As the Christmas holiday quickly approaches, I realize that my time to blog this holiday season is quickly dwindling. I blame my power cord breaking and moving back home for a week, plus the additional of stress of working at a bookstore during the insane holiday shopping season. Whatever the reasons, it’s time to finally give my readers an overview of what I’ve been reading.
First, there was Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. I was excited to read Nickel and Dimed, not only because I’d heard so much about it, but because the subject matter interests me dearly. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a bleeding heart liberal, touched by the plight of the nation’s impoverished. Of course, like a lot of educated liberals, I feel ashamedly impotent when it comes to fixing this problem, and so express my desire to change the world by electing Democrats. I also like to read books about what I perceive as “societal problems,” and so flock to books like Ehrenreich’s to stir up some righteous anger.
But all self-deprecation aside, Nickel and Dimed does a fine job of attracting attention to the problems besetting America’s working poor, and justly deserves all the praise it’s received over the years. Of course, Ehrenreich’s assesments on the American economy and workforce are a little outdated by now. Ehrenreich lived as a lower-class working woman in 1998 (as a waitress, a maid and a Wal-Mart employee), when the economy was up and employers were allegedly hiring right and left. Nowadays, the working classes (and probably a few in the educated classes) would kill for a full-time job at Wal-Mart, even if they do treat you like crap.
But the problems facing this lowest, most invisible of America’s social classes are still the same now as they were 10 years ago. Ehrenreich’s work is still as insightful and perceptive as ever; these people face very real problems as they search for affordable living conditions, try to feed their family, keep themselves (moderately) healthy and hold onto whatever dignity they can at jobs where they are frequently degraded or treated as criminals. I was aware of many of these problems already, but a few things geniunely surprised me. I was, for one, ignorant of the fact that many lower-class members of the working class are forced to live in seedy motels while they try to find affordable housing. Many of these places are cramped, filthy, infested with mold and easily suspectible to crime. In response to one of our favorite stereotypes of the poor, it’s no wonder so many turn to junk food and drive-thrus when these living arrangements lack even a simple hotplate. Being from a rural area, I had grown accustomed to the lower-classes turning to relatives in times of need–creating the image of the multi-generational family overruning the trailer park. What I didn’t realize was that a trailer park is a luxury for most of these people, and now I know why that seedy motel up the road has always stayed in business.
But what touched me the most about Ehrenreich’s story was how invisible the lower classes are to the middle class (I can’t even begin to speak about what the wealthy don’t see). Ehrenreich points out that since these people are off welfare (and therefore not a hot political topic) and aren’t revolting in the streets, we assume that they’ve found a way to make their socio-economic status “work” for them. They get by, day after day, so who are we to intervene in their lives? Plus, in any wealthy society, there has to be a lower class to do all the dirty work. They live in a different world, but they get by. Not our problem, right? Wrong. Ehrenreich points out how every day is a struggle for these people–every day is hell. Every day they are flirting with homelessness, or starvation or the possibility they may not be able to feed their children. Every day, they are fighting for their lives. With their relatively harmless office jobs, the middle class can’t even begin to imagine what this is like. And yet, it is absolutely crucial they do if anything is to be done.
After this mildly depressing reading experience, I was ready for something completely different. So I picked up Captain Freedom: A Superhero’s Quest for Truth, Justice and the Celebrity He So Richly Deserves by G. Xavier Robillard. Now, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, other than the cover’s claim that the book was supposed to be funny. I also saw Robillard was a comic writer with a history at McSweeney’s, but comedy is so subjective and I wasn’t going to assume anything. Then, I started reading.
Captain Freedom follows the life of Captain Freedom, a superhero who’s recently been kicked out of Gotham Comix after his superhero’ing career goes downhill. As he tells us his life story in an attempt to figure out what went wrong, we are brought to a world where superheros exist to save the world, but only if they can get clearance by the UN not to mention ink a movie deal with Hollywood. I mean, even a superhero’s gotta eat, right? Captain Freedom, and his sidekick DJ (who goes to graduate school for turntablism), goes to therapy, dates his assasin girlfriend from high school and even tries writing a children’s book in his attempt to regain the celebrity he once enjoyed as protector of the free world.
Now, there’s not much more to say about Robillard’s book other than it’s amazing. I come across very few books in my reading that I would reccomend to any and everyone, but Captain Freedom is one of them. It’s entertaining, hilarious, easy to read and a great escape from everyday life. Plus, it’s hard to miss the satire on the whole superhero genre and the cult of celebrity practiced in New York and Hollywood. Not that it’s high-minded satire that clubs you over the head with its significance; no, Robillard has merely given us an excuse to laugh at ourselves. I’ve already given this book to my boyfriend to read, and so you’re just going to have to go out and find a copy for yourselves. Read it; you won’t regret it.