Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Overton Window: Afterword

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that killed the dinosaurs. Last time Noah woke up in a sanitarium, indicated once more that he's an incompetent fuckup, and learned that Molly may somehow still be alive. What happens this week? Almost nothing, because all we have left is the authors' afterword. Blessed be!

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Jay for telling the hilarious truth:

Actually, the lettering on the bracelet was probably dulled when the EMP inductively heated it to several hundred degrees. If Molly was wearing it, she probably lost the hand.

But now they have Noah as an inside man. Now, he's not good at sneaking. When he needed to minimize his profile, he had Molly impersonate a movie star. When he knows they'll kill him if he isn't loyal, he can't play loyal. My guess is his email password is Tr@itor. The worst thing they could do is try to use him as a spy. The best thing they could do is nothing; Arthur's getting old, and there's no way Noah will be able to fill his shoes.

You just have to love that penultimate fail: in order for "good" to triumph, they should actually do nothing since that will allow "evil" to put his incompetent, half-witted, sex-starved son in charge, who will promptly crash the evil conspiracy into a mountain. Is there anything less satisfying than a hero who can only be counted on to fail? Probably not. Well done, Jay, and everyone give it your best shot for next week- it's your last chance!

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.). Fo-shizzle!

Dramatis Personae: In an order determined by my angry dog.

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

Beverly Emerson: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's. Molly's Mom. Injected with weed killer by parties unknown blisteringly obvious to everyone.

Noah Gardener: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high". Works Vice president at a PR firm. Went to NYU. Is "witty". Frequently forgets where he's going and why. Not good at talking to women. Not really inclined to help out cab drivers. Low tolerance for alcohol. Lost his mother when he was young. Fond of chicken and waffles. Rich as shit. Views himself as a sexual panther. Likes bacon. Considers himself to be good at word games. Wants to bang his mom. Some kind of moronic double-agent.

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. Lost her father when she was young. Impressed by fancy cars. Cocktease. Possibly suffering from bipolar disorder. Looks just like Noah's mom. Also looks just like Natalie Portman. Almost certainly dead from a nuclear blast.

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. Sodomized by inmates following the rally. Once dressed up as Colonel Sanders to infiltrate the United Nations. May be afraid of cats. Fast draw, terrible shot. Died pointlessly in a nuclear detonation.

Charlie Nelan: Gardner family lawyer. Silver hair. Impeccably dressed. Looks awesome. Has some sort of weird relationship with GQ. May have the ability to sense when Noah's in trouble using some sort of clairvoyance. Possible kleptomaniac.

Stuart Kearns: FBI agent. Works on homeland security matters. Kinda old and wrinkly. Not particularly trusting. Lives in a double-wide trailer. Sixty-three years old. Died pointlessly in a nuclear detonation.

Mr. Puddles: AKA Gray Death. AKA Ninja Cat. Stuart's cat. Large. Dangerous looking. Possibly plotting his demise.


Afterword: In which the authors try to make it all make sense.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 293, Line 1:
"Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it." -Andre Gide [emphasis original]

For those who are wondering, that's the quote the authors selected to start the afterword. It sounds neat and profound, but frankly it's dumb. Whether someone claims to know the truth or whether they claim to be seeking it has nothing to do with the reliability of their views. Instead, what you should pay attention to is evidence, actual information that supports or falsifies a given assertion. Because, as it turns out, humans can be very good at talking themselves into various notions, so if you rely on certainty as a measure of accuracy you will surely be disappointed. But, hey, I'm just a sociologist, what do I know?

Page 293, Line 2-9:
There's a very good reason we called this book The Overton Window, and it's not just because it's one of the techniques that Arthur Gardner uses to push his objectives. We chose this title because it's also a technique that, to one extent or another, we just used on you. (The key difference is, I'm openly telling you that's what I'm doing; I don't have a hidden agenda here.) In the course of reading and thinking about this story, it's simply my hope that you've spent a little bit of time entertaining ideas that you might not have considered before. [emphasis original]

I see what you did there, authors. You're like a regular Morpheus with the red pill and I'm all like "Woah!" and you're all like, "Nobody can by told what The Overton Window is. You have to see it for yourself." Riiiiight. OR this was just a piece of trashy fiction that panders to the lowest common denominator on the right. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to consider which is more likely, with the caveat that we'll be discussing exactly that next week. Still, I guess it's nice to find out what the authors were hypothetically trying to do. As for that "I don't have a hidden agenda" bit... well, to paraphrase the authors' own quote, "Believe those who admit to their agendas. Doubt those who claim to have none".

Page 293, Line 10-14:
Remember, the Overton Window concept is that only the few scenarios that currently sit inside an established window of acceptable debate will be taken seriously by the public. To move the Window toward their ultimate goal, those pushing an agenda have to introduce radical ideas that fall outside of the current comfort zone.

Wow. This explains people like Michelle Bachman so incredibly well. Thank you, wacky authors! Seriously, though, I love how the authors are trying to cap off this book with an extra dose of incipient paranoia. Be afraid of people proposing new and unusual ideas- because they're trying to TAKE OVER THE FUCKING COUNTRY!!!!

Page 294, Line 5-6:
Applying this concept to our story, it should be obvious that we set out to create a plot based in reality...

You're joking, right? Because I read a lot of sci-fi and, I gotta tell you, this shit strains credulity more than the average David Weber novel. And I have fucking READ his Empire from the Ashes bit, okay?* In that one he decided that the entire freaking MOON was, in fact, an ancient alien** battleship, and it's STILL more plausible. I mean, yeah, your book had recognizable place names and depicted creatures that had human names, but none of them behaved in a remotely human manner and, for all the description we got, they might have had a radially-symmetric body plan. Just sayin' is all.

Page 294, Line 6-7:
...and then we pushed it to an absolute extreme.

Extremely stupid, yes. Otherwise, no, this was not an "absolute extreme". On the extremity scale, this "revolution" was a poorly planned absurdist disaster. Seriously. Did the evil characters conquer the U.S. with a secret army? No. Was there some kind of nanotech plague that re-wrote everyone's minds? No. Were there sharks with frickin lasers on their heads? No. Instead, of these "absolute extremes" we got an ambitious PR man and his moron son. That is so far from the "absolute extreme" that I can't even begin to describe it. Nevertheless, the authors go off explaining how fighter pilots use simulators to prepare for the worst possible situations and then return to discussing their book.

Page 294, Line 19-23:
This book is your simulator. It's unlikely that we'll face anything close to the challenges that Noah and Molly are up against. But, after experiencing their scenario in its fictional setting, maybe it will become a little easier to have deeper conversations about the important forces that are actually at work in the real world.

Right, OR we'll run the risk of being diverted from those discussions by poorly thought-out nonsensical horse shit that someone put into a book marketed as "ripped from the headlines" but in reality "ripped from the slush pile". I can just imagine the sorts of discussions this book provokes, and somehow I doubt they really involve serious discussions of the actual best way to deal with poverty and economic prosperity within the same context.

Page 294, Line 24-25:
As I told you at the outset, while I certainly used a lot of dramatic license, this story is loaded with truth.

Well, it's loaded with something at any rate. It doesn't smell like truth to me, though. That said, I find this last authorial statement amusing in light of the beginning quote for this section.

Page 294, Line 25-28:
But facts can easily be manipulated, and that's why we are including this section. I want you to decide for yourself exactly what is fact, what is based on fact, what is common belief possibly based on a distorted fact, and what is complete fiction. [emphasis original]

God, I just love that. The authors are actually making the claim that their pastiche of reality, horse shit, and damned lies is something other than laziness or ideological blinders and is, instead, their effort to provoke deeper thought. Seriously, folks, who uses this method? When we teach our classes, do we deliberately intermingle things we know to be wrong with stuff we know to be right to provoke deeper thought? Hell no- because that doesn't work. I almost wish I could get away with this idiocy when I write papers. Can you imagine what the reviewers would say if they discovered a statement in the discussion section to the effect of, "Some of what I've written I know to be crap- but I want you to have the exercise of finding out what"? Yikes.

Page 294, Line 29:
Don't stop at my sources; find your own.

Yeah, you'd better, because his are weird as hell.

Page 294, Line 29-31:
That way, you can determine where your own Overton Window should be located as we continue to debate what kind of America we want to live in.

Well, I'm certainly not going to castigate education and reasoned debate. Too bad neither one plays a role in this book but, hey, whatever. Anyway, we get another few lines encouraging readers to pour over the text to find other hidden gems (hell NO!) and then we start the endnotes section, which has a little bit of exposition slipped in at random that I'm not going to worry about because I integrated the endnotes into the text this entire freaking time. And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we are officially done with this book.

So, what have we learned? Well, if you want to talk about that you'll have to come back next week when I try to wrap things up with a few "insights". Or, failing that, just swear at this disaster a whole lot. Either way, though, it'll be fun.

See you then!

* Actually, in all fairness, I do like a lot of what he writes, melodramatic crap that it is. I do wish he'd finally fucking kill off Honor "Uber-Menschen" Harrington already, though.

** Well, sort of. It was actually built by humans from the original human homeworld of, if I recall corectly, "Birhat". That part is totally loony since the DNA evidence is pretty conclusive that we're linked in a consistent web of evolutionary relationships to every living thing on the planet, but whatever.



Anonymous Jay said...

Someday the nation will have horseless metal carriages, zooming across the landscape at speeds of almost 30 miles an hour and recklessly endangering the careless pedestrian.

Sorry, I was trying to think of a warning slightly less timely than the one in this book.

Our problem isn't that a PR person may cynically manipulate us to increase his own power. Our problem is that we've become completely accustomed to treating the news as fodder for a contest between cynical PR teams, and have lost the ability to collectively react to facts except through that framework.

Friday, January 27, 2012 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we are officially done with this book."

Happier words were never spoken. I thank you, your wife thanks you, your daughter especially thanks you.

Sadly, though, at the end of the book, Molly is supposed to be alive ("the one-armed woman" in the sequel?) and Eli Churchill is still dead. And he's the only character we could give two shites about in the whole g.d. thing.

Promise you won't do this again. What will we tell the children? Instead, do something sane, like spend some time examining these guys or something?

Friday, January 27, 2012 8:48:00 PM  

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