In Susan Beth Pfeffer’s otherwise excellent book Life as We Knew It, there is an out of place comic scene that happens right near the end of the book, just as things are getting really bad.
Life as We Knew It tells the horrifying story of a teenaged girl that is watching the world come to an end because an asteroid hits the moon and moved it out of orbit. This in turn leads to massive natural upheaval that culminates in a perpetual winter.
The scene I’m referring to is the one where the radios, that have been dead up to this point, finally start to work again. “The President” (who is never named anywhere in the book) goes on the radio and claims that – despite the death of nearly everyone in the United States — things aren’t so bad and they’ll get better soon.
It’s an overt out of character and out of setting jab at President George W. Bush.
This otherwise somber book that became so popular largely because of how realistically it treats the end of the world, actually took a moment to insert a comic jab at George W. Bush. We all get a quick laugh and then the book goes back to being realistic again.
Unfortunately, this scene will do a lot more damage to the timelessness of this book then it will do to President Bush’s it-can’t-get-worse reputation.
Imagine generations from now, children and adults read Pfeffer’s book and come to this scene. What are they going to think of it? They will not have known President Bush any more than we know President Truman and maybe even a great deal less.
Worse yet, Bush may not have such a negative reputation by then. While this seems unlikely to us now, bear in mind that Truman was even less popular than Bush. Bush may, for all we know, be thought of as a hero that saved the Middle East by then. While this is improbable, it’s not impossible; it will all depend on what actually happens in the Middle East in the future and that book isn’t written yet. So future readers will have no idea what to make of the scene. They will lack the context required to realize it’s just a typical-of-our-times slam on President Bush.
Instead they’ll say “What the heck!? That was so unrealistic! No President of the United States could ever been that stupid!” And indeed, Bush never did anything even remotely this stupid in real life.
Instead, future readers will think Pfeffer was making an general anti-establishment anti-politician jab and not a very well done one at that. Only historians will know that she was stepping out of character and setting for a moment to do the popular thing and bash Bush.