"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 4 November 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Sick and Wired



Just as the Christmas shopping

season seems to be colonizing

the calendar by moving into

Thanksgiving's territory,

Halloween seems to have bled all

over autumn, on its way to

becoming an all-season affair.

Descended from the old Celtic

festival of Samhain, Halloween

originally marked the return of

all souls to wander through the

world for a single night. As we

approach the turn of the

millennium, October 31 is just

another day, no more ghoulish

than the other 364.



Judging from every major medium -

from TV and books to music and

films - it's hard to escape the

conclusion that we're truly and

gloriously going to hell in a

handbasket. What was recently an

innocuous, New Age fascination

with crystals and former lives

has mutated into full-blown,

satanic dementia. The fluffy,

amorphous eeriness of Shirley

Maclaine and Twin Peaks have

given way to the harder-edged,

harder-selling Marilyn

Manson, Millennium, and snuff

cyberporn. It's breathtaking and

beautiful to see the mores of

our parents and grandparents

thrown right out the double-pane

window and onto the street,

reduced to a pink pulp of

Judeo-Christian pretensions.



There's always been a certain

twisted segment of the

population interested in the

enlightened fantasies of Stephen

King and Alfred Hitchcock. The

film industry has for many years

recognized the potential for

serious box office receipts when

they offer up material that

steps up to and a few feet over

the line of contemporary good

taste. So much the better,

really. As any good Nietzchean

will tell you, "good taste" is

the bourgeoisie's most

contemptible trademark. And

somehow it pays telephone

dollars to keep pointing that




The Butthole Surfers have ridden

this profitable fake-blood

backwash straight into popular

culture, and capitalism's glory

hole. Recent graduates into the

top-40 mainstream (who had

formerly given fits to the

FCC-sensitive: should they be

referred to as the "'b'-holes,"

or the "'a'-holes?"), they have

long been a multimedia

repository for dementia,

featuring genital dissection

films, bloody discharges, and

nude dancers in concert. Now

they're one of Austin's

most-licensed bands.


[Silly Boy]

And the Surfers' weak puns and

spontaneous discharges

(completely appropriate to Ace

Ventura soundtracks, we suppose)

are high art, compared to

Marilyn Manson. His top-10

album, "Antichrist Superstar,"

follows Trent Reznor's lead

straight into the

Leather-Leather Land of goth

gross-outs and perennially

tortured souls. But the scariest

thing about this

freak-show-cum-metal-band is

that it's so second-rate.

They're bucking to land the

genius of Alice Cooper squarely

in a '90s demographic - which is

to say in every record

collection on the subdivided

globe - but there's absolutely

nothing to keep them from making

it. Fake blood isn't made out of

corn syrup anymore, but it's

just as grimly innocent, and




In recent months, it's been

gratifying to see the media

upping ante to the point of gag

reflex. TV stations no longer

jockey for position with bucolic

"True Crime" programs - now

they're airing such appetizing

fare as When Disaster Strikes,

forgoing the silly pretense at

drama and giving us a mainline

of real death footage. And

though pedophilia has been

grabbing the headlines, several

Usenet groups have recently been

indulging in snuff pornography -

featuring ostensibly real

photographs of murder victims in

provocative poses.


The Firesale of the Sick is

probably not the result of some

broad-reaching Dionysian

vacation. No matter what Bob

Dole, Jerry Falwell, and the

moral bucket brigade say, it's

more to do with the free play of

market forces. With the FCC

selling off bandwidth at

wholesale prices, and cable

channels reproducing like

rabbits, the broad spectrum of

content is beginning to reach

some pretty edgy horizons. Look

at it this way: With over 100

channels, are you more likely to

watch Mayberry R.F.D. or Nine

Foot Worm Makes Own Food? In

other words, who but the

most bookish crank ever reads

Dante's Paradiso?



Well, if the triumph of visceral

voyeurism leaves you cold... If

you're still in the mood for a

good scare... If you just can't

scratch that itch for eerie

freak sideshows, and you still

crave the nauseous presence of

the undead, just wait till

Cityscape rolls into town.

courtesy of E.L. Skinner