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Red Lobster, White Trash, & the Blue Lagoon: Joe Queenan's America

105 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0786884087
ISBN-10: 0786884088
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Editorial Reviews Review

"How bad could it be?" With this simple question, Joe Queenan embarks on a nightmare journey through the depths of American pop culture, subjecting himself to Broadway musicals, Red Lobster Captains' Feasts, and John Tesh concerts: "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."

Queenan sets out to find music, movies, books, and TV that transcend awful, and the most remarkable thing about this book is that one never doubts for a moment that he actually subjected himself to all of the horrors he describes (including the literary efforts of Joan Collins). In an era where references to Burt Reynolds movies are used as hipster currency by people who have never endured Cannonball Run II, Queenan mocks nothing without experiencing it first. His odyssey throws up a few surprises--including the discovery that Barry Manilow is actually pretty good, and that most of the junk that clogs the arteries of popular culture never reaches the stratospheric level of badness achieved by someone like Michael Bolton. This leads Queenan to coin the term scheissenbedauern ("shit regret") to describe "the disappointment one feels when exposed to something that is not nearly as bad as one hoped it would be."

But generally, the answer to the question posed at the beginning of the book is "Really, really bad." Making fun of bad middlebrow entertainment may seem like a no-brainer, but when a writer as sharp as Queenan gets his claws into something like the collected works of Billy Joel, the results are hilarious. Like Jonathan Swift with a remote control, he gleefully shoots every fish in the pop-culture barrel. --Simon Leake --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"I was beginning to suspect that snobs like me were cutting ourselves off from all the sun in this society, that in our obsession with books by Umberto Eco and concerts by the Kronos Quartet, we had deprived ourselves of the boundless joy to be derived from a quiet evening with Yanni." Thus does Queenan explain the impetus for his hilarious venting of spleen here against American mass culture. The TV Guide columnist and author of If You're Talking to Me, Your Career Must Be in Trouble sallies forth to skewer many popular icons. Among them are the musical Cats ("I was not a complete stranger to the fiendishly vapid world of Andrew Lloyd Webber"), Robert James Waller ("No one will ever write a book worse than Border Music. The government wouldn't allow it"), John Tesh ("almost supernaturally vacant"), Joan Collins ("a thrillingly inept writer"), the Olive Garden restaurant chain (colorful wording on the menu transforms a "repellent morass into a truly wondrous zuppa toscana") and the home of aging performers, Branson, Mo. ("a Bayreuth for Bozos"). Cynics in general and fans of Queenan in particular will find many pleasures in this wonderfully comic diatribe. Editor, Jennifer Barth; agent, Joe Vallely. British rights sold to Picador; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 194 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books (April 14, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786884088
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786884087
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #959,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By C. Davis on December 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
I picked up Queenan's "Red Lobster" book after hearing a favorable review on NPR and was thrilled to discover that someone was finally willing to expose the utter classlessness of the staples of "unculturalized" Americans. And they are all here - Red Lobster, The Olive Garden, Kenny G, Robert James Waller, Stephen King, et al. Queenan observes in a most deft manner how these sacred cows achieve success not my being excellent, but by appearing to be excellent. In short, they sell it and there's always a fool to buy it.

It's a worthy endeavor because let's face it - Kenny G is NOT jazz. Not even smooth jazz. Andrew Lloyd Webber IS incredibly overrated. The Olive Garden is not a "fancy restaurant" no matter how much your Aunt Meg dresses up before you take her there. And the main problem is not the entities themselves, but the fact that most Americans ALLOW this continued celebration mediocrity due to sheer laziness. In truth, every twenty or thirty-something female who tearfully devoured "The Bridges of Madison County" probably never bothered to pick up a copy of "Madame Bovary." If she had, she would certainly see that she'd been ripped off by a hack.

Of course, some of this comes down to simple opinion. As Queenan criticizes Rush (the band, not the talk-show idiot), he admits to not even being able to remember a single Rush song - and loses a little credibility for taking an easy stab at art rock. But upon finishing "Red Lobster," I was disappointed on two levels. One, for all his cultural snobbishness, Queenan never once sells his side of the equation. What is so much better about HIS tastes, other than the fact that they help him perpetuate the appearance of a refined New Yorker? There's not a hint.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By The Dreaded 32 Fouettes on January 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It takes someone with balls to come out against musicals like 'Cats' and 'Phantom'. Three cheers for supercynic Joe Queenan who has those guts, and plenty to spare, as his poisoned pen appropriately lashes out at the worst of the mediocre, making for the best reflection on the last century I have heard of or could have even imagined. I was in tears numerous times laughing and relishing numerous Queenan insights, most of which offered me solace that my own pecular, singular, and admittedly UNpopular personal taste isn't at all unwarranted. This book is the truth spoken by one who voices the feelings of many who might(as myself) run the risk of excommunication for voicing opinions contrary to those of a highly defensive public. True, Queenan does peck off the so-called 'talents' of easy targets like musicians John Tesh and Kenny G, author Robert James Waller, and car-accident-of-a-TV-talk-show-host Geraldo Rivera. But there are hidden whoppers of philosophical revelation between the covers of this light reader as well which are sure to delight anyone who grew up thinking for themselves. If you, like me, have always had a problem being subjected to the folks in our society who walk around preening and gushing about having seen the latest Andrew Lloyd Weber extravaganza, buy this book NOW! After I read it I felt a hundred times better for having risked public humiliation in voicing my severe dislike of the film 'Titanic' (utter blasphemy to DeCaprio fans let alone anyone in Hollywood who has sold out his/her integrity to the machine that makes such monstrosities). Queenan ingeniously relates his own corruption-by-self-exposure to a Jekyll/Hyde tragedy. As he is absorbed into this world of trash and cultural squalor he can only want more.Read more ›
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Chad Biederman on January 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
My pointed sense of cynical humor just about matches Joe Queenan's to a tee--I thought I'd just reveal that bias now and get it out of the way. "Red Lobster" is a surgical expose of Queenan's foray into pop culture, but let's face it--it's also snobbery to the nth degree. Insightful snobbery, sharply written snobbery, downright enjoyable snobbery--but snobbery nonetheless. For that reason alone, "Red Lobster" is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.
But it sure as hell was mine. Queenan's skewering of pop culture icons is pretty thorough and pretty hysterical (I just wish he waited for the "Titanic" phenomenon before he wrote this book), but it's almost unrelenting. However, he's forced to admit that at least a couple of those things he expected to hate really aren't that bad after all--chiefly because those things don't pretend to be anything more than they are. Queenan doesn't have a problem with simple, chinzy and shallow--just as long as it isn't pretentious.
That is Queenan's real gripe with most pop culture--shallow stuff wrapped up as high art. The best chapter by far deals with literary hacks, and delivers the finest backhanded complementary essay I've ever heard in my life! His tirades on such things are often poisonous--but come on. In your heart, you know he's right.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Howard Paul Burgess on September 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
Queenan set an extremely peculiar task for himself in writing this book: he would spend a year reading books, watching movies, and listening to music that he desperately wanted NOT to read, watch, or hear. Masochism on this scale is rare even in the back rooms of adult bookstores.

Although Queenan is a good writer and actualy made me laugh out loud a couple of times, there are two fatal flaws that doom the project.

He's certainly not the first to tackle the subject mattter. Early in the 20th century H. L. Menken made the statement that "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American middle class," and used the term "booboise" to describe this group. Then in 1964 Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp" came on the scene.

Worse yet, he confuses fact and opinion. He uses the terms "good" and "bad" in describing popular culture, terms that are more properly used in the realm of morality.

Billy Joel and Phil Collins are singers. That is a fact. Billy Joel and Phil Collins are bad singers. That is an opinion. Queenan's, not mine.

His targets are so easy. Michael Bolton, THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, the musical CATS, Kenny G., Joan Collins, Joe Pesci, Renaissance Fairs, Molly Ringwald, CANNONBALL RUN 2.

Along the way he finds some things that he enjoys more than he expected to. Sizzler Restaurants, CHILD'S PLAY, and Barry Manilow are unexpected sources of pleasure to him.

Although I'm often in agreement with Queenan's opinions, there's no real need for him to express them. What is admired in the arts is very much a product of the time in which the art is produced.
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