WASHINGTON, DC—The bottom of the collective national barrel, already badly strained from massive content depletion in recent years, is now in "severe danger" as a result of unchecked, unregulated overscraping, a report from the House Subcommittee on Barrel Affairs revealed Monday.

American Focus

"Because of the nation's dwindling cultural output, the bottom of the barrel has been scraped beyond recognition," Barrel Affairs chairman Rep. Bernard Cooper (R-PA) told reporters at a Washington press conference. "If immediate steps are not taken to federally protect what little of the barrel's lowermost layer remains, the bottom could fall out completely by as early as spring 2001."

Though federal barrel-watchers have long called for the adoption of broad-based barrel-bottom-conservation policies, their initiatives have been consistently defeated in Congress. The defeats, experts say, have largely been the result of the enormous pressure exerted by lobbyists representing America's film, television and publishing industries, whose relentless lowering of cultural standards over the last two decades has necessitated substantial increases in commercial bottom-scraping to keep up with consumer demand.

"All across America," Cooper said, "the agonizing metallic groan of the bottom of the barrel, straining under severe, unrelenting structural fatigue, can be heard with ever-greater clarity. We must heed its clarion call."

The history of the conflict between barrel-conservationists and pop-cultural manufacturers has been a long and bitter one. In 1994, after a protracted legal battle with the Barrel Protection Agency, the recording industry won expanded bottom-scraping rights, resulting in such platinum-selling releases as The Eagles' Hell Freezes Over reunion CD and The Best Of Shaquille O'Neal. Brisk mail-order sales of Pure Moods, featuring such timeless, soothing melodies as "The X-Files Theme" by DJ Dado, only exacerbated the problem. In 1996, deregulation of many previously protected sections of the barrel's lowermost surface area resulted in the prime-time-TV premieres of Nick Freno, Alright Already and The Brian Benben Show, among many others.

However, the subcommittee report notes, it was not until the Walt Disney Corporation began unprecedented, wholesale strip-mining of the bottom of the barrel to generate such recent big-screen retreads as Mr. Magoo, George Of The Jungle and Flubber that emergency levels were reached. The situation worsened in October 1998, when Disney lawyers successfully sidestepped several key BPA safeguards and won the right to use actual splinters from the bottom of the barrel to construct the current theatrical release My Favorite Martian, causing scientists monitoring the barrel's eroding structural integrity to declare that a "crisis state" had been reached.

Disney's <I>My Favorite Martian</I>, which wrought untold damage to the bottom of the U.S. barrel.

"Something must be done," said Cooper, issuing a stern warning to the nation's $240 billion barrel-scraping industry. "Without effective, proactive strategies to reduce barrel-scraping now, the national barrel—the very repository of our nation's socio-cultural substance—may not survive the imminent release of The Mod Squad movie."

The report has sparked strong reaction on Capitol Hill, including numerous calls for tougher bottom-of-the-barrel protective legislation and greater restrictions on privatized barrel-scraping. But many observers regard such efforts as too little too late, pointing out that signs of an imminent barrel-bottom collapse can already be seen in nearly every aspect of American social and cultural life.

"I hate this," said Scottsdale, AZ, housewife Sandy Evans, 48, sitting down to yet another game of Balderdash! with family members and dinner guests. "It'd be nice to do something different, like maybe relate to each other as human beings or something, but, no, it's either Balderdash! again or that dreadful Boomer Edition of Trivial Pursuit for the 17 billionth time."

"Our store's copy of National Lampoon's Senior Trip, generally regarded by industry insiders as pretty much the last commercially available videotape anyone would ever want to see, has already been rented more than 850 times," said Larry Freberg, co-owner of Video Villa in Omro, WI. "People are desperate. They've already seen everything else, including WWF Presents: The Best Of Junkyard Dog, Sleepover Massacre VIII: The Bludgeoning and Footloose: The Musical: The Video. They've literally got nowhere to turn."

According to the new report, such examples, while alarming, are far from unusual. Currently, the report found, there are more than 30 Chicken Soup For The Soul books in print, ranging from Chicken Soup For The Golfer's Soul to Chicken Soup For The Model-Railroad Hobbyist's Soul to Chicken Soup For The Orchid-Show Attendee's Soul. Even more shocking, an additional 22 installments of the series, including Chicken Soup For That Weird Guy You Always See On The Bus' Soul and Chicken Soup For The Husk-Like Shell Of A Person Who Doesn't Even Have A Soul Anymore's Soul, are in the works. The software company X-Treme Interactive, also cited in the report, recently released MechWar Apocalypse 3: City Of Deathazoids, the 893rd robots-blowing-each-other-up game to hit the market, as well as Poison Fist V, the 1,297th ninjas-kicking-each-other-in-the-face game, prompting the suicide of one of the company's senior programmers.

But despite the report, many in Congress insist there is no cause for alarm.

"We still have a strong barrel, a proud barrel, and we've got a long way to go before we get to the bottom of it," U.S. Sen. Mike Dewine (R-OH) said. "Rep. Cooper is well-meaning, but needlessly alarmist. For example, we haven't even begun to exhaust the potential of scraping the bottom of other cultures' barrels overseas. There are enormous resources waiting to be scraped at the bottom of Japan's barrel alone. Just look at the enduring multimedia popularity of those Power Rangers guys. We need to look at this optimistically: The barrel isn't 99.9999 percent empty, it's .0001 percent full."