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

Joe Queenan

504 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0786884088 / ISBN 13: 9780786884087
Published by Hyperion, 1998
Used Condition: Good
From Better World Books (Mishawaka, IN, U.S.A.)

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Red Lobster, White Trash, & the Blue Lagoon:...

Publisher: Hyperion

Publication Date: 1998

Book Condition:Good

About this title

Synopsis:

For fourteen years, critic Joe Queenan walked past the Winter Garden Theater in New York City without once even dreaming of venturing inside to see Cats. One fateful afternoon in March 1996, however, having grown weary of his hopelessly elitist lifestyle, he decided to buy a half-price ticket and check out Andrew Lloyd Webber's record-breaking juggernaut. No, he did not expect the musical to be any good, but surely there were limits to how bad it could be.

Here, Queenan was tragically mistaken. Cats, what Grease would look like if all the cast members were dressed up like KISS, was infinitely more idiotic than he had ever imagined. Yet now the Rubicon had been crossed. Queenan had involuntarily launched himself on a harrowing personal oddyssey: an 18-month descent into the abyss of American popular culture.

At first, Queenan found things to be every bit as atrocious as he expected. John Tesh defiling the temple of Carnegie Hall reminded him of Adolf Hitler goose-stepping in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. The Celestine Prophecy and The Horse Whisperer proved to be prodigiously cretinous. And the sight of senior citizens forking over their hard-earned nickels and dimes to watch Joe Pesci in Gone Fishin' so moved Queenan that he began standing outside the theater issuing refunds to exiting patrons.

But then something strange happened. Queenan started enjoying Barry Manilow concerts. He went to see Julie Andrews and Liza Minnelli and Raquel Welch in Victor/Victoria. He said nice things about Larry King and Charles Grodin in his weekly TV Guide column. He spent hours planted in front of the television, transfixed by special, two-hour episodes of Walker: Texas Ranger. He actually ordered the dreaded zuppa toscana at the Olive Garden. Most frightening of all, he shook hands with Geraldo Rivera.

How Queenan finally escaped from the cultural Hot Zone and returned to civilization is an epic tale as heart-warming, awe-inspiring, and life-affirming as Robinson Crusoe, The Adventures of Marco Polo, Gulliver's Travels, and Swiss Family Robinson. Well, almost.

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

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