USC Annenberg Online Journalism ReviewUSC

The Best of 2002: Part One

The items below were featured in Spike Report columns during the first half of 2002.  Happy holidays! 


Adolph Hitler's relatives are alive and well and living on Long Island, reports the UK Telegraph.

English-born William Patrick Hitler wasn't exactly beloved by his infamous uncle, notes David Gardner in an article published in January.  The younger Hitler attempted to blackmail the Fuhrer, then emigrated to America and fought with the U.S. Navy during World War II.  What happened to William Patrick after the war was a mystery for five decades, says Gardner, until some dedicated sleuthing led the journalist to Hitler's widow and three middle-aged sons, living under a different name in rural Long Island but still haunted by their unfortunate heritage. 


"Lance Loud was no angel," writes Kristine McKenna in the LA Weekly. "He wasn't above telling the occasional fib, anything you loaned him disappeared into a black hole, and he really loved getting high."

Those who knew and loved Loud, best known for his real-life role as the gay son of the Santa Barbara family featured in the 1973 PBS documentary series "An American Family," forgave his flaws, says McKenna, "simply because he was so much fun to be with."  Loud died of hepatitis C last December at the age of 50; his final essay for gay and lesbian biweekly The Advocate appeared shortly after his death.


"Last April the Association of Lincoln Presenters held its seventh annual convention, in Beckley," writes Joshua Wolf Shenk in the February issue of The Atlantic. "I had heard there would be forty-four Lincolns there, and fifteen Marys."

Thrilled at the prospect of a roomful of Lincolns, Shenk flew to West Virginia, where he found exactly the eye-popping sight he was looking for: "Black- and gray- and fake-bearded Lincolns, short and tall Lincolns, and a Lincoln in a wheelchair, with an oxygen tank."  Although he went to West Virginia to giggle at the presenters, the writer says he wound up as the unofficial mascot of the convention: the Lincolns dressed him in appropriate garb, offered him tips on being Lincolnesque and touted the benefits of the gig. 


"Daniel Pearl was a master of the 'A-head,''' says David Fahrenthold.

In a Washington Post article published in February, Fahrenthold notes that the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter's work frequently appeared in the front page center column reserved for stories with enough zest and color to spice up the paper's duller offerings.  "As he cycled through some of the paper's most serious beats, Pearl continually found sly stories that winked a little at the reader," says Fahrenthold.

The Journal offers an online selection of nuanced and wry Pearl articles on subjects ranging from a lost-and-found Stradivarius to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and pop music in Iran. 


Don't call me a scalper, says Sonny R. Orben. I'm a nontraditional ticket reallocation specialist.

In an entertaining first-person piece published in Business 2.0 in March, the pseudonymous Orben describes the dynamics of his unusual profession: buying extra tickets from audiences heading into theaters and concert halls, then reselling them to increasingly desperate hopefuls as curtain time nears. "Reselling tickets affords me a comfortable life for a couple of hours of work a day, leaving me plenty of time to pursue my theater career," writes the unrepentant reallocator. "I play by the rules, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm winning."


The Bush administration will extend universal health care coverage to household pets, reports National Public Radio.

In an April Fools' Day "All Things Considered" segment that probably outraged some gullible listeners, NPR's Julie Rovner reports that neutering, hairball extractions, flea baths and other pet medical procedures will cost U.S. taxpayers $375 trillion.  Liability issues stemming from the program could drive costs even higher, she adds.  "What if a hamster covered by federal health care is eaten by a snake also covered by the federal government?" fumes a spokesman for a pro-human group.  "This is where it starts -- where does it stop?"    


Feeling a little strapped for cash?  At least you're not pumping gas, due in court and living on Cheerios fried in lard.

That's the situation in which Stephen King found himself during a particularly rough spell early in his career.  King's brief memoir of his early-20s misery (sorry) appeared in The New Yorker in April as one of several glum reminiscences in which writers like Joyce Carol Oates and Denis Johnson remembered being worn out and penniless.  Notably, the essays appeared in the magazine's annual "Money" issue filled with ads for Rolex watches and luxury cars. 


The release of the film "Spider-Man" in May focused attention on a real-life figure as shadowy and elusive as the web-crawling title character. 

Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko created the character of Spider-Man in 1962, writes OJR Contributing Editor Jordan Raphael in the Los Angeles Times, but while Lee is widely celebrated as a comics genius, Ditko's contribution is recognized only by hard-core fans.  Much of this is by choice: Ditko quit the Spider-Man series in 1966 after 38 issues (possibly in a dispute over villainous character Green Goblin), and has refused to give interviews or be photographed since.  The new movie reaffirms the reclusive artist's status as co-creator of a comic book icon, says Raphael.  Ditko's name appears with Lee's in the film's credits. 


Jeffrey Dahmer was not a popular kid, says artist John Backderf.

Backderf, who (as "Derf") draws the syndicated comic strip "The City," grew up with Dahmer near Cleveland, writes Pittsburgh City Paper editor Andy Newman.  Backderf's new graphic novel, "My Friend Dahmer," is based on the artist's teenage acquaintance with the future serial killer; the comic depicts Dahmer as an alcoholic loner with no social skills, largely ignored and avoided by his classmates. 

"My premise is that I consider Dahmer a tragic figure, which I know a lot of people have trouble getting their hooks around..." Backderf tells Newman. The first chapter of Backderf's raw, grim and unsettling Dahmer comic is posted on the artist's Derfcity site.   


Call me a softy, but I couldn't resist Julie Church's droll account of a Wal-Mart wedding, published in May in the St. Petersburg Times.

"A white wedding arch straddled the aisle between the men's Farah socks (three for $5) and the Wrangler denim shorts ($12.93)," Church writes, setting the scene for the clothing-department nuptials of two Florida Wal-Mart employees.  A similarly appealing account of a wedding in the cheese department of an Upper West Side gourmet market appeared in The New York Times in 2000. 


"When I was first approached to write a porn screenplay, I thought it would be easy," says Eric Spitznagel. 

Spitznagel, who moved to Los Angeles to find work as a legitimate screenwriter, says he wrote his porn script under the illusion that it would somehow grab mainstream attention. "I had a vision," he writes in a lengthy Salon essay that manages to be equally entertaining and annoying.  "Before long, midnight showings of my porno would become the latest rage among young urban hipsters, and fans would show up dressed as their favorite character."  As you might guess, Spitznagel's foray into porn didn't quite work out that way.

After almost forty years of lavishing praise on New York's most prominent neurotic, The New York Times appears to have given up on Woody Allen.

The paper has always covered Allen with an intensely affectionate interest, and the director has often credited the late Times critic Vincent Canby with helping to establish his career.  A new generation of critics has been less kind to Allen's increasingly unsuccessful films, however, and Andy Newman and Corey Kilgannon's surprisingly dismissive piece, published in June, seemed to declare an official end to the paper's long crush on the writer-director. "After more than 30 years as the on-screen embodiment of angst-ridden, urbane New York, his long moment as cultural icon may be over," write the pair.  


When it comes to bird song, Hollywood sound editors are ornithologically illiterate, says Robert Winkler.

In a sarcastic Salon essay, Winkler gives vent to frustrations built up over years of watching movies whose background audio tracks are filled with gaffes readily apparent to dedicated bird watchers.  Among the worst ornithological sins:  nocturnal birds heard during daytime scenes, birdcalls used out of season, and Hollywood's apparently unshakable addiction to the cry of the common loon.

"Watching a movie with a few family members, I couldn't help pointing out another bird-song error..." Winkler writes.  "They shushed me with polite smiles and blank stares, only making the movie that much more unbearable." 


"I'd started driving two hours earlier with a quarter tank," writes Mark Edward Hornish.  "Now, 75 miles later, I was kissing E, and my prospects were looking grim."

In an entertaining memoir posted on personal travel writing site World Hum in June, rock-musician-turned-film-editor Hornish recalls an unexpected rescue in rural Wyoming by -- of all people -- the members of '80s heavy metal hair band Whitesnake.  "Whitesnake.  Arguably the worst band of all time..." writes the former indie rocker.  "They stood for all that I railed against.  Yet here I was, in backwater Wyoming, chumming it up with them.  In fact, damned if they weren't -- and this still pains me to say -- nice guys." 

Want more links? The Spike Report regularly follows links from these useful daily Weblogs: Jim Romenesko's MediaNews and The Obscure Store offer highlights in the areas of news, features and media gossip; Arts Journal and Arts & Letters Daily cover the arts and culture beat; the Utne Web Watch Daily cherry-picks the alternative press; E-Media Tidbits and the UK Guardian weblog find consistently interesting selections; Metafilter, Boing Boing and Eliot Gelwan's Follow Me Here offer an eclectic mix of political, technical, scientific and general-interest items.

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