"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 13 July 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Wanking Towards Bethlehem



It's a ritual as dependable as a

Happy Meal. Unwilling to wait

for their chance to scour the

DVD version of Disney's Tarzan

— searching for single-frame

glimpses of the Lord of the

Jungle's anaconda poking out of

his loincloth — assorted

Public Nuisances have already

accused the Ape Man of

masturbating on those Jane-less

nights. The animated film's

pre-release campaign was juiced

up by entertainment press

reports quoting Usenet posts

about the promotional Rad

Repeatin' Tarzan action figure

("The articulation of the arm

allows for ... Well, let's just

say it sends a positive message

of being really comfortable with

one's body," one wag scrawled).

Anxious to duck charges of

marketing a self-pleasuring

Jungle King, the toy's creator

rushed to change the product's

packaging. ("Mattel Stifle's

Tarzan's Hand Action," read the

AP headline.)


But Tarzan's behavior was

exemplary compared with one

Disney World staffer, according

to the book Team Rodent. Miami

Herald reporter Carl Hiaasen

recalls a 1991 incident

involving the dancers at

Cinderella's Castle, in which an

employee was fired because he

would "masturbate while

surreptitiously videotaping the

women as they changed costumes."

Citing court records, the

journalist notes, "One phone

call to the local sheriff's

office could have ended the peep

show, but Disney security

officers chose to conduct their

own surveillance, which went on

for three months."


Does this story have a moral

(beyond "I want to be a real

boy")? Well, Hiaasen's commentary

on powerful entertainment

companies was turned into an

entry in Random House's

Library of Contemporary Thought

series. But the desire to tear

down this culture of consumerism

has become a consumer product.

Mattel's packaging blunder could

even be an especially clever

example of guerrilla marketing.

In some stores, Rad Repeatin'

Tarzan is already out of stock —

and god knows what sounds

are headed for its

record-for-playback feature.

People will snap up your

product if they think it makes

you look stupid.



Hollywood recognized this impulse

long ago, and started producing

movies in two flavors —

original and extra raunchy —

playing both sides without

choosing one. Oscar nominee

Minnie Driver has the

distinction of appearing in two

of this summer's top animated

box office offerings, providing

both the voice of Jane in

Disney's Tarzan ("Pick me up!

Put me down!") and the voice of

Brooke Shields in South Park ("I

farted once on the set of Blue

Lagoon.") In a masterful

publicity stunt, South Park's

creators are now trumpeting

their six negotiating sessions

with the Motion Picture

Association of America in which

they successfully crossed the

boundary between NC-17 and R,

according to Entertainment

Weekly — leaving an angry Jack

Valenti, the group's president

and CEO, calling them uninformed



Somewhere in the muddle there's

some high-minded rhetoric about

censorship versus

appropriateness. But everyone

involved in this drama is simply

jockeying to be a player at the

table. (Entertainment Weekly

reports that South Park's

ratings have dropped nearly

40 percent in the past year.) In

the dialog about movies, no

one is admitted without media

attention, and "controversies"

over movie ratings form a handy

gimmick. Thus, Tipper Gore

worried about Raising PG Kids in

an X-Rated Society, even though

the best example she could come

up with was calling Dungeons and

Dragons an "occult fad."


It's a parade of clowns trying to

sweep up the spotlight and

refocus it on their own issues.

Why is Jar Jar Binks talking

like a mincing lackey? Why is

everyone in Tarzan's Africa

white? Why is Disney marketing a

Tarzan snow globe when the only

place it snows in Africa is Mt.

Kilimanjaro? The Jar Jar

controversy ultimately produced

its own backlash, with a Village

Voice columnist arguing that

people were threatened because

the character challenged gender

stereotypes — just like the

Teletubbies. Everyone had an

opinion, of course, including

the creators of South Park. And

the tasty furor ultimately

induced Salon to convert to a

new format: all Jar Jar, all the




The truth is closer to H. L.

Mencken's warning that "nine

times out of ten, in the arts as

in life, there is actually no

truth to be discovered" (with

an additional nod to Mencken's

statement about "the national

appetite for bogus revelation").

Professional and armchair

critics have found that

there's something irresistible

about taking potshots at

juvenile entertainment. ("Mr.

Rogers seems to be singing in

the character of Henrietta

Pussycat," jokes one David

Letterman writer, "though there

is an outside chance that he

just neglected to ventilate his

workshop while painting

puppets.") Whether it's Dr.

Seuss or Hello, Kitty, there's

something cathartic about

deconstructing the sanitized

products. Yet the political

drama still replays itself,

again and again, as opposing

agendas grapple for control of the

message. In the early '90s,

after persistent rumors rocked

Sesame Street, the Children's

Television Workshop found itself

forced to issue a disclaimer:

"Ernie and Bert are not gay.

They're puppets. They don't even

have legs." Of course, 1999 has

proven the age-old wisdom that

every Muppet controversy replays

itself, first as tragedy, then

as comedy. Before the

Teletubbies had even premiered

on PBS, Suck had warned readers

to "look for hinterland protests

that the gay-positive Tinky

Winky is turning America's kids

into purse-swinging fruit

loops." And this May, Brill's

Content counted "at least a

dozen media outlets" that had

been speculating on the purple

Teletubby's orientation before

Jerry Falwell blinded the nation

with fairy dust.



For consumers desperate to be

anti-consumers, searching

children's entertainment

produces unfortunate

coincidences. ("One day in

Teletubby land, it was Po's turn

to wear the skirt," goes the

first line in an officially

licensed Teletubbies title.

Later, of course, "It was Tinky

Winky's turn to wear the skirt."

Tinky Winky ultimately throws

himself to the ground rather

than give it up.) Is it

deliberate denigration or

accidental — no more planned

than, say, the printer's error

in a Marvel comic book that left

Wolverine saying "kike"? In the

end, it doesn't really matter.

Criticizing the mass media

temporarily grants the media

disenfranchised a forum — in

the form of a news hook —

for what it was going to say

anyway. While there's no word

yet on the fate of Vine Jammin'

Tarzan — the Mattel action

figure that depicts Tarzan

choking a snake — the

creators of South Park have been

smart enough to merchandise that

impulse. The exercise offers

consumers the illusion of

democracy. Which is why, when

gazing at the pop-culture

galaxy, one group will always

say it sees a cluster of stars,

while the other will report a

constellation in the shape of a

giant penis.

courtesy of Destiny

[Purchase the Suck Book here]