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, 1″-A, g BOOKS & THE CULTURE Elements of Style BY JOSH ROSENBLATT The Braindead Megaphone Essays By George Saunders Riverhead 272 pages, $14 hat’s striking about The Braindead Megaphone, George Saunders’ first foray into nonfiction after a decade of best-selling short-story collections and novellas, is how different in tone and intent it is from his fiction. The issues of concern are the sameconsumerism, societal alienation, failures to communicate but the approach is upside-down. His stories tend toward the cynical, even despairing, side of the human scale. The essays in The Braindead Megaphone are full of optimism and prescriptions for better living. Not self-help, but humanity-help: keys to getting on better in the world by getting on better with others. It’s as if he’s seeking to remedy the alienation and self-doubt he can’t help writing into his fiction. The Braindead Megaphone begins with a long, eponymous essay, in which Saunders draws a metaphorical parallel between a vast, intrusive amplification system spouting uncritical nonsense, and modern American news media. News broadcasters, in their race to become ever more stimulating so as to pump up profits, have abandoned their responsibilities to the public interest, and embraced instead a “corporate model:’ The result, Saunders writes, is that voices designed to inform the country have “become bottom-dwelling, shrill, incurious, ranting, and agenda-driven. It strives to antagonize us, make us feel anxious, ineffective, and alone.” The run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 was perhaps the most glaring demonstration of how the media use rousing slogans and catchy graphics to inspire us to the least sophisticated, most antagonistic, view of the world. Saunders approaches this phenomenon with a satirical touch, which, by this point, is the only reasonable one to use. “Countdown to Slapdown in the Desert!” he imagines the megaphone spouting, as if war were a pay-per-view wrestling event. “Twilight for the Evil One: America Comes Calling!” This is not a new argument. For years, everyone from tenured media-studies professors to Jon Stewart has criticized corporate media for condemning us to a purgatory of willful ignorance and self-imposed fear. Saunders puts 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 19, 2007