"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 November 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Pest Control



As Cold War-era fissionaries

perfected the art of mass market

annihilation throughout the

'50s, a swarm of killer Bs

simultaneously agitated and

assuaged our resulting

technological unease and fear of

Commies. In Them!


super-antagonists terrorized the

Southwest until a pair of New

Mexico state troopers and an FBI

agent realized that the leftist

insects' cardboard wings made

them highly flammable. Beginning

of the End unleashed giant

Lenin-spouting grasshoppers on

the unsuspecting citizens of

Chicago; while in Mesa of Lost

Women and Tarantula, Mother

Nature's displeasure over

humanity's atomic tampering took

the form of super-sized

dime-store spiders who foisted

copies of The Daily Worker on

innocent, God-fearing citizens.


The fact that post-nuclear

America could so boldly enact

its deepest fears suggests a

safer, simpler time: The

monsters we've managed to create

since then are apparently too

frightening to dramatize.

Today's nervous millennialists

would have trouble believing in

the requisite happy ending. And

thus, instead of acknowledging

our own Frankensteinian

complicity in an increasingly

crowded lineup of technological

horror shows, we cast external

forces as our monsters, things

for which we claim no

culpability. Have the dark deeds

of bio-weaponeers and lazy,

Year-2000-ignorant Cobol

programmers got you buggin'?

Then escape to the multiplex,

where blame-free tales of aliens

and asteroids offer hours of




That's not to say that insect

movies aren't enjoying a vogue,

too; they're just fulfilling a

different function now. In Antz and A Bug's

Life, the tiny picnic-wreckers

serve not to show the blunders

of progress but, rather, the

wonders: Each computer-generated

creature is a miniscule

manifestation of a greater

technological promise. In

interviews, Antz's co-directors

Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson

karaoked all the usual pieties

about the importance of story

and character, but the actual

movie, whose script reads as if

it were written by a couple of

guys who can maybe draw really

well, belies such sentiments.

Indeed, it plays like the

world's longest, most expensive

demo: Check out what we can do

with crowd scenes; notice how we

can make the water look just

like the glistening can-sweat in

a Coke commercial; here's an ant

who under-overacts with the same

neurotic assurance of Woody



That's not to say that Antz is

without merit. The dazzling

brandscapes of soda bottles and

other picnic fare have a glassy

superficiality that's as

compellingly soulless as Robert

Cottingham's best work. The

master shots of the ants' colony

have the depth and nuance that

the storyline lacks. And who

can't but marvel at technology

so powerful that it actually

makes the diminutive Sylvester

Stallone substantially taller

than his co-stars? Best of all

is the many-layered artifice of

Antz. Actors known primarily for

playing "themselves" give voice

to digitized facsimiles of their

screen personas. What Antz

ultimately suggests in both

explicit and implicit fashion is

that hard-and-fast

categorizations of all kinds -

soldier/worker, real/virtual -

are increasingly incidental. In

the infinitely reconfigurable

future, we'll all be

whomever we want to be: ant,

movie star, ant movie star,




Of course, this message is not

without its ironic subtext.

While Pacific Data Image's sappy

directives to be one's own ant

whet our appetites for our own

elaborately rendered me-topias

into which we, or at least our

avatars, can escape, the

workaholic technoculture that is

necessary to create such worlds

is exactly what we hope to flee.

Fifty years ago, despite the

best efforts of Henry Ford and

Frederick W. Taylor, we still

identified with the people on

the screen rather than the

mutant insects. Their

regimented, mechanical nature

made them Them! - our polar

opposites, everything that was

not us. Now, however, even

though the dreaded Red Menace

has added up to little more than

consumer kitsch, we find it

remarkably easy to empathize

with the serial-numbered drones

of Antz. And why not? In an era

where the ultimate freedom is

defined as the ability to send

your boss email (which he'll

ignore) while you're trip-mining

cocktail-party anecdotes in Goa,

the workaholic ant, a form of

life so lowly that its ascension

in Them! was the horrific

measure of humanity's fall from

grace, now seems like a




Or maybe even a mentor. After

all, it's just a little more

than 400 days until the Great

Technopocalypse, engineered by

the specter of a millennial bug

destined to get more press than

any Woody Allen vehicle. Indeed,

perhaps we should be looking

toward Formicidae hymenoptera

for inspiration and instruction.

Biologists estimate that there

are more than 70,000 ant species

in the world, and as far as we

can tell, none of them are

worried about bank runs, unruly

Canadians, or how to assemble a

mattress burrito. The extinction

scenarios of Antz and A Bug's

Life are little more than human

projection; real-life ants are

resoundingly hardy. For example,

in Florida, an Asian import has

proven so impervious to the

usual extermination tricks that

pest-control professionals are

refusing to treat them. In

Texas, more than US$300 million

is spent each year in an attempt

to control the state's

burgeoning population of

calf-blinding, farm-wrecking

fire ants. While scientists

experiment with transgenics,

parasitic ant-eating flies, and

other exotic eradication

methods, ants continue to

thrive, practicing advanced

farming techniques, colonizing

new territories with the

inexorable brutality of

Starbucks, and growing

increasingly resistant to our

efforts to control them. So

while human-to-insect

metamorphosis used to be an iffy

proposition, the stuff of

deadpan nightmares and drive-in

melodrama, in the face of

collapsing Third World stock

exchanges and nuclear meltdowns,

it doesn't seem nearly as bad

as it once did. A bug's life?

Sure, we'll bite.

courtesy of St. Huck

[Purchase the Suck Book here]