"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 11 March 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Shock It Up to Experience



Seeing as how after a successful

jaunt overseas, David

Cronenberg's Crash almost burned up

on reentry, it seems odd - or at

least ill-advised - that

trailers on the art-house

circuit currently tease the

impending arrival of not one,

but two (the other's a creepy

little Four Funerals and a

Wedding number called Kissed)

celluloid celebrations of

near-death sexperiences. Are we

supposed to act surprised?



Outrage is all the rage - and you

don't have to be getting shafted

on movie concessions to see the

signs. Look at Operation Rescue,

which last week began an attempt

at guerilla marketing the

pro-life platform by ambushing

arriving high school students

with placards depicting aborted

fetuses. Planned Parenthood

accused the group of "promoting

sensationalism over fact," and

indeed, they have taken their

cue as much from Howard Stern as

the playground pusher.



Still, the stunt seems to have

been met with a resounding

"whatever" from the people it

was aimed at; the reported

reactions suggested the rote

nonchalance that we've come to

expect from teens. And, well ...

duh. If you grow up watching

Tales from the Crypt - not to

mention RealTV - static images

of fetal tissue (Isn't there a

Grossology book on that?)

probably seem pretty lame. Kids

these days would probably be

more dismayed if they got



Teenagers' stated imperviousness

to advertising pitches - whether

they be from the Absolut or

anti-choice camps - is one

reason why we're not as

concerned as some are by

alcohol-related web sites' supposed

attractiveness to adolescents.

One AP report described the

sites' target-audience arsenal

as including "colorful

graphics," "games," and "hip

language." But we've been to

these sites ourselves, and

calling their sub-Pauly Shore

banter "hip" just goes to show

you can't believe everything you



Which is exactly the point.

Advertising is the broth of the

media soup in which we all swim,

and it's given us swimmer's ear

when it comes to the siren call

of most slogans. We've come to

be more surprised by what we're

denied (cigarettes, alcohol,

credit) than by what we're

offered. If as a society we've

become increasingly cynical,

it's only because we've built up

an immunity to infotoxicity. To

continue walking over hot media

coals, you have to develop

psychic callouses. Or else you

get burned.



Already felt the heat? There's a

balm. The exact utility of

Clinique's "Exceptionally

Soothing Cream for Upset Skin"

caused some chin-scratching

around here when the free

sample came in the mail. And

while we're still not sure what

"upset skin" is, we guess most

people have it, as it's caused

by "Life in the modern world."


Right. It's enough to drive you

crazy, or maybe just make you

wish you were. No wonder the

latest matinee idols are idiots.

If fame really were a high

school, many characters culled

from this year's Academy Awards'

acting nominations would be

riding the short bus. Does that

mean we've gone soft for the

soft-headed, or that for some

actors, lead poisoning would be

a savvy career move? (Perhaps

there's hope for Keanu yet.)


[The Cranky]

The Oscars' flirtation with

'tard-core could be Forrest

Gump gone indie, but those who

felt cheated by Breaking the

Waves' two-hour-plus mental

clog dance of mechanized,

unselfconscious degradation (Who

knew sexual deviance could be so

tedious?) should blame Jean

Dubuffet, not Tom Hanks. In the

1930s, Dubuffet advocated

studying the art of mental

patients, claiming that limited

cognition hardwired a person to

experience feelings more

directly. Culture pulls us away

from spirituality, he argued,

our own social conventions get

in the way of our producing good

art. Might not Beavis and

Butt-head agree?


And the notion that simpletons

have something to offer (beyond

even the cold comfort of

comparison) goes back even

further than Dubuffet - it's as

ancient as the Holy Fool.

Modernity turned the Holy Fool's

St. Vitus' dance into

performance art, and it's just

post-modernity's fillip to

charge admission. That we've

become jaded even to the process

of emotional exploitation that

makes movies like Sling Blade or

Shine appealing instead of

appalling suggests that the

appeal of on screen innocence

lies exactly with a longing to

connect with life unmediated by

a protective barrier of irony.



Surprisingly, this mental

nakedness is what makes

Cronenberg's auto-eroticism

attractive as well. Aesthetic

trauma clears the neural

pathways, and the theater of the

grotesque can give you a

pleasant temporary lobotomy, a

push against calloused nerves

with art brut force. We're

forced to react.


Of course, this is all

speculative, and the theoretical

oxymoron that a movie might be

any kind of substitute for the

visceral experience of popping

one's critical cherry is exactly

the kind of hackneyed logic that

will crop up in post-Oscar

armchair Eberting. Maybe the

only real lesson here is that

we'll gladly pay $7 to be

reminded by disgust and/or pity

that no matter the complications

thrust upon us by "Life in the

modern world," things could be

much, much worse. Shock is


courtesy of Ann O'Tate


Fish Image
The Fish

[Netscape Inbox Direct]

Barrel Image

The Barrel
[Predictions by Suck]

Gun Image
The Gun

Fish Teaser

net.moguls Link
Other Work By
Ann O'Tate
Fresh Fish