No. 14 -- Jan 2, 1996

Ok, so it's been a couple of months. Like anyone ever reads this. Like I get paid for it, fer chrissakes.

Anyways, here we go . . . with a series of good-byes:

Goodbye Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Oh sure, it will live forever in reruns and syndication, -- in fact, Iíve already seen the MST3K Hour on regular broadcast TV -- but Comedy Centralís decision to pull the plug on what was one of the cleverest of all American comedy shows is incredibly short-sighted. Even weirder: the MST3K feature film is coming out next year. Is it possible that this is some sort of weird publicity stunt?? I mean, they were only producing a handful of shows this year anyways, its always possible that a heavily publicized cancellation on might would spur non-hardcore fans (who are a given) to see the movie, thereby generating a hit, which would, in turn, promote interest in another season of shows. If not, maybe Comedy Central knows what they are doing: after all, one of the reasons that Monty Pythonís Flying Circus will always be remembered much more fondly than Saturday Night Live is that the Pythons had the good sense to pack it in after only three seasons.

And believe it or not, 20 years ago, the Monty Python troupe was kind of a cult thing in the beginning, too. They werenít huge here instantly. I remember seeing a first-run, matinee showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in a half-empty theatre as a, what? 12-or-13 year old, max. A few years later, I was part of several thousand worshipping fans at the Hollywood Bowl (oh yes I was), waiting for every punch line like it was a favorite guitar solo. Still, it took them several years -- after all, cable narrowcasting the likes of Comedy Central was unheard of back then, and if you wanted to see the Pythons on TV, you had to dig them up on PBS, where they were the only interesting thing outside of Sesame Street.

I donít think Iím stretching it too much comparing the Best Brains with the Pythons, either. At their best, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was Americaís grass-roots answer to Monty Python -- not only did they take as a given a universe that was just slightly (but not too far) off from ours, they also combined high silliness with amazing wit.

Still, there are things that made MST3K special to me -- first off, in an era where every single white male is either Rush Limbaugh or Richard Simmons -- Neanderthal or simp -- they made an uniquely male kind of humour. The major (probably only) subtext of the entire show was the complete weirdness of male friendships. The coolest thing was that they had an obviously male perspective on the world without either falling back into Tim Allen all-men-are-dogs (I mean, DUH! ARF ARF! Letís fuck right now, baby) or denying their essential guydom (who me, have an impure thought?). Its a tough trick to negotiate, but it helps, I suppose, if you give most of your jokes to puppets-cum-robots. Best of all, they did it not with the backing of a major television network, but more like a garage band -- the Replacements, say -- blazing out of the hinterlands with brains and balls and chops and heart. Just not a lot of money.

And who needs money and focus groups and test audiences? In a lot of ways, MST3K represents what television could be if it was ever truly democratized -- like the Web might still be, if weíre lucky and the bastards let us say and do what they want while theyíre tailoring it for the masses. So figure that MST3K really is like the Replacements -- you just watch as their star grows and grows over the years as the masses discover and rediscover how the Best Brains took the simplest pleasure of talking back to the TV and made it high comedic art. Even though that the magic of reruns ensure that theyíll never go away, theyíll be missed.

Goodbye Calvin and Hobbes. It seems that every era of my life has its own comic strip. As a little kid, I devoured Charles Schulzí early Peanut strips, realizing with Linus that there was no heavier burden than a great potential. As I hit my early teens, I got politicized with Doonesbury -- and my understandings of Nixon, Watergate and Vietnam were understandably (and willingly, I might add) skewered to the left.

In the early 80ís, as I hit my most nihilistic, I loved Bloom County, which, unlike Doonesbury didnít clearly delineate the good guys and the bad guys. Bloom County was hermetically sealed, relentlessly cynical, and without mentioning him once by name (that I can remember right now) the perfect antidote to Ronald Reaganís churlishly sunny disposition, not to mention my endless college career. As Bill the Cat said: "Ack!"

As Bloom County burnt itself out for me, Calvin and Hobbes entered my consciousness. And not a moment too soon -- it wasnít just a coincidence that it became my favorite comic strip just as I was alternating the worst behavior of my life with the most responsibility Iíd ever had.

In that context, Calvin and Hobbesí endless dialogues on just how bad you could be and get away with it rang perfectly true. By taking the Dennis the Menace archetype of the trouble-making kid and adding a conscience (and adult intelligence) in the form of a stuffed (but never stuffy -- Hobbes had a great sense of humour, and brooked no shit) Bill Watterson stood that archetype on its head. Dennis was (is) just an idiot who said and did dumb things -- Calvin, we were made clear, chose all of his bad behavior, with a clear understanding and foreknowledge of the consequences. Bratdom could never be the same again -- just ask Bart Simpson, who is Calvinís direct descendant.

The amazing thing is, of course, Hobbes. How did Hobbes work? Was he all in Calvinís imagination, or was he -- like the animals in the 100-Acre Wood -- real beyond belief, but just to Calvin? I prefer the latter, of course: it explains much more, and despite the scenes with Hobbes just sitting as a stuffed tiger (always with a frown on his face, did you notice? as if the strain of pretending not to be real pissed him off immensely), I think that itís the impression that Iím meant to have. Hobbes is real, but not anymore, and unfortunately, there are no reruns of comic strips -- just collections, and I guess, in some cases, web pages.

Which is why, as Iím now entering hardcore computer geekdom, my default favorite strip will probably end up being Dilbert. But even though Iíve waltzed through the minefields of self-destruction and come out on the other side mostly good (ok, better) now, Iím still gonna miss my daily fix of Calvin and Hobbes. A lot. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Goodbye free speech on the Internet. By the middle of Ď96, thanks to alarmist politicians like James Exon (whoís adding the insult of leaving the Senate so we canít even run him out on a rail), the word "fucking" will only be able to be used as an adjective as opposed to a verb. But of course, its all for the children -- nope, it ainít the sexual hang-ups of a small minority trying to dictate to the rest of us. Of course not -- Iím sure that freedom of speech is outlawed somewhere in The Bible. If I sound kind of bitter about all of it, its only cos I am. Iím hardly a large target, and my little nickel-and-dime web site probably wouldnít be on the short list when the Net stormtroopers start their censorship blitzkrieg, especially since I donít publish any dirty pictures. Nope, I just deal in ideas -- and pretty lame ones at that. The only outrage theyíd find around here are the sex, drug and rock Ďní roll ideals that permeate every word I write. Which, come to think of it, might put me squarely on the short list.

As I write this, I discover that CompuServe, bowing to some sort of perceived pressure from the German Government, has up and abandoned their access to smutty net newsgroups. For all of their users.

This sucks. On one hand, I feel sorry for anyone whose sole access to the Net is any commercial online service: lets face it, the Net really only works on a flatline monthly fee -- paying by the hour is a mugís game. Thatís why America On-Line and Prodigy have sucky slow Web browsers -- they arenít interested in speed, theyíre interested in time. Your time. As in how much of it you'll spend on their services.

I also gotta wonder if those wusses at CompuServe were using this as an excuse to do something they had long planned . . . after all, a German prosecutor has no jurisdiction over an American company. But an American prosecutor, especially some crusading ratbastard up for re-election -- thatís a totally different story, innit? Fuck CompuServe. Donít join, or get out now, if you were joining. Not for their censorship, which they might even have moral grounds to do (it is, after all, their online service, and you gotta play by their rules) no, fuck CompuServe because of their wishy-washy attitude.

Right? It isnít exactly like they didnít know what they were getting into when they decided to offer net access in the first place. They knew about "controversial" newsgroups like alt.fan.sexy.bald.captains (one of the banned newsgroups, according to an article I read in the San Francisco Examiner), when they decided to join the rush to the Internet. This, and the recent flapdoodle on AOL (where they banned the word "breast," only to run into the ire of breast-cancer support forums) is why, in their mad rush to drag their subscribers onto the net whilst preserving their "family-oriented" sanctity, the online services canít have it both ways.

Iím not a total online service basher -- my first modem came with Prodigy, and I made some pretty good friends on their "Alternative Rock (L-Z)/Replacements" BBS -- I think they have some use in helping smart people make the transition to our world. But Iíve always hated their censorship: just to make a point, Iíll express extremely dirty thoughts without using any of their robotically banned words. And I think that its unconscionable for them to try and apply their standards to the Net, which is, in effect, exactly what is happening.

Still, maybe Iím being overly pessimistic about the demise of free speech on the Net -- even if itís no coincidence that the outright censorship attempts also coincide with the increasing commercialization of the Web. Sorry purists, Iím not intrinsically against the commercialization of the Web -- I think that its the next major form of communication, and banning commercial speech is as and self-serving as banning any other kind of speech.

I am, however, pessimistic enough to walk down the street from my work to San Franscisco's South Park a few weeks back to attend a lunchtime "protest rally" against the congressional version of Exonís legislation. Somebody made a joking reference to "a million geek march," but not hardly.

It was weird -- thereís nothing more self-conscious than the people who consider themselves the coolest and hippest on the planet doing something as public and vocal as a daylight protest rally. I count myself as guilty as anyone in this, but the whole rally seemed as if by rote, a Gen-X version of something we know really didnít work all that well in the 60ís, and had even less of a chance here in the middle of the great repression. Whew. (Of course, it worked better than that last run-on sentence.)

Nevertheless, we cheered and hooted and waved our placards when we were supposed to, but I didnít feel any real passion there. Which sucks, I know. Face it: our congresspeople donít know cyberspace, they donít care about cyberspace, and they mostly just wish it would go away, or mutate into something controllable. Which is, come to think of it, is what they are trying to do with this legislation.

A pox on all of them.

This space is available for advertising. I am so ready to sell out to corporate America for some decent money.

Love,

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This rant written on 2 January, 1996.
I was listening to Smashing Pumpkins -- Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness