One of my favourite guilty pleasures as far as documentaries go –yes, they too can be guilty pleasures– is Supersize Me. Many of you may remember the 2004 Oscar nominated film about Morgan Spurlock, a man who decides to throw health and common sense to the wind and eats only McDonald’s for thirty days straight. Did anyone really think the guy would not get any fatter? Please. If anything, it squarely highlights humanity’s inbred voyeuristic and sadistic tendencies. Same can be said by the explosion of reality shows clogging the airwaves for the last decade. Yes, TV’s Suvivor is that old.
Having said that, this is what A. J. Jacobs has accomplished, a reality TV show created in book format or intellectual fluff, if you will. Yes, you are curious. Yes, you want to see what happens. Then he writes about his life and when I mean his life, I mean, everything. Going for Chinese with his father-in-law, taking his son to a jungle gym at a park, doing his wife. Fantasizing about doing his wife’s friend! Uh, okay… Anyway, the book is more about the man’s neurosis and mysophobia: A peep whole into a not-so-really interesting life. Sure, he mentions some interesting factoids which will undoubtedly be used to amuse your less thansecular friends. For example, the Bible is actually cool with slavery and it is okay to beat the living bejesus out of them –granted they must live at least a day or two post-beating, ’cause otherwise, if they die, you know, it ain’t so cool (Exodus 21:21). Or the term ‘Scapegoat’ is ironically of Jewish etymology. For real, the head Aaron confessed all the sins of the children of Israel on the Day of Atonement into a goat. Then the goat, symbolically bearing their sins, was run off a cliff. Splat! I can imagine my friends sighing already! I will give A.J. points for creatively using the Bible the same way Spurlock milked McDonald’s. Are they the first ones to ever do so? Heck no. But self-experimentation under the cloak of a higher cause is the new, hot marketing tool on the scene.
As I mentioned in the first part of my review, A.J. does not shy from pointing out he is doing this enterprise as a book project and there is nothing wrong with that. However, later in the book when he attempts to highlight a sort of religious awakening within, is where it stops being cute intellectual fluff and becomes a manufactured chain of events which are meant to pluck on the emotional strings of the reader –like the death near the end of the book. I am not denying it happened, however you can sense that actions have been filtered through a literary prism before being neatly set on the page.
Perhaps I was asking too much. Perhaps knowing someone is doing something for a paycheck drains its respectability. As you can’t shake the feeling you are being shepherded into a product, not sharing a journey. This rule especially applies when the material in question is of spiritual and ethereal context. Like the Law of Attraction ‘coaches’ **cough**The Secret**cough** who teach students to free and release themselves from their worldly chains and miseries for $250 per seminar. Of course they forget to mention Zen Buddhists have been doing that for 1445 years. For free. These examples are all a reminder that enlightenment, whichever way you wish you find it, can be found with curiosity and most importantly, within each of us. But it cannot be reached by neither a prescribed capsuled period of time or in Oprah’s choice for book of the month. Even if it is for the low MSRP of $23.95. However four million people have already done so, I call that a ‘crash diet for the soul.’
In the end, The Year of Living Biblically is enjoyable as any fluff. As you are left feeling that A.J. learns nothing deeper than Biblical trivia which will last him for a lifetime of parties, family gatherings and maybe some talk shows. No, A.J. your PR and marketing handlers were only half right. Yes, it was a one man’s quest to follow the Bible literally, that you did for the most part. But was it a humble one? Not by a long shot. No my friend, you made some good coin. Was that the point?