The American People
In the history of the human race, the ends of centuries have produced craziness,” says Middle Tennessee State University professor and pop culture expert David Lavery. “Maybe that’s what this is.” Or maybe El Niño. Or an asteroid shower. Whatever was in the air, the American public went its own way with a vengeance in 1998. We paid no attention to pollsters or pundits, made a hash of predictions, and left spinmeisters, economists and media stars with egg on their faces. “The significant development this year is the public’s insistence against what the newspapers and politicians tell them,” says Harold Evans, journalist and author of The American Century. “The public is saying, ‘We’re not sheep.’ ”
Certainly we said “Baa, humbug” to Washington. After Bill Clinton’s August mea culpa, everyone with access to a modem or microphone insisted we would demand his impeachment. Instead, as the Monica mess wore on, his job-approval rating edged up. CNN’s legal commentator Greta Van Susteren isn’t surprised. “When I venture beyond the Beltway,” she says, “people let me know how silly they think we are here, including the media. They probably think we should all be impeached.”
Politics wasn’t the only arena in which we refused to be led. When the stock market plunged in August, we did not, as predicted, bail out. We shook up Hollywood, too, abandoning self-satisfied network sitcoms for edgier fare like Comedy Central’s South Park and stampeding to movies that left critics cold (The Waterboy) or the guardians of good taste gasping (There’s Something About Mary). “This year there’s an inverse correlation between the approval of a movie and how well it does,” says Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart, who credits “the rebirth of word of mouth.”
So where are we headed in ’99? As a tumultuous year draws to a close, the experts are predicting that House impeachment proceedings will finally make the American public take the Lewinsky scandal seriously.
Well, we’ll just have to see how we feel about that, now won’t we?