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From Barnes & NobleThe 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.