I took my sweet time in reading White Noise by Don DeLillo. The aim of satire requires that I slow down, and this novel offers a great amount to reflect upon. DeLillo writes in a stream of consciousness style that rambles on occasion, but for the benefit of exploring the follies of his condition. The motifs of consumerism culture and fear of death are rampant and connected in a way that our narrator never identifies. While Jack Gladney doesn’t come to this conclusion on his own the text presents this connection just outside of his grasp. His thoughts repeatedly stumble through the process from fear to consumerism, “I am afraid… I am taking no calls… The supermarket shelves have been rearranged” (325). Long stretches of elegant and explanatory prose are interrupted by an advertisement or reference to consumer culture. The following segment breaks the ice on the lives and marriage of Jack and Babette,
“It isn’t that she doesn’t cherish life; it’s being left alone that frightens her. The emptiness, the sense of cosmic darkness.
MasterCard, Visa, American Express.
I tell her I want to die first” (100).
This interruption fails to cut the tension of the moment because it’s the idea of this ‘white noise’ that occupies the background of our lives that serves to reinforce our collective fear of want.
While Jack and Babette obsess over fear the novel begins with a confidence in lifestyle. Their middle class existence convinces Jack that he is above consequences reserved for those below the poverty line, “I’m the head of a department. I don’t see myself fleeing… That’s for people who live in mobile homes out in the scrubby parts of the county” (117). This is the second time that Jack expresses tragedy is for the poor. Once the catastrophe contaminates their lives secrets are revealed, and familial conflicts emerge at the surface. It is a book that suggests we are much more the products of the culture than we’d care to admit. Comfort is reassured by the belief that a, “slowly moving line (is) satisfying,” because it gives, “us time to glance at the tabloids” (326). He describes the comfort that the papers offer, “Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead” (326). But these comforts are crafted through faith in a vain hope.
DeLillo made me uncomfortable with his truth. Such is the aim of good satire. These themes took me back to my teenage years when I was first introduced to the connection between the themes. This book has been a terrifying reminder that mainstream media is, “a campaign of fear and consumption… Keep everyone afraid, and they’ll consume” (Marilyn Manson). That is the culture of our lives, and DeLillo identified this fact with harmful clarity.