I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-By Essays on American Dread, American Dreams

Overview

From the cultural critic Wired called “provocative and cuttingly humorous” comes a viciously funny, joltingly insightful collection of drive-by critiques of contemporary America where chaos is the new normal. Exploring the darkest corners of the national psyche and the nethermost regions of the self—the gothic, the grotesque, and the carnivalesque—Mark Dery makes sense of the cultural dynamics of the American madhouse early in the twenty-first century.

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Overview

From the cultural critic Wired called “provocative and cuttingly humorous” comes a viciously funny, joltingly insightful collection of drive-by critiques of contemporary America where chaos is the new normal. Exploring the darkest corners of the national psyche and the nethermost regions of the self—the gothic, the grotesque, and the carnivalesque—Mark Dery makes sense of the cultural dynamics of the American madhouse early in the twenty-first century.

Here are essays on the pornographic fantasies of Star Trek fans, Facebook as Limbo of the Lost, George W. Bush’s fear of his inner queer, the theme-parking of the Holocaust, the homoerotic subtext of the Super Bowl, the hidden agendas of IQ tests, Santa’s secret kinship with Satan, the sadism of dentists, Hitler’s afterlife on YouTube, the sexual identity of 2001’s HAL, the suicide note considered as a literary genre, the surrealist poetry of robot spam, the zombie apocalypse, Lady Gaga, the Church of Euthanasia, toy guns in the dream lives of American boys, and the polymorphous perversity of Madonna’s big toe.

Dery casts a critical eye on the accepted order of things, boldly crossing into the intellectual no-fly zones demarcated by cultural warriors on both sides of America’s ideological divide: controversy-phobic corporate media, blinkered academic elites, and middlebrow tastemakers. Intellectually omnivorous and promiscuously interdisciplinary, Dery’s writing is a generalist’s guilty pleasure in an age of nanospecialization and niche marketing. From Menckenesque polemics on American society and deft deconstructions of pop culture to unflinching personal essays in which Dery turns his scalpel-sharp wit on himself, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts is a head-spinning intellectual ride through American dreams and American nightmares.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this new collection of essays, Cultural critic Dery (The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium) pokes fun at American popular culture and shines light on subjects often considered taboo. Exploring music, masculinity, and media, Dery takes on subjects as varied as the depth of Lady Gaga’s intelligence (promising signs are there), jocks, Dubya, and Mark Twain’s legacy. His trio of essays on Hitler and the Holocaust are particularly powerful, bringing a smart, fresh take on the commercialization of the Holocaust legacy; the power of Nazi branding and Hitler’s use of media; and the explosion of online parodies using Hitler as a punch line. Dery, as Sterling notes in his introduction, “judiciously sips the Kool-Aid” when it comes to the less savory aspects of our culture: online fetish pornography—anything you can imagine, and more you can’t—and the Fantasy Decapitation Channel (think guillotines). In “Open Wide,” he wonders if dentalphobes are actually afraid of teeth, not dentists, while in “The Vast Satanic Conspiracy,” an amusing case is made for linking Santa with Satan. Always provocative, often humorous, Dery has a keen eye for absurdity, tragedy, and everything in between. 15 b&w illus. Agent: Andrew Stuart, the Stuart Agency. (Apr.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816677733
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 4/6/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Dery is a cultural critic and journalist whose writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Wired, Cabinet, Bookforum, and Boing Boing, among other publications. His books include Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture; The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink; and the widely republished pamphlet Culture Jamming. He is writing a biography of Edward Gorey.

Bruce Sterling is a science fiction author whose novels include Distraction, Zeitgeist, Holy Fire, and The Caryatids.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword: I Must Not Read Bad Thoughts Bruce Sterling

Introduction

Part I. American Magic, American Dread Dead Man Walking: What Do Zombies Mean?

Gun Play: An American Tragedy in Three Acts

Mysterious Stranger: Grandpa Twain’s Dark Side

Aladdin Sane Called. He Wants His Lightning Bolt Back: On Lady Gaga

Jocko Homo: How Gay Is the Super Bowl?

Wimps, Wussies, and W.: Masculinity, American Style

Stardust Memories: How David Bowie Killed the ’60s and Ushered in the ’70s and, for One Brief Shining Moment, Made the Mullet Hip

When Animals Attack! An Aesop’s Fable about Anthropomorphism

Toe Fou: How I Was Subliminally Seduced by Madonna’s Big Toe

Shoah Business

The Triumph of the Shill: Fascist Branding

Endtime for Hitler: On the Downfall Parodies and the Inglorious Return of Der Führer

Part II. Myths of the Near Future: Making Sense of the Digital Age World Wide Wonder Closet: On Blogging

(Face)Book of the Dead

Straight, Gay, or Binary? HAL Comes out of the Cybernetic Closet

Word Salad Surgery: Spam, Deconstructed

Slashing the Borg: Resistance Is Fertile

Things to Come: Xtreme Kink and the Future of Porn

Part III. Tripe Soup for the Soul: Religion and All Its Works and Ways Tripe Soup for the Soul: The Daily Affirmation

Pontification: On the Death of the Pope

The Prophet Margin: Jack Chick’s Comic-Book Apocalypse

2012: Carnival of Bunkum

The Vast Santanic Conspiracy

Part IV. Anatomy Lesson: The Grotesque, the Gothic, and Other Dark Matters Open Wide: Dental Horror

Gray Matter: The Obscure Pleasures of Medical Libraries

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Severed Head

Been There, Pierced That: Apocalypse Culture and the Escalation of Subcultural Hostilities

Death to All Humans! The Church of Euthanasia’s Modest Proposal

Great Caesar’s Ghost: On the Crypt of the Capuchins

Aphrodites of the Operating Theater: On La Specola’s Anatomical Venuses

Goodbye, Cruel Words: On the Suicide Note as a Literary Genre

Cortex Envy: Bringing Up Baby Einstein

Acknowledgments Notes Publication History

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