30 September 2008

Joe Fenton's What's Under the Bed?

Author/Illustrator: Joe Fenton (obviously.)

This cinematically illustrated book plays on a familiar theme: the nighttime terrors that every child experiences. Shadows ooze with toe tickling fear and ominous bumps go bumpity bumpity in the night... the darkness is a fertile breeding ground for the underbelly of the imagination. The nervous boy lies awake conjuring up bizarre images of the elusive monster that is biding its time, waiting to devour him.

This book, while well illustrated, seems relatively unremarkable, until you read it with its timely companion piece: Paul Auster's Man in the Dark.

In Man in the Dark, a literary critic, bedridden and in the twilight of his years, lays awake at night in an insomniac's melancholy haze. In order to keep himself occupied and to prevent himself from wallowing in the painful memories of his past, he allows his imagination to spin fantastical tales of alternate universes that evolve into all kind of metafictional fun.

(I don't want to go into too much detail because I don't want to spoil the plot. I mean, have you seen a picture of Paul Auster? You don't want to get on his bad side or he might bump you off in the night with his evil eye (of which he has two).)

These two tragic figures represent the fears that bookend our lives. On the one hand, we have a young boy who is terrified of the unknown: his future lurking just beyond his grasp. On the other hand, we have an old man who is terrified of the known: his dark past that is filled with the montrosity of his own mistakes.

One is burdened by the nascent existential crisis that fills his youthful nights with trepidation, afraid that he has a lifetime of pain and suffering ahead of him (not to be melodramatic or anything). The other is and old man, afraid to look back on his past--desperately trying to avoid confrontation with the shameful past that haunts his guilt-riddled nights. But then, backing slowly away from ones past, he runs the risk of falling over the edge into the abyss of the ultimate unknown: death.

As a youth, the boy is afraid of the dark. As an old man, je is afraid because he realizes that he is the dark... that over the course of a lifetime, he has traded potential and innocence for the consuming darkness of failure and disappointment. The monster that teases you as a child is none other than your future, the dark fate that you know in the deepest darkest part of your soul that you cannot escape.

Together, these two works comprise the basis of what is becoming known as Post-Post-9-11 fiction. In the days immediately after those horrible terrorist attacks (Post-9-11), America's consciousness was filled with fear of the unknown, the illusion of safety was abruptly torn away from them and the world was once again a fearful place with shadowy caves filled with monsters waiting to attack.

Now we find ourselves in a place (Post-Post-9-11) where we have the ability to see beyond our fears and face ourselves in the mirror. As a nation, we are now marked by the stain of tortures at Guantanamo Bay, preemptive wars, Sarah Palin... our fears have led us down a twisted path and transformed us into that which we feared all along. We have awoken in the middle of the night to find ourselves lost... and in the dark.

Well, that ended up being much darker than I had meant it to be. Life is not that bleak, there is still hope! To prove it, let's end on a lighter note with that adorable laughing baby!

Poor kid... has no idea what's waiting for him...

12 September 2008

BSB Flashback: Ronald Reagan: Paper Dolls in Full Color

Yesterday, I reached a tipping point in my frustration with the rapid decay of our political discourse and by the fact that we appear to have wandered into a long-lost Joseph Heller or George Orwell novel. Seeing that things were turning ugly (and ridiculous) quickly, and that Obama seemed to be painted into a corner, I used my lunchbreak to take a stab at figuring out how Obama could possibly respond. This is what I came up with.

Though maybe I should have saved my lunchtime and read what Paul Krugman wrote which made the same points. But he makes those points with facial hair, which gives him a decided edge... that and the fact that he writes for the New York Times.

Okay then, now that my brief foray as imaginary speechwriter is over, it's back to picture books for me!

Flashback to: 24 February 2008

Author/Illustrator: Tom Tierney

Anyone following the election knows that every Republican nominee had been desperately trying stake claim as the heir apparent to Ronald Reagan. Mitt Romney had the looks, but not the soul. Fred Thompson had the acting chops, but not the stamina. Mike Huckabee had the charm, but not the stature. (I'm not even going to bother with Giuliani and Ron Paul... the rest of the country isn't, why should I?)

Now, for all intents and purposes, there is one GOP candidate left standing: John McCain. And now, thanks to Tierney's book, McCain can actually put on Reagan's clothes and try to convince America that he is Reagan's true successor.

Though I don't see it happening. Reagan's greatest asset was his gift as an orator--he was such a great speaker that he fooled the country into thinking that a silly idea like Trickle-down economics made sense. As for McCain, his speeches sound about as convincing as a 4th grader reading the book report that his mom wrote for him.

But still, let's take a look at how McCain might conjure the spirit of Reagan to convince America that he is as paper-thin as the Gipper himself.

Straight Shootin' John McCain

I am the candidate that is not afraid to tell it like it is. I shoot straight from the hip. I drive the Straight Talk Express. And the straight truth is that despite my better judgment, I have no choice but to pander to my party's base in order to secure the Republican nomination.

If that means supporting the Bush tax cuts, so be it. If it means fudging my stance on torture, why not? If it means denouncing evolution, bring it on! In fact, if I did see a dinosaur, I would shoot it dead and serve it at my next fundraiser to prove just how straight I can shoot... at whatever it is the base wants me to take aim at.

Damage Control McCain

What, this picture? I've told you already that Ms. Iseman and I are merely acquaintances. I am saddened and frustrated by the obvious liberal media bias being perpetuated by the New York Times.

I also find it comical--if a bit flattering--that anyone would believe that a man of my age would still have any sexual impulses left. Because my friends, let me assure you... when it comes to little John McCain, he's been little John McCan't for some time now.

Bedtime for Bonzo McCain

My friends, we live in dangerous times. We must take care not to let our guard down lest we allow the terrorists to win. Just like Ronald Reagan held firm when caring for an unruly chimpanzee named Bonzo, I, as your Commander In Chief vow to accept the challenge and stare the great ape of terrorism in the eye. And trust me my friends, I won't be the first to blink.

The Democrats don't have the backbone to put Bonzo to bed. But I assure you, the American people, that when I am President, I will not rest until we get the monkey of terror off our backs and we put the issue to bed once and for all.

When I consider the prospect of another neglectful Democratically-led country, I think back to something the great Ronald Reagan once told me. He told me, "Johnny, whether you're babysitting a chimp or battling terrorists, you can be sure of one thing: If you turn your back for even one second, you are going to get feces thrown at you." So America, the choice is yours: do you want to get feces thrown at you? I didn't think so.