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I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  238 ratings  ·  34 reviews
From the cultural critic Wired called “provocative and cuttingly humorous” comes a viciously funny, joltingly insightful collection of drive-by critiques of contemporary America where chaos is the new normal. Exploring the darkest corners of the national psyche and the nethermost regions of the self—the gothic, the grotesque, and the carnivalesque—Mark Dery makes sense of ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 1st 2014 by Univ Of Minnesota Press (first published 2010)
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Start your review of I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams
Remember when Gozer the Gozerian tells Venkman and the boys that the form of "the Destructor" will be determined by the first meme that pops into their noodle?

"So empty your heads! Don't think of anything!" Dr. Venkman exhorts.

In perhaps my favorite comic-philosophical scene from the '80s, the would-be Gozer-slayers attempt an on-the-fly Buddhist purge of the ego, fumigating their Cartesian theaters. I still remember the prickly chill in my 8 year-old gut at the thought of Peter, Ray, Egon, and
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I find it impossible to discuss Mark Dery's I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts in anything other than the first person. The book speaks so eloquently of its time that, uncannily, I can't help but feel it speaks of me. So many of my own interests and obsessions rise from its pages -- death, deviance, intellect. I recognize my iTunes library in Dery's tours de force on David Bowie and Lady Gaga. I recognize my bookshelf in Dery's essay on Amok Books, whose productions were once textbooks in the ...more
Kate Walker
Jan 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Voluptuously lustrous and uncannily lifelike," the antique mannequin on the cover of Mark Dery's latest essay collection, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts, "glows, if not with life, with a robust undeath." Her skin is so perfect you could eat off the surface of it. Her eye, unbowed, is cracked and bruised, maybe from an injury sustained in the dumpster where they found her before bringing her back to present glory. Reading the book over the last week, she's had a special place on my pillow, an ...more
Mark Mikula
While browsing in Garrison Keillor's book store (Common Good Books in St. Paul), I came across this volume of contemporary essays and instantly knew I had found a riveting read. It's possible that other writers are producing this sort of material, but because I haven't plumbed the depths of metafilter or BoingBoing or neatorama or a hundred other cool websites out there, I'm not finding them. I was so glad to find these essays anthologized in a hard cover. Most had been published elsewhere, ...more
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

To be clear, I rather liked a lot this newest book of essays by subversive Gladwellesque philosopher/columnist Mark Dery, which is actually the first work of his I've ever read, because of seeing a plethora of fantastic things about it online from places like Boing Boing and people like Warren Ellis; and
Jack Goodstein
Feb 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Transgressive cultural critic opines on everything from Lady Gaga to Santa Claus and necrophylia.
Apr 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ludovico D’Amore

The Ludovico Technique is a form of compulsory deprogramming featured in both the book and film A Clockwork Orange. It consists of forcing a patient to watch horribly graphic murders, rapes, and other severe brutality while under the influence of an addictive, nausea-causing drug. The therapy’s intent is to train the patient to reflexively respond to violent impulses, acts—even thoughts—by undergoing debilitating nausea, thereby discouraging antisocial behavior.

In the title
Frank Hestvik

This book is, much like its description, a carnival ride through a whole bunch of (relatively) topical subjects: on blogging, the nauseating[1] popularity of zombies in recent popular culture, the dark underbelly of the concept of IQ, "Holocaust" as a multi-billion industry, the disputed history of Santa, the (also nauseating[2]) 2012 eschatology fad, America's gun-obsession, American masculinity, and so on.

It's not a totally smooth ride, of course. I found most of the essays extremely
Virginia Bryant
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book the politics of which "stand foursquare against the faux-populist demagogues, brownshirt pundit...........And against the Stalinist though police of the left at its most inquisitional" this is a snappy and entertaining read by a well rounded intelligence, familiar with art, history and current events seen with an open though squinted eye. Fun.

About Madonna, fashion and Versace, "the boundary pushing edginess of couture" linked to "sexual perversions" and fashion as "the ultimate commodity
Thomas Hale
Jun 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up due to the title, not having heard of Dery before. He's a cultural critic, described in the foreword (by Bruce Sterling) as the intellectual equivalent of a shock jock, puncturing the trite politeness of cryptofascist conservatism and boring political correctness (paraphrasing, of course). I was expecting to find Dery a grim libertarian "the answer must be somewhere in the middle" bore.

In actuality, he's a rather excellent writer, whose politics are much more interesting than
Jon Arnold
May 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
You know where you are with this collection from the dedication; it’s a paean to the late J G Ballard. Dery shares Ballard’s fascination with poking into what we consider the darker side of the human psyche, the dark and nasty undercurrents that lurk beneath the veneer of civilisation, waiting for a chance to rise to the surface. It means this is an intoxicating dark mix of queer theory, religion, twisted sexuality and body parts.

The first section is the shady side of conventional, covering
May 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. At one point, while reading the book’s second essay – “Gun Play: An American Tragedy in Three Acts” – I laughed so long and hard that I was sure my neighbor would call the cops. It was the laughter of a bitter cynic, you must understand. This is what they mean by “cuttingly humorous:” it’s only funny if you have the ability to laugh at the worst stupidity of your fellow man.

The first section opens with a pondering of zombies and what they mean to us now in post-econ-meltdown
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The "drive-by" description is apt. Dery doesn't get bogged down in deep analysis but instead serves as a sharp-tongued tour guide for some memorable curiosities and bizarre themes: hungry tourists stuffing their faces in an Auschwitz cafeteria, the subconscious reasons we're scared of teeth, the relationship between Santa and Satan, fan fiction, various fetishes, Facebook weirdness and lots more. He could stand to add a few new reference points - seriously, sir, step away from the Bowie albums ...more
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
its a little bit jumbled and jivey. maybe its supposed to be like a poem, where the author just sort of throws out stuff and you sort of make "connections" between "ideas" in your "head". ? Its heady, and its crass, and hes just calling it like he sees it. . . or its just a bunch of pretentious garbage that looks like intellectual honesty because the subject matter and approach seem so "keepin it real". Reminds me of Jim Goad stuff, I guess I just dont have the intellectual stamina for it, (or ...more
Bradley Somer
Jul 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
- Mark Dery is obviously having fun with the language and content and it is contagious.
- I agree with most of his assertions, which makes us both right.
- The span of topics is insightful, off-kilter and amusing... Hal the computer may be gay... A literary critique of suicide notes... and on and on.
- Even at his most self-masterbatory (playing the unapologetic vocabularian in the final essay), you can tell he's getting his kicks and it's funny.
- Bold, argumentative, confrontational and
Apr 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, provocative and compared with books of this type - funny and remarkably jargon-free. Particular stand-outs include a deconstruction of faux-weirdo Lady Gaga and the symbolism of teeth.

Also, a really interesting take on Man VS Beast, discussing anthropomorphism and the bear-ly legal attack on Timothy Treadwell (Grizzly Man).

Half a star off for the somewhat grotesque cover, which makes this one a tough subway/public read and for a couple of shorter essays (Madonna's Big Toe) that
Aug 07, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"Exploring the darkest corners of the national psyche and the nethermost regions of the self"? If the scariest stuff found within these cultural forbidden zones is a "is he or isn't he?" expose' of 2001's HAL, an anti-Lady Gaga rant, and a meditation on the lost souls on Facebook, I'd say the most unsettling thing about our national psyche is not its darkness or depth, but rather how painfully well-lit it is.
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dery builds sentences of overwhelming length bearing incredible payoffs - if you can cruise through some some real linguistic quagmires for the payoff. A must-read for the discerning logophile in your life!

(But maybe not for the frustrated writer… they’re likely to drown themselves in the bathtub after reading, if prone to jealousy. Not speaking from experience or anything…)
Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like any book of pop culture essays, some are bound to be more compelling than others according to the interests of the reader. In my case I was particularly drawn to the pieces on Twain and Bowie, and the wonderful "Jocko Homo," a brilliant piece on why American sports culture sucks balls. At his best, Dery is that rarest of two-legged unicorns, an American intellectual with a sense of humor.
Mar 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really great read for anyone who wants to think about American cultures, subcultures, fringe cultures etc., in interesting (and sometimes bizarre!) ways. I love it when writers make explicit the politics of all cultural manifestations and expose the constructedness of our everyday realities and society at large.
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this second decade of the 21st Century, I MUST NOT THINK BAD THOUGHTS is the book for me. A veritable cluster munition of commentary and erudite ranting. A series of illumination rounds lighting up disparate blasted patches of America's cultural landscape. War reporting from the front lines and back alleys of modernity.
Jul 07, 2012 marked it as half-read-or-hibernating  ·  review of another edition
Very occasionally picking this up and reading an essay or two. His style doesn't seem to be one I want to immerse myself in for very long, though all the pieces are interesting, and the essay on Lady Gaga is hilarious.
Not as insightful or clever as I was hoping. The subtitle is somewhat misleading IMO.

Though individually as a series of news column style articles, quite fun? I was just hoping for a little more substance and engagement with the title.
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: subculture
Dery is best when he is playing critic and most boring when he is guiding the reader through a sidestep history lesson. Only downside to his essays in anthology form is the occasional repeat reference.
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had hoped for deeper insight into the American psyche.
Darryl Berger
Feb 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Acidic, humorous, intolerant of bullshit. A little nerdiness verging on academia in parts, but never detracting from how enjoyable this is.
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommended. Weirdness & perversity under a microscope.
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book covering a vast range of topics in a fun an pretty interesting way. From David Bowie to severed heads, this book is truly captivates the mind.
Ben Smith
I judged this book by its cover (it's really a great cover), but found the content pretty underwhelming. Many of these essays dealt with interesting subject matter, but I just really don't like Mark Dery's writing style, apparently. Seemingly every other page has an "x is like if y wrote/directed/enacted/interpreted z" kind of cultural mash-up metaphor, almost all of which involved a y and a z that I wasn't at all familiar with, making the description completely meaningless to me. Maybe that's ...more
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Mark Dery is a cultural critic, essayist, and book author who has taught at NYU and Yale. He coined the term “Afrofuturism,” popularized the concept of “culture jamming,” and has published widely on American mythologies and pathologies. His books include Flame Wars (1994), a seminal anthology of writings on digital culture; Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the