Culture Notes


Issue: "Tipping the Scales," Oct. 5, 1996

Hollywood's summertime blues

Despite blockbuster hits such as Twister, Mission Impossible, and Independence Day, the summer movie season as a whole turned out to be a dud. With the sure-fire hits frontloaded at the beginning of the summer, only one movie in the second half of the season grossed more than $100 million: A Time to Kill, John Gresham's legal thriller about race and vigilante justice. The rash of so-called children's films also did poorly, with even Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame proving a major box office disappointment. Some voices in Hollywood are saying, "See, we tried making wholesome family films, but no one goes to see them." Never mind that, as WORLD reviews have shown (see the August 17/24 issue), few if any of the much-hyped children's movies--such as the family-bashing Matilda--were truly suitable or even entertaining for children. According to Hollywood's trade publication Variety, the main problem is dropping attendance. Despite the proliferation of brand-new multi-screen megaplexes, admissions have declined for the second straight year. In the 1940s, 80 million Americans went to the movies every week. Today, despite the huge increase in population, only 20 million go the movies. Even in light of competition from TV, this is an astonishing drop off. What kind of movies brought Americans into the theaters? A study commissioned by USA Today adjusted box office receipts for inflation and found that most R-rated movies disappeared from the list of top money-makers. Instead, the top 10 most popular films of all time were: (1) Gone with the Wind, (2) Star Wars, (3) E.T., (4) The Ten Commandments, (5) The Sound of Music, (6) Jaws, (7) Doctor Zhivago, (8) Jungle Book, (9) Snow White, (10) Ben Hur. Hollywood still doesn't get it. Despite the abysmal box office failure of Showgirls and now Demi Moore's Striptease, major filmmakers are hard at work on a biopic about porn queen Marilyn Chambers, and Oliver Stone, having solved the Kennedy assassination and reinvented Richard Nixon, is filming the biography of pornographer Larry Flynt.

Top Internet monitors

The September issue of Internet World rates the top seven programs for filtering out the bad stuff on the internet. Cyber Patrol won top honors for its flexibility and its capacity to block children from sending out their names and addresses. This program, as well as InterGo and Specs for Kids, can block out not only sexual material but also glorification of drugs, violence, and hate. Other recommended programs were Net Nanny, Net Shepherd, SurfWatch, and Cybersitter. All seven have monthly updates to keep up with the ever-new webs of depravity being spun in cyberspace.

Forgive us our debts

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A new quiz show on the Lifetime network is called Debt. Contestants tell about how many bills they have run up--Melanie, in hock for $7,223 because, as she says, "the world has too many nice shoes"; Rob, spending $8,800 following the Grateful Dead; Jill, owing $7,700 from buying things for her pets. The winners get their bills paid. In the words of the promo, "three debt-laden Americans just like you compete to have us pay off all their bills and go home with nothing." In the meantime, a major credit card issuer is charging a penalty for customers who pay off their balances every month. Since banks cash in on the usurious interest rates charged on credit cards, they cannot make money when people are debt-free. In the topsy-turvy culture of a nation whose government owes $5.1 trillion, embarrassment about owing too much money disappears, deficits become assets, and a vice is turned into a virtue.


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