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Bad Or, the Dumbing of America Paperback – October, 1992


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 201 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone Books (October 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671792288
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671792282
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,287,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With deadly wit and a nose for fakery, Fussell takes aim at the bad, things promoted as highly desirable that are in fact trivial; his targets are arrayed in A-to-Z format, each dispensed with a single mini-essay.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

From Fussell, a great crying out at just about everything that's awful about today's America. Bad things have always been around--cheap, false, deceitful; but when, as in our deluded ``age of hype,'' these things are not just swallowed whole but are declared to be ``better than any other sort,'' then ``bad'' is raised to ``BAD,'' otherwise understood as the culture-wide ``manipulation of fools by knaves'' that makes up the reality of our everyday experience in a nation that's insecure, ``subadult,'' and ``intellectually deprived.'' Fussell (Wartime, 1989, etc.) chronicles the shabby charade that comprises life in America, organizing his laments into a bitterly hilarious reference book with entries from ``BAD Advertising'' through ``BAD Television,'' with stops in between, for example, at airlines, beliefs, conversation, engineering, language, people, poetry, and even restaurants. The key idea throughout is that what determines true ``BAD'' is ``the distance between appearance and reality,'' and what Fussell is really decrying is the class insecurity, the ``doltishness and provincialism,'' that causes Americans to love the third-rate and to have not a clue as to the genuine. ``BAD Colleges and Universities'' may be the central entry in the whole, since wholesale and happily complacent ignorance lies at the heart of the horror. Out-Menckening Mencken in his silver-tongued diatribes at bunkum and pretense and fraud, Fussell slips sometimes into mere disgust, or worse, into plain insensitivity (West Virginia is a place where the waitresses ``will have no teeth''); but in declaring America to be a clownish nation empowered today only by ``a conspiracy against actuality,'' he addresses what might just be the awful truth about the last rotting timber our house stands on. With droll and despondently elegant wit, a study of the manipulated ignorance of our mass culture, and a dirge for the ``wiping-out of the amenity and nuance and complexity and charm that make a country worth living in.'' Domestic--and invaluable- -Fussell. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

It is a quick read and highly entertaining.
CrimsonGirl
I don't think so, for three main reasons: 1/ SUBJECTIVITY Most of Fussell's observations are just a description of his own taste.
Charles
All in all, not a BAD book, but not quite GOOD either.
Lleu Christopher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Lleu Christopher on June 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book contains enough good points and valuable criticism of modern American culture that it's a shame that it's value is marred by flaws and excessive generalizing. Paul Fussell also wrote Class, a very funny and witty analysis of the supposedly nonexistent American class structure. In Bad, Fussell invents a whole new category: "BAD" --all capitals-- is distinguished from the merely "bad." In the latter category are things from which we don't expect much. BAD, on the other hand, applies to people, objects, ideas and actions that are phony and pretentious.
Many of Fussell's points are well taken and hard to argue with. The focus of modern "higher" education on athletics at the expense of academics; the silly pretensions of "gourmet" restaurants; the lack of intelligence displayed in blockbuster movies; the incoherent babble of much contemporary language...there is a lot to recommend here. The problem is, Fussell gets carried away and ends up undermining his own argument by equating BAD with whatever doesn't conform to his own tastes and idiosyncrasies. In the chapter on architecture, for example, he is contemptuous of almost anything built in the last fifty years without any real basis other than personal taste. Again, his often valid critique of modern language (e.g. euphemisms, corporate jargon and overly complex signs) ends up getting diluted by his picayune insistence on perfect grammar, even in poetry (I can agree that most of the poems he quotes are BAD, but to say that poetry must be grammatical is silly). Fussell's opinions on music border on the bizarre. Wagner, Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, along with all reggae music are, we are informed, all BAD, while Beethoven and Brahms are dismissed as "B" composers.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
For me, this book had one especially redeeming quality among its many - No longer could I consider myself the grouchiest grouch on the planet.
By cutting through our phony pomposity and inability to recognize quality, Fussell exposes our us as a nation of shallow, self-congratulating losers who believe that it is alright to delude ourselves into believing we are something we are not. Specifically, deep thinking, conscientious citizens.
To take something that is merely bad, and by promotion and hyperbole, convince the public that it is not bad, but good and even better than all the rest - we then achieve BAD. From movies to books to ideas to ostentatious restaurants and all the rest. Personally, I loved his skewering rant of the soapy Andrew Lloyd Webber, who, along with Mickey Mouse are my personal poster twins for the Dumbing of America. And if Fussell ridiculed the elections of Ronald Regan and George H. Bush, one can only wonder what the temperment of the book might be if it were being written today.
Since this book was published, much more BAD has crept into our lives. From overbearing and attention needing cell phone abusers to major market quick read newspapers that make USA Today seem almost journalstic, our addiction to BAD behavior and kitsch make us considerably more transparent than we were when the book was published in 1991.
I have enjoyed some of the reader comments in this section. Especially the comments from those who are offended by the fact that Fussell has challenged the ideas with which they have been branded. Their offense comes not at the fact that their institutions have been attacked, but that they have been duped into believing that these very institutions were necessary, important and relevent.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 15, 1996
Format: Paperback
This book is an insightful, tongue-in-cheek look at American society. Fussell argues that American culture elevates many tacky, tasteless or outright dumb phenomenon to the level of "BAD" by promoting them as elegant, luxurious, intelligent or otherwise desirable. The author examines many realms in which this occurs, including advertising, airlines, banks, hotels (the mint on the pillow phenomenon does not go unscrutinized), books, poetry, beliefs and ideas. BAD... or, the Dumbing of America is a delightful book, full of sardonic wit and astute observations
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
BAD, acordding to Fussell, is something "boring, stupid, or inane" that can be made to look "fascinating, smart, or deep", such as, for instance, "Playboy" magazine. "Regular" skin magazines are merely bad; "Playboy" pretends to be a quality magazine, therefore it is BAD. Ice cream bars are bad (i.e., low-quality) food; "gourmet" restuarants which most of the food actually arrives frozen and is merely heated and dressed up in the kitchen, and then served on half-empty enormous plates, is BAD. Fussell lists numerous examples of BAD, some amusing ("quality" airline food), some more serious (George Bush [Sr.], Laurence Welk), some absurd (apparently, Fussell considers all music since Mozart--including Brahms, Verdi, etc.--to be BAD music.)

Fussell doesn't mind the merely bad; what bothers him is that what passed for *good* culture in the USA, the ideal to be aspired to, is not the really good, but the BAD. For example, when you stop reading the tabloids and start reading the "Wall Street Journal", you are not moving from bad to good. You're just moving from the bad to the BAD: the Wall Street Journal *pretends* it will make you "educated" about the market, but in reality knows no more about what will happen next than the tabloids do. The real reason for buying the "Wall Street Journal"--like that of most BAD products--is to make the buyer *LOOK* intelligent, well-informed, "knowledgeable" about art, without actually *BEING* so.

Quite true; but Fussell overstates his case. His thesis is that the existence of BAD "proving" the cultural decline of America. Unproven, in my view; that BAD behavior and taste (as well as bad behavior) was always more popular than good behavior and taste was already well-known to Plato. But one can ignore the general the-country-is-going-down-the-tubes thesis, and instead enjoy Fussell's acid wit and amusing, if somewhat scary, examples.
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