BRENTWOOD, Calif.--As we begin the autopsy for Boys R Us--the beer 'n' boorishness, boobs 'n' bang-bang, jeans 'n' sneakers, rock 'n' freaking roll pop culture that won the Cold War--it might be wise to determine a time of death. What'll it be: the day Kurt Cobain killed himself? The day Keith Olbermann left ESPN? The day Bill Watterson stopped drawing Calvin and Hobbes?
Or was it yesterday, when an action film starring Bruce Willis got squashed in its opening weekend by Lost in Space--featuring a fully clothed Heather Graham; the youngest girl from Party of Five; and a human body count of zero--and Titanic. Some of us around here still remember when Titanic was going to be the Ultimate Boy Movie, based on the Ultimate Boy Tragedy, courtesy of Jim Cameron, the Ultimate Boy Director, the guy who put Jamie Lee Curtis in That Dress, shot down her cleavage, and blew up a bridge beneath her.
Cameron is the Kim Philby of Boys R Us, the man whose Girl Movie in Boy Movie's Clothing led to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" and to the detritus of Leomania. Titanic spent 15 weeks atop the U.S. box office, beating the pants off such movies as Wild Things--whose Boy Culture appeal was summed up by its star Denise Richards when she told Entertainment Weekly, "I don't want my dad to see my breasts. I'm hoping he'll cover his eyes."
Meanwhile, "My Heart Will Go On" has pulled two different albums to the top of the charts, humiliating new releases from Van Halen and Pearl Jam. But the music industry has been hip to the death of Boys R Us since last summer, when Lilith Fair out-grossed Lollapalooza. Last year for the first time, according to the Recording Institute of America, more girls than boys bought records. Three years ago, Trent Reznor was singing, "I wanna fuck you like an animal"; last year, in "Not Tonight," Li'l Kim and a gaggle of female rappers were demanding oral satisfaction.
Elsewhere on the cultural landscape, the news for Boy Culture gets bleaker. Television? Two words: Dawson's Creek. Talk radio? Goodbye, Rush ... hello, Dr. Laura. Even sports are under siege. The U.S. women's hockey team wins the gold medal? No problem ... but when the men's hockey team loses and gets frisky with a fire extinguisher at the Olympic Village, they practically have their citizenship revoked. After years of watching locker-room celebrations, I thought I was supposed to enjoy it when athletes got rowdy. Not anymore. Check out Boston, where golden-armed QB Drew Bledsoe is in Dutch for stage-diving during an Everclear show last year, and Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn still can't get a long-term contract after a couple of strip club incidents.
Has every American male teen had his allowance suspended or his part-time job taken away? They're not buying records or movie tickets or novels or Levi's or Arch Deluxes or Nikes. Even the people who make Budweiser have so little faith in the buying power of their core audience of males that they're test-marketing Catalina Blonde, a near-beer expressly designed for women. And just when you thought the sport utility vehicle craze could four-wheel Boy Culture back to the mountaintop, here comes the VW Bug, complete with a "Drive it? Hug it? Drive it? Hug it?" ad campaign so insufferable it makes Hello Kitty look like PulpFiction.
So where can Boys R Us make its last stand? There are Comedy Central's unashamedly foul South Park; Howard Stern and Jerry Springer; and Pamela Anderson, who could undergo a million makeovers like the one she just received and still be the star of The Video. My hopes were pinned on J.J., the California gray whale nursed back to health by Sea World and then released into the ocean. J.J. promptly ditched the four (!) transmitters researchers had implanted to monitor all perigrenations and breeding patterns. Track this, you aqualosers! Born free, baby! J.J showed up just when boys were in gravest need--in between Hugh Hefner's calling off his divorce and the release of Godzilla--to remind us that, whether we see them or not, America's males are out there, ready to resurface. Trouble is, J.J.'s a she.