A guide to the humor in Land That I Love. Nobody’s going to get every joke. (We’ll build something similar for Mighty Mighty after it’s published.)
This is in response to Rebel’s email request for me to provide “a list of obscure terms with their meanings” while we were doing the acceptance dance in early September 2009. More to come, as I’m sure I’ve missed a few points. If you have any questions, please post it to the Comments field. If there’s a joke you didn’t get, chances are it sailed past somebody else as well. There are no stupid questions (with the exception of, “Is there a problem, Officer?”).
Spoiler alert: Before you read on, read the book. (Before you read the book, buy the book.)
SAJAK PICKFOUR. George W. Bush, but you figured that out already. I would like to state here that Pickfour is the only character in this political satire literally based on a real politican. I mean, how could I resist? His given name is after Pat Sajak, the likeable but bland and talentless host of “Wheel of Fortune,” America’s most popular game show. “Pick 4” is a state lottery game, suggesting that his distant ancestor was able to afford a ticket to leave earth only after winning a game of chance.
M. GRIFFIN CROUPIER VII. A croupier is, of course, a working person who caters to the rich and reckless. Merv Griffin was an American entertainer and hotelier. That he is “the Seventh” suggests he comes from the ragged end of an effete culture, and gives Pickfour an excuse to saddle him with the unwanted nickname, “Lucky”. (Bush was famous for saddling people with unwanted nicknames.) His husband is known only as Steve; this comes from the American anti-gay chant, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.
CLAUDIA THIERSTEIN. Like all female Domestic characters, her given name comes from a 20th century supermodel (Schiffer). Most Americans won’t get the Thierstein reference, although South Africans might. Teresa Thierstein Ferreira is the Woman Who Would Be First Lady. (I went with her more distinctive matronymic rather than her too-familiar surname.) An Anglo-Swiss-Portuguese Mozzie, she moved to the U.S. shortly after being graduated from Wits. She caught the eye of billionaire John Heinz (the ketchup magnate, yes, I’m serious) whom she helped get elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican (conservative). Senator Heinz, who had presidential aspirations, died in a plane crash leaving Teresa the richest marriageable woman in America. She switched parties to wed Democratic (liberal) Senator John Kerry, who came close to being elected president in 2004.
CODER. A series of clones, all identical. We first encounter him as the “sullen-faced man” in the prologue. Think Buster Keaton, the deadpan comic genius whose 50-year career began in the silent era. When we encounter his clone-brothers as part of the Domestic invasion force, they are all wearing uniforms that include a red tunic. Obviously, wearing red into battle is going to draw fire, so these troopers are considered the most expendable. But the red tunic is also a Star Trek reference; how many times have Kirk, Spock, Bones and Some Guy in a Red Shirt beamed down to a hostile planet? Before the next commercial, you know Bones is going to be bending over Red Shirt’s body intoning, “He’s dead, Jim.” The frequency with which Coder dies is also a nod to a popular adults-only cartoon called South Park in which the character Kenny dies in every episode but is alive again the following week. If you’re not familiar with South Park, you have to see this: http://www.southparkstudios.com/.
REIT DAYTRADER. Represents to military-industrial complex. The Eminent Domain’s military chief is an accountant by trade. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but maybe there’s some Dick Cheney in this guy. “REIT” is an acronym for real estate investment trust, which is a kind of mutual fund that specializes in estates rather than securities. A daytrader is one who buys shares with the expectation of selling them before the end of the day.
ZIGLAR TOBACCOFLACK. Although his song-and-dance routine in front of the Grand Organ was inspired by Colin Powell’s slide show at the UN, Tobaccoflack is assuredly not Powell to whom I give credit for having some substance. He is a parody of American entertainers and athletes who feel the need to expand their brand into politics. Zig Ziglar is America’s premier “motivational speaker,” i.e., salesman. A “flack,” in the parlance of American journalists, is a spokesperson for a company or industry. To be a flack for the tobacco industry suggests a highly remunerative degree of amorality.
BROSIUS SLIPFALL. The trade minister is in favor of anything that brings money into the Eminent Domain and against anything that takes money out. The New York Yankees of baseball are the most successful sports franchise in American history. In the 1990s, they won the championship four years out of five, mostly due to the athletic prowess of a half dozen members of that squad. Scott Brosius was not one of those half dozen, but you need nine players to field a baseball team. Neither the best player at his position in the league nor the worst, he lucked into four coveted championship rings simply by being affiliated with the right organization. Slip-and-fall refers to tort lawsuits which, although frivolous, are a ubiquitous part of the American legal system and for which plaintiffs — and especially their attorneys — are well rewarded.
SANMATEO VEECEY. The hippie general. I originally wrote him as a more stereotypical depiction of a military man — George C. Scott in “Patton” or “Dr. Strangelove”. But most army officers I know consider themselves peaceniks and I decided to go that direction. Silicon Valley is formally known as San Mateo County. Veecey is phonetic for “V.C.” — venture capitalist.
IMAN APPDEV. Veecey’s unrequited love. Just like with Veecey, my approach to this character took a sharp left turn somewhere along the way. She started out as the typical damsel in distress. I didn’t care about that being dated (I prefer the terms “classic” or “archetypal”) or about political rectitude (or else where’s the humor?), but I couldn’t let her be boring. As I was writing the last chapters (which I did before writing the middle ones — part of my process), someone in my critique circle pointed out that her dialogue tended to overshare. This was news to me, because I personally suffer from the same condition. Rather than fix Appdev’s problem, though, I made it part of her character. As I wrote the middle chapters and reworked the opening chapters, I established that she was a Candorian, an adherent of a religious sect that required utmost honesty in all situations. The name Iman comes from Mrs. David Bowie. “Appdev” is short for application developer, and is intended as a far-future equivalent of Smith or Baker.
NEALON. Pickfour’s bodyguard, named for Kevin Nealon, the longest-tenured, yet most dispensible, member of the Saturday Night Live cast. If anyone’s career has ever been based on pure luck, it’s Kevin Nealon’s.
- WATTS BARBER. The American Saddam Hussein. Picture Wesley Snipes in the part. His first career was as a basketball player, a mainstay of the Kings, the team hosted by Sacramento, California. (Sacramento is California’s capital, on the banks of a waterway named the American River, not that most Americans would get this reference.) I picked a surname that suggests working-class roots. “Watts” is a neighborhood in Los Angeles, also called South Central, that is predominantly black and prone to civil unrest.
- ARSENIO. Barber’s faithful valet. He is named for Arsenio Hall, a minor American comic known primarily for playing second fiddle to the deservedly more famous Eddie Murphy.
- G.Q. CELLTOWER. The suave American leading man: part Cary Grant (OK, so he wasn’t American), part Brad Pitt. G.Q. is the popular abbreviation for America’s leading men’s fashion and lifestyle magazine, Gentleman’s Quarterly. Celltower is just another phallic reference (c.f., Grand Organ). Without dick jokes there is no American comedy. Ask Adam Sandler.
- CHUCK-CLAUDE SPAMBLOCKER. Celltower’s loyal friend and ally, the action hero. The given name is an obvious reference to Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme (again, not American, but can we help it if we pay better than the British or Belgians?). Spamblocker just sounded like a good, far-future GI Joe name. His rank is gunnery sergeant, which is, in present day, unique to the U.S. Marine Corps.
- EMELEM COX-ARQUETTE. Watts Barber’s avuncular advisor. He speaks a dialect called Hollywoodese, which is indistinguishable from present-day Yiddish. (His appelation for Domestic troops — schmucks — gains wide use.) He isn’t necessarily Jewish ethnically or religiously, but the cultural references are there. Certainly, Cox-Arquette, taken from a present-day Hollywood couple, is not a Jewish-sounding name. (Just checked now. Actually, David Arquette is Jewish, and Courtney Cox-Arquette has surnames like Bass and Copeland on her mother’s side — live and learn.) “Emelem” is phonetic for MLM — multi-level marketing, which is the business model for Amway, HerbaLife, Avon, etc.
- CAMILLE DISHINSTALLER. If there’s a character in this novel that’s the author’s POV, it’s Dishy. She’s was born and raised in small-town America. She knows it well. She loves it. And she couldn’t wait to get the hell out of it. Dishinstaller is one of those future-Smith/Baker names. Camille just sounded right — conveying strength, courage, brilliance and leadership (like I said, she’s my POV).
- SANJAY SANCHEZ. Dishy’s loyal aide. A longtime military man, he remembers when America had separate branches of service; he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps before it was subsumed into the Well Regulated Militia. His name represents the American “melting pot”. He obviously has both Indian and Hispanic origins but no further mention is made of this; he’s just American.