Jon by George Saunders, 2003
The magic trick:
The litany of cheap, hilarious product placements
Welcome to George Saunders Week on the SSMT site. It’s gonna be a weird trip.
We start with “Jon,” a story that’s otherworldly tension recall previous SSMT favorites, “The NRACP” and “In The Penal Colony,” among others. I’m most dazzled by the humor. Saunders is never not funny.
Here, my favorite running jokes are the product placements that turn up throughout the story. Jon is trying to escape some kind of terrifying near-future world that only mostly resembles our modern society. Among the key conncetions between the story’s dystopia and our world? The cheap name brands. And oh man, are they cheap. I love it. Saunders isn’t taking down Coke or McDonald’s here. That would be too easy somehow. Instead, we get references to intentionally doomed-to-be-dated-very-quickly brands like Honey Grahams, Old Navy, RE/MAX, Handi Wipes, Tommy Hilfiger, Baby Gap. Oh, and I guess Coke actually is in there too. Anyway, it all combines to create a strange alternaverse that is part terrifying, part hilarious and all parts commodified. And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.
Then came the final straw that broke the back of my saying no to my gonads, which was I dreamed I was that black dude on MTV’s “Hot and Spicy Christmas” (around like Location Indicator 34412, if you want to check it out) and Carolyn was the oiled-up white chick, and we were trying to earn the Island Vacation by miming through the ten Hot ‘n’ Nasty Positions before the end of “We Three Kings,” only then, sadly, during Her on Top, Thumb in Mouth, her Elf Cap fell off, and as the Loser Buzzer sounded she bent low to me, saying, Oh, Jon, I wish we did not have to do this for fake in front of hundreds of kids on Spring Break doing the wave but instead could do it for real with just each other in private.
And then she kissed me with a kiss I can only describe as melting.