The Week/the Spin

Gold?—Mine!

Fox TV hitched two strangers in front of 23 million viewers. In the inaugural episode of Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire? producers staged a contest among 50 women to win the hand of a rich man they had never met. A quarter of the nation’s 18- to 34-year-old women tuned in to gawk at the pairing of a 34-year-old ex-military nurse with a real-estate developer. Gold-digging prospective wives had to win over not just the faceless “mystery mogul” (whose identity was revealed minutes before the wedding), but his mother and sister too. Feminists’ spin: “This brings new meaning to the term ’ trophy wife.’ ” We ought to trash Fox headquarters! Advertisers’ spin: Women “loved this show like pigs love mud.” Fox’s spin: It’s sweeps month, give us a break. (Don’t forget—Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST!) The blasé spin: Vulgarity without irony—how retro. The sophisticated spin: Overt materialism with emotional neediness—how refreshingly honest.(Can Fox force its star attractions to stay married? Read Slate’s ” Explainer” to find out.)

Celestial real estate is open for business. Russia leased its Mir space station to an Amsterdam-based consortium, MirCorp, which will rent the vessel to corporate R & D firms and to wealthy “citizen explorers.” Owned jointly by an American venture-capital firm, a British Internet service provider, and the Russian government, among others, MirCorp boasts that its empty, 13-year-old satellite “offers a unique environment that is free of the constraints of gravity and with unmatched views of the Earth and heavens.” The firm will launch a Web site to broadcast images of the Earth around the clock. Adventure-seekers wishing to explore the great beyond must undergo “very rigorous psychological and physical testing.”

George W. Bush has lost ground nationally. A New York Times/CBS News poll of GOP primary voters gives him a 53 percent to 33 percent lead over John McCain (it was 68 to 8 in November) and no lead over Al Gore (Bush led by 9 points in November). Gore’s positive ratings have inched up, and 70 percent of voters like President Clinton’s handling of the economy—much of which rubs off on Gore. Meanwhile, California’s top Republican officeholder, Secretary of State Bill Jones, switched his allegiance from Bush to McCain. Bush’s spin: The GOP still thinks I’m the best candidate to end the Clinton era. McCain’s spin: Not for long. Clinton’s spin: They’re running against my character because they can’t run against my record.

Gary Bauer endorsed McCain. Bauer spurned most of the evangelical movement by supporting the Arizona senator. Meanwhile, the GOP presidential candidates debated in South Carolina. Bush and McCain fought over tactics, while Alan Keyes ripped both for ignoring substance. Keyes and McCain attacked Bush for speaking at Bob Jones University without criticizing its racist dating policy, while Bush accused McCain of breaking his no-negative-campaigning pledge. McCain proposed a ” rogue state rollback” force to overthrow outlaw regimes and accused Bush of ignoring values in foreign policy. With polls showing a dead heat in South Carolina, Bush laid out his own campaign finance proposal, which would outlaw corporate and labor donations to political parties (“soft money”) but would let individuals give such donations. The media’s spin: Bush is just co-opting McCain’s issue. McCain’s spin: Bush’s protection of individual contributions is a “billion-dollar loophole.” Bush’s spin: McCain’s “comprehensive” reform is Orwellian and probably unconstitutional. (For Slate’s coverage of the debate, read “Ballot Box” and “Frame Game.”)

A study concluded that the Internet saps users’ social lives. The Stanford University report says Internet use has cut down on time spent with family and friends, “raising the specter of an atomized world without human contact or emotion” (New York Times). Researchers’ spin: “When you spend your time on the Internet, you don’t hear a human voice and you never get a hug.” Skeptics’ spin: But the study says Net usage cuts into TV time, not social time. Also, people make friends online. Netizens’ spin: Big deal. People spend time with their dogs, too, but that doesn’t make them anti-social.

The Northern Irish peace process disintegrated. After Britain suspended the 10-week-old Protestant-Catholic government because the Irish Republican Army refused to disarm, the IRA pledged to make good on disarmament, but the Ulster Unionist Party rejected the offer as too little, too late. The IRA’s spin: You won’t look at compromise solutions. The Unionists’ spin: The 1998 Belfast Agreement (which created the joint government) already is a compromise and was approved by the voters. Ireland’s spin: Keep talking to the IRA, because something is better than nothing.

American Beauty earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The Insider (seven nominations), The Cider House Rules (seven), The Sixth Sense (six), and The Green Mile (four) will also compete for Best Picture. Surprises: Sean Penn (Sweet and Lowdown) and the 79-year-old Richard Farnsworth (The Straight Story) for Best Actor, Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds) for Best Actress, and Samantha Morton (who played a mute in Lowdown) for Best Supporting Actress. Snubs: Three Kings (no nominations), Jim Carrey (Man on the Moon), and The Talented Mr. Ripley (five nominations but none for Best Picture, Best Actor, or Best Director). Also nominated: Denzel Washington (Best Actor, The Hurricane), Tom Cruise (Best Supporting Actor, Magnolia), and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (Best Song, “Blame Canada”). Optimists’ spin: The academy has finally learned to embrace dark comedies (American Beauty), gender-benders (Boys Don’t Cry), and art-house films (Cider House). Pessimists’ spin: The academy still won’t touch political tragicomedies (Three Kings) and off-the-wall physical comedy (Carrey). (Read “Culturebox” on how John McCain and the Oscars are connected.)

South Carolina’s governor proposed a compromise on the Confederate flag issue. Gov. Jim Hodges offered to remove the flag from atop the capitol and place it near an existing Confederate memorial on the capitol grounds. The NAACP opposes the compromise, but many white and black legislators seem keen on the deal. Meanwhile, Colin Powell called the flag an “affront” and said it should be removed.

Charles Schulz died Saturday, Feb. 14, a day before his last Peanuts strip appeared. The 77-year-old cartoonist had announced his retirement three months ago. Critics recycle Peanuts meta-theories: 1) After 50 years, it is ” the longest story ever told by one human being“; 2) Snoopy and Woodstock embody hippie culture; 3) Schulz was an existential and artistic rebel who “redeemed the ordinary, lonely, forgettable, hopeful person” in all of us. Cynics’ spin: For 30 years Peanuts has been “unreadable pap.” Merchandisers’ spin: So is Garfield, but consumers don’t care. (To read Mark Alan Stamaty’s “Assessment” of Schulz in Slate, click here.)

The Reform Party dissolved into chaos. On Friday, its highest elected official, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, quit the party. The next day, a Ross Perot supporter wrested control of the party from a Ventura supporter at a convention and nearly caused a riot. Then Donald Trump announced that he wouldn’t run for president after all. Media’s spin: Isn’t the Reform Party entertaining? The GOP spin: If Ventura-backed Trump is out, Perot-backed Pat Buchanan is in, which could be bad news for our ticket in November.