Thursday, November 24, 2005

Tombo Times: Al Franken Book Review

This was printed in winter 2004 Tombo Times. Now that Tombo Times is no longer on-line, I've reprinted it here.

I really enjoyed Al Franken’s latest satire on the American political Right “Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them”. In fact it was one of those rare books that was so funny I found myself laughing out loud while reading it (causing me to make repeated apologies to my office).

But when I went on-line, and looked up reviews of this book, I noticed an interesting pattern emerged.

People who agreed with Franken’s politics found him really funny. People who disagreed with his politics would often complain: “and the worst part was that it wasn’t even funny.” Now anyone who has ever sat next to me at a bar, or ridden in a car with me, or been stuck in the elevator with me, or passed me in the hallway, was probably left with little doubt about my politics and my dislike for the American right. But in spite of that, I’m going to do my best to be fair in reviewing this book.

In a chapter entitled, “I Bitch-Slap Bernie Goldberg”, Al Franken satirizes Bernie Goldberg’s book about liberal bias in the American media (a frequent refrain of the American Right). Franken comes up with an interesting analogy: “I’ll admit that, from among the hundreds of thousands of hours of broadcast news over the last three decades, Bernie is able to cobble together a few instances of liberally slanted reporting. But even when Goldberg seems to ahve a point, it feels just the teensiest bit selective. It’s like accusing a library of having a murder mystery bias after only going to the murder mystery shelf.” The same analogy could well be applied to Franken himself. He ignores any intelligent voices on the American right, and only writes about the idiots, such as Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly. And of these idiots, he only quotes them when they say something stupid. Franken’s targets certainly give him no lack of material to work with, and they undoubtedly deserve the satirizing he gives them. But the reader is left with the impression that the entire American right is represented by the quotes in Franken’s book.

In reality, even Spinsanity, the source for much of Franken’s critiques against Ann Coulter, acknowledges that, “If readers can leave aside all of [Coulter’s fabrications] (admittedly not an easy task), Coulter is actually driving at something important about the state of political debate in the media.” But Coulter isn’t quoted in Franken’s book when she is telling the truth, only when he catches her lying.

But at this point we can come full circle because Franken is not a serious political commentator, but rather a comedian. If you want a serious discussion of the state of the American right wing, you won’t find it here. But if you are looking for a really funny satire of some of the less intelligent rhetoric of the American right, I recommend this book.

And, although I’m sure the right has no monopoly on dishonesty, it is amazing the number of lies Franken catches these guys making. I’ll certainly never listen to any political commentator in the same way again. Even President Bush (or perhaps especially President Bush) is caught telling several lies in Franken’s book.

Although this book is about American politics, the fact that it has become a best seller in Britian indicates that you don’t necessarily have to be an American to enjoy it. Also of interest is Al Franken’s previous book, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot,” a satire of the infamous right wing radio commentator. Although somewhat dated now, this book is also a good read and available in the Oita Prefectural library.

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