ONE OF THE BIGGEST RISKS of being rich and famous must be the possibility that you could become the subject of a Joe Queenan article. A writer for magazines like GQ, Movieline, and Barron's, Queenan has built a reputation as one of the most vicious culture critics out there today. He is the literary equivalent of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. MY GOODNESS: A CYNIC'S SHORT-LIVED SEARCH FOR SAINTHOOD
by Joe Queenan
Hyperion, $21.95 Confessions of a cineplex heckler: celluloid tirades and escapades
by Joe Queenan
Hyperion, $12.95 paper "My chronic nastiness and obdurate refusal to look on the bright side of things goes far beyond garden-variety misanthropy. In a very real sense, I am a complete and utter bastard," he boasts in the opening of his latest book, My Goodness. Fortunately for us, he is also very funny. My Goodness: A Cynic's Short-lived Search for Sainthood is Queenan's account of his efforts to become a good person, like Susan Sarandon, Jimmy Carter, and Ben & Jerry. Of course, Joe Queenan hates people like Susan Sarandon, Jimmy Carter, and Ben & Jerry. He's repulsed by the moral superiority that seems to come with their very public acts of philanthropy. Another misanthrope would attack the rich and famous for taking up pet causes because of the public relations, not because their heart bleeds. But Joe Queenan is not your average misanthrope. In order to write about misguided celebrity charity, he decided to become a better person. To do so, he threw out all his toiletries, which could have been tested on animals or manufactured by corporations with poor minority relations, replacing his bathroom products with expensive stuff from the eco-friendly Body Shop. He also switched to a more moral long-distance provider (Working Assets) and began wearing T-shirts with politically correct slogans ("Honor Diversity" and "Defend the Earth"). But that wasn't enough. To become an even better person, Joe Queenan practiced "Random Acts of Kindness" and "Senseless Acts of Beauty," which he abbreviates as "RAKs" and "SABs." The descriptions of his RAKs and SABs are the funniest parts of the book. One bright idea was to become "The Frugal Philanthropist." He promptly set up The Make a Wish, As Long As the Wish Doesn't Cost More Than Fifty Bucks, Foundation. The foundation's acts included sending Linda Tripp a care package of groceries and trying to help a singing subway musician improve his rendition of "Ave Maria" by buying him a CD of different versions of the song. Another RAK was his attendance at a rally for death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal. For Queenan, it was a most efficient RAK because "One, it enabled me to demonstrate solidarity with the African-American community. Two, it allowed me to lend support to political prisoners everywhere. Three, it enabled me to register my opposition to capital punishment. . . ." Queenan also decided to commit the ultimate SAB: apologizing for the countless mean things he's written (his previous nasty remarks ran to 47,678). To do this, he set up a contrition Web site (it takes less time than writing individual apology notes). Of course, there are some people he would not, under any circumstances, apologize to. "If the price of sanctity means that I had to start apologizing to people like Patrick Swayze," wrote Queenan, "then the price of sanctity was too steep." Predictably, he realizes the price of sanctity is too steep and abandons the RAKs and SABs when he has enough material to fill up 200-plus pages. Queenan's quest for betterment may not have turned him into a saint, but at least it left him with plenty of great stories to tell. Many of the pieces for which Queenan is known appear in another of his books, now out in paperback. Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler is made up of essays about the poor state of contemporary cinema. The irony in this book is that Queenan's common theme (Hollywood makes the same pictures over and over again) seems less persuasive when most columns make the same point over and over again. Do we really need to read 13 pages on how there are too many ears being severed in modern motion pictures? Much of this book is enjoyable, including the founding of the Antonio Banderas Research Institute (designed to find out "if and when the swarthy Spaniard was ever going to become a bona fide movie star"). However, many readers will find the essays a bit redundant. Both of Queenan's books come across as mean-spirited and cynical; they will raise more than a few hackles out there. And I mean that as a compliment.