Artists of the Year

Framed, penned, screened, danced, sung, shot, delivered: City Pages lauds the artistic creations of 1999

More effective than an ad-hoc parade, but never denying such forms of defiant energy, Francisco's book is about the importance of telling true stories, whether through fiction or nonfiction, fairy tale or courtroom testimony. Telling this particular story may not, as Francisco wishes, create a different world, but it does open a window into the effects of violence and offer hope for a way out.

 

Carolyn Kuebler is a Minneapolis writer and cofounder of the book reviewRain Taxi.

 

THE REST OF THE WORLD

JOSS WHEDON

by Peter S. Scholtes

Last season's Buffy the Vampire Slayer prom saw its outsider-heroine named "Class Protector" by her fellow Sunnydale seniors, a bit of geek wish fulfillment no less stirring for being funny. Apparently, giving Carrie a happy ending and finding humor in the alienation that pulsed through My So-Called Life sits just fine with Buffy's young cult. Narcotic doses of reassurance are TV's vampire blood, after all, even if the freshest helpings of network comfort food contain as much boomer poison as ever: the fighting-liberal daddy-prez of The West Wing; the nauseatingly idealized kids of Once and Again.

More than any other recent trash-culture windfall, Buffy respects its fans. Still, as freshman Buff began attending frat parties and dating heartthrobs in the current season, I began to wonder if creator-producer Joss Whedon might trade in his usual unpredictability for Felicity-style pandering. Instead he lured young viewers further than ever into the hellmouth of real-world evil, spinning off a darker version of the Buffy franchise with an even thinner layer of humor and wholesome eros glossing its seamy subtexts.

The title character of Angel is, as the faithful know, Buffy's ex-boyfriend, a conflicted vampire cursed with a conscience who will turn evil again if he ever has an orgasm (...er, make that: achieves a moment of "perfect happiness"). In other words, he's 245 years of pain poured into 25 years of body, with male virtue a given in his dealings with distressed damsels. It doesn't take much imagination to see Angel's supernatural battles--saving "half-breed" demons from genocidal storm troopers, protecting wannabe starlets from predatory monsters, stopping a creature that circulates through the vapid singles-bar scene--as a broader war on the ills of modern capitalism. A far cry from smashing bad apples in Gotham.

In a way, Buffy and Angel are television's first real gift from Generation X to Generation Y, a pop-culture dream/nightmare informed by Nirvana as much as Saved by the Bell, an oddly moral Tarantino spiel tailored to teen desires. Both shows are populated by guys whose insecurities are charming rather than oppressive and young women whose charms lie in discovering their strengths. The series share a sense of wordplay ("How do you get to be renowned? Do you have to be nowned first?") and genre satire (villain: "I gotta get me some better lackeys") that keeps things as light and quick as a fluttering bat.

What effect, I wonder, does a pro-witch, pro-sex, and curiously bi-curious comedy-cheese-horror series have on its legion Web site keepers, who dutifully summarize each episode in detail? Social critic Jerry Mander once wrote in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television that TV amounts to "sleep teaching," a sort of mass self-hypnosis that funnels experience right into the memory bank, bypassing conscious analysis. That might explain why no one talks about Buffy or Angel except to ask, Did you see it?

Whedon's world goes to work on our emotions while using wisecracks to diffuse its fantastic elements in a way that makes The X-Files' humor seem hoary. When Angel's assistant and Buffy's old nemesister Cordelia discovers her beautiful, inexpensive new apartment is haunted, she tries to conceal the fact from her supernatural-savvy friends so she won't lose the place, a comical goof on the show's own paranormalcy as much as on Scooby Doo, the housing crisis, and the character's 90210 arrogance. This is Scream made humane, which is to say, human.

 

Peter S. Scholtes is music editor atCity Pages.

 

BRAD PITT

by Leslie Dunlap

In a tight retro frock, legs gapped, sucking on a cigarette, recent Rolling Stone coverboy Brad Pitt embodies millennial masculinity in extremis--a glaring, goateed überbutch bottled up in a doll's dress. "I just couldn't sit there and be pretty guy again," Pitt explains inside, about his choice to cross-dress for his third RS spread. The ambiguous logic is vintage Pitt: In a print dress decorated with dishware, cinema's consummate hottie insists that he's not a sexpot.

If you've seen Fight Club (or read Susan Faludi's Stiffed) it's like déjà vu all over again, with Pitt illustrating a butch backlash against the consumer culture's alienating--some would say emasculating--effects. As Tyler Durden, Fight Club's cocksure alpha male, Pitt struts his naked stuff, suggesting that manhood comes down to physical essentials like bare knuckles, bruises, and brawn. From the way he jabs his smokes to the manner of his swagger, Pitt exquisitely captures the macho--some would say misogynist--temper of the times.

But as the club's magnetic queen bee, Pitt also oozes homoerotic appeal, as he sashays around, modeling suggestively slung seersucker slacks and other flaming fashions. Wearing camos and fuzzy bedroom slippers, Pitt epitomizes gender mayhem. As usual, Pitt is at his chemical best playing off other men, posed as an object of male lust as much as identification. Either way, though, Fight Club's real first rule is, no girls (or girly guys) allowed.

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