An interview with Gan Golan, co-author with Erich Origen of Goodnight Bush, which was published by Little, Brown.
Where did you get the idea for your political parody of Goodnight Moon?
Eric and I used to work together—we were both sucked into the dot-com frenzy in San Francisco in 1999—and had been out of touch for many years. Then through the miracle of the Internet we reconnected and were both brimming with ideas—for all kinds of projects—that we kept throwing back and forth, and somewhere in that flurry of excitement, Eric said the magic words: Goodnight Bush. My reaction was immediate; I understood that that idea had tremendous potential and it started from there. Things started happening very fast, because we knew we had struck upon a project that would have so many different qualities—something comedic but also very serious that had something meaningful to say.
What do you think has accounted for the book’s tremendous success?
While the Bush administration is ending in an official sense, I think it’s left a deeply injurious effect on the country and also upon us as individuals. And as much as we’re looking forward to change, we’ve been left with a lot of unprocessed feelings of trauma. We liken it to the fact that we’ve finally gotten out of this eight-year abusive relationship but now we all need therapy to process what the hell happened—and just as importantly how we allowed it to happen to us. So I think the book allows people to retrace our steps through that very difficult history and come out with a greater sense of the whole, some perspective. Basically if there was a support group called Adult Survivors of the Bush Administration this would be required reading.
Is the book following a trend of political parodies, or were you moved to do it because of Bush himself?
I think there’s something exceptional about this particular administration and the level of devastation and loss that the country has suffered. I also think that requires a process that renders a historical account—but I think that’s a very daunting challenge. There have been so many tragedies and travesties and insults to our intelligence over the past eight years it’s like we almost lost count. It’s a very overwhelming task to try to come to terms with that all at once and yet it’s essential that we do it. For us using humor was a very effective way to do that because that history is so challenging and so depressing—but the humor allows us to more easily welcome that process. It’s the scale of the disaster that we’ve experienced that really required comedy for us to better deal with it.
Have you had any negative responses from people who feel that you have despoiled a classic?
What’s interesting is the fact that, by and large it’s been clear that the people who’ve criticized the book in online reviews didn’t read it. But overwhelmingly the responses from those who have read it show that people who loved Goodnight Bush the most are the people who loved Goodnight Moon. I think they find it’s the contrast between that wonderful dream of Goodnight Moon and the nightmare of Bush that makes the parody work so well. We often see that people like to read the two books side by side—in fact, I think our book doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without a familiarity with the original. By way of contrast I think we’re underscoring what has been so precious and important about the original—it really presented its safe, secure and stable vision of the world that allowed parents to put their children to sleep for generations. What we have seen is the complete erosion of that kind of world under the Bush administration. And that’s really the tragedy that we’re trying to show; we’re not trying to attack the original, but to show how Bush and the administration have attacked all the ideals that the original represents. So if there’s any sacrilege going on it’s not what we have done to Goodnight Moon; it’s what Bush has done to this country.
Your duplication of Goodnight Moon’s look and feel is meticulous. How did you accomplish that?
We realized early on that if you want to parody a masterpiece you first have to do justice to it. So we had to painstakingly study the amazing craftsmanship of the original. Both the language and the images seem simple at first, but once you get into it and try to break it down you quickly realize how sophisticated it is. We spent weeks trying to get every detail just right. In printing the book we worked hard with Little, Brown and the printer to get the look and feel exactly right. We wanted the book to have that kind of old-world, timeless quality to it—a classic bedtime story from your childhood. The paper, for example, is not the usual bright, white paper that’s used today. We found out that the paper used in the original doesn’t exist anymore. So we had the entire paper stock inked with a very slight tint of yellow first and then printed everything else on top of that to give everything a warmer, richer undertone. Then we made sure that the paper was uncoated so that the inks actually seeped into the paper, rather than staying on the surface, like a magazine. That gives the colors a more mottled, hand-colored look. All that extra work didn’t just make it a nicer book to hold, but it serves an important narrative purpose—it helps convey all those feelings of memory, history and recollection that the book is really about. The ironic part is that it doesn’t look like the Goodnight Moon that you buy today; it looks like the book that’s been on your shelf for decades.