Culture Notes


Issue: "Fighting Cultural Ebonics," Feb. 1, 1997

Touched by Nielsen

Touched by an Angel became the first explicitly religious drama to break into the Nielsen Top 10 in the rating service's 46-year history. On a recent week the Sunday night series on CBS was the eighth most-watched show in the nation, coming in just behind football and NBC's Thursday power line-up from Friends to ER. Drawing nearly a fifth of the TV sets in use during its time slot, the series was watched by13 million viewers. The brainchild of Christian producer Martha Williamson, who reworked a less theological earlier version, the series about itinerant angels intervening in people's lives carries overt Christian themes (see the review in the Jan. 18 issue of WORLD). Her other series, The Promised Land, is running in the middle of the pack, but it is winning its time slot by beating out Mad About You (NBC) and Roseanne (ABC). In the meantime, the homosexual hype surrounding the sitcom Ellen (ABC) has failed to boost its ratings. The show, which has been implying that its main character (played by comic Ellen DeGeneres) would &quotcome out" as a lesbian, has been placed on hiatus and will probably not return. With the propensity of Hollywood to copy successful formulas and viewers' disenchantment with the status quo, might the free market clean up television?

Warning about a possible &quotelectronic Pearl Harbor," a Pentagon panel has recommended spending $3 billion to secure the nation's telecommunication and computer networks. The task force for &quotInformation Warfare" notes that the military, the banking industry, the transportation system, and some 60 percent of the American workforce have become highly dependent on computer networks that are highly vulnerable to &quothackers." The report predicts that by 2005, attacks on the system by terrorists, organized crime, and espionage agents will be widespread. In an agricultural age, the report argues, wars were fought to control land; in the industrial age, wars focused on destroying the enemy's factories and means of production. In the information age, wars will concentrate on crippling an enemy by disrupting its flow of information. Among the panel's recommendations was establishing an &quotinformation warfare" czar in the Defense Department, devising a method of disconnecting from the system networks that come under attack, and developing the technology to track hackers and to zap them with defensive counter-viruses.

Quaking in the boot-ups

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Though &quotinformation-warfare" seems a kinder and gentler way of fighting than bombing cities, the internet has become the site of a popular game of virtual violence called Quake. Players buy the software and join teams of players known as &quotclans." With names such as &quotArmy of Darkness," &quotAxe of God," and &quotAtomic Carnage," the clans proceed to fight each other to the death. Each player has a human form on the screen and prowls through dark corridors and futuristic landscapes, attacking enemy players with grappling hooks and &quotnine-inch-nail guns" (named after the rock group, which provides the game's background music). The game has its own jargon: &quotfrag" is a Vietnam-war term meaning to kill; to &quotgib" someone means shooting a character so that its body flies to pieces, short for giblet. The game has sold over half a million copies, with more than 2,200 battlegrounds on the internet. In a story in The Wall Street Journal, reporter Dean Takahashi interviews players, such as Devon Henderson, a 17-year-old from British Columbia. &quotI play for the adrenaline," she says. &quotIt's so good for relieving stress. You team up with people all over the world to kill people all over the world." David Walsh, of the National Institute on Media and the Family--which has put Quake on its list of least desirable games for children--worries that such brutality, even in play, &quoterodes our attitudes and values that define how we treat each other."


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