These Precious Rantables: Nine Damned Annoying Pop Phenomena of 2000 (And One Joyful Event)
Far and away the best thing about writing for a pop culture zine is the license to bitch about anything and everything, just as long as I can somehow frame said bitching in the context of sociological or mediacentric observations. And the beautiful thing about annual retrospectives in a pop culture zine is the opportunity to go back and bitch about stuff I missed the first time around, again, just as long as I can establish some sort of pattern that will benefit collective humanity through its sheer phenomenological brilliance — as exemplified by my ability to use “phenomenological” in a sentence and keep a straight face while doing it.
The simple truth is that society-at-large is going to hell, not because we’re sliding down a 537-vote-thick razor blade into the New Plutocracy (in both the economic and Disneyesque senses) but rather because of the little things that occurred over the past year that provide incontrovertible proof that Thomas Jefferson was right — people really do get the government they deserve.
Here’s ten of these things, in no particular order:
1. Regis Philbin Designer Fashions
Who wants to look like the host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?? Nobody with a lick of fashion sense. Shiny dress shirts with matching ties are Garanimals for adults who can’t color-coordinate. Or the cast of Goodfellas. In any case, if you insist on paying too much to dress like a game-show host, either pick Alex Trebek, who dresses better, or Ben Stein, who actually knows the damn answers.
2. Alex Rodriguez becomes the highest-paid athlete in the universe
Seattle Mariners shortstop Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez signed a ten-year, $220 million contract to play for the Texas Rangers, the most lucrative contract offered to a single player in the history of professional team sports, thus paving the way for the inevitable players’ strike that follows any time franchise owners raise the salary bar to ridiculous heights but cannot do so across the board. I can’t help but think of my old baseball cards that told what players did in the off-season, like selling insurance or aluminum siding, back when baseball only just paid the bills while one was playing. More power to A-Rod — if he’s offered the cash, he should grab it with both hands — but when an athlete makes more money than most CEOs, it’s high time colleges started demanding their athletic-scholarship money back.
3. TV shows as news
The final night of CBS’s Survivor rated front-page coverage in the New York Times. I made a conscious decision not to watch this program once I found out no one was actually going to die, but I guess I should have — obviously the participants hammered out world peace, the Unified Field Theory, and the existence of God in between helpings of rat.
4. Campaigning for President on late-night talk shows
When Gerald Ford’s press secretary Ron Nessen appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1975, he did so under the express agreement that there would be no criticism of the Ford administration on the program, to which the writers responded by coming up with as many gross-out sketches as they could fit into ninety minutes (“With a name like Painful Rectal Itch, you know it’s good jam!”). This year, the late-night programs bent over like new fish in prison to accomodate the candidates for President. SNL, Leno, and Letterman all permitted George Bush and Al Gore to mug and preen to their hearts’ content. Granted, Bill Clinton did the same thing on Arsenio Hall in 1992, but at least he brought his saxophone and worked for his exposure. The most disconcerting appearance by a candidate, however, had to be Ralph Nader, with Susan Sarandon and Phil Donahue in tow, stumping on Queen Latifah. Now if only Pat Buchanan had done the Springer show…
5. Complaints about real people not looking like cartoons
In X-Men, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) questions the black leather outfit he’s required to wear, to which his new teammate Cyclops (James Marsden) replies, “What did you expect, yellow spandex?” This was a not-so-subtle dig at the legions of fanboys who took time off from creating photomanipulations of Agent Scully performing soixante-neuf with Captain Janeway to whine online about their favorite superheroes not looking exactly like they look in funnybooks. As Tomb Raider wraps filming in England, advance photos of Angelina Jolie as video-game sexpot Lara Croft have dragged those hordes back out of their parents’ basements. Jolie’s thighs are too big, her breasts aren’t the right shape, she’s wearing a black tanktop instead of an iridescent green tanktop… Never mind that neither the X-Men nor Lara Croft have ever been rendered in their respective media with the least concern for anatomy or physiology, or that superhero costumes are just downright silly to begin with. At least Hollywood has finally begun to make those movies you people have been wetting your corduroys for, so shut up.
6. No complaints about real people in cartoons
I believe in the Antichrist, the unholy spawn of Satan born of woman and placed on Earth to wreak havoc and despair in preparation for the coming of His Infernal Majesty. I used to believe he was Phil Collins, but now I’m firmly convinced the Scion of the Worm is Hollywood mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who has given us such loud and incoherent yet amazingly cast blockbuster stinkers like Con Air, The Rock, and this year’s absolutely worst film, Gone in 60 Seconds. Bruckheimer’s ability to bring people who should know better — like John Cusack, John Malkovich, Sean Connery, Ed Harris, Delroy Lindo, Robert Duvall, the aforementioned Angelina Jolie, and Nicolas Cage (who appeared in all three movies) — into such poorly written, sexist, mindless, and otherwise ill-advised crapfests is nothing short of diabolical. How bad was Gone in 60 Seconds? Showgirls bad. John Carpenter’s Vampires bad. There are second-feature porn flicks with better plot development and dialogue. And it had three Oscar winners in it! For the love of all that’s good and just and holy in this world, Bruckheimer must be drilled through the head now.
7. The continuing myth of “role models”
Speaking of unrelenting evil, Marilyn Manson appeared recently on MTV’s Total Request Live, with Carson Daly, to promote his new album Holy Wood (Carson Daly — another Satanspawn). During a Q&A session with the studio audience, up pops some suburban hausfrau to ask, without a trace of irony, “What do you give to the kids who buy your music?” A nonplussed Manson stared at her for a beat and stammered, “The music.” Obviously Soccer Mom was trotting out the “role model” question, that tiresome piece of sanctimony that refuses to die, proclaiming that celebrity is somehow a gift bestowed upon a famous person, for which that person is then obligated to kiss ass in appreciation by becoming some sort of example to children everywhere. If this is so, then I propose a year’s moral moratorium on work by any celebrity who refuses to cave in and become a “role model.” I think a year’s worth of no professional sports, no cable except for PAX-TV, the revival of the film career of Mickey Rooney, and nothing but Hootie and the Blowfish in record stores will clear this nonsense right up.
8. Really frightening children
Somewhere, perhaps in a secret subterranean lab beneath the Black Hills of South Dakota, a cabal of mad scientists is engineering a race of mutant children who will be the first wave of homo superior and pave the way to our eventual extinction. If you think I’m being paranoid, go check out thirteen-year-old opera sensation Charlotte Church, twelve-year-old country star Billy Gilman (the second wave of the batch that produced subject codexed “LeAnn Rimes”), and Aaron Carter, who can neither sing nor dance but managed to have four simultaneous top-40 hits this year doing both.
9. Sport-Utility Vehicles are finally recognized as a possible road hazard
In the wake of the tragedies surrounding defective Firestone tires, made by untrained scab workers with the full knowledge of Bridgestone/Firestone’s management, came the incredible revelation — incredible to the media anyway — that the SUV may be a dangerous vehicle, especially in the hand-not-holding-the-cell-phone of the average American driver. Among the stories related on various news programs were a finding that the high-and-forward cab placement will give the driver the illusion of traveling twenty MPH slower than he or she actually is (but without a sidebar introducing these drivers to that wondrous new feature, the speedometer), and motorists’ dawning realization that, to quote one interviewed driver, “An SUV handles more like a truck than a car.” As sport-utility vehicles can run up to a weight of 3.75 *tons* (the Ford Excursion), one wonders why it took so long for this idea to take hold. As a resident of a state whose legislature has just voted to raise insurance premiums across the board to accommodate the sheer number of SUV-related accidents in recent years, I’d like to make a counter-proposal: operator’s licenses for sport-utility vehicles (yes, Virginia, it is a fucking truck), with a possible I.Q. requirement.
10. Angelina Jolie marries Billy Bob Thornton
There’s no rant here, but I’ve mentioned Jolie in two other rants, and I figure a third mention is on the safe side of actually stalking her. Unlike gossip columnists who, according to Premiere magazine, have given the marriage a maximum of six months, I could not be more pleased at the continued and genuine happiness of two legitimate iconoclasts — prior marriages, tattoos, knives, and all. I would cheerfully eat bees for both of them.