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The Alphabet of Modern Annoyances

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Neil Steinberg

Steinberg, a reporter for the Chicago-Sun Times, takes aim here at 26 of his pet peeves ranging from advertising to zealot. Along the way he skewers such past or present personalities as Elvis and Oprah, firms such as Disney and McDonald's and bugaboos … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Cafe Libri
Author: Neil Steinberg
Publisher: Doubleday
1 review about The Alphabet of Modern Annoyances

Entertain, scabrious look at modern life

  • Sep 3, 2000
Neil Steinberg is annoyed. Not irritated, bothered, vexed or harassed. He's angry, in the same fashion as Mark Twain, who wrote the following: "I don't ever seem to be in a good enough humor with anything to satirize it; no, I want to stand up before it & curse it, & foam at the mouth -- or take a club and pound it to rags & pulp."

Fortunately for his book, "The Alphabet of Modern Annoyances," Steinberg doesn't take a club to politicians, the workplace, victims, Disney and Elvis. What he does do is line them up, in alphabetic order, no less, and bash at each of them for a couple of pages -- short, measured doses of hilarity mixed with fact -- before moving on to the next target. In the court of law, Steinberg would be convicted of drive-by satirizing.

And yet, Steinberg indulges in the non-humorist's attribute of fairness. Almost all his essays have that quality of giving his target an even break. Although always disliking Disney in general ("Disneyland seems like hell to me, the Hieronymus Bosch "Garden of Earthly Delights" version, with weird creatures and tortured denizens scrabbling over each other trying to find a way out."), he's not satisfied with leaving it there. He forces himself to articulate his passionate hatred of all things Disneyfied: its blandness, its desire to take our basic cultural heritage and drain them of the things that make them interesting in the first place to make them most appealing to the widest possible audience.

Even that, to Steinberg, is not enough. "We live in a world of bland smarm. Disney is no worse than -- I don't know, "Hello Kitty," or "Polly Pocket," or "My Little Pony," or any of those warm fuzzies designed to pick the pockets of the young."

He even looks to the left-wing Disney critics, and finds them more abhorrent than the object of their criticism.

Finally, Steinberg zeroes in on the undercurrent of totalitarianism that underlies the Disney "experience." The theme parks have taken the idea behind mass entertainment -- the letting loose of strictures, the temporary rebellion against society's constraints, and perverted it into something that's more constrained, more limited than real-life. "The implication is that our society has decayed so much that people will fly to Florida and pay $33 to walk down a main street that isn't cluttered with crack vials and dozing junkies."

(Maybe, but another thought came to mind as I was writing this. Perhaps we live in a society where the mockery of cultural values has become an everyday occurrence, not something performed the week before Lent. We have corporate honchos who crow about the number of loyal employees they've axed, pop stars acting as poster children of sluttery, professional athletes caught with prostitutes and drugs and awarded with multi-million dollar contracts, and painters, sculptures, "performance artists" and architects to whom craftsmanship and beauty are as taboo to them as revealing how much you make in a year is to anyone else. Is it any wonder that people willingly shell out the bucks to experience a society that not only is rigidly controlled, but dedicated solely to entertaining the people who pay its bills?)

Steinberg's alphabet is a catalog of cultural misdeeds that's compulsive to read and to read out loud. By revealing Oprah as the smarm-queen she is, UFO buffs for the ill-educated louts they are, and invasive, insensitive TV journalists for the vultures they have become, Neil Steinberg has performed a public service that's as funny and it is true. After the fall of the American civilization, one hopes that his book will be found among the rubble to show that not everyone fell for the cultural bottom-line.

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