Eat It Raw: The Joe Queenan Directory

This interview with Joe by Kerrie Murphy was originally published in The Australian's new technology section, Syte. Unfortunately, when America actually came out, the Net chapter had been excised.

Queenan's odyssey: a quest for trash

Someone had to do it, so why not Joe Queenan? The acid-tongued US movie critic and connoisseur of crap tells KERRIE MURPHY why he included a chapter on the Internet in his book on bad taste in modern culture

WHY would anyone spend 12 hours listening to Phil Collins, only to spend the next day listening to Billy Joel's back catalogue? Why would anyone read all of Dean Koontz's books? Why would anyone go to Las Vegas?

American satirist Joe Queenan, the man who once defined a beatific vision as "a place where as far as the eye can see there are no Steve Gutenberg movies", has done all these things.

His motivation was simple: he was writing a book called How Bad Could It Be?. A book such as that, on everything that is purely, gaggingly awful would not be complete without an examination of what is often a shrine to bad taste: the Internet.

"There's a chapter [on the Internet] and most of the chapter is about sex, because there are 19,000 chat rooms on AOL and a tremendous number of them are devoted to sex," Queenan says.

"I had a line in there about how if you have any kind of sexual perversion and you live in rural America, you can't satisfy it because you have to go to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or New Orleans, which is a problem if you're a farmer in North Dakota," he says.

"But because of the Internet you can talk to people with similar interests to you, so I think eventually chat rooms will replace TV.

"It's a real cheap form of entertainment."

However, it can also be a handy tool for avoiding hideous crap, should that be your desire.

"If you want to visit some place and you want to find out what the people are there, you can go on one of the commercial services and set up the town and invite people in,"he says.

"You can see what they're like and if they seem like people who would be interesting to visit, then you can go there and if they seem like idiots you don't go there."

Queenan is very familiar with the good and bad elements of the Internet. In 1996, Mr Showbiz commissioned Queenan to write the Great American Novel in three days, posting a new chapter on the site every two-three hours.

The result was the hilarious book, Serb Heat, about a bloodthirsty Bosnian Serb militiaman who reads an article online in which he is insulted by a journalist he had once encountered.

While writing it, Queenan discovered that some Serbs didn't take kindly to their countrymen being portrayed as violent Rambo wannnabes.

Furthermore, they could tell Queenan exactly why they disapproved, because they could tell him instantly, via e-mail.

"Part of what Mr Showbiz wanted to do with Serb Heat was to immediately funnel me the hate mail, which was all from irate, insane Serbs, who don't seem to get the big picture, and I just thought it would be funny to change it to a Canadian, just to sort of make them look like idiots," he says.

So, over the course of 21 chapters and an epilogue, Ratko Krudzik, the hero, is transformed from a murderous Serbian to Canada's most resourceful hitman and master of disguise.

That kind of instant reaction is a fundamentally different experience from most other forms of publishing, Queenan says, and highlights a problem with the Internet.

"When you write something for a magazine, it gets commissioned in March, you write it in May, it gets published in July and they publish the angry letters to the editor in November except most of the time you never see them.

"When you write for newspapers, unless you live in that city, you're not going to see the angry letters to the editor," he says.

"One of the interesting things is that the public has the right to respond to a work in process, but the person doing it is under no obligations to respond to them, nor should he."

This also highlighted another problem with the Internet: people taking everything too literally.

"I wrote a piece about the big Irish thing sweeping the world because of all that Riverdance stuff," he recalls.

"I wrote a piece about a fictitious company called Planet Shamrock, which was a restaurant that would have Samuel Beckett's walking stick and Oscar Wilde's hat and U2's socks and stuff, and I think people when they read these things they think they're real.

"I actually think Planet Shamrock's a good idea," he says.

"The Irish thing's just annoying. IrishAmericans do that all the time, they climb on to the kitschy pop element of cultures that they don't really understand.

"Americans like to give money to the IRA, but if you said, 'Well, would you give money to the nation of Islam or the Jewish militiamen?' they'd say, 'I need to think about it'."

Given this American obsession with kitsch, is one book on banal culture going to be enough to cover everything?

"I found while I was working on this book that the range of things that are bad is infinite, and you could never do all the bad things in the world," Queenan says.

"But the range that are heart-stoppingly awful is tiny -it's doable, you can do it in about three months, if you said I am going to do an absolutely horrible thing every day.

"And there are only about nine Phil Collins albums."

Back to the main Eat It Raw page

MAILClick here to contact Gus

GUSWORLDReturn to Gusworld Central