Questions, questions, questions. As we approach the first day of spring-with tax season just around the corner, and the promise of yet eight more months of a torturous Presidential campaign still ahead-your diarist finds himself filled with important, essential queries. Herewith, a sampling:
1) Martha, My Dear: Remember the O.J. trial? Remember the aftermath of the Rodney King decision? During the run-up to last week’s conviction of Martha Stewart, were you as disappointed as I was that not a single American city was braced for riots? That’s right: Not Westport, not Short Hills, not any of the swanky hotbeds of unrest like Palm Beach, Beverly Hills or Easthampton. C’mon, admit it: Wouldn’t you love to have seen hundreds of kitchen-implement-wielding women rampaging in the streets-turning over S.U.V.’s, smashing in the windows at Kmart-chanting “No justice, no sheets!”
2) Where’s the After-Party? In the afterglow of the Oscars, where each day brought a different event sponsored by a magazine, a clothing designer, a jeweler or an automobile manufacturer, can anyone tell me the precise date when everything in America became so corporatized? When did every event in America-from charity functions to shopping mall openings, to fashion shows, TV premiers and private movie screenings (private, of course, only in the perverse sense that they’re held for publicity purposes)-suddenly require a party, an after-party, a drink promotion and a goody bag? It’s bad enough that everything’s gone so commercial. But what are we to make of the other after-party phenomenon, “the after-market,” where people are auctioning off the swag from the goody bags on eBay?
3) The Really Gay Divorcée? Your diarist was both moved-and mortified-to receive my first gay wedding announcement (via e-mail, with pictures and a link to a bridal registry, no less), from two male friends who were married in San Francisco last month. I was moved because I’m in favor of gay marriage; I was mortified because, well-knowing these two guys, I simply can’t imagine any couple, gay or straight, who are less likely to stay married. (This isn’t about sex; it’s about the arguments over who cleans up the kitchen.) Yes, I wish them well. But as I clicked on the Internet link to send the gift, I couldn’t help but wonder: When it’s over, who gets the silver? And Liza Minnelli’s tribulations aside-just how long is it going to be before we read about the first really ugly, really nasty, really vicious gay divorce?
4) Whither Mickey? Given the events at the shareholder meeting last week, is it possible that what’s good for Disney is also good for the nation? Meaning: Now that Michael Eisner has been forced to share power at Disney, do you think it’s possible to convince Dick Cheney to do the same thing? On second thought, forget it. Aren’t we better off just leaving the whole thing alone-praying that Bush doesn’t replace Cheney with, say, Rudy Giuliani, so come November we can send the whole Bush crew packing for Disneyland?
5) The New Evil Empire? Over the past few years, Wal-Mart has become the all-purpose punching bag for the left, attacked by everyone from trade unions to John and Teresa Kerry, who-curiously-have been heavy traders in Wal-Mart stock.
Is it not time for a small reality check here?
First, I’d like to know whether any of the people who are so quick to bash Wal-Mart have ever actually shopped in a Wal-Mart. Am I the only one who’s noticed that the sales associates are more helpful, more knowledgeable, more cheerful and more in abundance than you’ll find at Bloomingdale’s?
Second, at the intersection of geography and demographics, the rise of Wal-Mart almost directly matches the suburban sprawl that began in the 1960’s, and the weed-like appearance of all those “there is no there there,” incorporated strip-mall towns and villages outside Dallas, Atlanta and Jacksonville. So isn’t it just a little disingenuous to keep mentioning all these mythical small towns that Wal-Mart has supposedly destroyed?
Third, can anyone explain the economic benefits of zoning Wal-Mart out of cities, as they’re trying to do in San Francisco? Are we to believe that higher prices-in smaller, allegedly “local” stores-are beneficial to consumers? Aren’t we all better served by putting the money in the consumer’s pocket and reaping the benefits of the multiplier effect on employment, purchasing power and the economy in general?
And finally, I don’t mean to imply that Wal-Mart is perfect. Far from it-despite its recent ranking by Fortune magazine as the most admired company in America. Either way, before the Democratic candidate bashes the company, I’d ask him to consider this: With 1.4 million employees and who knows how many satisfied customers, Wal-Mart represents a constituency unto itself. Lots of them vote. Couldn’t they swing a Presidential election?
8) Hollywood Finds Religion? So I’m sitting in a restaurant in Santa Monica on the Sunday night that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ clocked through $200 million at the box office, after only 11 days in the theaters. Not one of the other 10 people sitting at our table had actually seen the film, despite offering vociferous opinions about it. Then the Hispanic waiter spoke up. “I loved it. I usually don’t go to movies, but I went to a matinee, on the second day.”
In Hollywood, the real question of the age isn’t “Why does a movie do $200 million at the box office?”, but rather “Why do so few of them do $200 million?” From The Passion of the Christ to My Big Fat Greek Wedding to Something’s Gotta Give , how many audiences-how many groups of people-does Hollywood overlook, or miss completely?
Still, Hollywood studies the Bible, otherwise known as Variety . And you can be certain that just as Butch Cassidy begat 48 Hrs. , which begat Lethal Weapon , which begat 2,000 other buddy films, it can’t be too long before the rest of the biblical canon starts appearing on development lists, from the Cain and Abel story to Martin Luther, to Holy Moses, the Jewel of the Nile.
Until then, I’m waiting for Mel’s sequel: “He’s back. Christ Almighty! The Resurrection . This time, it’s personal.”
I can’t wait for the after-party.