Category: Lifestyle

Brainiac On Banjo #102: Will Wonder Woman Destroy Life As We Know It?

Brainiac On Banjo #102: Will Wonder Woman Destroy Life As We Know It?

The answer to my headlined query is “yes, but don’t blame it on her.”

In eight days or so, I suspect the majority of Pop Culture Squadsters will be plopping our quarantined asses on our couches and watching Wonder Woman 1984. We might be eating microwaved popcorn and chomping the heads off of gummy bears. Some will be bitching about how they miss the magnificence of the shoebox movie theaters out by the Applebee’s, and to these folks I mutter the immortal words of William Shatner: Get a life!

Movie theaters were puking up blood long before The Joker weaponized Covid-19. The whole idea behind the contemporary movie theater was to motivate people into driving 10 miles, parking in a lot and walking 3500 icy feet to a gaudy poster-laden building, wrestling with an obstinate ticket machine and a debit card to ransom the tickets for which you’ve already paid, standing in a ridiculously long line to procure a 55-gallon drum of soda pop and a vat of popcorn upon which somebody hosed glow-in-the-dark oil, maneuver all that into the one theater out of maybe two dozen that is showing your movie in the format you paid for and juggle your way into your assigned seat, which, of course, is right behind the one occupied by The Incredible Hulk.

(Fun Fact: Those ever-rotating hot dogs at the candy counter? Yup, you’re absolutely right. They have been twirling in vain since Jimmy Carter announced his presidential run. I wouldn’t bite into that shit if it was sprayed with the Covid vaccine.)

Portal to portal, including gas, you’ve blown your kids’ college fund on a night out which, in December 2020, might kill you. Remember the good old days when all you had to worry about was getting an STD?

Yeah, I’m not a fan of the multiplex movie theater. I love seeing movies with a bunch of my friends. If some asshole is talking in my home theater, most likely that asshole is me. But with 65-inch 5K televisions now available in boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios, I can invite those same folks to my home to watch a streamer and charge less than half the theater rate for well-greased popcorn.

There’s lots of stuff from my youth that I miss. Restaurants that aren’t themed. Bars with less than a half dozen television sets all tuned to El Ocho. Cars with fins. Parking meters. Lime Lifesavers. Glittering movie palaces that inspire awe and put you in the mood for magic. The only thing these shoebox theaters give me, aside from a maxed-out credit card, is the thrill of listening to two movies at once to the light of dumb people’s smartphones.

So, now, the theater chains are screaming about streaming. I get it: their future is on the line, and that sucks. Pardon me if I’m just a bit more concerned about the neighborhood bars and other family-owned businesses that do not force me to go to a nearly-abandoned shopping mall where three of the four anchors went blooie because Macy’s doesn’t understand that buying up the local department store chains undermines the shopping experience.

Like I said, times change. Geriatrics bitch about how great the good old days used to be, and we’re often right about that. Childhood experiences are habit-forming. But tomorrow’s good old days will look a lot like a big parking lot that houses a Best Buy, a Denny’s, a Costco, a Pizza Hut, and maybe a Bed, Bath and Beyond. You know, the folks who are keeping the postal service alive.

Before you know it, the streamers will have gone the way of Blockbuster. They will have been replaced by something else. I’m hoping for that phone company brain implant chip predicted in 1967 in that truly wonderful movie, The President’s Analyst.

You probably can catch The President’s Analyst on one of the streamers.

With Further Ado #124: Leading Man and Superman, Superheroes on Stage

With Further Ado #124: Leading Man and Superman, Superheroes on Stage

Last week I turned With Further Ado over to one of my students, Anthony Hernandez, as the winner of the first annual Ithaca College Guest Columnist contest.  At the Ithaca College School of Business, I teach entrepreneurism, including classes on planning and managing trade shows – like comic conventions.  This semester, we’ve examined the many changing issues of this unique segment of entertainment business.  I invited the students to submit potential With Further Ado columns for Pop Culture Squad, and I was very impressed with their thoughts and writing.

Because it was hard to select just one, here’s the “runner-up”, Ithaca College student Tyler Jennes. I think you’ll like what he has to say too!

Leading Man and Superman: Superheroes on Stage

by Tyler Jennes

When you’re someone who harbors a deep love of superheroes as well as theater, you don’t tend to see a lot of crossover between those two interests. So, imagine my surprise when 2019 produced two substantial contributions to that middle Venn Diagram portion – that being the Marvel Spotlight series of superhero plays commissioned by Samuel French, and the Tom Kitt musical Superhero. But not all stories end happily, for the Marvel Spotlight plays don’t show any indication of being produced on a scale larger than local theater, and Superhero was, well, not great. But I’m used to disappointment as a superhero/theater fan. Continue reading “With Further Ado #124: Leading Man and Superman, Superheroes on Stage”

With Further Ado #124: An Outside Interpretation of the Fans of Geek Culture

With Further Ado #124: An Outside Interpretation of the Fans of Geek Culture

Taking a page from one of my favorite columnists, Nicholas Kristof, this week I’m presenting the winner of the first annual Ithaca College Guest Columnist contest.  At the Ithaca College School of Business, I teach entrepreneurism, including classes on planning and managing trade shows – like comic conventions.  We also explore the many issues of this unique segment of entertainment business.  I invited the students to submit potential With Further Ado columns for Pop Culture Squad, and I was very impressed with their thoughts and writing.

It was hard to select just one, but my first annual guest columnist winner is IC student Anthony Hernandez.  Anthony has some smart insights that I’m eager to share with you all.  Congrats, Anthony!

***

I love Star Wars and really enjoy watching the Marvel superhero movies, but that’s about it when it comes to diving into geek culture for me. I never went to any conventions or picked up a comic book out of my own will. I never had any ideas for new content, speculated on the future of any fictional universe, or spent more than $100 on merchandise. I have deep hesitations about immersing myself into the world of geek culture for many reasons and have quite often distanced myself from doing so. While I could list them all, I’ll just mention two and expand on them.

Just a small note, when I say “fans” I’m generally referring to anyone who identifies themselves as a hardcore geek or a related title.

Firstly, fans have been associated with a certain stigma of being extremely obsessive when it comes to their interests; It’s even perceived that they’ would blindly do or buy anything if it has any correlation with their interests.

I just recently watched the Star Wars episode on The Toys That Made Us (a documentary series on Netflix about various toys) that embraced and amplified that type of behavior. Kenner Products, a small toy company, deployed a two-phase plan of satisfying the Star Wars toy market when they decided they could not produce action figures in time for the holidays. The first phase was simply recycling their old products and slapping a Star Wars sticker on it. The second phase is what really stood out to me as unique and dumb from a business perspective. It should have failed.

The second phase consisted of making consumers purchase an empty box with the promise of sending action figures once they had been produced at a greater scale. Surprisingly, it worked. I mean really, how was this successful? How is it that a small toy company that hardly anyone had any confidence in could have pulled this off? It was all due to the consumers’ blind faith and hope that they would receive their Star Wars merchandise.

Now of course, Kenner Products intended no harm with their strategy, but it can be said that they were confident with it because they relied on the fact that the Star Wars label was enough for people to throw money at the company. It almost insinuates and makes the generalization that obsessive fans are mindless. When looking at it from this perspective, who’d want to be part of that community? At the time of purchase, consumers were really spending their money on a promise that their Luke and Leia action figures would come in eventually. All of this fosters up a sort of “we can do whatever we want, and these idiots will pay” attitude amongst producers even though (for obvious reasons) they may not show it.

Also with the action figures, a rocket firing Boba Fett figure was promised as a promotion that would arrive by mail. Many people actively sought out and eagerly awaited this figure. While present day Star Wars fans might not see the problem of wanting a limited Boba Fett figure, you have to keep in mind that Boba Fett’s character had not even made an appearance in the films yet! The only real glimpse that fans got of Boba Fett was during his first appearance in the dreaded Star Wars Holiday Special. By this logic, it seemed as if George Lucas didn’t even have to put in much effort to get the fandom hooked on a character. Boba Fett virtually did not exist yet in live action form, yet his was the most sought out action figure all because he looked cool, and he was going to fire a rocket.

Much to the disappointment of fans, when their Boba Fett eventually arrived, he was not fitted with the rocket-firing mechanism due to potential choking hazards. This is when serious desires for a rocket-firing Boba Fett really began to come up. Collectors paid top dollar for anyone who could produce one (one Boba would sell for $20,000 today).

This sort of mindset is one of the reasons why I’d be hesitant to be associated with geek culture. To an outsider like me, fans seem absolutely mindless. Who’d pay $20,000 for a 4-inch plastic toy? The fans who praise content creators and place their complete confidence in them have been at the mercy of said producers emotionally and financially.

Secondly, on top of seeming to drool over anything with a label, fantagonism comes into play. The term “fantagonism” refers to any hostility that fans display towards content creators. In a previous course I took, I was able to explore fantagonism and how it evolved. Even before I knew the term existed, I was well aware of it and it was a main reason why I thought that fans seemed flat out crazy. It steered me away from ever considering myself a geek.

While the relationship between producers and fans certainly has the potential to be beneficial and friendly, it looks to have been mostly antagonistic ever since fans and fandom came into existence. Why is that? It’s no doubt that it’s the fans themselves who are at fault of stirring relations. They feel the absolute need to not only give their opinions on their favorite books, comics, or movies, but also their scathing criticisms. Some even go as far as giving death threats to creators just because they killed off a fan favorite or some wild speculation didn’t come true!

Actual petition to throw out the stories in Star Wars Episodes 7, 8, and 9

On a lesser scale, some fans of the Skywalker Saga have decided amongst themselves that the new Disney trilogy is “not canon”. Huh? They claim that anyone who doesn’t show a sliver of hate for the sequels or Disney isn’t a real fan. Just because they hated the new movies does not give them the ability to overstep their authority and declare what’s canon. They actively put themselves to war with producers and then get mad when they don’t get their way. Obsessive fans tend to be the loudest, which is probably why I find myself creating these stereotypes and applying them to all geeks.

Needless to say, fans are to blame for the hostile environment in geek culture. At first, it used to be through letters, however with the expansion of the internet and social media, we are beginning to see the fans take on producers directly, almost eliminating the blind following that producers once had. Geeks have never been so dangerously close to producers, and they’re definitely not afraid to show it.

***

Anthony Hernandez is a sophomore studying Business Management at Ithaca College in New York. While he’s cautious about connecting with other fans, he loves fan objects possibly just as much as they do.

Weird Scenes #117: If Elvis Can Do It, So Can You

Weird Scenes #117: If Elvis Can Do It, So Can You

Between the politicians polarizing power trips / We’re just too pure and peaceful to decide / So we got our heads together while the planet fell to bits / Now the one side left to take is suicide / We are lemmings / We are crazies / We will feed our flower habits pushing daisies – Lemmings Lament, written by Paul Jacobs and Sean Kelly, 1972

O.K. I’ve had it with the Covid deniers. I mean, totally and to the point where I now believe it should be legal to shoot the unmasked. I call that self-defense, although if I were in Florida, I’d call it “Stand your ground.”

I’ve also had it with the anti-vaxxers, but I’ve been on that page for quite a while now. In this case, I’m a bit more sympathetic. There are whole communities who have been taught that government vaccine programs were evil, and in a few but incredibly important cases, they are right. I get that. And I suspect that many of those same people are just as tired of going to funerals as I am – virtual funerals truly are the worst.

Nonetheless, these folks are taking an unnecessary risk. I’ve said I’ll take the shots as soon as I can after Dr. Anthony Fauci gets one. Now that presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Biden are turning the event into a 2021 supergroup, I’ll even stand in line to get it.

This brings to mind a story, one which should lighten the mood a bit.

Back in the middle of the last century, we had a serious polio epidemic, also known as infant paralysis, because it primarily (but not exclusively) affected children. 58,000 cases were reported in 1952 killing more than 3,000 and crippling tens of thousands. It was a very big deal, believe me. I was born in 1950 and I clearly remember the hysteria that enveloped our nation during the first half of that decade… particularly as it was my ox that was getting gored. Polio had killed or maimed a horde of people since it was first noticed in 1894, and the medical mechanics industry shifted its efforts towards building very small iron lungs in an attempt to save these babies and children. Continue reading “Weird Scenes #117: If Elvis Can Do It, So Can You”

With Further Ado #122: I Love A Parade

With Further Ado #122: I Love A Parade

It’s a big deal to have a balloon in the Macy’s Day Parade. When I was in brand management at Unilever, we worked to get Snuggle, the cuddy teddy bear mascot for Snuggle Fabric Softener, included in this wonderful event.  It made for a few special Macy Day Parades.

There have been a bunch of corporate mascots included over the years (I’m looking at you, Poppin’ Fresh, you Pillsbury Doughboy!) This annual event generally has been very inclusive to comic characters too.

In fact, you could “Look! Up in the Sky” many times over the years to see the “first” superhero: Superman.

The last of son of Krypton actually had three incarnations with the Macy’s Day Parade. The first Superman balloon took to the skies in 1939.  Superman’s first’s appearance was, of course, in April of 1938. It’s incredible to us today that a character could debut one year and become a giant balloon in one of the famous parades the very next year. Surprisingly, this balloon even preceded  The Adventures of Superman radio show.

And as Superman was so new, it’s understandable that he looked a little “off-model”, a term that didn’t even exist all those Thanksgivings ago. Continue reading “With Further Ado #122: I Love A Parade”

With Further Ado #105: Sharing SDCC’s Secret Traditions

With Further Ado #105: Sharing SDCC’s Secret Traditions

The San Diego Comic-Con is many things to many people.  For the business community, it’s an incredible commerce success story.  For fans and collectors, it’s both a celebration and a validation.   For entrepreneurs, it can be an enjoyable way to drive revenue quickly. For the entertainment community, it’s a fantastic marketing venue. For the entertainment community in Los Angeles and Hollywood, it’s also a great excuse to get outta town.

And for so many folks, professionals and fans alike, it’s an opportunity to spend time with 200,000+ of your closest friends.  It’s an annual journey to a real-life Disney World, mixed with a hefty dose of your best days on a college campus and the most incredible state fair ever, where the main dish on the menu is “all the stuff you love.”

This year, as the nation and the world struggles with Covid-19, the folks behind the convention shifted gears quickly to morph the show into a virtual convention. We’ll all be analyzing that for a while, but one refrain I heard time and time again was not so much how folks missed the big events, but how they missed the little things.

I reached out to a group of fascinating folks and asked them to share some of their more personal stories and traditions from their annual pilgrimage to San Diego Comic-Con and the little things they miss this year.

* * *

Rob Salkowitz is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Geek Culture  (I use this as a textbook for one of my college classes)  a consultant  and a sayer of things. He wistfully remembers one tradition he and his wife Eunice especially hold dear:

Our oldest and longest running SDCC tradition is the Tuesday night dinner we instituted with Batton Lash and Jackie Estrada back in 2000, maybe earlier. We were fans with no industry connections whatsoever. They befriended us, introduced us to pros, made us formally part of the Eisner Award staff and brought us into the circle of Comic-Con. After we lost Batton a couple of years ago we continued with Jackie. We really miss seeing her in person this year.

Continue reading “With Further Ado #105: Sharing SDCC’s Secret Traditions”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #066: Black Lives Matter

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #066: Black Lives Matter

As I write this — on Sunday, June 7th, 2020 —  it comes on the heels of taking my family out to the park today for a walk. While I wish it was for just fresh air and sunshine… alas, today we walked alongside our community in a peaceful protest march. With masks adorned and side-by-side with people of all ages, creeds, colors, and religions, we took stride with signs in hand. My sons, 2, 4, and 8, marched alongside their neighbors, not wholly aware of the injustice that exists in the world.

My 8 year old grasps it a little. But he is still innocent at his core. This all seems to him like an odd off-shoot of a Minecraft or Roblox world. He doesn’t understand how his friends — those in his class at school, his teammates in baseball teams past, or even the girls who he plays with down the street — are treated unfairly in society at large because of the color of their skin. My wife and I explained it to him as best we could. And he could recite correctly the “hows” and “whys” of the situation. But I know behind his dark brown eyes, his thoughts and feelings are still forming. Meanwhile, my 4 year old was just beaming to have so many people to say hi to. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #066: Black Lives Matter”

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind  #092: Ask Mister Manners

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind #092: Ask Mister Manners

National Brotherhood Week / National Brotherhood Week it’s / National everyone smile at / One another-hood week, be / Nice to people who are / Inferior to you. It’s only for a week so have no fear / Be grateful that it doesn’t last all year – written by Tom Lehrer, 1965

I’m hardly the poster boy for Miss Manners. I’ve been known to be disrespectful on purpose, as I hold a deep commitment to bringing offense to power. I am just sophomoric enough to call out assholes-in-power in language that projects my emotions. Hey, it’s a living.

So this might come as a bit of a shock, and it’s certainly going to sound very old school. I think we, as a species, need to be less preemptively judgmental. By “preemptively,” I mean we give people a certain amount of respect because they’re breathing, and they can earn more or lose some as you get to know them as individuals. If we find yourselves reflexively acting in an offensive manner because of our baked-in opinion of whatever group they represent, then you are guilty of prejudice. Pre-justice, if you will.

I realize usually we don’t think we’re victimizing anybody. We’ve got to keep an eye on our attitudes. Besides, it’s far more fulfilling to loathe somebody as an individual based upon your informed opinion.

I find it hard to believe that individuals only prejudge people of definable victimized groups, and there are those who hate people of all groups, sometimes even their own. We have a word for those people: misanthropes. They exist. I hate misanthropes. They’re very confusing. Focus, people!

You might find this hard to believe, but we used to celebrate something called “National Brotherhood Week.” Yeah, I know, that’s gender specific. It was the 1950s, when Westinghouse and General Electric made kitchens so marvelous that women never wanted to leave them. The slogan was — and you might want to sit down — “Take a Negro to Lunch.” Naivety, thy name is humanity.

Clearly, it didn’t work. Perhaps this was because it was co-sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, which certainly sounds like (and often is) an exclusionary organization. Would a Muslim feel comfortable advocating personhood from their platform? A Buddhist? A Satanist? An atheist? Head’s up, people, we do not all believe in the same god, or gods, or even any god whatsoever.

As Shylock sort of said, “Hath not a [fill in the blank] eyes? Hath not a [fill in the blank] hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a [fill in the blank] is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.”

That particular scene-stealer is from The Merchant of Venice, and it was written by a bigot. But, here, Shakespeare seems to have moved past his environment. When you think of one of our victimized groups, think of Shylock… who, by the way, really wasn’t a very nice guy.

Among all the torment and horror it causes, at the root bigotry and prejudice is as disrespectful as it is a showing of a lack of manners. We came up with this whole manners thing out of self-preservation. It is thought that the handshake, now sadly banished for good cause, was created to flush out strangers who might knife you. We say thank you to people who help us because we don’t want them to think they’re being taking advantage of. We say please because we’re asking for that help and realize we are inconveniencing the other person.

We say “I can’t breathe” so that the asshole who has lost his bigoted mind might get his knee off of your neck.

It’s not just self-preservation. It is societal preservation. America is a cultural smorgasbord of infinite length, and that is what makes us unique. It’s the only part of American “exceptionalism” that is worthy of note. American enlightenment comes from a plethora of influences that, in combination, makes us smarter, more experienced, less bored, more entertained and much, much stronger.

This is not the Planet Kumbaya. We are going to hate people; that is what separates us from lower-form mammals. But, as noted, you should hate a person for his or her own actions and not because they’re members of a group somebody taught you were subhuman. Trust me, if you enjoy hating you have an arena full of nasty individuals from which to choose.

So if you’re going to offend somebody on purpose, at least do it with a smile on your face…and be prepared for Newton’s Law to kick you in your ass.

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #065: Grinding My Gears

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #065: Grinding My Gears

I recognize that having column inches such as I do grants me a public space to air my grievances. A place, in plain sight, to shoot straight and vent with hope in finding sympathetic ears. Such as it were, we all have these spaces — take the social media platform of choice, and let loose. But here, on Pop Culture Squad, I’m given a bit more leeway to stretch a would-be status message and let it get some height. Normally I’d save my ire for something specifically in the pop culture space (#relevancy), but, here I am stuck in quarantine — a nebulous vacuum of pop culture at present. So, I’m detailing several things in my life that are at very least pop culture adjacent that have been grinding my gears. Hopefully with a little venting, this tightening in my chest might relieve itself a bit. On with the ranting!

1. Virtual Events

With remote learning, and businesses needing to flock to tele-meeting spaces like Zoom, Facebook rooms, Skype, and the like… the population is tired of virtual fraternization. Save perhaps the concerts being put on by various musical artists who all happen to have sophisticated recording equipment in their homes… Zoom and the like are fast becoming tiresome. Yes, we all get it. You throw on a normal shirt, and keep the pajamas on under the gaze of your web cam. Ha ha. Woo. But every virtual event remains the same. We speak over one another, or have dueling monologues. Our kids crash in, and suddenly we’re juggling staying engaged, and remembering we’d literally like to be anywhere else. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #065: Grinding My Gears”

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind  #089: Suicide Is Painless

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind #089: Suicide Is Painless

That game of life is hard to play / I’m gonna lose it anyway / The losing card I’ll someday lay / So this is all I have to say / Suicide is painless / It brings on many changes / And I can take or leave it if I please — Suicide Is Painless (theme for movie M*A*S*H), written by Johnny Mandel, 1970

As tempting as it is, we just cannot go around saying “100% of us believe…” or “everybody feels…” We know that’s ridiculous; there are 7.8 billion people on this planet as of this writing, and most of us couldn’t agree on where to go for lunch.

So I will not state “100% are stir-crazy and would gnaw our right arms off to leave the house and go to…” whatever. However, I would not be the least bit surprised if 99% of us felt that way. Maybe we can get together and T-P the houses of that other 1%.

No. Wait. Is there still a toilet paper shortage? I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been permitted to enter any building other than my own for… jeez, about 10 weeks now. I did drive around the neighborhood last week, just to give my car some reassurance, and I was surprised at how little had changed. But I was more surprised at how few cars were on the road, how empty the parking lots were, and how easy it would be to park at the train station.

I’m also surprised at how clean the air seems. This figures — with fewer people driving, we have less ground dinosaur bits clogging our atmosphere. This latter fact frightens the crap out of the oil and gas industry, which has been hell-bent on choking us to death in the name of dividend checks and nine figure annual employment packages. Some of these greed-driven killers are down to their last 50 million bucks.

I have little doubt that this is one of the chief reasons we are being pushed over the brink of insanity with constant reminders of how wonderful it will be to get out of the house and go to restaurants, sports events, family reunions, and, I dunno, maybe orgies. Don’t forget your condoms; you wouldn’t want to catch a disease, would you? Continue reading “Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind #089: Suicide Is Painless”