Mister Squishy

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Back to David Foster Wallace or Oblivion: Stories.


Summary

Mister Squishy centers around and is set in the Ressemeyer Shannon Belt (RSB) advertising agency, particularly in a targeted focus group testing the appeal of a hoho-like snack called Felony!. One prominent character is Terry Schmidt, the focus group's facilitator. The story follows him with varying degrees of closeness as he talks to the focus group, unaware that he is himself being tested by an RSB employee hidden in the focus group. At the same time, an unknown person uses suctions cups to crawl of the side of RSB's building and eventually stops a floor below RSB, inflates a costume of the RSB-designed "Mister Squishy" logo and is watched curiously by a crowd of people gathering on the sidewalk below. The man on the side of the building is ominously armed with a machine gun and seems scheduled to meet one of the people within Schmidt's focus group. The story also handles some of the internal politics at RSB and discusses at length the ways in which RSB's real business model is to convince businesses of statistical realities that work to RSB's own advantage. One of the major ideas introduced is that RSB's ability to design the way in which data is collected, analyze that data, and then profit from the results of their analysis almost guarantees that the numbers can't be trusted. The story also follows Scott Laleman, and RSB employee, particularly as he deals with his boss, Alan Britton, a seasoned corporate player and designer of the highly profitable system of focus groups and number-twisting. Laleman operates with amibition and his "above-average destiny" (Oblivion: Stories 65) in mind, and Britton tries to manipulate Laleman through his (Laleman's) ambition and inferior strateizing. The story ends before the armed man suctioned to the building's exterior rises to RSB's floor and Terry Schmidt's focus group's conference room.

Characters

Terry Schmidt - the Targeted Focus Group's facilitator

Scott Laleman - an RSB employee

Alan Britton - Laleman's boss and imposing advertising guru

Man in Mister Squishy costume suctioned to building exterior

Other minor characters


Themes/Motifs

As does much of Wallace's work, "Mister Squishy" focuses on corporate life, advertising, and consumption in America. The story takes a statistical approach to much of it, and one of the pervasive ideas is that attempting to map the market by focus groups and statistical record is basically just a matter of choosing data to confirm the soundness of advertising. Alan Britton's vision of using the the market itself as a focus group - "Terrain = Map" (Oblivion: Stories 64) - is a twist on an idea that is important to much of Wallace work, particularly Infinite Jest. This notion ties closely to the underlying foundations of Infinite Jest's eschaton, de-mapping, etc. Also dealt with, largely through Terry Schmidt, is the tedium of everyday corporate life. Scott Laleman and Alan Britton are both concerned with the political maneuvering of corporate success, as well as the unsatisfying nature of that success. Like Infinite Jest, much of "Mister Squishy" is centered around why Americans choose to consume the things they do, the ways in which numbers are both useful and insufficient to map a society, and the soul-crushing nature of constant selling and competition.


Voice

The story is written in the third person with varying degrees of closeness to characters. Much of the language is math-based and highly technical, and our narrator clearly has some degree of privileged access to Schmidt, Britton, and Laleman. The story's paragraph's tend to be extraordinarily long, often stretching for several pages, and the story's sentences tend also to be long and non-standard, from a grammatical standpoint. Wallace writes with the same maximalist detail and hyperrealism as he does in much other work and displays his characteristic linguistic virtuosity and mastery of relevant jargon/vocabulary.

Context

There are a number of thematic ties both to Wallace's earlier work, particularly Infinite Jest, and to the stories that come later in Oblivion. "Mister Squishy" contains ideas that resurface in "Good Old Neon", "The Suffering Channel", and "Oblivion."