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Pop culture and all its ugliness

By SAMANTHA PUCKETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 23, 2000


Cintra Wilson isn't much concerned about stepping on toes. In A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease and Other Cultural Revelations, she stomps on them, and doesn't even say she's sorry.

Those who frequent Salon.com will recognize Wilson's name and plucky style. One of the web site's most popular columnists, she also writes for the San Francisco Examiner and national magazines. She's been around the writer's block, and she's got the vocabulary and verbosity (though she's exceedingly readable) to prove it.

Wilson has been keeping an eye on popular culture, and she doesn't much like what she sees. In Massive Swelling, she self-righteously muses on the Miss America Pageant, the Oscars, boy bands, women's sports and a slew of other things that irk her to no visible end. Celebrities are her favorite target: She tears into them like a pitbull into yesterday's trash.

"The slandering of iconage is a sport -- not an act of aggression or bitterness, but an exercise. Why should these people not get taunted and roasted?" she writes.

Readers with weak stomachs and even weaker constitutions are better advised to steer clear of Wilson's rants. She just might shoot down your favorite star, and it will sting.

Tom Cruise? He's nothing more than Nicole Kidman's "dwarfy power-tool husband."

The Backstreet Boys? "They don't stand for anything, they don't question The System, they don't introduce anything challenging or new, even in the world of fashion; they're as instantly pleasing and comestible and forgettable as a bag of Funyuns, and they all taste the same."

Parents (the ones who don't mind their daughters throwing "high-pitched grand mal tantrums until albums and T-shirts and concert tickets are bought") who think these boy bands are benign are misguided, according to Wilson. They bring on "biological confusion and obsessive hysteria," and she has the fan mail to prove it. In one, a letter writer threatens to off herself if she doesn't meet her favorite New Kid on the Block.

When talking about the money-soaked elite, Wilson really starts to sound bitter -- but it's bitterness mixed with unerring sass and wit. And she doesn't just whine. She offers some concrete ideas to make her -- and the rest of us -- feel a whole lot better about the raging disparity in the distribution of wealth. "The Mars choco-bar family ought to be made personally responsible for the nutrition and good mouth-feel of all inner-city school lunch programs," she proposes. "The Walton Wal-Mart family should give free diapers to any family with an income less than twenty thousand dollars a year."

Cosmetic surgery is another of her least favorite things. Most people who go under the knife may have not been all that ugly to begin with, but the fact that they found the option viable reveals an inner ugliness, she concludes. "We'll see what happens to plastic-surgery junkies in the next ten years. I have a hunch it will eventually be regarded a bigger cry for help than slit wrists or a pill overdose. Nobody should EVER think that they look THAT bad."

Wilson also is incensed about the mixed messages little girls receive from figure skating and gymnastic competitions. "This is the kind of dangerous hypocrisy and whiplash virgin/whore shape shifting that generate tragedies like JonBenet Ramsey and magazines like Barely Legal," she contends. Her feelings toward beauty pageants are much the same: ". . . these contests are completely pornographically revolting and woman-hating on the level of white slavery and foot binding."

Be forewarned. A Massive Swelling, full of hilarious, insightful quips, causes much spontaneous laughter. The Onion-reading skeptics among us will throw our hands in the air and shout: Hallelujah! But a slow, sinking feeling soon follows. After all, even those of us who adamantly agree with her have allowed these things to go on.

- Samantha Puckett is a Times staff writer.

A MASSIVE SWELLING:

Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease and Other Cultural Revelations

By Cintra Wilson

Viking, $23.95

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