Culture Notes


Issue: "Modern martyrs," Nov. 30, 1996

Mr. Potter owns Bedford Falls

In yet another real-life twist on the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life (see WORLD Nov. 23), the proverbial Mr. Potter saves the day. Cable network Comedy Central filmed a spoof of the 1946 film starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, featuring clips of the movie with a new plot and wise-guy dialog dubbed in. In the new version, Escape from a Wonderful Life, George Bailey tries to get out of marrying Mary by telling her he is gay. His ambition is to make an action flick with Arnold Schwarzenegger instead of replaying the old wholesome story, but the people of Bedford Falls rise up to demand the old plot since their jobs and the local economy are at stake. But Republic pictures, which owns the rights to the movie, objected. To combat the perception that the holiday season was a non-stop It's a Wonderful Life marathon, with the movie showing at nearly any given time on one of the cable channels, Republic arranged for the movie to be shown only once this season, on December 21 on NBC. Comedy Central planned to show its travesty three days earlier, but Republic refused permission. When Comedy Central claimed the visual images are in the public domain, a court battle was in the works. It turned out, however, that in the byzantine world of corporate takeovers in the entertainment industry, the stock in both companies is controlled by the conglomerate Viacom, which settled the dispute by canning the parody. Mr. Potter saves Bedford Falls.

Where's the other remote?

Warner Cable, one of the nation's largest cable companies, is offering kids their own TV remote, which parents can program to control what their children watch. The toy-like devices, in bright colors and shaped like dinosaurs or dogs, enable young couch potatoes to channel surf only on parental-approved networks. Now all they need is a miniature Barca-lounger and they can be just like daddy.

Say it ain't so, Shoeless Joe!

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Let the buyer beware when buying autographed sports memorabilia. The FBI estimates that up to 70 percent of all autographed sports collectibles may be phony. A Chicago dealer was recently arrested for mail fraud in connection with the sale of thousands of forgeries, sparking a wholescale investigation of the sports collectibles business. What began with young sports fans collecting souvenirs from their heroes has evolved into a $2 billion-a-year industry. The reason some top athletes refuse to sign autographs after the game is because they have made exclusive deals with companies to sign their names only for them, often scoring up to $40 for a signature. There are still honest dealers and collectors. Researching prices and handwriting styles, collecting less-well-known athletes, and securing guarantees of authenticity are ways of avoiding counterfeits. But the best way to assure authenticity is to get the autographs at the ballpark.

Our man in Havana

Fidel Castro has given permission for CNN to become the first American network with a bureau in still-communist Cuba. Will this new media access be a PR bonanza for Havana, legitimizing the Castro regime with the American public and leading to more pressure for normalization of relations with the United States? Will Castro let his own people watch CNN?

Give (and read) a Bible for Christmas

Though the Bible is a perennial bestseller, bringing in annual sales of $200 million, sales have dropped 9 percent this year. Sales in June, traditionally the biggest Bible-buying month what with graduation and wedding presents, were down 48 percent. Some chains are sending unsold copies back to the publishers. Many booksellers are saying the market is glutted, with hundreds of different editions and a plethora of translations, including three new ones introduced this year. It is a strange imbalance that the United States has too many Bibles while communist and former-communist countries have too few, that there are dozens of English translations when there are no translations at all in hundreds of the world's languages. But for all of the Bibles in America, study after study shows that biblical literacy in America is plummeting. The number of Bibles in gift boxes, on nightstands, and on bookshelves is less important than the number of Bibles actually being read. [Culture Notes by Gene Edward Veith]


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