Tell me about Modern Weird America.
August 30, 2011 9:34 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about Modern Weird America.

I was listening to an interview with Neil Gaiman about American Gods where he talks about moving to America and finding it a weird place (starts at about 6:20). He mentions the nuclear sub by the side of the road in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I'm interested in knowing about more such examples of American high weirdness, such as said nuclear sub, House on the Rock or drive-in signs that are silhouettes of male genitalia.

I'm also interested in blogs, essays, or books about American weirdness, especially by foreigners who've lived in the US, like Gaiman, or returning expats, e.g. Bill Bryson.
posted by Kattullus to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
The obvious books would be the weird travel guides eg. Weird Washington. (Some similar titles are linked on the page too)

I read the Washington one, and it has the sort of stuff you're talking about, but it's a bit thin - way too much of the book is fluff/padding IMO. eg. it seems like so many of the entries are just stretches of road in the middle of nowhere or other mundane everyday things, except someone once thought they saw a ghost there.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:46 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Weird NJ is just what it says.

You don't want to read Greil Marcus' awesome The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, but some of the old weird might still be around.

There was a great essay about 'stoner gothic' but Googling it just gets me a bunch of records. Maybe investigate what inspired X-Files episodes? weird American stuff was their forte.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:57 PM on August 30, 2011

Keep Portland Weird
posted by ainsley at 10:05 PM on August 30, 2011

Keep Boulder Weird
posted by Wordwoman at 10:24 PM on August 30, 2011

just drive trough South Dakota in I-90... Wisconsin as well (same road)
posted by edgeways at 10:25 PM on August 30, 2011

More like Keep Portland and Boulder Stealin' Other Cities' Slogans -- amirite, Austinites?!

Anyway. Cadillac Ranch might qualify as weird.
posted by chasing at 10:35 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Go to Memphis.
posted by bardic at 10:36 PM on August 30, 2011

Weird Rhode Island at
posted by sigmagalator at 10:59 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

The grandaddy of these sites is Roadside America.
posted by lisa g at 11:01 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oops, in my editing of the post I managed to take out something rather important. I'm not simply looking for weird places, I'm also looking for weird events. Not unexplained phenomena, but strange things which happen in modern American society, like the car on the ice contest featured in American Gods or the Frozen Dead Guy Days* mentioned in ainsley's link. But I'm also interested in events that may seem normal to Americans but strike foreigners as deeply strange, such as the reaction of the German news reporter to Bush's post-Katrina visit to Biloxi.

And again, I want writing about American weirdness by residents of the US who are either foreign or have lived extensively abroad, not travel guides.

* I was there in March. It's a fun event to visit even if, like me, you don't go up to the shed where the titular guy is.
posted by Kattullus at 11:03 PM on August 30, 2011

Best answer: Fugitives and Refugees, a walk in Portland, Oregon by Chuck Pahlaniuk.

Ciao, America! though that is more about what seems normal to an American but weird to an Italian.

And Baudrillard's America.
posted by hungrytiger at 11:05 PM on August 30, 2011

Do you want more like freaky-weird roadside attraction stuff ("OMG, there is a giant orange fish hanging off that building and people are chanting incantations beneath it") or observations about how the fundamental culture is deeply weird ("OMG, American religion/culture/politics/art are all affected by XYZ")?
posted by hungrytiger at 11:09 PM on August 30, 2011

I want writing about American weirdness by residents of the US who are either foreign or have lived extensively abroad

So, like Codrescu? Road Scholar is both a book and a movie. It's not primarily about roadside-type weirdness, but there's definitely some in there.

There's also some of that in a couple of Jonathan Raban's books. Notably Hunting Mr. Heartbreak, though there's a bit of it in Old Glory as well.

But I'm also interested in events that may seem normal to Americans but strike foreigners as deeply strange

Er, you've read Toqueville, right? He did pretty much invent the genre.
posted by dersins at 12:03 AM on August 31, 2011

Perhaps Bill Bryson's "I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away"?

"With the telescopic perspective of one who's stepped out of the American mainstream and come back after 20 years, Bryson aptly holds the mirror up to U.S. culture, capturing its absurdities--such as hotlines for dental floss, the cult of the lawsuit, and strange American injuries such as those sustained from pillows and beds. "In the time it takes you to read this," he writes, "four of my fellow citizens will somehow manage to be wounded by their bedding.""
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:31 AM on August 31, 2011

Sarah Vowell's work might be interesting to look into. She isn't necessarily explicit about the weirdness of America in the way a foreign visitor or returning expatriate is, but she recognizes that the stuff she's interested in tends to be fairly odd.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:04 AM on August 31, 2011

Stephen Fry did a great TV series and book on travels in the US. While not super weird, it does give you insight into some peculiarities of the USA from Frys rather unique perspective.

A British actress did a series tracking the travels of Charles Dickens in America her name escapes me though. It was Called something like "Dickens in America" and you get to see the US through her eyes and Charles Dickens eyes as well. Heck you might even find Charles Dickens American Notes interesting, though a little paternalistic, I don't think he was a huge fan of the US.

On a side note Top Gear the British car show have done an episode or 2 in the US and they always manage to find the weirdest most interesting people and places and almost get killed every time.
posted by wwax at 7:06 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jon Ronson's books explore this a lot, though they tend to be more global weirdness than just American weirdness. Them might be a good place to start.
posted by Mchelly at 7:22 AM on August 31, 2011

Mark Rosenfelder's Metaverse site hosts a number of "culture tests" that point out things various groups take for granted or don't, as the case may be. Not sure it's exactly what you wanted, but it is interesting to compare the various places.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:14 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Down a bit on this page - the MN Museum of the Mississippi link and the Chicago Marvelous link both have a lot of content on some odd attractions and events. The person who runs this site is a friend of mine (more of my brother but I've known him a long time) and he has always been a huge fan of this sort of thing. The links go pretty deep in there so keep rooting around.

"Small town festivals" must surely play a roll in this question. There oughta be some sort of central site for that but I couldn't find one, googling the phrase though generated endless links.
posted by nanojath at 10:13 AM on August 31, 2011

Not exactly what you're looking for, but Wisconsin-related and weird is both the book and the film Wisconsin Death Trip. One of my all-time favorites.
posted by Polyhymnia at 10:21 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Best Places You've Never Seen does a pretty good job of listing Pennsylvania oddities.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:49 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

(N.B. I have not been and am not American, but the person I learned about it from has been and is.)
posted by equivocator at 4:52 PM on August 31, 2011

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