Authors with regal gaits, brown sport jackets and foreign souvenirs; friendly faced women with clipboards, petitioning for mandatory sick leave; a scraggly man, with a roach clip dangling from his hoodie string, who claimed to have invented the flat-screen TV back in 1975; a gaggle of high-schoolers decked out in dreamsicle-colored Whataburger gear; and, taking a break from his post at the Trinity University Press booth, one fluffy-haired weirdo with a notebook.
Such was the crowd, or at least a small taste of it, at the Sixth Annual San Antonio Book Festival. That weirdo — surprise, it’s me — didn’t look out of place; that would have been a hard feat to achieve, in a crowd that was equal parts comb-overs and mohawks, slacks and Harry Potter tights, plain t-shirts and veritable chainmail vests of buttons that proudly displayed slogans like “I READ BANNED BOOKS.”
This was the world that San Antonio champions as being so quintessentially diverse and vibrant, the world “which boasts a little something for readers of every age group and interest,” as described by the San Antonio Current. Such was the theme there, a theme that San Antonians probably should be used to by now, with every pamphlet and promotion laced with words like “nonconformist,” “diverse“ and “varied.“
But beneath the jingle of the ankh earrings and the rosaries and the Fiesta medals droned an incessant message of hatred, hatred for a disappointingly finite and petty list of things — Trump, America, Texas, you name it — popularly in the guise of appreciation for the latter two.
I wandered into a random panel and heard an author — some author, any author; I didn’t catch his name, because I didn’t want to hear him finish, because I’d heard it all countless times before — beseeching his audience to resist, persist, coexist, insist, consist, Sunkist — we know the drill.
In the Barnes & Noble tent, I picked up a random book of poetry, turned to a random poem, and read about a speaker’s visit to an empty chapel and how he prayed, only to hear emptiness and realize what a fool he was — critical acclaim on the back of the book described it as “witty” and “original.” The tent was one of many tents in the marketplace just outside the Southwest School of Art’s Coates Chapel, which was also holding author panels and other events inside.
Our own books at the TU Press booth included novels signed by Margaret Atwood, eco-poetry anthologies and books about life on the border, all snugly nestled between titles like “Hometown Texas” and “Land and Light in the American West.”
As I walked past a girl whose shirt that read “I am not your perfect American girl,” I overheard a lady with blue hair gleefully shouting to a smiling sick leave-petitioner, “I lived in Europe, so I believe all of this crazy socialist bullshit, right?” and got into my car — parked beneath a menacing black-and-white mural of a three-eyed Medusa against a backdrop of the American flag — I wondered how these people could believe this common caricature of America to be such a powerful reality.
I then came to the realization that this is how it’s done — this is how the sleight of hand is mastered, how the pill is coated in chocolate, how, beneath the mask of diverse cultural pride, a great and incessant propaganda machine lurks. There’s no better way to convince the very people who write, publish, advertise and buy the books, the very people who control the industry, that they are victims who must protest. Every new anti-Trump book that’s churned out on the assembly line must be prescient, relevant, much-needed and over-ignored.
And yet I have my doubts — after saying the words “incessant propaganda machine,” I feel like putting on my tinfoil hat and booting up Infowars. Of course, I am not speaking of Bilderbergs or Illuminati or men behind the curtain. I just appreciate the trick of it, of putting on a show of diversity to hide the utterly flat and boring monotony of principles behind it all.
I wish I could have enjoyed it.