"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 13 April 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.



Shut up before we hate you!

Alexander Payne, the

writer-director of the

well-reviewed 1999 movie

Election, managed the nearly

impossible in early April by

going on the record with a point

of view dumber than anything

uttered on the Oscar telecast

and more than dumb enough to

deserve an unkind late hit.


In a Nation round table hosted

by Peter Biskind, Payne was

asked about a statement he made

indicating that to be "... a

young American filmmaker is

worse than making films under

communism." Payne responded with

a semi-insightful critique of

the insidiousness of American

culture and ideology, but

concluded by stepping into the

land of ludicrous rhetoric.

"[Hollywood conventions] are

more rigid because you could at

least make art under communism.

I think if I lived in an

oppressive country I might

become a truly great filmmaker."


Of course, if he lived in an

oppressive country, he might

never have become a filmmaker at

all. This was one of Ph ilip

Roth's responses to a similarly

romantic notion of oppression

offered by the critic George

Steiner. In a Paris Review

rebuttal to Steiner's utterances

on British television that great

art wasn't possible in the West

during the Cold War, Roth

pointed out that while one or

two artists may survive to make

great art of suffering, in the

most oppressive regimes the vast

majority of writers are rubbed

out entirely. "That system

doesn't make masterpieces," said

the frequently unreadable author

of Portnoy's Complaint and Our

Gang. "It makes coronaries,

ulcers, and asthma; it makes

alcoholics; it makes

depressives; it makes bitterness

and desperation and insanity."


Anthems to deferred suffering

are everywhere: Christian

conservatives in America

romanticize the fervent

spiritualism of politically

suppressed churches in Sudan and

Iraq and other far-flung

cruise-missile pin cushions;

rock critics get misty-eyed when

speaking of the shock value of

early rock or punk. At its most

ridiculous, you have the

producers of the live Fail Safe

TV movie citing technological

impairments and the fantasy of

an ideologically simple Cold War

as precursors to better art. One

would hope that the co-writer

and director of a film as

alternately mean-spirited and

unromantic as Election would

know better. Since participating

in the Nation's round table,

Payne was further oppressed with

three wins at this year's

Independent Spirit Awards, all for




Everyone's scrambling to get

their message out. Tuesday the

Electrohippies Web site

displayed the grammar- and


announcement that "The

E-Resistance Is Fertile has now

closed — thanks for

participating!" With this deft

pun on the promotional slogan

for Star Trek VII, the group had

been supporting a 12-day series

of protests against genetically

modified food. But the main

event — an "email and

client-side denial of service

extravaganza" — was

cancelled when, in an online

vote, the tactic's supporters

couldn't even command a simple

majority. (The final tally was

42 percent to 29 percent, with

29 percent more undecided.) That

didn't stop MSNBC from running a

scary story before the vote

about the possibility of the

attack, citing speculation about

potential targets from the

publicity-seeking iDefense.com.

Of course, this contribution

inevitably led to a rebuttal on

the Electrohippies site, arguing

that corporate users of the

Internet were fomenting a

backlash against their form of

protest. But while both groups

squabbled for position, Oxblood

Ruffin, a member of the hacker

collective Cult of the Dead Cow,

attacked from the other flank.

In fairness, the Electrohippies

site also displayed Ruffin's

rebuttal to its original position

paper, in which they'd asked if

Jesus should be labeled as a

terrorist for driving money

lenders from the temple. "After

introducing a quote from the New

Testament that transmogrifies

Jesus Christ into a packet

wanker scourging the Internet of

E-commerce," Ruffin quips, "the

question is then answered with

an argument that crucifies all

common sense." Though the

Electrohippies claimed the wave

of attacks in February indicated

support for their position,

Ruffin disparaged all that

business as "packet wanking at

its finest" and noted that

"left-leaners, Adbuster

sympathizers, and wishful

thinkers projected their own

raison d'être onto the

event to construct an illusory

foundation for their personal

project." But the circle finally

completed itself last week when

the Financial Post reported that

several members of the Cult of

the Dead Cow had received $10

million in venture capital to

form their own security firm.

And at about the same time, all

the documents on the Cult of the

Dead Cow's Web site became

inaccessible. As always, our

response to the whole sad affair

is a tentative, Austin

Powers-ish "Go, Capitalism!"



In other non-Elian news, we will

be able to watch the

Clinton-DiCaprio talks next

week. As that intranational

incident winds down,

mild-mannered reporters are

nervously laughing the whole

thing off. But none of it is

quite as amusing as the clenched

dudgeon that initially greeted

news of Leo's presidential

exclusive. All those editorial

cartoons in which other funny

"stars" interview the president

don't really make us understand

why Barbara "The Ramseys Must Be

Innocent if They Say So" Walters

and Ted "I'm Interviewing this

Sock Puppet to Let My 'Hair'

Down" Koppel would be any more

effective in grilling the chief.

Newsweek journalist Mark

Hosenball's reassurance that

viewers can distinguish between

DiCaprio and Ed Murrow just

raises the question of whether

they should ever have been

drawing that distinction in the

first place. We say he's our

president and he can talk to

anybody he damn pleases. But the

griping about declining

standards in these sorts of

situations just gives us a

little 1995-era thrill that some

media monarchies really may get

overthrown and that we may even

get to behead a few of the

monarchs. But it will take more

than a Hollywood pretty boy to

do the job. Where is the Man of

Iron who can lead us to the

infoworkers' paradise?

courtesy of theSucksters