Jar Jar mania must die!

The Village Voice takes Jar Jar theorizing too far; a quasi-national alternative glossy editor's cri de coeur; new theories on love and marriage.

Published June 11, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Village Voice, June 9-15

"The Nelly Menace" by Richard Goldstein

It's only a matter of time. Someone, somewhere is going to e-mail me a gif of Tinky Winky doing Jar Jar Binks doggie style. The latest wave of frenzied debate over the ill-received "Phantom Menace" character centers on the computer-generated Gungan's sexuality. If you believe Rolling Stone, Jar Jar is lovable. Just about everyone else disagrees. Some say he's a racial stereotype; most just think he's annoying. A little-noticed (until now) subcategory of the debate focused on Jar Jar's being gay. Now adding his voice to this ridiculous controversy is Richard Goldstein, for more than 30 years a key Village Voice commentator on pop culture and sex.

In his piece -- the cover story, no less! -- Goldstein attacks the attackers: Jar Jar-bashing, he says, is thinly veiled gay-bashing. For evidence he points to several adolescent Web sites containing homophobic references to the Gungan's effeminate qualities. Goldstein seems to believe that gay-bashing, as well as Ate My Balls pages, are somehow new to the Internet -- so he takes it all seriously, even while poking fun at it all with his hardy-har-har writing style. In his clueless frenzy to find heart-bleeding significance in the Jar Jar jeremiads, Goldstein seems to be trying to make Jar Jar a martyr, a poster child for gay pride. But the piece ends with a non sequitur about notions of "masculin-ity" evolving and gender progression backlash. Huh?

If nothing else, Goldstein's article demonstrates plainly that treating such pop-culture burps as anything more than entertainment is futile and a waste of time. Don't we all have better things to report on? For example, the positively kinky relationship between C-3PO and R2-D2 ...

"Uncovered Sex" by Sharon Lerner

Fortunately, the Village Voice does give some editorial space to legitimate issues, such as Sharon Lerner's intelligent article on gender inequity in health-care costs in general and legislation that would require health insurers to cover the cost of the birth control pill in particular. Or the largely anecdotal, but nonetheless poignant writing by Eileen Sutton and Karen Houppert on how laws meant to protect battered women are actually harming them. I realize that such topics aren't quite as reader-enticing as a discussion of the sexuality of an animated character, but they're worth reading.

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Speak, Summer 1999

Disillusionment is a bitter thing! It breaks the heart and clouds the senses -- especially if you happen to be editor of a foundering, quasi-national alternative glossy. In the editor's note of the Summer '99 issue of Speak, editor and publisher Dan Rolleri reveals, with heartbreaking earnestness, that magazines like Gear and Maxim make journalistically shoddy deals with advertisers and reel in readers with stupid copy while magazines like his -- O the injustice! -- continue to struggle.

Now, Speak is a nice little magazine, always more notable for its imaginative, sometimes illegible, design than its content -- though the substance of the writing and subject matter has improved in the past couple of issues. Is it on par with other national glossies? No. Rolleri writes: "When I entered publishing four years ago I was convinced everyone else was getting it wrong. Young people were starved for a smart and vibrant magazine, not another crass promotional vehicle." Perhaps it takes four years to realize that most people, the magazine-buying majority of the country, want/buy/like crap. Why? Nobody knows why. Why are there serial killers? Why do men go bald? Why is Monica fat? Explanations aside, readers of Gear and Maxim aren't particularly concerned about journalistic standards and qualities, anyway -- so why not cut a deal with Nike? Publishing is a business, after all. Speak itself seems to be funded almost entirely by the tobacco industry.

Like Rolleri, I don't want to see intelligent writing on left-of-mainstream topics go unpublished. Alas, there are no easy answers. You either have to lower your standards or reduce your expectations of success. Perhaps more soul-searching is in order for our dear editor-publisher friend, though I hope he'll confine future rants to his diary.

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The Long Island Voice, June 9-15

"Lessons From the Last Closet: The Secret Lives of Gay Teachers" by Beth Greenfield

Forget Jar Jar. Remember your high school gym teacher? Even at the extremely fundamentalist Monte Vista Christian School in Watsonville, Calif. -- where I spent the better part of junior high cleaning horse stables in detention -- we had a clearly lesbian PE teacher. She was shacked up with the biology instructor. They were, um, roommates. Beth Greenfield's essay on "the last closet" is a sweetly personal take on why gay people become teachers, even though it means adopting an unwritten "don't ask/don't tell" policy on their sexuality.

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Hermenaut, Issue No. 14 (Winter, 1998)

I don't know what came over me. I was sitting in my recliner about to pry open the latest issue of Vanity Fair when I found myself ripping off the cover and shredding it into little, teeny pieces. Truth is, I just couldn't bear the thought that someone was paid several thousand dollars to profile and glorify that buck-toothed, vacuous twit Julia Roberts, who's contributed nothing significant to the world and has lived a bland life (save for the brief marriage to Lyle Lovett). It was as if Dan Rolleri had temporarily taken possession of my soul! Fortunately an antidote to the source of my madness was close at hand. Hermenaut: The Digest of Heady Philosophy had put French philosopher Simone Weil on the cover! I devoured Hermenaut editor Joshua Glenn's portrait of this fascinating woman -- from her studies in philosophy to her break with the Communists, from her brief career as a soldier in the Spanish Civil War to her death at the age of 34 from philosophically inspired self-starvation. The rest of this zine -- this issue's theme is "technology/anorexia" -- is equally well-written and intellectual without being condescending or obscure -- and it's meaty at 168 pages. E-mail info@hermenaut.com to find out how you can get your own copy.

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Kansas City Pitch Weekly, June 9-15

"The Future of Love" by Barbara Graham

In the first of a three-story package on love and marriage, Barbara Graham takes a meandering tour of contemporary and somewhat dated theories on companionship, soul mates and romantic love. Unfortunately, you have to tread through a mess of useless, outdated information before getting to two interesting discussions: the debate over biological explanations for passion and love, and the determination of Generation Xers to do things differently than their parents. But it's worth reading, and the illustrations, sadly uncredited, are magnificent. Less can be said of Tom Wofford's throwaway piece on how to obtain a mail-order bride and Rhonda Reeves' weightless argument against the institution of marriage.

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Austin Chronicle, June 4-10

"When Good Food Goes Bad" by Mick Vann

After a vodka gimlet or two and some gentle prodding, my boyfriend will unleash his tale of the grease pit. While working at an Arizona department store restaurant in the 1980s, once a week he would mop all the grease, crumbs and discarded chunks of iceberg lettuce and soggy fries into one steaming vat. There it would sit until a soap company came to suction up the pit's contents. The moral: Restaurants are not clean places, though they try to be -- and, indirectly, they help sanitize us all. In "When Good Food Goes Bad," Mick Vann reports on efforts to revise the local food code, unchanged since 1973, as well as the overall struggle between food providers and bacteria. For anyone who's spent the night horking up pork tamales, it's a fascinating read, and Vann clearly relishes his subject. He attends a meeting of the Austin Restaurant Association, audits the food manager's certification class, makes the rounds with a food inspector, explains all the ways bacteria and viruses travel from people to food and back to people and the terrifying problem with heat lamps. This piece comes with a side-dish of appetizing photographs of things like a fly perched on a raw chicken thigh.

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S.F. Weekly, June 9-15

"Wag the Mission" by John Mecklin

An SF Weekly prank on other San Francisco news outlets may or may not prove that "the San Francisco news media are habitually lazy, press-release driven, gullible, and focused on easily presented controversy, rather than substance," as John Mecklin claims. But writing a 2,300-word cover story to gloat about it certainly raises suspicions of unprofessional behavior and immaturity over at the Weekly's headquarters. If you have to toot your own horn so loudly, it's certainly possible your prank isn't quite as successful, or meaningful, as you think it is.

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Seattle Weekly, June 10-16

"Y2K ready, set, doh!" by Richard Martin

Microsoft's solution to the Y2K problem? Download more products! Richard Martin writes an amusing piece on his attempts to protect Windows 98 from Implosion 2000.

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Willamette Week, June 9-15

"The Docs' Files" by Maureen O'Hagan

The Willamette Week has an interesting ability to raise large, complex issues within the context of a personal profile. Done right, it can bring an issue alive, making dry topics -- legislation, medicine, etc. -- easier and more enjoyable to learn about. A fine example of this is Maureen O'Hagan's piece on Oregonian Jack McIsaac and his efforts to pass a bill requiring the Board of Medical Examiners to compile information on all the doctors in the state for patients to reference.

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L.A. Weekly, June 11-17

"Hailey's Comet" by Nancy Rommelmann

If you care about what Bruce Willis did to a small town in Idaho, this article is for you!

"Plug me in, turn me on" by Constance Monaghan

This report on cyber-dildonics makes me a little uncomfortable. The thought of some fellow with a joystick rub-a-dubbing a woman miles of telephone wire away just isn't what I want to picture in my mind when I think of technological innovation. Although I'm not sure what this has to do with "Ma," who Constance Monaghan addresses in her opening paragraph, it is fun to read about Monaghan's adventures with sampling the goods (she doesn't go so far as to actually strap them on to her nether-parts). It seems the mere existence of such gadgets and the booming industry of women who are paid to let men diddle them from afar warrants some further commentary, sadly absent from this piece.

"Don't Kill It After All" by Gary Davis

OK, there's no shortage of "Gee whiz! It's amazing what kids can do these days!" technology reporting out there. And most of it is so uncritical, you can't take it seriously. But this! This strange device called TiVo! It records programs while you watch; you can freeze, rewind, skip commercials! Gary Davis has sold me on it! I want it! I want it now!

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Baltimore City Paper, June 9-15

"Crash-Test Kids" by Curt Guyette

What happens when a man whose daughter was killed by an airbag refuses to settle out of court? Curt Guyette files a well-written report on the human toll of corporate risk-assessment: weighing the cost of a few lawsuits against improving a product's safety.

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Whether it's Jar Jar's swishy walk or the biological roots of gender that fascinates you, here is some further reading on the joys of gender-bending and plain old gender.

Suck: Filler Lots about those people who aren't men -- and a little about those who are

The Cosmo man A man explains his love for women's mags

Chicks with guns The Boston Phoenix tackles a perennial favorite

Women inherently kick ass A profile of anthropologist Helen Fisher, who argues that women's biological differences will lead them to become "the first sex"

By Jenn Shreve

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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