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Wednesday, January 08, 2003


The Queenan of Air and Darkness



Man, so many idiots, so little time! There's a crop of four today, but some will have to wait. We'll start with this one:

Den Beste wants to know who Joe Queenan is (as JQ was interviewed for this more-than-usually vacuous excuse for a BBC article).

I'll tell you who Queenan is. He is the Unspoken One, Gozer the Destructor, the Defiler, the Perverter of all that is good and holy and fun. Once his smoking hoof was set upon the land, innocence and kindness died. He sits at the right hand of Ahriman, and at the appointed time will cleanse Cthulhu's long-unwashed hindquarters with his sandpapery tongue.

In other words, he's the author of this book, Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon: Joe Queenan's America. This is a book filled with such bile that not even that sneering and supercilious Brit, Niles, liked it. Queenan suspects that American culture sucks, and he climbs down from his Olympian throne to disport among the common man and have his suspicions confirmed.

To give him his due, he does find things he likes, and says so; and he finds things that don't suck near as badly as he thought they would. Most of the time, however, he just emits long lists of things that "suck" (constantly using "suck"; perhaps he has a sucky thesaurus). He usually doesn't explain why they suck, or why one thing sucked compared to a similar thing. I suppose if he did that he might have to actually analyze what he was doing, and come to the dread realization that "suck" had no more meaning than "I didn't like it". And what would a New York critic do if it was discovered that taste was all a matter of...well...taste? That means people could use their own, and not depend on critics! Quelle horreur!

But what moved Queenan from the ranks of your ordinary snotty Culture Critic to Third Assistant Vice-President in Charge of Darkness was this account of his one visit to Red Lobster:

Red Lobster, I quickly learned, was a chain geared toward people who think of themselves as just a little bit too upscale for Roy Rogers. Even while waiting in the anteroom of the bogus sea shanty I could detect a certain aura of proletarian snootiness because of the way people were looking at me and my son. While Gordon, age ten, and I had turned up in nondescript T-shirts and shorts, the Red Lobster patrons were bedecked in their best windbreakers and their very finest polyester trousers.

"Next time, show some respect," their expressions suggested. "After all, you're eating at Red Lobster. This ain't some goddamn Wendy's."

(Sea shanty? An attempt at a clever witticism, or a tin ear? You decide!)

I detect the truculent chagrin of an East Coast bubba who thought that, since they were not going to Chez Snoot (ten cents for the coffee, five dollars for the ahmbeeahnce), they could turn up in any old clam-digging gear and it would be OK. After all, this is where the proles eat, right? They don't have any concept of dignity. (What would the Queenans have worn to McDonalds? Perhaps if they ever have the misfortune to fall into a sewer right before dinner they'll think, "Well, we'll just go to McDonalds! That way we won't have to go home and change first!")

But it turns out that people whose luxury clothing consists of fine polyester and unripped windbreakers do have some rudimentary notion of appropriate attire, and Mr. Hot Shot New York Nabob was embarrassed to find these rubes staring down their noses at him. It's supposed to be the other way around!

From the BBC article:

But doesn't the mall with its blandness and its sameness represent everything that people hate and fear about America, I asked social commentator Joe Queenan.

[Bloody typical.---A.S.]

"What people are really afraid of is not that blandness will take over the world, but that really cool stuff is going to take over the world," Mr Queenan said.

Most Americans don't understand why the rest of the world doesn't want to be cool like them, he added.

Den Beste responds, quite correctly

...Most Americans don't understand why the rest of the world doesn't want to be cool like them. The problem with that is that the rest of the world, for the most part, does "want to be cool like them."

Read the rest.

But at least Queenan's not as BAD as Paul Fussell.