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George

Saunders’ stories “The Semplica Girl Diaries” and “Escape from

Spiderhead” demonstrate the manner in which a consumer-obsessed society breeds

a cycle of manufactured desire, despair and alienation. Through the use of parody,

Saunders presents that which postmodern critic Fredric Jameson deemed, “The

logic of late capitalism”, a concept in which all aspects of life, not only the world of

work, are formed by capitalist interests and forces. The materialistic worlds of these

stories reveal how the commercialization and fetishism of culture and commodity

results in a superficial, degraded society that is plagued by an overwhelming

passion for trivial, materialistic pursuits and a prioritization of status and wealth.

Furthermore, Saunders appears to emphasize how this kind of over-

commodification dehumanizes society and dulls (but does not completely eliminate)

our inherent ability to empathize with others.

One significant method used by Saunders to convey the deeply ingrained

notions of consumerism is his decision to employ a language infected with the

terminology of commerce. Both “The Semplica Girl Diaries” and “Escape from

Spiderhead” feature protagonists whose dialogue reveals the extent and domination

that the capitalist system holds over their perception of life. These stories are

connected by a strange corporate-like language, which mimics banal self-help

slogans, such as the narrator of “The Semplica Girl Diaries” constant reminder to “…

do better! Be kinder. Start now.” (Saunders, 214), as well as the hyper positive

euphemisms and metaphors that encourage “positive energy” used in the business

memo from “Exhortation”. Additionally, there are constant mentions and hints of

corporate brands throughout Saunders’ stories. For instance, the tools used in
hoisting up the Microline in “The Semplica Girl Diaries” are called “EzyReleese”

levers, the hats that the Semplica Girls wear are named “Colonial caps”, and there

are frequent references to fictional corporate chain stores such as “FasMart” and

“YourItalianKitchen”. The forced capital letters and renaming of established objects

with artificially appealing labels suggests the economic nature of these terms.

The universal branding style is echoed in “Escape from Spiderhead”, in which

emotion-manipulating drugs are given names such as “Verbaluce” and

“Darkenfloxx”, which indicates pharmaceutical, corporate ownership and mass

production. This consumerist based language not only connects Saunders’ stories

together, but also engenders a sense of corporate oversight to each story’s

landscape, a constant refiguring of common items (such as the levers in “The

Semplica Girl Diaries”) and experiences (such as love and depression in “Escape

from Spiderhead”) into licensable terms of ownership. The consistency of branding

throughout these stories indicates absolute commodification, which pervades all

aspects of expression, even personal expression.

The diary entries of the unnamed narrator in “The Semplica Girl Diaries”

reflect how the consumerist mindset has usurped personal expression and language.

His journal entries revolve around the concept of expressing his emotions (such as

his love for his family and desire to give his children the best possible life) through

material gain. His personal voice is compromised by shallow self-help phrases and

consumer based mantras, “Lord, give us more. Give us enough. Help us not fall

behind peers. Help us not, that is, fail further behind peers.” (Saunders, 222), which

stifles the genuine sentiment beneath his statements. The narrator’s words reflect
how the narrator himself is entrapped by the commercialized expressions and

consumerist mindset that saturates his world. By using clichéd language learned

from popular products of contemporary culture such as the “late show and grade-B

Hollywood film(s)”, the “airport paperback novels” and “science fiction or fantasy

novels”, the narrator has “incorporated” the “substance” of these shallow

commodities of popular culture into himself (Jameson 314). The words and

expressions he uses to define his life are superficial, commercialized products of

contemporary culture. This language is representative of the trap that the narrator

finds himself in – he is so immersed in the consumerist mindset, the concept that

possessions equate happiness, that his emotional self cannot be expressed in any

other way except the language of consumerism. Likewise, Jeff’s language and ability

to communicate is somewhat cheapened by the Verbaluce, as it produces inorganic,

scientifically constructed speech which owes its eloquence not to individual talent,

but corporate mandated experimentation. However, despite the fact that both

protagonists’ language is somewhat tainted by their consumerist surroundings, the

act of narrating their own stories helps them maintain individual identities. The

simple act of self-expression means that the narrator possesses individual authority

over his own story, making him more than just a “commodity” to be enacted upon by

the consumerist system.

Saunders’ emphasis on corporate language reinforces a sense of alienation

and dissociation among his protagonists. The consumerist environment that

surrounds the heroes of these stories consistently denies them meaningful

connections and emotional satisfaction. The bewildered tone of the narrator’s


journal entries in “The Semplica Girl Diaries” reflects this struggle, as he is

consistently denied answers as to why his life is the way it is. “What are we doing

wrong here?” he asks after surveying his life and finding it lacking in both financial

and emotional fulfillment. He is unable to answer because the capitalist system that

surrounds him is constructed to produce situations that prompt these types of

questions, and the only way to answer them is to buy back into the consumerist

narrative and purchase more items which will, assumedly, bring him and his family

happiness. This perspective proves to be problematic, as the emphasis on corporate

success overshadows concern for individual humans (represented in “The Semplica

Girl Diaries by the haunting figures of the SGs), to the point that making moral

decisions becomes increasingly difficult.

The eccentric corporate-like language and exaggerated depiction of

consumer culture brings “The Semplica Girl Diaries” and “Escape from Spiderhead”

close to parody, a style that possesses the potential to challenge and critique

consumerism and the capitalist metanarrative. As Linda Hutcheon states in

“Beginning to Theorize Postmodernism”, postmodern novels “parodically use and

abuse the conventions of both popular and elite literature, and do so in such a way

that they can actually use the invasive culture industry to challenge its own

commodification processes from within” (Hutcheon, 262). The parodic tone of

Saunders’ stories is necessary in order to confront consumerist values and the

commodification system, as a straight forward attack on capitalist ideals and values

would be repurposed as an extension of the consumerist system is it critiquing.