SUCKING UP by Deborah Parker


A Brief Consideration of Sycophancy
Email this review


The title suggests the tone, which offers more caustic wit than one usually expects in a quasi-academic overview.

“The pleasure of saying ‘sycophant’ is immense,” the Parkers (The Inferno Revealed: From Dante to Dan Brown, 2013) observe. “The word rolls delightfully off the tongue. One’s lips purse and expand. The s sound, the friction of the breath in a narrow opening, provides a hissing contempt.” That “hissing contempt” pervades the text, intensifying whenever it circles back to Donald Trump and the sycophancy surrounding him. Consider Chris Christie, who suffered a “descent from presidential contender to toady spokesman for Trump to silent stage prop to convenient butt of his childish fat-jokes.” For all the fun involved in the writing, there is some seriousness regarding sycophancy, its history and progression, from Milton (who targeted Satan as the first sycophant in Paradise Lost) through Shakespeare (Hamlet, Lear, and Othello all fall victim to sycophants) and proceeding through Proust and The Simpsons. Even the dismissal of a sycophant as a “brownnoser” has a noble cultural lineage: “Dante’s punishment for flattery—immersion in shit—exploits the long-standing association of flattery with excrement. Full or crap when alive, in death they are plunged into it.” The book ranges from academic study—and shifts from psychology to business management—to pulp fiction to the silver screen, but politics is where such suckage shines brightest. The authors make a side trip to England to castigate Benjamin Disraeli and Tony Blair but mainly concentrate on American politics in general and Republicans in particular. “Although it would be difficult in this cesspool of bootlickers, hypocrites, and other assorted pond scum to identify Suck-Up City’s flatterer-in-chief, Henry Kissinger would surely be a top contender.” Team Trump faces the harshest ridicule for its rampant sycophancy, but the book would have been stronger had it recognized this as a bipartisan disease. Barack Obama and the Clintons had their share of sycophants, and John F. Kennedy’s Camelot myth was built by his.

A short book with a fierce bite.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8139-4089-2
Page count: 136pp
Publisher: Univ. of Virginia
Review Posted Online:


FictionDANTE’S DIVINE COMEDY by Seymour Chwast
by Seymour Chwast
NonfictionTHIS TOWN by Mark Leibovich
by Mark Leibovich