"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 3 February 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Believe It or Not


[anyone have suggestions for ]

Idea for a movie: Albanian

insurgents wage a brutal terror

campaign inside their own

country, spreading death around

the countryside like Johnny

Appleseed. A television news

cameraman, hunched down in a

ditch as bullets zip overhead,

manages to capture the image of

a little girl, kitten in her

arms, fleeing from a village

where her entire family has just

been murdered. He uploads his

footage to a network satellite

moments before he, too, is

killed. Meanwhile, terrorists

from the same guerilla army

sneak into Canada with a nuclear

bomb that they've built into a

suitcase. They begin making

their way toward the United

States. US intelligence

operatives manage to learn of

the coming attack, and officials

decide to go public, hoping that

an alert populace will spot the

terrorists before they light the

fuse. And a nation of gifted

ironicists and devout media

skeptics don't believe a bit of

it, knowing full well that there

must be some kind of sex scandal

somewhere that The Man doesn't

want us to notice. ("Run for

your lives? What, did the

president lose control of his

zipper again?")


Pretty far-fetched, huh? OK,

let's try this: Algerian

insurgents kill thousands of

people during the month-long

Muslim observance of Ramadan,

burning them alive or hacking

them to pieces with machetes.

United Nations weapons

inspectors in Iraq, a country

that has lost thousands of its

children to a years-long

embargo, find abundant evidence

that the dictatorial government

is building (and hiding)

unbelievably dangerous chemical

and biological weapons. And

newspapers in the United States

scream, on and on, about the

possibility that a bathetic

politician might have hid his

penis inside a star-struck drama



[cool magazines, zines to read?]

Hurting for sex-scandal copy,

journalists these days are

anxious to compare real life -

maybe we should put that

increasingly flexible term into

quotes, "real life" - with a

movie. Wag the Dog is about a

president! Who has inappropriate

sex! And stuff! What an amazing



Well, hold on a moment. Wag the

Dog, cute little pastry that it

is, departs from its purported

parallels with reality in a few

significant ways. Reality, for

example, is occasionally

interesting. Remember, too, that

the White House reporters in the

movie suddenly jump up to fire

questions about the

hazily emerging crisis in a

small, far-distant country the

moment they get a whiff of it;

why, they forget the sex scandal

entirely! They're way more

concerned about foreign affairs!

The appropriate response to this

premise would have to be

something like: "HAHAHAHAHA!"


But the more interesting premise

is one Wag the Dog shares with

an even fluffier piece of

cultural detritus, a

luxury-goods commercial titled

Tomorrow Never Dies. Both movies

revolve around characters who

make up the news: a movie

producer shooting a war on a

sound stage, a car salesman

typing in tomorrow's headlines.

(Note to Jonathan Pryce:

Pagination skills like that will

get you a copy desk job at the

newspaper of your choice.) That

is: Both movies revolve around

the notion that the news is

wholly fictional, made up by

sneaky figures who use the power

of mass media to manipulate us

from the shadows. Here, at

least, there's a murky

connection to the life

supposedly reflected in the

mirror of art; much of the

growing disinterest we share

with regard to all the things

that are called "news" turns

around the collective wisdom

that those media types just

sensationalize and exaggerate

everything far beyond the

boundaries of anything that

could be called "truth."


[im taking a trip and like the excuse to buy some cheap reads send mail to gadfly@suck.com]

Truth is a flexible notion, of

course, but even the distorting

filters of differing perception

can't do very much to a field of

corpses: It is, postmodern

epistemological distinctions

aside, a field of corpses, and

somebody did something to create

it. There's something a bit too

convenient about a culture that

doesn't trust pictures of that

field, and you'd expect such a

culture to be a few very

particular things: comfortable,

affluent, gorged on

entertainment, dying of a sort

of morbid material obesity. To

maintain a skeptical view of the

details in the newspaper is

smart and entirely appropriate;

to dismiss the whole package as

a lie, as a game played by

people who have a secret agenda,

is itself a game. Dismiss the

news as pure fiction and you're

free of the world. Half a

million dead in Rwanda? Uh,

those media people just make

shit up. More lite beer!


People who believe that

information is wholly corrupt

turn out to be something like

half-right; the corruption is

real, but it's a little closer

to home than we might wish to


courtesy of Ambrose Beers