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The year zero campaign

Culture | Starting history from scratch, Grumpy and Grumpier, & other cultural buzz

Issue: "The politics of grace," April 25, 1998

Zeroing Christ out of the calendar
If secularists can call for taking God out of public schools, why not take Christ out of the calendar? That's the plan of the Year Zero Campaign. Alan Dechert, a computer programmer for the city of Sacramento (who's trying to help fix the 2000 bug for a living), wants the year after 1999 to be year zero. After all, if computers will think they're living in year 00, why not people? According to Mr. Dechert, we live in a New Age and the days of A.D. need to be replaced by N.E. (New Era). "Most people in the world are not Christian," he says. "Many feel that a numbering system that is not based on any religious event would be more reasonable and fair." The less controversial reason for year zero is that starting with zero means there will less confusion over the beginning and ending of decades and centuries. Even though the big parties will be held at the end of 1999, the real end of the 20th century comes in the year 2000. Mr. Dechert, a Unitarian Universalist, is banging the drum in cyberspace (www.go2zero.com) in his campaign for year zero. The big Internet bookseller, Amazon.com, offers his year zero calendar. Earlier this month he announced that secular humanist guru Paul Kurtz had endorsed his movement. "Human consciousness is now global," Mr. Kurtz beamed. "We need a new planetary ethics expressing this and transcending the chauvinistic divisions of the past." Year zero sounds like a fringe movement, but so is every other piece of political correctness: Christmas break is now winter vacation. The traditional calendar makes Jesus the center-point of human history, but the new calendar would erase the past and start history over from scratch. The new beginning of human history would be the advent of the computer age. A grungy life
Kurt Cobain lived a textbook rock 'n' roll disaster. He was neglected by his parents, wound up living under a bridge, and sought solace in music and drugs. He hit it big, went into rehab, started a turbulent marriage, then shot himself. His widow, Courtney Love, has demanded that the past be put behind her so she can get on with being a movie star and ACLU spokesmodel. Everything was going fine until Nick Broomfield came along. His bizarre documentary, Kurt and Courtney, features people who claim Ms. Love killed Kurt for his money. She fought the movie tooth and nail, but it survived into theatres. Kurt is a morose picture of one of rock's darkest corners. On one hand are horrible, sleazy leeches sucking on his memory. On the other are the star's nearest and dearest who depict grunge's first family as leading sad, depressing lives wracked by drug abuse. Broomfield ran out of money in the middle of the project, so what survived is a carnival of burnouts appearing before the camera. Two bumbing stalkerazzi, a supposed former nanny, a supposed former friend, and others babble on about the couple. Throw in Kurt's ex-girlfriend and his strung-out best friend, plus Courtney's estranged father and her old private detective. The result is the cinematic equivalent of cleaning a motel room that was trashed the night before. Yes, Virginia, Kurt's death was probably a suicide. Most of the groupies interviewed are so hard to believe that Mr. Broomfield starts disagreeing with them. It becomes self-parody. All he has left at the end is a bunch of weird interviews and a collection of emotional threats from Courtney Love. Live fast, die young, and leave a twisted cult following. Still odd after all these years
The '90s aren't a great decade for sequels. The '80s turned the entire concept into a cliché with Rocky, Rambo, and endless B monster movies, yet the culture, in a sign of creative stagnation, still resorts to recycling old material. Now playwright Neil Simon is getting into the game, updating his famous play-turned-movie-turned-TV series with a new film, Odd Couple II (rated PG-13 for language). This time Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon get to make their 247th movie together playing squabbling old guys. Yeah, they're supposed to be Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, reprising their original movie roles, but those characters belong to another generation. The world of Felix and Oscar exists today only on Nick at Nite. Paramount Pictures could have called this Grumpiest Old Men and no one would have known the difference. In fact, Odd Couple II director Howard Deutch also did Grumpier Old Men. The plot reunites the famous pair after 17 years apart when Felix's daughter marries Oscar's son. They drive across California for the wedding, bickering and getting into trouble. The rising divorce rate has imprinted too many real-life horror stories for a revived Odd Couple to have much effect. Felix and Oscar go to their kids' weddings to find the wives who threw them out decades before have long since remarried, and the old animosities remain. In one weird scene, the groom gets cold feet and Oscar jokes that he should go ahead and quit. After all, he'll have two years of happiness and 45 years of agony. Part of the problem is that the era of cute jokes about divorce, ex-wives, and second bachelorhoods are old hat. Such things have become too common to be funny.

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