Ten Reasons Why American Culture Didn’t Suck in 2002 . . . And Ten Reasons Why It Did

. . And Ten Reasons Why It Did

A Beautiful Mind beats Lord of the Rings for Best Picture
It was hard enough watching Julia Roberts’ spaced-out eyes and plastered grin, and even harder trying to suss out the meaning of her egotistical statement, “I love my life”, right before she handed the Oscar for Best Actor (for a movie that was one-tenth as interesting as the one he should’ve won it for, Malcolm X) to Denzel Washington. What’s even weaker is that he lost the chance to win it for The Hurricane because word on the street at the time was that the film’s various biographical inaccuracies doomed it to the dustbin of also-ran history. But then A Beautiful Mind — a film with even more biographical inaccuracies and a weepy if fallacious love-conquers-all ending — beats out a wildly successful and continually relevant (we are at war, dig?) film that had more pressure on top of it than Tom Arnold before he left Roseanne. Don’t get me wrong, Ron Howard is an amiable, talented guy, but he made one good two-hour flick that year while Jackson more or less made three three-hour epics. And let’s consider the source material: did anyone read A Beautiful Mind before they ran out and caught the cinematic adaptation? Even if they did, you’d have to probably multiply that readership by a billion to catch up with the fiercely devoted and relentlessly picky Tolkien readership that has made his trilogy the second-most read literary work (after the Bible, which in many parts of the world isn’t really considered a literary work anyway) of the century. Let’s get real, Jackson got robbed. It doesn’t take yet another Russell Crowe hissy-fit to realize that. The lamest move of the year, hands down.

He Tried to Kill My Dad!
There’s countless reasons for justifying the destruction of monomaniacs like Saddam Hussein. His systematic execution of dissenters, pretenders and innocents is not some Fox News pipe dream — it really did happen. Except for one small thing: we practically handed him the weapons to do it. Donald Rumsfeld, for all his protestations, did shake the dictator’s hand and signed over a kingdom’s worth of toxic weapons to suppress fundamentalist Iran. The Bush family’s oil connections, even to the Taliban, arenÕt news to anybody. Which makes George W.’s ludicrous, Rambo-like rationalizations for blowing the shit out of a country even his dad wouldn’t touch in the final analysis the pinnacle of idiocy. The sad thing is that people bought and even supported the president’s laughable yet personal vendetta — and they’re still buying it. Even TV’s version of the president, Martin Sheen himself, was incredulous, arguing, “I think he’d like to hand his father Saddam Hussein’s head and win his approval for what happened after the Gulf War”. Let’s break this down. After being pounded into horsemeat by a years-old recession and hounded by an Al Qaeda threat that’s far from eradicated, Bush wants young suckers from all over the country to go to war and die for some familial blood feud — to the tune of about three billion a month? Isn’t that asking, well, a bit much? My dad got laid off from a company that screwed its employees out of their retirement, but you don’t see me picking up a nuke over it. Hey, wait a second . . .

Jacko’s Baby Dangling
I know, I know, people have been asking this question for years now, but seriously, what in the hell is going on with this guy? By all rights, it would have been nearly impossible for him to top a spurious lawsuit against a multinational — Sony, which dropped $55 million on him (more than the GNP of most countries south of the equator) for his last album — for being racist white devils. But watching his nose fall off during a court appearance and then his towel-hooded infant dangle a few stories above a crowd made that loony lawsuit seem almost sane. That, my friends, is called a hat trick. And did we mention the gay porn director that he put in charge of his 9/11 concert? If Jackson wanted to reclaim the Elephant Man’s humanity when he tried to purchase the guy’s bones some years back, he’s doing an awful job of it. Rather, he’s becoming a traveling grotesquery himself, and is fast — and sadly — becoming irrelevant in an entertainment field he once dominated. Someone get this guy help, and do it fast before he drops that baby or his face.

Trent Lott’s Segregation Paradise
Open racist foot, insert into racist mouth. It’s not enough that the Republicans more or less run every important post in the years of Bush, Part Deux — now they gotta lament the long lost days of segregation on top of it. And then defend their linguistic gaffes with an arrogant, half-assed apology from all corners. Witness the words of Bush mouthpiece Ari Fleischer: “[He] has apologized for his statement, and the president understands that that is the final word from Senator Lott.” Or, in other words, thanks for coming out, suckers! Or Lott’s second statement on the matter: “A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past.” So this is what Reality TV’s political landscape has come to? “A poor choice of words?” Uh, Trent, the words weren’t the problem, my man — the assertion that endorsing a segregationist Dixiecrat leadership would’ve cured America’s current — not past — ills is. And we didn’t get that “impression” either, you conveyed it. Lott’s waffling apology (one of many, by the way) is by no means surprising (you get this type of straw stuff in sports all the time), but at a time when the nation is polarized on all conceivable lines, it’s a pure slap in the face. And this isn’t the first time he’s either said the same thing (it happened twenty years earlier at — what else? — a Mississippi rally alongside Thurmond) or been associated with racism, having three years ago addressed a rally of the white supremacist-friendly Council of Conservative Citizens. He backtracked then too, arguing that he didn’t know the CCC were supremacists, but it’s hard to believe that such a high-profile politician interested in distancing himself from a record of support for “discarded policies” wouldn’t at least read the mission statement of the groups that pay him to bark at. Forget apologies anyway — the guy should lose his job. But what’s sad is that there’s a distinct possibility that this will get less airplay than the former President’s blow job did. Only in America!

Winona’s Sticky Fingers
You can tell the apocalypse is nigh when a guy like ex-Sportscenter pundit Keith Olbermann starts defending Zoloft-addled actresses who grab five-finger discounts at Saks against the legion of scandal-addicted media shows like Celebrity Justice, Entertainment Tonight, ad nauseam. I think it was Tom Cruise in Risky Business that said, “Sometimes you just gotta say what the fuck.” Ok, I’m saying it. What the fuck? I agree that no one should care at all about celebrities, but Ryder’s egotistical move was an insult to ordinary, recession-battered people who can barely afford to put presents underneath their trees this holiday. The elfin star is loaded with money, fame and perks but still has the audacity to shoplift beneath panoptic security systems in, of all places, Beverly Hills, and then top it off by forwarding the leaky excuse that she was preparing for a role she refuses to disclose. And why? Because she can. Sometimes Hollywood can’t help but sicken even the hardiest of digestive tracts. And yeah, Whoopi Goldberg, is right: this is small-time stuff and the only reason that the Ryder case exploded was because she’s a celeb. But that’s the whole freakin’ point! She’s high-profile (and did I mention filthy rich?) and should be smart enough to know that stuff like this is what gets celebs sent to the dark cellars of the National Enquirer for life. It’s a no-brainer, but that seems to be what Ryder is turning out to be these days. And to top it off, some sharp capitalist printed up (without a hint of irony, by the way) a line of shirts bearing the slogan, “Free Winona”, which other stars then had the audacity to wear. You can hardly get those idiots to take a public stand on something like Trent Lott or the War in Iraq, but slap Ryder for shoplifting and all of a sudden southern California is politically galvanized. Now you know why I tell people I’m from Long Beach, not LA.

“The Genius of Capitalism”
Most people who were following the Enron, WorldCom, Citigroup, Tyco, [Insert Corporation Name Here] scandals plaguing the American economic landscape were doing their hardest to hold down their lunches as the headlines filled with such euphemisms as “irregular accounting practices” (try “institutionalized graft and robbery”), “weakened consumer confidence” (try “swindled investors”) or — my favorite — Paul O’Neill’s infamous “genius of capitalism” to describe what amounted to, 9/11 or no, the worst attacks on U.S. soil in history. Even though bin Laden’s lunatics shouldered most of the blame for our pistol-whipped economy, the real culprits were punks like Enron — who jacked geographies as disparate as India and California for billions in fake energy costs — while dropping all of their dough in tax-free offshore shelters as they engaged in callous doublespeak about the New Economy and American labor and pride. When the new millenniums Great Swindle dies down (if it ever does), our economy will have been robbed of billions of dollars, maybe trillions, and it will take a long time, no matter what the parrots on Fox News say, for things to get right again. The worst part of it all? No one’s really gone to jail yet. At some point the government is going to have to decide that rampant white-collar crime is worse, or at least equivalent, to conscience-less murder, if only because its ripples can go on forever. But it won’t happen with this administration, believe that: the Bushes are neck-deep in insider stock trading and bailouts, Cheney’s strong-arm tactics for Enron got him sued by the GAO and, even though Paul O’Neill and Harvey Pitt eventually got the gate, both destroyed America’s economic integrity to the point that no one will invest in anything other than Third-Worlders making Coke bottles for years. Can someone explain to me why, after a full year of such scandals, we’re still talking about Iraq? Like I said elsewhere, if all of this is capitalism’s “genius”, then ignorance truly is bliss.

Eminem’s Homo Issues
This one still blows my mind so let’s end this right now. Regardless of his bullshit pose in 8 Mile, Eminem wrote these lyrics for “Criminal”: “My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge/That’ll stab you in the head/whether you’re a fag or lez/Or the homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest/Pants or dress – hate fags? The answer’s ‘Yes'”. He also wrote these: “I’m ice grillin you, starin you down with a gremlin grin/I’m Eminem, you’re a fag in a women’s gym”. And these: “While getting dropped off in the real back street/where somebody black sees/five little rich white boys lookin like faggots/with the ‘N’ word painted on the back of their jackets.” So what happens? Moby — a dude I can’t really stand myself — dares to speak his mind about Eminem’s homophobia and summarily gets this in “Without Me”: “Moby/you can get stomped by Obie, you 36 year old bald-headed fag/blow me, you don’t know me, you’re too old, let go, its over”. And we’re supposed to stomach the clown that wrote all this coming to the defense of a homosexual in a movie based on his life? Can someone tell me what century we’re in again? I don’t care who they are (and some of them are people I utterly and endlessly respect) but people need to stop rationalizing this dude’s self-obsessed vitriol away. So-called personas aside, the guy has a problem with homosexuals. And as the foundational myth-maker for all the fake Slim Shadys littering the malls of America like so many empty Orange Julius cups, he should know better than try to deflect the criticism of his prejudice as being unfounded or unfair — words are words, language is language, so be a man and admit their meaning rather than engage in some postmodern separation of subject and object during objectification. Bravado aside, I personally know some homosexuals that could kick his ass from one end of Detroit to another, and I wish they would. Nothing better could ever happen to the guy. And don’t give me that hater crap either: everyone knows the guy has skills. But like so many artists, including the ones that he continually harangues in his songs, he’s wasting them trashing tired targets rather than putting them to use making challenging music. This is a guy that feuded with a hand puppet, for chrissakes; are you telling me he has nothing better to do? Wake me up when he grows up.

Augusta: The Man Show
As a Berkeley grad, I’m deriving a considerable amount of pleasure watching the one-time Stanford — we have a century-old rivalry, you see — student, Tiger Woods, squirm uncomfortably beneath the spotlight as reporter after reporter bombards him with the same questions about discrimination and golf, two tastes that in America, Tiger or no, are joined at the hip like Jacko and tabloids. Truth is, the guy has no excuse, especially since everyone knows that “private club” is just another euphemism for “No undesirables allowed”. His rationale — that it’s up to Southern cracker Hootie Johnson and he’s well within his rights to prop up an antiquated policy that could have easily affected the Cablinasian Tiger (if he were as bad a golfer as, say, Colin Montgomerie) — is ringing hollow for people who supported Tiger’s demolition of the Masters’ tourney as a blow for the underrepresented a scant half-decade ago. But as the brilliant Bobbie Fleckman (Fran Drescher) said in This is Spinal Tap, “Money talks, bullshit walks”. Even though he’s in jail, Jim Brown still has a point: with a refusal to play the Master’s this year, Tiger could, like his father once said, have a Gandhi-like impact on the sociopolitical landscape of not just golf or pro sports, but global culture itself. The fact that he’s passing up that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity shows you just how loudly Nike — uh, I mean money — does talk. Look, the new head honcho of the SEC just resigned his membership (although Ari Fleischer admitted he didn’t have to) from Augusta in a move to avoid ruffling feathers — and he’s white. Do the math, Tiger — not showing up this year would be enough for you. Like Ossie Davis told Spike Lee: “Do the right thing.” Nike will always be there for you. If not, about a trillion other endorsement opportunities will.

Two Words: Martha Stewart
This one will be short, since it’s more or less self-explanatory. But Stewart’s reported ego was once so large that even she couldn’t build a gorgeous woodshed to house it in. So when word dropped that she was embroiled in an insider trading controversy (hey, who wasn’t in 2002?), gleeful writers and analysts lined up around the block to throw darts at her. While she had some defenders — if she still had a TV show, “I’d be singing Martha Stewart a love song every day,” said Rosie O’Donnell — most couldn’t help but laugh as her reputation went down in flames. And although the ImClone mess hasn’t totally dampened her clout — her stuff is still selling well and her show is still getting ratings — the whole snafu continued to prove that moguls just can’t help their greedy selves when it comes to inflating their portfolios.

Fox News: “We’re not biased!”
“I challenge anybody to show me an example of bias in Fox News Channel”, tabloid mogul Rupert Murdoch told Salon back in March of 2001. Many writers and reporters took up that challenge but they couldn’t get a word in because loudmouths like the “fair and balanced” Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Geraldo Rivera and the Beltway Boys kept interrupting them. You think I’m joking but I’m not. Although television has — as the Ginsu-sharp Mark Crispin Miller wrote in his excellent book, The Bush Dyslexicon — become far from relevant when it comes to substantive political commentary, Fox News is a three-ring circus run by pseudo-journalists with hard-to-ignore ties to the Republican Party. Let’s break this down, shall we? Fox News president and founder, Roger Ailes? A longtime Republican strategist that worked for Nixon (!), Reagan and even helped craft George the Former’s infamous Willie Horton campaign. That should be enough, don’t you think? This guy is a right-wing shark, plain and simple — he even produced Rush Limbaugh’s short-lived TV show — and if he’s running a news network, there’s little defense against bias that he should be able to muster. But let’s continue. Well-regarded Fox News anchor Tony Snow? Speechwriter for George Bush. Bill O’Reilly? Registered Republican and contributor to the conservative WorldNetDaily.com. This guy has his own talk show, people. Recurring “analyst” William Kristol? Chief of Staff to Dan Quayle. The list goes on, and this is just the stuff they’re telling us. Now I’m not one for partisan politics — as a character from the amazing film, Waking Life, put it, “Do you want the puppet on the left or the puppet on the right?” — but any network that incessantly repeats the mantra, “The only network that America turns to for fair and balanced journalism” or “We report, you decide”, is trying to sell you something. And once you take a look at the buyers, it’s pretty easy to see what’s on the menu. Taste this: “If it hadn’t been for Fox, I don’t know what I’d have done for the news.” Guess who said that? Trent Lott. ‘Nuff said.

>”Watch their offense. See how they’re not standing around as some ng around as some 300-plus pound genetic freak with no game pounds the ball inside? See how they actually move without the ball in their hands? See how they don’t bitch about not getting enough shots (sorry, Kobe)? It’s all part of the game, a team one, and they know how to play it well.”