I dont give a tinkers fig about Jayson Blair anymore. It doesnt tell me anything about the culture of the Times I didnt suspect already. But there are two ancillary issues that bear on the nature of modern culture. One: the cigarette is now a symbol of shadiness and moral dissolution. Newsweek is running a cover story that features the Confabulator of Longacre Square, and hes smoking a cigarette. Well, say no more. The guy smokes. What else do you need to know? In a few years the demonization of smoking will be so complete that a movie set in WW2 will feature a chain-smoking Hitler and an abstemious Churchill, just to telegraph to the audience whos naughty and whos nice.
Two: adults no longer run the Times. To me the most interesting revelation of laffair Blair hasnt been the way a rising star was coddled and cosseted; its the Moose. The Beanbag Moose. As I understand the story, some of the Timespersons were on a retreat in a rural conference center. During one of the meetings, a moose wandered into the grounds, and everyone watched him out the window - but no one mentioned him, because it wasnt germane to the subject of the meeting. This story has become Legend, and has taken on the form of a Beanie Baby, come to enlighten those of us who see the Moose but dare not speak His name. Its a metaphor, you see. A metaphor for unnoticed mooses. (Anyone who's ever been on one of these retreats knows exactly what would have happened if you'd interrupted a meeting on synergistic strategies to say "hey, how come no one's talking about that big moose out there?" Four words: Monday morning drug test.) Now at the Times if you wish you cut to the quick, you place on the table your company-issued beanbag herbivore to symbolize your desire to speak freely.
Grown-ups do not behave this way. Unless they are running a day care. Its a cute anecdote for a retreat, but applied to the real world, to the newsroom, is a sign of how infantile management theory has become. The introduction of the moose splits the staff into two groups: the brown-nosers who put the moose on top of their computer monitor and give it seasonal decorations, and the cynics who stuff the damn thing in their bottom drawer next to the employee manual, the healthcare benefits package, and the rest of the crap the company expects you to read. They look at that moose, and think: if I get fired tomorrow, theyll ask for the moose back. Its their moose. It aint mine. I put this moose up on eBay, Im going to be covering Trenton zoning meetings for the next ten years. Screw the moose.
Theres probably a secret Times subculture of Moose Abuse. No doubt the Moose has been photographed in a strippers cleavage, face down on a bar in a puddle of New Amsterdam lager, sitting in Thompkins Square with an anarchists A photoshopped on his chest, standing outside the building with a cigarette in his mouth.
I repeat: grown-ups do not use metaphorical mooses to break the ice. Lets imagine how that would have worked in WW2:
Patton: Dammit, Ike, I -
Eisenhower: uh uh uh, George. I dont see Mr. Moose. I hear moosey feelings, but the table looks pretty mooseless to me.
Patton: (fingers pearl handle of his revolver) (drops a dirty, wet rag on the table) Thats my moose. It fell under the tank treads. Sir, about Normandy -
Eisenhower: What did you call you moose? Youre supposed to give it a name!
Patton: As soon I saw it was under the treads, I named it Monty.
There is hope: last nights Simpsons was one of the funniest ever. Ever. Aw, be honest, its fulla chiggers. Or Raggedy Andys givin you the button eye dere. Or any number of details, from Moe setting up a bar with the sofa cushions to the Italian-American-Mexican standoff. Top-notch from start to finish. There is hope! Which will be cruelly dashed.
Years ago I caught the end of a sci-fi horror movie on TV, and I was riveted - it seemed as if the producers had hired every single actor in Hollywood and paid them fifty bucks to play dead. Id never seen so many dead people. They were heaped in the subway, piled on the street, strewn in the churches. Big thick heaps of pockmarked, sallow-faced, zombified dead people. A cast of thousands! I never quite figured out what the movie was about, only that the final apocalyptic scene was like nothing Id seen. And it had spaceships, too. Id never caught the entire movie, so when I saw it at the video store this weekend I thought hey, this should be good!
Then the credits start to roll, and you see the words Based on the books The Space Vampires and you think perhaps I have overmisunderestimated this one. The movie was Lifeforce, and I have a crick in my neck from ducking the chunks it blew. Everybody in the movie was miscast, except for the woman who spent the entire film walking around naked, and for Patrick Stewart. You cant miscast him, because he always plays Patrick Stewart. The credits should just be honest, and say:
Prof. Patrick Stewart . . . Patrick Stewart
The most interesting part of the movie, aside from the Space Shuttle refit with solar panels sixteen miles long, was the score. Think: youre a producer who has a strange sci-fi movie about space vampires who suck the life out of people and turn them into leathery desiccated corpses - but not just any old corpse; no, these come back to life after two hours and dance around, because theyve been infected with some sort of space-vampire virus. (Then they blow up.) Eventually all of London gets the virus, and everyone eats everyone else and all their lifeforce gets channeled up to a monstrous spacecraft hovering overhead. Who should score such carnage?
Why, Henry Mancini, of course.
(To be honest he wrote a great theme, but it sounds like World War Two music, and I think he wrote it years ago in case he got a job scoring Where Eagles Dare or A Bridge Too Far.)
But back to the mysteries of Lifeforce. The Space Vampires travel around in an impossibly large spacecraft theyve hidden in the tail of a comet. Lets look at the logic here. We have a species of creature that survives by consuming the lifeforce of other beings. One assumes they survive by sucking the life-force out of animals; they certainly couldnt do it to one another, or they would be incapable of organizing a society capable of things such as space flight. Imagine if everyone in the Saturn program had to drain four quarts of blood from a civilian every 24 hours, and all of the civilians in the world were equally vampiric. Youd never get anything done. So lets say they survive by hoovering up the essence of cows and pigs for the major meals, and voles & stoats for snacktime, etc. Lets assume they tired of this diet, and decided to build a spacecraft to go eat people on other planets. Do they just drive up to the planet, send down the invincible space-vampires and commence eating? No: they hide in a comets trail, go into suspended animation, wait for the comet to pass a planet, and hope that this planet has spacecraft that can come and find them. And when the visitors come knocking, do they spring to life, swarm down onto the planet and eat everyone? Please. That would be so obvious. No, they convert three of their kind to humanoid shape, store them in glass coffins, and let the astronauts take them back to earth, where they will begin their unholy mission to drain the planet of life. Three vampires. Three naked vampires.
And people thought Rumsfelds Plan didnt put enough boots on the ground.
Now, you might be wondering how such creatures could be defeated. Get this: you stab them in the chest with a lead sword. Catches them totally by surprise! They didnt see that one coming! Note to the Space Vampires: 'Round these parts, when someone says vampire we reach for our stakes. If youd known this, you might not have sent your main vampiress down to earth stark naked. I can imagine the planning for this assault:
Space Vampire #1: "So when the astronauts come, we will spring from our suspended animation, feast on their delicious life force, assume their forms, strap protective armor around our most vulnerable spot, and return to earth to spread the contagion."
Space Vampire #2: "I have a better idea. Lets send Bob down here in human female form. Naked. Hell probably end up in some heavily guarded military facility, but if he escapes theyll all be like, whoa, a naked human female, and he can walk right out."
Space Vampire #1: "You say this every time we come to this planet. Every time, its the naked female. And this has worked when? I vote for sudden, violent invasion."
Space Vampire #2: "Lets give Bob a chance to weigh in. What say you, friend?"
Space Vampire Bob: "Well, I do feel pretty. Oh so pretty."
Space Vampire #2: "There you go. Cmon! Were immortal! Whats the rush? We can do the massive invasion next time the comet swings around."
' Space Vampire #1: "By then they will have orbital space platforms with particle beams. Theyll be waiting for us. Theyll destroy our ship while we sleep."
Space Vampire #2 "You know, for a vampire youre awfully gloomy. Look on the bright side!"
Space Vampire #1: "I cant. It burns."
The movie was written by Dan OBannon, who also wrote "Alien." And precious little else since.