A Giant Tumor

David Edelstein and Nell Minow

A Giant Tumor

David Edelstein and Nell Minow

A Giant Tumor
An email conversation about the news of the day.
July 29 1998 2:39 PM

David Edelstein and Nell Minow


A Monica moratorium???? Nell, please. This is no time for squeamishness! Newspaper images of Monica are strewn about my office; she twinkles at me from my TV screen; she turned up in an otherwise pleasant dream about being disemboweled by giant ants. The republic is in peril! We must discuss Monica, we shall discuss Monica, it is our civic duty to discuss Monica.


Do you think she lost any weight? I go back and forth, depending on what she's wearing. Occasionally, she looks rather voluptuous and appears to be grooving on the attention, but from certain angles she's greasy-lipped and bloated, like someone who's swallowed too many alien fluids... Images of females are so maddeningly elusive, don't you think? (Calm down. I'm baiting you.)

OK, let's see where we are. The New York Times editorializes for Clinton to come clean: "...it's hard to imagine a grand jury or the House of Representatives denying a contrite President one chanceto correct his testimony on a matter not related to national security." I agree, but then I watch the endlessly replayed clip of Clinton that begins with: "I'm going to say this once. I did not have sexual relations with that woman..." and I think, "Yuck." Jeffrey Toobin, ABC's brilliant legal analyst and one of the few TV talking heads who throughout this mess has worn the expression of a sane person--i.e., he has looked on the verge of bursting into hysterical laughter at the titanic tawdriness of everyone involved--said on Good Morning America that "this is where the legal path and the political path start to diverge." As a lawyer, he'd advise the President to take the Fifth Amendment, but how would that go over in this year's midterm elections? Meanwhile, George Stephanopoulos sits nearby, solemnly advising Clinton to "tell the whole story." It was Slate's own Chatterbox who pointed out, when Spermgate broke, that this little weasel is on camera in the documentary The War Room warning a man who called Clinton headquarters with first-hand knowledge of another in Clinton's seemingly endless affairs, that a) no one will believe him b) he'll be forever ostracized from politics.

The New York Times reports that Lewinsky alleges that Clinton said if they both denied it, no one would know because they were the only ones in the room, and advised her to say that she was visiting Betty Currie, not him. Know what? If it's true, so what? Is that "grand obstruction"? If you think that the Paula Jones case is nonsense--and I do, I think that it's likely he came on to her and unlikely that the encounter had any long-term effects on either her professional or mental health--then who cares if he told her not to tell anyone about it? These people who denounce Clinton's character from on high are the same ones who passionately defended the right of zealots to do an end-run around Congress by funneling weapons to right-wing guerrillas in Central America... Have we gone mad? Isn't the real obscenity plain??

If I were in a better mood, I'd have a good chuckle over the lengthy, absurdist, Mamet-like dialogue between Mike McCurry and White House correspondents reprinted in the Times. ("What do you mean he's pleased things are working out for her?"... "I don't know that it's other than a self-evident statement that things are working out for her..."Is it working out for him? If it's working out for her, is it working out for him?" ... "It's kind of a minimalist construction, I grant you.") I'd also applaud Lars-Erik Nelson's column in the Daily News that says Clinton ought to demand the House impeach him because that would, in effect, call Starr's bluff. ("Make my day. Impeach me.") I think he's nuts but I love the column anyway.

And my and my, it seems as if Monica Lewinsky wrote the "talking points" and Linda Tripp might even have helped!!! That does put a crimp in some arguments, doesn't it? What does it say about the "reliable sources" that told reporters several months ago that the talking points came from high up in the White House?

Speaking of Ken Starr, the Guinness Book of World Records TV show made its debut on Fox last night with the world's largest tumor -- "a staggering 303 pounds." That's the first time the adjective has been literally accurate, since the rest of the young woman (an agoraphobic who hadn't left her house in several years) weighed maybe half as much. Inside the thing, surgeons found hair and teeth--does that mean it had previously been on a rampage before settling down in front of the TV with the agoraphobic? The rest of the show was equally horrible, with a guy putting eight swords down his esophagus in front of a studio audience, followed by footage of Chinese people being swept to their deaths by the world's biggest tidal bore. As you know, Movie Mom, I'm pretty liberal, but that show's a menace to society; I wouldn't want my kids to start sticking andirons down their throats hoping to make it into Guinness Book.

As for what you wrote, with all due respect, Nell, I think it's utter, specious, capitalist-tool balderdash and I'll fight you all the way to the beaches of Omaha. As a critic, I at least try to speak out for the Mozarts over the Salieris--which means I'll take the part of what I consider a masterpiece like Happiness over a fraudulent mainstream piece of hooey like, well, Amadeus. I've watched as independent production companies were gobbled up by studios, all of whom pledged to respect the movement's agenda and not change direction. That this was a Faustian bargain for the indies becomes increasingly apparent. If Bronfman thinks that Happiness--a film that won the International Film Critics Prize at Cannes--will disgrace his company, he should look a little closer at the mass-market pictures he released last year. I've seen few things as stupid and aesthetically obscene as The Jackal, for instance.

As for Blockbuster, the issues are hypocrisy and gutlessness. Sure, I'd be freaked out by my daughter bringing me The Pillow Book in a video store, but I'd be even more freaked out if she brought me Erotikill or Subspecies III or The Mangler, all of which are prominently displayed at your friendly neighborhood Blockbuster. (Whichever she brought me, I'd say "You can't watch that until you're at least eight years old.") Blockbuster's role in either case is clear: not to rent any such film to anyone under 17. Besides, I'd rather my child see sex on screen than violence, which is not the MPAA's orientation. When Albert Brooks received an 'R' for his wonderful comedy Lost in America, he was told by the ratings board that it was because a character had used "fuck" in a "sexual context"--specifically, the scene in which the newly-fired and manic Brooks babbles to his wife Julie Hagerty that he wants to fuck her over her desk. Brooks pointed out that if you say "I want to fuck you over this desk" you'll get an "R," but if you say, "I want to fuck you over with this desk," you'll get a PG-13. Exactly what are minors being protected from?

David Edelstein is Slate's film critic. Nell Minow's reviews of movies and videos appear on her Movie Mom Web page. Her book The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies is forthcoming.