"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 8 June 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
I Am the Cheese


[in the ears:]

Who you gonna believe, The

Nation or your own two eyes? If

you thought a cartoon network,

'round-the-clock coverage of the

US Congress, reruns of Kolchak,

The Night Stalker, a second

professional football league, a

country-and-western station

lying cheek by jowl with Black

Entertainment TV,

all-Hitler-all-the-time, ready

access to Basil Rathbone as

Sherlock Holmes, all the NASCAR

you need, a Hare Krishna

seminar, Positively Jewish, a

10-part series on global

warming, Pop-Up Video, a

documentary on RonCo

advertorials, and a fly-fishing

seminar mean that cable TV has

taken only a wee step toward

demonstrating a portion of our

dense cultural and commercial

heritage, you're an idiot, says

New York University's media

kvetch meister, Mark Crispin



Preaching to the choir in the

last issue of The Nation, Miller

hurls his peewee thunderbolts at

those among us who mistake the

mere quantity of channels for

"apparent television abbondanza"

(that's Italian for "abundance,"

as we learned from an Italian

soft-core movie we saw once on

cable). You may think you're

getting diversity out of your

tube, but Miller wants The

Nation's 17 or 18 readers to

know that all of this flapdoodle

is "actually brought to you by a

very tight network of corporate

superpowers," who - like that

boy who wanted to take you for a

drive after the prom - "have

just one thing on their minds."

We were pretty shocked to find

that television is secretly

being controlled by big

business, but Miller lost us by

saying that the situation was

better 20 years ago, when TV

production was being done by

"many nonaffiliated players,

large and small."


[actionslacks - lying in bed]

What the media hawk neglects to

mention is that 20 years ago

your TV viewing choices

generally amounted to CHiPs,

One Day at a

Time, and That's Incredible!

During a recent survey

stretching from New York City to

Longport, New Jersey - cities

far apart in terms of cultural

copiousness - this reporter's

desultory study of the local

cable offerings turned up three a.m.

spot's reporting on Indonesian

President Suharto's fall, Chaim

Ben Pesach's Jewish Task Force

on Media Bias (immediately

countered by some impressive

numerology by the Black

Israelites), Ralph Meeker

cracking thugs across the jaw in

the classic Kiss Me Deadly, a

history of the balalaika, Pat

Robertson praying for the

destruction of the Sudanese

government, Formula 1 racing,

and a winning performance by

those supermonopolists, the

Chicago Bulls. In short, a

greater range of opinion and

subject matter than we can hope

for even from a special double

issue of The Nation. It may not

all have been brought to us by

The Man, but it sure took the

sting out of being boxed in.


Not that facts on the ground

should matter. As bloviators

capable of writing curlicues

that are easily as fatuous as

anything Miller can come up

with, we envy his successful

beware-the-octopus franchise.

But more than that, we envy his



When we see Borders' vast and

diverse book selection, as

opposed to the local mom-and-pop

shop that can barely stock the

collected works of Mary Higgins

Clark, when we compare the

competently prepared coffee at

Starbucks to the dishwater

served up at Rip's Family

Dining, we're cussedly confused

(which is no doubt just what The

Man wants). Are we supposed to

be grateful for conglomerated

quality or suspicious of the big

corporations' never-stated but,

no doubt, nefarious designs on

our souls? We'd trust in the

wisdom of the generations yet to

be born, but it turns out The

Man's in control of them, too.

So, where do we turn? We're not

being wiseacres here. Just tell

us what to think, Mark, and

we'll think it.


[old 97's- hands off]

Truman Burbank is willing to

think whatever They want him to,

and he still can't get a break.

Even before its premiere, The

Truman Show had gone through

such a complete wash cycle of

hype and backlash (Original

Gangsta Michael Sragow condemns

the "white-bread rebellion" of a

movie that has nothing to say

about "the quality of life in

our late-20th-century

videodrome") that its

rediscovery should be coming by

the end of this week. If so,

we're hoping that the

rediscoverers will consider the

possibility that this nightmare

scenario of life in our

videodrome may actually be a

subtle form of wish fulfillment.


If Truman's solipsistic high

concept (a concept already

enshrined in four-eyed classics

from The Secret Life of Walter

Mitty to Total Recall to Jacob's

Ladder to The Game, Dark City, or

for that matter, I Am the

Cheese) resonates with

audiences, it's not because we'd

like to save Truman but because

we'd like to be Truman. Among

the vast numbers of people who

don't take notes while watching

television - in fact, don't

watch TV in the hope of finding

important life lessons at all,

but, like Truman's viewers, as a

kind of value-added

self-stimulus - the problem with

living in the entertainment

bubble isn't that it's in the

hands of a few multinational

poobahs. It's that we're

expected to feel guilty about

it. It's not just Truman's

near-seamless tissue of product

placements and comfortably banal

storylines we envy; it's that he

lives in a world free of tenured

"media ecology" Chicken Littles,

insisting against all available

evidence that things are worse

than ever.


[beulah - the rise and fall of our he
ro's reward]

Of course, we can't hope for

redemption in the movies, but

back on planet Earth, there is a

real version of The Truman Show,

a place where you're always

rewarded for being a bore, where

your daily existence shifts from

a newsroom where everybody

agrees with you to a climate-

controlled academic sinecure

where eager co-eds treat your

every pedestrian observation as

a nugget of wisdom where you

can be deemed a deep thinker for

making the shockingly

controversial point that

television is a vast wasteland.

As we thump the remote control

in search of new ways to amuse

ourselves to death, it's

probably no coincidence that a

reasonable facsimile of The

Truman Show is playing every

week across The Nation.

courtesy of Vicki Lester