Truth, justice and Christmas lights

Creeping municipal fascism – don’t ya just love it?

Over the past decade or so I’ve observed with growing alarm a national trend whereby local governments step boldly onto private property and try to tell residents what their homes should look like and what they may – or may not – be allowed to do in their own yards and driveways.

I’m not talking about methamphetamine labs, toxic waste storage or sexual gymnastics in public view. I’m talking about cities dictating what one’s home should look like, what kind of vehicle one can park in one’s own driveway and, perhaps, how one’s prize hydrangeas are trimmed.

Davis police once went so far as to arrest a resident for snoring too loudly in the privacy of her own bedroom. More recently, the Dixon City Council was embroiled in months of debate over whether a local man could leave his own pickup truck parked in his own driveway based upon how mechanically sound it might be at any given moment.

Wheeeeee!

A recent wire service report from Arizona, however, almost makes the folks in Dixon and Davis seem like sapient human beings.

According to Associated Press, Tony and Angelica Flores were arrested, handcuffed and tossed into jail for failing to remove Christmas lights from their Peoria, Ariz., home.

Trouble started about a year ago when the couple was notified that they were in violation of a city ordinance requiring holiday decorations be removed from Peoria homes no later than 19 days after Christmas. Tony Flores, however, had been injured at work and was unable to remove the lights in a timely manner.

Hey, no excuses, pal. Peoria apparently has adopted a zero tolerance policy for Christmas light desperadoes. Definitive action had to be taken to “maintain the integrity of neighborhoods,” city officials told Associated Press.

Unfortunately, nobody’s talking about maintaining the integrity of individual homeowners’ property rights or freedom from intrusive municipal meddling.

No city should have the power to enact or enforce subjective lifestyle ordinances unless the public health and safety is threatened.

If the Flores’ Christmas bulbs were blinding oncoming motorists, interfering with air traffic control or in danger of bursting into flame and threatening neighboring structures, the lights, of course, should have been abated.

If, however, those lights were simply unseasonal or in remarkably bad taste, the city should mind its own business.

The same goes for the vehicle you park in your driveway, what color you paint your house and how often you mow your lawn.

If small children aren’t going to get hopelessly lost in your fescue, if your pickup truck isn’t inhabited by 12-pound rats gnawing on discarded dynamite, if you aren’t storing radioactive waste along your driveway, it’s nobody’s business but your own.

Health and safety issues must be addressed by municipal authorities in a prompt and reasonable manner. When and where you hang your Christmas lights, though, is between you and Santa’s elves.

Originally published March 3, 2002

Play it again, Hollywood …

America seems to be trapped in the cinematic Era of the Sequel. If you’ve seen it once, you’ll see it again.

And again.

The apes are back, Charlie’s Angels are back, even Vietnam is back (yes, “Apocalypse Now Redux” has just been released and it’s even longer than the original 2.5-hour epic).

For some reason – possibly an overwhelming wave of industry-wide ennui – the height of Hollywood creativity today seems to be adding a “2” or “3” to the title of a previously released film, tossing in a couple of new characters or perhaps tacking on a diabolically clever plot twist.

In a pinch, an extended shot of Cameron Diaz’s bikinied buttocks bouncing across the screen can be substituted for the aforementioned diabolically clever plot twist.

It should be noted that the original film to which the obligatory “2” or “3” is attached doesn’t necessarily have to have been all that good in the first place. If it played Peoria for more than three days, it’s sequel material.

“I Know What You Did Last Summer” is a good case in point. The original was bad, the sequel was worse and the sequel’s sequel is still pending.

Unfortunately, “pending” doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be produced some day. I fear it’s only a matter of time until “I Think I Remember What You Did a Couple of Summers Ago” explodes across the screen in a theater near you.

What’s going to happen when Hollywood runs out of sequels, remakes and revivals?

I’d like to speculate about a whole new generation of producers and directors who will soon emerge from the collective ruin of 21st-century American cinema and lead moviegoers to a brave new frontier.

But I won’t.

No, what will probably happen in the not-too-distant future is that the movie industry will begin producing carefully crafted sequel compilations in a desperate attempt to keep disenchanted theater audiences from turning to monster truck rallies for entertainment.

The secret to successful sequel compilations will be a simple matter of selecting two or three obvious box office hits from past seasons and carefully blending them into a single film that says it all, does it all and projects a lively new perspective to jaded moviegoers.

“Titanic” was a smash, right? And so were “Rush Hour” and “Pearl Harbor.”

All we’ve got to do is launch a luxury liner on a doomed voyage of destiny on the eve of World War II – maybe in, like, the Bermuda Triangle – and then have it attacked by Japanese torpedo bombers while star-crossed lovers desperately search for fulfillment among bullet-riddled lifeboats and hastily discarded party hats.

The passengers’ only hope of ever seeing land again will, of course, be in the hands of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.

Throw in a cameo appearance by Harvey Keitel as the enigmatic, crack-smoking, pistol-wielding captain, and you’re on your way to a bona fide box office bombshell.

Ought to lend itself to a great sequel …

Originally published August 19, 2001