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A Little Too Real; The Daily Grunt; Baked, Mashed or Wafted?

The Spike Report is currently scheduled to cease publication in OJR at the end of this month.  Please see last week's column (final item) for more information.


A Little Too Real

"On a cool night last summer, Todd Kessler and Jan Oxenberg -- both screenwriters -- found themselves in the middle of their own script," writes Michael M. Phillips in Tuesday's The Wall Street Journal.

Kessler and Oxenberg were out patrolling in East Los Angeles with two members of the LAPD gang unit as research for the CBS show "Robbery Homicide Division," says Phillips, when a suspected gang member opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol.  In the shootout that followed, the man and officers exchanged 21 shots (all of which missed their targets) before one of the cops drove the patrol car into the shooter and then into a tree, mildly injuring one of the TV scribes.  The gunman was subsequently arrested. 

What was it like being in a gun battle?  Oxenberg says she kept thinking how different the chaotic incident was from the scenes she writes for television.  "When the bad guys shoot -- bang, bang, bang -- the police are supposed to hit them and kill them," she says.  In a classic Hollywood twist, both police officers subsequently appeared on "Robbery Homicide Division," adds Phillips; one cop is now "thinking of joining the Screen Actors Guild and is mulling an idea for a screenplay."


The Daily Grunt

The conversation in some British homes has deteriorated into a "daily grunt," reports The Times of London.

As many as half the children in some parts of Britain are entering school without the basic language skills they should have learned at home, writes education correspondent Glen Owen.  Alan Wells, the director of the Government's Basic Skills Agency, traces the problem to a decline in family conversation, which he blames on television (of course) and increased working hours. 

"It's because of the children sitting in front of the television and the computer and the lack of time families spend having food together," Alan Wells told attendees of a recent education conference.  "It clearly has an impact on their learning."  The BBC's coverage of the story offers riveting photos of kids sitting around watching television.


In Other Language News ...

If you're sick of the phrases "must-see TV," "undisclosed, secret location" and "got game," you'll enjoy reading Lake Superior State University's list of Banished Words for 2003.

Michigan's smallest public college (enrollment: 3,000) has been issuing its annual roster of the English language's most overused, repetitive and just plain irritating words since 1976.  This year's list of words, accompanied by caustic comments from contributors, makes for entertaining reading.  Among the winners: "mental mistake" ("What mistake is not mental?"), "untimely death" ("Has anyone yet died a timely death?"), "material breach" and "peel-and-eat shrimp."  "Do they think that, if the name did not contain instructions, we would peel-and-throw-on-floor?" asks one cantankerous linguist.

"The tongue-in-cheek Banishment List began as a publicity ploy for little-known LSSU," notes the school's surprisingly frank Web site.  "In order to gain the most media coverage possible, the Banishment List is released each year on New Year's Day."


Short Takes

Coverage and Non-Coverage
Independent film site IndieWIRE offers extensive coverage of the Sundance Film Festival, while The Salt Lake Tribune hopes that some quotes from festival director Geoffrey Gilmore constitute an article.

It's the Bellevue Review
Michael Board chats with Danielle Ofri, a doctor and editor in chief of a literary journal based at New York's storied Bellevue Hospital, for New Scientist.

Some People Called Him Maurice
Pop critic Jon Pareles remembers Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees, in The New York Times.

Baked, Mashed or Wafted?
The snowflakes you see falling on television are probably potato flakes, writes Emily Nelson in The Wall Street Journal.

Forever the King?
Long-winded rock critic Greil Marcus ponders Elvis' legacy, in The Threepenny Review.

The Hinge of History
Writer Joan Didion considers politics, patriotism and the absence of critical thought in American life since 9/11 in a lecture reprinted in The New York Review of Books.

Ingmar and Me
Woody Allen discusses his own fascination with the work of Ingmar Bergman, in The Independent.

Sweet Revenge
British actor Henry Goodman, booted from "The Producers" last year, gets a fine New York Times review for his role in a new staging of "Tartuffe."

A Slip of the Dung
It's hard to maintain contemporary art made with unusual materials, says Lorraine Adams in The Washington Post; Sylvia Hochfield covered the same subject last year in ARTnews.

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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