Raising Super Men In the Age of Wonder Woman

Like millions of other fans, I happily plunked down $13 to launch Wonder Woman into blockbuster status on its opening weekend. In fact, I was so excited that I purchased dress-up kits for my gal pal, Amy, and me. Yes, as 40-somethings, we attended a film resplendent in plastic tiaras and gauntlets. Come at us, bro.

But what do to with the things after the movie? They’re not display worthy, and while I felt fun and totally awesome in them at the theater, I don’t think I could wear them to jaunt about town. But I do have two kids, a daring duo of boys who love any and everything to do with superheroes. One has a DC themed bedroom and can’t get enough of The Flash or Superman. The other is surrounded by all things Marvel and loves Captain America and Spiderman. We have figures. Costumes. Web shooters. Shields that shoot projectiles. Marvel Tsum Tsums. Superhero pillows and Legos. The list goes on and on, and as a mother who loves all things comics, I am thrilled to be able to share all my nerdy knowledge with the kiddos.

When we got home from the theater, I asked the kids if they wanted the gauntlets, tiara, and Wonder Woman badge, fully expecting them to say, “No thanks. That’s girl stuff.” But get this…they fought over it!

“The crown shoots a laser!” my youngest shrieked.

“I bet these things can stop Thor’s hammer,” the oldest said, clumsily buckling them on his skinny wrists. They have plans to share the WW logo, wearing it on their capes.

It warmed me down to the cockles of my cold, stone libertarian heart to see this. They don’t see Wonder Woman as a “female super hero” on a team, but as “a superhero” like the male ones they so admire. Like their daddy (who was as excited to see the movie as I), they see women as strong, beautiful, fierce, independent—different than males certainly, but equal to them in every way. And this has come with very little coaching on our part.

Over the two years we’ve had them in our home, there’s been a discussion every time someone used the phrase, “You hit/run/swing/pitch/play/act like a girl!” in a derogatory way, and the incidences are now down to near zilch. They’ve learned to hold the doors open for ladies and to end their addresses to women with the words “ma’am” or “miss.” My husband has certainly led the charge. As the head of our household and alpha male extraordinaire, he bears most of the responsibility for “training them up in the way they should go.” It’s been wonderful to see him explaining how powerful the Scarlet Witch is or pointing out how Princess Allura is just as integral to the success of Voltron: Legendary Defender as Pidge, Hunk, Lance, Keith, or Takashi. (Spoiler Alert: Pidge is a girl in this version, too, which is a nice bonus!)

He also makes sure to point out the women in the Bible. Sure, we talk about David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale, the skeletons in the Valley of Dry Bones—all the kinds of things boys love—but they also know the stories of Rahab, Shiphrah and Puah, Deborah, Esther, and Mary. They’re aware of the valuable contributions these ladies have made to the kingdom, how God uses women as well as men to accomplish his purposes on this earth. And I can’t help but think that this equal “screen time” is helping frame their worldview the right way. We hope it will help them become wise men of valor who esteem and honor their future wives and all the other women they come into contact with. 

The ship of progress turns by slight degrees, and hopefully by the time our two little nuggets are out there in the world, they won’t be happily shocked to see a movie directed by a woman with a female in the lead role. It’ll be a matter of course.
We can’t let them see the movie just yet as they’re still a bit too wee for it, but in another year or two, we’ll show them all the stories we love. And I firmly believe they’ll be as stoked to watch Wonder Woman in action as I was.

 

 

Hooray for Hollywood!!

My family, half jokingly, says, were it not for sarcasm and movie quotes, we would never speak to one another. While that statement is slightly hyperbolic, the truth is that we watch movies. A lot of movies. And we quote them early and often. When it comes to films, we’re fairly omnivorous and enjoy a good “film for the common man” as much as we do rarefied ones. Essentially, we’ll quote The Jerk in the same conversation as The 400 Blows and think nothing of it.

We quote them for distance, seeing who can go the longest without muffing a line. FYI—I still hold the record because I managed to do most of the “damage control” scene from One, Two, Three.

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We quote them for accuracy in all mediums as evidenced by this text conversation my brother and I had regarding one of our all time favorite flicks, The Fugitive.

However, there is something even more wonderful about movie quotes than simply parroting them for an appreciative (or sometimes annoyed) audience, and that is delivering one that is perfectly timed and fitting for a specific situation. As you can see by this top five list, sometimes the quote is perfect in its purest form, and on other occasions, a slight bastardization is required for optimum humor and applicability.

So, without further ado, I give you our best uses of movie quotes in various situations…

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5. “The nine-year-olds from the karate school are karate-ing the picket fences.”–Jaws

Image from http://stars.ign.com

This one is mine. My cousin, who was then nine, was taking Tae Kwon Do lessons. My aunt had given him specific instructions not to use his rad new moves on any of his friends as school, which of course prompted me to say, “Why not? All the nine-year-olds from the karate school are karate-ing the picket fences,” perfectly mimicking Polly’s voice and karate-ing gesture, of course.

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4. “Sweep the leg, Johnny.”–The Karate Kid

This one was executed by Jarrod while standing atop the Hoover Dam. Yes, many a “dam” jokes were made, but after that, he looked over and saw a young man in a huge air cast and using crutches to hobble around the national landmark. (Though why anyone would put up with sore, aching armpits for a tour of a dam is beyond me.) Jarrod looked over at his friend and delivered the line under his breath. Sadly, only the group he was with (all there for a Vegas bachelor party) got the joke.

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3. “Let Polly do the printing.”–Jaws (Yes, again. Don’t judge.)

Image from http://www.yourprops.com

My dad flawlessly delivered this one when he and Mom were driving home one afternoon. They passed one of the ubiquitous fruit stands common to Florida roadsides, this one offering boiled peanuts and peaches. Well, the enterprising young man stationed there had crafted his sign using a piece of plywood and some paint offering his wares from “Geogria.” Well, he started out with grand plans, making each letter gargantuan in size. But by the time he got to “peaches,” the most essential term to advertise, he’d run out of room and had had to cram it in the corner. My father saw the sign, snorted, and said nonchalantly, “He should have let Polly do the printing.” Genius. That is all.

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2. “I have to push the pram a lot!”–Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail

Once again, Jarrod was behind this masterpiece. We were in my father’s new store–a Sam’s Club–without any of the steel in place. It was a glorious span of virgin concrete, and two forklifts sat parked by the front door. Dad handed us each a set of keys and told us not to go crazy. Naturally, we drove around the store at full speed (which was nearly equal to the brisk pace attained by elderly mallwalkers) and quoted Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider episodes the entire way.

We ended up near the receiving docks where the baler (A.K.A–“The Cram-A-Lot”) was housed. Jarrod looked at it then at the stack of uncrushed boxes sitting outside it and finally at my dad who nodded like a some kind of retail Caesar. Jarrod squealed with joy and exclaimed, in mock baritone, “We get to use the Cram-A-Lot!!!!!!!!!” He finished the beautiful moment by dancing up to the leviathan machine singing the closing bars of the song.

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1. “A couple of wavy lines…”–Ghostbusters
 

Strangely enough, though we are a family who prides ourselves on our comic film quoting prowess, the number one pick was uttered by a relative stranger–a friend of mine named Brock who came in to help me when I was the director of a Sylvan Learning Center. (I needed a calculus tutor, and he was perfect for the gig.) Well, before the center opened for tutoring, he and I were setting up and had a few minutes to spare. A deck of multiplication flash cards was on his table, and I grabbed them to see if he could do the entire stack before I had to open the door and let in the insufferable hooligans adorable children eager to learn. About eight cards in, I said, “What about this one?”

No lie…Brock looked at me nonchalantly, raised his left hand and gestured the shape as he delivered the quote, “A couple of wavy lines.” I’m only sad because no one else but I was there to witness this samurai-level quote. Thank you, Brock, for allowing me to experience “The Quickening”… albeit by proxy.

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How about you all? Are you movie quoters? What are some of your favorite lines? Any great stories about perfectly-delivered ones? I’d love to hear about them. 

Also, what are some of your favorite quotable films? As you can see, we usually go for the classics, but I bet there are some hilarious ones (GASP!) we’ve never seen we might want to plumb the depths of for new material. Please leave a list in the comments below!

Shrieks and Squeals to Shout About!

Image from muppet.wikia.com

Wayne and I took Mom and Dad to visit the Center for Puppetry Arts here in Atlanta this weekend to see a live performance and take in the exhibit “Jim Henson: The Wonders of His Workshop.” We saw Fraggles, Doozers, Emmett and Ma Otter, and a plethora of other favorites. However, as I lovingly stared at the Sir Didymus puppet (sadly sans Ambrosius), Wayne openly admitted he’d never seen Labyrinth. We corrected that rather egregious oversight that evening, and while he was slightly weirded out, he admitted he enjoyed it. It had been quite a while since I’d seen it, and I came to realize that there are many scenes involving David Bowie in a codpiece, Jennifer Connelly vapidly staring off into the distance, and a copious amount of yelling. Well, the last fact got us to discussing our favorite movie screams. This ended up being our top five list…

5. Albert Goldman (A.K.A. Starina) in The Birdcage

I don’t know if it’s the timing or how he manages to pitch the scream at the exact same range as the car horn, but this always cracks me up.

4. Doc Brown in Back to the Future

The jaw drop in combination with the sound makes this gasp priceless. It’s quirky and befitting of Doc Brown, the mad and loving genius friend of Marty McFly. Christoper Lloyd has several great moments of hollering in the trilogy.

3. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (at 0:21)

This montage is proof positive that Harrison Ford is one Hollywood actor who knows how to yelp, howl, and cry out like a pro. I’ve always been fond of some of the Han Solo moments collected here, but the scene where he’s bashed in the chin by the full length mirror when he’s already beaten half to death is classic. I also love the fact Lucas chose to pull back and give us a shot of the boat to accentuate the size of Indy’s pain and the barbaric epicness of the yawp.

2. Person in the Hallway in Ghostbusters

This one happens so quickly it’s easy to miss it. However, it’s one my family has used early and often when we come upon a scene we didn’t expect. I have to hand it to the actor who huffs this one out. After all, you have to be on your game to express such surprise and horror when looking at..well…nothing.

1. Lando Calrissian in Star Wars VI: The Return of the Jedi

Like Han, Lando is a man’s man. An adventurer. A scoundrel. Which is why the scream that bursts out of his throat when he’s snagged by the Sarlacc Pit is one of the funniest on record. It’s half cartoon sound effect and half girly squeal with a dash of flair thrown in for effect.

**Honorable Mention** Marv in Home Alone

It’s a little too obvious because there’s a tarantula involved. However, the bloodcurdling shriek that Daniel Stern emits when that spider is placed on his face is nearly Oscar worthy for sheer volume.

How about you all? What’s your favorite movie outburst? Is it one caused by terror, surprise, or sheer vomit-inducing grossness? I’d love to hear your top five!

They Way They Do the Things They Do

Whether it comes in the form of film, television, graphic novels, short stories, or even epic poetry, I just can’t get enough of stories. Seriously, a well-executed yarn is to me what a bowl of crunchy kibble is to a hungry dog. Feed it to me, and I’ll hang around on your back porch forever.

But what exactly makes a story great? An engaging plot is a must of course—one that is believable, perfectly paced, and airtight. Also, the right scene has to be set through the use of accurate costuming, stage dressing, and dialogue. If I’m going to watch a film about the Civil War, I want to be able to imagine the feel of the canon’s boom rattle in my chest, and a film set in the English countryside better come with the aroma of a garden and some well-placed whithers and wheresoevers if you know what I’m sayin’.

However, I can sometimes forgive a lack of verisimilitude if the characters are engaging enough on their own, and their are actors out there who have compelled me to love whatever entertainment vehicle they’re currently driving despite my lack of overall interest or possible outright disgust. Envision Michael C. Hall on the hit show Dexter. The thought of a serial killer with a penchant for knives, sheet plastic, and screwdrivers makes my skin crawl, but he somehow makes the show’s title character…likeable. Heck, I found myself rooting for him not to get caught once they found his dumping ground in the ocean and wondered what kind of person that made me.

So, I sat down and thought about ten shows I watch and my favorite characters on each, and I discovered that those stand-out thespians all had something in common. They so fully inhabit their roles that they’ve created little tics for their alter egos, Lilliputian idiosyncrasies that might go unnoticed by ninety-five percent of the viewing audience but are as essential to the show as many of the larger moving pieces.

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Boyd Crowder (Walter Goggins)—The hillbilly antihero of Justified has a style all his own. He’s as country as can be, but his dialogue is riddled with esoteric vocabulary, biblical allusions, and luscious sarcasm. A great example of how people from my neck of the woods play “country dumb,” Goggins delivers the lines with a perfect cadence and subtle style that draws me in. Sometimes, I’ll rewind just to hear him deliver a line again. However, the weird quirk he’s developed for Boyd is a penchant for keeping his hands in his pockets. Sitting, standing, walking–it doesn’t matter. Boyd’s hands are always firmly lodged at the waist of his well-fitted jackets. I suppose, on a show where most people come in armed for bear, that keeping one’s hands in one’s pockets is a sign of bravado. Also, not using his hands makes viewers look at his face, which is expressive in its understated style. Whatever the reason, it’s alluring, and I adore him.

Image from smartladieslovestuff.com
Image from smartladieslovestuff.com

Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce)—This is my nod to the shows of yesteryear. If you missed out on Frasier, do yourself a favor and find it somewhere in syndication or watch it on Netflix, Hulu, or one of the other umpteenth thousand avenues through which cable television is now readily available. Both brothers had his share of quirks, but Niles was Frasier magnified to the forty-seventh power. In fact, at once point in the show when he was in the midst of OCD compulsion–washing his hands, measuring the cinnamon sprinkled on his latte, and wiping his seat with a handkerchief–Frasier looks at his brother and says, “Compared to you, I’m a Teamster.” One of Niles’ greatest tics was his tendency to pass out whenever he saw blood–especially his own. Watch the clip and see the comedic genius of David Hyde Pierce on display.

Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perette) and Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon)—There are some crazy forums on the Internet that bemoan the fact that Gibbs and Abby from NCIS haven’t yet “hooked up,” which is both disgusting and utterly ignorant. Anyone with half a brain would know that Abby fills the role of daughter for Gibbs–the little, trusting girl he never got to raise. He dotes on her more than any other character on the show–bringing her Caff POW!, bragging on her work, and trusting her with his secrets. One of the many rituals they have is the kiss for a job well done. It doesn’t happen every episode, but more often than not, when she discovers some piece of vital information that gives Gibbs the facts he needs to go find and maim a bad guy, she’s rewarded with a quick smack on the cheek. It’s one of those moments of intimacy (and I’m not using that term sexually) for poor, widowed Gibbs that makes him less icy and foreboding. Always a sweet treat for me on Tuesday nights.

Image from slashfanatic22.livejournal.com

Joan Holloway-Harris (Christina Hendricks)—My husband chose to join me in watching Mad Men each week because of “Red,” the luscious femme fatale of the office secretary set. Joan, unlike the other girls who fall victim to their emotions or make stupid decisions and fall apart like cheap tissue paper, makes savvy choices. When chaos erupts around her (in the case of the man who had his foot om nommed by the lawn mower in season three) or in her own personal life (when her doctor-to-be hubby turns out to be a lemon of a lifetime investment), Joan is ready with a quippy line, which is often delivered with her left hip upthrust at a jaunty angle. Whenever she stands still, she shows off her curves by standing at nine or three instead of six o’clock, and it works to her advantage. Points to Ms. Hendricks for knowing how to rock her figure.

Image from writerangrywritersmash.blogspot.com/

John Bates (Brendan Coyle)Downton Abbey, and the adorable Mr. Bates, are recent obsessions of mine. Points to PBS for actually managing to snag a show that makes me want to donate to their efforts for another reason besides a free tote bag. (Though I am rather partial to the siren call of free tote bags, let me tell you.) It’s an amazing show. If you haven’t heard about it yet, you must be new to this planet because it’s only been the hottest thing around since the second season started this year. It’s left both the Brits and their bumpkin cousins over here in the States panting for more. Mr. Bates has a great many character traits I enjoy, but the best of them all is the half-upturned lip of amusement he uses with certain characters on the show (most notably his love interest, Anna Smith). That and the bowler just make me want to melt into a puddle on the floor.

Image from chrissywelsh.com

Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)—I know I said I admired Walter Goggins because he could steal a scene without using his hands, but the exact opposite is true of Anna Torv on Fringe. In every scene she’s in (whether as Olivia or Fauxlivia), she’s interviewing suspects or victims or talking to another member of Fringe Division–her hands flying like Tippi Hedren’s in her PTSD flashback in The Birds. More often than not, she spins them in a circle one another, fingers splayed in an intricate display of digits, and ends with them either spread apart in jazz hands formation or gripped together demurely like a penitent nun. I couldn’t find a still or video clip to show exactly what I means, but one episode is enough to see Ms. Torv takes her own tendency and makes it purely her character’s.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston)—Oh, my word. I never thought I’d be as into Breaking Bad as I am now, but with this last season finale and the amazing assassination of Gus, I’m all in! (Seriously, death by wheelchair bomb. It was like the creme brulee of death scenes. So epic). His transformation from sanguine spirited scientist to meth manufacturing maniac has been an interesting (and sometimes heartbreaking) one to watch, and one thing that has marked the moment of change as consistently as a sore knee foretells the coming rain is something I call “the furrowed eyebrow scowl of fury” on the face of one Walter White. Really, Bryan Cranston has taken Walter from sissy to savage more than once, and it’s totally convincing. There’s something so flat in his delivery of his lines and the look on his face that make me more than a little terrified of him. He should have won an Emmy at least twice for his work on this show, and he would have done so, too, if it hadn’t been for that pesky boy in grey, Don Draper.

Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons)—As Templeton the Rat once said, “A fair is a veritable smorgasbord, orgasboard, dorgasboard after the crowds have ceased.” If characters were like special events, Jim Parson’s work as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory would make him one funnel cake short of the county fair. Seriously, I’ve never seen a character with so many odd and quirky personality traits! I honestly don’t know how he keeps them all straight when he shoots a scene, but somehow, he does. Of them all, the gasping laugh is my favorite by far. Half gasp, half laugh—all sarcasm— it’s as much a part of the show as Howard’s vociferous, disembodied mother. Check out the video below and indulge in a moment of hilarity that only Sheldon’s laugh can provide. Bazinga!!

Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion)—Whether it’s horsing around with the guys, flirting with Beckett, or indulging in some true father/daughter time with Alexis, the central character in Castle always manages to find a way to have a good time. The overall impish attitude of Nathan Fillion is a wonder to behold. Whenever a murder happens in a way that could be something out of a story, he has a geek out moment of epic proportion, often using lines like, “This is SO TOTALLY cool!” Remember, he’s a professional fiction writer on the show, but he doesn’t describe his girlish glee using cleverly constructed sentences or high level diction. Instead, he reverts to the language of an eight-year-old because, in that moment, that’s exactly what he is. It’s like watching a pre-teen take over a man’s body. The puckish side comes out on some episodes more than others, but it’s one thing that makes Castle a fun watch on Monday nights.

Image from http://xfinity.comcast.net

Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee)—When I first saw Jason Lee on Memphis Beat, I had trouble believing it was the same guy who starred in My Name Is Earl. Rather than his hair sitting atop his head like Heatmiser’s in The Year Without a Santa Claus, the stylists chose to slick it back and give him a set of wicked sideburns that would make the King proud. Loose flannel shirts and floppy work shoes have been replaced by well-cut jeans, shirts that are tucked in, and a suit jacket. With those and a few other changes, a man I saw as a goofy, goodhearted hero suddenly becomes a blues singing hunk. Seriously! He’s also amazingly good at lip syncing  because I didn’t know until I did a little research that he wasn’t actually performing the closing song of each episode. However, it’s the fact that he croons with his eyes closed that makes me like him. He throws himself into the faux performance, one hand raised like Elvis and the other cradling the old school microphone in front of him, and belts out gospels, blues, and rock and roll hits in one smoky Memphis bar or another. Whether it’s a ballad or a cause to boogie, Jason Lee’s performing with his eyes squeezed shut, lost in his own little world (which is where I’m guessing he came up with the name Pilot Inspektor Riesgraf-Lee for his poor son).

Image from 2.bp.blogspot.com

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So there you have it, ten characters on television whose weirdness makes me go wild. I’d love to hear about the characters you all like and why. Share your thoughts in the comments section below!!!

For an Unnecessary E, You Get an F

There’s a scene in The Birdcage where the son is trying, for lack of a better term, to “de-gayify” the house. Why? Because his fiance’s conservative parents are coming for a visit and (though he doesn’t know it) to discuss wedding plans. He is being assisted in this endeavor by drag queens from his father’s club, and while he’s busy hiding things in closets and cupboards, they keep putting out objects they think straight people would have in their homes. The chaos finally reaches its zenith when two helpers hang a moose head on the wall and ask, “Too butch?”

Val’s reply is terse utterance I’ve come to use when making editing decisions…

“Don’t add. Just subtract.”

More often than not, this little maxim has served me well. I’m often tempted to alter a document to a way I think sounds better, and while I can say I’m not batting .1000 in the “less is more” department, I do hit more than I strike out.

I wish the same could be said of then Sharpie-wielding clodpate who decided he had an ironclad grasp of English grammar and spelling rules and should “correct” one of the signs on the very nice walking trail in my neighborhood. Granted, this sign is the closest one to a bridge where several resident artists have chosen to make the world a brighter place one shaken can of Krylon at a time. For the record, many them espouse the merits of cannabis…the ones I could read at least. There was, however, one in thin black letters that simply said “Genuine Vandalism” I actually chuckled at.

Okay, the editor in me sees two problems right away.

1. The obvious kerning issue in “HABITAT.” Why in the world did they print a sign with that much space between two letters? Honestly, it’s so far apart, it looks like “HABIT AT.”

2. There are two periods missing. Both the sentences at the bottom are obviously complete and need end punctuation. I would have gone with periods for both, but a case could have been made for an exclamation point in the first one.

There’s also a clarity problem with the phrase “native creatures.” There was a veritable passel of dogs in the park today–all of them walking, playing ball and frisbee, and smelling and being smelled. Seriously, it looked like the party at the end of Go, Dog, Go!

But I digress. My point is that, according to that bossy sign, I could harm the dogs if I wished (and their owners weren’t looking). They aren’t covered by the decree because they are, in fact, not “native creatures.” Something like “Don’t harm the animals” would have been much more inclusive to any critter, creature, or varmint in the general area.

I know. I know….We all assume the prohibition on animal cruelty applies to all of them whether they be “native” or “foreign.” But some uncouth ne’er-do-well could take advantage of a loophole in the signage. I’m just saying.

And then there’s that “E.” Crooked. Awkward. Banal. And somehow comically obscene. It leans on the “M” like a truant child might against a convenience store wall, a pilfered Virginia Slim from his mother’s unguarded pack between his lips.

I have no clue why it’s there or who in the name of Strunk and White thought it would be wise to add an utterly superfluous vowel at the end of a word—one that your average second grader can spell correctly, even under pressure. (Okay, in a completely irrelevant aside, I was looking at the word “Harm” just now and started saying it like Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride. You know, Inigo Montoya, helping Fezzik with his rhymes? “Probably he means no..haaaarrrmmmm….” Now you’re doing it, too, aren’t you?)

I looked up “harme” in the dictionary, hoping for some reason that it would be a word that could serve as an acceptable synonym, but alas and alack! It isn’t a word at all. Nope, this is just another example of needless human error—like the haphazard use of apostrophes when forming plurals or the casual flinging about of commas—the grammatical equivalent of negligent homicide. Epic fail, good sir or madam. Epic fail indeed. 🙂

Standards, People! Standards!!!

I saw this image making the rounds on Facebook this week, and while I chuckled about it upon first viewing, it got me to thinking about something that is more than a little disturbing. Our standards for entertainment have certainly gone downhill over the last century. To use a food metaphor, it’s like we’ve gone from dining at 21 and sipping a ’47 Cheval Blanc to grazing at Golden Corral and chugging box wine. Yeah, I think it’s that bad.

Don’t get me wrong—every decade has horrible music, wretched movies, and positively terrible books. Whether it’s Ishtar, Twilight, “Achy Breaky Heart,” BJ and the Bear, or Sam the Sham, every decade has a veritable cornucopia of artistic endeavors that it wishes had never seen the light of day. Also, each generation also has a few genuine stars whose talent is obvious, even to the least discerning connoisseur of popular culture. I’m not saying that there were no bad actors in the early decades of the twentieth century or that a talented singer can’t be found today, but when you look at the facts, it’s hard to argue that our standards have descended from top shelf to well status. (I know it’s another food metaphor. I can’t help it.)

Since the picture compared Old Blue Eyes and The Bieb (even the former entertainer’s nickname is better!), I thought I’d start with music to see what I could learn from record sales and data. I decided to go with four decades (the 1940s, 1960s, 1980s, and the 2000s) for purposes of comparison. I chose an arbitrary year (the third) from each decade, and took at look at the songs that were number one on the week of my birthday. Here’s what I found.

Number one song on April 21:

1943–“I’ve Heard That Song Before” by Harry James & Helen Forrest

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1963–“I Will Follow Him” by Little Peggy March

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1983–“Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners

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2003–“In Da Club” by 50 Cent

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Listen to the first and the fourth and tell me there isn’t a marked difference between them, both in subject matter and style. Actual instruments and the skill it took to play them were required for the former, and the lyrics are delightful.

It seems to me I’ve heard that song before.
It’s from an old familiar score.
I know it well, that melody.

It’s funny how a theme
recalls a favorite dream,
a dream that brought you so close to me.

I know each word because I’ve heard that song before.
The lyrics said, “Forevermore.”
Forevermore’s a memory.

Please have them play it again,
and then I’ll remember just when
I heard that lovely song before.

It’s slightly melancholy, reminiscent of “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca (which also happens to be the film that won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1943.) It’s nothing fancy, but there is a message to the song, a bit of symbolism and lovely language. Compare that to the first few verses of “In Da Club.”

Go, go, go, go, go, go.

Go shawty, it’s your birthday.
We gonna party like it’s your birthday.
We gonna sip Bacardi like it’s your birthday.
And you know we don’t give a f*** it’s not your birthday.

You can find me in the club, bottle full of bub.
Look mami, I got the ex if you into takin’ drugs.
I’m into havin’ sex; I ain’t into makin’ love.
So come gimme a hug if you’re into gettin’ rubbed.

When I pull up out front, you see the Benz on dubs.
When I roll 20 deep, it’s 20 knives in the club.
N****** heard I f*** with Dre, now they wanna show me love.
When you sell like Eminem, the hos they wanna f***.

So, in sixty years we went from love songs to ones filled with references to sex and drugs as well as foul language. I can say, without hesitation, that 50 Cent’s masterpiece has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, yet he sold 872,000 albums in five days when the album it was on was released.

I have to wonder if music like this sells because we’ve actually fallen so far or because people simply don’t know that something better is out there. Perhaps I’m the anomaly–the freak of nature nowadays–because I was raised by parents who introduced me to classical music, television shows that were funny without relying on anything raunchy, and movies that actually had plots and clever dialogue. Who knows.

***

Since both Sinatra and Bieber have both tried their hands at acting, I thought about comparing the ranks of thespians from the same four eras to see if the same slow decay was working its way through Hollywood. Based on the number of films each made as well as the awards and paychecks they garnered, According to a website called Top Ten Reviews, the following ten actors rank as the top tier in each decade. Their ranking was determined by fan feedback as well as the number of films each made and the awards and paychecks they garnered as a result. They are listed in rank from first to tenth:

1940s–Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Jean Arthur, Irene Dunn, Cary Grant, Teresa Wright, Myrna Loy, Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, and James Stewart

1960s–Julie Andrews, Audrey Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Peter O’Toole, Shani Wallace, Natalie Wood, Vincent Price, Sean Connery, Burt Lancaster, and John Wayne

1980s–Harrison Ford, Barbara Hershey, Eddie Murphy, Mia Farrow, Shelly Duvall, Robert De Niro, Kathleen Turner, Woody Allen, Geena Davis, and Kim Griest.

2000s–Kate Blanchette, Emma Watson, George Clooney, Katherine Zeta-Jones, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johanson, Daniel Radcliff, and Renee Zellwegger

***

There are some oddballs on there. I know Michael Caine made the list this decade for the Batman movies alone (notice he’s right under Christian Bale). And I cannot even begin to explain how Vincent Price ranked above Sean Connery and John Wayne in the 60s. However, by and large, I’ll say that these lists are fairly accurate cross sections of who was hot in a given ten-year period.

People always want to compare George Clooney to Cary Grant, and while I admit that they do look rather similar, I can’t imagine living in a world where I would choose the former over the latter.

Grant was the more versatile leading man. Compare the role of reporter each man played in His Girl Friday and Good Night and Good Luck if you don’t believe me. Grant was also the one with better comedic timing and style, which a quick comparison of Father Goose and O Brother, Where Art Thou? will reveal.

The same is true for leading ladies. Katherine Zeta-Jones (one of the more well-rounded actors in the list) can’t hold a candle to Ingrid Bergman for beauty and style, and if you want sultry, look no further than Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart (her future hubby) instead of Scarlett Johanson in The Black Dahlia.

Just fast forward to about five minutes in and watch the “whistle” section if you don’t believe me. Then compare it to this brief clip. To me, Johanson is like a little girl playing dress up, and her sex appeal feels so forced compared to Bacall’s.

Name me one actor working today who is a legitimate triple threat. (Don’t count Broadway stars. I’ve always felt that theater audiences, for the most part, have more exacting standards.) Honestly, can anyone in Hollywood today hold a candle to Gene Kelly?

How about Julie Andrews?

I don’t go to the movies as much as I used to for a couple of reasons. The cost of an average ticket is $11.00, and I’m not willing to pay that much for sub-par entertainment. Sure, while I do prefer more cerebral fare, I’ll admit that I’m as excited about the upcoming Avengers movie as your average fan girl and truly enjoyed the silliness of The Muppet Movie. However, anyone who tells me One for the Money or Underworld: Awakening are actually worth the cost of admission, I’d have to say, “Baby, baby, baby noooooooo.”

Am I way off base with this? I’d love to hear your thoughts on music, movies, and anything else pop culture!

The Devil Is in the Details

As a lover of language, I am endlessly fascinated by words. For instance, I love the way some of them feel as they roll around inside my mouth (effluvium) and how they sound when finally uttered (chicanery). I relish words with multiple meanings, hermaphroditic words that are both noun and verb (foil) or noun and adjective (novel). The there are even words that are trinities unto themselves; take the word “fawn” for instance. It can refer to a baby deer (noun), a shade of yellowish-brown (adjective), or a way in which a person seeks attention by a servile demeanor (verb).

Image from realcolorwheel.com

Connotations and denotations are an even more attractive area of study for a lexicographical pilgrim. I’ve always believed that words are like a color wheel with hundreds of different shades of meaning. For instance, would you rather be described as “dogmatic” or “principled”? “Gallant” or “cocksure”? “Frugal” or “parsimonious”?

Do you see the slight differences between each set of words? In each pairing, one word has a positive connotation while the other is negative. However, when you look them up in the dictionary or thesaurus, they have nearly the same denotation (definition). That slight difference is why words matter; we must be careful which ones we choose, depending on our purpose for using them. They should never be apathetically tossed around like discarded coats. I’ve been down this rabbit hole before if you care to read about it.

There is even a difference between “hearing” and “listening,” which I discovered yesterday. At their cores, the two words are different because of their definitions. For instance, “hearing” is defined as “the faculty or sense by which sound is perceived” or “the act of perceiving sound.” “Listening,” on the other hand, means, “to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; give ear” or “to pay attention; heed; obey.”

Image from games.com

Now, as you once did on your kid’s menu at a restaurant, find the differences between these two seemingly similar, if not identical, things.

“Hearing” is the simple act of perceiving sounds. I can hear the television playing in another room without being distracted by it because I’m not “listening” to it intently. I might register that a movie I know is playing or if anything of great consequence is going in a baseball or football game. However, it is not my sole focus. Listening, however, implies that there is a purpose for my hearing. I am trying to discern something or benefit in some what from what I hear. You know there is a subtle difference—especially when you’re only hearing when you are expected to be listening. Anyone who has been called on in class while staring out the window at a slice of pristine blue sky knows the panic that can ensue because of this tiny difference. Most men can as well. 🙂 By the way, the same dichotomy is apparent between the concept of “looking and “seeing.”

My learning experience involving these two words is actually two-fold. At work yesterday, I was looking through the book of Proverbs and trying to break down the meaning of the eight one. My computer had gone to screensaver, and a sea of pastel waves swam across its surface. However, my Pandora account (set to Mellow Mix) was playing softly through the speakers to give some texture to the silence and help me concentrate. I was hearing that music rather than the absolute quiet that surrounds me. Listening? Eh, not so much.

If you use Pandora’s free service, you know that roughly every ten to twelve minutes you are subjected to a commercial. I’ve heard/watched ones for everything from cars to razors as well as travel sites like Expedia and even services like Groupon. By and large, these ads don’t bother me because I understand that forty free hours of music every month must come with a price. They have to make a profit to continue letting me enjoy their site. The only time I’ve ever gotten sick of it was when the same add for State Farm came on repeatedly over the course of one week. However, for the most part, the ads are innocuous and easily ignorable.

Imagine my surprise when this ad came on yesterday. Remember, I’m studying the Word of God in a hallway that was dark and otherwise silent. I heard the 911 call of this trailer and then a short description of the movie. Watch the whole clip if you’d like, but the first twenty seconds are enough for you to get the idea.

The film is called The Devil Inside and is supposedly a true story about a woman who killed three people trying to perform an exorcism on her. I do not watch any movies like this because, well, life is terrifying enough. I’m not sure why people pay $12 to have the poop scared out of them on purpose and call it “having a good time.” Needless to say, I stopped reading and clicked the keyboard to wake the computer up to make sure it, too, wasn’t possessed by some evil minion of darkness. I saw the image on the playlist, which was the movie poster below.

Yeah, this is exactly what I want to look at before 8:00 AM…

After my heart quit racing, I tried to get back to work, but something was gnawing at me. I am not a complainer by nature and will usually go out of my way to make a situation tolerable rather than asking someone else to acquiesce. For instance, for awhile, Pandora played a video advertisement for Friends With Benefits. Believe it or not, I find movies like this highly distasteful and offensive. I know it’s a love story of sorts, but I think it is crass to glorify having sex as a form of entertainment, as if it were something for sport, something without consequence. Intimacy like that is meant to be between a man and a woman who are in mutual partnership and who have committed their lives to one another. I’m not trying to preach (well, maybe I am a little), but we wonder why our society no longer values life and love the way we once did while going out to see movies that give us the very answer we seek. Every time that ad came on, I rolled my eyes, let it play, and went on with my day. I know that Pandora has to make its money, and the producers of that film were ready to supply it in order to get their product out there. Trying to stop it from playing would be like attempting to nail Jello to a wall—entertaining for awhile, but utterly pointless in the end.

However, this time, I felt led to say something. It wasn’t that the ad offended me though I don’t like the subject matter. I just thought it odd that they would use such a terrifying advertisement without warning on a platform many people use at work. Imagine if this had gone over an intercom at an office or while someone was trying to sleep.

Well, suffice it to say I thought long and hard about how I wanted to approach this email, and I decided humor was the best route. Here’s what I wrote the advertising team at Pandora:

Hello Pandora Folks, I wanted to let you know that I enjoy your service very much and make good use of it. Normally, your ads don’t bother me, but the recent one for The Devil Inside  scared the living crap out of me and sent me scrabbling for holy water. It’s just creepy to have that come across the radio when you’re working. In fact, it was somewhat unnerving and ruined the Sting/Peter Gabriel/Annie Lennox buzz I had going on this morning. Please know I understand that you are in the business of making money and that the film company wants to advertise that movie. However, is there a way to play a commercial for it that doesn’t sound like Satan himself is in my Mac? Just wondering. Thanks!

Notice what I did. I praised their service and thanked them for it. I explained that I had a problem with it and for what reason. I didn’t vituperate them for promoting satanic movies or demand they take it down. I simply asked if they could tone that ad down in the future. Well, here is the reply I got. I know they can’t respond to each person’s email personally, but if you are going to use a form letter, could you at least try to see it from the other person’s point of view?

Hi Jamie, Thanks for writing and for the feedback. You are a valuable part of our listening audience, and we do respect your opinion.

We understand that certain material can be sensitive ground. In fact, a good majority of our campaigns elicit some level of protest from listeners. Everything from credit cards and alcohol to fast food and political candidates offend certain listeners’ sensibilities or beliefs. While we of course respect the perspective of each individual, we ask ourselves one central question when deciding whether to accept a campaign: Does this, or would this, advertisement appear on mainstream broadcast media (TV and/or radio)? If the answer is yes, we accept the ad.

We recognize that this standard evolves over time. But while there are occasional judgment calls still required, we feel strongly that we should not be in the business of censoring.

I have a couple suggestions that might be helpful for you. The first is to consider subscribing to Pandora One. This is our premium, advertising-free version. It’s only $36/year and has no advertising at all. It also streams at a higher quality and comes with a number of other benefits that you might find attractive.

You might also consider restricting Pandora from playing songs with explicit content. When you do that, you not only remove songs with explicit lyrical content, you will also remove some ads that happen to be targeted “away” from people who have demonstrated an aversion to explicit content, which will remove some of the ads that offend you. I hope this is helpful, and I hope you understand the approach we have taken.

Thanks so much for listening!

Kindest regards, Jeff

Jeff, I didn’t say the movie “offended by sensibilities or beliefs.” I said it “scared the living crap out of me.” I didn’t even ask them to fully censor it and take it down, just to create a version that wasn’t so unnerving for folks who aren’t expecting it. (Maybe that qualifies as censorship. I’ll let you make the call.) They do, however, have a way to censor it yourself, which is a nice option except that it is such a blanket protocol. If I blocked ads like this one, would it also keep me from hearing one about a new film version of The Crucible? That’s about witches and “satanic” elements as well, but I wouldn’t find it at all offensive. In fact, I would want to know about it because I admire Miller’s work and enjoy films based on literature.

The long and short of it is this. I took the time to make my request personal and non-abrasive. However, the reply I got back was pedantic, and I felt as if it was upbraiding me for stepping on the first amendment rights of both Pandora and the listening pleasure of others. I suppose if they field emails from people who find credit cards offensive (which is still a mystery to me), they have to put a certain distance between themselves and their customers. Still, to have one’s claim heard but not truly listened to, lumped in with the rest of the poorly worded and overly dogmatic complaints, despite the care and attention put into it, is a bit dispiriting. Oh well. As the sage Charlie Brown once said, “I’m not going to let this commercial dog ruin my Christmas.”

Your turn! I’m interested on your thoughts on this subject because I’m still making up my mind. Are there any advertisements you find offensive? Have you ever written to a company about them? What about your thoughts on communication and being truly listened to? Please share your ideas with me!