The culture in 2000


Issue: "Year in Review 2000," Dec. 30, 2000

Devastation and community
The deadliest tornadoes to hit Georgia in half a century ripped through the state in February, claiming 19 lives. The storm system also spawned twisters in Florida and Arkansas, and toppled trees and power lines in Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Meteorologists said a tornado that touched down in Mitchell County, Ga., where 11 people were killed, packed winds of up to 200 mph. The storms displaced 300 families, destroyed 198 structures, and damaged 150 in four counties. In the twisters' wake, a remarkable spirit of community descended on the area. In the town of Camilla where the damage was worst, thousand of volunteers including church missionaries, emergency management teams, government workers, and ordinary people from across Georgia poured in to lend a helping hand. Said Mitchell County employer Buddy Paracca, "Some people may not have a roof on their home, but they're looking for what they can do for their neighbor." In Tuscaloosa, Ala., where a twister packing 200 mph winds killed 12 a week before Christmas, a local newspaper photographer captured a powerful image (right) of neighbor helping neighbor. Mike Harris noticed a man carrying a badly injured 6-year-old girl to the main road, where rescue vehicles were waiting. "He couldn't carry her any more, so I took her and carried her.... I just kept telling her, 'Everything's going to be all right, you're going to be okay.'" The child, Whitney Crowder, had lost her father and baby brother in the storm. Her mother and younger sister survived but suffered serious injuries. Whitney and her sister were recovering at Children's Hospital in Birmingham. When told of her condition and that of her family, Mr. Harris put his head in his hands. "I don't know what to say ... ," he told The Tuscaloosa News. "But what I was thinking after all this, is this song. It's a spiritual about how in the midst of it all, it's a blessing. She's blessed. She was able to come out of it. If I could talk to her, I'd tell her to trust in God." A pitch high and inside
Hollywood's practice of marketing violent R-rated movies and video games to children put even liberals in a censoring mood. A study by the Federal Trade Commission, commissioned by President Clinton in the wake of the Columbine killings, uncovered overt marketing strategies designed to sell violent fare to little kids. Marketers pitched R-rated movies to Campfire Girls; Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon carried ads for PG-13 movies; and retailers sold to children video games rated not-for-children. Liberal Democrats-including presidential candidate Al Gore and his running mate Joe Lieberman-threatened federal regulation to put a stop to this. This was not enough to make Hollywood stop funding the Democrats. Still, it may be a sign that America is finally fed up with the way Hollywood entertains children by corrupting them and that the pendulum may be starting to swing the other way. Vermont: Sad state of affairs
Gay activists found a little moonlight in Vermont, when that state's supreme court ruled that homosexuals had a constitutional right to the same benefits enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. The court didn't quite rule that they had a constitutional right to marriage, so the state legislature conformed to the ruling by coming up with something called a "civil union." The enabling law went into effect on July 1, and a number of homosexual couples-though by no means the unbiblical flood expected by both sides-marched into courthouses and down the aisles of liberal churches to have their unions recognized. The rise of Reality TV
The television year was dominated by "reality programming," including two monumental ratings champions. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? awarded contestants for answering questions in which there really was a right (and a final) answer. Survivor was another kind of game show, which became a national, real-life soap opera, as much of the nation got involved with the contestants marooned on a desert island. The ruthless scheming, the strained alliances, and the Machiavellian intrigues, as they voted each other off the island, provided yet another metaphor for the year-end election. Not all of the reality game shows worked as planned. In Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? the made-for-TV arranged marriage ended in annulment. The groom, Rick Rockwell, had a shady past, and the bride of his choice, Darva Conger, did not really want to marry a multi-millionaire she had never met. She was not that kind of girl, she said, to sell her body for money, a notion put in doubt when-like Paula Jones, who spurned the advances of President Clinton-she agreed to a photo shoot with a pornographer. In November and the first half of December, cable TV news channels saw their ratings soar as Americans deconstructed postelection spin by seeing for themselves the chaos of chad-counting and dimple-deciphering. Unreality TV
Homosexuals made more inroads in their quest for social acceptability by becoming fixtures on TV and shouting down opposing viewpoints. Organized gays fought an all-out battle to prevent Laura Schlessinger (syndicated radio's Dr. Laura) from getting her own TV show (they failed, but frightened off sponsors like Procter & Gamble and some jittery local TV program directors). The gay strategy in network sitcoms was to present homosexuals as "just like everybody else." Will and Grace centered around a woman and the gay man who is her roommate. Normal, Ohio presented John Goodman, no less-the husband on the old Roseanne and a veteran of scores of good-old-boy, man's-man roles-as a homosexual who is utterly, in the words of the title, "normal." Neither of these shows emphasizes the character's sex life. Being gay is just a harmless and even endearing condition, where male characters get crushes on men, just like the female characters on the shows do. But on the pay-cable channel Showtime a new series Queer as Folk broke taboos by actually depicting men having sex with each other. The characters admit that "it's all about sex" and eagerly pursue promiscuity and the seduction of minors. The program clearly lowers the taste barrier even further with its male nudity and its various modes of sodomy. Yet, its in-your-face defiance of "normal" conventions arguably presents a more accurate version of the gay life-style than the sanitized propaganda that, so far, has done much to promote greater acceptance of homosexuality in the general public. Gone to the dogs
1999 gave us la vida loca; 2000 gave us ... woof? Yep: Baha Men's radio hit "Who Let the Dogs Out?"-featuring the now-inescapable title hook-line followed by a manmade chorus of rhythmic canine barks-was bigger than Beethoven (the celluloid St. Bernard). Sports fans loved it: In stadiums and arenas across the country, audio specialists unleashed the chorus when the home team scored points or a big hit. Editors and broadcasters loved it: The question "Who let the dogs out?" saw major service in headlines (even WORLD-Nov. 18-was not immune) and sound-bites. Kids loved it, too: The hit was all over teen-icon-manufacturers Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. Mr. Taylor and his nine-man musical act from the Bahamas released six albums prior to this year's "Dogs." Those records sold a combined total of only 25,000 copies-and two different recording companies dumped the band. But their millennial success has the group back on track: "Dogs" sold 2 million copies and has the Baja Men headed back to the studio to record a follow-up album they hope won't be a dog. Riffs 'n' Midriffs
Despite the upsurge of hard-core rap, pop music was dominated by the more innocent harmonies of N Sync, The Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera, and Britney Spears. These performers appealed to adolescent romance rather than rebellion, and they brought back old-fashioned melodies and harmonies to a genre that had degenerated into pure rhythm & noise. Regrettably, Ms. Aguilera and Ms. Spears cultivated a high-school sexual tease image in their videos, dance steps, and wardrobe. As a result, girls from grade school on up began sporting the sex-object look, with the signature fashion statement of midriff tops. How parents could permit their little girls to dress like this remains one of the biggest mysteries of the year. Yet, when all of the dust cleared, the top song of the year, according to Billboard's Hot 100, turned out to be "Breathe," by country star Faith Hill, whose love songs to her husband, fellow country star Tim McGraw, crossed over into the pop stratosphere. Ms. Hill, for all of her beauty and glamour, is a church-going mom who keeps insisting how "normal" she is. The next two spots on the year's final countdown were also taken by an adult: "Smooth" and "Maria Maria" were number two and number three, both performances by Carlos Santana, the middle-aged guitar virtuoso. Imagine there's no money
When a share-the-music Internet technology called Napster sent tremors through the music industry, rock stars who pose as anti-materialist anarchists suddenly were invoking property rights and the rule of law. By logging on to the Napster site, fans can search for a particular tune and copy each other's music collections, all for free. Recording artists cut out of their royalties and record companies deprived of sales went to court to try to shut Napster down. A number of rappers and heavy-metal acts sued not just Napster but their own fans for stealing their music, as well as universities for allowing Napster access on their computer systems. Eventually, a deal was reached for Napster to sell shares to the German music conglomerate Bertelsman (BMG), which would collect a fee for the service and distribute royalties. The Napster debate raised legitimate Eighth Commandment ("You shall not steal") issues, and even newer file-sharing technologies will be even harder to police. Cracker rap
Rap music, filled with obscenity-laced chants from the mean streets about drug deals, murder, prostitution, and crime, surpassed country music this year as the biggest-selling genre after rock 'n' roll. But it is not just poor African-American children-whose lives, tragically, find these subjects all too relevant-who are buying this music. White, affluent, privileged children from the 'burbs have become one of rap's biggest audiences. This popularity culminated in the rise of rap's biggest star to date, an angry white male with the Leave-it-to-Beaver name of Marshal Mathers who goes by the name of Eminem. His raps about murdering his wife and raping his mother take the form to new lows of depravity. Now that whites have taken over rap, maybe it's time for blacks to invent a new musical style, one not so easy to spoil. Potterville
A children's book blew away the bestseller charts, as the new Harry Potter title, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by a former welfare mother from England, J. K. Rowling, introduced millions of children-and their parents-to the sustained-attention-span joys of reading. Too bad the story was about a school for witches. Christians generally sympathetic to the genre of fantasy were torn. Harry Potter's magic tricks were not Satanic or evil, yet the new vogue of real-life witchcraft among young people was troublesome. In the midst of the debate, many people fell for an Internet hoax, circulating a satirical article in the humor publication The Onion-which sarcastically said that Harry Potter was instrumental in converting thousands of children to Satan-and taking it for fact. Unsafe at any dose
The Food and Drug Administration unleashed on the United States in September the highly touted do-it-at-home abortion in a bottle, RU-486. Reality is vastly different from the claims, of course: The abortion drug has known side effects such as severe cramping and nausea, as well as bleeding that is heavy enough in some cases to require a transfusion. Nor is RU-486 all that convenient: The entire chemical abortion procedure can take days, even weeks, and sometimes requires a surgical abortion to finish the job. So complicated is the regimen that many college campus medical clinics declined to make available the abortion pill. But medical insurers quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Several major managed-care plans, including Aetna, United HealthCare, and Cigna, announced they would cover RU-486 abortions under their standard health plans. Rough draft
Rival teams of scientists announced in June that they had completed the first draft of "the book of life": The publicly funded Human Genome Project and the private biotech firm Celera Genomics Corporation trumpeted the end of their fiercely competitive 10-year quest to map the human genetic code. Decoding the three billion chemical "letters" in human DNA is one of history's great scientific milestones. Theorists believe mapping the letters will usher in a new era of genetic-based medicine, enabling doctors to treat the underlying genetic causes of hundreds of human disorders, including heart disease and cancer. Maybe. But cracking God's human biological code may also have darker consequences. When scientists announced the completion of the human-genome project, the Associated Press reported, "Researchers believe it could ultimately let doctors tailor treatment to individuals and even correct genetic flaws before birth." Or reject those who are "flawed." Already, amniocentesis procedures assist abortionists in identifying Down syndrome and Trisomy 13/18 babies so they can be killed before birth. New discoveries could lengthen the list of targeted babies. Ethicist Celeste Condit forecast a possible medical future with prenatal genetic screening designed to weed out genetically flawed babies before birth, with jobs and health insurance denied to those at risk of serious disease. She also wrote of "career eugenics," the sorting of young children into career tracks based on their "genetic potential." Monkey off our backs
A line of scientific research that casts serious doubt on Darwin's theory of random evolution kept racking up the evidence and attracting the attention of mainline scientists. Intelligent Design scientists testified at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., and held conferences at Baylor and at Harvard to air their views. At Concordia University-Wisconsin, top critics of Intelligent Design were brought in to give their best shots, but the debates only showed the strength of the arguments that the universe is not random but has been designed. Nevertheless, faculty members of the nation's top Southern Baptist university, Baylor, were afraid that their secular peers might think them "creationists." They fought Baylor's Michael Polanyi Center-an institute set up to study the relationship between theology and science and to sponsor Intelligent Design research-and unseated its head, William Dembski, a prominent Intelligent Design theorist. "Whassup?!"
It was an advertising campaign that left a nation with its tongue hanging out-literally. Budweiser's "Whassup" ads-which first featured men drawling the greeting to each other over the telephone, tongues extended toward the floor on the final syllable-first aired in late December 1999 during NBA basketball games. But it wasn't until the Whassup guys made their Super Bowl debut that the real buzz began. By spring, the "Whassup" greeting had exploded into a national male-bonding phenomenon that saw America's men and boys exchanging the tonsil-baring salutation. "Whassup?!" became so popular, in fact, that Anheuser-Busch decided to trademark the word. The concept for the ads came from Charles Stone III, a director with Storm Films in New York. Mr. Stone, whose background is in music videos, has exchanged the "Whassup?!" greeting with his friends for about 15 years. In 1998, Mr. Stone produced a short film that eventually gave rise to a full-blown campaign developed by advertising giant DDB Worldwide. Mr. Stone directed the ads and stars in them along with real-life friends Paul Williams, Fred Thomas, and Scott Brooks. As the Whassup guys, the buddies hit it big: The new campaign based on their years-old greeting has since spun off international promotions, a clothing line, even a potential television program featuring the original friends.

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