Thursday, November 30, 2006

Culture Shock 11.30.06: O.J. book, interview could become karmic payback

Last week, the New York tabloids and cable news pundits were buzzing about O.J. Simpson's canceled book, "If I Did It," which was going for thousands of dollars on eBay.

I have no problem with people making a buck off the few copies of O.J.'s book that slipped through the cracks after the publisher, HarperCollins, recalled copies that already had been shipped to stores. The only person I don't want making money from "If I Did It" is O.J. Simpson.

A quick search of eBay on Sunday afternoon, however, turned up no copies of "If I Did It" for sale. According to an eBay spokesman, the online auction site is removing the book at HarperCollins' request. This is no surprise, as eBay routinely removes items at the request of big media companies.

But my search for "If I Did It" did turn up someone selling a poster of Simpson.

The poster depicted an intense — one might even say "mean" — Simpson from his football days. And beneath the photo of O.J. was the caption, "If I Did It?" Emphasis on the "if."

Next, I searched YouTube to see if O.J.'s canceled two-part Fox interview had been leaked to the Internet. I've got to hand it to Fox, they've managed to keep a lid on the interview so far. All I found was a nine-second video called "Bootleg OJ Simpson Interview." It's simply a still photo of O.J. followed by the caption, "Why would you sick (expletive deleted) support OJ by watching his interview???"

Now, as I see it, watching a bootleg of O.J.'s interview isn't supporting him. If anything, it's ripping him off, which makes it a good thing.

Unless Beelzebub has a devil put aside for him, O.J. has escaped justice. Incompetent prosecutors and delusional jurors saved Simpson from prison. And even though Simpson lost a civil lawsuit, he has yet to pay a penny to the families of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.

The only weapon we have left against O.J. is ridicule. Which is why I want his disgusting and absurd book and interview to leak out to the public. Only then can skilled comedians and amateur filmmakers pick apart every sentence and every frame and turn them back on Simpson.

Face it, the jokes about how O.J. won't rest until he finds the "real killers," who are hiding on some golf course or in some strip bar somewhere in America, are getting old. We need new material.

You may be thinking that it's a worse punishment for O.J. simply to ignore him rather than to pay him the attention necessary for ridiculing him. And you may be right. But there is more to this than O.J.

I'm thinking of all of the people who cheered when O.J. got off. I'm thinking of all the people who think O.J. is actually innocent.

There are people in this country who believe lots of downright stupid things. They believe extraterrestrial beings from planets hundreds of light years away come to the Earth just to dissect cattle and anally probe farmers.

But it's a rare occasion when people actually get punished for believing stupid things. A rare example occurred on Jan. 1, 2000, when a lot of people woke up to find that the world's computers had not failed, civilization had not collapsed, and the thousands of dollars of survival gear in the basement was not a good investment.

O.J.'s book and interview could have been a long-overdue case of karmic comeuppance for everyone who actually thought he was innocent. If they leak to the Internet, they still could be.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Culture Shock 11.23.06: The War on Thanksgiving, the forgotten holiday

I gather today is some sort of holiday. Now what is it? Turkey Day? No. That's not right. Oh, yes. Thanksgiving. How could I forget?

Well, it's easy to lose track of a holiday that has been squeezed almost to a singularity by the juggernauts of Christmas and Halloween.

In terms of the amount of money Americans spend on them every year, Christmas and Halloween are easily the country's two most popular celebrations. And that's even without anyone getting a paid day off for tricks or treats.

Thanksgiving is under assault. You might as well call it "Official Start of the Christmas Season Eve." People used to get upset when stores and shopping malls put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. Now, some stores put them up before Halloween. Some people complain about a "War on Christmas," in which Christmas is losing ground to other, more "politically correct" holidays. But Christmas has it easy compared to Thanksgiving.

Yes, dear readers, whether you've noticed it or not, we're in the midst of a War on Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving is folding faster than the Polish cavalry in front of a Panzer division. It's time to take sides.

So, let me be clear about this — Down with Thanksgiving!

Now, nobody is going to quibble with a day off work, so assume that if we abolish Thanksgiving, we'll get something else in return.

Let's face it. What's Thanksgiving for? Giving thanks? Well, if that's all, I don't need a holiday to do that, and if I do, how thankful am I, really?

Mostly, Thanksgiving is for watching football and family gatherings. The last time I checked, there was no shortage of pro football on TV, even on days not devoted to the ritual consumption of poultry.

But what about all that family togetherness? That's all well and good, I suppose, if watching Aunt Margaret and Aunt Jill down a dozen glasses of sherry between them and then argue about which one of them Grandma really wanted to have the good china is your idea of a spectator sport.

Maybe Charles Schulz can help us? After all, the beloved creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy did write a cartoon to explain the true meaning of Christmas. Nope. The only life lesson I've taken away from "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" is that jelly beans and popcorn do not go over well as Thanksgiving dinner.

Maybe Thanksgiving is simply the day when we remember the Pilgrims, who, according to all the history books, came to America in search of religious freedom.

I hate to burst your bubble — well, actually, this is the sort of thing I live for — but the Pilgrims didn't come to the New World for religious freedom.

When they first left England, the Pilgrims went to Holland, the most tolerant society the world had seen up to that time. The Pilgrims had all the religious freedom there they could stand. In fact, they had too much, and were aghast that their children were taking advantage of the freedoms Holland offered. So, they packed up and came to America, not to get religious freedom, but to get away from it.

Other people can celebrate that sort of thing if they want, but count me out.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Culture Shock 11.16.06: Pop culture's diversity is its strength

If there is one thing about which pundits both left and right agree, it's that American culture is rotten. So rotten, in fact, that it threatens the rest of the world.

On the left, author John Tirman includes TV and pop culture among his list of "100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World." On the right, Karen Hughes, a longtime advisor to President Bush, was quoted recently saying, "One of the things I hear a lot, particularly in deeply conservative societies, is that parents feel kind of assaulted by American culture."

Oddly enough, the disgust of high-culture elitists on the left and the alarm of cultural moralists on the right share the same source. American culture is, in fact, more robust, more vibrant and more populist than ever before. And that, to many on both sides of the political spectrum, is exactly the problem.

We live in a world of 100-plus channel TV, and with a TiVo, you can, for all practical purposes, program your own station. If that isn't enough, you can now download many TV shows via the Internet, often free of charge, as with Fox's offerings at And if you're still not satisfied, even the most obscure shows of years gone by are available on DVD.

The Golden Age of Television isn't the bygone era of "Mr. Ed." It's today. Sure, you probably think 90 percent of everything on TV is a waste of time, and I agree. But there is now unprecedented diversity in American television. Competition between broadcast and cable TV stations, combined with growing competition from the Internet, is driving up the quality of that 10 percent of programming that is worth watching.

But what constitutes that 10 percent depends upon whom you ask. If you ask me, the SciFi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica" is not only the best show on TV, it's one of the best shows ever, and Fox's "House" runs a close second.

Other people swear by "Lost" or "Grey's Anatomy," which are perfectly respectable choices, too. And others still worship at the altar of "American Idol," proving there's no accounting for taste.

But even if I hate "American Idol," that's not the point. I'm sure there are lots of people who would never watch "Battlestar Galactica." The point is, TV is now big enough for all of us. We're not limited to three broadcast networks plus British imports on PBS.

In the "good old days," TV was aimed at a mass audience. It was OK. We liked it. But is there a single show of the so-called Golden Age (besides the original "Star Trek") that inspires the rabid devotion of today's cult hits?

Today's shows are aimed at a far more fragmented audience. Shows don't have to be everything to everyone. We can point our satellite dishes upward at a galaxy of possibilities.

TV isn't alone. Over-the-air radio may seem increasingly bland, but with iPods and the ability to download music and talk programming from the Internet, there is something for everyone. Literally.

If "The Simple Life" is the price I have to pay for "Boston Legal," so be it. I don't have to pay attention to Paris Hilton, and you don't have to watch William Shatner. But at least we both have a choice.