Burn, sacred cow, burn!

Lefty weeklies turn on their idols. Plus: Ben is Dead dies, the 17th Annual Testicle Festival and the boy who said yes -- and lived.

Published October 8, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

There was a time when the political left could pretty much rely on alternative weeklies to toe the liberal line. That time has passed. While activism certainly isn't dead -- it's hotter than ever, according to some reports -- the fiery idealism that once fueled acts of political derring-do have been dampened by chillier, postmodern perspectives. Once-alternative weeklies are being sucked up like Slurpee ice by faceless parent companies with bottom lines and conservative advertisers to consider. Hoisting sacred cows onto the flaming pyre of our smug self-awareness is en vogue (as is wanton use of clichid metaphors, or so I've been told). Over are the days when Karen Finley and artists who pissed, figuratively and literally, upon our holy icons were made into holy icons, when Mumia Abu Jamal was presumed innocent, a saintlike martyr for the activist set.

Of course, some true blue weekly newspapers -- and many zines -- continue to print anti-corporate, anti-Republican, anti-establishment articles and screeds. For the rest, however, steak's on!

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New York Press, Oct. 7-13

"Karen Finley Shows Her Ass Again" by John Strausbaugh

Perhaps I enjoy John Strausbaugh's seething assessment of NEA martyr Karen Finley and her latest book because the only Finley performance I saw was the most senseless, self-indulgent piece of theatrics I've seen ever. (Finley, if you're reading, I want my $14 back!) Regardless of why, I found myself nodding enthusiastically to his assessment of Finley's rise to stardom (thanks a lot, Jesse Helms), hypocrisy (she's as judgmental as Helms and his ilk ever were), predictable politics and overall childishness (most of us exited the anal phase during the "terrible 2s"). These days, the paper's mean-spirited conservative bent makes it the true alternative.

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Washington City Paper, Oct. 1-7

"What Goes On" by Mark Jenkins

In his weekly music column, Mark Jenkins addresses Michael Moore's recent claim in Forbes that "rap is the dominant music of the decade." Jenkins counters this statement with charts and statistics that show rap's poor performance among the other musical genres. He attributes Moore's statement to passi "white-liberal sentimentality," and wraps up his piece with this potshot: "A radio station that programmed the full gamut of '90s pop would certainly play hip-hop, but only about 10 percent of the time. If that reality's too complicated for Moore to grasp, he can always go back to his full-time gig of imagining that most U.S. blue-collar workers toil on Rust Belt assembly lines." Daaaamn!

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Village Voice, Oct. 6-12

"Rudy's Brooklyn Rampage" by Wayne Barrett

The Village Voice has published no fewer than eight stories on the latest Rudy Giuliani dust-up, which involves the mayor threatening the Brooklyn Museum with punitive measures over its controversial show, "Sensation." The Voice goes after the mayor, of course, but doesn't stop there.

The painting: "The Virgin is, however, not Ofili's best painting. It begins an uneven phase of his work in which he abandons his decorative, all-over wild style for specific images. The most impressive thing about The Holy Virgin Mary is that it seems to have survived the current onslaught of hatred, adrenaline, and misinterpretation."

The art world: "The art world has sabotaged itself throughout the culture wars, and it's happened again in the controversy whipped up around 'Sensation' at the Brooklyn Museum of Art ... This has been a problem from Day One -- the consistent reluctance within the art world itself to defend targeted artists."

Democrats: "Response by Democratic political leaders has been swift, though hardly a roaring show of support for contemporary art."

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Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, Oct. 6-12

"Life of the Party" by Katy Reckdahl

In this sweeping, historical profile, Katy Reckdahl talks to the remnants of the once formidable Minnesota Communist Party: a handful of sassy, political grannies with amazing lives behind them.

Ben Is Dead, The Final Issue No. 30

Ben Is Dead, the popular Los Angeles pop-culture zine, is dead after a respectable 10-year run and a book. (Its Web site has been dead since, like, 1997.) The focus of this issue is celebrity; fortunately it does not contain a bunch of moronic sniffling about how this is the last issue and thanks to all who've made it happen and damn if we weren't something special. It does include a funny essay by a guy who competed on "The Dating Game" dressed as a superhero (he didn't get the girl), a chuckle-inducing compendium of dumb things people have said to celebrities ("Fuck man, you look like Billy Zane" to Billy Zane), as well as lots of indie rock 'n' roll stuff, which is great if you go for that sort of thing.

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Broward/Palm Beach New Times, Sept. 30-Oct. 6

"One Nation, Divisible Under God" by Bob Norman

Bob Norman looks at a recent legal challenge to the "under God" clause in the Pledge of Allegiance. What's interesting about this piece is not so much the suit to have the offending religious words removed, but the history of the pledge, which Norman provides to give perspective to the argument.

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Salt Lake City Weekly, Sept. 30-Oct. 6

"It's Oyster Time in Montana" by Mountain Times staff

A report from the 17th Annual Testicle Festival: "Taste like chicken? No. Rod and his staff of 60 serve chicken on the same plate so there is no mistake. They taste like bull testicles. Sliced, breaded, fried. Tasty. Period."

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Phoenix New Times, Oct. 7-13

"Murphy's Law" by Edward Lebow

The Murphy school district, in an unsavory part of Phoenix, has lost 31 kids to violence, mostly gun-related, in the past seven years. None of these deaths made front-page news. Reporter Edward Lebow takes a hard and challenging look at how the mostly Hispanic school district has coped with its losses and builds community programs that will, hopefully, prevent future crimes.

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Dallas Observer, Oct. 7-13

"In the Line of Fire" by Carlton Stowers

While we're on the subject of school killings, when 47-year-old Larry Gene Ashbrook started killing people attending a youth rally at the Wedgewood Baptist Church last month, one of the teens present stood up and confronted the killer, telling him to be saved. Ashbrook ended his massacre, sat down and shot himself. Is 19-year-old Jeremiah Neitz a hero who risked his own life to prevent further bloodshed, as Stowers clearly wants us to believe? Or is this yet another wishful attempt to create sense out of this spate of mindless killings?

"Etch-a-Sketch" by Melissa Hung

Scarification as fashion statement and mental panacea! What will the kiddies think of next?

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The Smoking Gun

"Gary Coleman Comes Up $hort"

It seems unfair to kick Gary Coleman when he's down. But the gruesome spectacle of Coleman's recent bankruptcy scandal, as presented on the site in court documents, is too good to resist.

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And now, three tales of smugglers!

Ecstacy-smuggling Orthodox Jews!

Cuban cigar-smuggling businessmen from the Bay Area!

Cuban-smuggling Cubans!

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.

MORE FROM Jenn Shreve

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Michael Moore