“What steps would you take to prevent the American dream from becoming the American nightmare?” That’s the question Richard S. Sloan poses in his book, “A Novel Approach to the American Dream.” His answer is surprising.
Sloan envisions a table in the elegant and historic Blue Room of the White House, around which he seats thirteen US Presidents, five still living and eight brought back from the dead for a specific purpose. Their charge: to redefine and reawaken the possibilities of the American dream and save the country from the existential crisis created by “the man upstairs” in the Oval Office.
Over the course of the four months allotted them, the presidents review the intentions of the Founding Fathers and then, one by one, they examine one another’s political speeches and writings on the subject of the American dream. Together, they cobble together a manifesto that incorporates their best thoughts, working to put aside their political differences in defense of the country and the Constitution they all pledged to uphold.
The process it not without contention. They are still politicians, after all, even if more than half of them are dead. So they snipe and taunt each other, hurling brickbats (and the occasional kudos) as they dissect and disagree over their colleagues’ words. And they do it all in character. Johnson comes across as folksy and profane; Nixon defensive and easily riled; W an impish wisecracker; Carter a plain-spoken preacher; and Obama eloquent and analytical. Meanwhile, upstairs in the White House (and also in character), Trump rants and fumes and threatens.
Sloan takes us on an edifying and entertaining ride through several generations of American politics, but never loses sight of his (and the presidents’) end goal. “It is not our task to negotiate a perfect replacement for what motivates the American people in their daily lives, moves this nation to great deeds and greater sacrifices, and acts as a beacon for billions who may never set foot on this land,” states Lyndon. “Rather, our task is to find the common ground upon which new dreams can flourish, and the common purpose that can unify the increasingly warring factions in these United States of America.”
Rick Sloan’s career spans five decades and a dozen presidential campaigns, with stints on Capitol Hill as Chief of Staff to Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum and Michigan Congressman John Dingell. He is also the author of “The Gift of Strategy” and “Revenge of America’s Unemployed.”
Now, as we rely more than ever on the essential workers who pick up our trash, deliver our groceries, and pack our pork chops, a timely new book gives these unsung laborers their due. In “The Cinema of the Precariat: The Exploited, Underemployed, and Temp Workers of the World,” Tom Zaniello examines how films have portrayed those who are part of a class called the “precariat,” a portmanteau merging precarious and proletariat.
Evoking more than 300 films—both documentaries and movies—and related visual media, he explores the “invisible” workforce of an insecure “gig” economy, who “may be furloughed or terminated at any time.” He begins in the migrant camps of California with Edward R. Murrow’s seminal documentary, “Harvest of Shame,” and other exposés that have shed light on the plight of field workers. He then moves on to China and its migration from rural areas to factories, where workers are housed in bleak high-rise dormitories so soul-sapping that nets are placed around the lower floors to discourage suicides.
Zaniello devotes a chapter to the special issues that women workers face, and to the scavengers—from Buenos Aires to Flushing, New York—who pick through trash to make ends meet. Especially timely is a section on films about epidemics and catastrophes, where members of the precariat are invariably the victims, with workers dying while “governments are slow to act, even slower to tell the truth, and then rush to take the credit for saving the world.”
From the miners of blood diamonds to cyber-laborers and the virtual workers in video games, Zaniello’s focus remains on the exploited workforce of the world. Film after film, he notes, “demonstrate[s] how necessary it is for all of them to have job security, health protection, and a decent income… and how difficult it has been—and will continue to be—for the precariat to achieve those basic human rights.”
Tom Zaniello is a professor emeritus of Northern Kentucky University, where he taught film and cultural studies, and has been a film programmer for the Hill Center. He is also the author of “California’s Lamson Murder Mystery,” the true story of a Hollywood screen writer wrongly convicted of murder, as well as “Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff: An Expanded Guide to Films about Labor,” and “The Cinema of Globalization.” Find him on Facebook @tzaniello.
Mommy Loses Her Cool
To all the stay-at-home parents struggling to maintain their cool—or to anyone whose pandemic patience is running low—this book is for you.
In “Mommy Didn’t Say THAT…” Allison McGill and co-author Charla Everhart present alternative explanations for those cursed expletives that inadvertently pop out of our mouths in times of stress—and, alas, all too often in the presence of little ears.
“Mommy didn’t say THAT…,” they backpedal after one such outburst. “She said, ‘OH SHEET!’ She forgot to fold the sheets and just realized it.” Silly Mommy.
Nor is Daddy immune from his share of faux pas. He didn’t say THAT, we’re told, as he displays a throbbing thumb that he’s whacked with a hammer. “He said, ‘JAM IT!’ like jam with a guitar.” Never mind that Daddy doesn’t play guitar.
It’s all in good forgiving fun and is delightfully illustrated by John Paul Snead in rich, colorful tones, creative angles, and lots of goofy visual humor, making it an ideal read-aloud book (can you find the duck in the closet?).
But in the end, of course, it’s all about people trying to be their best for the people they love and sometimes not quite measuring up, which is a good lesson in tolerance for all of us in these trying times.
Allison McGill is the founder of Lola & Pear Publishing and the author of “The Adventures of Duke, the Therapy Dog: Duke Finds a Home.” She is donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of “Mommy Didn’t Say THAT…” to Postpartum Support International. www.lolaandpear.com