The Snarling Citizen

Essayist Barbara Ehrenreich has once again performed that clever feat so many proponents of progressivism would do well to emulate. By discarding the high-falutin’ language of her intellectual comrades, the author has given gender, race, and class a simple, jargon-free, and thereby nonthreatening countenance that will enable her to reach a wide audience. By cloaking her critique of capitalist society in good humor and down-to-earth logic, she may very well persuade some of that audience to her broad-minded point of view.

More than fifty pithy essays comprise seven sections on the family, the body, sex and gender, the media, culture, class, and politics. They have in common the themes of modern America, including poverty, racial and gender inequities, violence, and a ubiquitous alienation that has colored the national spirit with malaise and unabashed self-centeredness.

As Ehrenreich’s devotees might expect, she delivers all this weight under a delightful canopy of ironic wit. A section on the postmodern family includes essays on divorce, orphans, and eugenics; another on the body notes that doctor visits constitute an “alternate healing practice” among America’s 37 million uninsured. The author also eases the reader through statistics (30 percent of all American workers earn wages below the poverty level, or less per hour than a waiter’s tip at an executive lunch); explodes myths (most welfare recipients are white, with a lower birthrate than the general population); discloses the whitewash of political correctness (“verbal purification” does not alleviate social injustice); exposes fallacies in the fight against feminism (women earn 70 cents for every dollar earned by men); questions capital punishment (if Jesus were executed today, would Christians wear a miniature electric chair around their necks?); attacks the illogic of the country’s drug policies (drugs kill, but drug prohibition kills more); and topples America’s ill-gained sense of international superiority (the country ranks first in the number of homeless people, deaths by guns, and citizens locked up in prison).

Much too light-hearted for the role of the cynical and SNARLING CITIZEN in the book’s title, Ehrenreich underpins her essays with a happy clarion call for communalism, collectivity, and common sense to effect progressive and positive change.