Thursday, Jul. 03, 2008

An Atlas That Shrugs

I suspect that many people will be reading political books this summer as the presidential campaign heats up. So to keep myself informed on at least the foreign policy aspects of this national debate, I'm taking to the beach Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of the Planet Earth, Seventy-Third Edition. There are many good atlases published each year, but this one promises "Fewer Clouds on the Maps; Curvier Latitude Lines; Bono-Awareness Rating for Each Nation; and 30% More Asia." The guilty aspect of reading this book (especially in public) is that it's hilariously xenophobic, politically incorrect and equally insulting to all nations, religions and cultures. A typical entry, for Democratic Republic of Congo: "Like a zoo you get killed at." Or how about Argentina: "A beautiful Nazi retirement community"? What one can learn from the atlas, I'm not sure — I'm only up to Poland, which instructs me to "Rotate Page 360 Degrees to Read." The editors and contributors must have had fun writing these entries, delving into the dark recesses of their memories to unleash every prejudice, stereotype and national insult they've been suppressing since high school. Maybe it was cathartic. It's all very clever, and I'm certain some countries were a challenge. How do you make fun of the Vatican, for instance? Well, by calling it "the Catholic Disneyland, admission $12, boys under 12 free." As a good Catholic, I found that offensive. And yet I laughed, and felt really guilty about it. So after Labor Day, maybe I'll go to confession. Or maybe I won't. How do I explain that I read the whole book cover to cover?

DeMille's next book, The Gate House, will be out in October