Spoiled Rotten America by Larry Miller is a work of reflection expressed through comedy. This book is extremely funny and remarkable with one of its footnotes. Located at the extreme end of the book, past the acknowledgments and past even the copyright notices is this: “* We all know I’m talking about a verb other than “date” here, but why ruin a nice clean book?” I had no desire to go back and read the entire book to see what Miller was referring to. But the line reflects, almost accurately, that this is a clean, no naughty language, non-pornographic book. Except for maybe one of the jokes in the acknowledgments. Other than that, sexual references are so heavily veiled that the reader is in danger of seeing innuendo when there is none.
To “get” a lot of the humor in this book, the reader should share a western culture, whether American, Canadian, English, Australian, or Europe in general, is irrelevant. It helps if the reader is well read because Miller likes to make literary references as well as many from art, music, film, and “the media.” One of the more obscure, in chapter 16 Jerry Allen “Knit gloves at ten and two in a Tempest.” (p. 272).
Beyond the laughing-out-loud comedy of this book, there are some profound observations. Look at the table of contents. This is almost a collection of short stories. If I had a chance to interview Miller, I would ask him how much of this book was written consecutively and which chapters were written at different times without reference to each other. The power of some of the observations leads me to believe there was time spent in reflection before putting pen to paper. The subjects are just too diverse. There are two chapters on drinking. Miller mentions that the “five levels of drinking” is a prepared, rehearsed script that he is asked to perform on many occasions. However, in the chapter of that name, there is a lot of material presented leading up to the scripted presentation.
Chapter 12, on raising children, is serious and profound. The logic of it inspires guilt in parents who are not spending enough time with their children. For parents who are spending lots of time, they will probably feel guilty that it is not enough time. This chapter is a tear-jerker and emphasizes how we can all make a difference a small step at a time. It is worth reading the book to get through all the material in chapter 12 that ends in this line: “Teach your children that Lou is funny.” (p. 198).
Chapter six addresses my pet peeve and the thing that makes me wince (at least mentally) at staff meetings and political speeches, political correctness (PC). Although the issue of PC is addressed in several other places in the book (in chapter five “Native Justice Day in November (“Thanksgiving” in the old invader-calendar) Miller reserves this chapter for how Jews, he in particular, are treated in the PC world. And how he, as a Jew looks at others. His thoughts are summed up nicely at the end of the chapter with: ““White Christmas,” by the way, in case you didn’t know, was one of thousands of hit songs written by a guy born in Russia named Isaac Baline, who moved here as a boy and changed his name to Irving Berlin, and was, in addition to many other things, a Jew.” (p.88).
Chapter seven addresses competition and loss. Miller deplores a culture where everyone must win and where any loss is met with complex coping strategies that leave the young unable to deal with an adult world. He sends his kids to a camp where the counselors tell the kids, those who may have sustained a minor injury in sports competition to just get on with it. In Miller’s words: “Whenever a kid gets beaned or mashes a finger, they don’t run over to hug him while speed-dialing a grief counselor. They just set him on his feet, clap once, and growl “Okay, shake it off.” Usually, they don’t even move from the sidelines.” (p.59).
In chapter eight, writing of the modern day work ethic, Miller offers this: “The point of the job is not to make something good, or to make anything at all. The point of the job…is to keep the job.” (p. 107).
Sarcasm, cynicism, and humor are all backgrounds I like to observe life. Used as single elements, the first two produce a very negative view of life. With a healthy emphasis on the third, humor, Miller helps us get through the daily grind.