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#15 – Don’t Get Too Comfortable

June 3, 2007

appetite for nightly feasts, those ignorant indians got nothing on me; it’s evolution, babyFrom the very start of Don’t Get Too Comfortable, I was inclined to like David Rakoff – although the first line in the book is “George W. Bush made me want to be an American”, Rakoff goes on to explain that after twenty years as a Canadian living in the US, Bush and his Patriot Act no longer made him feel safe being merely a ‘lawful permanent resident’.  He goes through the arduous naturalization process, passes his citizenship test and is sworn in, only to feel a sense of defeat which he says only a Canadian could understand – “Another one bites the dust.”  He goes on in the book’s opening chapter to describe his experience on Election Day 2004; one remarkably similar to my own except that he was obviously more invested in the outcome.  Suffice to say, I am down with David Rakoff.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable, while not as overtly political throughout as in the prologue, is more an indictment of American culture as a whole.  Well, that’s not quite fair; it’s the worldwide culture of excess that Rakoff is after here, it just so happens that much of that excess takes place in America, or involves Americans.  In his tour of decadence, he works as a cabana boy in Miami Beach, meets plastic surgeons and cryogenicists, and flies the Concorde and Hooters Air back-to-back.  What makes these essays all the more entertaining is Rakoff’s curmudgeonly stance throughout; he describes himself as being anti-fun, not in the sense of being against fun, as anti-violence, but actually being the direct opposite of fun, as anti-matter.

Because of his anti-fun status, throughout Don’t Get Too Comfortable his journalistic impartiality is often just barely covering his simmering disgust, incomprehension, and outright shock at some of his hedonistic subjects.  This makes for great reading, as Rakoff is one of the snarkiest writers I’ve ever seen outside of Television Without Pity, and while it’s even easier to tear up interviewees in print than through Daily Show video editing, it’s still damn funny.  However, Rakoff doesn’t take cheap shots; even in the chapter on gawkers outside the Today show window in New York he’s fair, and only a little condescending.  The only real attacks he gets off on anyone are in his chapter on the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of Republican gay rights activists who are almost universally hated or ignored by the opposing factions they try to bridge, and whom I can’t believe exist outside that one joke on The Simpsons.  Everyone mocked there has it coming, though, for being bigoted, or ignorant, or just politically blind and naïve.

In these essays David Rakoff is not a futurist or social anthropologist, claiming that through our First World greed and self-absorption we’re looking at the dying days of a crumbling empire, or the like.  That’s too obvious; anybody who’s watched The Simple Life can easily draw that conclusion.  He’s just created a well-written, entertaining portrait of the lives of people who have too much and want more, and the ridiculous things that can come about as a result.  Fortunately, these are problems I can’t see myself having to deal with anytime in the near future, and I can  join Rakoff in pointing and laughing from a safe distance.

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