Review: Cambodia: A Book for People Who Find Television Too Slow by Brian Fawcett Print E-mail

Fawcett-Brian-lg(Another Chicago Magazine Number 21, 1990)

A Moon Without a Bicycle

Brian Fawcett's Cambodia is a collection of thirteen deftly humorous and deadly serious essays. He covers popular culture, the psychological character of the media, and the meaning of genocide, most of it American-style. He hunts and bags engimas, finding new ways to dramatize the failings of American consumerism, be it products or ideology, ridiculing its claims as he goies. Chief on his (s)hit list is the claim that consumer choice is amoung our most cherished liberties.

What are his credentials? For one, he's Canadian. When a foreign writer satirizes another country and its traditions, it's not wisdom exactly that he or she possesses. It's proximity. Fawcett can, as well as any Canadian, be highly critical of America because their people are nearly all (except the Quebecois) "descendants of British colonialists." The Canadians' critical stance results from their experience with our folly. Whatever the United States does in business or the environment, it surely involves the Canadians, with or without their approval.

Review: The Mind of South Africa by Allister Sparks Print E-mail

SparksTheMindofSouthAfrica(San Diego Union-Tribune June 29, 1990)

The Psychology of Oppression

The history of South Africa fascinates Americans for good reason.

We see our own checkered past in theirs: colonization, slavery, a civil war fought over who should govern the "savages," and a capitalist-industrial revolution bringing mass immigration and exploitation. Black Americans need no reminders of the legacy of racial division: educational opportunities far below the national average and disproportionate rates for crime, drug addiction, homicide and infant death. But with apartheid, the 1948 law enforcing total racial segregation, modern similarities between the U.S. and South Africa end.

Articulating apartheid's uniqueness, Steve Biko, a leader in the Black Consciousness movement, said it best in one of his rallying cries: "I am against the fact that a settler minority should impose an entire system of values on an indigenous people." That "settler minority," of course, is the Dutch—the Afrikaners.

Review: Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class by Barbara Ehrenrich Print E-mail

FF(Minnesota Review. N.S. 34/35, Spring/Fall 1990)

A Movable Beast

Nothing perhaps is as cumbersome for the sociologist to analyze as the middle class. It resists any easy reading because people constantly enter and move around inside it, as often as they become entrapped or leave. With such liquidity, its most conspicuous trait is a mercurial identity which no other class possesses. The more we question this identity the more divergent our thinking becomes. Do middle-class people share the same values? Do their cultural values outweigh economic ones? Can a person having middle-class career values have another class's artistic tastes or political agenda? Add then the saccharine images with which the media makes a middle-class lifestyle seem desirable, and those with middle-class aspirations leap out of the woodwork. George Bush is one. He works hard at being middle class by pitching horseshoes, holding barbecues, and hugging grandkids, and never once loses his upper-class status. Oddly, he can mix with us but we aren't invited to his parties. Anyone with some education and a few correct possessions can appear middle class. Even the middle class. So, with appearances intrinsic to analyzing this class's identity, only the intrepid sociologist would wrestle with such a subject. Answering the bell is Barbara Ehrenreich, searching for the middle-class's inner life.

Review: Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn Print E-mail

dogeaters-cover-668x1024(Hungry Mind Review Number 14 May-June, 1990)

The Predestination of It All

In every society—ruled by tyrants or popularly elected leaders—there is often a corporate elite whose corruption and mean-spiritedness defy all justification for their influence, including the privilege of wealth. Such despotic rich people seem endemic to the Philippines, whether we recall the Marcos's recent reign or view the upper-class slime that oozes foully within Jessica Hagedorn's novel, Dogeaters. Here, the Filipino mafia is headed by the Gonzaga and Alacran families, who are "related by money," as the cynical Uncle Agustin Gonzaga says. At the top is Severo Alacran, owner of the conglomerate, "International Coconut Investments. Intercoco, for short." His brother and Freddie Gonzaga are titular Vice-Presidents, the best yes-men around, and everyone is friends with the President of the country and the First Lady. Since this is 1950s Philippines, we are a few years from Ferdinand and Imelda. But to make sure we know what's coming, the novel's First Lady, interviewed by a Western reporter, defends her extravagant shoe collection as okay on grounds that they're locally made.

Review: Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler Print E-mail

richler(San Diego Union-Tribune May 4, 1990)

Oh, Those Antinomian Canadian Jews

This novel is so-o-o-o-o interminable—like I'm a guest at a wedding where 300 relatives gaggle on and on about that shocking second cousin, Marla, and I'm bozoed with boredom.

Another drink, sir? Then it spits, fires, leaps up, and—whoosh—races forward, a fire truck caterwauling by, and me on my bike racing to catch up with the tire-peeling adventure.

Quiet down. Keep reading.

Then, 75 pages in, I'm hollering, "Where The Hell Does This Thing Begin?" Is it 1851, with the original Gursky, the trickster Ephraim, outcast Jew of the world, swindling a Canadian town with news of Christ's second coming?

Review: Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market by Susan Strasser Print E-mail

mass_market(San Diego Union-Tribune January 5, 1990)

Sold to Death

My favorite mass-market character is TV's Murph at Union 76. Small-town guy with small-town values, watching out for my kids as they ride their bikes and wave, free-flat-fixing protector of the hapless motorist. Murph's not only good, he's also aligned with a multinational corporation whose orange globe stands for my uninterrupted access to, and consumption of, finely packaged gasoline and other oil products. Like Phillip Morris sponsoring ads about the Bill of Rights, Murph is selling us our deep-seated need to have corporations appear gentle, fatherly, wise-beyond-question.

Yes, it's deep, because our worldly desires have been conditioned for generations to have everything sold to us—from presidential candidates to toilet paper.

Everything is marketed, to death and sameness.

Review: Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time by Phyllis Rose Print E-mail

j_baker(San Diego Union-Tribune December 22, 1989)

Picasso of the Stage

Singer, dancer, comedian, actor, expatriate, heroine of the French Resistance, civil-rights worker, mother to a dozen adopted children, la belle dame of the Parisian stage for over five decades: Josephine Baker had nearly everything in Europe that she could never have had in the United States. Baker, an African-American, was one of the lucky ones.

Living fifty of her seventy years in France, thereby escaping the racism of her St. Louis upbringing, she was the darling of an adoring music-hall public which never tired of her provocative performances. She was as famous as Chevalier, as patriotic as de Gaulle, as sentimental as Piaf and, at death, as lionized as Napoleon.

To reveal why Baker's star shines in such a constellation, biographer Rose (her previous work includes a life of Virginia Woolf) has fashioned her ode to the era—continental culture between the wars—as well as to the woman. "In Her Time" reads the subtitle.

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