Reading Harmon Leon's new book, The American Dream, I winced when the author described a warfare-themed sales video as: "Filmed from a helicopter and set to speed metal, missiles destroy vehicles, buildings, and everything in their path—you can run, but you can't hide—explained how a second shot is laser deployed."
Such gems of baffling verbosity, along with many other grammatical inaccuracies and, yes, misspellings (even my cell phone's text message software has a spell checker, people) infest this book like locusts. Perhaps Leon (and his editors...?) was affected by his subjects, who are, in no particular order of how easy they are to make fun of: carnival workers, hatemongering Christian extremists, celebrity impersonators, and suburban swingers. Leon goes undercover into these depressing subcultures, mingling with them and reporting back from the other side.
I interviewed Leon and read his first book, The Harmon Chronicles, in 2003, enjoying it very much. Back then, Leon was more prank-oriented and the pranks were very funny, like bringing a sock puppet named Mr. Cocksucker to a ventriloquism conference. He still has decent verbal comic timing, but he's no longer very conceptual, preferring now to simply mock subjects, who are generally too naïve, un-ironic, or uneducated to know any better. While "infiltrating" a celebrity impersonators' gathering, he does jump-kicks under a blond Austin Powers wig that barely hides his white-person dreadlocks. On the reality TV show Blind Date, he shows up wearing lederhosen. Naturally, Leon earns certain, sometimes amusing reactions from such behavior, but his shenanigans also send a clear message: The focus of American Dream is the crrraziness of its author, not probing insights into the lives of its unknowing participants.
Thanks in no small part to the book's countless textual errors, Leon comes across more as a witless lunkhead than a loveable rapscallion. His complete disinterest in cultural analysis has the quality of a bad show on Comedy Central, and American Dream is ultimately about as entertaining and fulfilling as a couple hours of TV. To his credit, however, Leon is commercial free.