collects a number of essays published primarily by Future Life (before it folded) and the LA Weekly in the early 80s. I hoped it would be something like the Glass Teat
, which I remember fondly even though the media references are mostly before my time -- speaking of which, let me drop in a link that John Tynes shared about millennials watching the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP
-- whereas early 80's would be something I know more about. Unfortunately(?), Harlan instead rants about whatever's on his mind at the moment (occasionally including media) and many of the essays are more about Harlan being Harlan (or at least, posing as 'Harlan' the towering figure of misanthropic bile) than about giving the topic a fair presentation. He's generally right (Paul Schrader's remake of Jacques Tourneur's Cat People was a needless, horrible example of "egregious chutzpah") more often than he's wrong (John Carpenter's remake of Howard Hawks' The Thing was a needless, horrible example of "egregious chutzpah").
Right or wrong, he's always been controversial, and the book includes some of the letters attacking and defending him. A couple of the latter were penned by one J. Michael Straczynski.
Just a snippet to sort of set the chronological stage... "If the year has been as burdensome for you as it's been for John Delorean and the NFL and tourism in Lebanon and the makers of Tylenol..."
Perhaps he was never so controversial as when he entered the war of taste between Hydrox partisans and Oreo aficionados:
Consider the Oreo cookie. Mealy. Chocolate only in the same way that an H-bomb blast-effect is a suntan. Mendacious, meretricious, monstrously mouth-clotting... it is an anti-cookie, the baked good personification of the AntiChrist.
OK, maybe that's not one of the great controversies of our time, and for better or worse Harlan was on the losing side.
Maybe more meaningful is his discussion of Kathy Merrick, schoolteacher of Winifred, Montana. Ms Merrick used "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" in her sophomore English class, and the school board later "refused to renew her contract, ... because she was teaching godless pornography, and they cited my story as the chief example." Coincidentally, Harlan was at a fundraiser to get funds to show People for the American Way's Life and Liberty for All who Believe
, a documentary about the rise of the religious right/Moral Majority, shown on TV. While Paul Newman and Goldie Hawn were donating money to cover airtime in big cities, Harlan found himself pledging $1500 to get it shown in Billings, Montana. Turns out, Merrick's area was served by the Missoula-Butte market, but Harlan put out a call to his readers who ponied up the $744 for that.
One of the surprises was finding that Harlan was a fervent supporter of the ERA. He honored NOW's boycott of states that hadn't ratified it, only speaking in those states if a donation to support the ERA were in the offing. He mentions it a few times, and then writes a requiem for the Amendment, which finally expired during this period.
Which makes for an interesting juxtaposition when he discusses his experiences judging the 1983 Miss Tush of the Year Lingerie Contest -- alongside fellow judges including Chuck Norris -- held at the Proud Bird restaurant. Although his only excuse is "it seemed like a good idea at the time," it's actually a very insightful piece.
I think Harlan's dead wrong (so to speak) about Norman Mayer
, the antinuke activist who drove up to the Washington Monument with a van full of (he claimed) a half ton of dynamite, and got shot in the head for his trouble.
One of the last entries is his legendary takedown of the Empire Strikes Back videogame, a Sisyphean task that goes on until you lose. "Kindly refrain from kvetching that a ten-year-old can become more proficient at one of these twiddles than I, an adult at least in years, could ever be. Yes, he or she very likely can beat me 99 out of a hundred times; but no ten-year-old I've ever encountered can write MOBY DICK, create a Sistine Chapel fresco, or fuck with any degree of expertise."
As full of himself as he is, Harlan can also turn on the lasers of brutal self-honesty, as when he excoriates himself for being a schmuck to George Pal, just before his death.