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Culture

Issue: "Rebel with a cause," Jan. 30, 1998

Real-life soap opera

Television-ratings leader NBC has taken hit after hit, which has threatened its "must-see-TV" domination of the other networks. First Jerry Seinfeld and company announced they were stepping down from the top-rated sitcom and cultural icon Seinfeld. After nine seasons, the show-which was finally showing signs of going stale-was the first anchor of NBC's Thursday-night juggernaut. Then the other Thursday-night anchor threatened to come loose. The makers of ER, television's other most-watched program, announced that it would sell itself to the highest bidder. NBC decided to pay a budget-busting $13 million per episode-up from $2 million- for the popular hospital drama. But NBC will still lose its ability to make a sure-fire hit of any program scheduled between Seinfeld and ER. NBC also lost football. CBS outbid NBC for the rights to televise AFC games. Disney-owned ABC will keep Monday Night Football, and its cable affiliate ESPN will broadcast other night games. Fox will keep broadcasting the NFC. Like NBC, Ted Turner's TNT network was also shut out from airing America's favorite sporting events. TV's actors and writers are irked with NBC because of the way NBC president Don Ohlmeyer interfered with Saturday Night Live and its satirical newscast, "Weekend Update." Mr. Ohlmeyer decreed that the comedic anchorman Norm Macdonald and the sketch's writer and producer James Downey be fired. They were. Some speculated that there were too many O.J. jokes for Mr. Ohlmeyer, a vocal friend and defender of Mr. Simpson. So much for NBC's tradition of late-night fearless satire. As the peacock's feathers start to molt, NBC is becoming its own soap opera.

AOL is no place to hide

The wife of a naval officer received an e-mail message about a coming-home party from someone with the screen name BOYSRCH. Having no idea who it was, she checked the Member Profile feature on America OnLine and found it belonged to someone named "Tim," who listed his marital status as "gay." She forwarded the information to the Navy, which promptly called up AOL. Reportedly, an AOL employee said that the account belonged to someone named Timothy McVeigh. When Petty Officer McVeigh (no relation to the Oklahoma City bomber) got back from his cruise on a nuclear submarine, naval officials informed him that he was being discharged for "sodomy and indecent acts." Apparently, Mr. McVeigh used another screen name than he intended when writing the wife of his shipmate. The incident brings together two cultural issues: the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy about homosexuality, and the issue of privacy in the shadowy, identity-shifting realm of cyberspace. Mr. McVeigh refuses to confirm that he is homosexual, pointing out the role-playing made possible by different screen names. "People say they're male or female online," he argues. "That doesn't make it true." The Navy-no doubt concerned also about the pedophilia implications of "boy search"-maintains that Mr. McVeigh publically announced his orientation when he filled out the "profile" information. AOL, in the meantime, is under attack for revealing the account holder's identity. Federal law prohibits giving out such information without a court order. AOL's own, constantly emphasized, privacy policies may also have been violated. But the biblical fact remains: "There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed" (Luke 18:17).

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Luther tacked up 95 theses on the Wittenberg church door, not 99, as WORLD erroneously reported ("Reforming CCM," Jan. 10, 1998). Since the culture editor is himself a Lutheran, he regrets the mistake more than usual, not least because of the ribbing he had to take from Calvinists. For penance, the culture editor reports that he resolved to read through all of Luther's theses, counting them one by one. He stopped, however, when he realized that, according to what he was reading, he didn't have to do penance.

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