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Spring 2011 | By Adrian Del Caro Professor and Department Head, School of Languages and Cultures. Photo by Mark Simons.

American Freak Show:
The Completely Fabricated Stories of our
New National Treasures

Willie Geist
New York, NY: Hyperion

A lot is riding on this review, since Willie Geist’s father penned a blurb for the book jacket: “I just hope this leads somehow to Willie moving out of the basement.” Here goes.

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! The freaks included in this pithy little volume may not like the designation, and ogling freaks is clearly not politically correct, but it is American and Geist has hauled forth a wonderful magic mirror into which readers will stare with disgust and fascination. This book is not for the faint of heart. There’s an honesty to it that stands in contrast to its absurdly fictional content.

Geist goes after all freaks, minor and major, and he doesn’t pander to anyone — not even to Oprah, who has the power to make or break him with the mere mention of his first book. Within Geist’s universe, the Harvard Theological Review pronounces Oprah to be God, and she candidly endorses the scholarly findings. (If Geist were smart, he would have just kept his mouth shut about Oprah, unless of course she doesn’t get the joke.)

We don’t have to accept Geist’s premise that America has become a freak show, but it calms the bewilderment many of us have had over the years. By elevating ourselves to oglers of freaks we are supposedly distancing ourselves, but is this even possible in an age when entertainment and education are indistinguishable? How does he know so much about freaks anyway? How do we look to the rest of the world? Are we in fact a planet of freaks?

Geist is hilariously clever when satirizing figures such as Tiger Woods (addicted to sex), Sarah Palin (addicted to herself), Hillary and Bill Clinton (a charmingly loving couple), Lindsay Lohan (rather vapid), Cheney living in a bunker beneath the White House and running the country while Obama takes the heat, John Edwards pleading his case before Saint Peter (and losing), and Bernie Madoff being welcomed to hell by Pol Pot.
Adding value to this clever and engaging commentary is bonus apparatus for professors and other boring people: a glossary of hip-hop terms, an index of people Geist wishes were in his book, and a recap of 15-minute hall-of-famers to remind us of how time flies in America.

Like it or not, this is our nation, and Geist has tons of funny and mostly outrageous things to say about it. Get some boxes, Willie, you’re moving out of your father’s basement!

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