The Fish
for 14 August 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Suck Staff
[Tim Cavanaugh]
Tim Cavanaugh
Special Guest Editor
Terry Colon
Terry Colon
Art Director
Heather Havrilesky
Heather Havrilesky
Senior Editor
Joey Anuff
Joey Anuff

Suck Alumni
Suck Alumni Text
The American in Me

Philip Roth also wrote "The
Great American Novel,"
which literally is an ur-text what
with the character Gil Gamesh
and all......


J. Charles Swift

J. Charles,

The seriously underrated-
to-the-contrary Roth is guilty of
playing the American Card too
often, but that doesn't detract
from The Ghost Writer, Mr. Swift.
No, it does not!

Plus, I admire the way he lives:
doing push-ups in his shack in the
woods and producing PAGES. If only
I could get it together like that,
I could get some serious, oh so
very serious, work-like work done,
too. I've gotta get organizized.
And I wouldn't make the mistakes he
has. I'd call my book American
Novel right off the American Bat.

The title you remind us of doesn't
qualify under the conditions set
out in my piece. Maybe if he had
called it American Gilgamesh. "The"
and "Great," as ironic-pretentious
as they are, point to another
problem that certain Rothish
authors fall prey to. It's a coy
psychological quirk that leads to
the inclusion of certian words in
their titles that indicate how
goshdarn great they are, but at the
same time how lovable, how
huggable, and how downright humble
and squeezable, too. Examples are
on the very cusp of being
unnecessary, so I won't bother.

Thanks for writing!

Slotcar Hatebath
Just across the River from You

Fish With Letter Icon

Subject: Profound!

That's what I said when I read your
essay. I remember looking up the
number of movies that had
"American" in the title a few years
back, and it seems like the mess
started with Reagan, as did so many
messes. Pre 1980 you had relatively
few movies that had American in the
title, and then, after the election
of the motherless swine, we started
seeing movies like American Me,
American Ninja, American Flyers and
American Anthem--a real stinker,
that, with ex-Olympic gymnast Mitch
Gaylord in the lead. Possibly the
new wave of "Americana" is an
indice that Bush will be elected,
though it's said his electability
is due to the fact that he's
confident. Of course he's
confident--have you ever seen an
idiot that wasn't?

I'm so glad you mentioned that
wonderful Butthole Surfers
track--I've always loved it,
especially the part in the middle
where they start quoting from the
Jefferson Airplane's "After Bathing
at Baxters" -the Buttholes, masters
of one kind of psychedelic
gibberish, saluting previous
pioneers of it. (Remember Paul
Kantner yelling "No man is an
island! No man is an island! He's a
peninsula.") Keep up the good work,

Richard von Busack

Von B.,

Don't you mean American Profound!
Adding exclamation points to these
things can only help.

Yes, The Reagan (as Zontar magazine
used to call him) certainly ushered
in a climate (can you usher in a
climate?) that promoted such
pointless jingoism. I mean,
American Ninja? But stupidity will
out, and now we're stuck with
titles like those in every medium.
Eventually, every other TV show
will be called American Something,
and then the trend will reverse
itself and hibernate until it's
American Spring again.

It's easy to blame Ronnie, and
point to him as the historical
reason for all this American Shit.
But why so much of it in the last
two years? It just goes to show:
Clinton, Reagan -- as Alicia
Silverstone said in American
Clueless, "Whatever."


Fish With Letter Icon

Damn it! And I had just finished my
new novel: American American. Oh
the horror. I hope the Today show
doesn't get wind of your editorial
before Oprah picks up my book! And
I though I was so coy.

Russell Warner


Fear not! Let me suggest American
Novel. I'm never gonna finish that
anyway. You can have it! Use it in
your act with American Pride and
American Joy.


Fish With Letter Icon

Mr. Hatebath,

As with your excellent essay on
scare quotes, one hopes that you
have stopped another trend in its
tracks. You know, these are both
Boomer phenomena -- why didn't you
point that out? Supposedly
ironizing air quotes and empty
sarcastic gestures like adding
"American" to your title are the
bailiwick of the same pony-tailed
fuck-heads who are always
castigating their juniors for not,
like getting involved, man!
(Speaking of sarcasm, it was hard
to tell: do you REALLY like Lisa
Bonet, or were you being flip?) How
old are you, anyway, Hatebath?
Unlike most of the Sucksters,
you're so un-worldweary! Are you a
brilliant 15-year-old who's been
feigning autism for 10 years so
your family would leave you alone,
or are you a 900-year-old man who's
just been dug up out of a peat bog
in Hackensack? I mean, "American
Decoy" - that is genius!

PS: Terry Colon misspelled
"Prejudice" on one of the illos.

M. Wilson Del., OH

Mr. Wilson,

Of course I like Lisa freaking
Bonet! Am I not living and
breathing? Do I not have a deep
appreciation for American acting,
on and off American Sitcoms, not to
mention American Singing? (Or was
it American Lip-synching in High
Fidelity? Either way it was
CONVINCING.) Why Bonet isn't a
movie star on the level of a Suvari
is beyond me. I guess maybe she's
difficult or something. Probably
permanently scarred by the Mickey
Rourke-Robert De Niro double whammy
she had to put up with on the set
of Angel Heart. Maybe it's better
that as an American Actress of her
generation she never really made it
into superstardom. Look at it this
way: she never had to kiss Dennis
Quaid, Judge Reinhold, or Adam

And to answer your question about
my age, as the exciting Penelope
has found out much to her dismay,
I'm a horrible combination of a
brilliant 15 year old boy and a 900
year old frozen caveman. How'd you

And what's with this crap about how
the Sucksters are jaded? Don't you
read Filler? It's all about hope,
Matty, all about hope for a better

Terry DID NOT spell prejudice
incorrectly. That was an arch
reference to the dialect humor in
such American Novels as Huckleberry
Finn. Boy, that one went right over
your head.

He did, however, spell "camp"
wrong. As you can see, it starts
with a C and there's no F at the

American Hatebath (Stay Away from

Fish With Letter Icon

Hi Slotcar, interesting essay.

Over the last year I've been pretty
surprised by the "US
transgenerational embrace of the
song [American Woman]". I could
understand why Kravitz could sing
it with conviction, but as for the
rest of the public, I assumed
Americans were finding some kind of
subtle meaning in the song that I
couldn't perceive. It never
occurred to me that "people don't
listen to lyrics", which seems to
explain the phenomenon much more

You asked the question, 'If the
"American Woman" is a simple
substitute for America, and the
song's "me" represents Canada, how
can one "stay away" from the

Of course, no western country,
least of all Canada, can "stay
away" from America in a cultural
sense, which I suppose lends an
element of pathos to the song. I
always took it as a simple
anti-Vietnam War diatribe, futilely
railing against the apparently
seductive (and destructive)
potential of rabid US jingoism. I
suspect Burton Cummings knew full
well that yelling "stay away"
wouldn't halt American influence.
Then again, perhaps without that
song NAFTA would have come into
being a decade earlier...

Jeremy Smith

Hey, Smith, I don't need your war
machines and I don't need your
ghetto scenes, OK? Lay off with the
heavy duty politics. You're making
my head hurt, man. I just want to

A quick perusal of Burton
Cummings's CD booklet notes in the
Buddah rerelease of the American
Woman LP proves one thing
conclusively, however: Burton
doesn't know a goddamn thing, and
he now lives in LA, not Canada.

If all Americans could listen to
The Guess Who's acoustic intro to
"American Woman" in the full-length
LP version of the song, they'd be
too depressed about their fellow
Man to do anything. All that rabid
jingoism would be a thing of the
past. Kravitz's version may be
enervating, but nothing can beat
that intro (repeated at the end of
the album just to rub your face in
it) for outright lameness. Wow, is
it bad. Listen to THAT and stop
worrying about NAFTA. If that LP
was a hit with the people who grew
up to give us NAFTA, then Canadians
and Americans need to get together
right now. As those people get
older, NAFTA is going to be the
least of our worries.


Slotcar Hatebath

Fish With Letter Icon

Slotcar -

Interesting essay, and definitely a
trend that's becoming all
encompassing in modern cultural
(ultimately watering down something
that's "Already been watered down
all she can be watered" to
paraphrase groundskeeper Willie on
the Simpsons).

A couple of examples you don't
mention but that buttress your
points. James Ellroy's 1995
"American Tabloid," a portrait of
all that was filthy and corrupt in
our country during the "Leave It to
Beaver" era. Also, John Steinbeck's
little known, but remarkable
collection of essays: "America and
the Americans." Probably speaks
most closely to what your piece is
talking about, as Steinbeck laments
the destruction of the experiment
that was America due to an
apathetic populace. Worth checking
out, if you can find it.

Take it easy,

Bob Dunn
Green Magazine

American Bob--

Ellroy's excellent novel was, as
you point out, released in 1995,
and I was trying to restrict myself
to stuff from the last two years -
and stuff that's on its way. But
you're right: as with Roth, Ellroy
is another admirable author who
succumbed to the quick jolt the
patriotic adjective can deliver.

In the '70s, a decade pretentious
in a different way, these things
would've had the one-word
portentous title: simply Tabloid,
or Pastoral. Paul Schrader was in
the forefront of this shift - not
American Taxi Driver, but, yes,
American Gigolo.

Thanks for writing in from Green
magazine. Can you lend me $10,000?
Or would it be easier to get
$100,000 out of you?

Slotcar Hatebath

Fish With Letter Icon

This may well be the mother of all
American titles.

American Toenail is a noir mystery
with horror undertones, its
director and cast inexplicably
fallen into complete obscurity.

It is a black and white B movie
from the early fifties depicting
the tribulations of the son of an
eastern european immigrant family
in the midwest. The young man goes
to the big city (Chicago?) to find
fame and fortune, leaving his
family back in a squalid little
farm lost on the prairie. The
opening scene has our hero trimming
his toenails in his cheap hotel
room, when some fancy suited
individuals come knocking on his
door, mistaking him for the room's
previous occupant.

The rest of the film has him
fleeing from his relentless and
rather kinky-sadistic pursuers, who
use bloodhounds and a single, large
toenail fragment found in the hotel
room to hunt him down, hence the
title. Such grotesque titles
probably didn't go over well back
then, so it is no great surprise
that this otherwise interesting
little gem has been utterly
forgotten. It is similar in tone
and texture to The Respectful
Prostitute and Los Olvidados.

Heinz Hemken

Sorry, Heinz. Arthur Penn made that
movie in 1965. It's called Mickey
One. If only it had been more like
Los Olvidados.

Good luck with the American Genome
or whatever you're working on over
there. When you do graph the whole
thing, I bet you'll find that it's
more ominous, somehow, that other
genomes. More charged. More rugged,
sure, but more threatening, too.
You'll see.

Thanks for readin' and writin' in-

Slotcar Hatebath

Fish With Letter Icon
Quote from this article:

"By reducing the Holocaust to
dramatic backstory for a superhero
movie, Bryan Singer has confirmed
his role as the first great
director of the 20th Century."

So, am I real dense, or is there a
typo there? Should that be "21st
Century?" Or are you saying that
Singer is somehow behind the times,
directing 20th-century movies in a
21st-century world? Like, if you
said "the first great director of
the 14th Century," haw haw haw?

Or is it a reference to the fact
that the Holocaust happened in the
20th century? Or maybe some really
nerdy mathematical calendar point
about how the year 2000 is REALLY
still part of the 20th century?

I dunno, it just doesn't ring true
to me.


Mr. Bad

Hi, Mr. Bad.

Although I'd like to claim it as an
across the board snub that would
make John Simon proud, it's just a


40th Street Black

Fish With Letter Icon

Ok, I've been reading your stuff
for a while now, and I've enjoyed
about every article that you've
written. That being said, the
smarminess and sarcastic tone of
your X-Men article was a big
disappointment. I was a fan of the
comic book when I was a kid, and
the marked difference between the
X-Men and any of the other possible
movie titles that you suggest is
this: X-Men the comic book was
completely based around the more
serious concept of discrimination
and prejudice. The book was an
allegory from the start - one that
became even more serious in tone as
the years went on. Don't get me
wrong, the stories feature people
in tights and a bunch of
ass-kicking, but I (and many
others) always gave credit to the
series because it dealt with a wide
variety of thoughtful issues
instead of just serving up the same
old crime fighting bullshit. Brian
Singer's use of the holocaust to
establish Magneto's motivation for
combating the human race isn't
directorial (poetic) license, it
just follows the history of the
comic book accurately. Your
contempt or amusement (I can't
decide which) at such weighty
matters being showcased in such a
juvenile or mindless format (summer
blockbuster and comic book
combined? Good heavens!) is
somewhat understandable, but c'mon,
let it slide. It adds to the story,
and the franchise's popularity
might gently nudge another
generation of dorky young 'uns to
draw positive conclusions about

You're still batting about .800 in
my book,

Bill Ardolino

Thanks for your note, and thanks
for your kind comment about batting

The problem I have with the
argument and similar broad
metaphors in popular media the last
20 years or so is that they're used
less as an opportunity for literary
exploration than as a
quasi-marketing tool to argue
cultural weight for escapist
entertainment. Watching a film like
X-Men doesn't yield a wealth of
insight. Since I don't think that
victims of racism and superheroes
have very much in common, I'm left
without a compelling description of
how racism works. And unless the
film's creators are meditating on
degrees of violent response as a
proper solution, I don't think the
metaphor extends very far past
"This is bad."

While it's certainly better to say
"Discrimination is bad" than
"Discrimination is good," the
cultural value of such messages in
popular entertainment resides on a
slippery slope that almost always
ends up with a favorite cliche from
the early '90s - the "very special
episode of Blossom." Those kinds of
entertainment make for fine
rudimentary civics lessons; but
they also display all the signs of
being bad art, and there's a real
danger of exploiting the issues
engaged for ratings/box office if
you're not careful. Generally, I
think films that try to engage
sophisticated issues should be
examined on their ability to do so,
and I think these broad modern
fantasies really fail.


40th Street Black

Fish With Letter Icon

Just read your recent article
"Metaphoria" on Suck. Amusing in
many respects. With regards to the
Battlestar Galactica part, the
humans did not create the brutish
tin can Ceylons. The Ceylons were
created by another race who
suffered the fate you described and
then went on the warpath to kill
the humans. Have to find another
series for the

Byron Barker

I stand admonished. Although the
humans were stupid enough to enter
into treaties with them, which I
guess makes that first episode of
BG clumsy Cold War commentary.

You know, if you think about it,
describes EVERY TV show.


40th Street Black

Fish With Letter Icon

Dear Mr. Spurgeon,

I really enjoyed your column in
today's Suck. You might be
interested in taking a look at the
review of X-Men I posted on my Web
site that touches on some of the
questions you raise about the
film.Best wishes, Dave C

Dave Clayton

I think we start with similar
insights and go in different
directions, but that's by far the
most interesting reading of the
movie I've seen.

Anyone who uses "apotropaic" or
"desuetude" without blinking is my
kind of film reviewer to begin


40th Street Black

Fish With Letter Icon

"...Martin Luther King and Malcolm
X funded elite militias that
constantly beat the crap out of
each other."

Where can I find out more about


I know what you mean. I would have
actually paid attention those last
few weeks of high school history
class if there had been less
talkin', more blowin' stuff up.

40th Street Black

By reducing the Holocaust to
dramatic backstory for a superhero
movie, Bryan Singer has confirmed
his role as the first great
director of the 20th Century.
first...of the 20th Century?

Stephen Ericson

I know, I know. It's all part of my
overall plan to erode whatever
small amount of trust exists
between the Suck copyeditors and


40th Street Black

Fish With Letter Icon

And yet, you forget the Tick...


We've all forgotten the Tick. Every
last one of us. But I think there's
a TV show, right? So we'll all soon
be reminded.

Thanks for writing,

40th Street Black

Fish With Letter Icon

 The Shit
Krushchev Remembers, by Nikita Krushchev (authorship disputed), translated by Strobe Talbott
Five-Star Day Cafe
Athens, Ga.
Salon's "Action Figures"
TV ad
Donna's Famous "Long and Short of It," by Donna Anderson and friends
Two-Lane Blacktop, directed by Monte Hellman (The Anchor Bay/Universal letterboxed edition)
George Bush, Dark Prince of Love: A Presidential Romance, by Lydia Millet (Scribner)
King Kong: The Complete 1933 Film Score, by Max Steiner Moscow Symphony Orchestra, William J. Stromberg conductor (Marco Polo)
Eightball #20, by Dan Clowes (Fantagraphics Books)
The ECW's Little Spike Dudley
Stan Kenton, City of Glass, featuring arrangements by legendary weirdo Bob Graettinger (EMD/Blue Note)
Comix 2000, Edited and published by L'Association, 2000
Star Dudes
Do you know of stuff that doesn't actively suck? Things so good they deserve to make the Shitlist? Send your suggestions to us.

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