“I Don’t Get It”: LTIL Edition

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.)

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EMINENT DOMAIN (adj., DOMESTIC). This is the galactic hyperpower standing in for the United States. “Eminent domain” is not just a grandiose term, although it does have the right arrogant ring to it. It is a legal concept that allows municipal governments to force property owners to sell to them, often below market rates, for the greater good of the community. (I understand that this is also called expropriation and is a hot topic throughout southern Africa as well.) The Eminent Domain of the story begged an adjective form; I settled on “Domestic” because, not only did it seem to fit logically, but it also underscored the theme of superpower arrogance. I work for a multinational corporation headquartered in the United States, its country of origin. Nothing makes my international colleagues bristle more than when our executives make the distinction between “domestic” and “rest-of-world” operations.
WHEN ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE. The 9/11 attacks of 2001, which we’re still far from ready to joke about directly. The closest I could come is G.Q. Celltower’s alias: “Pleased to meet you, Mister Nine-eleven.” “Call me, ‘Porsche’.”
DOMESTIC NOMENCLATURE. All given names and surnames of prominent Eminent Domain citizens suggest origins in greed, luck or good looks — the traits that propelled them to the stars. Lower-caste Domestic functionaries’ names are taken from professions, much as “Smith” or “Baker” are popular names today. Worlds are named after the corporate sponsors who bought the advertising rights.
  • 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.
WTF: I can only assume that every editor in the English-speaking world knows what this really stands for.
OOPS DOCTRINE: Doesn’t exist. As someone who had a part in the 1991 Gulf War, I wish it did. To some degree, the Vincennes incident
GRAND ORGAN. The galactic United Nations. Phallic reference is intentional.
ASSOCIATED MARKET. The stand-in for the United States’ European allies. In sequels and prequels, it won’t be the benign fence-sitter it is here. The name is a play on the Common Market; “Associated” is the American equivalent of Pick n Pay.
KLEPTOCOSM. The Eminent Domain’s rivals for galactic power. The thieves’ paradise is based on the independent states of the former Soviet Union.
LANE-BRODERICK SCALE. One of the most celebrated “bro-mances” of American performing arts is the relationship between Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (the team that first brought the phrase “Hakuna Matata” to America — you can have it back if you want. I mean it.). Lane is archetypically gay. Broderick is married to Sarah Jessica Parker. I invented the Lane-Broderick Scale as a parody of Myers-Briggs and other useless personality tests; it determines just how gay or straight you are.
ASTONISHMENT. Reminiscent of the failed “shock and awe” campaign at the dawn of the Iraq War in March 2003, Veecey tries to dazzle the citizens of Las Vegas with a laser show and Pink Floyd music.
FRIENDS HELPING FRIENDS CIVILIZE AMERICA, SUGGESTIONS WELCOME. A play on the American-led — and virtually all American-implemented — Multinational Force – Iraq, a.k.a., Combined Joint Task Force 7, a.k.a., Coalition Forces Land Component Command, as if changing its name to something inclusive was actually going to bring in more non-U.S. troops.
AMERICA. No more United States. The eastern seaboard is a patchwork of dead zones and independent duchies. The 20 or so states remaining have little self-rule under the autocratic central government of Watts Barber, which is reminiscent of Baathist Iraq. Southern California, where Hollywood is located, is mostly desert. Northern California, Oregon and Washington are timberland. Nevada, the state in which Las Vegas is located, borders on California; it is almost entirely desert.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA. The American capital has been moved to Las Vegas, appropriate for its tradition of wasting money and enabling whores. Is it really so different from Washington, D.C.? Most of the action takes place along the west coast, in the present-day states of California, Oregon and Washington (Washington State is unrelated to the present-day capital city of Washington). The president lives in the Bellagio, currently the grandest address on the Strip. Congress meets at the Chicken Ranch, the famous bordello on the edge of town (prostitution is legal in the State of Nevada, but not in Las Vegas proper). The Bellagio’s meeting rooms are named after Renaissance painters; for example, there’s a Donatello Room and a Michelangelo Room. The narrator misidentifies these as being named after “legends of the martial arts,” i.e., the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
DEPARTMENT OF HONESTY. America’s public relations ministry. A nod to George Orwell.
THE AMERICANS
  • 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.
WELL REGULATED MILITIA. The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees “the right to bear arms”. When it was written, it meant the right to carry a musket. Nobody’s arguing that this applies today to hunting rifles and unmodified shotguns. Does it mean we also have the right to fully automatic assault rifles and sawed-off shotguns? What about pistols, which are only good for one thing: killing human beings at point-blank range? Are we entitled to privately buy self-propelled artillery and battle tanks? Do municipalities have the right to require licensure and registration, as they do with that other ubiquitous weapon of American culture, the automobile? The Constitution is silent on these points. All it says is, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Again, this frustratingly ambiguous non sequitur was written in a time far removed from our own, when the United States didn’t even have a standing army and militias were a cornerstone of our national defense; they have since been replaced by the Reserves and the National Guard. Gun enthusiasts in rural America, who oppose any policy regulating gun ownership, possession or use, now organize themselves into heavily armed self-styled “militias” to prove their point. In our story, the branches of the U.S. military have been consolidated into the Well Regulated Militia, a semantic bow to a Constitution that was no longer being followed in practice. After the initial encounter, the Well Regulated Militia goes underground and fights an insurgent war.
MOTHER EARTH MOVEMENT: Al Qaeda. It has absolutely nothing to do with Watts Barber’s regime, but try explaining that to Pickfour. It originated among Native American (what we used to call American Indian, until actual Indians started moving here in large numbers and both they and the Native tribes pointed out that this was offensive as well as confusing) peoples, but adherents come from across ethnic lines. Those not of Native American ancestry, though, have come to take names from Native American culture, specifically the Sioux. There’s a Kevin Costner movie titled “Dances With Wolves” that will make the nomenclature clear; this was a very popular and influential film over here and most people would immediately get the reference. Fire from the Lake and Shoots at the Stars are precisely the kinds of names that a Sioux would take. These set up the gag names used later: Should Switch to Decaf (based entirely on the “Dances With Wolves” character Wind in His Hair), Stuffed in a Gym Locker (what happens to timid boys in American physical education classes), Knees by Her Tits (no explanation necessary) and Bag of Hammers (a simile beginning with the phrase, “dumb as a …”). Mother Earth is active mostly in the Plains states of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and the Dakotas, the present-day American heartland, but at the fringes of Las Vegas’s power in our story.
TERRAHISTS. My entry in the Worst Pun Ever sweepstakes.
SUNNY TRIANGLE. The virtually cloudless area between Las Vegas, Hollywood and San Diego where the American insurgency is based (specifically in Palm Springs). A play on the Iraq War’s “Sunni Triangle”.
CARL’S JR. A chain of American fast-food restaurants. Awful even by our own benighted standards.
BERTIE AND GENE. Homages to H.G. Wells and Gene Roddenberry. Bertie’s bloviating quotes come, appropriately, from “The War of the Worlds” from which I stole most of my plot points.
RONALD REAGAN. I think all references to this iconic American movie star and president are pretty obvious. Let me know if there’s anything too remote.
YOSEMITE. A national park in northern California, t’s pronounced “Yosemitty” except by Sajak Pickfour who intones, “Yo, Semite.”
MEXICAN LANGUAGE. Most Americans can’t find Spain on a map. But we know where Mexico is.

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