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June 10, 2008

The Columnist Who Out-Sauced Savage?

On May 31, a dozen or so of my coworkers attended the annual fundraising gala for Burlington's RU12? Community Center. The keynote speaker was Dan Savage, a columnist for the Seattle Stranger who for years has delighted readers — and offended untold minions of Republicans — with his racy rants. I hear he was funny.

(Check out Ken Picard's May 28 Seven Days interview with Savage for some context.)

But Savage isn't the only talented advice columnist whose style could easily offend the ultra-PC and/or weak-of-stomach. Last weekend, I discovered a columnist named the "Optimist. He isn't as sex-focused as Savage, or, for that matter, real. But he does, like the Seattle-ite, have some interesting wisdom to dish — and a penchant for pushing the bounds of good taste.

The Optimist is the protagonist of literary stylist and Syracuse professorist George Saunders' essay/short story, "Ask the Optimist!" I read the piece in Saunders' 2007 book, The Braindead Megaphone, a brilliant and refreshing riff on such topics as mass media, consumerism, Iraq, the American psyche, Kurt Vonnegut and British people.

(One of my favorite aspects of Saunders' style is the way he Capitalizes General Statements so as to imbue them with Extra Meaning.)

Lo and behold, someone created an interpretive video of "Ask the Optimist!" and posted it to the Comedy Central website.

A side note: If you're curious to learn more about Saunders, or his book, check out his October 2007 appearance on the "Colbert Report" (embedded here).

(The Colbert segment, by the way, is extra bizarre, if you consider its meta-cultural implications: A Lefty Satirist (Colbert) invites Another Lefty Satirist (Saunders) and berates him, FOX News-style, about a book whose title piece is a Satire of the Corporate News Media. It's hard to tell what Saunders really thinks of Colbert. He looks a little uncomfortable, I'd say, getting A Taste of His Own Medicine.)

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