Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More Fun With Rash

I know it's rare for me to devote two blogs to the same book. But I loved RASH by Pete Hautman so much that it was just too hard to pick and choose.

Hautman, Pete. 2006. Rash.

Yesterday I described Rash, but today I want to bring you the author's spin on RASH:

What do smoke-free restaurants, seatbelts and airbags in cars, and bicycle helmets have in common?

Fifty years ago none of those things existed. People smoked cigarettes everywhere--even in hospitals. Cars had no seatbelts or airbags. And any kid dorky enough to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle would have been laughed off the street.

Today, Americans are safer than ever. Accidents, violence, and disease are way, way down. Every year we get safer and safer...and safer...

That's good, right?

I wonder. Being safe is good--to a point--but I sometimes think we are so obsessed with safety we miss out on much of what life has to offer. I mean, if you wanted to be really safe, you would eat nothing but oatmeal, kale and lentils. You would never play contact sports, or ride a skateboard, or go for a hike in the mountains, or speak to a stranger, or drive a car, or give birth to a child...or do much of anything at all.

What if this safety trend continues? What will it be like in another fifty years? How safe do we want to be? Will sneezing in public be considered assault? Will tricycles have airbags? Will overweight people be sent to forced-labor diet farms? Will kitchen knives bear warning labels? (Caution: This implement can cause cuts!) Will french fries be as illegal as crack cocaine?

Thinking about these things was what led me to write Rash , a sometimes funny, sometimes not funny book about a teen growing up in the "United Safer States of America," circa 2074, when pedestrians wear walking helmets, football has been banned, verbal abuse is a misdemeanor, and obesity is a felony.

And because just about everything is illegal, nearly 20% of the population is in jail, where they provide the manual labor that keeps the USSA running.

Bo Marsten, like his imprisoned father and brother, has trouble following the rules. Rash is his story.


And just for fun, here are some more quotes:

From Bo's History Quiz:

Which of the following crimes were legal prior to 2023?
a) alcohol consumption
b) private ownership of large dogs
c) hunting
d) public defecation
e) driving without a safety web
f) boxing
g) chain saw possession

I had no idea. Every one of the crimes listed struck me as outrageous. It had to be a trick question. I answered: None of the above. (19)

About 'Reading' and 'Novels':

We were studying the ‘novel’ a twentieth-century media format that nobody under the age of sixty cares about anymore. Novels are long documents containing nothing but page after page of black font on a white background: no photos, no graphics, no animations, no audio. Gramps had a whole bookcase full of them in paperback form. He once tried to get me to read one called The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I tried but couldn’t make any sense of it. The paper pages felt strange and dry and crisp and like they were sucking all the moisture from my fingertips. Later I found out that the book was banned, so it was just as well I never read it. The novel we were reading for Mr. Peterman’s class was called Harry Potter and the Power Stone, an abridged and updated version of a book that was popular in the late twentieth century. Gramps claimed to have read it when he was eight years old. He said it was better back then. It had a different title, and in the original version some characters actually died. (34)

About Freedom:

There was a time in America when people talked a lot about freedom. It was a big deal back in the 1700s during the American Revolution, and it was a big deal during the Civil War, and in all the other wars. People wrote songs about freedom. America was a place where the most important thing was to be free to make your dreams come true. But people don’t talk about freedom as much as they used to. At least that’s what Gramps says. Most people are more likely to say, ‘what good is freedom if you’re dead?’
I think the change started when our life spans increased. Back in the mid 1900s people only expected to live about sixty or seventy years. But by the end of the millenium most people were living well into their eighties and nineties, unless they had an accident of some sort. People started wearing bicycle helmets and eating organic food and doing other things to fend off a premature death. A hundred years ago people would say to themselves ‘I’m only gonna live seventy years, anyway. What’s the big deal if I smoke a few cigarettes and croak at sixty-five?’ But when it became possible to make it to one hundred, well, folks weren’t so quick to throw those years away. They started taking care of themselves. By the time the 2030s rolled around, researchers at Philip Morris Wellness Center had developed the Telomere Therapies, which increased everybody’s life span by at least another twenty or thirty years--maybe more. Theoretically, unless you caught some horrible virus or poisoned yourself with drugs or walked in front of a suv or choked on a pretzel, you could live forever. Gramps said, ‘I think the country went to hell the day we decided we’d rather be safe than free.’ (59-60)

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