Dispatches > The Buzz

The good old days

The Fab Four when Sean Connery was young, five years of Internet "spam," and Scooby Dooby Doo

Issue: "Columbine: Teenage martyr," May 8, 1999

The last musical superstars
The British are invading again. Thirty-five years after the Beatles came to America, A Hard Day's Night (Miramax; rated G) is coming back to theaters in a remastered edition. The songs in this movie-"She Loves You," "And I Love Her," "Can't Buy Me Love"-have gone from being new and, er, groovy to being canonical bits of classic pop. This low-budget comedy helped propel the Fab Four into the stratosphere and even earned an Academy Award nomination for screen writing. Hard Day's looks a little square by today's standards, though it still has a hold. Director Richard Lester and writer Alun Owen try to play John, Paul, George, and Ringo as anti-establishment, but they seem downright wholesome compared to today's chart-toppers. And their later socialist, animal activist, and Hare Krishna phases are a million miles from A Hard Day's Night. The breezy comedy style of the movie makes the Beatles seem almost nonthreatening. We see now-familiar images like screaming girls, clueless music industry types, and band members constantly running across the screen. Nevertheless, what really sells the film is the music-and it sounds gorgeous. To attract every possible Beatlemaniac for a 35th anniversary release, new footage of the group has been tossed into the mix. Those who love the Beatles can rest assured: Old-fashioned pop music has split and resplit into so many categories that no one is likely to dominate a musical era as they did. Before the global economy or even the entertainment economy, the Beatles had the whole world singing their songs. They set the stage for everything pop that followed-for better or for worse. The origin of spam
One of the world's great annoyances launched into infamy five years ago. On April 13, 1994, immigration lawyers Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel sent a stream of ads to countless Internet discussion groups. With this first major online junk mail campaign, spam (Net variety, not canned) was born. Mr. Cantor and Ms. Siegel are forgotten today, but the "Green Card Lawyers" were the most despised people in cyberspace just a few years ago. They soon published How to Make a Fortune on the Information Superhighway, singing the joys of unsolicited solicitation. Endless copycats followed, pitching everything from pornography to get-rich schemes to mail-order ham. Soon anyone who put their e-mail address out in public, from a chat room to a Web site, was pelted with useless junk. The reaction has been a desperate search for a way to stop the flow. So far, everything from e-mail filters to lawsuits have been tried, but the flow hasn't ebbed. Since junk mailers spend almost nothing to send a message, they can send to millions of accounts and get a handful of buyers for their goods. Mainstream marketers do everything possible not to be connected with spam, usually by making customers give permission to be sent ads in e-mail. The spammers themselves hide behind a veil of phony return addresses and bizarre bulk mailing software. If they lose one e-mail account, they can jump to another somewhere in the world and start again. And the volume of spam makes finding every culprit too time consuming. Even federal investigators can chase only so many bad guys-and often spammers are not frauds but merely use extremely sleazy marketing tactics. After all, somebody buys the stuff those guys sell. Junk e-mail is an annoyance and crack cocaine is a destroyer, but they have something in common: Everybody hates them, yet they are too profitable to be driven from society. The bad guy as hero
Being Sean Connery means never having to say you're sorry. He's pushing 70 and still gets action movie leads. We're even supposed to cheer him as a criminal. In Entrapment (Fox; rated PG-13 for language, sensuality, violence, and drug content) he plays a master cat burglar who romps around the world stealing great art treasures. Mr. Connery's paired with a Bond Girl-wannabe young enough to be his granddaughter (Catharine Zeta-Jones). She's got some goodies to grab, including a big bank heist just in time for Y2K. They also try to cheat each other, along with various security guards and snoops along the way. Entrapment pushes the audience to root for Mr. Connery's villainous character. It follow a moral code borrowed from last year's headlines: If you're rich and powerful, you can get away with anything as long as you're a chick magnet. The movie tries to keep Mr. Connery in his old 007 mold, but he's too old for this. Ms. Zeta-Jones's character, who resembles an updated Jacklyn Smith, has to do all the hard climbing and jumping. Dialogue consists of the two flirting and fighting and tossing clichés at each other. Like a spin on Nietzsche's superman who stands beyond morality, these are perfect people who commit perfect crimes beyond the pale of insurance investigators, surveillance cameras, and law enforcement. If only the Cary Grant character from Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 classic To Catch a Thief would come and swipe their ATM cards. The age of Scooby Doo
Every era needs a body of literature to represent it. And the so-called GenX cadre has old Saturday morning cartoons like the Smurfs, Scooby Doo, and the Superfriends. Hanna and Barbera are the leading lights of this lost generation, according to brothers Timothy and Kevin Burke in Saturday Morning Fever: Growing Up in Cartoon Culture (St. Martin's Griffin). From Schoolhouse Rock to Sigmund and The Sea Monsters, the shows kept that section of network TV filled with cereal and toy commercials. From the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s, nearly every kid watched cartoons. Cable TV and first-run syndication have minimized the phenomenon, but generations Y and Z may hold fond memories of the Rugrats and Eek The Cat. The programs were made to a formula (and often as cheaply as possible), yet their corniness made them memorable. Repetition also worked, since many shows were run year after year. The Burkes say that cartoon makers lived in fear of pressure groups like Action for Children's Television that were concerned about violence and endless superhero stories. Naturally, the authors are angrier at the "religious right" than the NEA-style do-gooders who helped push bleeding-heart messages into the Superfriends. The pair also single out poor Davey and Goliath-an explicitly Christian project put out by a Lutheran TV ministry-for scorn, missing that the show's odd hokiness gives it an ersatz charm. In one of their handful of interesting insights, the Burkes say that bringing up Space Ghost and Fat Albert is one of the best icebreakers among twenty-somethings. "When Xers talk about Saturday morning cartoons, they mix deep affection, knowing cynicism, and ironic distance together in a distinctive attitudinal cocktail," they write. Shows that kept a generation snickering like Muttley live on in reruns on the Cartoon Network and in the amazingly vivid memories of Internet-enhanced young adults.

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