Desperately seeking
Jane of the jungle

Jan 20, 2004 6:45 AM

It’s been a brutal week for Tarzan and Pete Rose, and a ridiculous one for the head guy in Washington.

A major television network blamed the King of the Apes for its disastrous year, and writers coast to coast have turned on good old Pete the hustler, who will sell you his autograph for 50 bucks, and his soul for just a little more.

In Foggy Bottom, the big man announced, following his colonization of the moon proposal, that he will spend a billion and a half dollars promoting marriage.

I can understand the media scorn now being poured on Pistol Pete. He asked for it with his recent interviews on his confessional book, and has now been revealed for what he always has been, and what George Vecsey called him in the New York Times: "unrepentent, unaware, unhappy, unsatisfied, unpleasant." The headline on that story, incidentally, was "A Reputation in Tatters is Fully Down the Drain."

Vecsey ventured that "never — and I do not use this word lightly — have I seen an athlete (or maybe any public figure) downgrade his public reputation as startlingly as Rose did in the last week. He has gone from the image of a lying but vaguely charming rogue with a gambling addiction to a downright unpleasant human being, unmasked in public." That was the nice part of the story. From there it went downhill.

The rap on Tarzan hurt far more.

I grew up with Tarzan.

Not in the jungle with his friends Numa the Lion and Tantor the Elephant, but in the 29 Tarzan books of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the 55 Tarzan movies in which those wonderful animal pals appeared. I’m not sure what kids today are raised on, although prime time television gives a good clue, but I swung from every vine with Tarzan, pined for his sweetheart Jane, hated Tarzan’s enemies, and then rushed to the movies to watch Johnny Weissmuller bring him to life on the screen. It was Weissmuller, the Olympic swimmer with the body of a Greek god, who got me hooked on body building. Thank goodness he can’t see me now.

Executives of the WB television network, in a candid news conference last week, blamed their dismal business year on Tarzan — their TV version of him — for much of their downturn. What a joke! The way they portray him, not in tattered loin cloth but in tattered blue jeans, would turn anyone off, and they deserve whatever low ratings they get. Tarzan was a noble figure, king of the jungle, fighter against evil, an English lord raised by apes, invincible. That’s reality, kid. Never mind those weary, phony, setup reality shows of today.

The president’s plan to toss away a cool billion and a half on marriage counseling is another costly bad joke.

Never mind the hungry and unemployed, the sick without insurance, the soldiers in daily peril on scattered imperial fronts around the world. An election is coming, and the conservatives want blood. An administration leader explained it candidly: "This is a way for the president to address the concerns of conservatives and to solidify his conservative base."

The good old compassionate conservative, busting the country to please the far right.

How do you promote marriage? A spokesman said the king probably will visit programs to raise marriage rates in poor neighborhoods. "The president loves to do that sort of thing in the inner city with black churches," he said, "and he’s very good at it."

I can see it now. Any guy who will dress up in full military regalia for a phony photo op on an aircraft carrier will do anything for a vote. How will George dress for a talk on marriage in a black church? Will he do a rapper routine with a marriage dialogue?

One thing is certain. When he gets rolling on this one, gay marriages will take a terrible public beating. A constitutional amendment prohibiting them is not out of the question. One spokesman, asked about it, said, "That is a decision the president has to make in due time."

Take me back to the jungle, please. I want to be with Tarzan again.