'd left off earlier and doing his best to get the crowd reengaged in his message, whatever the hell it was.

Ah, so, neither I, nor the main character have any idea what he authors are trying to convey with Bailey. That's... not good.

Page 82, Line 4-8:
Noah was nearly to the exit when he felt a hand touch his arm. He stopped and turned to see the woman who'd spoken earlier, Molly's mother, standing there.

"That was quite a speech you gave, and on such short notice," she said.

Okay, first off? No, that was not an impressive speech, even with short notice. That was a rambling, internally contradictory mess. And second, you know what? I think this book would actually be improved if the main character got in a threesome with his romantic lead and her mom. What are the odds we're heading in that direction? Noah apologizes for... something... and then the plot thickens.

Page 82, Line 11-14:
"You don't have to apologize to me." Her face was kind, her eyes intelligent and alight with that same inscrutable glint that had hooked him so hopelessly during his brief time in her daughter's company. "I think we might have more in common than you realize."

Mrs. Robinson Ross, are you trying to seduce me?

Page 82, Line 23-29:
Noah looked around for Molly but the audience was too thick to penetrate. Two men had stationed themselves in front of the door, in a stance that implied the way to the street was about to be closed.

"Have you seen your daughter?" [Noah asked]

"I did a few minutes ago."

"I think we need to get out of here," Noah said, taking the older woman by the arm. "Right now."

Noah starts making for a fire exit, so anyone who wants to entertain the notion that he's going to get back at Molly for ditching him by banging her mom in the alley is welcome to have at it. Personally, I'm more interested in the incredible poorly-described crowd. It's so thick as to be impenetrable, but yet is thin enough that not only could Molly's mom easily intercept Noah, but he can tell how many people are at the entrance to the bar as well as accurately judge their stances. Are the people in this crowd transparent or something? Is there some odd TARDIS-like dimensional warp in play? I mean, seriously, what the hell is even going on in this freaking bar?

Page 83, Line 7-14:
"If our government won't answer our appeals and do what's right, if they've forsaken their oath to defend the Constitution, then an appeal to arms and to the grace of God Almighty is all they've left us!" [Danny Bailey whined shrilly]

"I ask you: if not now, when? When will we ever be stronger? Next week? Next year? Will we be stronger when they've taken our guns away, or when a cop or a paid government thug is standing on every corner enforcing the curfew? No! I say, if war is inevitable then let it come on our terms!"

Melodramatic Glenn Beck clone is melodramatic. And, again, I'm always bothered when American political rhetoric essentially calls for violent revolution. The fact of the matter is, we haven't had a war on our own soil in so long, I rather doubt that most of us Americans have a clear idea just how terrible an outcome violent revolution is.

Page 83, Line 15-18:
The exit door was almost in reach but Noah stopped short; there was still no sign of Molly. He'd let go of her mother as the two of them had worked their way through the wall-to-wall people, and he'd lost track of her as well.

He lost track of... oh, for the love of Christ. Noah, you had one job, just one f-ing job! Get the mother out of a bar.* That was your only freaking job and you couldn't even do that right. Is this jackass good for anything? Alas, at this point something "exciting" happens.

Page 83, Line 28-30:
A slate-gray pistol appeared in a man's hand nearby- a man whom Molly had pointed out earlier as a newer member of her organization. The weapon was drawn down and level toward the stage.

I cannot tell you how excited I am by the idea that Bailey might get shot. Seriously, I've got goosebumps. On a different note, however: crap would that have been a boring conversation between Noah and Molly. What was she doing, pointing out everyone in the room and telling him their membership start dates? And you thought some of your first dates sucked. Anyway, the shooter fires, apparently fails to hit anything, and without even a tiny pause multiple squads of riot cops burst into the bar. If by this point you haven't put together the "subtle" clues to realize that the authors are going to make this a setup (3)** (4), you've got the IQ of a damn turnip. And I'm not talking about one of those super-intelligent turnips they've got down at Caltech. I mean a regular, garden variety turnip.

Page 84, Line 9-14:
And there was Molly, maybe twenty feet away, held by her hair and crumpling to her knees, her left arm twisted high behind her by a roughneck the size of a linebacker. Noah heard a stifled cry and a repeating electric sound. He turned to see the big man he'd met earlier, Hollis was his name, stricken and helpless in a seizure on the floor, the barbs of a stun gun buzzing in his chest.

Out of curiosity, does anyone know of any TEA party rally getting broken up this way? Or are we really just pretending to be an oppressed group here? Whatever, it's "faction" so it doesn't really have to make sense, I guess. In any case, Noah then notices a random dude nearby who is about to get smacked by a riot cop and... something happens.

Page 84, Line 25-29:
As the black truncheon swung down Noah reached up and caught the uniformed man by the wrist, stopping him cold with an unexpectedly steely grip toned over years with his personal trainer at the Madison Square Club.

As someone who has participated in, and enjoys, combative sports, I would be very impressed if an untrained person managed that feat under these circumstances. That goes double if they were, as Noah is according to the previous chapter, drunk. So, either Noah is a master of drunken boxing, or this is just bad writing.

Page 84, Line 29-30:
It's true what they say: you just never know when all those pullups are going to come in handy.

Oh, right, bad writing. Never mind then, problem solved.

Page 85, Line 1-4:
At first he [the cop] looked surprised, and then incredulous, and then- despite the impressive array of armaments swinging from his belt and the three additional troopers already rushing to his rescue- he looked afraid.

Of Noah? Seriously? This dude can't even manage to lead a cougar through a mostly friendly crowd, much less pose a threat to a riot cop.

Page 85, Line 5-7:
Noah felt the first savage blow to the back of his head, and maybe another. And then he felt nothing at all.

And if those sentences weren't a genuine pleasure to read, you don't appreciate the finer things. Well, that's the end of the chapter, but not the end of the book, so in all likelihood Noah will be back on his feet sometime soon. Goodie. So what happens next? Well, Molly returns to the story, and Noah realizes that drinking too much and then getting the shit kicked out of you by riot cops is not a good idea. But if you want the full details, you'll just have to come back next time.

As a final closing, however, I just want to point something out. The last three chapters, including this one, have been primarily composed of nothing but lectures. That is to say they have been pure, unadulterated exposition. That much exposition is not terribly interesting unless you are a very good writer, which the authors are not. The hell of it is, I've seen lectures in a book made interesting- try reading the chapters dealing with "History and Moral Philosophy" in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers for example (you can see a pretty lengthy excerpt here). You might not agree with him, but you won't be bored. And the thing is, if you really need exposition, there are more interesting ways to deliver it. Isaac Asimov, for example, once remarked that one of the most effective ways to do exposition in a story is by having two characters argue. The conflict between people, and their attempts to sway each other, both convey information and make it intrinsically interesting to the reader. But, these authors couldn't be bothered to exercise their craft enough to actually make their story interesting, and so just spewed forth their message from whatever mouthpieces happened to be handy. So, in the end, we're forced to realize that while this might be a book, it definitely is not a story. But, that's a matter for later, as we're at the end of the chapter. See you next time!


* I guess two jobs if you count banging her in the alley.

** Yeah, I know that's a dead link. I also tried a search using the article title as given in the afterword, but that doesn't get me anywhere and I'm tired. Best of luck if you want to try on your own- the author is Valerie Bauman.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

So. To review...

Brown Cab Driver threatened with violence by seemingly unjust brutality => Noah sells him down the river faster than Huck Finn with a drinking debt to pay.

Young Southern Redhead threatened with violence by seemingly unjust brutality => Noah turns into goddamn Batman.

Lesson: Saving brown people will just get you involved in a vicious beat-down. Saving ginger southern gals while clearly drunk and wearing a "top" will get you LAID... possibly even by her mom. Clearly, the South will rise again, people.

Saturday, April 30, 2011 6:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Noah's "revelations" are meant to be somehow shocking, but they're really just simple math. In a nation of 300 million, things are either going to be run by (a) nobody at all or (b) a very small subset of the population. If you like option (a), a weekend in Mogadishu should change your mind.

As an Ivy-leaguer myself, though, I sort of see the point of their anticollegiate schtick. The bankers and executives that do so much damage have prestigious diplomas as a class marker (the education part mostly didn't take). If they replaced "Ivy League" with "business school" in their rants, I'd be half tempted to cheer with them.

Saturday, April 30, 2011 9:53:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Isn't it lucky for Noah? All the things that any sane man would have said to save his skin also happen to be completely true comments regarding the world today!

In the words of the late, great Kurt Cobain : 'Just because you're paranoid, don't [sic] mean they're not after you.'

And since when to the exercises described by Noah give him the requisite strength to grab and hold the wrist of someone delivering a forceful blow? When did he become a super-hero?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011 10:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Aussie: Yeah, wasn't Noah having trouble just WALKING a few chapters ago?! When did he stumble onto super-human powers? Did Hollis bite him and give him radioactive mutations? Because THAT is a book I would read, my friend.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011 5:13:00 AM  

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