Friday, 7 December 2012

Are you suffering from affluenza?

 “The Semplica-Girl Diaries”, by George Saunders
influenza= an illness

affluence= luxurious comfort and wealth

affluenza= unrelenting desire for comfort and wealth that makes people and the planet sick

There are times when I come across a short story so spectacular it makes me wish I were back in the classroom again.  My main source of stories these days is from my subscription to The New Yorker, which comes more often than I can manage.  But there have been some real gems, and “The Semplica-Girl Diaries”, full text here, is one of the best.  This story rings loud and true for this North American.  Our current culture of affluenza, consumerism, exploitation of third world countries, women-- all these themes are smacked in our face by a narrator who unwittingly tells the story of his fragile finances and then spending spree that goes on after a lucky lotto win. 

Saunders vividly establishes his narrator’s earnest desire to "record for posterity" his daily life which is painfully realistic, not to mention pathetic.  He is intimidated by his daughter’s friend’s father, a wealthy surgeon who asks him what he does for a living.  When the narrator replies, the surgeon responds with “Well, huh, amazing the strange, arcane things our culture requires some of us to do, degrading things, things that offer no tangible benefit to anyone, how do they expect people to continue to even hold their heads up?”
The narrator is stuck in a meaningless job earning so little money that the family considers not having a birthday party for their daughter, since their home is too bleak an environment for a kids’ party. 

He records in his newly established diary “Do not really like rich people, as they make us poor people feel dopey and inadequate.  Not that we are poor.  I would say we are middle.  We are very, very lucky. I know that.  But still it is not right that rich people make us middle people feel dopey and inadequate.  Am writing this still drunk and it is getting late and tomorrow is Monday, which means work.  Work, work, work.  Stupid work.  Am so tired of work.  Good night… (next day’s entry) Just reread that last entry and should clarify.  Am not tired of work.  It is a privilege to work.”
Despite this narrator’s being so blind and stupid you want to clunk him one, he is easy enough to identify with.  He is an American “everyman”, and yes I’m including Canadians here.  Who hasn’t bought stuff they can’t afford, don’t need, that harms the environment, that exploits others? 

This story is an example of speculative fiction-- the stuff the narrator buys is metaphorical, yet rings horribly true to the lifestyles of the majority of us.  It’s a funny story but it will make you cringe.  It would be especially great for high school social studies!  If you’re hoping to create some future revolutionaries, this short story could be quite the catalyst! As far as literature therapy goes, everyone would benefit.  Exploiters and exploited alike.   You don't need to buy The New Yorker to read this story, as I have the full text linked here.  But if you're a story reader, or a lover of fabulous articles, a subscription to this magazine would be a real treat!

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