Dave Eggers and the Struggle of Satire

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S1: What you’re about to listen to may include some party talk. Then again, it may not. I hope it does, though.

S2: It’s Thursday, January 16th, twenty twenty from Slate’s The Gist. I’m Mike PESCA. Lev Pardners. Should we believe him? Who knows? Just weeks ago, we were deriding him as a thick necked associate of Rudy Giuliani with little to no credibility. And today. Hey, this guy was an associate of Rudy Giuliani. He knows where the bodies are buried. That’s credibility.

S1: But the best use of live Parness, at least for now, is Trump administration and associate bullshit detector. Now, remember, here is what Donald Trump said when asked about Leav Parness and his pit partner and thuggery Igor Furhman conversation you had with Lev, isn’t he?

S3: I don’t know those gentlemen. You hit ours possible. I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody. I have a picture with everybody here. But somebody said there may be a picture or something. We’re at a fundraiser or somewhere. So but I have pictures with everybody. I have. I don’t know if there’s anybody. I don’t have pictures. I don’t know them. I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do.

S4: Now, listen, there might be a picture or a text or a series of jottings from the Ritz Carlton, Vienna, possibly a long interview with Rachel Maddow. Several more pictures. The coordination of a Twitter account from him and my son. And it may be true, some day after even more pictures come out that I will be caught saying something like, Hello, love. As you know, I happen to know you very well. But remember, I. Kid, I’m always kidding. Or if there is no tape, in fact, of this shady, shady operator my lawyer is in business with. You’ve got to ask yourself, why would you listen to a shady, shady operator and who in their right mind would go into business with him? So that’s the presidential part of this. Here is Representative Devin Nunez a few weeks ago using not plausible deniability, but the mispronunciation exemption.

S5: In an interview with Sean HANNITY, I talked to this guy less partners’ or whatever his name is.

S6: You know, it’s possible. But I haven’t gone through all my phone records. I don’t really recall that name.

S7: I remember I will, in fact, place my hand on the Bible, and I will say I demand new. Besse has never heard of Lespinasse.

S1: So help me gob another Fox interview a couple days after that one was conducted, this time by Fox’s version of a straight down the line newsperson, meaning Martha mccollam actually pronounced left parties his name correctly.

S6: I don’t even know because I don’t. I never met Parnas and like I filed in federal court. Yes, but what about Lev. Parness? I have never met Parnas and like I filed in federal court. And so, you know, it’s a great question because many people want to know, including myself.

S1: He himself would be fascinated to learn what, if anything, he talked to left Parness about. Perhaps he’s interested in the answer. The answer is advancing the Ukrainian scheme. That’s what it was. Advancing the Ukrainian scheme, because you know who does remember not have Darvon, Nunez mate left Parnell’s or if how they met. Sorry. But if Devin Nunez met Lev Parness, Lev Parness knows.

S5: Do you know Congressman Devin Nunes? Yes, sir. What’s your relationship with him? We don’t have too much of a relation. We met several times at the Trump photo.

S1: Congressman Nunez, by the way, has since clarified his remarks on Fox from early December. He remembers Lev.. Parness. Oh, that guy. He’s the one I was scheming with to subvert American foreign policy for political gain. Why not just say so on the show today? The spiel has big bongs and big bombs and big button bangs. But first, Dave Eggers is the founder of McSweeney’s, the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. He’s been a finalist for the Pulitzer and won the National Book Award. That goes to outstanding contribution to the literary community. And that was before the National Book Award even knew about his new book. The Captain in the Glory is a short but pungent tale of an ill qualified bore of a con man who takes over a sailing vessel and sails it straight to hell. The captain is surrounded by a retinue of toadies and hangers on. He is cheered by a large mass of passengers who feel dispossessed, and he gets his news from the solicitous whisperings that emerge from a vent in his cabin. Oh, and he has a yellow feather in his hair.

S8: I think there may be some symbolism at work. Dave Eggers up next.

S9: There was a ship called the Glory and as the name connotes, it was a glorious vessel. The Glory had some hangers on when the last captain left. The man who sold trinkets near the Putt-Putt golf course put his hand up and said, I’d like to be the captain. This was a man with a yellow feather in his hair and one hunched over angry look. It drew gasps, but also some laughs. And wouldn’t you know it? That man went on to be the captain of the glory in the process, stealing the glory of most of its glory. This is a new book by Dave Eggers. And I’m going to say that it has some resonances with current events. Dave Eggers is here. Hello, Dave.

S10: Hi. Good to see you. Yeah, after I wrote it, I realized there were parallels to our time.

S11: So I’m going to throw this out there and maybe you don’t want to reveal or give too much. But this is about Berlusconi, right?

S12: You know, reveal as much as you like. But, you know, Berlusconi, he paved the way in a lot of ways.

S13: I mean, I don’t know how many political cues we take from Italy these days, but or ever have. But they are really cast in from the same mold in. Yes. Almost every way, you know, the the use of television, the superficially ridiculous appearance, the just the rampant retrograde sexism that you know, from not even from another era, from just some sort of cartoon version of.

S11: Right. It was quite offensive back in that era, too.

S10: Yeah. Any era. It’s funny. And we are both people that have done as the Italians have done, innumerable great things and maybe the cradle of Western civilization in so many ways. And yet Berlusconi had tremendous support. And, you know, from so many people, just as Trump does now. And it’s I think that that’s always what so bewildering. And I think what he’s trying to get at is just how many reasonable, intellectually nimble people that will throw all of their support behind somebody.

S13: That to the last person who admits is the, you know, the most crude and the most and the tackiest and the most disrespectful of all of our values person that they can find it some.

S14: I mean, three years later, it’s still bewilders me and baffles me, especially every time I meet a Trump voter. I like them so much and we have such good talks. But then and at every Trump rally I go to, there was a 10000 fairly normal people and one ridiculous clown talking to them. That contrast has not gotten any more palatable.

S15: Well, I you know, this was just a guess on my part, but this seemed like a book that might have been more for you than for an audience.

S10: You know, both for sure. It was therapeutic. I was trying. You know, so many ways to deal with the time. And I have, you know, written journalism, donated to this and that cause and showed up at SFO to protest the Muslim ban when that happened. And, you know, you name it, this is just been a very strange and tumultuous time that every day I think there’s a hour or two of utter paralysis that I go through where I cannot decide where to put the day, what how to spend those hours most effectively.

S13: But at some point during all that, I got started on this thinking, well, maybe there’s room for an allegory, a satire to kind of put things in stark enough relief where we see, I don’t know, larger truth that sometimes get obscured to the ludicrousness of everyday.

S9: And just to orient our listeners. So this captain with the yellow feather in his hair, he listens to voices coming through a vent of V.A. which tells him what to do and also plucks up his spirits. He has a fairly capable daughter who has a dead eyed doll as a husband slash play thing. He has a retinue of servants named, you know, fingers. But also Paul the Manafort, Michael the Cohen.

S1: He has he constantly writes on the dry erase board near the cafeteria, writing about his pea dash. And you asked quite often, what else? What are there?

S10: Well, these are just I guess there’s a few parallels. And when you when you really list him out like that, him, I can see how you would interpret this as a comment on the time and the president. You know, I wanted to I mean, it was essential, I think, to set it somewhere else and with it with its own mini universe, like on a ridiculous cruise ship, but full of people that genuinely like and respect each other and their cause, they’re stuck together. You know, thousands of people on a cruise ship have to get along and the people on this ship have gotten along for generations. But, you know, the satire partly comes from that setting and the story is possible. Well, because it’s not in D.C.. And because it’s not every all the rules are a little different. And there are constraints and no one can really leave. Which I think is key. Like you’re on a ship in the middle of the ocean, you are really stuck together.

S11: Right. And it underscores the vulnerability. You know, this isn’t a thing that will take care of itself. A ship could sink. And if the engine crew is jettisoned, it’s not going to go.

S10: Yeah. And of course, he the captain is convinced via the voice and the vent that the ship’s the engine room. Engineers are out to get him, are undermining him. So instead of a deep state, we have the the engine room, which, of course, is so ludicrous in itself. The fact that the sitting president thinks that everyone working for a government is against him and somehow is impeding his goals and the work of the nation, that hundreds of thousands of public servants are all the enemy. There’s never been that theory proposed even in the wildest Reaganesque imaginations. It has never gotten this bad, where government itself is considered suspect and the enemy were their characters in Trump world that you struggled to find analogues to in your in your fiction.

S13: Yeah. Well, I mean, I made up a bunch of people like, you know, Benny the Squeeze and I forget who’s the fingers. There were so many just sort of cartoonish mobster like names. And then, of course, you slip in, Michael the Cohen and and and Paul the Manafort just for fun. But I wrote this and finished it before Giuliani really jumped the rails. And and it would have been fun to sort of write a Giuliani s character. But at the same time, you know, I had to I thought about Melania. How do you, you know, put her in there? But I. There are a lot of people that were just I mean, I had cut, as you always do, I think, with any story. You do have to cut 90 percent of the potential cast out to sort of create something coherent. You really have to limit the cast.

S15: There must be something about the book, because satire mean as the TV day goes on, it starts off earnest and ends in pure irony. And so satire rules the hours from 11:30 on and we become satirical as a culture, although we probably mistake what satire is, there will be something psychological or something having to do with the metabolism of media consumption. That explains exactly what you’re talking about.

S14: Yeah, I think I went back to. It can’t happen here. I hadn’t read this. But, you know, when Trump got elected, that went back onto the bestseller list. And I and I read it and I thought it’s brilliantly done, I think, and totally terrifying and relevant to our time, but also really adherent to its own time. There’s so many so much of it that would have resonated differently in the 30s and 40s. But I thought, you know, that still has a place. And it and it both describes that the fear of the moment and in the 30s and reflects sort of what might creep over from fascist Europe. And then at the same time, it has a weird timelessness. Partly, I think, made possible because by its specificity, you know, it really is deeply American book of its moment, reflecting the sort of our fear of that virus infecting us. And I don’t think at the time he saw it as some book that would last decades or whatever. But I think it’s still really useful to read. And so I don’t know. I I I think George Saunders is maybe the best satirist of our time. You know, he took on the Bush administration a few times way back when and and his sort of sublimated the moment and politics through, you know, parable and allegory. But but. And Jane Smiley has done some great satires. But it really isn’t enough. And I’m not sure why. I don’t think it might go toward, you know, our distrust or maybe lack of respect for the medium.

S15: Also, I think we’ve taken the impulse that you’re talking about and we really do channel it into sci fi, dystopian sci fi, really popular, the horror genre, what is us other than a satire, but but also positing different rules. Right. And so when those genre works, we’re a little more comfortable in it with it. And I get back again to distance. I get back again, too. OK. This is a thought experiment about distance as opposed to, you know, the real confrontational work of satire.

S10: Yeah, I think well, I I like those forms. And I think what Jordan Peele, I hope he continues doing, you know, taking on sublimating culture through horror. I think it’s an absolutely brilliant formula. And I love plot against American. I re-read that in the last year, you know, and I reread catch-22 every year too. And there’s a I think that that’s I mean, I’ve read a lot of World War Two fiction and non-fiction. That’s still by far the best book I think about that war, about any war. And it’s going for cheap slapstick laughs.

S13: Every page, in addition to slipping in and punching you in the gut with, you know, death whore hypocrisy and the uselessness of of armed conflict. But the joking comes from a place of despair, you know, an outrage where so much comedy comes from. And I think, you know, there’s just a week, you know, comedians do it so well and then late night host do it so well. And somehow it just it stops there these days. And I think maybe it’s not considered a serious enough form. And instead, everything, you know, that these sort of sublimated versions of stories have to be dystopian and deadly and dark and filled with existential dread. I think that there’s room there to laugh at how absurd we are here.

S16: My last question. Have you seen the Jom Laynie routine about the horse in a hospital? Because your book reminds me of that one a little.

S13: No. How would I see that? Is that YouTuber?

S15: It is on his last specials. So there’s so many jokes about Trump and some are excellent. But he took it in a different direction, which is to analogize the entire Trump phenomenon as nothing related to anything you could think of, except pretty much of if a horse got loose in a hospital.

S12: I like it. That’s good. Yeah.

S10: No. These corollaries in sort of the more absurd the better. This is you know, this is this is why books exist. Storytelling exists because we can sort of see it in through an entirely different prism.

S13: And sometimes the most ludicrous choral area is the one that sticks with us and kind of helps us here, see something or see the greater truth in it. So I’m glad he did that. I think we need more of it.

S8: Dave Eggers new book, It’s not long, but it packs a very scary wallop. The Captain and the Glory. Good talking to you, Dave. Thanks so much.

S4: And now the schpiel Big Ben noted chime, which people actually think is a world-renowned clock. It’s not. It’s a chime will not be chiming for thee. The Tin-Tin non-Big relation, if you will, you won’t. That’s understandable. Then you will not like this either. Boris Johnson was on the BBC and he was being asked, well, what if Big Ben doesn’t chime for Brexit because they’re repairing Big Ben? It doesn’t look like it’s going to be able to chime in time for Brexit. Bojo raised the prospect of raising funds, but well, here’s how he said it.

S17: People A might have seen the newspaper’s story about the Brexit bong’s break at big banks. You think they should be Bonesmen? Well, the book is called The Bungs Cost £500000. Yes, because it’s very costly. But we’re working up a plan so that people can bunger Bob for being dead long, because there’s there’s some people who want to bunged a bob for a Big Ben Bob.

S4: Now, what this means is give a bribe or just give something. That’s the bung. Pard did not know what that means. Bung a bob.

S1: Bob’s a shilling and you get the Big Ben bong bot there. As of now, is no actual mechanism to achieve the bunging in question. Even if the Brits do the bobbing meaning, Boris Johnson could try to raise some money, but there is no way to ring them bells. The House of Commons commission, which is responsible for the day to day running of parliament, says this plan just won’t work. It’s a slogan. It’s not a plan which, by the way, in America didn’t stop space force. But apparently in the UK they have a cleaner delineation between the imaginary musings of their leaders and actual policy. Okay. So with that set of facts in mind, you can begin to understand the headline that ran in the Daily Mirror. Boris is bonkers bunga bob for Big Ben Brexit bong bid bombs. Indeed it did. But that wasn’t the bomb news that most badly bomb. Not to me anyway. Wasn’t da bomb more like a bombed. Let it get there. Some background. The earth is warming at a troubling rate. At a destructive rate. At an alarming rate. I think we all know this. It is good to fill in the generally true statement with specifics. And so ABC News did so they were among the sources that helpfully conveyed an update from the scientific community.

S18: According to a new report, the last decade was the US warmest on record. Twenty nineteen, the second hottest year ever.

S19: Got it. I understand this is not good. I could totally get my mind around that straightforward presentation of facts sourced to NASA. I am smarter. I am provoked into action.

S18: ABC continued global land temperature is increasing. Scientists say the bushfires part of the dramatic fallout from climate change and rising overall Australia tonight. This phenomenon, the so-called fire clouds spawning dangerous weather conditions fuelling the flames. The battle with the elements goes to the ends of the earth.

S7: Heat levels in the ocean, the highest ever recorded again, elucidating a vivid and appropriate example. Those fire clouds. They get your attention, but they’re not made up. They’re not an exaggeration. They are attributable in large part to rising temperatures and the part about the sea that was factual and straightforward.

S18: But ABC went further melting sea ice at a distressing rate. One study finding the amount of heat being released by climate change equals five Hiroshima explosions per second.

S19: What Hiroshima? The bomb in Hiroshima killed 70000 people instantly, they say vaporized. More accurate say they burned to death in a second. So five of those every second. What does that even mean? Are you saying that there’s going to be 350000 people burned a second or has been OK? They say it’s the ocean.

S16: So maybe we’re not talk about 350000 people. We’re maybe we’re talking about the equivalent of whatever fish equivalent is of 350000 people with that kind of bombs being set off. I get what they’re saying, that the ocean temperatures are rising and setting records. I get that. I get that. They’re the bad kind of records. So I gather. And fire, tornadoes, other crazy but real.

S19: But that wackadoo, Hiroshima’s that it is a size of Belgium of UN helpfulness. I track it down. Here’s what it means. This from a headline in CNN. Lots of other publications ran it. Oceans are warming at the same rate as if 5 Hiroshima bombs were dropped in. Every second dropped in, dropped in the ocean. Wouldn’t that prevent them from detonating? OK.

S16: The article, CNN article second line is a new study released on Monday showed that twenty nineteen was yet another year of record setting ocean warming with water temperatures reaching the highest temperature ever recorded, which is great.

S19: I got it. That was the second line here with the line that preceded it. The world’s oceans are now heating at the same rate as a 5 Hiroshima. Atomic bombs were dropped into the water every second. Scientists have said. I guess scientists say a lot of things, this scientists leaving Chen, who authored the paper, said the ocean’s temperature was zero point zero seventy five degrees Celsius above the 1981 to 2010 average. All right. So it rose that little tiny bit, which isn’t say it’s insignificant. It is significant.

S1: I guess they were concerned that if they just said zero point zero, seven five, you know, the accurate amount, people wouldn’t be freaked out. So they invent I mean, it’s not without some sort of factual basis, I should say. They concoct this Hiroshima bomb example. So how it works out is if you looked at zero point zero seventy five degrees and you divided it by the huge volume of the ocean you’d get or at least this paper’s author got 228 sextillion joules, which of course is a no concept, no one understands. But if you would divide that amount of joules by the amount of joules released by the Hiroshima bomb, you get $3.6 billion Hiroshima explosions and then you divide by the amount of time and you get five fat men or little boys per second, which is of course just no more illuminating than 228 sextillion jewels. And if you wanted to, you can compare it to the amount of explosive force in the Halifax explosion of 1921. And then you could say it’s like 40 of those a second. Or if you wanted to pull back a little, you can compare it to the amount of all explosives used in World War Two. And that would be something like one every 20 seconds. It does not matter. None of this is what you would call an apt comparison. A release of jewels into the water. That is not what actually happened.

S7: Comparing energy to bombs back to ocean temperatures. It’s like translating from French to Flemish to bad to to a VCR to another VCR to Beda taped Flemish. Oh no such. Maloon got in there. What do you get?

S1: You get a rise in ocean temperature, which we understand. And yet we do get it. Your examples are not helping. The difference between ignorance and inaction on climate change and being where we should be, which is real concern, has nothing to do with your analogy about the number of bombs dropped in the ocean. The situation is serious. Your illustration is ridiculous. And I mean that not just about ocean warming, but Brexit also. Although for one, we blame all the humans since the industrial revolution. For the other one, we could blame fifty one point nine percent of UK voters and one Boris Johnson, whose hairbrush is the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs ever. Oh, just stop it.

S8: And that’s it for today’s show. The associate producer of The Gist is Priscilla LRB. Her contribution is the equivalent of if they dropped one baby grand piano onto the back of an elephant already involved in a Dumbo drop every 12 parsecs. Daniel Schrader is the just producer. His contribution is the equivalent of if they dropped one Beyoncé album every Tuesday from now till the end of time. The gist we are the equivalent of if they dropped a country the size of Belgium on to actual Belgium, but they did it sideways so that Antwerp was actually a twin city with Duesseldorf per adepero to Peru being Peru. Bang Peru, boom, Peru. And thanks for listening.