Letters to the Editor

Robin Williams stinks (maybe); the WNBA doesn't need The Dunk; attack ads and the First Amendment.

By Letters to the Editor
September 10, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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When good actors go bad



Stephanie Zacharek is on the money about the dilution of Robin Williams'
movie performances. Maybe not surprisingly, his best performances are on the
talk-show circuit, embarrassing Leno and Letterman by pushing the network
censors, daring them to cut away from his endless masturbation gestures and
references. Why do those instances work and his recent movies falter?
Audiences. Give him a crowd to play to and he's Jackson Pollack. Give him a
camera and he's Anne Geddes.


There are two performances that illustrate his range, and I wish Zacharek had
made mention of them. In "Awakenings" he was at his best, restrained and
motivated, recreating Dr. Oliver Sacks. He had an actor of note to work
with (Robert De Niro) and he rose to the challenge, all but eliminating the
obligatory ad-libbed one-liner.

But put him with Spielberg and a legion of kids on a big toy-strewn
soundstage, as in "Hook," and he becomes a leotard-garbed Peter Pan, all
dimples and squinty blue eyes and saccharine glee. Since that film, he's
lost his footing and relied on the easy sympathy of children to buoy his

I used to be a huge Williams fan, wincing from the pain in my ribs during
his HBO specials. It's a much stronger wince these days.


-- Gregory Dickens

So having a moral to a film and giving people something to think about
is a bad thing? So we should just stick to the movies that are purely
comical and don't add a drop of value to our lives? Give me a break.
Robin Williams is a comic genius. He's an excellent actor, and extremely
fun to watch. I especially enjoyed "Patch Adams" because it was more
than just a comedy. It had a point to it, a message; it said
something about life that someone as cynical as yourself completely
missed. There's nothing wrong with an actor trying to do that. Perhaps
you should have interviewed Williams himself.

-- Kevin D. Hendricks


What a shame that Robin Williams has come to this. Zacharek didn't mention the movie that most breaks my heart when I consider the actor Williams could have become -- "The World According to Garp." It is an imaginative and brave performance, one any actor could be proud of. The scenes between Garp and his wife (Mary Beth Hurt) following the accident that kills their son are saturated with pain, loathing and, amazingly, a fierce and wounding love for one another that you feel they would tear forcefully from their bodies rather than express. There's only one brief instance where Williams injects his own stand-up routine into the script -- the lowest stand-up-to-acting ratio of any of his film performances, except perhaps "Moscow on the Hudson."

Williams has gone the way of so many Hollywood actors: The more audiences love you, the better the projects you get to do, the more lovable your projects, the faster audiences tire of being asked to love you. Who could have guessed Williams would become the thinking man's Jim Varney?


-- Victoria Herd

Pasadena, Calif.

While I concur that Robin Williams has become an irritating and utterly
predictable screen commodity, I don't think it takes
hundreds of words of analysis and reflection to get
to the root cause of this lamentable sea change.
The period of Robin Williams' comic
genius coincides with what one might call
"Robin Williams' classic cocaine period," much
as Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde" represents
the epitome of "Dylan's classic methadrine period."

What we are left with after these sorts of individuals
decide to save their own lives at the expense of
our entertainment is a "clean and sober
sensibility," with all the touchy-feely emoting that
travels along with it. If we want stimulating art, we need stimulated artists.


-- Gerard Van der Leun

New York

Stephanie Zacharek is a cynical hack. Robin Williams is a gifted actor who has made a
wonderful assortment of comedies, dramas and even a musical, and anyone who
didn't at least enjoy "Popeye" is so bitterly constipated that a trip to the
ER is certainty in order. It was a movie about a
cartoon sailor who eats spinach and can't talk intelligibly; it wasn't "The
Last Temptation of Christ"!

And Zacharek entirely missed "Seize the Day," the movie of Saul
Bellow's novel where Williams plays a character every bit as tragic and desperate
as anyone you will ever see on stage or screen. So what if, right now, he happens to be playing decent, tenderhearted roles? Williams has a body of work which is as varied and colorful as anyone
in Hollywood. Let him make movies which warm people's hearts -- those
that still have them, that is.


-- Dan Bishto

Slam it, baby!



Silly me. You mean I've been watching WNBA games all this time,
yelling and cheering at the TV and enjoying the athleticism and
power and grace of the sport, and all this time I've actually
been missing out on some magic, mystical athletic exclamation
point called The Dunk?

Ask me if I care. The only reason men are bringing this up is
because the mere idea of women playing as hard and as exciting a
game as men, and doing as good a job, scares the pants off
them. Too many men -- and too many sportswriters
-- define their whole selves, all of their masculinity, by the
fact that they can do something women can't. It's a totally
reactive, negative definition of manhood.


Over the years, there have been a long line of things that women
have not been allowed or thought capable enough to do: voting, holding
public office, flying fighter jets, being astronauts, making money,
playing sports. And in all cases, men have clamored that
the fact that Women Can't Do It and Men Can is what makes them men.

And over time, as women have rightfully expanded ourselves into
any sphere of life that we feel qualified to inhabit, the men have
been having conniption fits, and clinging to thinner and thinner
straws to convince themselves that they're still men. OK, so
women can vote -- but they still can't hold public office! Well,
OK, they're holding public office now -- what else can we bring
up? Women can't play sports! OK, maybe tennis -- but
basketball and hockey and soccer are too physical, women can't do
that! Well . . . um, so OK, they're doing it now . . . but
they can't slam dunk! And when we start doing that -- if we even
care about it enough to, soon the real issue will be brought
up: "Well, OK, they can play physical sports and slam dunk -- but
they don't have penises, so there!" Get over it, guys.

Men need to stop acting as if every time we expand our sphere of
activity, we crowd them into the damned margins. Nobody's
crowding them out -- except their own weird little misconceptions.

-- Janis Cortese

San Diego


Julian Rubinstein's article on dunking in the WNBA (or the lack thereof)
too readily associates a dislike of women's basketball with an
anti-feminist, macho perspective.

People who dislike the WNBA probably do so because it's boring, and not
just because it lacks dunking. It's slower and less dynamic than the
men's game, it's lower scoring and, worst of all, the games are more often than not 20-point
blowouts. Rubinstein, however, blames the inability of male
sportswriters to properly value the complexities of the
women's game for the lack of respect for the WNBA. He is
so concerned with condemning what he calls the "alpha-male" attitude to
women's basketball that he can say with a straight face that the
"essence [of the WNBA style of play], rooted in passing and defense, is
a world away from the show-offy men's game." It's as if the six-time
champion Chicago Bulls, whose game was firmly rooted in a suffocating
defense and the trademark triangle offense with its emphasis upon crisp
ball movement, never existed. His comments might be valid for the
Western Conference of the NBA with its old-style defense, but certainly
not for the league as a whole.

Rubinstein is correct to condemn the sexist and ignorant attitudes he
attributes to male sportswriters. What his article lacks is an
understanding that it is possible to disagree with these writers without
making the WNBA look like something it's not. Women
have every right to play basketball, but you don't have to be a Promise
Keeper to not like the way they play.

-- Pete Blackwell

New York


Frankly, I had little idea of
the male sports media's fixation on the issue -- and how wonderful that I
don't have to care. Hey, you sports guys are a riot, thinking your
opinions on the women's game actually still have any weight in this

Tune in any WNBA game and look at all the male fans in the
crowd. (I find this only slightly less wonderful than the joy of having
a women's pro league at all, let alone one with such overall quality and
watchability.) At our Mystics games in D.C., the crowd is usually at
least one-third men -- some with little boys sporting a Chamique
Holdsclaw jersey. Could the dunking "controversy," against this larger, historic
phenomenon, be but another instance of the common folk being more clued in than the media?

-- Susan Sharp

Takoma Park, Md.

Shame on these male sportswriters. These men who complain
about the lack of dunking in the WNBA are the very same ones who bitch
about there being too much of it in the NBA. Get a clue, you hypocrites!!!

-- Jerald Neely

Carrollton, Ga.

Why we should get rid of political advertising -- now


Bob Welke's reaction to what he perceives as highly offensive campaign
commercials is all too typical. These ads seem harmful, so, in kneejerk
fashion, he thinks they should all be banned. Welke hopes that by taking
the high road -- supposedly bringing substance back into political races --
he can sidestep that little inconvenience known as the First Amendment.

Never mind that his suggestion would never pass constitutional muster.
After all, the courts have traditionally found political speech more
deserving of protection than commercial speech. Granted, television may
be far from an ideal medium, and maybe the Internet could indeed provide
more substantive forums. But there's no guarantee that if candidates are
deprived of television commercials, they wouldn't find ways to use new
media as distastefully as they use television now.

-- Wilson Lee

San Diego

In the last presidential campaign, I almost stayed away from the
polls due to the negative advertising. The only thing that got
me out there was some local initiatives that I felt strongly about.
To hell with the candidates. I hear that George W. Bush might have used cocaine while in his 20s,
but I have no idea what his policies on education are, or his policies on law enforcement.

I would like to know what the candidates are going to do to hold criminals responsible for
their actions; what they will do to raise the level of science
education in this country; whether or not they will support not
just the First Amendment but the Second, too; and whether they will
help redress wrongs committed under color of authority, or cause more to be swept under the rug. I will not get this information through attacks on their opponents, and I likely
will not get this information in any form of advertising. Issues like these require more than sound bites. They require discussion. Until we can see a campaign driven by issues,
I throw my vote towards banning the campaign ad.

-- Mark Holdgrafer

Loren Coleman, Loch Ness snowman of cryptozoology


I want to mention my heartfelt appreciation for your Salon People profile of me. I've never been called a "Loch Ness snowman of cryptozoology" or a "god" in the same piece, and I took it with all good humor. I laughed all day. And I heard from dozens of folks about it for days. Good show.

-- Loren Coleman

Trouble in "Holy City"


What ever happened to the notion
of 'separation of church and state? No doubt there are many other
conservative activists out there doing the exact same
thing. While Golba cannot be faulted for organizing to promote what he
believes is in the best interest of the country, it is downright scary to
see churches being used as a basis for political activity. Using the church as
a base for political organizing and activity heads the nation in the
direction of rapidly becoming a theocracy.

History is full of examples of just how authoritarian
theocratic governments can be. Countless wars have been fought throughout
history between theocracies, simply because one government saw another's
religious beliefs as a threat to its power -- or because it felt they had a "mission
from God" to purge the planet of such "heathen infidels."

The separation between church and state is rapidly eroding in the
United States as, more and more, both major political parties use the church
as a base for political organizing. The ultimate consequence of this
strategy will be the loss of "freedom of religion" for members of the losing

-- Dennis E. Wenske

With typical liberal bias, you buried in the article the
truth about the Kansas Board of Education's main objective in making the
decision: to abolish the requirement of teaching
evolution. Instead, you imply that the decision was to
abolish teaching evolution and to require teaching creationism. For being
so much for choice, you liberals sure are intolerant. Evolution is a farce,
and an increasing number of scientists know it. But I doubt you will report that. You abandon common sense to fight against people with Christian beliefs, who live their faith by what it teaches instead of being a pseudo-Christian (you call them moderate Christians).

-- Kevin Hill

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Creationism Evolution First Amendment Stephanie Zacharek