Disaster Porn

TV and popular culture.
Jan. 28 2005 4:37 PM

Disaster Porn

The Discovery Channel's Pompeii: The Last Day is an exercise in imagining the worst.

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One of the kids introduces her mom and stepmom, and Buster comments that she has a lot of moms. That's pretty much it. Remember, this is a show from a kid's point of view, not an adult's.


Is "maple sugaring" actually code for some sort of sexual practice between women?

Not that we uncovered.

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Is the lesbian couple married under Vermont's civil union law? Does the issue of marriage come up in the episode?

There is no mention of the women's status and marriage is not mentioned. We know from meeting and talking with them off-camera that they are in a civil union.


In the Buster theme song, Wyclef Jean sings : "He's got his camera /And he's gonna explore /All the neat things he's never done before." By showcasing a lesbian couple in this episode, is PBS promoting a homosexual agenda by implying that two women living together as domestic partners is a "neat thing" that children should "explore"?

No, we are not promoting anything. Buster visits kids whose parents are divorced, too—we're not promoting that either. Buster is exploring the neat things that kids all over this country do, and experience, and can teach each other.

As one of Bush's senior domestic policy advisors, Margaret Spellings was once interviewed on C-Span about some census data that indicated a decline in traditional family structures. She answered, "So what?" and added that, as a single mother, she understood that there were "lots of different types of family." How do you explain Ms. Spellings' shift on this issue since she assumed office as Secretary of Education on Monday?

We cannot explain, nor would we try.

What do you think is really at stake when the new Bush administration picks an issue like this to set the tone for the next four years? Is the government trying to find excuses to withdraw funding from public television? Or is this just a symbolic bone thrown to the Christian right? What do you think is going on?

It's not clear to us what this means.  ... 4:43 p.m.


Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2005

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I don't have much to add to David Edelstein's lovely tribute to Johnny Carson. During most of Carson's prime (which Edelstein pegs as ending around 1981), The Tonight Show seemed naughty to me, not because of the host's daring wit, but because it was on past bedtime. But for those who missed out on the Carson years via generational accident, two TV networks will be airing substantial tributes this week. Tonight, 60 Minutes Wednesday (CBS, 8 ET) will rebroadcast a 1979 interview with Carson that Mike Wallace counts among his favorites of all time. Thursday night at 10 ET, the cable network TVLand will show the same interview, along with some never-aired outtakes and a clip reel from Carson's career.

On Monday night, Jay Leno opened The Tonight Show with a humble tribute to Johnny, saying that he felt like "a guest in [Johnny's] house." "He built this place," continued Leno. "Everyone who does this for a living owes it to him." But many watchers of the late-night hosting wars (an audience that, like the hosts themselves, is prone to decades-long grudges) have still not forgotten that when he first got the keys to Carson's "house" in 1992, Leno failed to thank or even mention his beloved predecessor in his opening show. He later rectified the gaffe, saying he had been acting on the advice of his legendarily Machiavellian manager Helen Kushnick, but the wound remained. Though Carson never weighed in on the late-night battles (or anything else for that matter) after his retirement in 1992 *, he did lend Letterman his tacit support by sending him the occasional monologue joke and once, in 1994, making a surprise appearance on The Late Show. The audience went wild, but Carson stayed only 76 seconds (at the Letterman's insistence, he sat in the host's chair), waved at the audience, and left without saying a word.

Both Conan O'Brien and David Letterman happened to be on vacation the week of Carson's death, so if you're feeling sleepless next week, it might be worth staying up late to see how these two—Johnny's designated successor and his thwarted bastard child, like the legitimate and illegitimate sons of some mythic king—choose to say goodbye to their comic forefather. ... 12:30 p.m.

Correction, Feb. 1: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Johnny Carson retired in 1991. He retired in 1992. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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