Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

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

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

by Joe Queenan
The author of "The Unkindest Cut", whose popular column appears weekly in "TV Guide", sets off in search of the Holy Grail of Horridness--and encounters some surprisingly non-terrible phenomena--in this riotously funny, razor-sharp indictment of our cultural wasteland.


The author of "The Unkindest Cut", whose popular column appears weekly in "TV Guide", sets off in search of the Holy Grail of Horridness--and encounters some surprisingly non-terrible phenomena--in this riotously funny, razor-sharp indictment of our cultural wasteland.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
When Joe Queenan, a self-proclaimed intellectual elitist and effete, cynical snob, decided to embark on the bold socioscientific experiment of exposing himself to the very worst that mainstream American culture has to offer, he had only the vaguest notion of the horrors that awaited him. After 18 months of total immersion, he finally resurfaced, forever changed. And after what he had done and seen, you really couldn't blame him.

Back in the fall of 1996, when I set out to write this book, the idea was the following: A somewhat jaded, snooty, but sophisticated writer (me) would stop reading Lingua Franca, listening to Leonard Cohen, and watching movies like Trainspotting for several months and instead immerse himself in mass popular culture. He would limit himself to a diet of Robin Cook, John Tesh, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Adam Sandler, et al., eat exclusively at restaurants of Sizzlerian ilk, faithfully tune in to Geraldo, and take trips to exciting places like Bronsan, Missouri. He would emerge from his experiences chastened, sobered, petrified, and very possibly dead.

As it turns out, that was only the half of it. As it turns out, the other half was that besides being chastened, sobered, and petrified, he also became, to his shock and utter horror, addicted. Kenny G. concerts, dinners at the Olive Garden, gambling excursions to Atlantic City, repeated VCR viewings of Cannonball Run II — the more of these tasteless, tactless, churlish, cheesy, gaudy, and garish gazebos of mainstream diversion on America's culturallyimpoverishedlandscape that he visited, the larger his appetite for such terrors grew.

Queenan begins this nightmarish odyssey, quite appropriately, with a Sunday matinee viewing of Cats. His awed diatribe against this malignant blight on society is fierce from the outset, and it only grows fiercer as he gains momentum and moves on to other atrocities (the sheer vigor of his revulsion, sustained over the course of the entire book, makes up for the fact that he runs out of adjectives halfway through). What allows him to keep this up without becoming tiresome is that he has a finely tuned and seemingly bottomless reserve of snobbery to draw upon.

Like any snob worth his salt, Queenan is fully self-aware: He recognizes the odious nature of his intellectual elitism, embraces it, and makes frequent admissions of the fact that he has no sympathy for those lacking his sophistication. But his morbid fascination with the pursuit of schlock serves as a kind of running self-indictment that keeps him from sounding like too much of prig. At one point, concerned for his sanity, he embarks on a detox trip to France, vainly attempting to cleanse his system of the junk he's been consuming, only to find himself making excuses to his hosts and sneaking away to watch T. J. Hooker and Remington Steele reruns dubbed into French.

Because Queenan is able to mock himself along the way, the book — although unspeakably vicious — comes off as more funny than mean-spirited (if only just). It's not necessarily all in fun when he equates meeting Geraldo Rivera at a taping of his show with a brush with the devil, but it is at least over-the-top enough to take the edge off.

As I sat in my chair during a commercial, fiddling with my notes, I saw a dark shadow looming up in front of me. To my horror, there stood Geraldo, proffering his hand in friendship. Being a courteous sort, I clasped it, gazing up into his hideous, smiling face. No sooner had our palms locked than I felt an electric jolt race through my nervous system. Right then and there I could feel the dark power of Satan coursing through my veins.

Queenan works his way through mall-brow America, from its music to its books, plays, restaurants, television shows, and more, with something akin to missionary zeal. Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon is the result of a sacred and very personal quest to trash all the trash in our society. If you can refrain from taking offense when he ranks on someone or something you like (which he inevitably will at some point in the book), it's a lot of fun to go along for the ride.

Dwight Garner

On certain gray days, it can feel like riffs on popular culture are all that's left in the world. The jitterbug analysis rains down from above (academics, novelists, public intellectuals) and from below (comedians, glossy magazines, ads on the sides of buses). Having something smart to intone about, say, George Clooney's precarious film career is more important than having something smart to intone about almost anything else.

Joe Queenan has been surfing pop's debris-strewn waters for a couple of decades now, in books (If You're Talking to Me, Your Career Must Be in Trouble) and in hundreds of essays for magazines as disparate as the New Republic and TV Guide, where he's a weekly columnist. Queenan isn't a critic, exactly -- he's more comfortable with comic overkill than with sorting through fine distinctions. But it's moderately high praise to note that he's seldom less than amusing company; his sardonic, wise-ass, throwaway essays simply have more brio than those of most of his contemporaries. He's a couch-potato potentate, a yabbo Mencken.

Queenan's new book, Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon, is a high-concept slumming expedition. It's a book about a self-described highbrow -- Queenan's an Elvis Costello fan, a Lingua Franca subscriber and a Henry James acolyte -- who yanks his baseball cap around backward and elects to spend a year mucking around in the lower realms of mass culture: dining at Sizzler steakhouses, grooving to Kenny G. albums, attending Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, visiting Branson, Mo. He ruefully notes that society is "dominated by the likes of William Shatner, not William Shakespeare, and that it was basically designed for the greater glory of Richard Simmons, not Richard Thompson, and certainly not Richard Strauss." Queenan makes a show of shucking his "haughty pretensions" and, licking his chops, dives right in.

This premise, it must be said, might be more effective if you actually cared what Queenan thinks about Henry James or Elvis Costello. But give this man his due: He operates on his own kind of manic, wildcat frequency -- all riffs, all the time. Thus Michael Bolton is the "K-Mart Joe Cocker"; watching Love Story is what really killed Jimi Hendrix; Cats is "what Grease would look like if all the cast members dressed up like KISS." He's also fond of devising handy little cultural rules: any performer named Kenny (Rogers, Loggins, G.) probably sucks; anyone with the surname Collins (Phil, Jackie, Joan) almost certainly sucks; any book blurbed by Stephen King definitely sucks. To remark that Queenan is infatuated with the word "suck," by the way, would be an understatement. So it's really saying something when he ultimately crowns John Tesh "the Prince of Suck."

All in all, this is pretty harmless stuff. Queenan doesn't hate everything -- he finds that Sizzler provides good value, and he respects Barry Manilow's work ethic -- and there's some fun to be had in watching him admit that he's becoming genuinely addicted to really bad art. What's off-putting about Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon, though, is the rather stunning level of venom Queenan directs at the people who actually do find things to enjoy about, say, Billy Joel's music or Robert Ludlum's novels. (The audience at a performance of Cats is scorned as a bunch of "gawking midwestern huckleberries"; V.C. Andrews' readers are "inbreds who had bought her books at the Ozark branch of Barnes & Noble"; Branson is a "Mulefuckers' Mecca"; and a Yanni concert captures the yearnings of those poor saps who "probably scored less than one thousand on their SATs.") Queenan's hostility neatly illustrates how so many critics and writers have begun to deploy cultural taste as a means to satirize and humiliate people who aren't as fortunate at they are -- that is, people who don't rent the same exalted movies at the corner Blockbuster.

Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon is a piece of pop ephemera about pop ephemera; it's supposed to vanish on the tongue. But some readers may be left with a surprisingly acrid aftertaste, one that lingers in ways that Queenan probably hadn't hoped. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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.
Library Journal
Outspoken cultural critic Queenan (The Unkindest Cut, LJ 1/96) travels through America in search of bad taste and then goes back to 16 cities to promote his book.

Product Details

Hachette Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.75(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are Saying About This

Bill Maher
In Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon, Joe Queenan descends on our cultural detritus like an angry cormorant. And I mean that in the best way. -- Bill Maher, host of Politically Incorrect
Lance Gould
Given that the vulgarity of American pop culture is fecund comedic ground and that Queenan. . .is a proven comic talent, the book's premise is promising. -- The New York Times Book Review

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews