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The Phantom News Story

I haven't even seen "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" yet and I'm sick of it.

Maybe it's because I'm a heartless bastard. Maybe it's because of the schoolyard beating I suffered as a child for expressing my true feelings about George Lucas' original opus ("The acting, wooden at best and the dialogue--- owww!!!"). Maybe it's because, despite the fact that I work for a major national magazine, I was unable to score tickets to last Tuesday's press screening, denying me the pleasure of ruining someone's viewing experience with this one word review: "Godzilla."

No. No. No.

This article isn't about something as petty as payback. It's about closure. It's about redemption. It's about the triumph of the human spirit... ah, who the hell am I kidding? This universal celebration of Star Wars has me full of piss and vinegar.

If I see one more news story with footage of some 30-year-old husky boy dressed up as Luke Skywalker, if I see one more Entertainment Tonight teaser promoting their exclusive footage of the making of Kentucky Fried Chicken's special "Episode One" bucket, if I see another interview of the guy who interviewed the guy who interviewed the guy who wrote the first Internet review -- I'll throw up.

This whole Star Wars mania exposes the one major thing that is wrong with TV news: take an item of interest with no news value, milk it to death, and dammit, make sure to get a local angle!

Look, I'm no angel. When Dana Plato died I wanted all of the dirt. I wanted Todd Bridges' thoughtful perspective on the tragedy that was Plato's life. I wanted a contemplative yet restrained look at the Curse of Diff'rent Strokes. I wanted, nay, I demanded a total rehash of Gary Coleman assualt arrest. After all, I'm a weak man and I have needs.

But this "Phantom Menace" thing, it just rubs me the wrong way.

Part of it is those damned Star Wars freaks. Watching news footage of "The Phantom Menace" story, I am reminded of TV news coverage of gay pride parades. I mean it doesn't matter how many average looking people march in one, they always end up using the shot of the guy in a pink tu-tu with the announcer smirking and saying something to the effect of "oh, those crazy gay people."

Say what you want about your average hardcore Star Trek and Babylon 5 fan. Sure, they dress up. Yes, they're surly and quick to anger. But they have a certain sense of shame about their freakish ways. And they don't flaunt it. And they certainly don't go around recruiting children or proselytizing to every news camera within taping distance that George Lucas is the second coming of L. Ron Hubbard. It's obvious to me that Lucas is a sort of half-baked Billy Graham, not a guy who deserves a religion to himself.

The fact that this carefully orchestrated exercise in public relations is being passed off as news is what riles me up the most. Mother Teresa didn't get this kind of press when she died, and she was a friggin' saint, for chrissake. Some news programs had the balls to run stories that were actually critical of her work and her life. But Lucas? Nary a peep of dissention. Too afraid, I guess, to ruin their chances at getting in to cushy press screenings.

All this hype, and no end in sight. MTV has a star-studded broadcast of a "private screening" party at Skywalker Ranch, Roger Ebert is devoting his entire show this weekend to Star Wars, Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight are gonna air their expected extraganzas, the E! Channel has gotta do its part, and even CNN is gonna want to get some of this Star Wars action. All this just for the premiere.

And if you aren't sick of Star Wars after all of that, after the movie opens, all of the commercials for the toys and tie-ins will be rammed down your throat.

Cripes, I oughta just smash my TV now.

I have a fantasy that Bull Connor, the former police chief of Birmingham, Alabama and scourge of the civil rights movement, would rise from his grave, go down to the local movie theater and set loose water cannons and dogs on the local populace waiting to see the new Star Wars movie.

It ain't a pretty picture, but it sure as hell would be news.


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