which Metroland writers defend the (not quite) indefensible
is not a sport
American Heritage Dictionary defines a “sport” as “an activity
involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by
a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.”
OK, golfers—it’s time to face facts. The only physical exertion
required for 18 holes of golf is walking from cart to tee,
tee to six-pack and back again. And you don’t even have to
carry your clubs. So stop whining about making golf an Olympic
sport—and for everyone’s sake, stop trying to convince the
world that Tiger Woods is a real athlete. Woods’ “physique”
is more Steve Urkel than Charles Atlas. He may stand out from
the crowd in golf, but that’s because he’s surrounded by body
doubles for the Michelin Man. Professional golfers belong
in the same class as professional bowlers, and their game—like
darts, foosball and competitive yo-yo—lies outside of real
Where’s the risk in golf? From broken spines to missing ears,
real sports have real consequences. Golf, on the other hand,
has the threat of grass stains.
Where’s the defense? Try to come in under par while avoiding
a nasty hip check or sliding tackle, and maybe—just maybe—I’ll
give your green jacket some respect. Better yet, instead of
hitting a stationary ball, try to hit the sucker off the bounce
at 90 miles per hour. Then compare your little hobby
to real sports like cricket (or tennis or baseball).
Sure, there are a slew of real sports where you’re flying
solo, but I’ve never heard of anyone negotiating a business
deal while tossing a javelin or arguing their high-jumping
skills after a few beers and an expensive cigar. Trust me—I’ve
tried golfing drunk and I’ve tried pole-vaulting drunk, and
one of the two didn’t end well.
So it’s decision time, golfers. You can keep trying to cram
a game where nobody breaks a sweat under the same banner as
football, basketball and hockey, or you can grab a six-pack
and a nine-iron and try to enjoy a sunny day. I recommend
the latter—it’s easier on the heart.
Lord of the Rings movies sucked
time, by now, to acknowledge that Peter Jackson’s screen adaptation
of The Lord of the Rings was a dismal failure.
It’s gorgeous; the scenery, costumes and props were unimpeachable.
But with that, all praise must end. Unlikely adventures are
thrilling; implausible ones are dull. Real soldiers do not
dive cheerfully into 10-to-1 odds. We wouldn’t expect a strong
man to survive standing on a gorilla’s head; who will believe
pygmies jumping on a giant the size of a Winnebago? Why would
Cthulu wave Frodo in the air rather than drowning him thirty
feet away? Jackson’s sub-Conan grasp of physics doesn’t help:
Masonry doesn’t rock back and forth before it falls, and it
transfers force when it hits. Evil wraiths aren’t saturated
with kerosene. (Examples from the first installment; I cannot
be arsed to watch more of this.)
Jackson’s vestigial loyalty to Tolkien hurts him: He skims
over a hundred incidents like stations of the cross. The hobbits
enthuse over mushrooms for 1.4 seconds, then bolt; Legolas
walks on snow, but goes nowhere; we pause to bid farewell
to the packhorse, never before seen. If you’re happy to make
changes in general, why shackle yourself with these bizarre
feints and allusions? Better to cut Legolas, Gimli, Boromir,
Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman, Merry, Pippin and Sam if that
would give the survivors three dimensions.
But Jackson makes splatter flicks, with cool effects. Impatient
with scriptwriting, unmoved by niceties of character and mood,
he casts legendary actors and then, distrusting them, covers
their faces with animation at their best moments, floods tomblike
subterranean ruins with overwrought soundtrack, and doggedly
advances the plot using no other tool than drab, literal,
forgettable expository dialogue.
And this is the uttermost root of the movie’s malaise. Jackson
simply doesn’t have, or miss having, the gifts of a storyteller.
is worse for children than Internet chat rooms
true. Oh sure, both mediums slowly chip away at the quality
of human communication and the quality of the English language,
like the Bush administration chisels away at our right to
oxygen, water and due process. But eBay is far worse.
Why? Because sadly, its denizens are the future of commerce,
and our children are learning from sleepless zealots, the
uneducated, the unloved, the terminally unemployable and the
emotionally handicapped. It’s the online equivalent of a nonprofit
corporation board of directors. And unlike the carpetbaggers
of yore who just ripped you off and disappeared, these creeps
will stalk you if they perceive you unjustly left bad feedback
or didn’t communicate effectively. They will establish false
accounts with fake addresses and bid preposterously high on
your sale items and never pay you. They will submit your e-mail
address to ancestry Web sites, who in turn sell it to third-party
data miners who will spam your inbox with porn, Trojan horses,
home- mortgage offers and online college-degree ploys. It
is a passive/aggressive person’s wet dream, and they will
pass these traits to the youth like an earnest strain of herpes.
You may opine that chat rooms are worse because sexual predators
have been known to target them. But statistically, your child’s
chance of actually hooking up with the next John Wayne Gacy
online is about the same as getting leg-humped and eaten by
lemurs in British Columbia. At least chat-room stalkers must
eventually reveal themselves. EBayers can remain anonymous
forever, torturing your stinking soul from anywhere on Earth.
And, if allowed to flourish, an eventual nation of illiterate,
corpulent, uncompromising thugs will soon rise to the helm
of our corporate American health, spending money on things
they don’t need with money they don’t have. Ooh, wait. They
already do that. Nevermind.
didn’t change anything
BBC recently called them “the most important band of the last
It would be tough to discredit Nirvana’s place in pop culture
(or at least their role as a catalyst for hygienic decline),
but to say they were “important”? Bah. Nirvana were nothing
more than the figurehead for a movement that started years
before their own existence. They changed nothing. By his own
admission, Cobain bit his best hooks off the Pixies. So why
don’t they get the credit? Maybe they’re smart enough to not
want it. Or maybe it’s just that Cobain was a lot cuter than
As the last 15 years go, we should rank an act like Radiohead
higher in importance. At least they’ve challenged listeners,
and inspired creative knockoffs. All Nirvana spawned was uninspired
poop like Candlebox, Bush, Creed, and Puddle of Mudd—knockoffs
of knockoffs, really.
Nirvana’s legacy is constructed around the idea that they
ushered out the era of showboaty hard rock and pop-metal,
but that stuff was already on the decline. (Refer to the chapter
on the Power Ballad Years.) Groups like Nine Inch Nails and
Alice in Chains had begun changing the shape of heavy metal;
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was merely more palatable. It sounded
like metal, so it was welcomed.
And why was the demise of hair metal a good thing, anyway?
Music used to be entertaining. Bands were unafraid to write
stupid songs about girls and drugs and good times, and every
one of those songs had a killer guitar solo. The joyless “Head
Like a Hole” was the real mantra for the changing of the guard:
“Bow down before the one you serve, you’re going to get what
you deserve.” Boy, did we.
So Nirvana were the poster band for the movement to make music
suck. But don’t give them credit they don’t deserve—it’s really
Trent Reznor’s fault.
should be no victims’ memorial at the World Trade Center site
build a memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack
on the World Trade Center. To do so only reminds the world
how effective the terrorists were that day.
Memorials go against the core of every major religion in the
world, which is that your treasures should be built not on
Earth, but in the next life. It would be far better to direct
the millions of dollars going for the memorial into a living
How about a foundation for impoverished children in New York
City? Or, how about using the money for training so that the
New York City fire and police departments finally learn to
And if there are more catastrophic attacks on the United States—as
the Bush administration keeps promising us there will be—how
many times can we go through the agony of memorializing thousands
The World Trade Center memorial effort has so far left many
people feeling bitter and betrayed. Already, a dispute between
some victims’ families and New York City is heading toward
litigation, over the question of what the city should do with
the landfill soil that contains pulverized human remains.
And remember: A memorial to the victims of a World Trade Center
attack has already been built. The simple granite fountain
inscribed with the names of the six victims of the 1993 bombing,
which stood in the plaza outside the towers, disappeared in
the Trade Center’s collapse.
The memorial’s sculptor, Elyn Zimmerman, reflected on the
loss during a February 2002 symposium at the International
Foundation for Art Research in New York City.
Said Zimmerman, “What occurs to me is that you can build a
lot of stone memorials, and if people are determined, they’ll
be destroyed along with everything else.”
don’t deserve a pet
boy! Easy. Eaaasy. Sit!
No, not you, Chivas, Porter, Rusty, Lady, Ginger, whatever
your name is. And, obviously enough, no, not you cats, either—talking
to you guys is a total waste of time. Why anyone even bothers
to name you is beyond me. See, watch: Here, Sebastian. Here,
Cleo. Here, Daisy. Hey, cat! Nothing.
No, I’m talking to you pet owners: You with the photos of
your dog on your desk; you with the “I heart my short-haired,
snub-nosed West Batavian crotch-sniffer” bumper sticker on
your car; you with the endless anecdotes about the cute things
that your drool hound does, as if it had the expressive range
of Olivier, and was not, essentially, exactly the same as
every other dog in the world since we conned ’em out of stealing
our kill in exchange for two squares and a flannel bed from
Nothing against the dogs. They know—in their limited instinctual
way—a good deal when they see one. Respect. And the cats .
. . well, the cats are up to something, and are not deserving
of trust, but, yes, they’re cute, too. Fine. But can we please
stop pretending that pet ownership, in itself, is somehow
noble? Face it, you’ve got a slave whose only job is to give
you an object (yes, yes, yes, I know. I mean it in a grammatical
sense) on which to heap the love you’d give people if you
weren’t afraid of them. The more you hate people, it seems,
the more you love the animals.
And, really, that’s OK. Just be honest about it. If that’s
the arrangement you want, that’s your business. You want to
confuse nutritional dependence with love, it’s your call.
After all, an animal’s probably a better choice than a struggling
musician. But why don’t you go stay at their place for a change?
and Louise is not a feminist movie
it’s true: The fact that women who kill rapists, batterers,
and would-be rapists get treated more harshly by the legal
system than, say, men who kill cheating wives, is a feminist
issue. So in that way, Thelma and Louise could be considered
a feminist movie—and so could any movie that shows a rape
or an oppressed housewife or an anorexic.
But after all the hype about Thelma and Louise’s trailblazing
feminist content—not to mention the buttons, T-shirts, blah
blah blah, that it spawned—I expected something more profound
than a terrified gunshot turned accidental murder.
Feminists are concerned, rightly, with stereotypical and derogatory
images of women. So how’s this for a miserable specimen of
liberated femininity: Shortly after being nearly raped, causing
her friend to commit murder, and going on the run, Thelma
recovers abnormally quickly and apparently decides that it’s
very important to sunbathe in practically nothing next to
the motel pool. Or later to naively take a sweet-talking stranger
into her bed. The dialogue alternates between starry-eyed
You could say that these things were evidence of just how
far women have internalized their roles and restrictions and
self-objectified sexuality. And you’d be right. But we never
see them break out of that mode and become someone I, for
one, would want to identify with. In fact I spent most of
the time (and I watched twice, figuring I must have been in
a bad mood the first time since everyone else loved it so
much) just feeling vaguely ill.
Is shooting out the tires of a misogynist truck driver and
not going home again, even if it means driving over a cliff,
really so wildly liberating? Oh boy, I’ve shifted from the
subservient domestic stereotype to the crazy bad-girl stereotype.
Fact is, this was just a shoot-’em-up, buddy-road-trip, American-rebellious-outsider
movie, with a few quasi- feminist trimmings and some girl
talk. A brilliant marketing move, but not particularly radical.
organizing is a waste of time
on earth makes my flesh crawl in quite the same way as a celebrity
pimping “people power.” Remember the clueless millionaire,
John Lennon, prattling on about “power to the people?” Or
the earnest poet, Patti Smith, droning on that “people have
Aside from being pompous and annoying, Lennon and Smith were
wrong. People don’t have the power. And people working
together under the misapprehension that they do are
There are glib and nuanced arguments regarding grassroots
organizing. First, here’s the glib version: The game is fixed.
The house always wins. Entrenched political interests are
so greedy, experienced and determined that nothing short of
gross criminal stupidity will lead to their displacement.
It’s like the scene in Preston Sturges’ brilliant political
comedy The Great McGinty, in which the graft-addicted
city machine boss realizes that he’s gone as far as he can
with his current, scandal-plagued mayoral and city-council
puppets, and dumps them for “reform” candidates: “Sure, we’re
the reform party. We’re all the parties.”
And when entrenched political powers are displaced, it isn’t
by the peasants with pitchforks. It’s by another powerful
interest equally intent on keeping power, and its prerogatives,
But, you may ask, what about the recent triumph of the Orange
Revolution in Ukraine? Yes, that movement was the result of
a tremendous grassroots organization orchestrating a brilliant
series of carefully controlled protests. Or, closer to home,
the triumph of David Soares in the race for Albany County
district attorney? That, too, was an instance of smart, dedicated
This is where the nuance comes in: grassroots organizing on
its own is a waste of time. If the U.S. government hadn’t
kicked in money and logistical support, and the Ukrainian
secret services hadn’t worked against the incumbent regime,
the scene in Kiev would have looked a lot like Tiananmen Square.
And if the organizational muscle of the Working Families party
hadn’t been behind Soares, and the fat wallets of anti-Rockefeller-drug-law
advocates like George Soros and Edgar Bronfman hadn’t opened,
loathsome Paul Clyne would still be D.A. Without allies among
the elite, people are genuinely powerless.
TV is really good for America
who says reality tele vision is bad for America clearly is
not watching enough of it.
Watching reality TV poker is like watching paint dry, but
watching paint dry on reality television—from your ugly couch
in your UGLY apartment—is pretty darn cool. In fact,
it’s downright dreamy.
The world of reality TV shows is vast, and there are plenty
of guilty weaknesses to go around. But reality TV can be useful
and intelligent too. Don’t forget that This Old House
is reality TV, and that Morgan Spurlock, who directed Super
Size Me, is taking a whack at reality TV. And there is
no substitute in the world for watching Senate hearings on
But even besides the stuff we can convince ourselves is noble
and useful, at its most exciting that glorious idiot box can
momentarily transport us to a tropical isle, a new neighborhood
or a new job. We can imagine ourselves competing on America’s
Next Top Model or Project Runway while we’re in
our pajamas, munching on corn chips. We can feed a desire
to compete without having to participate in the contest, and
be voyeurs without having to leave the couch.
Reality television shows us the trials some Americans will
endure for hard, cold cash. I’ll admit that I’m not the type
of gal to go for the torture by tarantula, but I appreciate
the opportunity to see our culture, warts and all. Isn’t it
just so beautifully American to want to outdo each other by
groups do more harm than good
the record, I don’t advocate drunk driving. I don’t think
it’s a good idea to operate a one-and-a-half-ton death machine
when you can’t see straight.
I also don’t think it’s a good idea to drive when you can’t
stop yourself from exceeding the speed limit. Or when you
can’t remember that a red light means “stop.” Or when you
think it’s OK to tailgate or cut somebody off because you’ve
decided they’re in your way.
Basically, I don’t think it’s a good idea to be on the road
in a car if you think you have a god-given right to get where
you’re going as fast as possible with as little interference
as possible from lights, road signs, pedestrians, weather,
other cars, etc.
And yet, this is exactly what millions of us do, every day.
And as a result, about 120 of us die in traffic accidents,
The carnage on our roads is the biggest public-health scandal
of our time. And yet, we continue to design our environment
to accommodate even more driving. And our automobile-centrism
breeds ever-more aggressive and arrogant drivers.
Alcohol is not a factor in a majority of fatal traffic accidents.
And even when it is a factor, often there are others—like
speeding. And yet, if you talk to Mothers Against Drunk Driving
or Students Against Destructive Decisions, or visit their
Web sites, nary a peep about speeding (a big problem, especially
among young people) or other dangerous driving habits. The
message: If only we can stop drunk driving, the roads will
My message: You’re dead wrong. Drunk driving is the tip of
the iceberg. Driving itself is unsafe—and we’re so addicted
to it, and so indoctrinated to automobile culture, that we
don’t have the will to acknowledge and change it. And groups
like MADD and SADD deflect our attention from the more serious
underlying problem. But hey, if you don’t believe that MADD
(intentionally or otherwise) is doing someone’s dirty work,
look at the organization’s biggest donors: automakers, oil
and insurance companies. They know what’s good for business.
don’t owe you a good performance
you’ve been to more than a dozen or so musical performances
in your life, chances are you’ve seen one that just, well,
sucked. And if you’re a Bob Dylan or Cat Power fan, you’re
now thinking, “I only wish I had that kind of luck. Imagine,
11 good shows.”
And if you’ve gone to two, three, six or more dozen shows,
and therefore seen a handful of crappy ones, you’ve seen some
red-faced attendee huffing on the sidewalk after the show,
“That was the worst performance I’ve ever seen. [So-and-so]
should have paid me to attend. I should get my money
back.” The next day, or later, depending on the publication
schedule of your favorite critical rag, you’ve been able to
read the lordly indignation of some expert beating the tar
out of the choke-prone artist, rambling on about professionalism,
or obligation, or respect for the audience or something like
It’s crap. If your general contractor or your plumber or your
roofer or, god forbid, your doctor screws up, then you’ve
got a soapbox to stand upon—if not a front porch, a dry living
room or a right leg. But when an artist “blows it,” he’s probably
doing you a favor; you just don’t know it.
He (or she) is doing you a favor by being something other
than a practiced hack, with 2-year-old moves, moth-eaten banter,
and a sleepwalker’s repertoire of Greatest Hits; he’s doing
you a favor by reminding you of the risk, and therefore the
beauty, of a public performance of something that, ideally,
came from a mysterious and often inaccessible place; he’s
doing you a favor by taking on a challenge of emotional and
artistic communication that you—seat B11—are not at that moment
taking on yourself.
is the right war for the wrong reasons
the risk of never eating lunch in this town again, I’ll play
Devil’s advocate and tell you how the Iraq war could be justified.
The United States knew that the U.N. sanctions it had vetoed
all attempts to lift were killing sick, elderly and young
Iraqis. According to UNICEF estimates, 1.5 million Iraqis
died in between 1991 and 1998 as a result of the sanctions,
which were part of the policy of containment adopted after
the first Gulf war. We were therefore practicing selective
genocide, and it had to stop.
That had nothing to do with Bush’s decision to invade, of
course—after all, does this man even care about the elderly,
sick, and young here at home? The war was instead fought over
a three-part lie: Saddam had WMD, he was tight with Osama,
and he was going to give him the weapons to use against us
unless we kicked butt quick. That was bullshit, of course;
controlling Iraqi oil and advancing U.S. global dominance
were far more likely reasons. No WMD were found, and former
U.N. inspector and Bush administration critic Scott Ritter’s
contention that Saddam’s WMD were destroyed following Gulf
I was vindicated.
Nonetheless, in 2003 the news media reported that Saddam intended
to restart his nuke program when U.N. sanctions were finally
lifted. Given that nuclear-armed rogue states are among our
gravest threats, and that continuing the U.N. sanctions was
de facto genocide, it is quite arguable that removing Saddam
was the best option. The war ended the cruelty of the sanctions,
albeit at a high price. And in hindsight, we may well find
we were better off eliminating a nuclear threat from Saddam
sooner rather than later.
no reason to care about “indie” cinema
rise of high-quality, af fordable digital video cameras and
editing software will, we have been told, usher in an era
of independent cinema such as the world has never known. No
more shall the tastemakers of Hollywood dictate what kind
of entertainment the people can consume, as an edgier, more
personal cinema will lead to a new era of artistic achievement.
Frankly, it’s hard to see this as anything but a disaster.
For a couple of grand and with some basic computer skills,
any chucklehead can point, shoot, download, click and—voila!—call
themselves a filmmaker.
Hey “filmmaker”: just to set you straight, you’re not an artist.
You’re a glorified hobbyist. Go ahead, set up a Web site where
folks can access your work. The chance that you’ll make anything
anyone other than your mom or spouse would be willing to sit
through is slim to none. (And your mama’s just being nice.)
Capitalism has its uses, and one of them is to provide a filter.
Yes, good stuff is sometimes filtered out—but so is a whole
lot of crap.
Granted, the classic studio system—version 2.0, the one that
emerged after the original production and distribution monopolies
were ended in 1949—is broken. But it’s you, the moviegoing
public, who killed it. You’re the ones who love plotless event
movies like Twister; turn out in droves for pointless
remakes of TV shows like The Honeymooners; and have
made star directors out of incompetent hacks like Pearl
Harbor’s Michael Bay and Rush Hour’s Brett Ratner.
And it’s you, the moviegoing public, who have also provided
the big studios with the economic reason to create a production
mechanism for smaller films, in the form of studio-based “indie”
divisions like Universal’s Focus Films (The Pianist,
Lost in Translation) or Fox Searchlight Pictures (Napoleon
So, “filmmaker”: get your picture picked up by one of these
studio boutiques, and the quotation marks will magically disappear.
is a waste of time
have a short attention span. Not you might; you do. So what
makes you think that you can sit down and read a newspaper?
I’ll bet that, by the end of this paragraph, your eyes have
trailed off to elsewhere on the page at least twice. You’re
wasting a lot of time here.
Want a good solution? Television. Sure, The New
York Times has some good writing, but it’s nothing that
can’t be summed up in a 30-second blip on CNN. Plus, your
hands won’t get covered with newsprint. Bonus. Time and
Newsweek, meet your replacement: Dateline. More
of a People person? You’re probably not much of a reader
anyway, but you can get that information from about 375 different
Oh, sure, nothing could replace books. What’s better than
relaxing in bed at night with a good book? Here’s what: sleeping.
Try a book on tape instead—you can “read” Anna Karenina
or some other awkwardly translated classic on the drive back
and forth to Boston. And let’s not forget movies! Entire 875-page
manuscripts, whittled down to the most vital—or visually stimulating—100
minutes. Speaking of visually stimulating, let’s not even
discuss how poorly nude scenes come across on page. Yikes.
The best part about these alternatives is that your hands
are free to do any number of activities while you take in
your news and entertainment. You could be knitting right now.
Can’t do that while reading, can ya? How about playing the
piano? Installing a bathroom cabinet? Surgery? Drinking? OK,
you may be able to drink while reading, but remember how furious
your girlfriend became when you spilled red wine on her copy
of The Da Vinci Code? My point exactly. That time spent
fighting could have been avoided with a click of the TiVo.
Save time. Fuck reading. They’ve already cast Tom Hanks for
the movie anyway, and you love Tom Hanks. But order your tickets
in advance: You wouldn’t want to waste time standing in line.