Although Mother Jones has racked up dozens of accolades—including three National Magazine awards—in its first quarter century of muckraking, we have yet to see the early days of the magazine immortalized on the silver screen (as director Cameron Crowe did so righteously for Rolling Stone last year). But this is not to say the magazine hasn’t enjoyed a rich, if fleeting, media life all its own. Herewith, a window into Mother Jones’ 15 minutes of fame.
Carl Hiaasen. Warner Books, 1986.
In this rollicking page-turner, newspaperman-cum-revolutionary Skip Wiley forms Las Noches de Diciembre, a ragtag band of ecoterrorists who plot to make Miami murder capital U.S.A.—and thus rid the Floridian subcontinent of the twin scourges of tourists and developers. Despite several successful hunting trips, not everything goes according to plan. “Crazy fucker,” gripes a fellow Diciembrista of Wiley. “All this work and what do we have to show for it? Nada. Remember all the publicity he promised? NBC! Geraldo Rivera! Mother Jones! Ha!”
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe
Lily Tomlin, 1984.
As part of her peerless one-woman show, Tomlin played “Lyn,” a crunchy Californian struggling to reconcile her ’60s values with her ’80s disposable income. As she meditates on the trauma of being “politically conscious and upwardly mobile at the same time,” Lyn takes a swipe at the magazine that convinced her to live in a geodesic dome: “I like their politics,” she says, “but we never should have bought a home advertised in Mother Jones.”
Warner Bros., 2002.
Issues of Mother Jones have served as “set dressing” (think extra as it applies to inanimate objects) in blockbusters ranging from Twister to The Hurricane. But we at the magazine are proudest of our cinematic association with another gang of muckrakers—the cast of Scooby Doo. A film remake of the ’70s cartoon (replete with a Mother Jones cameo) is slated for 2002.
Mother Jones got in early on the millionaire quiz-show explosion, appearing in the form of a question on Fox’s aptly named “Greed.” “If you walk out of a shop holding a Mother Jones,” the question posed, “what have you just bought?”
(a) baby formula
(b) inexpensive wine
(c) organic pear
(d) frozen pie
(e) counterculture magazine
Shena, a loyal subscriber, proved it pays to read Mother Jones. For her correct answer, she pocketed $75,000.
Paramount Pictures, 1984.
Okay, so the film doesn’t actually give Mother Jones any credit, but the funniest bit in this campy spy thriller (produced by the same folks who brought you Airplane!) is ripped from the pages of our 1977 exposé of the extra-flammable Ford Pinto (see “Pinto Madness“). Evil East German soldiers, pursuing freedom fighter Val Kilmer in a truck, skid to a halt behind the infamous subcompact. The vehicles barely kiss, but the Pinto’s gas tank nonetheless kabooms the Germans back to the Carter administration.