‘They’ called it hard-hitting, blistering satire of America. And, after Trump got elected President, they added ‘especially in these times.’ Maybe they were pointing at America’s switcheroo from ‘Yes we can’ to ‘Make America Great Again’.
Paul Beatty didn’t like his work described as a humorous satire. No wonder.
Beatty is not okay being called a satirist and a satire his book ‘The Sellout’ most definitely isn’t. It’s another matter that he said he wrote the book because he was broke and he slam-dunked a Man Booker.
With writing such as this comment: ‘Not surprisingly, there’s nothing to do at the Pentagon except to start a war.’
And such critique: ‘This whole city’s a Freudian slip of the tongue, a concrete hard-on for America’s deeds and misdeeds.’
and such satire – Ever been to Reno, Nevada? It’s the shittiest Little City in the World, and if Disneyworld was indeed the Happiest Place on Earth, you’d either keep it a secret or the price of admission would be free and not equivalent to the yearly per capita income of a small sub-saharan African nation like Detroit.
And such linguistic analysis: Allahu Akbar. Shikata ga nai. Never again. Harvard class of ’96. To protect and to serve. These are more than just greetings and sayings. They are reenergising codes. Linguistic chi that strengthens our life force and bonds us to like-minded, like-skinned, like-shoe-wearing human beings. What is that they say in the Mediterranean? Stessa faccia, stessa razza. Same face, same race. Every race has a motto.
And burning social critique: Just because racism is dead don’t mean they still don’t shoot niggers on sight.
And stinging critique on gender equality: ‘I can’t think of a more despicable word than ‘nigger,’ I volunteered. “Like what?” “Like any word that ends in -ess: Negress. Jewess. Poetess. Actress. Adultress. Factchecketress. I’d rather be called ‘nigger’ than ‘giantess’ any day of the week.” – kinda like a double take on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Woman is the nigger of the world’.
And critique of financial affairs, even if citing Mike Tyson: I once heard Mike Tyson say, “Only in America can you be bankrupt and live in a mansion.”
A critique of history: That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book – that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you. (relationship advice!!!)
A critique of women at workplace: College wasn’t for her, because to her mind the workplace turns black women into indispensable, well-paid number threes and fours, but never ones or twos.
A critique of modern-day marketing: “But if you really think about it, the only thing you absolutely never see in car commercials isn’t Jewish people, homosexuals, or urban Negroes, it’s traffic.”
A critique of religion as we know it: The Indians, who were looking for peace and quiet, ended up finding Jesus, forced labor, the whip, and the rhythm method.
As well as,… “A look that said, It doesn’t matter if you’re too stupid to understand God’s love. He loves you regardless, just hand over the women, the distance runners, and the natural resources.”
There. That’s a critique. A literary critique of how America is and how it got where it currently is. Calling it a satire would be like turning a scene of heinous crime into an art installation. It puts a gilded frame around scathing critique which should push and prod us to do something about it, only to be hung up on the walls of a museum – in this case the Man Booker hall of fame – as a blistering satire. As if saying, you wrote a real book, now we give you the Man Booker, good job done. Moving on…
I don’t know if the Man Booker and such literary prize panels are consciously on the lookout for pieces ridden with angst which they can pretend to then address it by decorating the cover with a coveted prize. A book is a product of a mind that is going through a life. It’s a live, throbbing mechanism. It’s not a thing. If history is not the pages it is printed on, a satire isn’t the pages it is printed on. Nor a critique.
The society would imperil itself by looking at The Sellout as a satire that attained its unintended goal – The Man Booker. The book is not ‘funny’, as a judge on the Man Booker Prize panel said among other big things. And no matter what the literary panels think, Beatty is not a comic genius that gave us the year’s ultimate humorous satire.
The Sellout is a critique. It happens to be the nickname of the protagonist who had an unconventional upbringing who goes on to do horribly unconventional things on the very edge of racism such as slavery and bringing back of segregation into his town of Dickens in the present-day America, things which were, of course, once disturbingly normal. The book is a brilliantly written solid piece of literary critique of a society that has changed its stars but not its stripes and I’m glad my 2017 started on such a great note.