S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 6 July 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 


Hit & Run CCXXXV

 
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Search the web for the phrase "Walter's Mission" and you'll find many stories. The history of a veteran's bombing run over Germany, a 1996 diary praising the founder of Knott's Berry Farm, a nod to St. Walter's mission in Estes Park, Colorado, and an X-Files erotica story about Mulder and Scully's boss (Walter) Skinner. What you won't find is a pointer to the notorious GeoCities web page depicting a story for our times: a Canadian high school student claiming two female classmates agreed to have sex with him if his site's counter reached one million hits. Search engines failed to register Walter's heartland angst — but the internet community swung into action, adopting Walter as the ultimate anti-hero. UglyTouch.com even contributed a slick Shockwave presentation with Walter asking his cat for advice. ("You get laid all the time, what's your secret?") Walter's log ultimately showed referrals from 2630 sites, many displaying banner ads in a show of solidarity, and sympathic visitors flocked from around the world, from Latvia to Estonia, Luxembourg, Brazil, and Germany... resulting in 307,923 accesses in less than a month. Apparently it all was enough to push the hit count over the 1 million mark, since Walter claimed partial victory last week, and posted a story about his big night with Samantha: "3 glow-in-the-dark condoms...a tray of ice cubes, the messing up of her entire apartment (if you know what i mean), screams of joy so loud the neighbors dog started barking at us, and a beautiful sunrise the next morning." These web sex contest stories always spawn cottage industries of hoax spotters looking for forensic evidence of a fake, and we'll get the ball rolling right now — if Walter is Canadian, why does he use the American spelling of the word "neighbor"? In the end, it doesn't matter. Geeks have always held a touching faith in the mysterious dance of love, and even though the legend of Walter has inspired an anti-Walter backlash, it has now, predictibly, also inspired imitators eager to duplicate Walter's success.

 
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It's not typical for the Sucksters to feel any sympathy with the Queen's subjects, but lately the American motion picture industry has been committing atrocities against the United Kingdom that should move even the most benighted American to weep hot, generous tears of shame. We're not speaking about The Patriot's characterization of British officers as toffish war criminals (Given that none of that movie's putative South Carolinians can be bothered to speak with a Strom Thurmond drawl, it's residents of the Palmetto State who should really be taking umbrage). No, we refer to the wholesale ransacking of the UK's cultural heritage, offenses that go beyond such mortal sins against English literature as are committed whenever earnest grimacer Ethan Hawke is cast as Pip Pirrip or the Prince of Denmark. We'll grant that Beyond the Fringe, the comedy team of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, is better in legend than it was in reality. But the duo certainly didn't deserve to have its 1967 picture Bedazzled remade, with the lead roles now played by postnasal galoot Brendan Fraser and actress/model/quisling Elizabeth Hurley. We'll take solace in the probability — which our back of the envelope calculations put at 100 percent — that this film will suffer grisly perdition at the box office. But something truly hideous lurks on the horizon: the impending remake of the 1949 Ealing Studios film Kind Hearts and Coronets, with Robin Williams, the ugliest American, playing the multiple roles originated by Alec Guinness. Mike Nichols, last seen hoodwinking Columbia Pictures into spending $50 million on a Gary Shandling vehicle, will direct this disgrace du cinema, while the Fresh Prince himself will take over the role originally played by Dennis Price. It's always dangerous to idealize old comedies, and in particular old British comedies. But Guinness is in the twilight of his life, too feeble to do much more than pen new memoirs and talk about how much he hates Star Wars; it's hard not to see this project as an attempt to put the final nail in Obi Wan's coffin before the old man is officially dead. Even more dispiriting is the dumb logic that says improv capo Williams could or should play the eight characters from the original. Anybody who's seen that movie knows Guinness kept even his wildest antics from upstaging the other actors, to the point that the movie remains Price's own throughout Guinness's one-man acting seminar. It's possibly the only time an actor pulled off a multi-character comedy feat without hogging the whole movie. But Williams the hog knows no other method than to suck up all the oxygen, leaving his fellow performers with nothing to do but marvel at his irrepressible genius. Include us out. On behalf of the American nation, we'd like to apologize once again for Robin Williams. We'd offer to pay reparations, but we're afraid the only sufficiently harsh punishment would be a Taxi Driver remake with Hugh Grant in the title role.

 

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Jason Cook is a humble webmaster in California. Last week he was deluged with e-mail signed "Your Number 1 Fan" with subject lines like "I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" It seems there's another Jason Cook, the dreamy actor who plays Shawn-Douglas Brady on Days of Our Lives. And according to (webmaster) Cook, Soap Opera Digest confused their e-mail addresses in a recent article. It provided an educational experience, (webmaster) Cook reported on his site, adding, "I've learned that daytime television fans are also fans of the exclamation mark." In an e-mail he said, "I've tried filtering out any message with more than 5 exclamation marks in a row, or 'SO FINE' in all caps, but that's only catching about 50% of the junk. I'm getting mail every three minutes." It's hard to see where the error originated; (webmaster) Cook has held the domain JasonCook.com since 1997. He delicately offered his assessment in the June 28 entry for his site's web-log. "I'd never dare besmirch the reputation of such a highbrow literary publication, but I'm thinking the fact-checking department at Soap Opera Digest might've been watching TV on the job. Again."

 

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It's been noted before, but still not often enough, that less than one percent of the world is wired; the global population still seems on balance to be a narrow sliver of privileged people talking to themselves. Sly Stone once thanked Africa for talking to him — will internet users ever hear that talk? As a place that's still crusted in layers of white myth (in addition to the reliable "age-old ethnic tensions," which thankfully we've never had to worry about here in the civilized world) Africa needs to talk to us a hell of a lot more. Recently, the Harvard Afro-Americanist Henry Louis Gates presented an adventure-style TV documentary called Wonders of the African World. It earned him plenty of backtalk. Among the fiercest critics were Binghamton University's Ali Mazrui, a demanding and iconoclastic political scientist who was already making waves in the 60's for his unflinching but thoughtful analyses of African nationalist leaders (This at a time when European and US hipsters were still high on how motherfucking tough and scary black nationalism seemed). Mazrui, himself the author of a documentary that challenged the self-serving European vision of Africa, flayed Gates on the internet for presenting African civilization in terms of American values (honking big buildings and texts, things that many Africans did a lot of interesting stuff without), and for looking so hard at African and Arab slave trade that his show left European white supremacy off the hook.

Both sides have good points (yes, the academy and the public do need an even-toned, moderately critical Bill Cosby vision of European-African relations; no, that's not enough). But the best point was made by Gates: "Perhaps this debate will be recalled by our descendants as the first such use of the Internet by scholars in African and African American Studies to air their views. If so, this will have been a signal moment for our field." While we often lose sight of the potential of the web, this back-and-forth can be called, without exaggeration or embarassment, genuinely exciting and new in this format. It's been one of the ironies of contemporary African culture that a continent whose politics and economics are so much more complex and difficult than those of the US has also produced proportionally much more clear, vital criticism. And while the online debate has veered into the ad hominem and acrimonious, it's also asked much harder questions than the ones white US cultural critics usually ask about themselves. The political stakes and intellectual firepower on display evoke Africa's monumental journal of criticism, Transition whose legacy Gates himself has revived. People looking to get outside their little shells and peek out at the rest of the world need look no further (though they'll be tempted to).

 
courtesy of theSucksters