A Little Less Conversation

Plus: Cheer Up, Gal

A Little Less Conversation
Elvis is alive and working at a local news station. Seriously.

From 1990 to '95, John Paxson was CBS' man in Dallas, and though he's been burning London bridges for the past seven years as the net's bureau chief, he couldn't shake our city. That's one reason he set his latest novel, Elvis Live at Five, here--at a fictional TV station, KVGO, that bears a sneaky resemblance to, well, all of the real ones. The novel's a Networkfor the Wired crowd: A computer-generated Elvis lands his own late-night talk show, then goes national and brainwashes a nation with racist, homophobic and misanthropic rants. In the end, the country nearly destroys itself with "misery and fear," which sounds like a trip to Graceland as far as Full Frontal's concerned.

The book could have been set anywhere, so why place it in Dallas?

Because it's the city of my most immediate experience. But Dallas is also a weird place. There's a passage in the book where I talk about how it's appropriate "that the city that shot J.R. and J.F.K. would be the one to bring Elvis Presley back to life." A city that can create myths and martyrs isn't really aware of the difference between the two. That's sort of Dallas to me. Dallas exists on several planes, I think. There's a real-people plane in Dallas I truly adore. Three of my best friends in the world live in Texas, and two are Dallasites. And then there's kinda the Highland Park and Turtle Creek set that lives a little differently, and I'm not sure those two meet and greet all that cordially, and that sort of intrigued me.

This isn't just great satire, but a frightening glimpse at what feels like, well, an inevitability.

That's what scares me. I think it is inevitable. I portrayed a malicious lust for power. I don't think that exists out there. The bottom line drives people. Being smarter than the next feller drives people. Coming up with the newest idea drives people. Not a lot of attention is paid to the consequences of those actions, because people are in such a frenzy to come up with the latest, greatest thing. We're real close to this.

How close?

I was struck that Geraldo Rivera went to Afghanistan armed with a pistol, and he was going to shoot bin Laden for all of America and did a frantic, almost hysterical stand-up on-camera report saying he's walking on hallowed ground: "This is where Marines fell." Then it transpired a week later he wasn't within 100 miles of where Marines fell, and Fox said, "Oh, miscommunication. Next." There was a three-second cultural attention span given to an outright deceit and lie in journalism. That troubles me. That's the seed of what we're talking about. The tenets that have guided journalism are under attack.

Was the book then written out of concern or outrage?

I'm not outraged yet. Concern? Absolutely. --Robert Wilonsky


Cheer Up, Gal

You know him from Tuesdays with Oprah. But starting September 16, pop-psych superhero Dr. Phil McGraw dishes out daily doses of wisdom on his very own talk show (3 p.m. weekdays, Channel 11). His get-real style has won him millions of fans. But how well would his brand of 10-minute therapy work for tougher cases?

Say, Sylvia Plath? Might a few minutes with the Great Bald One have saved the angst-ridden, suicide-prone midcentury poet from death at 30? Let's listen in as Dr. Phil offers Plath some of his no-nonsense nuggets to live by (all dialogue authentic to its source):

Sylvia Plath: Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.

Dr. Phil: Stop the pity party, sister.

Sylvia Plath: I am terrified by this dark thing that sleeps inside me.

Dr. Phil: You can't heal what you do not acknowledge.

Sylvia Plath: I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

Dr. Phil: You got to bloom where you're planted, buddy.

Sylvia Plath: The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Dr. Phil: You're dogging yourself, girl.

Sylvia Plath: I eat men like air.

Dr. Phil: People do what works.

Sylvia Plath: How I would like to believe in tenderness.

Dr. Phil: You can't claim it if you don't name it.

Sylvia Plath: Like a cat I have nine times to die.

Dr. Phil: If you keep doin' what you've always done, you keep gettin' what you've always got.

Sylvia Plath: If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.

Dr. Phil: What can you do today to be part of the solution? Say something with a verb in it.

Sylvia Plath: The tulips are too red...they hurt me.

Dr. Phil: You're sitting there grinning like a opossum. That hound don't hunt and that horse don't ride.

Sylvia Plath: Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

Dr. Phil: Come on, get real. Talk or walk.

Sylvia Plath: I turn and burn. Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Dr. Phil: Are you ready to get real? Or are you ready to get off the stage?

Sylvia Plath: Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well.

Dr. Phil: So how's that working for ya, lady?

Sylvia Plath: Now your head, excuse me, is empty.

Dr. Phil: The difference between winners and losers is that winners do things losers won't.--Elaine Liner


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