S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 25 May 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 


Hit & Run CCXXIX

 
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A while back, George Lucas, legendary producer of Howard the Duck, Star Tours and The Ewok Adventure (a.k.a. Caravan of Courage), lent his mushmouthed voice to a friendly Q&A session with the ubiquitous Dean Orville Schell of the UC Berkeley journalism school. Lucas's insights, broadcast on public radio this week, offer instruction to fans and foes alike. In particular, the visionary genius behind 1978's Star Wars Christmas Special has a message for all those quarter-a-word schmucks who are dispatched from newsrooms every day to kiss Lucas's compendious ass: A little more tongue action, please. Never one to go against the popular grain where selection of villains is concerned, Lucas launched his strike against "The Media" with the legitimate complaint that reporters rarely call his notoriously friendly press office for confirmation of rumors (Some intrepid Suck reader out there might want to put in a call to find out, for example, if leading boy Jake Lloyd's fellow thespians really did call the youngster "Mannequin Skywalker" behind his back; we'd love to hear the results). After that, the man who was lovingly portrayed in the 1999 short film George Lucas In Love goes for the kind of stand-up-and-cheer, audience-pleasing moments that have made Droids and The Ewoks & Droids Adventure Hour continuing audience favorites. Journalists, Lucas opines, are amazingly thin-skinned given that they "spend their lives trying to destroy people!" (raucous applause from the Zellerbach Hall audience). Repeated stories about how Bush and McCain were "trashing" each other move Lucas to entreat "Why doesn't the media just not report this?" (Greater applause). Even worse, reporters have insinuated that the man whose Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Flaming Sack featured aliens inspired by Mr. Moto, Stepin Fetchit and Ahab the Arab is oddly comfortable with crypto-ethnic caricatures. Perhaps worst of all, the rise of online media has allowed situations in which "a web site run by six teenagers" may provide source material for major media, "and suddenly they're an authority. Rutgers (sic) picks up [stories from this hypothetical site] and runs them without checking the facts." (More applause). Wrapping up, Lucas scolds, "The media today goes way beyond the facts to make things entertaining. They spend a great deal of time speculating and assuming..."

 

As if to illustrate the most scabrous, destructive, scandal-mongering tendencies Lucas was describing, the San Franisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, on the same day the interview was broadcast, happily reported that the next Star Wars sequel is ready to begin filming in a few weeks and will be a roaring entertainment despite its lack of a finished script. "No one is panicking," is LaSalle's almost libelous assessment, because "Lucas reportedly has had the story down for years," and "creating the screenplay is just a matter of dramatizing that story and filling in the dialogue." Now we've always agreed with Alec Guinness's strong insinuation that the script for a Star Wars picture proves there is in fact a variety of human intelligence between Moron and Retard; but the writing in last year's outing was bad even by Lucas's forgiving standards, and it's a little dismaying to observe that he has learned so little from that experience (Then again, why should he, when any movie that does half a billion in domestic BO must by definition be perfect?). We're even tempted to do a little assuming and speculating ourselves — namely, placing a bet that this next scriptless wonder will be yet another rambling, unwatchable piece of crap, one that will make even the Ewok movie look artful by comparison (but one that Lucas's well-into-adulthood fans will assure us we would have enjoyed if we were more familiar with the back stories provided in the tie-in novels and pog collections). However, having been duly chastened by the bard of Marin, we will avoid the rush to judgment, and just say that we're looking forward to another spectacular adventure that will delight generations of fans and give another box office triumph to the beloved producer of Radioland Murders.

 

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While the last couple of months seem to have brought a brief time-out in the schoolyard-gunplay Olympics, that doesn't necessarily mean nervous parents can take a breather. Columbine-style firefights aren't the only evidence that being a youngster has gotten tougher since the days of the Little Rascals. Take the good old cafeteria foodfight. Used to be the kid who got a faceful of apple brown betty was about the worst casualty of a lunchtime skirmish — now the little tykes are getting hauled off to the hoosegow in handcuffs. Or at least that was the case last week in Chicago, when a dozen eighth graders were charged with disorderly conduct after a melee that broke out when a guidance counselor announced that half of the class had failed a standardized test and was headed for summer school. No word on whether the school is granting real-life-experience credit to anyone molested in a holding cell.

 

Still, that's Beach Blanket Bingo material compared with the story that emerged last week of the 15-year-old victim of two overachieving Japanese teen extortionists. Not content with the lunch money that used to keep junior gangsters flush with bubble gum, the young shakedown artists extracted a whopping $500,000 over the course of eight months, which they used to feed an appetite for prostitutes and gambling, among other things. The hapless victim was getting the money from his mother, who was drawing on her late husband's life insurance, but his tormentors finally stepped over the line by putting him in the hospital with broken ribs, and then showing up there to demand yet more cash. Obviously their parents never told them that nobody likes a greedy child.

 

The good news, though, is that Britain's Labour Party government may have identified the source of unwholesome childhood behavior: musical chairs. The UK's education ministry recently issued a booklet urging teachers to avoid the game on the grounds that it encourages aggression. "It's always the biggest and strongest children who win," complains the booklet's author — clearly an unacceptable moral for the youth of an Empire that has been declining for several centuries. Of course, if scrawny schoolkids had an easier time getting firearms over there, it could even the game up pretty quick.

 

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It may seem that each new instantiation of watermarked, enlarged-portrait Yankee greenbacks is designed merely to foil counterfeiters and give wags a new excuse to reuse that "What's six inches long and has a big head?" joke; but yesterday's introduction of new $5 and $10 bills indicates the New Money may actually be designed as a subtle strategy to turn us against the founders of the American nation. For as each portrait of a grizzled eminence gets replaced by a slightly more blowdried, more foppish, less careworn simulacrum, we are reminded again of the fatal vanity that lurks within the American spirit.

 

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This original five-dollar portrait of Abraham Lincoln depicts a leader of undeniably serious intent. The furrowed brow, the pleasureless intensity, the fierce sobriety — even the most strident of stars-and-bars diehards must concede that this is a President to whom the integrity of the Union is no laughing matter.

 

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Not so this washed-out, patrician Lincoln, with an ironic glint in his eye and the leathery features of an aging Malibu roué. If we wanted to be unkind, we might guess that the 16th President, already being outed as a crass racist and tireless whoremonger, is being robbed of the last vestige of stiff-spined rectitude that still makes him compelling.

 

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An even nastier trick has been pulled on Alexander Hamilton, whose original sawbuck presence showed the unsentimental intelligence that made this first Secretary of the Treasury a favorite of General Washington and an enduring icon for serious-minded Federalists.

 

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The new Hamilton owes something to the retouched Elián photos. Although he is superficially the same person as before, the inspired jurist appears to have been worked over with hairspray and exfoliating gels in a deliberate attempt to inspire sympathy for Aaron Burr. If you saw this bewigged Matthew Perry lookalike coming at you, you'd want to shoot him too.

 

These matters are of more than sarcastic interest. Our founding fathers were not pretty boys. Generations of Americans recognized Andrew Jackson's backwoods iconoclasm through his refusal to comb his hair before having his $20 portrait done. When Old Hickory gets worked over with a closeup-ready, windblown 'do, America loses more than just some filigreeing. The crabbed unglamorousness of our national icons is all we have left in the way of common nationhood. Before George Washington gets turned into an unblemished Clintonian drone, we must return our currency to the olive drab asceticism that made this nation great.

 

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For some time now, Suck has owed a plug to USC's Online Journalism Review, which delivers first-on-the-block reports, pronounces Jeremiads that, unlike Suck's, actually have a clear point of view, and continues to provide gainful employment to veteran muckraker Robert Scheer. Best of all, the folks at OJR have a long history of supporting Suck and its staff. They are more or less alone in noticing how frequently Suck gets left off these bogus Best-Of lists, and they even come up with Stan Lee-worthy descriptions ("hard-edged former print journalist," and so on) of the individual staffers. Thus, we're happy to see that the team at USC has picked up on an obvious but never-before-reported story: the fact that Polly Esther puts everybody else in American media in the shithouse. This being news, and news requiring a "hook," OJR's story is couched as an investigation into Polly's inner rage syndrome, which we can attest is always fertile ground for serious discussion. In any event, Ms. Esther's many fans will enjoy this journey into their reclusive heroine's heart of darkness, and we couldn't let the nice gesture pass without a turnaround plug (Speaking of which, you have bought that fabulous day-trading book, haven't you?). We'd say the pride is back, but we never really had any pride to begin with.

 
courtesy of theSucksters