Speak Out Against California, Go to Jail

Anne Beatts is a freelance writer who lives in Hollywood

As anyone whose first language isn't Hmong knows by now, Oprah bested the beef barons. Their libel suit against her was rejected by the jury, though Texas cattle billionaire Paul Engler says he plans to appeal, probably around the same time that Ross Perot plans to run for president again.

But the so-called "veggie libel law" under which Oprah was dragged into court has spawned copycat legislation right here in our fair state of California. State Sen. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) has sponsored a bill that seeks to prevent "false and disparaging statements about California agricultural products." Look out, George Bush! If this bill passes, you'd better eat your broccoli and act like you're enjoying it.

California Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Wilmington) would take things a step further. He wants to prohibit disparagement of all things Californian.

"Why stop with a law to protect the good name of broccoli? Let's stop people from bad-mouthing tuna," says Floyd. "Let's instruct people to repeat the phrases 'I love my computer' and 'Planes and oil products are good.' Maybe we should be reminding people about how important the movie industry is to this state by making 'thumbs down' a misdemeanor. If some critic says, 'This is a bomb,' let's take him to court." He further suggests that the phrase "sour grapes" be banned from the lexicon to avoid misunderstandings.

The good news is, he's joking. Yes, step right up, ladies and germs, an actual living, breathing politician with a sense of humor instead of a sense of spin. I personally would like to nominate Dick Floyd to the Adlai Stevenson Hall of Fame.

And the bad news? Why does there always have to be bad news? For one thing, it sells newspapers, and for another, my editor told me I was taking too long to get to the point and now I'm so self-conscious about it, I'm reduced to writing in cliches.


The bad news is that some of Floyd's fellow lawmakers haven't so far cottoned to the fact that Floyd's proposed amendments to SB 1334 actually are a hoax. Perhaps because he hasn't gone far enough.

For starters, may I suggest an amendment making it illegal to say, "Have a nice day," based on the assumption that nobody has to be told to have a nice day, because all days in California are equally nice and no one day should be thought of as nicer than any other.

Complaining about rainfall would be compulsorily replaced with, "It's good for the farmers," to be repeated over and over in a monotone.

Saying, "This hot dog is full of rat parts," would be absolutely forbidden, even if the hot dog in question had ears and a tail.

Of course, all movies and television shows actually produced in California would be protected from negative reviews in all media, including e-mail. (This would not cover "Titanic," which was shot in Mexico and Canada and thus falls under the heading of "runaway production." So, I may say with impunity that the script really bites, and Billy Zane's performance appears to have been computer-generated.)


In addition, anyone working in the film or TV industry would be immune from criticism, up to and including Pamela Anderson (scratch the "Lee," as per her latest request after Tommy Lee allegedly scratched her).

No one would be allowed to say anything bad about any of the "Friends" movies, even the latest really sucky one with David "What Is That Stuff on His Hair?" Schwimmer.

The New Yorker would be sued automatically for running outdated stereotypical anti-California cartoons showing men with ponytails swilling Chardonnay in hot tubs while talking on cell phones, like that ever happened here, I'm so sure!

The word "smog" could be replaced by "smug," a description of how every Californian should feel, thanks to the statewide effort to combat pollution by encouraging people to buy electric barbecues and not allowing them to burn leaves the way we did way back in the dark ages before leaf blowers.

All footage of airplane crashes that occurred in California would be banned from TV unless they were due to pilot error and then only if the pilot error could be proved not to have been caused by smoking dope grown in Northern California.

And if anything had ever happened with your computer, you could never talk about it, unless the computer was made in That Other Place across the Pacific Ocean, which would be renamed "The California Sea" for purposes of promoting tourism.

Heaven forfend any incident in which tuna fishing was threatened by an oil slick, because there'd have to be a mandatory news blackout on the whole thing.

There is no traffic congestion on our freeways, do you hear me? None.

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