Back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, from time to time my friends and I would gather in the schoolyard and call out the makes, models and years of the cars driving by. You could do that back then, as damn near every car had its own identity, its own look and style. They were so distinctive that I think we could have ID’ed most of these cars by their silhouettes, as though we were World War II Civil Defense car spotters.
Between The Great War and The Great Vietnam Fiasco, the concept of “style” was critical to our culture. Movie theaters weren’t simply big rooms with white sparkly screens – many were cathedrals of film designed to inspire you to appreciate the entirely of the moviegoing experience. Drug stores had soda fountains that were overrun with chrome-plated art deco machinery. Designers unleashed mountains of energy defining the environment shared by four generations, led by the brilliant Raymond Loewy, who created the look of cars, refrigerators and other household appliances, furniture, corporate logos and packaging, and airplanes. In fact, he teamed-up with President John F. Kennedy in 1962 to design Air Force One.
As the psychedelic explosion of the late 1960s (which largely happened in the early 1970s) began to wane, we found ourselves living in a different culture. No more custom-designed stuff, most everything was indistinguishable from its competitors. I think a large part of the success of the pricy Apple computers, phones, tablets, teevee, watches etc. is that they continue to put a great deal of effort into the look and feel of their products, largely due to the work of designer Jony Ive – a.k.a. Sir Jonathan Paul Ive. He’s just a kid 17 years my junior, so I’ll be seeing new stuff from him for years to come.
We had the efforts of people like Loewy when we were looking for entertainment. There was little to do at home and we socialized at the movie theaters and soda fountains and car showrooms. The concept of always taking a picture of an event instead of experiencing the event itself was unthinkable less than two decades ago.
We have all these amazing toys, which from the perspective of our grandparents would be truly magical. Sadly, we now rarely leave the house to share the good stuff. I don’t know a single person – myself included – who couldn’t spend twice as much time watching television shows if only we could invent the 48 hour day.
There remain a few high-nosed snoots who think teevee is beneath their notice and humanity’s dignity. These cultural Luddites are arrogant fools who are so egotistical they don’t understand they are only entitled to an informed option. If you decide not to watch television, that is your prerogative. But if you don’t watch television and trivialize the feelings and desires of the vast majority of your peers, you are a pompous asshole.
Which brings me back to Stan Lee. This is a column about comic books, isn’t it?
Several days after Stan died, comedian and stand-up philosopher Bill Maher went public with his disgust over the tributes and accolades that whelmed the media. Bill doesn’t like comic books or media based upon comics; that is his right. In his lengthy statements regarding the late Mr. Lee, Bill made it clear that he thinks comics are stupid, childish, and only for people with retarded intellect.
That, too, is his right – or it would be if he actually had a clue what he was talking about. Bill told interviewer Larry King “I don’t read comic books. I didn’t even read them when I was a child. What I was saying is: A culture that thinks that comic books and comic book movies are profound meditations on the human condition is a dumb fucking culture.”
By his own admission, he was offering a strongly-worded opinion that was completely uninformed. Had he made an honest attempt to find out why so many people reacted to Stan’s death so strongly and he still maintained his position, he would be entitled to this opinion and I would back that to the hilt. But condemning an art form (yup, I just made Bill gag) with which he has no real familiarity carries the same validity as my saying “Bill Maher is a child molesting undercover Trump supporter who smokes weed with Ann Coulter.” That would be an uninformed opinion, and nobody has a right to such. Bill has shown he’s willing to be considered an asshole and he can take the heat.
The funny thing is, I often agree with Maher’s points of view, particularly on the subjects of the evils of organized religion – his documentary Religulous was great and shouldn’t be perceived as offensive by anyone of intelligence and perspective. I also concur with his views about recreational drugs, as well as informed opinions regarding His Royal Petulance, King Donald The Last.
I do not question the sincerity of his beliefs. I do question his right to offer what he admits was an uninformed opinion.
And no, I am not cancelling my HBO subscription. That would be childish.
The artwork offered here is all the work of, or in tribute to, Raymond Loewy, who would wonder why the hell I dragged him into this mess.