Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

They say our true character is revealed in how we respond to a crisis. I suppose the same could be said of a nation. In the weeks and months following 9/11, this country's character was tested and, despite a few ugly moments, proved its mettle admirably well.

Then came the war, which at first seemed like a legitimate response to a perceived threat (at least in Afghanistan) but then kind of got off track. We had all this momentum -- raced into Iraq, 'liberated' Baghdad, captured the Evil Saddam. Next we were going to establish freedom and democracy and bring stability to the Middle East.

O.K., maybe we bit off a little more than we could chew. Maybe we were focusing all of our attention overseas, you know, so we could defeat the enemy over there and not get all messy here at home. But things did get a little messy here anyway. It's been a year since Katrina and people are still homeless and jobless in New Orleans. At first it seemed like we rose to the challenge on that one -- not the government of course, but certainly Hollywood. We all know of the brave sacrifices made by people like Sean Penn and Oprah. But once again it seems we lost the mighty 'mo'.

Perhaps it's a question of attention span. Maybe too much cable TV has robbed us of our ability to maintain concentration on any given situation for longer than, say, the duration of a season of the show "24" -- which is literally only asking us to keep track of the events of one day, parsed out over two dozen one hour segments with time off for Christmas and New Years. Personally, after the first season, I found the whole ordeal way too taxing. I prefer a show like "My Name is Earl" where you get one event per show -- in this case, Earl having to make amends for one of the items on his list of misdeeds -- and after 22 minutes you're off the hook. You don't have to remember what happened "previously" or get left hanging wondering what's going to happen next week. And just in case you forgot what the show's premise is, they remind you every week during the opening credits.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, things are dragging on and on with no commercial breaks, no end of season twists, no summers off, and no early cancellation due to low ratings. I mean, suddenly there's a whole new war in the Middle East, but it's not really a new war, is it? It's that same war that's been going on since I was a kid. It's been running longer than "The Price is Right". It's been running so long they changed the name just to fool the viewers into thinking something new was happening. Did you notice? Remember when it used to be "War in the Middle East?" But now it's "War in the MidEast." Who decided to change that? When I first heard it, I thought they were referring to a skirmish among a group of NCAA basketball teams in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

And then there's the good old 'Terror Alert'. Did you think that had been cancelled a couple of years ago? I did. When was the last time anybody (besides me) mentioned the Terror Alert level? Has USA Today been posting it on page one every morning? Is there a website? (Yes.) I figured that everyone had lost interest in it so they just quietly laid it to rest. But no, it's back and hotter than ever. Terror Alert is the hottest summer replacement since "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Last week you couldn't turn on the TV without seeing a promo for it. Terror Alert is back with a vengeance!

As someone who is planning to take a cross-country plane trip next week, I am particularly interested in the current installment of Terror Alert. See, my big problem is that I hate to check luggage. I will do anything I can to cram all I need into two carry-on bags. And I suppose I can survive without hair gel and toothpaste, but what about my contact lenses??? What the hell am I supposed to do about them? If I wear them on the plane, then I can't take them off because I can't carry any solution with me. And if I don't wear them, I'll have to check my bag! That is damned inconvenient.

It reminds me of a conversation I overheard the other day while enjoying a very late brunch at the Silver Spoon. A woman who works in PR was complaining about the restrictions on mailing packages -- anything over one pound must be hand carried to the post office rather than dropped in a mailbox. That means she has to remember to take all of her press packets to the P.O. before 5 p.m. every day! Even if she is busy working on something else. As she put it, "It's like the terrorists have already won!"

Naturally, the new Terror Alert will have its greatest impact on Hollywood. You see, the timing of the new Terror Alert was actually masterminded by the geniuses behind the new Samuel L. Jackson movie: SNAKES ON A PLANE. It is perhaps the most brilliant marketing campaign ever devised, on top of an already brilliant series of marketing moves that include having thousands of internet geeks (including me) promote your movie for you -- for free, allowing said geeks to insert actual lines of dialogue into the movie, having said dialogue uttered by the king of badass movie dialogue utterers, the aforementioned Samuel L. Jackson, and of course, the title of the movie itself: SNAKES ON A PLANE!

Where else but in Hollywood can you not only create relevant socio-political commentary (SNAKES = TERRORISTS) but also capitalize on the deep-seated xenophobic fears of a leaderless nation careening on the brink of global conflagration! It is pure goddamn genius.

I guess I can suck it up and wear my contacts on the plane, so long as it's all for a good cause. And what cause could be better than boosting the summer box office? Because when Hollywood prospers, everyone benefits. So let's show the rest of the world our true character by leaving our water bottles at the gate and making sure that SNAKES has a huge opening weekend.

That'll show those terrorists who's boss.

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