That giant whooshing sound you folks back east heard over the weekend wasn’t just a nor’easter, whatever that is. It was the collective exhalation of breath here in Hollywood, a vast, unanimous sigh of relief that l’affaire Imus is now over and we scribes now have the outlines of the strangest black comedy since Brian de Palma screwed up Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. I mean, really, how likely is this sequence of events?
1) Aging, gun-toting ex-Marine radio shock jock does the same thing he’s been doing five days a week for years — cruelly ridiculing people based on race, creed, color, sexual orientation, and the size of their schwanstuecks. Yuck, yuck, equal-opportunity offender, all in good fun, etc. Besides, his bigotry is bulletproof, thanks to the bully pulpit he provides for a host of sycophantic, right-wing, red-meat conservative journalists and politicians, such as Chris Dodd, Frank Rich, Harold Ford Jr., Jonathan Alter, and a genuine war hero, John Kerry.
2) Unbeknownst to the shock jock, however, a patriotic kid in a basement somewhere in Washington, D.C., named Ryan Chiachiere is taping every filthy, toxic, devastating, hurtful, and hateful word that spews from the gun-toting ex-Marine‘s on-air mouth. He’s doing the Lord’s work (can you still say that?) on behalf of a noble outfit called Media Matters, whose heroic mission is “correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.” Forsaking a “life,” Ryan bides his time, waiting and taping, waiting and taping, until one day — gotcha! The gun-toting, ex-Nazi (oops! ex-Marine!) has just insulted… a college women’s basketball team from New Jersey! This time he’s gone too far!
(I’m not going to write down what he said, but they were words so vile, so filthy, so hateful that you can hear them in pretty much every rap and hip-hop song on commercial radio.)
3) Umbrage and high dudgeon ensue. The U.S., which has nothing better to worry about than Bush’s illegal war in Iraq and whether Dianne Feinstein steered some federal money in the direction of her husband, Dick Blum, is suddenly riveted by the scandal. The gun-toting ex-Marine turns pussycat, grovels, bleats, rolls over, plays dead, but to no avail. For who should emerge as his implacable Javert but the Reverend Bacon — no, wait a minute, that’s Wolfe’s character from Bonfire, can’t use that — the Reverend “Sharpton,” who mau-maus the flak catchers (damn, another Wolfe book, can’t use that), who rises up in righteous indignation and gets him fired, not once but twice. Not even his powerful conservative mafia is able to save him.
4) In lieu of rehab and mandatory reeducation camp in San Francisco, the shock jock vows to meet with the women’s basketball team at… get this… the governor’s mansion in Trenton, New Jersey.
5) Now, as it happens, the governor doesn’t really need a mansion. He’s one of the richest men in America, a former Wall Street bigfoot who bought himself a seat in the U.S. Senate before realizing that what he really wanted to do with his life was raise the taxes on everybody in New Jersey and continue to make sure that nobody there can pump their own gas, all the while keeping the state free of the stench of Republicanism. In other words, our kind of guy, except for maybe the gas part.
6) Sensing an opportunity to be a magnanimous peacemaker and help heal a quivering, traumatized nation, the governor hops in his Chevy Suburban and is happily motorcading down the Garden State Parkway, when…
(Here comes the unbelievable, over-the-top movie stuff you have to have in a picture like this.)
7) A red pickup being driven erratically by a 20-year-old Atlantic City casino worker who might have “special needs” somehow gets tangled up with the motorcade, causing one of the cars to clip the governor’s SUV, which goes flying through a guard rail, nearly killing the governor. His leg breaks in two places, his sternum is fractured, a dozen ribs are broken — man, it’s bad.
Objection! What about seat belts? Air bags??
8) The governor — who ironically was motoring along the very parkway he’s been proposing to privatize — refuses to wear his seat belt, even though it’s the law of the land. Maybe he was distracted by the hurtful, hateful, vile, filthy, toxic remarks, I dunno. Maybe he’s just crazy brave, a man of the people. Anyway, he’s unbuckled in the front passenger seat, and when the accident happens… the air bags mysteriously fail to deploy!
(Right, that part’s not funny. Which is why we can flip this from a black comedy into a conspiracy picture with the greatest of ease.)
9) Eventually, the crack New Jersey State Police — the same guys who didn’t force the governor to wear a seat belt in the first place — track down the red pickup’s driver in a place with the unlikely name of Little Egg Harbor Township and interview him. When he tells them he didn’t realize he’d caused the crash… they let him go!
10) In our heartwarming finale, the gun-toting ex-Marine rushes to the hospital to prostrate himself at the governor’s bedside and beg forgiveness. A saintly orderly-cum-country singer named Kinky Friedman introduces the shock jock to a radiant, younger vegetarian, whom he marries on Oprah with the entire women’s basketball team as the bridesmaids.
I know, it still needs work. The names of the politicians and journalists are going to have to be changed from Dodd, Kerry, Rich et al., into something like (I’m just spitballing here) Cheney, Gonzales, and Lowry, but we can take care of that in the rewrite. But since it’s already Monday morning I’d better get it over to my agent in time for the 10 A.M. meeting.
I’m thinking Bob Redford for the aging shock jock, Ron Silver for the governor, Matthew Broderick for Ryan Chiachiere, Al Sharpton as the “Rev. Sharpton,” and the Rutgers women’s basketball team for the women’s basketball team, but we can talk about it.
One thing I’m not changing, though, is the title: The Conflagration of the Inanities.