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The Fatty Arbuckle Memorial Awards for 2003

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was the first actor to make a million and the first to have his life and livelihood destroyed by a few bad moves. By contrast, the contempo fuckups described below may suffer little or no consequences for their own malfeasance. Who’s the last person you know who got what he deserved?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Mission Accomplished
Strutting onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in flyboy drag to declare victory has emerged as the much-mocked embodiment of Administration Iraqi Idiocy. On the plus side, padding his basket and working that whole Lost Member of the Village People look may have endeared the president to Log Cabin Republicans, the gaggle of gay cons and neocons who’ve been yearning for a reason to love their leader. Secret photos of Karl Rove in Navy Seal wet-shorts have yet to surface, though candids of Dick Cheney’s infamous Bohemian Grove muumuu luau are rumored to be tucked in Matt Drudge’s sock drawer.

PARIS HILTON: Self-Help Filmmaker
Nicky’s sister didn’t really fuck up — but thanks to her we get to relearn that most subversive of social truths: The rich aren’t different from you and me, they just get to behave like crack-addled trust-fund sluts in public and not have to worry about losing the jobs they’ll never have to have. How do you get fired from “Fabulous!”

JOHN KERRY: Harley-Davidson Man
As can happen only when politicians try to look hep, John Kerry roaring onto Leno while straddling a hog succeeded — not in infusing the candidate with macho panache, but in making him look desperate, withered and lame. Before Howard Dean marches out his karaoke Germs medley at the Whisky, this trend must be stopped.

MELISSA RIVERS: Some Girls Just Want To Be Validated
This was the year Melissa (talented daughter of Joan) Rivers offered to do a layout for Playboy — and Playboy turned her down. An editor for the senior citizen of skin mags felt that Melissa just wasn’t what they needed to “attract a younger audience . . .” The good news for Melissa: With a bit more breast augmentation, some catch-up rhinoplasty, maybe some more breast augmentation, a judicious dab of vaginal lip gloss, and, what the hell, a smidge more breast enhancement, there’s probably a blank page in JUGGS with her name on it. Mom has got to be kvelling.

TRENT LOTT: One More Reason Free Speech Is a Beautiful Thing
At a banquet honoring the late Southern Viagra lizard Strom Thurmond, Devo-wigged Mississippi Senator Trent Lott declared that this country might have been a damn sight better had his mentor (known as “Thurmo-pants” to the gals) been elected president. That Strom baby had actually run on the Segregationist ticket did not seem to faze Lott — until he had his cracker ass handed to him when he was yanked out of the Majority Leader slot by ever-equality-minded fellow Republicans. To Trent’s credit, rather than slink back to the plantation, spending his twilight years bitterly swilling juleps and polishing his collection of antique lawn jockeys, he has stayed on in the Senate, where he continues as a behind-the-scenes champion for the little folks in the Big House.

JENNIFER LOPEZ: Because She Can
Maybe it’s not, like, a giant fuckup, but, while attending an Anaheim Angels game this year, female baseball fans were forced to trudge halfway around the stadium for a bathroom so that Jennifer Lopez could relieve herself in private. Ms. Lopez, adding to her long list of credits the title of Toilet Diva, may or may not have had stadium security rope off a ladies’ room for fear some stealthy Halo devotee with an ass-cam would snap some pix and snag a fortune selling them to the tabs. But even if she’s just pee-shy, her behavior stands out as skanky. Wearing a Trucker’s Friend would have been classier. They make them for ladies now.

NEIL BUSH: On the Grift With Another Fake Texas Overachiever
In the late ’80s, this Bush brother was busted for pillaging the Silverado Bank, which the government bailed out for a billion after fining him 50 G’s and restricting his banking activities. As is the Bush Boy Way, early failure simply paved the way for even greater, more lucrative failure later. Last March, in divorce court, it was revealed that Neil signed on to receive $400,000 a year from Grace, a Chinese semiconductor company — despite having no education or background in the field.

Along with $2 million in stock options, according to court records, a series of women showed up at the door of Neil’s hotel room when he was in China, offering to have sex with him free of charge. Not that any of this represents a fuckup for Mr. Bush . . . But at a time when Brother George is pandering to business by promising to crack down on abusive Chinese trade practices — U.S. electronics manufacturers have shed 2.8 million jobs since 2000, and China’s evil ways are the fave scapegoat — Brother Neil’s free rides could provide major fodder for those seeking to demonstrate the core hypocrisy of the present regime. If anybody were surprised enough to give a shit. All Billy Carter sold was lousy beer. Neil’s got more juice.

MEL GIBSON: It’s All About the Passion
Maybe it’s never wrong to make art from what you believe in — even if what you believe is that Jews killed Jesus, what your father believes is that the Holocaust never happened, and what some of the faith of Moses and Jackie Mason believe is that your particular vision will be a gasoline-soaked rag tossed on the already roaring flames of anti-Semitism. Not that Mel Gibson has to take the heat for any of this. He has already explained that The Passion, his new movie about Jesus’ final hours — in which legions of Semitic ne’er-do-wells are responsible for the Son of God’s demise — was actually directed by the Holy Spirit. Which may be the Lord’s way of saying Alan Smithee.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Powerless
While never reduced to peddling his ample right-wing kiester on Santa Monica to pay for his habit, Rush Limbaugh did hit the kind of bottom only a hardcore, to-the-curb kind of dope fiend can suffer, i.e., blabbering on national radio that drug users — and here I paraphrase — are weak-willed, irresponsible criminals who should be punished to the full extent of the law . . . Happily, junkies everywhere may be a little quicker to hop off the opiate train now that Limbaugh has been outed as one of their own. Forget Charlie Parker, Lenny Bruce or William Burroughs, the new face of dope fienddom in the 21st century is a jowly, mean, biblically hypocritical, weirdly sex-free Republican with a receding hairline and the charisma of a well-groomed corpse. And for that alone we should thank him.

CHARLES LINDBERGH: Make Room for Daddy
Okay, so he’s dead. It’s a technicality. Last month, America’s most heroic Atlantic-crossing Nazi sympathizer was outed as having a secret second family in the Fatherland. Lindbergh, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart as the ultimate straight arrow in the biopic Spirit of St. Louis, got the hots for a Munich hatmaker named Brigitte Hesshaimer. Frau Hesshaimer bore Lindy three children. Which, while it may tarnish his integrity, in no way impugns his status as heroic Nazi sympathizer. A retro- active fuckup.

Jerry Stahl’s new novel, I, Fatty, is the story of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, told in the voice of Arbuckle himself. Embracing the early days of Hollywood — when heroin was legal and cocaine came in sodas — it recounts the epic saga of a fat boy who waddled out of Nowheresville, Kansas, to become the first star to make a million a year — and the first to be laid low by an epic scandal of sex and murder. Published by Bloomsbury, the book will be released in June 2004.