Page 20


a new spin on this old tale with his insistence that our travails in Iraq and our slow slide toward blind bellicosity are problems of imagination and storytelling. Leave it to a writer to reduce such a convoluted mess to something as simple as poor writing, but he has a point. “Megaphone Guy is a storyteller,” he writes, “but his stories are not so good.” Saunders argues that “the best stories proceed from a mysterious truthseeking impulse … they are complex and baffling and ambiguous … they make us more humble, causing us to empathize with people we don’t know.” Our modern American media, on the other hand, aren’t interested in empathy or ambiguity, because empathy and ambiguity don’t sell ad space. The best way to get people to buy is to scare them into buying, and the best way to do that is to be as loud, as repetitive, and as alarming as possible, truth be damned. “Our venture in Iraq?” Saunders continues, “was a literary failure,” and the only way to make it right is by literary means. If American politics is suffering from a paucity of imagination, then “[e]very well-thought-out rebuttal to dogma, every scrap of intelligent logic, every absurdist reduction of some bullying stance is the antidote?’ In other words, books like The Braindead Megaphone are the answer. What a brilliant conceit: The world is on the fritz; you hold in your hands the corrective. One can’t help but admire that kind of confidence. Saunders backs up his claim with intelligence, wit, and most importantly, heart. The best writing comes in the book’s lengthy travel essays. His approach, not only to writing about places he visits but to moving around in themhow he sees themis one of generosity that puts the lie to an American foreign policy that prides itself on ignorance, motivating the populace through anxiety and mistrust. In Dubai, “The New Mecca,” Saunders finds, amidst the skyscrapers, theme parks, and seven-star hotels, a thousand tiny pockets of human diversity and tolerance. He talks to an Iranian cabdriver who espouses the philosophy of human sameness; he gets a lesson in the new global economy from an Indian stair-washer; he goes to Arabian Ice City, where kids play in man-made snow while their parents, dressed in traditional Arab clothing, videotape their adventure. He experiences the lives of “others” and finds them the same as the lives of those he knows back home in megaphoneland: same concerns, same loves, same fears. Watching those desert-reared kids cheerily packing their first snowballs, he thinks, “If everybody in America could see this, our foreign policy would change?’ In his other travel essays, one in Nepal, the other along the border between Mexico and the United States, Saunders notices repeatedly these “universal human lawsneed, love for the beloved, fear, hunger, principle …” that transcend geography and politics. “What a powerful thing to know,” he writes, “that one’s own desires are mappable onto strangers.” True, he mocks the anti-immigrant Minutemen doing reconnaissance on a South Texas ranch, but even in them he sees a certain common human desire for a small, uncomplicated piece of the world. The Buddha boy in Nepal, who sat in a state of constant meditation for more than six months, Saunders asserts, is really no different from himself, aside STATEMENT OF OWNERSHIP, MANAGEMENT AND CIRCULATION. biweekly, except during January and August when there is a 4 week break between McCann; Executive Editor, Jake Bernstein; Managing Editor, David Pasztor. Owner: The Texas Democracy Foundation, 307 W. 7th St., Austin, TX 78701. 15. Extent and Lara George Tucker, Circulation Manager, 9/25/07. GROWNUP GIFTS FOR KIDS OF ALL AGES AUSTIN NEW STORE NORTH SOUTH RESEARCH E. RIVERSIDE STASSNEY 832-8544 443-2292 502-9323 441-5555 707-9069 SAN ANTONIO NEW STORE I!! EAST MILITARY CENTRAL WEST SAN MARCOS 654-8536 333-3043 822-7767 521-5213 2-4596 OCTOBER 19, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27