Mr. Antagonist’s Neighborhood

Let’s be honest, Outback Steakhouse’s greatest contribution to western society is that it perfectly distills what I find to be so bizarre and possibly wrong about suburban America.  First off, let’s get one thing straight; their slogan “No Rules, Just Right!” is totally bogus.  They won’t even let you seat your own party, let alone terrorize the kitchen staff during a naked, PCP fueled rampage.  More importantly however, Outback Steakhouse is maybe the most transparent example of pseudo-ethnic, market researched, culinary perversion available to suburbia. 

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Yes, it’s true, in strip malls and commercial zones all across America, Olive Gardens are serving up meatballs, just like Mama used to make em’ back in the old country!  Chi Chi’s glues maracas to the wall, sells patrons cat food, and passes it off as “Tex-Mex” (which is really just another way of saying “don’t worry, its not too Mexican”).  Then there’s LeeAnn Chin, the kind of eatery that allows us all to imagine a world where people from South East Asia deep-fry everything.  And of course, Outback Steakhouse, a theme restaurant already bastardizing a concept that I’m not even sure has ever been in demand…Australian cuisine. 

At this point in the article, there are two types of readers: those who know me personally and are asking themselves “Since when has this guy been picky with food?” and those who don’t and aren’t.  See, the thing is, I dig chicken strips and I’m the first to admit that my palate hasn’t matured since I was four.  My diatribe and snobbery is not so much aimed at the food itself, but rather at the structure which surrounds it, one that gives me this intangible feeling that I’m being lied to. 

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that.  I didn’t demand my money back when I first found out the magician wasn’t actually cutting a woman in half, nor did I storm out when I first realized that by hanging a few local photos up on the wall, Applebee’s still does not qualify as being a part of any neighborhood.  Really, what it boils down to, and I imagine a good number of people can relate to this, at a certain point in my life, the abstract notion of “genuine” became something with real value. applebees-outside

It makes sense, I guess, for certain suburban teens to feel this pull.  The world we lived in was more defined by what it wasn’t then by what it was.  And so we ran in both directions, some days planning road trips through the Badlands, other days scoping out trendy record stores in the city. My teen years could best be interpreted as an attempt to build a model airplane in the dark.  Yet, even though I was searching for a particular layer of society that I had not personally witnessed, I somehow already knew it was out there and I knew it was right.  

So why?  Why do I sit here today, trying to brainstorm the practical benefits that have resulted from this ability, the ability to separate the genuine from the disingenuous… and why is this proving to be so difficult?  I mean really, what have I gained from this irrational pursuit of things that I consider to be “real”? 

Is it fueled purely by arrogance, or self-satisfaction?

Is it a way to create a new kind of social hierarchy? 

Am I a better person for hating American Idol? 

I keep thinking about a hypothetical, rather shallow business executive.  He drives a BMW.  He has a huge house with rooms he’ll never use.  He loves Guns and Roses.  He has a fat Calloway that hits the shit out of those golf balls.  He can’t wait until the next “Scary Movie” installment comes out. 

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But let’s say, by all accounts, he’s happy.  What else is there then?  What does it matter if he visits Thailand and doesn’t leave his hotel, but I make the effort to experience the “real” Thailand? 


Is my happiness better than his happiness?      

Well, I have come to one conclusion: You can’t choose.  Once you step on that ride, once you commit yourself to search for that which is “genuine”…there’s no turning back.  It can be a cynical and deflating journey, but at least it feels right.    

picture credit:

Submitted by: Mr. Antagonist

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2 responses to “Mr. Antagonist’s Neighborhood

  1. I like your commentary on Suburban restaurants. It seems to me that they really all just create the illusion of choice, but are interchangeable. What kind of fat do you want with your salt and sugar?

    The issues that you raise around the notions of real and fake, especially when tied to concepts of ethnicity and nation, are complex. What defines Australia? How about Thailand? The geographical location? The people? What happens when I go to eat in Chinatown?

    It turns out that many dishes touted as “national” have already been co-opted in their countries of origin for political purposes. What better way to create sentiments of national unity then by celebrating a national dish?

    In today’s global culture I think it works better to think about flows of culture rather than nation-states or fixed ethnic groups. Of course, this only complicates the notions of disingenuous and genuine.

    Perhaps it is more helpful to think about it in terms of “who” rather than “what.” Instead of asking what is genuine and what is not genuine. One might ask, Who benefits from this restaurant? Who gets hurt?

    Enough for now. I’m hungry. Time for Chipotle!

  2. The disingenuous and genuine–another duality that is critical in our lives. The line is certainly blurry in our culture as you have shown–but like you said, happy is as happy does. But, really, if the only ‘Mexican’ food you have ever known in you time on this planet is Taco Bell, then that REALLY IS Mexican food. A few years back I visited a small village on the extreme tip of Mexico and had real Mexican food (not the crap in Cancun)…and now everytime I go to the restraunt Acalpoco and order my bean burrito and huge watered down margarite, a little piece of me dies inside.

    I guess another thing that strikes me is the negative conotation that cynicism often gets–shit, sometimes I think (in our current state of affairs) that cynicisim could be a virtue….but I guess that’s neither here nor there.

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