NEW YORK --
even for those who've earned their fame penning clever phrases
for the hungry masses, this item seemed almost too perfect to be real:
Happy champagne socialists gather in Pravda on May Day!
If you weren't in the British town of Sedgefield listening to Prime
Minister-elect Tony Blair expound on the country's "decent values," then the
place to be May 1, Thursday night, was in the dim concrete basement of
Pravda, one of Manhattan's trendier Lower East Side bars. There, the Labor
Party's 100 or so New York exiles drowned nearly two decades of bad memories
with (French!) champagne, ending years when most have slunk around this
little island, rather than their own, having nary a good word to say about
As Britain's Independent Television News flashed Labor victory after Labor
on the television screens around the bar, the atmosphere
in Pravda became positively tearful.
New Yorker editor Tina Brown parked herself in a corner for most of the
night, telling every journalist who'd listen how "alienated" she'd felt from
Britain all these years, and how at that moment, she was gripped with an
intense feeling of homesickness. Left unsaid, perhaps, was a slight twinge of
unease from the less-than-flattering portrait in her magazine last month of
her new prime minister, written by "Primary Colors" author Joe Klein.
Alongside her was her husband, Random House editor Harold Evans, who acted as
a kind of unofficial celebratory host, making the rounds with a
large Labor-red rosette pinned to his lapel.
"I've lived through many elections and always been very independent," he
said, as if to remind those too young to know that one of the most powerful
U.S. publishers was once one of the most powerful British newspaper editors.
Then, dropping his voice, he confessed that his father, a die-hard Laborite
who'd been a steam-train driver, had been appalled that he'd once voted
Conservative. "Now I feel in touch with my roots more than ever," Evans said.
Others rediscovering their roots included British comedian and television
actor Robbie Coltrane ("Cracker") and Harper's Bazaar editor Elizabeth
Tilberis. Times of
London correspondent James Bone offered a handy tip to the bouncers, anxious
to keep some underage Brits outside in the very-British rain. "Ask them if
they remember the last Labor government," he said. "If the answer's yes,
they're old enough to come in."
So where were the Tory expats this night?
"There aren't any," said Ian Williams, a freelance British journalist in New
York. "At least not that we can find." He should know: Williams said he and
Vanity Fair writer (and regular Salon contributor) Christopher
Hitchens had spent weeks attempting to organize a televised debate
against Conservatives in the United States. They tried National Review
editor John O'Sullivan, Williams said, but when O'Sullivan
canceled, they ran dry. "We couldn't find anyone else."
And what led Lauren Hutton to bounce through the doorway late in the evening,
breaking the little-black-dress code with leggings and a purple blouse? No
one remembered her having a British accent.
Hutton laughed when asked. "Cumbria, you know. Before 1717. Then, we all
wound up in Mississippi, but there are still 27 English hamlets called
Hutton, so I feel connected. Maybe all the bullshit there will end, and
things will be better." Then, mulling over her British roots, Hutton blew
smoke in my face and added: "I also had two British lovers for a long time
who I'll love forever ... although they took quite some training."
By the time Tony Blair appeared on screen to declare victory, the air had
totally fogged with cigarette smoke, and two bleary-eyed men slumped against
a door post, one in a red bow tie, toasting the moment with half-empty glasses
Shooting a glance at them, Williams said: "I have a dreadful suspicion I'm
going to turn out to be a champagne socialist."
exit, pursued by cops
With "The World's Scariest Police Chases," parts I and II, the Fox Network has transformed high-speed lunacy into an extreme spectator sport -- and picked up some 100 mph ratings.
BY G. BEATO
given O.J. Simpson's killer ratings on the afternoon and early evening of June 17, 1994, it's a wonder it took almost three years for the normally quick Fox Network to jump on the latest cash cow: the police chase.
Now the network is making up for lost time. "The World's Scariest Police Chases" first aired on Feb. 2; it scored so well in the Nielsens that Fox reran it just a month later. And when this second showing earned Fox's highest ratings for the week, besting even "The X-Files," the network knew it was onto something. Hence, "The World's Scariest Police Chases II," which aired last Sunday, and, if history is any indication, will be airing again real soon.
The World's Scariest shows share a Sunday night time slot on Fox with similar programming: The last few months have brought us "World's Most Incredible Animal Rescues," "World's Funniest Kids Outtakes," "World's Funniest Party Disasters," "World's Funniest Outtakes No. 5" and "TV's Funniest News Outtakes," among others. Assembled from sound stage and newsroom leftovers, with the occasional contribution from the at-home video chef, these shows are a textbook example of late-'90s media repurposing -- they even manage to appropriate material from each other on a regular basis. They're perfect programs for an age of media overload: cheap, appealing to camcorder buffs, fragmentary and non-linear, offering the illusion of channel-surfing without actually requiring anyone to change the channel. It's no coincidence that Fox positions the "World's Whateverest Whatevers" series against Mike Wallace and company: it's the post-MTV challenger to the standard-bearer of old-fashioned linear television. It's "60 Seconds" vs. "60 Minutes."
Even among its low-budget brethren, however, "World's Scariest Police Chases" stands out as a triumph of economy. While the "Funniest" shows employ a celebrity host and a studio audience to generate laughs and "awwws" and applause on cue, "Police Chases" requires no such trappings. All that's needed are a few clips of Oregon Sheriff and "Cops" alumnus John Bunnell in front of a patrol car, a few sound bites from various other officers and the car chase clips themselves. An audience and a set would make it only too obvious that the show is selling cheap, voyeuristic thrills, rather than -- as its producers like to pretend by having narrator Bunnell mouth vague moral platitudes -- providing some form of "public service."
One of the more entertaining aspects of "Police Chases" is the live commentary from reporters in TV news helicopters. With sweeping aerial shots revealing potential paths of escape and imminent obstacles, the reporters approach the situation as if doing play-by-play for a new extreme sport. Gearing up for their version of the home run call -- "Oh, he just broadsided a white Buick!" -- they describe various car-chase techniques and subtleties that would otherwise escape the casual viewer. Upon hearing them smoothly toss off obscure car-chase jargon like the "hit maneuver" and "spike strips," you can't help but wonder how often these reporters document this sort of thing.
The main attraction, of course, is the car chases themselves. Almost every clip has its own small-scale quirk or innovation -- a driver going the wrong way down a highway at 70 mph; frustrated New Zealand cops throwing their night sticks at a car that keeps managing to elude them. And of course there's the added frisson of their stranger-than-fiction reality: Yes, some kid in a stolen 40-foot motor home actually thought he could outrun the police (and the news copters, which are, in fact, far more tenacious pursuers) by going off-road into the Southern California desert. Where exactly did he think he was going to hide?
Despite their winning singularities, the chases all follow the same inevitable plot: Out-of-control driver endangers pedestrians and other motorists; police officers, often out of control themselves, attempt to run the driver off the road; driver continues his flight even as his tires blow out and his car showers sparks in its wake; driver hits another car, or a tree, or a lamp post; car comes to a violent halt; driver tumbles out of it and continues his improbable escape on foot; a dozen screaming cops jump on him and get in as many subtle whacks as the video cameras will permit. After a dozen scenes like this (the show is an hour long, and the clips run anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes), the dramatic tension begins to fade. Monotony at 100 mph is as boring as monotony at half that speed.
On occasion, however, "Police Chases" takes a more personal look at the captured drivers, and these moments are always fascinating. A man who stole a $100,000 Bentley from a showroom and led a convoy of cops on a long, low-speed chase calmly asks, "Why all the trouble? I was just minding my own business, only going 30 miles per hour." Another man, who kidnapped a woman and then led the police on a long, dangerous chase, yells out a jury-rigged justification: "Everything I do I treat people with love!" As anyone who's ever fled from the cops knows, you've got to change speeds now and then to keep things interesting.