This review is of Red Lobster White Trash and the Blue Lagoon: Joe Queenan's America. Technically, it's on-topic posting it in the humour section. Personally, I'm not so sure!
Queenan's book is pointless. There are a number of problems with it; the first being that a collection of magazine pieces very seldom make a good book. Another is his style - devoid of subtlety and irony, it is not the best around by any stretch of the imagination.
But the biggest problem for me is this: I cannot help feeling that any serious critic should not use the word "suck" quite so much. (I didn't count how many times it was used but it must run into hundreds, if not thousands) It's not really very expressive or explanatory and it all gets very tired, very quick.
Until now, nobody else has bothered to point out the "suckiness" of popular culture. Americans take all this garbage for granted, and by the way, so do the British, and in fact most of the western world.
But what Queenan doesn't do, beyond a few mildly entertaining rants, is explain why (or indeed, why it matters). It's not difficult to explain that Jackie Collins' novels are pure tosh, but what's interesting (or might be) is WHY the public buy millions of her books.
He defines his own likes as though they are the epitome of good taste. He likes Elvis Costello. Many would say that Costello is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill, average pop singer, but Queenan drops his name as though only intelligent people could be Costello fans.
* How bad could it be?
With this simple question in mind, Joe Queenan embarks on a nightmarish journey plumbing the depths of American popular culture,
For 18 months, starting with
the musical Cats ("the worst thing on the entire planet"), Queenan immerses himself in the sinkhole of popular culture. He dines at Red Lobster and the Olive Garden, reads Robin Cook and Robert James Waller, listens to Kenny G., Yanni, and John Tesh*, watches the sequels of sequels of forgettable movies, and travels to those cultural meccas; Branson - Missouri and Atlantic City.
*Quote on John Tesh:
"With his shopworn, lounge-lizard stage gestures, eviscerated salsa compositions, and studied reveries, Tesh was a human Cuisinart of every hack musical stunt, effecting a strange synthesis of various mongrel styles where half the songs sounded like generic background music for promotional videos ... and the other half sounded like retreads of Mason Williams's sixties hit Classical Gas."
He sets out to find music, movies, books, and TV that are worse than awful, and the most remarkable thing about this book is that you never doubt that he actually subjected himself to all of the ordeals he describes.
You've got to admire him for that at least.
Queenan mocks nothing without experiencing it first. This throws up a few surprises and leads Queenan to coin the term scheissenbedauern ('sh1t regret') to describe "the disappointment one feels when exposed to something that is not nearly as bad as one hoped it would be."
He doesn't slate everything, indeed he actually has praise for some: Sizzlers Restaurant gets a favourable mention - Wayne Newton, Barry Manilow, and Andy Williams are "hardworking and entertaining troupers", and Las Vegas isn't as bad as he thought it would be.
It is quite a good idea for an articl
e but not really enough for a book. Its thinness suggests that Queenan tried to spread it out (like manure?) from a magazine article to book-length, and stopped when he reached his required 200 pages.
What I find particularly repellent about this book is that Queenan repeatedly makes it clear that his complaint is not in fact with Cats or Danielle Steele or Kenny G, but with the people who enjoy them. This pseudo-intellectual notion that a lack of sophistication is a good excuse for contempt is indicative of a shallow character.
Who does he think that he is? His 'analysis' of popular culture consisted of a cynical mocking of a lifestyle which is different to his. He writes for TV Guide for goodness sake! Pretty much a manual for the type of people that he denegrates. I don't think he is aware of the phrase: Don't bite the hand that feeds you.
Queenan's approach, which explores some subjects in depth but only touches upon others, undermines the book. For example, he tells us Patricia Cornwell is good for a few "howlers" per book. But does he tell us what these "howlers" are? Does he quote from her books to prove that she is a bad writer? NO, he just moves on to assassinate his next victim.
Another flaw is the tone. Queenan tries to be ironic and edgy, but instead sounds snobby and annoying. An example is his comment that James Michener's audience has to move its lips while reading his books. He excuses his attitude by describing himself as an 'elitist.'
His attempts at 'humour' (LAUGH? I nearly did) are sarcastic, but not funny. And don't expect a deep and meaningful dissection of what is wrong with American popular culture either. All he does is ridicule and moc
This book just did not do it for me. After a few chapters it is really repetetive and I found it an effort to finish it. There are SOME amusing lines but the overall effect is of an (unfunny) Frazier-like character snootily and rudely pointing out, what in his opinion, is the bad taste of the masses.
Incidentally, Although I agreed with almost all his views on popular culture I would never dream of assuming that because I didn't like something and the poor, unwashed masses did - It follows that it must be bad. How condescending and pretentious.
The man's a snob. End of story.
If I could sum this book up in one word it would be that it SUCKS!!!
Thanks for reading,