"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 7 August 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run XCV


[A picture of Beavis and Butthead. Well, a cartoon of them. A photo of a cartoon cel.]

We always knew that talking about

television was like dancing

about architecture, but it took

Beavis and Butt-head to show us

why. For the last four years

every wiseacre who ever sat

around making fun of television

has heard the message loud and

clear: "This is what your witty

repartee really sounds like,

only not as funny or

articulate." It's been a

chilling lesson, but a necessary

one. As the hapless metalheads

move on to the Great Couch in the sky

(and as Mike Judge's seamless

portrayal of Hank Hill proves

that his real dramatic

sympathies lay with Mr. Anderson

all along), we can only admire a

job well done. Sure, we'll still

sit back and make fun of The Box

(because, um, we're losers with

nothing else to do), but we'll

never again feel smarter than

television. And if that's not

the beginning of wisdom, what

is? As fate would have it,

America's most sensible media

critics passed on in the same

week as William S. Burroughs.

While old Bull Lee gets points

for turning uxoricide into

performance art, don't be

surprised if someday it turns

out Beavis and Butt-head made a

greater contribution.


[This is a photo of the cover of John Brockman's _Digerati_, a very colorful and, I bet, insightful book. Hey, maybe they even talk about me!]

When HarperCollins eliminated its

Basic Books literary division

and bought out the contracts on

over 100

yet-to-be-delivered manuscripts,

Long Doomsayers saw the move as

yet another sign of an impending

millennial cultural implosion.

Recent shake-ups at Wired

Venture's own books division

compounded the sense that the

problem with content-driven

media (old and new) wasn't

whether it was in bits or bound,

but that no one was that

interested in reading, period.

Standing deathwatch at the frail

body of literacy is, not

surprisingly, The New York

Times, whose attentiveness on

the subject suggests an odd

blend of masochism and

narcissism. Tuesday brought an

update in the HarperCollins saga

(owners News Corp. will take a

US$270 million charge on the

division, about $100 million

more than any publishing loss

recorded in the last eight

years), underscored by a grim

analysis of the publishing

industry as a whole: "Net sales

of hardcover books are down by

12 percent for the year to date

and books are being returned to

publishers at an average rate of

45 percent." (If that's the

average, we'd hate to know the

extremes - though chances are,

someone at Wired Books already

does.) Even more indicative of

the content Cassandra's chronic

collegiality - on Monday the Times

reported on the trials of Wired

with newfound sympathy, lauding

the company's "humbler approach"

and its willingness to engage in

"its own brand of

soul-searching" (aided by

HotBot, one assumes).

Intellectual apocalypse makes

strange bedfellows.


[This is the logo of NetSnitch, the program that rats on you. Your parents or boss will know exactly where you've been surfing. Big Brother is watching! But back to the logo: it's kinda cool. Reminiscent of Spy vs Spy.]

If the price of freedom is

eternal vigilance, complete

freedom must require some

awfully serious snooping.

Fortunately, the deliciously

named NetSnitch - the

name "NetStasi" was

presumably already

trademarked - is up to the task

of preserving our precious

whatever. Marketed with


slogans like "World Wide Web

supervision without Electronic

Censorship," NetSnitch runs

invisibly as a child - or an

employee, which is practically

the same thing - surfs the Web,

keeping a list of the sites the

little troll has gone lurking

through. Parents and office

administrators get to go back

through a Net session after it

ends, reviewing URLs and finding

out which one of their charges

has a curious obsession with,

say, bondage or fellatio.

In a way, NetSnitch's

un-censorship is even more

oppressive than

good-old-fashioned denial of

access; its real value isn't

that it will catch you doing

something wrong, it's that you

know you're being watched -

whether you're doing something

wrong or not.


[This is a photograph of agricultural workers in a Third World country. What this has to do with lynchings or penis-shrinking is beyond me. I think I'll turn it purple.]

An unnatural appetite for David

Hasselhoff may be tolerable, but

how do we deal with it when

foreigners do something

genuinely weird? As reports,

swiftly mistranslated and too

easily interpreted, spread of a

new outbreak of

"penis-shrinking" attacks in

Senegal, excitement at the news

(isn't this just like an

X-Files episode?) and

embarrassment at that excitement

(it's racist to think Africans

kill each other because of

superstitions; if they do, then

it's racist to dwell on it)

served as a reminder of how

ill-equipped we are to handle

difference. While one can easily

marshal examples of our own

irrational and immoral behavior

(boys kill other boys because of

their shoes; Cunanan killed

Versace because he was there),

examples from contempo reserves

of insanity 'n' evil don't

really fit the bill: What's so

striking about the reports is

that they describe killings

carried out a) by crowds and b)

against witches. Plain ole

senseless death makes plenty of

sense, but a world where you

could get a whole crowd of men

to agree that someone (other

than Roseanne Barr) shrank your

dick? In fact, American history

suggests a point of contact: the

need to protect white women, and

thus white penises, led to

similar lynchings not too long


courtesy of the Sucksters

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