S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 June 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 


Hit & Run CCXXX

 
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Recent handwringing about media criticism of media criticism of media criticism strikes the veteran media critic as, well, just more media criticism. But what's really disturbing is the increasingly frequent appearance of journalists outside the media-insider bubble — and we don't mean Howard Kurtz on CNN, either. First Money for Women put Money contributing editor Jean Chatzky on its cover; Money managing editor Bob Safian said Chatzky scored high in tests from her TV appearances on NBC. Fine, but how do you explain Time Digital's considerably more obscure choice of senior writer Maryanne Murray Buechner as a cover subject? Far be it from us to accuse Digital editor Josh Quittner of lack of originality — we doubt he even saw the Money cover, even though it was produced out of the same media-insider-infested Time Inc. skyscraper in New York. No, we suspect Quittner is just off on another one of his way-new-journalism experiments. Heck, these days, with all the reporting about reporting, why wouldn't a journalist like Red Herring's Jason Pontin think he's the story? For journalists hungry for ink they didn't spill themselves, one word of caution: there is such a thing as bad publicity.

 

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Boo is dead. Long live Boo. Even after news reports that the ambitious online clothing retailer had "financially collapsed," the troubled site remains on the web, flashing the disconnected words "Final home, fresh jive" under a perpetually changing image of a jacket. The web is its own memorial, preserving indefinitely this accidental landmark of baffling design. ("boo.com has been launched in another window. Nothing happens on this page, except that you may want to bookmark it...") Hobbled by a name that left shoppers wondering if all the good domains had already been taken, Boo racked up a respectable burn rate reported at $120 million over six months. But though our boobag may always remain empty, the internet provided its own mordant epitaph. In late April, Doonesbury, in one of its characteristically herniating attempts to stay up to date, had already begun mocking e-businesses by having the strip's two collegiate slackers announce plans to start selling the inventory of failed online commerce companies at a discount. The characters named their venture on May 2 — "My Vulture.com." But on the same day, an aspiring real-world webmaster registered the actual domain. This prankster then decided to re-direct traffic from his newly-created MyVulture doppelganger to ... Boo.com. Boo is dead. Long live boo.

 

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We're ambivalent about National Cartoonist's Day but still found something compelling in Saturday's tribute to Charles M. Schulz. While the National Cartoonists Society awarded Schulz their Lifetime Achievement award — posthumously — a sentry in the Wizard of Id spotted the Red Baron being shot down by "some beagle on a flying doghouse." Schulz had been consumed by the comics in more ways than one. With a show of solidarity previously reserved for April Fool's Day, cartoonists picked up where Schulz left off, bombastically re-casting Charlie Brown as Lou Gehrig ("Today ... I consider myself ... the luckiest blockhead on the face of the earth") and filling the skies with resoundingly kicked footballs.

Some tributes were thoughtful, some angsty, with the winner for the title of "most irreverent" probably going to Boondocks. ("Hey, Daddy? Peppermint Patty and her friend Marcie kinda remind me of Aunt Nicole and her 'special companion' Marie...") The runner-up, Dilbert's urinary tract pun, was simply too subtle. Ironically, though Schulz's earliest professional drawings were for Ripley's Believe It Or Not, that strip continues in the daily papers — commemorating Schulz's career with its own honorary factoid, and the intra-professional shout-outs even made jarring appearances in the plot lines of serial old-timers like Annie and Dick Tracy.

In a complicated world where venture capital firms back "Wazzup" parodies, these were just a few of the countless instances of self-referential meta-media. The 103 strips go to the pumpkin patch with the 77 political cartoons from February, the 144 panels on the Peanuts "virtual quilt," and Art Spiegelman's three-page comic strip in the Valentine's Day edition of the New Yorker. ("Abstract Thought is a Warm Puppy.")

 

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This TV season, the only thing harder to dodge than the innumerable hidden cameras that peep at us from every corner of the American panopticon will be the countless "news" stories about the innumerable hidden cameras that peep at us from every corner of the American panopticon. In last week's New York Times Magazine, Marshall Sella waxed at narcotizing length about being drawn into obsessive voyeurism by Survivor, Big Brother and the like. Similar word counts have been met at Newsweek, Brill's Content, even TV Guide ... It looks like everybody has clamored into the seminar to find out what all this reality TV stuff says about our culture. Just to get into the narcissistic feel of the moment, we at Suck declare that it's all about us, and suggest readers take a fresh look at St. Huck's dusty disquisition on the deeply mourned (around here at any rate) RedHanded. Huck's prediction in that article — that the only path left to the reality television genre was for producers to go back to imposing plots on the ostensibly spontaneous action — appears to be proving prescient, just as his thesis, in a 1998 story, that "true freedom lies not in escaping hypermediation, but in attaining it," appears to be borne out by the number of applicants who wanted a piece of both Survivor and Big Brother. Indeed, readers interested in the current state of voyeur TV might want to take a look at any number of St. Huck's works on the topic, from the genre-making classic Enema Vérité to a eulogy for America's Most Wanted to the many other items he's written both for his own publication and for others. Surely a personal oeuvre this extensive should guarantee permanent employment as a talking head. But there's the problem with being a Suck writer: By the time your topic of choice catches on at a sufficiently popular level to assure large freelance paydays, you've already said all there is to say on the topic. Webcams have nothing on us for either humiliating overexposure or low ratings. We've been showing our asses for a good five years, and the fact that nobody's ever looked suggests we'd have a better chance of getting on the rolodexes for Larry King's bookers if we just took adjunct positions at some local community college. Still, there's one bright spot in all of this. Josh Quittner's story on webcams in the current issue of Time features a lovely Terry Colon illustration.

 
courtesy of theSucksters