Z.E.O. illustrates the danger of satirizing dumb people…

Here’s a photo a friend sent me of Z.E.O. in the Greenwich Public Library, where it has been assigned a Dewey Decimal number designating it a “Business Book” and shelved in the Business/Self Help section:

When stuff like this happens to my books, I always think of the great nineteenth-century American songwriter Dan Emmett. 

Emmett was a northern Yankee, from Ohio.  He wrote his most famous song, “Dixie,” to make fun of the South and portray Southerners as provincial.  But Southerners failed to understand that it was a joke (at their expense, no less), and adopted his tune as their national anthem. 

Think about that for a second.  It’s pretty mind-blowing.

Though this misunderstanding certainly helped elevate Emmett to the A-list of American songwriters of the 1800’s (alongside people like Stephen Foster and Scott Joplin), Emmett was personally crushed that his tune had been used to further a culture of Confederate redneckery. 

As Emmett wrote in a letter after the Civil War: “If I had known to what use they [the Confederates] were going to put my song, I will be damned if I’d have written it.”

I wrote Z.E.O. to make fun of business books, their authors, and a culture that re-packages common sense as some sexy new genius idea that’s going to magically make your life better.  I think a very small percentage (like 5%) of business books do contain useful and interesting information, but the vast majority are full of vacuous, uninformed cheerleading.  By and large, business book authors don’t know anything you don’t know.  They aren’t smarter than you.  Buying their books will not solve your financial problems (unless, perhaps, you’re very dumb and don’t understand even the most basic principles of personal finance and/or how to comport yourself in a business situation).

Anyhow, while I am far from being the equal of Dan Emmett (in writing, music, or handlebar mustache-growing ability), I do sometimes feel I can relate to how he must have felt.

Dan Emmett: Ironically beloved by generations of Southerners.

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