Three long-running sitcoms that have been milking laughs from America's family pathologies have at last been cancelled. Married... with Children has been slandering the nuclear family ever since the launching of the Fox network with its plans to push the boundaries of television fare. Its 10-year run made it the longest-lasting sitcom currently on the air. But now the obnoxious Al Bundy, his floozy wife, promiscuous daughter, and no-good son are Cancelled...with Gratitude. Many critics lauded the show as a satire of the ideal families of TV's golden age, but the program, besides being strangely unfunny, only demonstrated how far we have fallen since Leave It to Beaver. Roseanne has also copped her last attitude. In its beginning, the show was a rather refreshing depiction of a genuine, working-class family. But as the show grew ever more successful, its star Roseanne Barr/Arnold became more and more the kind of egoistical prima donna that real working-class families cannot stand. As Roseanne bought into the Hollywood mentality, she featured the network's first lesbian kiss, dumped her character's affable husband played by John Goodman, had plastic surgery to make herself look more glamorous, and finally-bringing the show to the exact opposite of its blue-collar beginnings-had Roseanne win the lottery and become a high roller. ABC has finally put her viewers out of their misery. Martin, another cutting-edge Fox sitcom featuring the black comedian Martin Lawrence, has also had its plug pulled after five seasons. Mr. Lawrence, who had been accused of the sexual harassment and battery of a co-star, can now go back full time to his R-rated, woman-hating, dirty-mouthed comedy routines. Like many rappers and other black entertainers who unaccountably buy into Hollywood's role for them, Mr. Lawrence is doing little more than trafficking in negative racial stereotypes. Despite the death of these series, some will probably all live on in Hollywood's version of eternal life: the syndication of re-runs.
State of the arts
According to a Louis Harris poll, movie attendance declined 2 percent between 1987 and 1996, live theater declined 12 percent, rock concerts dropped 8 percent, art museum attendance slipped by 7 percent, and dance audiences declined 9 percent. Attendance at operas and musical theater held constant over the decade. Attendance at classical music performances actually increased by 3 percent. Although many arts groups are facing rough times, part of the problem may be the proliferation of such groups and their competition with each other for the attention of the public. Other research indicates that between 1965 and 1990 the number of arts organizations in the United States grew from 7,000 to 35,000.
Amusement parks for adults
Plans are underway for what may be the next step in our culture's mad lust to be entertained: arcade nightclubs for adults. No less an entertainment mogul than Steven Spielberg is designing games for a new nightclub chain called Sega GameWorks. A joint venture of Hollywood's Universal Studios, Spielberg's Dream Works production company, and video-game giant Sega, GameWorks has already opened a site in Seattle, and plans are to establish 100 more by 2002. The idea is to bring Disney-style theme park attractions out to the public, rather than making the public come to a theme park. The target market, though, is not children, but former children. Besides classic arcade games such as "Pac-Man" to make the grown-ups feel nostalgic, customers can ride Vertical Reality, a 24-foot high attraction in which players zap video villains. When they do well, their seats rise into the air, and when they do poorly, they fall. The object, as in their jobs, is to rise to the top. Drinks, food, and conversation pits round up the pleasure dome. "GameWorks is in a hurry because they want to dominate the field of locally based entertainment," said Kevin Skislock, an investment banker quoted in the Los Angeles Times. Today as children are forced into the role of adults (caring for themselves, exposed to sex, social pressures, and death), adults insist on remaining children.
I lv my hit man
The latest fad in glamorous occupations, judging from recent Hollywood movies, is the hit man. In Pulp Fiction John Travolta played a lovable killer who had trouble keeping his car clean when he blew someone's brains out. The current release Grosse Pointe Blank is a light-hearted romantic comedy about a lovable professional murderer, played by John Cusack, who goes to his high school reunion and rekindles an old flame. In another comedy, Joe Pesci plays another lovable hit man who loses his luggage in the self-explanatory Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag. Maybe it is simply the next logical step for a culture that enjoys violence as entertainment. Call it the Gladiator Syndrome.
On the heels of black studies, women's studies, and gay studies in the nation's universities, we now have "whiteness studies." Scholars are focusing on what they see as the cultural traits of Caucasians (glossing over the distinctions between scores of diverse ethnic groups who happen to have light skin). Though Caucasian studies plays into the hands of white supremacists, most researchers are using this new academic discipline as a pretext for attacking what they see as the oppressive majority culture. The University of California at Berkeley recently hosted the first scholarly conference on the study of whiteness. "Scholarly" papers dealt with the whiteness of gun shows, chain-saw art, and Spam. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Mab Segrest, an official of the National Council of Churches, and Noel Ignatiev, of Harvard, gave papers arguing that whites are responsible for most of the world's social problems. When Ms. Segrest pointed out that the Hawaiian word for white person had the meaning "without soul," a heckler stood up, accused her of "Eurocide," and walked out. Significantly, the discipline of white studies is drawing criticism even from postmodernist academics. Stanley Fish of Duke University, a major theorist of cultural relativism, thinks this movement has gone too far. "It's an offshoot of multiculturalism, and multiculturalism as a philosophy is incoherent," he observes of the movement that he helped to create. "If whiteness scholars think they're going to do away with all norms, they'll never do it." One should never underestimate, however, the ability of contemporary academics to parody themselves.