Sex, drugs and fantasyland

Expanded from the 12-19-2004 Daily Sparks Tribune
12-24-2004 Comstock Chronicle

The true temperature of the times may be taken by observing what most people watch, which means surveying the spawn of Hollywood.

The silver locust from the southland has always had a reputation as a voracious scavenger growing fat in the worst of times. WhollyRude loves recessions. The Great Depression parented the Golden Age of Hollywood. People were willing to spend their last quarter for a couple of hours of escape.

Welcome to déjà vu all over again. Dubya has been just great for business. Reality is now so gruesome that tinseltown has generated an endless freak show of pseudo-reality programs, all of which are contrived and scripted. (The latest low-key labor beef from L.A. involves screenwriters who object to being frozen out because such productions officially have no scripts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Somebody without the pay or title actually skates the writer's work.)

Mass media entertainment is merely a symptom of the nation's chronic malaise. Look at the blockbuster books and films of recent years: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, Tomb Raider.

Even the greatest sports hero of the depression-era 1930s has made a comeback: Seabiscuit dominates a virtual brave new world of thoroughbred horse racing in both print and video. Comic books provide more high-budget movie scripts than legit lit.

It is little wonder that the most powerful source of news, especially for people under 30, remains late-night television comedy. Skeptical that corporate-produced news is just another scam, the public resorts to irreverent comics, another trip back to the future. In medieval times, the only people allowed to make fun of the king were the clowns and court jesters. For everyone else, off with their heads.

With rare exceptions such as Bill Maher, George Carlin and Linda Ronstadt, that's still pretty much the case. Fiction is readily accepted as fact by people with a need to place faith in something other than the awful truth. More than four in 10 citizens falsely believe Saddam Hussein was complicit in the 9/11 attacks. Facts are not allowed to get in the way of a good Hollywood-style good vs. evil script.

Karl Rove and the Bushmasters were thus able to spook millions of fantasy addicts out of the tall grass. The factoid-firing battlebot from Massachusetts never stood a chance. He and his minions could scream all day about the depredations of Dubya and his dastardly dunces, but most people simply would not listen. Sen. John Kerry provided reality-reality programming, the worst possible entertainment gamble in these times. Didn't anyone among his Hollywood supporters point that out?

In 1971, John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks frequently booked country music good ole boy Buck Owens. Across town, Harrah's-Reno featured actor, songwriter and international singing star Anthony Newley. Owens packed them in, Newley bombed.

"You can't sell 'em Anthony Newley and champagne when they want Buck Owens and a bottle of Coors," observed a Nugget executive. I submit the latter as the reason Dubya will shortly be taking his second oath of office.

Despite what his minions may assert, people are deeply concerned about their futures. Wal-Mart sales are flat while purveyors of luxury goods enjoy a land-rush Christmas season.

Only the fantasy hopes of the desperate explain the trend of current events. Adjusted for inflation, wages have been on a four-decade slide. Good-paying jobs are being exported wholesale. It is no anomaly that many Bush-voting, super-religious red states have the highest divorce rates. Families are fracturing under economic stress so many revert to traditional sources of solace — their gods and god-fearing politicians, both of which continue to let them down while picking their pockets.

An old joke holds that reality is for weaklings who can't handle drugs. The various permutations of the drug business have made that quaint aphorism obsolete. Our market-based economy now facilitates the purchase of any mind-altering method you may desire. You may suck up a smorgasbord of prescription, over-the-counter or street pharmaceuticals. Don't want to believe what you read in the paper? You don't have to. Dial in digital cable, satellite or video game disreality.

Tune in, turn on, drop out.

Everything will be alright when we wake up.

Americans have voted to take that gamble.

Happy High Holy Days.

LOCAL REALITY TV. Heartier souls may join me for some hardcore reality-reality, with a few comic zingers, on Sam Shad's Nevada Newsmakers at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, Dec. 20, on KRNV TV-4. The usual suspects will include University of Nevada Regent Howard Rosenberg, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, City Manager Charles McNeely and Washoe D.A. Dick Gammick. The show reruns the same day at 9:28 p.m. on low-cost, loveable Charter cable channel 12 in Washoe-Carson-Douglas and on white-sheets radio KKKOH the following Sunday morning at 9:00. Full statewide schedule on the web.

Be well. Raise hell.


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Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 36-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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