Emperor of America | Critical Review by Carolyn See

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Emperor of America.
This section contains 766 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Carolyn See

SOURCE: "Words—and Satire—Fail in Novel," in Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1990, p. E5.

In the following review, See faults Emperor of America for its lack of genuine satire, claiming the novel "is funny as a crutch."

The time is 1990; the place, America. The international situation is, as usual, exciting.

Col. Caesare Appleton has succeeded in bravely fighting back another bloodthirsty wave of Sandinistas, this time in southern Portugal. Those pesky Nicaraguans in 1980 had only a population of 3 million people. But by "practicing advanced breeding techniques, they had been able to swell to 21 million by CIA estimate, almost all of them fierce males who wanted to invade and occupy the United States, rape the flower of American womanhood, desecrate the Flag, and ban the Pledge of Allegiance from all American schoolrooms, while making it a part of martial law that all women have abortions, regardless of race, creed or color."

So … Col. Appleton, hereinafter referred to as Chay, has become a great American military hero. Our former President, Ronald (The Great Waver) Reagan, and his lovely wife, Nancy, have instilled so many royalist yearnings in our vast population that scarcely anyone notices when Chay's brother-in-law, a corporate-wizard, Donald Trump kind of guy, more or less absentmindedly blows up Washington, D.C., with one well-placed nuclear weapon, builds a "Pink House" out in Southern California to replace the White House in our former capital, and installs Chay and his wife as Emperor of America and his consort—both part of a handsome puppet-couple, tools of a capitalist consortium, and the logical human sequels to our fabled Reagan Legacy.

Why is Chay such a vacant, lobotomized jerk? Richard Condon, whose earlier works include The Manchurian Candidate and other masterpieces about the effects of brainwashing on various luckless individuals, takes the position that Col. Caesare Appleton has become the militaristic moron he is because his mother, a venal, vicious, venomous mom who comes straight out of Philip Wylie's Generation of Vipers, sent her son away to military school when he was only 5, forever depriving him of the consolations of female company and making him a patsy for whatever woman comes along in his adult life.

(Thus, Chay's corporate-king brother-in-law can control him by means of women, which makes for some pretty tasteless and heavy-handed satire—not quotable in a family newspaper.)

So it's hard to tell what or whom the author hates most here—smothering mothers, Corporate America, former President Reagan or the total overall degeneration of American civilization.

For instance: "Television, of course, is everything. Pictures, and their seldom-relating commentary, crowd out thought. With television paving his way, Napoleon could have taken Moscow. Hitler could have had a Hollywood contract. With television, the French Revolution need never have happened. Marie Antoinette would have chatted glamorously on the 10 highest-rated talk shows. Cake would be in. Bread would be out. After all, we have only to look at Reagan." So says one of Chay's scheming lady friends, part of the devilish plot to place this creation on the throne of the United States.

But Emperor of America runs into trouble. It's more than a little difficult to satirize modern American life, for one thing. When Chay decides to invade Nantucket Island to continue the war with the Sandinistas, and the author reports that "the 70,000-man combined U.S. Task Force easily overcame the 679-man Nicaraguan labor battalion," it's just not funny, somehow, not after Operation Just Cause. This kind of military operation is what America does to spend time these days.

It is funny, maybe, but funny as a crutch. When Condon goes on to write, "In the popular imagination, over the 13 years since Ronald Reagan had invented it and Col. North had made it famous throughout Iran, Nicaragua had become a gigantic country, about the size of China, having a population of nearly 22 million people, all bloodthirsty fighters and dangerous Communists," he's not only failing at satire (since he says no more than the unadorned truth) but he's being repetitive (see earlier quote).

A little desperately, Condon falls back on other things to satirize: All those grasping ladies, and the fact that in northern Australia, in every plane that lands, the passengers are sprayed with pesticide. Again, that's not satire—it's no more than the truth.

Emperor of America finally does no more than illustrate why Reagan really was the "Teflon" President: In the eyes of his supporters, he could do no wrong. To his detractors, his action became almost literally unspeakable, far beyond the reach of any satire.

In Condon's case, the worst thing that can happen to a writer occurred. Words failed him.

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This section contains 766 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Carolyn See
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