By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
6. Fu Man Choo-Choo
Every year the media go crazy discovering a hot new story that has been obvious all along. Last year, they realized that the U.S. is a religious country. (Oh, is that why 89 percent of Americans expect to go to heaven?) This year, they discovered China, a hypercapitalist police state that has grown so awesomely powerful that its actresses are now playing geishas. Time put Mao on its cover and touted “China’s New Revolution.” Newsweek gave its own cover to foxy Zhang Ziyi (hilariously introduced as “ZZ Yang” on the Oscar telecast). And Today’s Matt Lauer flew to Shanghai to show all the new skyscrapers. Meanwhile, our bookstores were filled with titles that ranged from the greedy optimism of James McGregor’s One Billion Consumers to the obligatory alarmism of Ted C. Fishman’s China, Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to read Michael Crichton’s hysterical thriller (surely he’s already writing it) about the fiendish Rising Dragon and its secret weapon: Avian Flu!
7.Mr. and Mrs. Pitt
“The stars live on our substance,” wrote French sociologist Edgar Morin in 1961, “and we on theirs.” But don’t take his word for it. Just consider the Jennifer-Brad-Angelina triangle that spawned Team Aniston T-shirts, gave Mr. and Mrs. Smith a boost, and inspired so many tabloid pages that (I hear on good authority) it alone caused the deforestation of Cambodia. Of course, like any gossip with legs, this tale of romantic betrayal starred characters whose archetypal qualities could inspire endless discussion. Did sensible Jen deserve to marry gorgeous Brad in the first place? Could such a good girl possibly hope to compete with a strutting, plush-lipped, bad-girl Angelina? Isn’t Brad, for all his good looks, just like all other men, emotionally dim and susceptible to the next sexy woman who makes a play for him? (Answers: Yes, no, yes.) For all their glamour, the sheer banality of their problems makes this trio just like the rest of us — at least compared to Tom and Katie.
8. Still Crazy After All These Years
While self-promoting flat-earthers like Thomas Friedman promote the “wisdom” of the market — great news: Those cushy European welfare states are being undermined by low-paying jobs in India — people who live with those markets have begun to notice that capitalism may be just a little bit, y’know, irrational. It makes deals with despotic commissars in China. It sells off poor nations’ national resources and gives all the profits to the elite (which is why the Bolivians just elected an ally of Hugh Chavez). It looks at the Los Angeles Times and, dissatisfied with profits of 20 percent (the market demands even higher), starts gutting the paper’s staff. Whenever you notice that capitalism produces a system of winners and losers, one of the winners always tells you, “Yes, there are some temporary problems with the system, yet in the long run we’ll all be better off.” But in the long run we’re all dead (as John Maynard Keynes famously remarked), and in 2006, more and more people began grasping that capitalism’s awesome creative power is matched by its power to destroy.
9. American Cannes-Cannes
At the end of Hineer Saleem’s film Kilometre Zero, two Iraqi émigrés hear a radio report that Saddam has been overthrown. “We’re free!” they shriek, opening their windows to share their joy with the people of Paris. But nobody is listening — the City of Lights remains gray and impassive. When that scene played in Cannes last May, the largely European audience sat in shocked silence at such a violation of political correctness — I mean, this movie was suggesting that Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a good thing. Surely this naive Iraqi filmmaker didn’t see the world as clearly as the worldly Parisians (who did seem a little less, uh, enlightened once France’s young immigrants began rioting about poverty, ghettoization and flagrant discrimination).
A similar stony silence overtakes many Bush-haters when faced with evidence that the invasion — though a dreadful, ideologically driven bungle — isn’t all bad. Are you one of them? Ask yourself three questions. Which made you happier: the capture of Saddam Hussein or the indictment of Tom DeLay? (Be honest now.) Were you at all moved by the sight of those Iraqi voters holding up their purple-inked fingers? If you knew for sure that Iraq would be run by the insurgents — you know, the fascists who blow up buses, markets and police stations — would you still be for immediate withdrawal?
10. The Dalai Lama Weeps
For five years, even fans had fun mocking the hippie-dippie Buddhism that appeared to underlie the worldview of Six Feet Under. But in the show’s final season, creator Alan Ball threw audiences a delightfully shocking spitball: In the third show from the end, he not only killed the show’s main character, Nate (played with majestic, black-hole self-absorption by Peter Krause), but went out of his way not to redeem him. Even lying on his deathbed, Nate behaved cruelly to his wife, Brenda, and, fueled by his customary more-enlightened-than-thou narcissism, anticipated his leap to the next woman who might “save” him. Has TV ever knocked off a popular character more ruthlessly? “If there’s a God,” wrote the show’s chronicler on TelevisionWithoutPity.com, “Nathaniel Samuel Fisher, Jr. (1965–2005) is now melting in Hell.”
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