"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 12 November 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

All the World's a Stage


[Hollywood, Planet Type]

When Marshall McLuhan described

the future as a global village,

he didn't mention that it would

be a Planet Hollywood. Our dance

around the electronic campfire

was to be orchestrated by

information architects, not

entertainment engineers, and we

were supposed to be sharing

knowledge, not Cap'n

Crunch-coated chicken tenders

(only $6.95).



True, fiber-optic cable is

folding together the four

corners of the earth. And yet

this peculiar psychic origami

has yet to change the shape of

Americans' interactions with the

rest of the world. Uncomfortable

in any country where we can't

get lite beer, quality toilet

paper and/or a souvenir T-shirt,

we're still tourists, not

neighbors, on most parts of the



That's the comfort of Planet

Hollywood, a menu-driven

microcosm that replicates an

increasingly homogeneous

international box office. With

most of the top-grossing films

in the world made in America,

Planet Hollywood's staggering

solipsism is perhaps less

narcissistic than prophetic. It

was exactly this promise of

global domination on a

homunculoid scale, one mediocre

restaurant at a time, that

investors were counting on last

April when they bid up the price

of Planet Hollywood's initial

public offering from $18 to $27

per share.


[Planet, Hollywood Type]

But these monuments to

abstraction, it turns out, share

a common fate with the more

obvious descendants of McLuhan's

line. Like net.stocks, the value

of both Planet Hollywood's

"actual props" and its shares

rely as much (or more) on faith

and novelty as on glamour or

scarcity. (Well, at least the

stock's still worth the paper

it's printed on.) At first

glance, news of the restaurant

chain's financial straits seems

like the punch line to some

Anthony Robbins parable, an

apocryphal fable of a business

too successful to succeed. But

in the case of Planet Hollywood,

the story isn't so much about

Midas' touch as Morpheus': Even

spectacles can put people to

sleep. And so last quarter's

reports revealed what any Adorno

acolyte could have predicted,

that profitability hinged upon

an illusion of constant growth;

the revenue stream of each

individual restaurant, after a

typically superheated opening,

becomes as cold and sludgy as

day-old Cajun Eggrolls.


The prospect of Planet

Hollywood's infinite expansion -

not an ideal business plan, but

surely the most compelling -

raises the question of whether

illusions are, in fact, a

renewable resource. Will there

be enough fantasy to go around?

A pessimist might predict a

future where bitterly prosaic

artifacts pose as props. Sadly,

you can't satirize such a vision -

it's a joke that relies too

heavily on ignoring the small

space in San Francisco's Planet

Hollywood devoted to James

Caan's mukluks (from Misery!)

and Tim Curry's Girl Scout

uniform (from, er, Loaded



[Art Car]

Much of the credit

for Planet Hollywood's success

has been given to architect

David Rockwell (it remains to be

seen if he'll be blamed for its

failings); his participatory

panoramas and three-dimensional

Hockney paintings are so perfect

in their representation of mass

entertainment that they tend to

drive cultural critics to either

hyperbolic praise or apoplectic

silence. For the smartass

semiotician, Planet Hollywood

presents just another a sad

stereovision of the world,

familiar to anyone who has read

enough Debord or even just

watched a lot of USA Up All



[The GUy]

Rockwell's ability to make

celluloid dreams plastic reality

has made him a sought-after

builder on America's boulevard

of broken themes. He's been

called upon to design for all of

Hollywood's biggest power

brokers - from Warner Brothers

to Sony to Robert De Niro.

Rockwell's Mohegan Sun Casino

cobbled together a mythology for

a tribe whose identity is more

literary than literal, turning

Lady Luck into Pocahontas but

still preferring cold hard cash

to wampum. His real gamble,

however, would be to call the

bluff of the interviewer who

last year asked what kind of

pedestal Rockwell would carve

for America's other blind

goddess. "I'd make a diorama of

it," he replied, "I'd have

enormous pictures of lawyers

like F. Lee Bailey."



Well, of course. Recreation

obviously requires a certain

degree of redundancy. The

producers of O.J.-by-the-sea

have tried hard to provide the

same drama as Act I, but they've

suffered the same mixed

blessings that plague all

sequels: The conventions have

been conveniently established,

yet the talent just isn't quite

as fresh. In their daily

reenactments, the faux jurists

on E! sound like the idealized

aliens of '50s sci-fi, showing a

distinct discomfort with

contractions, and a hesitating

cadence that might cover either

groping for a word or telepathic

communication. And while there's

no discernible reason beyond for

the sub-security-cam cinematography

but continuity, the occasional

stilted off-camera intonements

bring to the proceedings a Greek

chorus of unintended sobriety.


If the O.J. reenactments were

just bad television - which they

are - the appearance of Daryl

Gates on the expert panel would

be laughable instead of the next

logical step in his burgeoning

entertainment career. Likewise,

the head-spinning metastasis of

E!'s dramatizations of the civil

trial's own reenactments would

inspire knowing chuckles instead

of news-addled nausea. As it is,

the cable courtroom antics are

only a concession stand away

from an IPO, and it seems more

than likely that Planet

Hollywood will soon be filling

the prop gap with a pair of

bloody gloves.

courtesy of Ann O'Tate