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WE'D BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT THESE LAME POP ICONS

Winter is coming, the Bills and Sabres wallow in mediocrity, my car is breaking out in rust spots, and the toddler keeps bringing home colds from nursery school. There's ample reason to be cranky, and one has to take it out on somebody -- such as the profoundly annoying stars of pop culture.

Paul McCartney -- A terminally conventional, corporate, unhip dispenser of sonic pabulum whose smiling pie face just won't go away. He was last seen hogging the stage at the concert for Montserrat and grousing that the British prime minister hadn't invited him to tea. What an oversight.

Derek Taylor, the former Beatles publicist, once was asked why McCartney went from psychedelic wear to double-breasted suits: "Paul wants to be his father." Even in the maw of the hippie-pot-smoking era, McCartney seemed like a counterculture infiltrator, at heart a banker playing dress-up. With no John Lennon to give his songs an edge, McCartney has churned out 20 years of aural insignificance. The cornball Beatle.

Elle Macpherson -- Yeah, she's great-looking, so as a heterosexual male one is inclined to positive thoughts. That's why her inclusion here is evidence of just how irritating the thirtysomething model/"actress" is. What she brings to whatever film she's in -- from "Sirens" to "The Edge" -- is an overwhelming sense of smugness that oozes from every teeny-tiny pore. Her Elle-ness screams a subconscious message: I'm great-looking and therefore an exalted being who will go through life (or that part of it pre-crow's feet) being lavished with an unnatural measure of attention and deference from you mere mortals. The fact that she's right doesn't make it any easier to stomach. At least we can hate her for it.

Martha Stewart -- There's enough anti-Martha smoke coming from former employees, East End neighbors and snubbed fans at book signings to conclude that, yes, underneath that helpful Doris Day/Superwoman exterior beats a heart of unscratchable titanium. Then again, maybe Martha's empire is merely further proof that only those who make an art form of ambition rise to the top of the eat-their-young pop culture heap.

Gavin Rossdale -- It started with Bush's monster hit, "Glycerine." At first one thought it was a morbid ode to mouthwash, given Rossdale's sounds-like-Listerine pronunciation of the title. Aside from that, the band's frontman has all any human could ask for -- Hollywood looks, London accent, the adoration of a female legion and a recent thing with alternative-rock sex symbol Gwen Stefani. So why is he so miserable? The whisky-soaked fieldhand blues croak is annoying enough coming from English rockers with imperfect complexions. From this guy, it's positively appalling.

Jay Leno -- There's something insidiously irritating about Leno's ingratiating, regular-guy, isn't-the-world-crazy shtick. In real life (whatever that is), he's supposedly a great guy who remembers the names of comedy circuit club owners he hasn't seen in 10 years. He's undoubtedly a nicer guy than evil late-night twin Dave Letterman, who's clearly an antisocial eccentric (but far more entertaining than Leno). My distaste is subjective, more reflective of a subconscious bitterness over a now-forgotten wrong done me by a lantern-jawed grade-school classmate than any widespread disaffection among the general public. That doesn't change the fact I think he's a hokey bore.

Billy Crystal -- The final step in Crystal's steady march to insufferability was the nauseatingly self-congratulatory talk show tour he and co-star Robin Williams did to hype the mediocre "Fathers' Day." The unavoidable subtext of the late-night exercise was: We are the two funniest people on earth (and aren't you lucky we're doing this?). Crystal is proof that unlimited self-admiration is as tangible a repellent to other living things as skunk scent.

Gillian "X-Files" Anderson -- An otherwise uninspired, unnotable actress who hit the lottery by being cast in a weirdly fascinating show that developed a massive cult following. And who wrongly concludes because of it that she is a star (and a temperamental one at that). In five years, Anderson will be selling abdominal crunchers on infomercials.

Chris O'Donnell -- A nice, good-looking, terminally uninteresting fellow who should be fetching lunch for the senior partners at a law firm instead of pretending to be an actor. Casting this smooth-faced whelp as the young Hemingway -- a man all crags and fissures -- in "In Love and War" was like hiring a molehill to play Everest.

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