It is said that art can sometimes immitate life, and that life can sometimes immitate art. For author and Cal Poly English professor Todd J. Pierce, his new book, “Newsworld,” does both.
“Through parody I want to show the way America puts on the news industry. It’s a type of entertainment for us,” Pierce said about “Newsworld.”
In this award-winning book, Pierce uses satire and comedy to showcase the public’s obsession with the news and the entertaining drama that it transforms into.
Pierce will be reading an excerpt from his book tonight at 7 p.m. in Philips Hall in the Christopher Cohan Center.
From O.J. Simpson to Columbine, Pierce has assembled a collection of short stories that correlate with publicized events, but he doesn’t just lay down the facts that everyone already knows. He has created a world of characters that are obsessed with American culture.
It brings into reality the public fascination with entertainment, news and media, asking the question: do we want to know the news or do we just want to be entertained?
“Journalism in part is the impulse to report, where entertainment makes people want to know what happens next,” Pierce said. “And at a certain point, around after the O.J. Simpson trial, Americans have realized that they can make more money by turning the news into entertainment stories.”
Through his literary perspective on these events, Pierce describes how the news is not what is used to be. It is not a fact-based market, but rather a forum for entertainment.
“News used to be a place where people would meaningfully comment on what was going on in the world. But it’s been a revenue-driven entertainment medium for the past 15 years,” Pierce said.
From magazines to news Web sites to the newspapers, Pierce comments on how we have turned into a public that can’t even tell the difference between what is news and what is entertainment.
“We can’t see the line between what is scripted and what is real. Or on YouTube, the difference between what is real and personal, and what is put up there to entertain people,” Pierce said.
And this is especially pertinent when it comes to television.
“Mostly what’s targeted in the book is televised news. Most of our collective memories, the 2000 presidential elections or the Colombine incident, our national memories are television memories,” he said. “It’s a clip we saw on a news channel, or on some evening TV show.”
College students are at an advantage with Pierce’s book because understanding his style of writing involves a perspective typical of a younger crowd.
“I would think that (college students) would have a better time with it. Part of being able to navigate that world is to be familiar with that kind of shock comedy that you see on ‘Family Guy’ or ‘South Park,’” Pierce said. “If you have those type of narratives in your head then you’ll get the book. You’ll have fun with the book.”
In his book, a section titled “Columbine: The Musical” talks about a high school that puts on a production reenacting the Columbine shooting. The characters’ lives are influenced by the event and through corruption, ridicule and perspective, and shows how common situations like those in Columbine can happen.
The main character Greg plays the role of the gunman Klebold, and begins to encompass the real feelings of his character in his own life. This selection is one of Pierce’s favorites and will be a part of his reading tonight.
Other sections in the book include the title story that describes the construction of an amusement park with ride names such as “O.J.’s Bronco: The Ride” and “Siege at Waco.” The characters in the story design these attractions so that park visitors can experience these events first-hand.
“News becomes a theme park or a state show or a wrestling match,” Pierce said. “I’ve expanded this idea through parody so these stories can have a sort of cultural commentary to them.”
Pierce’s “Newsworld” won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, a major American literary award for short fiction. This accomplishment comes with a $15,000 cash award as well as publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press.
The senior judge of the awarding process author Joan Didion calls the book “ambitious and exhilarating, an original collection awake to the larger world.”
In his other books, Pierce has placed himself into the novel and is involved in the throng of his literature. However, he held a different purpose for “Newsworld.”
“None of the characters are me dressed up in disguise. I really wanted to define fiction that had a political agenda behind it,” Pierce said.
Pierce’s other books include the novel “The Australia Stories” as well as “Behind the Short Story,” which he co-wrote with Ryan G. Van Cleave.