Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Ghost busting," Aug. 24, 2002

No longer shocking?

Sydney's Gay Mardi Gras once attracted 750,000 people, making it the world's largest gay celebration. Now the event is bankrupt and participants are bickering over the cause. "Some are blaming it on infiltration by 'straights'; others are pointing the finger at politically correct lesbians," reports Kathy Marks of the UK's Independent.
One reason may be that such events no longer shock many people. In 1978, "Police broke up the first march of 1,000 demonstrators," Ms. Marks notes. "Police officers now march alongside sequin-laden drag queens, which sums up Mardi Gras's dilemma."

The Reagans and Hestons

Charlton Heston's announcement last week that he suffers from Alzheimer's disease drew attention to former president Ronald Reagan. The 91-year-old conservative retired from public life in 1994 after announcing his condition. The New York Daily News reports that the Gipper is "steadily slipping." One source said he could no longer recognize his wife Nancy.
"Until a few months ago, Reagan's physical condition had held steady, even as his mental faculties continued to decline," the paper said. "But that is no longer the case."
Mrs. Reagan issued a statement of support to Mr. Heston, 78, and his wife. "Our family knows all too well the cruelty of this disease, and we pray that God will give the Heston family, especially Lydia, ... the strength to face each day that lies ahead," she said.

No longer shocking, part II

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Peter Bart, the dean of American entertainment writers, reports in Variety that studios are now using the PG-13 tag as a proxy for the R rating. He notes that the number of R-rated movies has fallen by half in recent years; only about one-third of this year's releases have worn the badge. Most puzzling is how the vulgar new Austin Powers movie escaped with only a PG-13 rating.
"Is it a pure coincidence that ratings mavens have seemingly become more liberal at a time when the major distributors are more conservative?" Mr. Bart wonders. "When I asked one studio chief last week, he sat back and grinned: 'Puzzling, isn't it?'"
Mr. Bart argues that the strategy exists to boost new releases in an era when movie theaters strictly guard against underage visitors seeing R movies. "In an epoch when movies open on 7,000 screens and the initial ad campaign may entail $50 million, the majors don't want any hint of controversy," he argues. About movies with R material garnering a PG-13 rating, Mr. Bart concludes that "we have all learned to look the other way."

All reality, all the time

Sick of reality TV? A lot more may be on the way. Fox Reality Channel is on the drawing board, as News Corp. considers whether to show the genre 24 hours a day. It could launch by 2005, according to Louis Chunovic of Electronic Media.
The channel would play off Fox's hit shows like Cops, America's Most Wanted, and American Idol, plus more questionable fare like Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? and Temptation Island. The plans grew from the Rupert Murdoch empire's failed attempt to acquire DirectTV as executives started thinking of new channels to fill audience niches.
"Mr. Murdoch, Peter Chernin, and other senior News Corp. executives have yet to sign off on a budget and a specific launch strategy for the proposed reality network," Mr. Chunovic reports. "But once that green light flashes, the network's development would move quickly to beat potential competitors for the all-reality franchise."

Crime doesn't pay

When Edward Bello was convicted of credit-card theft last December, the judge didn't throw the book at him. Instead, he turned off his TV. In an unusual sentence, his 10 months of home detention included a ban on watching the tube.
At first Mr. Bello accepted the sentence from U.S. District Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, according to The New York Times' Robert Worth. Then the 60-year-old vending machine repairman from upstate New York decided to fight it on First Amendment grounds. A federal appeals court is considering his case.
Judge Hellerstein issued the TV ban in addition to ordering Mr. Bello to pay 10 percent of his income as restitution for the nearly $27,000 he scammed with stolen credit cards. "Judge Hellerstein said he had refrained from imposing a prison term last year largely because Mr. Bello's wife is seriously ill with Crohn's disease," Mr. Worth reports.
Yet Mr. Bello went to a federal appeals court to win back his right to watch This Old House and the Discovery Channel. At an Aug. 8 hearing, Judge Dennis Jacobs was sympathetic to the sentence, saying that the home detention was an attempt to "replicate imprisonment."

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