Why are so many ethnic epithets named for our favorite foods? How can the Ku Klux Klan call itself a "civil rights organization?" Why does the nickname for an electric chair sound like the name of a beloved pet? Are Americans really the best at everything in the world? In Weapons of Mass Affection, a thought-provoking collection of short essays, Susan Lasley blends personal memoir and descriptive narrative to explore how we as Americans are drawn to superlative descriptions and fantasies about ourselves as we simultaneously hide our fears of inadequacy beneath the innocuous language of love, social justice, and comfort. Her point is that such language distracts us from the task of thinking deeply about realities before us, even as we find ourselves having to rethink the way we attend to those realities.
Lasley combines her soulful ability to see relationships within diverse areas--her broad knowledge of history, psychology, the physical sciences, anthropology, and economics--and her own life, having been raised during a turbulent, revolutionary time. She relies on everyday life for examples in these wide-ranging essays, from changing a hairstyle to loose screws; from a Ku Klux Klan rally to kittens, from mesquite chips and photographs to the collapse of The World Trade Center. Her essays, written between 1993 and 2001, are all linked by their focus on this use of the language of comfort and self-assurance.
Unlike any other book on common language, Weapons of Mass Affection challenges our habitual and unconscious use of words and suggests that a powerful tool for social change is within each person's reach. This, her first collection of essays, was written by a woman enthusiastic about the power of the word. Unflinchingly original, Weapons of Mass Affection is a powerful examination of American culture and language. It is a literary achievement, a work of thought and liberation. Lasley guides us toward awareness of our own choices of words with a hopeful message: a change in our language can change us. This is a book that will profoundly affect the way you think--and the way you speak.