Friday, July 20, 2012

Mandy's Book Blogger Club: Discussion Post #1 for America, You Sexy B**** by Michael Ian Black & Meghan McCain

I am thrilled to be participating in Mandy's Book Blogger Club, the brainchild of Mandy at the Well-Read Wife. A couple of  months ago, Mandy held a Michael Ian Black Week on her blog, in which she read and reviewed all of comedian Black's previous titles. His latest effort is a partnership between himself and Meghan McCain. Mandy feels so strongly about Black and this book that she purchased 50 copies of the book and distributed them on her own to bloggers who wanted to participate. That's right -- no sponsors! So a huge thank you to Mandy for inventing the Book Club, funding it, and allowing me to participate!

I will be reviewing America, You Sexy B****the book that resulted from their journey on a month-long cross-country trek to find out how real people in America feel about the state of our nation, later in August. Until then, I'll be posting on some Fridays using Mandy's Discussion Post questions to respond to the book and explore my feelings about it.

[Note: The stars in the title are my own; the authors opted to use the actual word in their book title. I'm toning it down because I think of my blog as friendly to all -- including those who prefer their reading without cursing. From here on out, I'll refer to the book as simply America.. My opinion is that the title should have been a different one, if only for audience purposes. The aim of the book is a good one (see the below paragraph), and I'm afraid there will be people who will dismiss it based on title alone.]

Politics are doubtlessly one of America's "hot topics." You know what they say -- avoid discussions of religion and politics in polite company. It seems that this credo has led us to our current political state: a strongly divided-down-party-lines country, where any discussion results in an argument. One of the aims of the book was to encourage civil discussions between those whose opinions differ, (hopefully) resulting in a little more understanding and a little less tension. If your Facebook friends are anything like mine, I'm sure you've seen this tension played out in comments and posts. It can get downright ugly, with name-calling and mud-slinging rather than honest discussion. We all have a right to our opinions, as we have a right to disagree with others. But can't we be a little more civil about it?

You don't have to be a book blogger or a participant in Mandy's Book Blogger Club to take part in the discussions. Click over to the Well-Read Wife and Mandy's first discussion question post to answer on your own in the comment section. You can also follow the discussion answer the questions on Twitter using the hashtag #MBBCWRW.

The following questions cover pages 1-31 in the book:

1. On page 1 Michael says he feels like America as a nation has lost sight of our “mission statement.” What do you think America’s mission statement should be? Try your hand at writing one!

I would love to believe in the American dream, and in what I believe used to be America's mission statement -- a place where hard work will result in good fortune. Sadly, I'm not sure that's true anymore. When super-wealthy citizens claim that their fortune came from "hard work," I have to disagree -- after all, I doubt they ever worked harder than those breaking their backs doing fieldwork or scrubbing toilets each day. But for them, something clicked. That's not just hard work. It's hard work mixed with lucking into the right circumstances (for more on this, read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers). It could also be a result of their paying slave wages to the people who worked hard for them, and taking home more for themselves.

And is that the American dream, anyway? I think most Americans would simply like to live their lives comfortably and in relative peace. This means that they have a way to earn money which allows them to eat foods they enjoy, buy gas to drive where they need and want to go, and pay their bills on time. Unfortunately, these (seemingly) simple goals are a daily struggle for some and downright impossible for others -- even among those who "work hard." I don't know that we've lost our mission statement so much as we've made it impossible for regular Americans to achieve the goals set forth in our mission statement.

2. Michael’s Crocs? Hot or not?

What an excellent question! I don't own a pair of regular Crocs, but I do have a leopard print pair of Croc slingbacks and a herringbone print in a ballet flat. I don't wear them often (they kind of make my feet sweat), but when I do, I think they're cute enough -- not to mention comfortable, foot-sweating aside. My dad wears RealTree camouflage Crocs, as well as some with leather tops. If he's happy, I'm happy. And my nephew is absolutely adorable in his dinosaur Crocs. So, with all that being said... I believe there is a time and a place for Crocs. Should Michael have brought a change of shoes for meeting the McCain family? Probably.

3. Were you surprised that the McCain’s Sedona cabins were what many would consider modest?

I suppose I would like to judge the supposed modesty of the cabins for myself. Did it sound like, from the descriptions in the book, they were super-fancy designer cabins? No. Would most Americans consider owning a group of several cabins (note the pluralized version of the word) "modest"? No. Most Americans don't own a single vacation home of their own, much less a compound -- no matter how not-at-all-fancy said cabins were.

4. On guns: Meghan says on pg. 18 “One of the things I was most surprised about when I first moved to New York City was the strange and almost visceral anger a lot of East Coast people have towards both guns and the protection of Second Amendment Rights.” Meghan also says on (page 19) she feels like more restrictions should be placed on just who is able to obtains certain types of firearms. Michael says on page 20, “It seems that we’re more selective about who gets a LinkedIn invitation than we are about the people we let buy firearms.” How do you feel the topic of gun control was handled in the book? How do you feel about guns and gun control in general? Have you ever fired a “zombie killer”?

As for the book, I felt that they both made their points. I'm not sure either listened to the other, although Michael did shoot a gun, showing that he isn't entirely anti-gun. As for myself, I am torn. On one hand, I live in Tennessee, and many of my family members and friends enjoy hunting. That being said, I also know more than one person who has been wounded or killed by a gun -- during an innocent activity such as hunting. Are guns dangerous? Of course they are. Should anyone who wants one be allowed to have one? Absolutely not. 

I'm reading Alafair Burke's first Ellie Hatcher series novel right now, and a ballistics expert in the book mentions something interesting. She says that every gun manufactured in the U.S. could technically have ballistics testing done before purchase. These test results would be entered into a database that law enforcement officers could search when a bullet is found at a crime scene. This sounds infinitely reasonable to me. Before a gun is sold, it undergoes ballistics testing so that if it is ever used during a crime, it can be traced immediately. This hasn't been done, the character laments, because anti-gun control people would have a fit. I see this as an enormous problem. Should people be allowed to hunt? Sure, if they do so safely. Should the government be able to trace guns used in crimes? Absolutely. So I suppose I am not entirely anti-guns, but I am definitely pro-gun control.

5. How do you feel about the disagreement Meghan and Michael have in the bar on the fourth of July? “Freedom Doesn’t Come Free” – Trite or Right?

I think they are both 100% correct. Freedom does not come free -- about that Meghan is right. Members of her family have experienced real-life circumstances that reflect the truth of this statement, not the least of whom is her father, Senator John McCain. American soldiers have died or given their time and effort toward keeping the rest of us safe and free. Every American should acknowledge this and be grateful that this is true.

But I think Michael is also right when he feels the saying is trite -- it's too simple. It wraps up a complicated circumstance into a simplistic statement. Because it is a topic so close to her heart, Meghan seems unable to separate people's feelings for war and their feelings for the military. In my mind, the two do not go hand in hand. I believe we can be enormously proud of our military men and women, want nothing but the best for them, yet also believe some military decisions our country has made were in error. In fact, I might just argue that the very reason many people were against the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan was because they love and respect members of the military. They didn't want our military members losing their lives for wars that they deem unnecessary.

Keep checking back for more discussion questions relating to America and politics in general. Feel free to comment below, if you can do it with civility. I don't mind at all if you disagree with me or with another commenter, but if things get nasty, understand that I may delete posts that contain gratuitous name-calling or other things in poor taste.

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