This Week

Issue: "Paying with your life," April 4, 1998

Retro revival

With Titanic, an old-fashioned, Gone With the Wind-style blockbuster claiming a record-tying 11 Oscars, this year's Academy Awards had a distinctly retro feel. Oscar was celebrating its 70th birthday, so there were plenty of crowsfeet among the flawless facelifts, including Fay Wray, King Kong's original victim in the silent-movie classic. Recent fads like colored lapel ribbons were almost nonexistent, and fashion critics noted that even cleavage was a relative rarity this year-Madonna notwithstanding. Titanic's billion-dollar dominance removed any suspense from the evening, so the four-hour-long telecast was mostly a chance for Hollywood to celebrate itself. With scores of former winners assembling for the largest-ever "Oscar family portrait," producers no doubt hoped to show that film is forever. What they proved instead is that fame is fleeting. Polite applause couldn't mask the fact that the proverbial 15 minutes of fame were long since past for former winners like Shirley Jones, Cloris Leachman, and Ernest Borgnine-actors whose statuettes can't buy them a decent role today. An honorary award went to director Stanley Donen, whose genre, the movie musical, hasn't seen a hit since Grease 20 years ago. But the lesson was largely lost on today's movie royalty. When Titanic director James Cameron accepted his statue for directing, he waved it in the air, shouting a line from his winning movie, "I'm the king of the world! Whoo!" Enjoy the reign, Mr. Cameron: Stanley Donen was once a king, too.

"A cultural disease"

Construction worker Olis Sterling worked near the Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark. After two kids with rifles had mortally wounded four students and a teacher last week, Mr. Sterling tended helplessly to a dying girl. "All I could do was hold her hand," he said. In Africa, President Clinton said he would ask Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate "whether there are any common elements in this incident and the other two" recent school shootings. There are. But he should ask current Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee instead. "What makes all of us angry is that our culture would create the kind of atmosphere where an 11- and a 13-year-old student could ... respond to whatever anger is inside them by taking up a whole battery of arms and indiscriminately shooting their fellow students and teachers," Mr. Huckabee said on CNN. "It's a cultural disease." Part of that disease, he said, is societal: a "callousness and disregard and disrespect for one another," and the exposure of kids "to tens of thousands of murders on television and in movies." The other part is individual: "If a kid has this kind of rage and violence growing within his own soul, then I'm not sure that we'll find a way to build a fence high enough, thick enough, or put metal detectors that are strong enough to keep this kind of thing from ultimately happening."

There goes the neighborhood

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Everything about the houses on Ricelan Drive in Greenville, S.C., looks immaculate except for the week's garbage piled at the foot of each driveway. The sun is shining, the tulips are blooming, and the grass is freshly cut. It hardly looks like a religious battle zone, but that's what it turned into several weeks ago when Orie Wenger, associate pastor of Mount Zion Christian Fellowship, was ordered to stop holding prayer meetings in his home. Greenville County zoning administrators had threatened to fine Mr. Wenger up to $1,000 a day if he continued bringing six to 15 people a week into his home for Bible study and prayer. Land-use laws, they claimed, prohibited using his home for "church-related activities." The county took aim at Mr. Wenger after two neighbors complained that too many cars were parked on the street during the meetings and that visiting children were too noisy. A zoning official wrote Mr. Wenger that he must rezone the home as a church. Appeals to the zoning board and the county council were fruitless. "They gave me a fairly intense lecture about being a community nuisance," Mr. Wenger said. "Fifty meetings a year in my home, I guess they thought, was too much." Other than the two neighbors, many residents of Greenville, which has more than 600 churches, expressed outrage about the bureaucratic harassment. Media publicity lit a fire under local officials. Politicians from Gov. David Beasley to Rep. Bob Inglis jumped into the fray when stories appeared in the local paper. County Administrator Gerald Seals apologized to Mr. Wenger and offered to reimburse his legal expenses; county council members promised to rewrite the zoning code; and state senators introduced legislation to bar local governments from ever again prohibiting church meetings in homes. The bill passed unanimously and expeditiously-less than 24 hours.

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