Reviewer Tom Pope: Tom is a writing teacher and fiction coach who strives to spark the imagination. As a teacher, he works with tutoring services to help students organize essays and understand literary elements like the point of view. As a fiction coach, he aids authors to develop characters, brainstorm conflict pacing and design worldbuilding.
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Author Mark Rogers
Author Mark Rogers
When readers open Mark Rogers’ Smeared, they find political aide Hartford (Hart) Keepe befriending Thomas, a seemingly homeless fellow dressed in a Minute Man uniform. Readers will most likely think the course is set for one of several directions. Keepe is a self-serving senatorial chief of staff who uses hypocrisy as a tool while Thomas is a formal speaking, polite amnesia victim who somehow has retained a love of the ideals from the Founding Fathers.
This satire thrusts the sleaze of Hart against the hopes and ideals of Thomas as Hart tries to position his Senator and the party for an election. In the course, Thomas attracts a growing following by selling tee-shirts with patriotic slogans. The attention draws Thomas to the Senator’s radar. In the meantime, Thomas lived with Hart and his girlfriend, Anne, and seemed to aid their relationship.
Many possible directions could stem from such a set up. The political satire could lead in the exploration of how hypocrisy works against ideals. Another direction could have posed the examination of individual liberty against totalitarianism. One possible application from fantasy could have been the development of Thomas as a ghost-like character with Hart being Scrooge.
Whichever way the direction could have gone requires more than one dimensional development. The full development should stand out in the characters, themes and details that are being examined.
Hart’s character could use more rounding. He is a fun read as his blind-spots become obvious to readers while his bumbling style resembles a Woody Allen that cuts across the sleaze. . His snarky one-liners could make readers recall Aaron Sorkin’s Josh in The West Wing. However, Sorkin portrayed Josh in varying degrees of self examination that came from conversations where he changed his mind. Sorkin developed characters who fit along a spectrum of snarkiness to extreme sensitivity.
Hart, on the other hand changes in his relationship to hypocrisy and Anne because Thomas inspired him. But readers are not shown why. Surely Hart has heard the one liner slogans of idealism from Thomas before. What made Hart change because of Thomas? Every politician in Smeared fits into the mold of being hypocritical and all the supporters of Thomas are lovers of ideals.
When Scrooge changed his look on the world, the character responded to Dickens’ exploration of how the poor fared, how money was spent, and how memories from images were hidden to his view in the past. Dickens wanted to view the vast overlapping forces in society to put pressure on his characters.
Yet the overriding conflict in Smeared simply has Thomas using slogans of ideals and power politicians aimed at smearing Thomas when they realize they can not use the man. Other forces could have been in motion.
In the spirit of the farce, why not have Thomas think to use his own currency because he believes the government does too much? Why not have Hart’s Senator barge into Thomas’ bedroom as the man reads a historical book? That could show the overuse of surveillance and a part of totalitarianism that Thomas fears.
The exaggerations are a key part of the farce that usually aid the depth of a satire. But the slogans from Thomas don’t resonate like a farce. They come from the headlines. The comments sound like, Unions hurt businesses, government spending is the problem, government control of healthcare is bad, America should fight enemies overseas.
While Smeared’s conflict centers on how the politicians react to Thomas, most satires go further to view the forces in play around the immediate setting.
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the satire explores the different parts of the development of the totalitarian state in Russia. The character Snowball taught the animals to read, showing one driving force in how peasants changed. Napoleon took young puppies to educate them in the principles of Animalism, which could be seen as a form of propaganda. The conflict between Napoleon and Snowball increasingly showed the elements in play for the direction of early Communism.
If an large theme can be found in Smeared, the message would be that amnesia allows people to see beyond the hype. Most readers might think that amnesia adds to a lack of insight or a loss of ability to decide. Maybe even being susceptible to being conned.
That use of amnesia could have gone in the direction of revealing that the corporation Thomas used for his tee shirts was somehow involved in conning Thomas and the supporters. Yet, since the Founding Fathers had not dealt with corporations, corporations were not part of Smeared.
We have to wonder whether Smeared is a satire if it only includes talking points from the Tea Party. Preaching usually comes across as a propaganda piece. Unless the message was that, like Thomas, we can pride ourselves with the ideals of life only if we have selective memories.