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John Travolta
Wings of Degeneration: John Travolta brought angels down to earthiness in "Michael."

Photo by Zade Rosenthal

1996 in Reveiw

By Richard von Busack

When the tax base dries up and the roads grow potholes, there's always someone to sell you 4X4s with oversized tires. When real estate gets precious and living space gets smaller, CDs are invented to take up room that you wouldn't have anyway for your bulky record collection.

If you can't go outside because there are too many violent maniacs running around with guns, there will always be people you can pay to bring you food. No matter how life declines, there's always somebody you can hire to mail you a pillow or to sand off the rough edges of life.

This then is the essence of the Year 1996 Made Word: Safesizing™.

The satirical paper The Onion surpassed everyone this year in its weekly parodies of the grisly tedium of the daily newspaper. One of its best mock headlines was "UN Plans to Childproof Globe by 2020."

The work seems to have already begun in earnest. Most of the outlets of cultural electricity in 1996 were jammed with a baby-proof plastic prong.

There was Safesized™ Dionysian ecstasy to be had in the tune you loved to hate, that song oilier than cut-rate lunch meat, the fabulous macarena ("My boyfriend plays the ocarina/it is so shrill and distracting/I don't like it/I really hate it/Makes me think of cartoon pigs dancing").

In mainstream life, the progress of accommodations continues to keep daily life and the cultural scene, in S.J. Perelman's phase, as torpid as a moat full of carp.

World Wide Crib

The Internet, the last frontier, is even as we speak being Safesized™ by marshals buckling up their gun belts and forming posses to smoke out child pornographers. As is well known, the Internet is ripe with these fiends. Rumor has it that they're communicating through spam email, the last place anyone would look.

Apparently there's software that translates annoying electronic junk mail into prohibited communiqués. Missives with such code phrases as "Earn $$$$ From Your Home" conceal the message "I have naked pictures of Mason Reese"; "Cash in on Cyber Revolution" equals "NAMBLA meets tonight."

The fabled "$200 Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe" is, to those with the right de-encryption program, a story of unspeakable perverts preying on the most vulnerable and at-risk members of our society. Namely, suckers.

Watch Your Wallet

Safesizing™ means watching our language and our wallets. Wal-Mart uses its clout to censor records. Ted Turner, master of ex post facto censorship, keeps America Safesized™ by protecting us from the David Cronenberg's Crash and Anjelica Huston's TV movie Bastard Out of Carolina.

Turner is understandably repelled by tales of car-crash fetishism and incest. After all, he lives in a part of the country noted for The Dukes of Hazzard and wreath-shaped family trees.

And where does one look for rebellion, then? To Madonna, a famed connoisseur of butts now content to gaze at her daughter's diapered rump? To Spike Lee, who just Safesized™ his career (pace the Wall Street Journal of Dec. 5, 1996) by creating a new ad agency, where he'll be lending Budweiser and McDonald's that street authority they need? To Melissa Etheridge and Dennis Rodman and--tease, tease, tease--Ellen DeGeneres, all three examples of John Waters' law, "Being gay isn't enough."

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Jingle All the Way to the Bank: Arnold Schwarzenegger made nice in 1996.

To the movies, to watch Schwarzenegger and Stallone getting all sensitive? To performance art, as practiced by Justine Bateman? (According to the AP, Bateman was at L.A.'s happening nightspot the Viper Lounge dressed in a cowgirl outfit, collecting toilet paper under her arm while saying, "Come to me, come to me" as an oblique protest against too-permissive immigration policies.)

Who could blame younger people who looked backward, slouching toward Safesized™ transgressions by smoking cigars, disinterring exotic dancers and listening to Mel Torme? (Trends for next year: pipe-smoking, long-line underwear, "bathrobe nation" designer pajamas, pot roast and golfing. Wake me up when they bring back wife swapping.)

Keeping the Bloodhounds at Bay

Safesizing™ means straightening up and getting married whether you like it or not. That publishing phenomena The Rules gave battle plans on how to land a man through deception, dissembling and manipulation.

Last year, The Celestine Prophecy helped your spiritual evolution. This year, The Rules helped your psychic powers. All you had to do was read the book, and you could magically predict how these marriages were going to end.

Here's a preview of my upcoming work, Breaking the Rules: How to Keep the Bloodhounds at Bay (Gusset and Dewlap). The book will include such tips as the following: Women respect thriftiness; surprise her with a bouquet of hand-picked freeway oleanders. Frankness is valued; if you need to break a date at the last minute, explain why ("I'd love to go dancing with you tonight, Alice, but I have the trots real bad").

Men want to know that their wives will be around for the thin as well as the thick, since God knows there's never a shortage of thin. Plan a candlelight supper, or if you can't afford candles, a cigarette-promotional flashlight and gruel for two. Gruel: It's to drool for* ("Hey, the Romans conquered an empire on bellyfuls of this stuff.")

Men need to show their leadership through assertive conversation ("Whose more mighty, Superman or the Incredible Hulk") while learning to ask for intimacy ("C'mon, doll face, surrender it").

Safesizing™ means believing in angels. The 1997 angel fetish will give scholars of our era grounds to pose the question, What the hell was that all about? Can we blame Wim Wenders for this?

Claire Danes
William Shakespeare's After-School Special: Claire Danes donned wings as Juliet.

We just sprayed for angels yesterday, and look, they're back flitting around; call the landlord. A few of the syrupy seraphs: Claire Danes, outfitted with ducky little wings in William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet; John Travolta molting in Michael; Denzel Washington looking embarrassed in The Preacher's Wife; and Dolly Parton and Della Reese sporting unaerodynamically-sound things with feathers in Touched by an Angel.

Remember when Hallmark was producing Hallmark Hall of Fame TV shows? Now the favor's being returned; they're basing TV shows and movies on Hallmark ceramic statues. I thought the millennium was supposed to be scary, not gooshy.

Soul Aerobics

Safesizing™ means getting your house in order. Are soul aerobics going to endure a boom and bust, like fitness centers? Last week, Reuters reported that 269 American family doctors agreed that religion can make people healthier--presumably if the people in question don't handle snakes, throw themselves under a juggernaut or become penitents (perhaps a little mild scourging tones the abductors).

Baby Boomers approaching the big 50 must be hearing the sound of the grave yawning. In the meantime, the nation pored over Genesis, led by Bill Moyers and that smart rabbi whose name I can never remember.

My favorite passage is 27:11, the same text Peter Cook's vicar illuminated in that famous Beyond the Fringe routine "Take a Pew": "Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man."

What did the authors of this passage mean for modern civilization? Aren't we all, really, smooth, when we ought to be hairy?

Warm and Fuzzy

Safesizing™ means getting America's morals back on track. If we can't become more moral, at least we can talk about it, which is the next best thing.

The nation is reaching for values, presumably as a reaction to the pot-smoking hippie-dippies who infected a generation with cynicism, poor financial prospects and a little venereal disease. Of course, most dropouts are--take it from one who knows--far too busy screwing up their own morals to take on a project as vast as screwing up the morals of the nation. That's why they left it to the experts.

Former nonpartisan Morals Czar Dick Morris' perhaps too on-the-nose comeuppance summed up the whole warm, fuzzy year, the whole do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do core of Safesizing™, as described by the ancient Roman wiseass Martial, c. 80 AD (translation by the great James Michie):

    O Mores! O tempora! (Oh, morals, oh times!)
    Good old Cicero
    Exclaimed over a 100 years ago ...
    Why trot the trite quotation
    Out now ... why complain? ...
    If you think "times" are bad, by all means moan
    but don't accuse our morals--blame your own.

*"Gruel: It's to Drool For"™ is the 1997 motto of the National Gruel Council.

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