Sunday, November 16, 2008

[Book Review] I Am America (And So Can You!)

I am a fan of Stephen Colbert and I try to watch his show anytime I get a chance. Reading I Am America (And So Can You!) felt very much like watching an episode of his self-titled show. It was a quick read meant to entertain and poke jest at what America has become.

Essentially, the book reads like an infomercial. It is an idiot’s guide to life according to Stephen Colbert. He breaks up the book into three segments: one on childhood, another on adolescence and the final on maturity. Interspersed throughout the book are small tangents written in the margins that add to the feel that this book was written in a stream-of-conscience style which mimics his show perfectly. While reading, I often had the feeling that Colbert himself was speaking to me as I peered into his faux reality. Each section of this book has its moments and, as the whole, it provided a cheap thrill ride and commentary on the state of our society.

In his childhood segment, I had my biggest laugh when he was talking about religions. Of course he made the typical spiel about how Jesus is the way to go but he went on to critique the fallacies and inadequacies of all non-Christian religions. When he came to Islam, he wrote (p. 60): “Islam is a great and true religion revealed in the Holy Koran which was dictated by the angel Gabriel to the final prophet Mohammed, Blessing and Peace Be Upon Him.” He followed this up with a footnote that said the exact same thing. This point was hilarious on multiple levels. First, if you juxtapose how he talked about Islam with any of the other religions mentioned (e.g. he really has a good time with Hinduism concept of reincarnation and humorously describes the idiocies of Scientology) the matter-of-fact description of Islam just begs for a laugh. But if you also follow his show, he always goes out of his way to show deference to Islam in a way that is meant to lampoon the seriousness of the religion. Why? Because anytime Islam is perceived to be slighted by someone, riots erupt and protests occur. His humor is in his non-humor. That is he is showing the lighter side to how serious Muslims take their religion and I applaud him for this. Humor is indeed a needed remedy, particularly for Muslims in this day and age.

In his adolescence segment, I thought the funniest part was when he “sold” the naming rights of his chapter on sports to different corporations. Of course he was playing on a number of themes, namely how closely tied sports and corporations are and the fact that sports is used essentially as a huge advertising medium with consumers. By selling everything to the highest bidder this chapter exemplified what sports in America are really about, i.e. the bottom-line.

His final segment on maturity was very typical Colbert. His discussion of science began with his oft-quoted statement that “reality has a well-known liberal bias”. He lampoons the politicization of science in a not-so-subtle manner that would be sure to rile up those who take actions based on their “gut” instincts or are staunch believers in Creationism. The jokes seem to almost write themselves.

I would say this book should be treated like McDonalds: it’s cheap, quick, and not so satisfying. The book was just like a Colbert episode but provided a comprehensive discussion on issues that he likes to discuss. Frankly, I know that the book sold well but I doubt many people actually read it. But I think that is the point. We Americans are willing to buy any popular piece of crap as long as it provides some quick entertainment. After all, isn’t that the American Dream?

-Nausherwan Hafeez, 11-16-08

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