"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 12 February 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Guilty as Charged


[my brother just took a new job.
it's downth ew street from him but 
happens to be in the exact same 
office in sausalito i was in
3 years ago.  the world is a strange place.]

Last fall, Electronic Arts

pulled a Kevorkian with its highly

anticipated videogame Thrill

Kill when the big swinging dicks

there decided the game's

phallocentric murder techniques

- including the Crotch Crunch

and the Nutcracker - were too

disturbing to unleash upon

castration-sensitive Playstation

warriors. Around the same time,

Fox opted not to air The

World's Most Embarrassing

Throw-Up Moments during sweeps

week, even though such retching

excess seemed destined to result

in an indisputable, albeit

messy, ratings mop-up.


Trends come in threes, of

course, but the specter of such

auto-censorship has us so

spooked that we felt only two

examples were really necessary

to start sounding bells of

alarm. Have Michael Medved and

Joseph Lieberman really managed

to impose their standards of

simpering decorum on the

stubbornly irresponsible

entertainment industry? Has the

National Coalition on Television

Violence finally succeeded,

after years of sober hectoring,

in convincing pathologically

prolific violence dispensers

like Paul Stojanovich and Steven

Bochco that media savagery does

indeed lead to real-life acts of

artful, slow-motion mayhem and

dialog-driven beatdowns?


my new little fish are so cute. they
 hang out together and change
one another around.
the other day orson swam through
 the castle.  it was so damn cute i almost cried.

Anecdotal instances of

media-induced violence are

always compelling: Our favorite

involves a department-store

employee driven by an episode of

Star Trek to shoot his boss 28

times. (What, we've rather

obsessively wondered ever since

reading about that incident more

than 10 years ago, inspired him

to engage in an act of such overarching

villainy when so many other

Trekkers merely felt compelled

to buy Spock ears and attend fan

conventions?) In the end,

however, such tales, along with

drier academic investigations like

Albert Bandura's Bobo doll

studies from the early 1960s

(wherein docile tykes who

strangely showed no instinctive

desire to bash large,

goofy-looking clowns learned to

do so after watching televised

instructors) aren't really

necessary to convince us that a

real connection exists between

violent media and violent

behavior. Instead, we employ a

simpler logic: If TV executives

really believe the images they

broadcast have no impact on us,

how come they charge so much for



In disavowing TV's persuasive

powers, TV's defenders forfeit

their best opportunity to refute

the box's detractors. The fact

that TV can inspire good deeds

as well as bad ones is a simple,

obvious notion, and yet as far

as we can determine, very few

psych-lab puppeteers have

conducted studies regarding the

relationship between virtuous

media and virtuous behavior.

Still, the information is out

there, just waiting for some

enterprising fauxciologist to

tenderize it into a few tasty

sound bites. For you

self-starters, here is the crux

of the argument: In the early

'90s, at the same time that

media violence studies were

soaring to epidemic levels,

real-life crime rates began to

plummet. Today, the nation's

major cities continue to report

substantial drops in both

violent and property crimes.

According to the Department

of Justice, the murder rate for

1997 was lower than it has been

in three decades. While

professors, consultants, and

politicians all grapple for an

explanation - economic

prosperity? stricter handgun

laws? older, slower criminals? -

the real answer, we suspect, is

no further than the nearest



Indeed, pick up a copy of TV

Guide these days, and you might

mistake it for the Harvard Legal

Review. Judge Judy, Judge Joe

Brown, Ed Koch, Judge Mills

Lane, Judge Wapner, Judge Greg

Mathis - TV gavel swingers are

in such high demand these days

that even B-list everydude Judge

Reinhold is reportedly the

subject of focus groups that are

trying to gauge his magisterial

presence. Not surprisingly,

armchair Perry Masons have

embraced the chance to deduce

the motives underlying this

recent outbreak of syndicated

jurisprudence. As the

impeachment proceedings

endlessly expand to fill that

great media vacuum known in

layperson's terms as MSNBC, some

surmise that there's a growing

demand for 22-minute justice. As

we ponder the vagaries of

millennial uncertainty, others

postulate, our inner children

pine for blustery, black-robed

huff-love. But to dwell on

motives rather than consequences

is to overlook the true

significance of the phenomenon:

We have stumbled upon the

antidote to violent media, and

it appears to be far more

effective than censorship,

rating systems, or even V-chips.


bishop was sick again.  it's 
those damn rawhide bones.  
he likes them so much he wants 
to carry a bone with him on walks.
last time he needed to go out so 
badly he had an accident in adsales.

What's truly amazing about the

virtuous media-virtuous behavior

continuum is how much more

potent it is than its violent

analog. Indeed, consider Judge

Judy, the genre's most popular

practitioner. To call her the

Don Rickles of the Cathode

Circuit is to do a grave

disservice to the Merchant of

Venom - his humor, timing, and

moral sense are far more

developed than hers. Perched

with preening self-regard on her

bench, Judge Judy surveys her

wards with only trace amounts of

wisdom, compassion, civility,

and circumspection. At seemingly

predetermined intervals, her

sphincterish mouth erupts in

canned twiticisms like "Beauty

fades, dumb is forever." A Furby

could deliver more spontaneous,

reasoned rulings. And yet

somehow TV itself lends a moral

authority, amplifying Judge

Judy's meager attributes to the

point where they neutralize the

malice, roguishness, and deceit

that would otherwise infect our

dark hearts. As Judge Joe Brown,

the only TV justice who's kept

his day job, has recounted, even

the most incorrigible felons he

interacts with in the Memphis

criminal-court system treat him

with uncharacteristic respect

and a renewed spirit of

self-rehabilitation when they

realize he's an actual TV judge.


As valuable as these shows are

to American civic life, however,

an ominous factor dims their

future prospects: their failure

to attract advertising revenue.

According to a list of the top

50 syndicated shows that Ad Age

recently published, Judge Joe

Brown manages to fetch only

US$8,000 per 30-second spot -

the lowest amount on the list.

Judge Mills Lane and Ed Koch's

People's Court convene at the

list's depths as well, pulling

only $14,000 and $11,000,

respectively. While Judge Judy

attracts a healthier $35,000 per

30-second spot, that's still

nothing compared to the

list-leading Friends, which has

done nothing at all to decrease

American crime rates and yet

still receives $140,000 per



[i cooked him chicken and rice twice 
this weekend to settle his stomach. 
he loved it.  i've never cooked 
chicken so that was sort of weird,
and gross.
between rockstar barfing all day 
and bishop's unsightly deposits, it's surprising
i survived intact.]

The clear implication of these

figures, of course, is that the

viewers watching these shows

aren't particularly desirable to

advertisers. Given that Judge

Joe Brown regularly reaches an

audience of approximately 2.8

million, at $8,000 per spot,

each audience member can be had

for less than a penny a piece.

Who are these people shunned by

the Procter & Gambles and GMs of

the world? Well, one imagines

they're mostly shoplifters,

unemployed people, and other

shiftless, dishonest types. And

yet, they're watching Judge Joe

Brown and Judge Judy and Ed

Koch. They're learning new

virtues, they're being taught

the difference between right and

wrong, and they're deciding to

change their lives! If the

advertisements that do run

during these shows are any

indication, it would

seem that viewers are

taking courses in computer

maintenance and attending

secretarial school and

transforming themselves into

honest, law-abiding citizens. In

other words, they're people on

their way up - and

forward-thinking major

advertisers who rarely buy time

on such shows should change

their habits. It's a win-win

proposition: Advertisers would

cultivate the loyalty of a

rising class of consumers, and

the judge shows, with the

additional revenue ensuring

their ongoing viability, would

continue to exercise their

stabilizing, uplifting effect on

American culture.

courtesy of St. Huck


[Purchase the Suck Book here]