Making Sense of '95
The most irritating image of 1995? That's easy. Those gut-turning Carls Jr. TV ads, the ones where the slop from those crappy hamburgers splatters all over the sidewalk, the fish, the earth. Then the smug announcer says, if it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face. All over the place and in your face. That's 1995. Crass, entropic, mean and oversold, 1995 seemed a lot like last year, only more so. Never mind that end-of-the-year Sunday supplement pabulum about the good, the bad and the ugly -- and how a lot of really shitty stuff happened but there was always Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Pope for inspiration. We know what's really going on: things are getting seriously out of hand. The Republicans are all over the place, Newt is always in our face. O.J. can go all over the place now, if he wants to, even though, with the trial over he's not really in our face anymore. The Oklahoma City federal building was both all over the place and in our face. Louis Farrakhan and his million men got in a lot of faces and Colin Powell decided against getting in anybody's face. But that's OK, cause we've still got Bob Dole and Phil Gramm in our face. With those guys around, it makes Bill Clinton's face look more appealing every day. Mike Tyson got out of prison and got into what's his name's face, that, uh, boxer. Michael Jordan came back and got right in the NBA's face. Baseball brought itself back from the grave long enough to remind us all that somebody ought to get into the collective faces of the faceless idiots who run that game. The middle aged mop-tops celebrated their own brand of necromania, minus old dead John's missing face. Jerry Garcia's dead. Finished. He's not getting in anybody's face. Meanwhile, there were all those celebrity faces: Michael and Lisa Marie, the cast of Friends, forgettable Hootie, Pamela Anderson and her rock 'n' roll husband, Andre Agassi's new haircut, Deion's money, Sinatra's 80th and Oprah confessing that she was on the pipe in the old days. Speaking of which, what does it mean when Oprah is, like, the responsible one on TV talk, just because people get killed because of Jenny Jones and Ricki Lake is too disgusting to even think about? Meanwhile, Hugh Grant's rent-a-friend, Divine Brown, got her face in his lap, leading to his loss of face. So in honor of the year gone by, let me offer you a partial list of outrages, nonsense, hype and horror, in no particular order:A Few Bad Things: Did things get seriously strange? You know they did. Timothy McVeigh and his buddies emerged to steal the spotlight over the April 19 demolition of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City -- death toll: 169 people. Think about this one for a minute. Remember, in the hours after the bombing, the videoblather was all about Arabs invading American soil. Turns out, hey, it's us. These are the guys down at the local gun shop, swapping bomb recipes and talkin' bout the guvamint. I get this image of a bunch of lunkheads holed up in trailer parks in places like Kingman, Arizona, wearing their camo fatigues and listening to Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh and concluding that its time to get serious about dismantling the federal bureaucracy. And did it occur to anybody that the Federal Building was not the first but just the latest in a little campaign of homegrown terror that began when right-wing nutbags started attacking abortion clinics a few years ago? Susan Smith. Mommie Weirdest went on trial. There was a charmer. Her first story is that a black guy stole the two boys and, of course, everybody believed it for awhile. Then she confessed to driving her kids into the lake. Now she's in jail and you gotta wonder, what law can we pass that protects us from the unraveled mind? Of course, O.J. Oh my goodness. Were you glued to the set like an idiot watching that verdict? I know I was. Kato, Johnny, Chris Darden, Marsha, Lance Ito, Mark Fuhrman -- gosh, they were almost like family by the end of the trial.. Ron Goldman's dad? I kept waiting for him to pull a gun in the courtroom. The jurors? Where are the book contracts? The lesson? He got off. The police blew it. Money talks. And by the way, why are the prosecutors celebrities? Sure, we were all wondering if Chris Darden and Marcia Clark were doing the horizontal bop off camera, but its not like that gang did a great job. Finally, was anybody really surprised that the verdict showed deep racial divisions in America? All the pundits talked about this like it was some great revelation. Hey, gang, this is a racist society, always has been and its only getting worse. I don't know about you, but I would've voted acquittal and that's not because of race. Our system says you have to prove the case and you can't build it around a lying thug like Fuhrman and expect to get a conviction. The Queen of Tejano Music, Selena, was gunned down by the former president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldivar. Tell me again how great it is that we have so many guns in this country. We didn't have the field of bad loonies to ourselves in 1995, of course. The Japanese brought us Shoko Asahara, he of the nerve gas and the blood-drinking disciples. The Burmese generals let Aung San Suu Kyi out of her house and then wouldn't do anything else to clean up their horrible act. Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb officer-in-charge of atrocities was accused of ordering the slaughter of as many as 6,000 Muslims. The French blew up another atoll or two in the name of nuclear testing, but who's counting? The Nigerian government decided to get serious about dealing with human rights issues by hanging playwright and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. In Tel Aviv, Israeli head case Yigal Amir was ordered by God to assassinate prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and you had to kind of wonder if he and Timothy McVeigh might have been listening to the same channel on a very special frequency. Then we sent troops to Bosnia and the media predictably went into full whine over the fact that our boys were going off to face potential danger. Hey, gang, it's a volunteer army. An army, get it? Why do we have an army anyway if every time we send 'em someplace we are going to interview mom and dad and wife and kids who worry that dad is off doing his job? You don't see the TV News doing spots on how Mrs. Policeman is fretting because her husband went to work that morning in downtown Los Angeles, which is probably a lot more dangerous than Bosnia anyway. Don't forget Phantom Enemy Number One, the Unabomber. Suddenly; he's everywhere and nowhere at the same time. He gets full pages, bunches of them, in the Washington Post for the manifesto of the year. Unreadable, sophomoric treacle, sure, but that's just a detail. In celebrityland, the man with a plan caught the wave in 1995. I'm just surprised he didn't demand his own talk show: College Kids Who Blow Up Their Professors -- On the next Unabomber!Politics & Other Strangers First the Good News. Pete Wilson is not going to be president of the United States. Now the bad news. He is still governor of California. The Newtman. Let's peek inside Newt's World and then wonder who let the guy out of his cage and into our lives: On the horrific murder of welfare mother Debra Evans, whose two kids were killed while her unborn baby was ripped out of her womb: "Let's talk about what the welfare state has created. Let's talk about the moral decay of the world the left is defending. It happened in America because for two generations, we haven't had the guts to talk about right and wrong. We end up with the final culmination of a drug-addicted underclass with no sense of humanity, no sense of civilization, and no sense of the rules of life in which human beings respect each other." On Women in combat: "Men are better in traditional combat roles because if women had to spend a month in a ditch, they would get infections. But men are basically little piglets who like to roll around in mud. Women, though, would be better sitting around at consoles directing warship traffic because men get frustrated sitting down since they are biologically programmed to go out and hunt giraffes." Tired of Congressional gridlock? Did you vote for the Republican agenda? Congratulations. You got the Contract on America. I wander around muttering about this, because it seems so unbelievable. Cut taxes for the rich. That's nice. If you're rich. End welfare guarantees and leave it up to enlightened bastions of compassion like the state legislatures of Texas, California or Mississippi to look after the growing numbers of poor among us. Scale back Medicare. Repeal the assault weapons ban. Raise the speed limit. Get rid of motorcycle helmet laws. Go seriously paranoid about porn on the Internet (forgetting, of course, that America doesn't own the Internet). Hell, turn foreign relations over to Jesse Helms. Why not? It's a revolution! In this world turned upside down, Bob Dole is a moderate and Bill Clinton -- who would've been a Republican twenty years ago -- is a dangerous left-winger because he doesn't want to send the poor en masse into the streets. Anti-immigrant, anti-Black, anti-poor, anti-women -- let's stop pretending these guys are cute. 1995 -- The year America went to war with itself in the halls of Congress. Budget, budget, who's got a budget? I think you know what I mean. At least Bob Hey, "I was drunk" Packwood won't be pawing his way through the Senate anymore. You give great diary, Bob, love that blow dry look. And I wish that someone could explain why it seems that only sensible people leave Congress voluntarily -- Mark Hatfield, Bill Bradley, Nancy Kassebaum are all retiring -- not a loony in the bunch. Speaking of sensible, Colin Powell thinks it over, sells a few million books and decides to do something other than get chewed up and spit out by the yawning maw of politics. But speaking of nonsensical, Ross Perot just wont go away. Ross, take a powder. This year's Richard Nixon Award For Non-Meritorious Public Disservice goes to Utah Republican Congresswoman Enid Waldholtz, who blamed everything on her husband, Joe, during a five hour news conference in which she said she knew nothing about nothing and all that fraud was somebody else's fault. This supposedly brilliant lawyer and political operator played the victim card and refused to resign from Congress. Kinda makes you like the Koreans. Screw up over there, like former President Roe Tae Woo, and go directly to jail. Louis Farrakhan. He sure scared the shit out of lots of people, didn't he? I just hope the million men and more vote next time around. By the way, the prison population in the United States went up faster than ever in 1995. 89,707 inmates were added for a total of about 1.5 million disproportionately black and poor people behind bars, most for drug offenses and non-violent crimes. The United States now has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Sure makes me feel safer. Where does Shannon Faulkner belong in the year just passed? She stormed the Citadel only to crap out when she had to run laps and do push-ups. Hello there, Cadet Faulkner, maybe we forgot to tell you, this is a military academy. This is what we do. Sorry, no sympathy from me, Shannon. If you're going into battle you better bring a gun.The Business of Business is Business The Disney Corporation is buying Capital Cities/ABC. Time Warner is buying Turner Broadcasting. Westinghouse is buying CBS. Seagrams bought MCA from the Japanese. Microsoft and NBC are hooking up. Does this worry you? It should. In the new deregulated Republican universe, these deals will eventually result in a just a few big companies controlling most of what you see and hear and read through interlocking networks that control production, distribution, and content of both entertainment and news. It's called monopoly, it's not just a board game you can play at McDonald's -- and it used to be illegal. On the same theme, in 1995 all the really big banks bought all the other really big banks in order to make just a few really, really big banks. The end result: close lots of branches, lay off tens of thousands of employees, charge customers for talking to a teller, and then put up those signs that lie about the big changes that are underway for your convenience. I'm sure there's no connection to anything nefarious like corporate monopoly politics, but in 1995 ABC apologized to the tobacco industry and CBS' 60 Minutes pulled a story on tobacco, raising the hackles of journalists at the network. ABC also fired populist anti-corporate radio host Jim Hightower. Apparently, all of this merger stuff is very good news, though, because Wall Street set a new stock market record every couple of hours in 1995. I know there is a reason why lowered consumer confidence, high interest rates, a sluggish economy, unemployment, lack of job security, and the rest translate into big profits on Wall Street. I think it's called, Hey screw you. We've got ours. Didn't we do this already in the Eighties? Speaking of which, the United States now has the largest gap in income between the rich and poor of any developed country in the world, according to various studies released in 1995. But I'm sure that has nothing to do with crime, social unrest, illness, declining test scores, etc. Then there was technology. The Internet isn't owned by anybody yet, but every corporation in America claims to be positioning their ass to turn the beautiful anarchy of the net into a great big cybermall. Microsoft's marketing mania over Windows 95 made that little piece of software seem like it was the greatest accomplishment in human history since the capture of fire. I didn't buy it. I'm still limping along, somehow, on the old, outmoded, rusty Windows. One good thing: it seems that we didn't hear information superhighway nearly as much this year as last.Celebrityville The nice thing about a culture so obsessed with celebrityhood that even Kathy Lee Gifford is famous, is that every year is pretty much like every other year, with minor exceptions. Christie Brinkley has a baby, gets divorced. Roseanne gets married, has a baby. Pamela Anderson gets a tattoo, shows major cleavage, gets married. Courtney Cox is everywhere and gets good press. Courtney Love is everywhere and gets bad press. Liz Taylor gets divorced. Lyle and Julia break up. Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie tell the world they have sex and nobody believes them. Hugh Grant smiles that winsome smile and Elizabeth Hurley forgives him for getting a sleazy Sunset Boulevard blow job. Mike Tyson smiles that gap-toothed grin and Don King goes on trial for insurance fraud. Nancy Kerrigan marries her agent and Tonya Harding tries to sing. Tupac Shakur goes to jail. John Travolta is still back and Sophia Loren looks impossibly beautiful in Ready to Wear. I could go on. But what's the point? I refuse to talk TV shows but we know this much: There was way too much George Clooney with his impish little grin and way too many shows featuring smugly comfortable, good-looking young people chatting in their apartments or sitting around drinking coffee. Nobody lives that way. But I love that bald guy on Murder One -- Daniel Benzali is my idea of an attorney. Musically speaking, the most popular artist -- if that word applies -- in America is Garth Brooks. Hootie, Michael Jackson and Boyz II Men are also in there somewhere. I find all of this very disturbing. And will someone explain why every time I turned on a public television station in 1995, there was either John Tesh playing some hideous synthpop on a mountain somewhere or Yanni doing the same thing at the Acropolis? Who are these guys? Where did they come from? Why are they allowed to exist? Are they really the same person? That whole Beatles thing was embarrassing. Rock and Roll is now officially dead, with the opening of the R&R Hall of Fame in Cleveland; but Lollapalooza continues to roll, giving the tribes a place to call their own for a little while. Pearl Jam at least tried to take on the evil Ticketmaster,. which controls something like 95% of the performance venues in this country. But that's not a monopoly either (see Business).Then There Was Sports Monica Seles came back and looked great. The Indians versus the Braves in the World Series? Isn't it about time we stopped this nonsense of naming teams after a people? What if it was the Darkies versus the Wetbacks? We wouldn't dare. Still and all, for a game that was in the tank twelve months ago, baseball was pretty wonderful despite itself. Cal Ripken, Jr. and his record; Hideo Nomo rocketing through the National League; Cleveland's ferocious hitting -- it was almost enough to make you forget about Marge Schott and George Steinbrenner and those other idiots. Almost. I'll miss Joe Montana cause I love to watch football, even though I know it is bad for me at some really profound level. I don't care about the Raiders, because people getting that excited about a team, any team, is a little sick. Hey sports fans, wake up, nobody who owns these outfits cares. It's all about money, as in you give yours to them. But try telling that to all those guys on their car phones who call sportstalk radio shows to talk about Neon Deion's salary or Steve Young's passing or Barry Switzer's bad judgment. Where will I be on Super Bowl Sunday? Kneeling at the feet of the tubegod and sucking down a cold one, just like last year. One year is pretty much like the last. Goodbye Mickey Mantle, there's a guy who had a hell of a ride. William Kunstler and Maggie Kuhn, both great radicals. William Fulbright, a class act. Wolfman Jack, Jonas Salk, Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers, Howard Cosell, Jerry Garcia, Louis Malle, Orville Redenbacher. So long.