April 5, 2005

Back in Black

Print More

After reviewing Lewis Black’s Nothing Sacred I can with confidence say that I do not like books on tape. Except, this wasn’t a book on tape, it was a book on CD. Do we now abandon the term we’ve known and held so dear for so long, or do we move along with the changing times and call it a book on CD? Book on CD just doesn’t sound right to me.

Despite my inability to grapple with these simple scruples, I enjoyed Lewis Black’s Nothing Sacred on tape — no, CD (um wait …) I think Black’s weekly segment on The Daily Show is hilarious, and I always try to catch it when I’m back home. Black has boundless rage and energy, as he continues to rag on every misfortune of society week after week. He does so at a fevered pitch, frantically waving his finger in the camera lens while shaking his head like a bobble head doll, rarely stopping to take a breath and looking like he’s on the verge of collapse. Watching him I sometimes wonder if he’ll ever keel over with a heart attack. But then I realize that maybe he feels like I do every now and then, like you have to scream at the top of your voice at the sheer absurdity of it all. Otherwise you’d probably go insane. As Black says in “Nothing Sacred” this could have happened if he hadn’t stumbled upon humor in high school to deal with a once sterile and tranquil world crashing right before his eyes.

Black grew up in the 50’s in white suburbia right outside of DC, and describes his early childhood life as bland and insignificant. On race relations, he imagines that his community must have been what South Africa during apartheid was like, as the only color variation he saw in his early life was in the form of the African Americans that came to cook and clean house. You can’t blame him, this was the reality he lived, which is quite sobering when you realize that this was only a generation removed.

There were a few moments that tarnished his picturesque childhood: his father was unable to get an engineering job at a commercial firm because of anti-semitism, and was forced to work for the government, manufacturing sea mines. The assassination of JFK was all too surreal, but that was it.

That is until he read the Geneva accords, the U.S. government’s attempts at justifying the Vietnam War, a document Black is sure that Pres. Lyndon Johnson never read.

Black looked at the Cold War and atomic bomb scare much like many of us now look at the war in Iraq. “Just duck and cover and you’ll survive the blast? If the bomb were to drop the hell with everything!” Black wasn’t fooled by grownups telling him to duck under a piece of wood that would miraculously shield him from the radiation of an atomic bomb during drills in his elementary school, and he sure as hell isn’t fooled today. In fact, it was during such a drill that he began to “regard authority with a jaded eye,” never accepting orders and government rationale at face value.

On more current issues, Black tackles all of the institutions we hold sacred in this country, nothing is safe as I suppose the book’s title will suggest. From Halloween and candy corn, to the “under god” phrase in the pledge of allegiance and different Judeo-Christian sects, a little bit of everything feels the wrath of Black. It is a bit unnerving when, referring to the escalation of youth violence in America, the smart aleck who has answers to everything, in earnest is absolutely dumbfounded as to what changed in society to produce such violence. “We really need to train parents,” he huffs, and you realize that he might just feel as helpless and aghast by the situation as the rest of us.

Black, well into his fifties, still views the world and its seemingly cyclical violence and suffering in the name of things like religion and ‘conviction’ with guarded optimism along with his unrelenting critic’s eye. He looks to those who grew up in the same era and notes that some of them are now “joyless snots”: “Where does the stick come from?” he asks, “Why don’t I have a stick?” And he realizes that this is not because of politics or background but because of the way he views the world, which has remained unchanged, he writes, since his early twenties. The inescapable mess we find ourselves in has caused him to view life with cynicism but also gratitude and through a thoughtful and introspective lens. “Was their something wrong with me that if they said get on board, I would rather drown?” No there wasn’t, and I hope we never lose that.

Archived article by Sophia Asare
Sun Staff Writer