What is Sean Penn really saying in Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff?

Sean Penn’s Epilogue, from his satirical debut novel Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, offers us a surprising window into present-day American society. It not only sheds much needed light on humanitarian issues locally and globally, but it also gives us a deep sense of passion the actor-turned author feels for many of the issues he highlights.

-FOTODELDIA- PARIS (FRANCE) 29/10 / 2017.- A woman shows the message "#MeToo" (me too) written in the palm of her hand during a demonstration against gender violence and sexual assaults. EFE / Christophe Petit Tesson

Call it “stupid”. Call it “fiction” or just call it “satire”. You might even side with Vogue and call it “…blisteringly funny, extremely garrulous…”. But whichever way you slice it, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is a cry, from Oscar-winning actor, director and social activist (…and now author!) Sean Penn, for Americans to wake up and “do stuff” about their society.

There is a very thin plot, if one can call it that, but creating a cliff-hanger or spy-thriller wasn’t what Penn was after in the first place. According to Penn, one of the reasons he wrote the novel was because he “…really had a lot on my mind that I wanted to do or free up…”. So, if it’s a Who-Done-It you want – you’ll be disappointed!

As for the Epilogue…that’s a whole different conversation altogether!

Cutting to The Chase

The entire novel is replete with satirical parallels to real life. But what drives home the most poignant message to readers will likely come from the Epilogue. There are a number of references to passages in the novel itself, in the Epilogue, that seek to get to the heart of the novel’s message: Americans are in pain and divided over what’s happening in their society today.  We need to fix it!

On #RussiaGate, and the subject of political corruption, the Epilogue says:

Fat men tell fat lies

While G-men sift their treasures

This season of treason triumph

Under Moscow’s active measures.

Clearly, the poem in the Epilogue links directly to a part from the novel where Bob writes his (infamous!) letter to Mr. Landlord (the President): “Many wonderful American people in pain and rage elected you. Many Russians did too.” But somehow, the growing furor over the perception of foreign intervention seems more in focus in prose, where Penn uses strong words like “treason” and “active measures”.

The motivation behind some of those lines in the Epilogue may also have something to do with Penn’s own frustration on current-day America’s political climate. The author’s prose is a way to vent his feelings. Speaking to Stephen Colbert about it, Penn openly admitted:

“God knows whatever is going on right now has a lot more to do with an electorate that didn’t get mobilized than it does the result of that…So I just wanted to go and exercise that, as a kind of venting.”

The Epilogue also takes on the #MeToo movement in prose:

And what’s with this ‘Me Too’?

This infantilizing term of the day…

Is this a toddler’s crusade?

Reducing rape, slut-shaming, and suffrage to reckless child’s play?

A platform for accusation and impunity?

Due process has lost its sheen?

This is a clear reference to societal efforts to call powerful personalities to account for sexual misconduct. While the author received severe backlash from supporters of the #MeToo movement, Penn believed this is a serious-enough societal issue that he had to raise. In Penn’s opinion, it’s not the issue that’s at the center of the prose, but how it is being addressed, by the proponents of #MeToo, that he disagrees with.

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The author believes that solutions to some societal changes, like the ones being addresses by #MeToo, need a methodical and well-thought-out resolution. The revolution needs to undergo a process of evolution. The way Penn describes it: “…the [#MeToo] revolution is going to have to understand that there are things called baby steps, that they are the only way that these things move forward.”

Also, Penn believes that a very sensitive and divisive subject like this needs to be dealt with in an inclusive manner. To cut to the chase of what the Epilogue is saying, and in Penn’s own words: “If we’re not working toward inclusion, we’re working toward divisiveness, and this is part of what the book takes on.”

Senseless violence and suffering pains Penn

Penn has been an outspoken advocate of social justice and inequality – both here in America and overseas. The Epilogue therefore shines a clear light on Penn’s abhorrence for any type of violence – in America or outside, and challenges readers to do something about alleviating pain and suffering at home and abroad.

At the Mandalay in Vegas,

so much terror death and shock

little men made big

by legal bomb fire stock

The senseless violence and mass-shootings all across America seem to have inspired these lines (and others) in the Epilogue. These almost every-day occurrences are tearing American society apart. Instead of doing something to fix the issues plaguing #GunControl, politicians seem to be acting in a divisive way – to pander to their respective constituencies.

Yet, in an interview with Stephen Colbert, Penn admits that some of his inspiration, to raise divisive issues such as gun control in the Epilogue, came not from politicians or community leaders, but from Parkland students directly impacted by a recent shooting.

On war and violence on the international stage, Penn decries in the Epilogue:

Cyber wars a-wagin’

By hands that seem so clean

While Yemen’s children die

In a terror best unseen

The use of prose, to speak about real life horrors and injustices is a novel way to make his point. It’s unthinkable how anyone reading these lines wouldn’t be filled with the same anger and passion as Penn on these issues.

An unashamed environmental and social justice crusader, Penn’s Epilogue also raises a number of humanitarian issues through his prose. America’s hurricane response to the Puerto Rican people is particularly poignant in Penn’s prose:

Puerto Ricans catching hand towels,

But they have no home nor light

So let’s all just be loving

No need to scream and fight.

Anyone watching the horrific scenes online or on nightly TV news reports, would surely empathize with Penn’s point of view. America can and should have done more to alleviate the suffering of the Puerto Rican people. But as politicians and individuals bicker and fight over the “just response” to such crises – people in Puerto Rico continue to suffer and die.

Sad State of Affairs

Penn also uses his prose to inject some international perspectives into the novel. There are references to many a current global-affair dilemma faced by America in the Epilogue. From the North Korean missile crisis:

Whether North Korean missiles

to the Iran nuclear challenges:

Or marching Tehran’s way

Penn makes his disappointment clear, at how such sensitive issues are being dealt with lightly:

Until movements morph to mayhem

And militaries chip away

The Epilogue in Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff shines a light on the sad state of affairs on how foreign affairs are being handled by the current U.S. administration. Clearly, Penn wants readers to understand the seriousness of what’s happening. Prose are his way to shock America into “doing stuff” about it!

Epilogue – The Final Word

The Epilogue itself accounts for about 6 pages in this 160-page novel. However, in Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, Penn breaks from satire and fiction, and addresses some pressing national and international real-life issues – except he uses prose to do so. Sure, there’s a bit of humor sprinkled with sarcasm too in the Epilogue – like the rest of Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff. But it adds a degree of severity to the rest of the novel.

The poem puts a real-life face onto the satire and the absurdity of the rest of the novel, as it gives readers some perspective into Penn’s world views. Bob Honey’s journey doesn’t seem as absurd when it’s paralleled with real life events such as the Parkland shootings, the Dallas shooting of 5 police officers, or the happenings in Iraq and Yemen.

Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff also seems to offer readers a final word on Penn’s political, cultural and social views of modern-day America. Even timely issues like internet usage, data privacy, and corporate sale of personal data (Net neutrality no more; have we all become the big man’s whore?) have found themselves in the cross-hairs of Penn’s prose.

Veiled references to #MeToo, #BlackLives, #GunControl and #RussiaGate expose us to Penn’s own frustration with ethical and moral stand-offs and inaction over pressing issues that need pressing answers.

Read a full review of the book here:


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