Laughs Across America

American Road
Source: Say Cheeeeeese, Wikimedia Commons

Filmmaker John Waters has made a career as the Prince of Perversion; however, I have always found his movies rather wholesome in their own way. Unfortunately, investment in independent directors like Waters has gone the way of the real estate boom. This means that Waters has had to come up with other ways of funding his films.

Role Models (2010) is a biography in which Waters interviews both the famous and obscure people who influenced him, from the owner of the scariest bar in Baltimore to Johnny Mathis.

My focus at this point is on Carsick, in which Waters first imagines hitchhiking from Baltimore to San Francisco and then chronicles the actual experience. The book is divided into three parts: "The Best That Could Happen," which includes a highly unorthodox librarian; "The Worst That Could Happen," in which the Catholics are right; and "The Real Thing," in which the rubber meets the road. As entertaining as the two novellas are, reality is where the truly unexpected happens. Waters finds the people of America to be exceptionally decent, with a minister's wife who gives religion a good name (high praise from atheist Waters), a kind, young Republican who picks him up twice and the band Here We Go Magic, among others. What really stands out to Waters, however, is that all the men hold their wives in high esteem. Without fail, they praise them to the skies, especially if the wives are not present.  At the end, Waters promises that he will never stand to hear of Middle America as "flyover country" again.

While not exactly a road trip, Dan Savage's Skipping Toward Gomorrah does travel all over the country visiting people who give pundits from the Moral Majority aneurysms. Using the seven deadly sins as his guide, Savage, who among other things writes a sex advice column, points out that we probably are friends with, work with or are related nearly and dearly to any number of people the Religious Right would like put out of the country. The conclusion to the book is Savage's attempt to commit all the sins mentioned. I read the chapter on Sloth aloud to one of my graduate school classes and we were all weeping with laughter. The next time some narrow-minded person tries to rain on your parade, pick up this book and peruse a chapter.

Dan Baum got turned on to guns at an early age, a result of being (like Dan Savage) a crack shot. He also admires their engineering and mechanical efficiency while being a northern New Jersey Democrat. In Gun Guys, Baum road trips it through America to figure out why people love their guns so much and if some middle ground on the Second Amendment can be established. Among others, he meets a Hollywood armorer, a gun maker emotionally devastated by the passage of Obamacare, and a man who got interested in real guns after firing fake ones in computer games. Baum also recalls the murder of a friend from gun violence. While it may not change one's mind on the gun-control debate, it is a thoughtful and humorous piece of journalism.