"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 19 May 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Bad Vibes


[one of the beautiful things about this city]

Jack makes an important point,

and let's not mince words about

it. Dogs have been known to eat

shit and like it. "You're a

dog," Jack-in-the-Box's

pointy-hatted CEO blasts,

"you'll eat anything." For the

spokesperson of a brand most

closely associated with fecal

food poisoning to attack Taco

Bell's chihuahua with

accusations of bad taste takes

balls, you might say. But if

he's not afraid to mount his on

antennas across the country,

what makes you think this new

Jack - wired on focus groups,

quarterly reports, shareholder

meetings - would hesitate for a

second to try and laugh the

leader of the so-called Taco

Revolution right off Wall



Let's get it on: In the days

before last Thursday's final

episode of Seinfeld, ABC, facing

inspirational losers' odds, went

for the long shot. Pulling a

rusty six-shooter from the

mantel, the network invited

viewers to take sides in "a duel

between something and nothing":

Clint Eastwood, in the

Unforgiven, versus Jerry

Seinfeld, the Uncommitted.

Perhaps ABC was hoping that last

week's Pew Research Center poll

- which found that "51 percent

of those surveyed will not miss

[Seinfeld] much once it is

gone," and that 54 percent of

Seinfeld viewers wouldn't "like

to have friends like the

characters on 'Seinfeld,'" -

suggested a moral weakness in

Seinfeld's hug-free friendship

network, something ABC could

exploit. More likely, having

nothing to lose, it decided a

moment of violence simply made

more sense than a moment of



[is that you can go to two diametrically opposed partys]

These are cut-throat times, days

of sweeps weeks and campaign

seasonings. If you don't have

anything nice to say, there

could be a future for you in

this company. Jerry may be

history - he found himself

sentenced to a year in the clink

for "callous indifference and

utter disregard for all that is

good and decent" - but the dream

lives on. Just listen to his

sponsors. Here's Apple,

steamrolling the competition,

literally if not yet

figuratively: "There is a time

and a place for subtlety. This

isn't the time nor the place."

Let that be your first lesson.

There's Senator Jay Bulworth,

who "thought he was ending it

all. Instead, it was the

beginning of a whole new life,"

i.e., trash-talking Jews,

blacks, and millionaires - in

rhyme - to make a point about

power, politics, and race

relations in America: "The most

dangerous man in America" is the

man who speaks The Truth and

isn't afraid to name names.


In advance of any noticeable

opposition, California RBOC Pac

Bell starts a maxi-rotation

refutation of its opponents'

complaints: "They're just

slinging mud, but that's OK,"

its ad assures the viewer,

showing Pac Bell workers in the

rain-soaked trenches; "We've got

experience with mud." They're

not the only ones. When it comes

to sending bad vibes, the tough

have turned pro: The cable

industry caps the ass of

satellite TV every 12 minutes,

electric industry deregulation

sends sparks flying, Charlton

Heston fires a semi-automatic

clip into Barbara Streisand's

two-faced mirror, Albright

launches a cruise missile at

Cameron from Beijing,

and "scumbags" battle with

"religious fanatics" every day on MSNBC -

everywhere you look, there's a

negative creep, and that's not

even counting Richard Mellon

Scaife. The old-time bastards,

perhaps sensing too much

competition, perhaps sensing

mounting opportunity, are moving

on. Misanthrope Jerry Seinfeld

vacates his apartment, real-life

malcontent Gary Shandling quits,

professional smarmy asshole

Craig Kilborn bails on the Daily

Show, and it hardly threatens to

put a dent in the cultural

negativity GDP.


[6 blocks away from each other, thrown by co-workers,]

To criticize means to put into

crisis, and when you've only got

30 seconds, there's no time for

pleasantries. Sandwiched between

Godzilla's clumsy firewalk and

an asteroid the size of Texas,

some dazzlingly depraved primary

colors are offering California

voters quite a treat. Northwest

Airlines magnate Al Checchi, Lt.

Governor Gray Davis, and US Rep.

Jane Harman, are all shooting

the shit over the airwaves in

pursuit of the Democratic

nomination for California

Governor. Like censorship on the

Internet, the notion of a clean

campaign was merely damage to be

routed around as quickly as

possible. They held their

breaths as long as they could,

littering commercial time with

insipid goodwrench scenes of

candidates in schools, promising

toughness on crime, caring,

sharing, and otherwise boring

the electorate to tears. Then

Checchi did Davis a favor,

spuriously accusing him of

granting a half-bil worth of

state investments to "Wall

Street and bond lawyers" after

taking $500K in campaign

contributions. Few people saw

this ad; nevertheless, it moved

the discussion from words to hot

lead. "Now," we're told by

Davis, "Al Checchi is trying to

smear Gray Davis ... Al Checchi,

a man who cared so little about

public service, he didn't even

vote in four of the last six

elections. Didn't vote for

governor, or when Prop. 187 was

on the ballot." "What kind of a

man would smear his opponent?"

the ads goes on, detailing

Checchi's firing of 4,000

Northwest employees, while he

enjoyed a $10 mil/year salary,

suggesting Checchi "killed

kindergarten legislation to save

a tax break for his airline."

"Gray Davis," the ads end,

lobbing one last parting shot

for good luck, "Experience money

can't buy." What kind of man

would smear his opponent, in the

guise of fulminating against the

use of attack ads, every 20

minutes? A winner: instead of

trailing far behind the pack

with the stoners, Davis is number

one with a bullet.


"People get tired of smearing,

smearing, smearing," says St.

Louis Clean Campaign Pledge

author J. H. Frappier. But as

Reform Party candidate James

Newport (who declined to sign

the pledge) suggests, "Sometimes

telling the truth looks like

dirt." Deborah Tannen - in her

latest book, The Argument

Culture: Moving from Debate to

Dialogue - disagrees, lamenting

the triumph of "agonism," ritual

verbal combat where complex

issues are reduced to

oversimplified dualistic

caricatures, and suggests

"limiting debate on an issue

that is known to be

inflammatory." If you ask us, it

just tastes better.


[and end up being at completely different events]

Our favorite recent studies show

that negative ads may be more

than just good for laffs, they

may also be good for democracy.

An Annenburg Public Policy

Center study suggests that

"negative ads often have a

higher content of public policy

information than 'positive' ads

in which candidates do not

mention their opponents." An

Arizona State University study

concluded that "voters usually

were better able to recognize

the names of challengers and to

accurately place both candidates

in the ideological spectrum as a

result of negative ads." But

honestly, such civic-minded

apologia is just gravy. Warhol's

fifteen minutes of fame these

days is less of a promise than a

threat: Stick your head above

the crowd, by all means. We

promise we won't smack it with a

spiked mallet. Really.


Being positive just doesn't pay.

Ellen was gay-positive, now

she's the nanny on Mad About

You. Everybody Loves Raymond,

just not anybody you know. Tim

Allen's in rehab. Les

Misérables performs

neck-and-neck with Black Dog at

the ass-end of the box office.

Even Newt Gingrich is casting

off his short-lived, softer-sided,

seersucking self. On a recent

Nightline broadcast, Concerned

Women for America spokesperson

Carmen Pate put it all in

perspective when discussing the

flotilla of charges levelled at

Bill Clinton: "I think that if

we find that many of these

allegations or any of these

allegations are proven to be

true, I believe it will have an

impact on the elections because

we have to understand there's

been a whole group of people who

have said that none of these

allegations are true. And so we

would begin to question their

character, as well." The

presumption of innocence, like

Seinfeld's innocent bystander:

passé. A

conversation-killer. A fairy

tale we tell ourselves to

pretend we're not taking sides.

Think quick: less flower or less

power? Is this a great time? Or


courtesy of Duke of URL