Constant surfing through the dead hours of broadcasting keeps me grounded in meaningless reality . 

Trivial Pursuits

In these days of terrorism, I feel it is my responsibility during the new war to mount the counteroffensive, to remind you of our former days of peaceful, trivial concerns. There was a time when the biggest news was watching Connie Chung try to force Gary Condit to tell where he had stashed Chandra Levy, or prodding Calista Flockhart to fess up that she's a dieting fanatic.

It's not easy staying in touch with the irrelevant. It requires vigilance since even Entertainment Weekly wants to spend all its pages fretting about how terrorism is depressing Hollywood. At least three channels of my television are devoted to round-the-clock anthrax reporting, but constant surfing through the dead hours of broadcasting — all during the day and late at night — keeps me grounded in meaningless reality.

For instance, there are too many crocodiles on television. If you think white men dominate television, then crocodiles are their animal-kingdom equivalent. There are three or more shows every day where crazy men in little khaki outfits chase, hug, and taunt crocodiles.

There is no escaping crocodile coverage. Even on the news, I see a park in Japan where visitors can buy live baby chicks and ducks and feed them to crocodiles! Turn the channel! OK. Think about this instead. Midgets play key roles in major childhood movies. Why is this? My generation's movie, "The Wizard of Oz," is full of little people, and when I stumbled upon "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," a film that resonates fond childhood memories for younger people, I find more little people. Umpa-loompahs or something. Listen to the song "Pure Imagination" once and it swims in your head for weeks after, like you are an insane person. Think about that.

Another thing swimming in my head is an Enya song. I don't even know what it is, but television played it during commercials for the season premiere of "Friends," and then over tributes to people killed at the World Trade Center. I thought Enya was a man, or maybe that was Yanni or John Tesh. Which one is married to that woman who was on "Dynasty"? The woman who used to be married to the man who was married to Bo Derek. Do you know he was also married to the white bikini woman in "Dr. No"? And they all look alike. Think about that.

The most advertised thing on television is new cars. In the thousand years I've been alive, I've bought one new car, and that was a $5,400 Chevette. That new Plymouth that looks like a 1940s car is like $31,000. We're at war with the people who can turn off the gas, and cars are $31,000.

OK, don't think about that.

There used to be a Nashville Network, but something happened to it. It became TNN and shows the Captain Kirk Star Trek movies around the clock, one right after another, day and night, the Hair Club for Men in Space. Occasionally it shows an ad promising other shows. The other shows are WWF wrestling and "Baywatch." TNN should be called TGN, the Total Geek Network.

When I lived in New York in the days before cable and was home all day with a new baby, having five television channels was a big-city luxury. With planning, I could watch "I Love Lucy" several times a day. Now I do that with "Law and Order." This show is on three to five times a day, sometimes more. It's on A&E, TNT, NBC, and USA. To keep my mind off anthrax, I keep a list of 12 years of "Law and Order" episodes and check off the ones I've seen. I'm approaching 80 percent.

But back to Lucy. I thought I saw every one of those, but new ones are popping up on TV Land. How come I never saw this one? The only thing I can figure is they show Lucy smoking. It's odd to see a sitcom character lighting up. Maybe there was a time when smoking Lucy episodes were kept out of syndication. You think?

To escape from television, I rented "Notting Hill" and watched it twice in a row. Then when I turned it off, TNT was showing "Stepmom" 27 times in a row. You know that little indent we all have in our upper lip, the little heart-shaped pucker in the middle? Julia Roberts doesn't have one. She has two straight slashes for a mouth. She looks like a Muppet. She also has a beauty mark under her right eye. Where's her makeup lady? Concentrate on what is weird about Julia Roberts and you forget about anthrax.

Which reminds me, wasn't Robert Redford a big enough movie star to have that bump taken off his face? You know the bump. On the big screen, all you see is that bump!

E! entertainment television shows a commercial every 10 minutes, more than other channels. I timed it while I was watching the real Hollywood story about LaToya Jackson. LaToya had Michael Jackson's exact same face before he bought it. Why doesn't the show discuss this? This is what I really want to know. Why isn't the news investigating this?

Back to TNT, the station that knows drama. It ran grainy black-and-white commercials all summer reminding me how well it knows drama. Tom Hanks has been in every other movie ever made during my life. When I was young, and he was young, I watched him on a television show called "Bosom Buddies." He then made a million movies. Most of those movies are on television now, so you can surf around the dial and see Tom Hanks get older. He is the biggest movie star of my generation, although the only movies he made I really like are the ones with Meg Ryan, who also seems to be in every other movie ever made.

Instead of anthrax, I think about how much better a movie would have been if Tom Hanks had been in it, like "When Harry Met Sally." Tom Hanks would have been better than Billy Crystal. Or if he had been Batman instead of Michael Keaton. Or what about this? Tom Hanks has never been in a movie with Julia Roberts, has he? Think about that.

Mariane Matera is a free-lance writer who lives in Richmond.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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