Culture Notes


Issue: "Building a better boycott," Oct. 4, 1997

"Good night, and God bless"

Red Skelton, who died in September, was a cultural icon who reminded us of what has been lost in contemporary culture. The son of a circus clown who died two months before his son was born, Red followed in his unknown father's footsteps and became the consummate clown of television. The characters he created-such as Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie the Freeloader, and seagulls Gertrude and Heathcliffe-cracked up viewers for two decades, as his show ran on CBS from 1953 to 1970. He kept clowning, with his squeaky-clean humor, until nearly the very end, both more wholesome and funnier than his more contemporary competition.

Drawing the line

The long-awaited and long-dreaded Lolita, a movie about a pedophile and his sexual relationship with a preadolescent girl, is ready-but no Hollywood distributor will touch it. The film, based on Vladimir Nabokov's notorious novel, is directed by the respected Adrian Lyne and stars the distinguished actor Jeremy Irons. Nevertheless, no major studio has picked it up, and no American distributor will market it to theaters. As a result, Lolita will not be released in the United States. Though it is scheduled to open next month in Europe, even sexually easy-going Europeans have been shocked by recent revelations of child abuse and are finding the movie controversial. While Hollywood commendably is drawing the line at the overt sexualization of children, the line against portraying homosexuality has been all but erased. A whole raft of gay-chic movies is hitting the screens: the much-publicized In & Out, with Kevin Kline; Licensed to Kill, a documentary about anti-homosexual violence; and the multicultural gay movies Kiss Me Guido about an Italian pizza maker who answers a classified ad thinking GWM means "Guy With Money," Happy Together about Hong Kong homosexuals, and Latin Boys Go to Hell about Hispanic gays.

Time for crime

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The most dangerous hours of the day are not necessarily late at night, when young thugs prowl the darkened streets. At least when it comes to juvenile crime, including gang violence, the most dangerous times are right after school. According to a study by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an anti-crime organization led by law-enforcement professionals, about half of violent crimes committed by young people occur between 2 and 8 p.m. The most crime-filled hour is 3 p.m. Only one fifth of crimes take place between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., the times usually targeted by curfew ordinances. The data points out what should be obvious: Children get in trouble when they are unsupervised. Latch-key kids, home alone between the time school lets out and their working parents get home, often use the time to hang out with their equally unsupervised friends. Sometimes this turns ugly. Once again, a major social problem hinges on the need for better parenting.

Victims of success

When victims enjoy the highest status, everyone will want to be one. According to one federal civil-rights commissioner, smart kids are victims because they are pushed into successful professions, which exclude them from the rich range of human experience. As reported by columnist George Will, the Civil Rights Commission was discussing the practice in some schools of "ability grouping," placing students on the basis of their aptitudes. Clinton appointee Yvonne Lee complained that "you do see an overrepresentation of Asian Americans in certain so-called honor groupings or advanced classes." This discriminates against them because they "get labeled as whiz kids and they get stuck in the upper rank and never get exposed to other opportunities." As a result, "Asian Americans are overrepresented in middle management, technical, and professional ranks because throughout their educational ladder they've been shifted toward that area because they were thought to be smart in math and all the technical areas." They are thus "being hurt in later years when you see the other aspects of development that they did not have in their social interaction." Presumably, these opportunities and aspects of development they are unjustly denied would include ignorance, unemployment, and poverty.


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