TABLOID NEWS SERVICES, INC.
Human Robots, Porn Siblings and Other Modern Horrors
MATT WELCH writes from LOS ANGELES
[Aug. 31, 1998] -- "So Matt, do you watch much Jerry Springer?"
It was an old friend of mine, the kind of guy you see once every two years, in a different country, for a night of self-conscious parlor babbling.
The house I have just moved away from, I explained to him, was filled with teevees that played Jerry Springer, often in the room adjacent to my makeshift office.
"It's fascinating, it really is," he shot in. "At first glance it seems very chaotic and wild, but actually each show is carefully structured ... they start off with some 'outrage' that you expect, but then they bring out the lesbian girlfriend's mother to escalate things, and then there's something that truly shocks you at the end, like the mother and the girlfriend had been having an affair for 11 years."
Since I have known him, my friend has worked as a presidential adviser, an investment banker and a starving screenwriter. He is currently practicing the latter profession, leaving plenty of time for anthropological teevee observation.
"The other day they had this amazing show. It was a twin brother and sister - who were lovers! And the crowd was just belligerent and finally shocked for once, but then they started explaining about how they were porn actors -- of course -- and started working on the same films, and eventually it came around that they really liked being together, and the audience just transformed. It was incredible to watch. They're up there, clearly fondling each other on stage, talking about how having sex with each other is like having sex with themselves, and the audience is like, 'That's disgusting! Shame on you! Where can I buy the tape!?'"
Naked and Disfigured
It's been 10 long, long years since Jane's Addiction told us that Nothing's Shocking. So many wholly unimaginable things have happened since then, that the band itself seems like a slightly embarrassing relic from another era.
Since that album's release the world has seen Tianenmen Square, the Berlin Wall, concentration camps in Europe, peace in Central America and the near-total economic collapse of Japan. We now have umpteen 24-hour news channels talking about the president's penis, a money-losing device called the Internet that has driven the stock market to double in value, and $19 flights to San Francisco. Man now routinely clones mammals, sews human ears on the backs of laboratory mice, and practices a discipline called "genetic therapy." New York is nice, reporters submit wordlessly to urine tests, and there are 175 new qualifications for the death penalty.
Meanwhile Jerry Springer and his slightly more respectable cousins in teevee and radio have added several new layers of sheetrock to the vast national temple of self-flagellation, which most every American seems keen to worship at.
Shine the light on any given moment and you'll see things that would have been inconceivable 10 years ago.
Even as I type the news radio is talking matter-of-factly about a "man who killed two of his children and forced their siblings to bury them in the Angeles National Forest." Earlier tonight in the car I listened to a 16-year-old girl tell a national radio audience that she has had sex every day for seven months without having an orgasm, and that her father was kicked out of her house for molesting her between the ages of 0 and 2, and that her mother was molested by her grandfather. The host made some joke about "Daddy rubbing you in the crib."
The horrible truth is that I don't care, and worse yet that I am deeply suspicious of those outside commentators who claim that they do.
I spent the earlier half of this decade railing against the ignorants who blinked dumbly at the complexities of the various post-Yugoslav wars (I lived close enough to feign passion), but when faced daily with 90 percent of the banal atrocities in my own damn city I put up a much worse show.
Choosing your horrors is one of the diciest games around anymore, even while the business pages are filled with blood and the fund managers talk desperately of "investing in Mars, since there's no confidence in the Earth."
On one hand, spirited outrage is just a stoner's throw away from joyless fundamentalism. People who correctly hurled bricks at U.S. foreign policy in the '60s have now rendered themselves grotesque by howling with equal fervor in support of, say, Fidel Castro's version of Freedom of the Press.
On the other hand, there is an inexhaustible supply of fat, well-educated dullards ready to tell you that your arguments are no more than the whinings of the unqualified poor in a time of the New Prosperity. Until the Great Crash -- which, as I type, is gathering steam -- these tiresome creatures I fear will still have some fleeting influence on our affairs.
Thrust in the middle of these debates are the technophiles, nervous engineers flushed with their own sudden relevance, eternally trying to over-compensate for their humanities gap by proclaiming every new category of LAN code the latest "Revolution."
One such boob is Kevin Warwick, professor of "cybernetics" at Reading University, in England. Warwick stunned 13 people last week when he became the first reported human foolish enough to sew an Intel chip into his forearm, where it can communicate with his e-mail provider, coordinate with global positioning systems -- and perhaps disintegrate into Professor Dumby's blood stream and kill him.
"An implant could carry huge amounts of data on an individual, such as
national insurance number and blood type, with this data being
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