"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 25 April 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

The Need for Screed



America's rant resurgence

occurred sometime in the late

1980s, when Amok Press released

Rants and Incendiary Tracts and

Apocalypse Culture, underground

collections of literary

fulminations from schizophrenics

and Muslims to satanists,

pirates, pedophiles, Ezra Pound,

and the Marquis de Sade.


Since that time, our nation has

taken the rant and chopped,

channeled, and hot-rodded it out

to the point where the word now

defines everything from Karl

Marx hollering on a street

corner about bread lines, to

some white guy named Dave who

works at CompuServe in Bellevue,

and whose Rant at Dave page

offers readers a handy

pre-addressed form to zap him

their screed.


A rant is not a secret email to a

nerd, any more than a mailbomb

is an invitation from Ed McMahon

to join the sweepstakes. Cubicle

sassiness should not be mistaken

for true seething. There's a big

difference between genuine

outrage and someone running off

at the mouth in the staff

lunchroom that there's no more

coffee filters. A rant should be

short, angry, shrill, annoying,

and mean-spirited. It should

either be shouted at the top of

its lungs, or smolder in a

continuous, excruciating burn.

It should find its intended

target, it should hurt, and it

should know at all times that it

is the only sane voice of reason

howling against an insane world.


Keep all this in mind as you

email Dave.



Many have ranted eloquently

throughout the years, from

Ambrose Bierce to H. L. Mencken

and Valerie Solanas, author of

the Society for Cutting Up Men

(S.C.U.M.) Manifesto. One of the

more darkly comic and

entertaining ranters of the past

20 years has been the late Bill

Hicks (see his posthumous

release, Rant in E Minor). Since

he emerged - and was eventually

censored off Letterman - Hicks

has spawned a slew of half-baked

imitators, among them Dennis

Leary, who stole Hicks' furious,

chain-smoking persona for MTV,

then quickly dropped the rant

format once he started phoning

in a series of unimpressive film



But the rant brushfire now

reaches up to lick the windows

of the corporate world, where

"rant" is a cool marketing term

that indicates "DIY-types" with

"'tude." I personally have sat

in on meetings to start up a new

magazine that would include the

"Guest Rant of the Week"

department. We have HotWired's

Media Rant, which isn't really a

rant at all, but another op-ed

slot with a catchy, SoHo-pomo-

boho name. And we have

last year's book Rants from

comedian Dennis Miller, a

collection of formulaic

monologs, transcribed and

typeset to appear as essays,

with the familiar odor of

writing by committee.



Miller's smartass sensibility

could easily be held to blame

for the defanging of the rant.

Beaming into households with his

HBO talk show, M & M

commercials, and assorted movie

cameos, his persona remains

unchanged - a self-involved Bob

Hope with a thesaurus, firing

off endless references to names

of books, movies, and TV

programs, so that couch potatoes

can feel good about their

liberal arts degrees: "The [news

item in headlines] would make

[relevant political figure] look

like a [1970s television

character]!" Each "chapter" is

prefaced by Miller's trademark

set-up to warn you another rant

is coming on the horizon:


"Now I don't want to get off on a

rant here, but we've devolved

over the last few decades from a

Barry Lyndon gentility to a

bunch of Thunderdome mooks."


Someone shoot him with a dart -

he's ranting outta control!



Which brings us to the unwashed

and pissed-off art brats of the

digital world, where modems seem

to have contracted a new form of

Tourette's syndrome. The online

rant reader must paddle upstream

through the linguistic tortures

that pass for prose, cutesy

mutations derived by hyphenating

pop-culture nouns and ad jingles

into smug adjectives, where

someone possesses

"Steve-Austin-a-man-barely alive

tenacity," "Scooby-Doo

fruitlessness," or


efficiency." (Or is, perhaps,

"SoHo-pomo-boho.") If you've

always wondered whatever became

of the sociopath kids in school

who excelled at the blue-book

essays while scribbling

furiously on their jeans,

they've found their niche as the

new punditry, nose-ringed George

Wills with a laptop, or the new

satirists, ersatz Mark Leyners

with a T1 line.


Add to this the "spoken-word"

forums of high-vocabulary

whinings currently taking up

space at Lollapaloozas, the

nation's cafes, and Henry

Rollins' bookshelf, and it would

seem that an exciting new

literary genre has emerged. In

the world of cyberspew alone, a

search on AltaVista for the word

"rant" yielded a breezy 10,000

hits. With no editors and no

cover price - and often no

readers - the fiber-optics hum

with tiny, useless beefs about

the state of the world, random

fumings littering the landscape

like trash bags snagged on a




If The New York Times is right,

and the '90s are the Look-at-Me

Decade, then online ranting

provides literary potty-training

crucial to our sense of

self-development. Each proud

little deposit announces to the

world that not only is the

author capable of great and

justifiable fury, but you did it

all by yourself! Now wash your

hands, clear your desktop, and

come to the dinner table - it's

lasagna night! We'll all talk

about our day, and you can tell

everyone in the family about

your little rant you made just


courtesy of Häns Rodeo

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