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Slaves of fashion

Culture | Apocalypse without sin & other cultural buzz

Issue: "The Dutch culture of death," May 23, 1998

Rappin' Warren Beatty tries to make liberalism cool
All the big stars from the 1970s are getting into politics. Movies about politics, that is. If John Travolta had Primary Colors and Dustin Hoffman had Wag the Dog, why should Warren Beatty be left out? The former king of Hollywood is back in Bulworth (Fox, rated R). He plays a corrupt Reagan Democrat senator who flips out on the campaign trail. He is saved from suicide when he learns the joys of racial reconciliation after smoking dope and rapping in South Central L.A. That's right. Warren Beatty raps in this movie. Repeatedly. About the glories of socialism and nationalized health care. Think Jerry Brown with a hip-hop beat. Mr. Beatty wrote, directed, and produced this movie. He was so proud of his achievement that he held a private screening for Harvard's African-American studies department and a crowd of D.C. Democrats. He must have been really proud that his brainchild earned an R rating, mostly for profanity on the soundtrack. Mr. Beatty tries to be way-hip, but only shows his ignorance. He's so socially relevant he has Bulworth go ape over a gangsta girl (Halle Berry), who turns out to be an assassin trying to kill him. Meanwhile, there's a bunch of drug-dealing, pistol-packing children in this movie who act like Huntz Hall and the Bowery Boys from the 1930s. There's even a scene where saintly Bulworth saves the adorable tykes from two bad old racist cops. Obviously, this movie is awful. Bulworth is Mr. Beatty's second attempt to mass market Marxism. He won the Oscar for best director in 1982 for Reds, an epic romance about John Reed, a left-wing activist who helped launch the Communist Party in America. The film induces flashbacks of another 1970s legacy: old Norman Lear sitcoms like All in the Family, Maude, and Good Times. Bulworth reflects the sort of badness made possible only by a celebrity with so much fame and fortune that nobody can say no to him. Liberals as narrow-minded hypocrites
David Horowitz is the most indignant man in American politics. Raised a Communist, he grew up to co-edit one of the '60s' biggest protest magazines, Ramparts. He later repudiated the far Left and took up the banner of Ronald Reagan. Unlike other neocons, who tend to be abstract and analytical, Mr. Horowitz kept crusading against injustice. In his writings, he grabs for the throat and squeezes. Hard. In his followup to his introspective memoir Radical Son, he turns the flamethrower on Bill Clinton and the courtier intellectuals who defend his every move. Sex, Lies & Vast Conspiracies (Second Thoughts Books) is a collection of essays, mostly written originally for the Internet. And Mr. Horowitz's bulldog style was custom-made for cyberspace. He targets such recently controversial figures as Clinton chum Sidney Blumenthal, writer David Brock, and wrist-slapped coach-strangler Latrell Sprewell. He stands up for people he considers victims of liberal witch hunts: Paula Jones, Matt Drudge, and the sailors who were involved in the Tailhook mess. His central theme is that liberals are narrow-minded hypocrites. America's political monologue no longer accepts even constructive criticism. "We are all driven by the sense of our own righteousness, but normally others are around to keep our hubris in check," he writes. "When ours is the only voice available, that becomes the only truth we hear." His spiciest punditry is against multiculturalism, which he calls "pork-barreled racism." Naturally, he pulls no punches: If America keeps heading down a road paved with identity politics, we will quickly be indistinguishable from South Africa. Mr. Horowitz's problem is that his writings are too much of a good thing. He spends all of his time restating which people and what causes he opposes. His positive agenda boils down to one about reversing liberalism and little else. Yet if the Left is as seductive and idolatrous as Mr. Horowitz describes, a stronger alternative agenda must be presented in its place. If only his answers were as good as his questions. A secular apocalypse
In just over a year, something devastating will strike Earth. A few eggheads and others have known about it for a while, but the public is only now discovering this threat. The best attempts of man and machine may not save us. This could be the end of Western Civilization. Is it the 2000 bug? Nope, it's the killer comet of Deep Impact (DreamWorks SKG, rated PG-13 for disaster scenes and language), the most pseudo-religious sci-fi movie since Contact. Religious imagery appears right and left. The comet is heading for the Atlantic Ocean to wipe out the East Coast under flood waters. To save some, President Morgan Freeman orders a second Ark; this time it's an underground city in Missouri caves. He also has a super-spaceship built to save us from the comet. It's named Messiah. Will the fearless crew-led by Robert Duvall-save the world from destruction? With the comet bearing down on humanity, an elect million are selected to live in the Ark until the waters pass. The rest face certain doom. (There's even a prodigal son of sorts: Hollywood pariah Vanessa Redgrave has a small role in this movie.) Small wonder a slogan in Deep Impact's ads is "Heaven and Earth are about to collide." Steven Spielberg is around to make sure everything looks good on the screen, and the director, ER veteran Mimi Leder, piles on the realism. Unfortunately, the Independence Day-ish subplots don't hold water as the characters prepare for the deluge. A TV news reporter (Tea Leoni) stumbles across the story of her career (the last one, to be specific) and uses her remaining time to reconcile with her dad (Maximilian Schell). And a teenage science whiz (Elijah Wood) marries his girlfriend, hoping to take her on the Ark. If only this movie had an element representing sin, this might be good allegory. Instead, it is wildly uneven and these religious references go nowhere. Had Deep Impact done more to develop its themes, it might have made a deeper impact on the audience. Chic for Geeks
Wired magazine started as this decade's biggest publishing splash. Today it's a drop in the bucket. Bold, arrogant, and often unreadable, it claimed to be technology's Rolling Stone. Early articles had titles like "If Your Toaster Had a Brain," "The Dragon Ate My Homework," and "I Want My (Desktop) MTV." Wired talked about digital TV, computer crime, and, oh yes, the dawn of the Internet. Who could miss this edgy magazine with its in-your-face style and half-sci-fi, half-psychedelic design? It was all so hip-almost as cool as starting your own high-tech startup company. Wired positioned itself as the harbinger of a new world. Yet the mag had a problem. It put itself on a pedestal. Instead of helping its readers find their place in the digital revolution, Wired thought the future revolved around its pages. Readers were constantly confused with an endless parade of Next Big Things. Soon the Net caught up with Wired. Why have someone else teach you about the culture technology, which anyone with an e-mail account can learn about independently? Even with 400,000 readers, the magazine about the future had a very shaky present. Even as ad dollars flowed in from the likes of Absolut vodka, Lexus cars, and Airwalk shoes, the dream was gone. Ventures into books, TV, and Web sites struggled and fizzled. Eventually, it seemed like a niche-marketed fashion magazine: chic for geeks. So it's a small wonder that Wired gave up its independence and sold out to Conde Nast earlier this month. Now it joins other glossymags like Vogue, Vanity Fair, and GQ. Such magazines put lots of ink on paper, but they don't say very much. While the Paris fashion runways are a long way from Silicon Valley software companies, these editorial philosophies point in the same direction.

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