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ARE YOU SERIOUS? by Lee Siegel


How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly

by Lee Siegel

Pub Date: June 28th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-176603-9
Publisher: HarperCollins

An intriguing examination of the power and precision of words.

Culture critic Siegel (Against the Machine: How the Web is Reshaping Culture and Commerce—and Why It Matters, 2009, etc.) begins with a 1904 cartoon and ends with a discourse on today’s political climate. Despite its title, this isn’t really a “how-to” book, but rather a dissertation on the evolution of seriousness by both ordinary and extraordinary people. From Plato to John Stewart, Siegel traces the concept of seriousness throughout the ages. While retracing the lineage of seriousness is only marginally interesting, the author’s frank and witty discussion about our modern linguistic habits provides much more entertainment. He takes particular umbrage with the ubiquity of “serious” as an intensifier (as in, “That girl is seriously hot”), or the insertion of “I mean” or “like” before a statement. The book reaches its zenith when the author—in all seriousness—breaks down the subtle nuances between using “seriously,” (I’m seriously upset = I am calm and want you to listen to me) and “fucking” (I’m fucking upset = somebody’s probably going to get hurt). Near the halfway point, the narrative settles into a long political simmer but still continues down the path of examining the broken poetry of words like “cool,” “idea” and “truthiness.” Siegel ends on a salient note, with a lucid interpretation of “hero.”

A seriously serious investigation. Seriously.