Thursday, February 15, 2007

Anna Nicole Died for Our Sins (So Let's Kill Her Again)

We took it as evidence of some intelligent design that the DVD of Idiocracy arrived from Netflix in the same week that Anna Nicole’s date with the fella in the brite nightgown preoccupied the cable news from sun to sun and the local TV stations pretended that the parents of the diaper-wearing astronaut hauling bags of groceries from car to house was somehow newsworthy.

Idiocracy is the Mike Judge movie that had a cup of coffee in theatrical release last fall, quietly opening and quickly closing in a half-dozen big cities before being dispatched by Fox to the cinematic netherworld, despite many highly favorable reviews. Slate even called it “the most stirring defense of traditional values since Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France," a blurb that was sure to drive the herds into the Cineplex.

But the movie wasn’t destined for box-office success: It has its arid stretches and an attenuated, TVish look, and it’s difficult to imagine the masses embracing Judge’s brutally unsparing depiction of a nobrow future. After all, this is us (that is, I and Thou) that he’s projecting forward.

The premise is straightforward and clearly enunciated in the prelude---too many self-absorbed and feckless high-I.Q. types are failing to heed the biological imperative to reproduce while the dumbasses of this post-Malthusian world spawn exponentially. Judge foresees this imbalance continuing until at some tipping point down the way society has degenerated into a non-stop Springeresque carnival of supersized piggishness.

Five hundred years from now, the president is a corn-rowed former professional wrestler/porn star, law degrees can be had at the miles-long Costco, a notable TV attraction is The Masturbation Channel (“Keepin’ America Batin’ for 300 Years”), all citizens are branded with a Universal Product Code and various labor-saving devices, including one that provides medical diagnoses in a digitalized voice, require only that the operator be able to push one of those big, brightly colored keys that today are found mostly on Playskool toys. And check out where the English language has gone ... and what Starbucks sells.

It is the funniest movie we’ve seen in years (although you might want to stop the disc before the happy, uplifting ending that Judge for some reason felt compelled to tag on).

We wonder whether the Houston Chronicle’s upper-cased Reader Representative (who we understand is threatening to launch a subscriber-only blog, Backstairs at the Chronicle, under the alias Rebound Slamdunkee) has had the opportunity to view Idiocracy, since this week he seems to be dealing with some of the same issues explored in the film. The ReRep detects a note of hypocrisy in complaints from readers about the unseemliness of the paper’s Anna Nicole coverage (too prominent, too much of it). He points out that ...
Three of the top five stories on [Tuesday] all had to do with Anna Nicole Smith. Topping the list was the story about the Bahamas Immigration Minister Shane Gibson commenting about the photos of him and Smith in bed, followed by the story about the release of a tape of a 31-second call between police and paramedics in Florida, followed by my favorite, yet another guy (her bodyguard) claiming to be the father of Smith's baby. Who's next, Mr. T.?
Oh you know T had taste of that.

But seriously, this litany will be familiar to anyone who’s spent time, drunk or sober, in an American newsroom in the past five years, or since the advent of online editions and page-hit stats recited at afternoon editors’ meetings. Invariably the best-read stories have some element of sex, crime or celebrity---preferably all three. Pit bulls are big, too. And the shorter the better. Police and courts widgets are huge online. Meanwhile, the seven-part series on which that team of reporters labored for months barely broke into triple digits, maybe. Oh well. It was extremely repetitious.

Now we suspect that the readers who complained about the Anna Nicole cavalcade are probably not the same readers who went online to read about her and the Bahamian immigration minister, so maybe it’s a bit brash of the RR to suggest that they’re hypocrites. Perhaps they stick to the actual newspaper, the one that’s still delivered to front yards and sold in convenience stores everywhere, the one at which the supposedly outdated hierarchical paradigm of centralized news judgment still holds sway (y’know, like that inverted pyramid thingee) and reader attraction is imprecisely gauged.

But we don’t honestly know. We’re just idly blogversatin’ to our self here.

We do know, however, that if we controlled a newspaper Anna Nicole would still be all over the front page, above the fold, in the most lurid colors printable and in 3-D, if that’s possible.

And we know we love you.

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