Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Calling It: My Official Review

Note: This is a book review of a book with adult language in the title. You've been disclaimed.

"You want to call it?" I ask Meghan.
"Yeah, she says."
"Me too," I agree.

Over a set of escalating dares made on Twitter, Michael Ian Black and Meghan McCain decided they should roadtrip across the United States and write a book about it.  A Democrat comedian and a Republican commentator? Sure. Add an RV, a crazy driver, a quiet, accompanying planner, and a pair of crocs, and you've got yourself an adventure.
America, You Sexy Bitch

America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom served the role of a humorous book discussing politics. The book provided laughs, showed some of the complexities of many contemporary issues facing these United States, and did so with a fairly harmless approach. This was one attempt at a particularly difficult task, however, and the authors provided some food for thought. I enjoyed reading the book, but I believe I am the audience-type the authors wrote for. Twenty-something year old abreast of popular culture who is neither entirely content with the political atmosphere of contemporary United States nor is offended by the use of colorful language sprinkled throughout the book. I got the humor and laughed out loud more than once. I will say, since I am reviewing the work and providing my honest opinion, throughout the work I felt the something lacking, something nagging.

The roadtrip begins in California, travels across some of the United States, and ends in Connecticut. Black and McCain do not make it to the Pacific Northwest, nor do they spend much time amongst the original thirteen colonies. They do try to find as many "American" places to visit (in a limited period of time) as a way to see different perspectives. Their first stop: Arizona. This starting point, McCain's home turf, gave Black a chance to experience a little of McCain's background and to shoot some guns. They had a big time and started to loosen up around each other over the day. I think I was most impressed with Black's linen pants and crocs matched up with a holster and cowboy hat. Sexy.

This early scenario in the book, however, reveals a little of what I felt was lacking. If somebody wants to show several sides of an issue, then the several sides should be shown. Black got to experience for himself the enjoyment of shooting weapons and they used this as a launching point to discuss gun control in the United States. But this only shows one side. How about having a conversation with a mother who lost her child from a bullet, after all the fun has settled down? I live within an hour's drive of Baton Rouge, a city that has higher homicide rates than New Orleans, New York, and Los Angeles. Regularly, pictures of a crime scene (accompanied by a body being wheeled out on a stretcher) are published in the local newspaper. Can one demonstrate the complexities of an argument with just an afternoon's worth of time? That idea resurfaces each time a new argument pops up. "There is so much more to this story!" I think. But the book kept my attention and I followed through.

The group (for Black and McCain travel with their driver, Cousin John, and their organizer, Nermal) travels up to Nevada (to experience Las Vegas), over to Utah (to meet Mormons), down to Austin, Texas (to meet the weirdos), and over to New Orleans before they start working their way through the Heartland and over to the East Coast. Their adventures are humorous. They meet some wild characters and begin to build camaraderie over the course of the month. Well, they build camaraderie when they aren't arguing politics, that is. Maybe the premise of the book was going to be explosive, anyway. Two people who disagree on almost everything decided to travel together in a smelly RV for a month. "Calling it" happened throughout the book. It became a game to see who could hold out the longest, not "calling it" until the other did so first.

This "calling it" attitude echoed throughout the book, beyond the game time between the two, reflecting the polar attitude of society. Giving in is defeat! I am right and refuse to bend down for anything (because if I do, then I am weaker)! Maybe, unintentionally, that is where my lacking, nagging feeling comes from. Black makes a point, "The argument doesn't resolve because these arguments never do."(p. 223) This nation is so big with so many people and so many backgrounds! Arguments don't get resolved. Rather, conversations happen. Or should happen. Black and McCain have several heated arguments (one that popped up throughout the whole book was about the phrase "freedom isn't free"), but they also seemed to have many enlightening moments, too (when they conversed and not argued). Sometimes, in moments where Black forgot to be his comedic self, he showed some real insight. Sometimes, when McCain wasn't defending herself or her background, she asked provoking questions, revealing complexities. Sometimes, they both quietly admitted at least understanding the other side a little better, even if not agreeing with it.

The traveling duo had limited time to complete this experiment, unfortunately. By hopping from city to city, I do not believe either got a true "feel" for the place. They tried to meet locals and mingle as much as possible, but they also lived up the stereotypes. The visit to Austin fulfilled the stereotype that people who live in Austin are an eclectic mix of odd (though the city promotes itself with the slogan, "Keep Austin Weird"). The visit to New Orleans fulfilled the preconceived notion that the city is there for people to get wasted and have a good time. The visit to Nashville fulfilled the stereotype that the city is a honky-tonkin' place run by country musicians in cowboy boots. Each of these places, however, are rich and complex and have more to them. Just like the richness and nuances of the whole nation isn't fairly represented with 14 stops, spending a day in a place does not necessarily mean you experience that place to its fullest. I suppose that was what the two were trying to show: this nation is ginormous with a crazy amount of diverse people. I could even argue that the book's planned outcome of showing complexity in this nation was reached, even if the designed method of hopping from place to place didn't get the reader there.

Regardless of the lacking feeling, I enjoyed reading the book. I think Michael Ian Black is hilarious, and I found myself relating to Meghan McCain quite a bit. I especially appreciated her comments about women in politics. It is difficult for people to deal with a woman who dresses well, wears makeup, and looks pretty AND be smart and strong and capable in the political world; society just isn't ready to handle that "hot mess" (to borrow the phrase from McCain). If you are looking for some humor jumbled up with some political opinions, take a gander at America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom. It is almost worth it for the linen pants and crocs, alone.

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