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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

3-4-24 PDF
March 4, 2024
2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

God Save the Queen

Roundabout seventy-five years ago, Virginia Woolf sat down to do for London what Joyce’s monster had done for Dublin. The story of a day, its’ unfathomable depth and complexity within mundane lives and the limitations of a single city, was plumbed and expanded into the breadth of everyday human experience. Realism came to typify the modern world wherein all of the traditional truths were challenged by the uncertain miracles unfolding in Yom Kippur perambulation, or the throwing of an upscale dinner party.

Then for a while nothing happened.

Merry Olde England seems to be picking up the realist cause again, but the world has gone post-modern and the authors have followed suit. Three of the most original, complex, and entertaining books I’ve read this year have come off the banks of the Thames (and I’m not just saying that because of our “special” relationship): Matt Beaumont’s story of a weekend, told entirely by e-mail, All Quite on the Orient Express, Magnus Mills’ story of a year, told through the polite and indifferent lens of sociability, and now, Misadventures, by Sylvia Smith; the story of a life told entirely through anecdotes appropriate for telling over tea and kippers.

Smith’s contribution to this movement is by far the most brilliant. It’s a chronological series of very short snapshots from her life. Each story is rarely more than a couple of pages and each year, from 1950 (she was five) to 1995, rarely takes up more than ten.

The anecdotes focus on one person she’s met over the years, and usually take the most interesting, humiliating, or defining thing she can think of about them. They never recur as a focus and only occasionally as secondary figures. Nobody’s safe from this cheeky little monkey. Herself, her friends, relatives, neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances, ex-es, and strangers on the street all have their tiny deflations of pride laid out dismissively just for a giggle. It is basically a lifetime’s worth of break-room gossip.

There is nothing impressive about her single-girl life, moving from one temp-job to another. She’s not promiscuous, nor overtly extraverted. The only thing close to fame or fortune is an ex-boyfriend who quit The Dave Clark Five a year before they hit. But it’s amazingly engrossing and bizarrely addictive.

From her succession of dying pets as a child, to a co-worker wetting an acquaintance’s couch after a night at the pub, a friend dragging a belligerent, drunken boyfriend through a night of dining out, or seeing a dignified man getting thrown up on from someone on a carnival ride, you smile at each and quickly flip to the next.

The minimalist theme of the cover was what caught my eye from the shelf, and it turned out to be a good advertisement. Smith’s mastery of minimalism is what makes this autobiography of a nobody work so well. She knows how to tell a story with an incredible economy. There are tragedies in two-hundred words or less, and entire philosophies in five paragraphs. Plot-less, directionless, and completely without theme, overall it’s like a really good conversation with some-one who won’t let you get a word in edgewise.