BAD by Paul Fussell
Kirkus Star


or, The Dumbing of America


From Fussell, a great crying out at just about everything that's awful about today's America. Bad things have always been around--cheap, false, deceitful; but when, as in our deluded "age of hype," these things are not just swallowed whole but are declared to be "better than any other sort," then "bad" is raised to "BAD," otherwise understood as the culture-wide "manipulation of fools by knaves" that makes up the reality of our everyday experience in a nation that's insecure, "subadult," and "intellectually deprived." Fussell (Wartime, 1989, etc.) chronicles the shabby charade that comprises life in America, organizing his laments into a bitterly hilarious reference book with entries from "BAD Advertising" through "BAD Television," with stops in between, for example, at airlines, beliefs, conversation, engineering, language, people, poetry, and even restaurants. The key idea throughout is that what determines true "BAD" is "the distance between appearance and reality," and what Fussell is really decrying is the class insecurity, the "doltishness and provincialism," that causes Americans to love the third-rate and to have not a clue as to the genuine. "BAD Colleges and Universities" may be the central entry in the whole, since wholesale and happily complacent ignorance lies at the heart of the horror. Out-Menckening Mencken in his sliver-tongued diatribes at bunkum and pretense and fraud, Fussell slips sometimes into mere disgust, or worse, into plain insensitivity (West Virginia is a place where the waitresses "will have no teeth"); but in declaring America to be a clownish nation empowered today only by "a conspiracy against actuality," he addresses what might just be the awful truth about the last rotting timber our house stands on. With droll and despondently elegant wit, a study of the manipulated ignorance of our mass culture, and a dirge for the "wiping-out of the amenity and nuance and complexity and charm that make a country worth living in." Domestic--and invaluable--Fussell.
Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0671792288
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1991

PAUL FUSSELL, 1924-2012:

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