Here at WW, we loves us some snark. It's our bread and butter, our Bushmills and OxyContin. Still, we can't rival the Brits, whose deflated empire only gives them more time to hang about Oxbridge coffeehouses sharpening their rhetorical daggers.
In 2006, Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur published Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit? The Encyclopedia of Modern Life, an A-Z litany of annoyances that became a bestseller in the U.K., spawning a second volume and even a smiley-face rebuttal (It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit).
Last week, an American version (Grand Central Publishing, 272 pages, $22.99) landed in bookstores, with contributions by Daily Show writer Brendan Hay and a new subtitle, "Insanely Annoying Modern Things." This Americanized edition contains sharp observations on generally predictable targets: homophobic Christians, celebrity fragrances, Kabbalah, pole-dancing lessons. Is Everything Shit? is safe snark, Seinfeld-style entry points that bring us together around our shared inanity. The snappiest items come close to Ambrose Bierce ("Public Phone Booths, State Of: Will nobody think of the junkies?") but mostly they recall Joe Piscopo's impression of Andy Rooney on the old Saturday Night Live: "Ever notice shoes? Everybody wears them. Just look down."
The authors are doing their own Andy Rooney act, a gleeful spree of faux curmudgeonliness that sprinkles mini-rants about modern living with cultural winks to in-the-know readers. In keeping with modern habits of self-reference, they know it. "Observational Comedy: Standing on a stage. Making trite observations about everyday life. In a futile attempt to be funny. What's the deal with that? Have you seen that?" These guys aren't raging against the dying of delight—they know the real glory of modern life is the free time to sit around and bitch about...modern life.
Unfortunately, modernity is a moving target. Sure, there are entries for iPod fashion and popes with iPods and the wages of iPod assembly workers, but that's so 2005—what about the iPhone-clutching zombie army of dorkness? (Disclosure and warning: I'll give you my iPhone when you pry it from my cold, undead hands.) We'll just have to piggyback on the BlackBerry's entry: "What exactly the fuck do you think you're doing to yourselves?"
Here's the thing: The situation has changed a bit since Is Everything Shit? was first published. Back in 2006, the authors could nail "Property Ladder" as "a marvelous system that separates society into two camps: the smug and the damned"; well, turns out we're all damned. Triumphant hope notwithstanding, a lot will be shit for a while—and more clever creatives now have unexpected coffeehouse time on their hands. When we see Enough with the Signing Bonuses! Insanely Annoying Job Offers in the bookstore window, we'll know things are looking up again.
is in local bookstores