The I-Can't-Believe-It-Either 5th Anniversary Column
Five years. Good grief. This site is older than my son. Itís been around longer than my last three jobs. And more than anything, Iím amazed that Iím still doing it.
The less kind among you might say that as it is, Iím hardly doing it at all. Thereís some truth in that; much as I swear over and over Iím going to update every two weeks, I suddenly find myself at three weeks since the last review went up, and being totally mystified at where the time went. Some goes to my family, of course. A lot goes to the crap you have to do when youíre an adult - you know, mortgages, bills, stuff like that. Some goes to my dog. Some goes to watching movies. Itís the writing about those movies thatís getting short shrift.
I remember when I used to watch a movie on Wednesday, maybe again on Thursday, start writing on Friday, finish up Saturday night, do the vidcaps Sunday and post that night. Weekly. How the hell did I do that?
Iíll be truthful here, too: the words donít come as easily as they once did. Possibly because Iíve been doing it for so long, I worry about repeating myself. There are still two articles I have begun and never finished, simply because they are on subjects that have been widely covered and I canít think of anything truly new to say about them. Coming up against that particular brick wall puts me in a funk that lasts a month or more.
Not that Iím going to be stopping any time soon. Like the man once said, I may not enjoy writing, but I do enjoy having written something. I like revisiting the new piece that first week and maybe tweaking it a little. I also enjoy getting mail telling me what a genius I am. Not that Iím dropping any hints here or anything. I also appreciate letters pointing out errors in the articles (as long as theyíre nice about it). Sometimes I even go back and correct them.
Iíve been translated into French and, I am told, Japanese. Thatís a nice feeling.
I'll probably try a different thing or two in the coming year. I've been chafing under the restraints of a site called The Bad MOVIE Report (and oooh, how creative that is! Five years ago, I thought, "Just put a name up - you can always change it later."). For better or worse, that's my identity now, so it will stay. But just as not everything in The New Yorker is about New York, not everything I write about will be a movie. There's been a taste of that in the Super President and Hell-Rider pieces. There will likely be more.
That's not much of a rumination for you to tune in for, so let me do a little bit of cranky old man raving (I haven't done that in a while!): I am sick and tired of being told how afraid I'm supposed to be.
Admittedly, a little over a year ago, we woke up into a scary new world, or rather, woke to the knowledge that we were part of a scary world. Always had been, always will be. I don't think our guard has been down much since then, though I doubt the efficacy of heightened awareness on high-profile anniversaries like the Fourth of July or September 11. Terrorists don't like to be that predictable, unless they're Timothy McVeigh choosing the anniversary of the Waco Siege for his contribution to the Archive of Atrocities. But it's not the color-coded government security alerts I'm grumbling about here; it's the news media.
You've had to be sealed in a hermetic chamber to miss out on The Summer of the Shark Attack and the Summer of the Abducted Child (and if you were sealed in there, God, how I envy you). News coverage made it seem like we were all extras in Deep Blue Sea, or that a child was being snatched off the street every few minutes. Statistics, however, show that the frequency of shark attacks has been steady over the last few years, and the incidence of kidnappings had actually declined. The perception of a continued threat - especially such juicy news tidbits as these, which echo summer blockbuster entertainment, so they already know it sells - is what is being used to keep people tuned in.
I can't argue that news coverage of child abductions and the Amber Alert have gotten favorable results - in particular I love the use of electric signs on freeways to broadcast the description of suspected getaway vehicles. In any case, the ersatz kidnapping rash gave way around these parts to other attempts to manufacture fear, the worst being, in my estimation, the West Nile Scare.
There was a heavy reliance on the spread of the West Nile Virus this last summer; the first signs being mass instances of bird kills, about which you didn't hear that much - then the spread, via mosquitoes, to humans. Apparently West Nile can remain dormant in humans, rarely breaking out into a flu-like disease, even more rarely resulting in death. In Harris County, where Houston resides (but I don't) the last statistic was 29 confirmed cases, and 4 deaths. That's in a population of somewhere around three million. I have a better chance of spontaneously combusting than I do of contracting Nile Virus.
Nonetheless, if you watched the evening news, you got the impression that bulldozers were being used to move the corpses out of the streets. Until, of course, the Beltway Sniper gave them something else frightening to relate, like kids swapping Bloody Mary stories at a slumber party.
The West Nile Crisis wasn't limited to my neck of the woods, but here's something that could only happen on the Gulf Coast: every year, we have to deal with the threat of hurricanes. It's just a part of life. This year, the first was a tropical storm that passed to the south of us on a Saturday morning. Now, I had an early morning call at a video shoot that morning, and as I puttered about with my coffee, listening to the rain, I had a moment of bitter amusement.
Ever since Dan Rather made his name by standing out in the rain during Hurricane Carla, various correspondents trip over each other finding a photogenic place to be buffeted by rain during these storms*. That went on all Friday night, as we watched to see what path the storm would take. By morning, what we had been assured would be a destructive, deadly onslaught of nature had become a moderate rain, but the correspondents were still on camera, desperately trying to keep the story alive. "There are streets flooded here... um, yes, lots of flooding... yes sir..."
At least twice more the breathless anticipation of nature's fury began when the hurricanes were off the coast of Cuba. Even when the storms began to veer toward Louisiana and Alabama, we were told desperately to stay tuned, because hurricanes were so unpredictable. Which is true, but when I expect the immaculately coifed news reader to glare into the camera and say, "Be afraid! Be very afraid!" before the fade to commercial, well...
Don't even get me started on the upcoming election. Saturated with political ads as we may be, it is a wondrous rarity, much like a pig flawlessly whistling the overture to La Traviata, to witness an ad that mentions the issues. Almost every ad accuses a candidate's opponent of some flavor of wrongdoing, or that opponent's countercharges and cries of "He's lying!". And it truly can't be called negative campaigning, because that would imply that there is some positive campaigning going on, somewhere. Maybe in that town where the elected mayor is a goat, but not around here.
Interestingly, very few of these ads show an outward affiliation with either party - it's rare that you read or hear the words "Republican" or "Democrat". The average voter is likely faced with staring at his ballot and wondering, "Is he the wife beater? Or the guy who cheated on his taxes?" It all just blends into one rancid soup of name-calling and misery.
You want to know what's creepy? Like a lot of people, I was forced to read George Orwell's 1984 in high school. Let's see, we have the constant threat of ongoing war to keep people afraid (if you think information isn't a weapon, you haven't been paying attention), lotteries that always seem to be won somewhere else, and while being subjected to these endless, bile-filled ads, every now and then I see the picture of Hillary Clinton popping up on the screen like a flash card. I suddenly realize that I am watching the Two-Minute Hate.
Not that I think we are under the thumb of Big Brother (though that's something we always have to watch out for), but I have a whole new respect for Mr. Orwell and his insight into human character and politics.
So to close: to the news media, I say LAY OFF THE FRICKIN' HYPERBOLE - SOME OF US NEED THAT TO MAKE A LIVING! And to politicians I say, just shut the hell up and do your job, please. I promise, if you fix it so I don't have to drop a hundred bucks every time I have to take my kid to the ER, I'll forget all about how much money you got from Enron. That's a promise that will be kept.
Happy Halloween, everyone. I'll shut up now.
- October 21, 2002