Archive for the 'Pop Culture' Category

The history of A Christmas Story, and it’s creator Jean Shepherd.

Dec 12, 2004 in Pop Culture

Since it began to air on cable television in the mid-eighties, A Christmas Story has become an annual Christmas viewing tradition; the It’s a Wonderful Life of our generation. The film’s uncloying, dysfunctionally humorous take on childhood has resonated with viewers of all ages. But many of us who grew up with the film are unaware of the life of it’s narrator, renegade radio talk show host Jean Shepherd.

Shephard was best known for his daily radio show on WOR New York throughout the sixties and seventies. Shepherd was like an anti-establishment Garrison Keilor, telling stories and anecdotes to late night listeners in his dulcet baritone voice. Flick Lives is a comprehensive tribute site dedicated to Shepherd and his work. The Shep Archives has streaming audio of over 1500 radio shows, albums, and other material.

The A Christmas Story tribute page has more information on the movie and it’s various merchandising spinoffs. Most of the storylines in A Christmas Story come from the book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Read about the origin and development of the Red Ryder BB Gun story, the Leg Lamp, and the Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Pin. (Am I the only one that’s freaked out by the fact that none of the Annie characters were drawn with pupils?)

Ann Coulter was a hippie

Dec 09, 2004 in Pop Culture

No, seriously. She appears on the VH1 show My Coolest Years: The Dirty Hippies (currently in daily reruns). “It’s the music,” she says of her days as a Deadhead. She also claims to have been to over 60 shows. I’ll let you ponder the irony of this.

Motley Crue to reunite

Dec 07, 2004 in Pop Culture

It’s official… Motley Crue are reuniting for a world tour! (sighs, rolls eyes)

Although I’m sure some people will be glad to see Motley Crue back together, it’s kinda sad at the same time. The ravages of time can be hard on rock stars, but it’s especially hard on rockers who have lived so hard and so fast. Lead singer Vince Neil is now an overweight man who led a chicken dance at Octoberfest, guitarist Mick Mars just underwent hip replacement surgery, and Tommy Lee has found a second career as a tabloid and reality TV celebrity. Establishment rockers like the Rolling Stones, the Who and Aerosmith, by comparison, have aged almost gracefully.

I’ll admit that I was a Motley Crue fan back in the day (”the day” being around 1986). Their peak was about 15-20 years ago, of course, but man, they were the shit when Shout at the Devil was still fresh. Even if you don’t like Motley Crue, their autobiography The Dirt is one of the best rock bios you’ll ever read.

In semi-related news, Maker’s Mark is a damn good (and affordable) Kentucky bourbon whisky. Shopping tip: Whenever it’s spelled “whisky” (without an ‘e’), it’s probably good.

Why I Dislike College Football

Nov 10, 2004 in Pop Culture

Now that it’s well past post-election time, back to our regularly scheduled blog…

Football season is winding to a close, and while I could probably care less, it appears that our Middle Tennesee State University football team is in danger of losing their NCAA 1-A division status due to a lack of game attendance and student support. When queried about their lack of support, most MTSU students noted that they are simply not football fans, and could care less either way.

The athletics department has tried several tricks to lure students to the games, including a nationally-publicized appearance by Big Boi of Outkast; a move that cost the university $82,000 and failed to bring in the crowds (The scheduled hour-long performance was also cut short by rain.) The fact that the football team is mediocre and this is largely a commuter college without a football tradition or strong rivalries doesn’t help matters much either.

Which brings me to express some long-held gripes about the cultural juggernaut that is college football. Before moving here to attend school, I lived in Columbus, Ohio; home of the Ohio State Buckeyes and a huge football town. Being an out-of-towner who did not attend OSU, I could have cared less about the team’s performance. But from September to November every year, the spectre of football season is inescapable for anyone who lives in a large college town. Co-workers chat you up about football, which you have to admit that you care or know nothing about. Saturday afternoon traffic jams made it a chore to get to work. Not to mention the threat of rioting.

(The riot that took place in 2002 after the team’s victory over archrival Michigan was especially raucous, despite repeated warning from school officials to keep the peace. I was also there in 2003 when OSU won the national championship. It was a largely happy and peaceful occasion, with people walking the streets and celebrating. But shortly after the game, a drunken reveler hit a utility pole near my house, leaving our neighborhood in darkness for an entire mid-winter’s night.)

It should be obvious that I’m not a football fan. But I don’t understand the attention paid to the performance of unpaid college football players. The NFL is one thing; these players are highly-paid professionals whose job it is to win games. But fans and universities have assigned paramount importance to college athletic performance, and this often comes to the detriment of education and to a school’s reputation.

The massive amounts of money spent on something that should be an intramural activity is obscene: Millions in tuition fees, alumni gifts and taxpayer dollars are spent to construct new sports complexes, pay exorbitant coaching salaries and recruit high school players. While some schools stand to make a mint on ticket sales, merchandising, and alumni donations, many schools actually lose money on their football and basketball programs. And studies have shown that a winning sports team has little benefit — financial or otherwise — for most schools.

The abuses that stem from this mentality are legion: ballooning athletic budgets, recruiting and coaching scandals, alcohol and stripper parties, sexual harassment and rape, illegal financial incentives paid to players by athletic boosters, and poor academic performance by players.

A university is a place to receive an education. It is also a place for academic research, to explore new ideas, and to gain life experiences. Sure, I understand that it is often a proving ground for future professional athletes, but they should be there to receive an education first. (And there’s always the minor leagues).

A jock who can throw a ball is offered a full scholarship to play college football, despite the fact that they wouldn’t have otherwise qualified to attend a university. A substantial number of college football players never graduate. Academic “help” is sometimes offered to college athletes in the form of easy classes, no-fail professors and students who write term papers and take tests for them.

To most big college football fans, it seems that the sole purpose of a university is to produce a winning football team. Many fans never even went to college, much less the college that they’re rooting for. And the behavior of some fans is just downright obnoxious.

All of the above is why I’m glad I don’t attend a football school. Many of the students who came here did so for reasons other than the football team’s performance. And those of us who aren’t college football fans are tired of having it shoved down our throats. If local residents, alumni and students want to support their team, so be it. But football should not be of such importance to a university, especially when it comes to the detriment of education.

Spumco’s Ren and Stimpy on DVD, Finally!

Oct 13, 2004 in Pop Culture

The Ren and Stimpy First and Second Season Uncut DVD Box set is now in stores! It’s well past time for a DVD version of the early Ren and Stimpy shows, and the new box set is much more than I imagined. 32 episodes, over 400 minutes of animated madness, and several episodes are presented uncut! (including the banned episode, “Man’s Best Friend”). Did i mention it’s under $30?

For those of you whippersnappers who missed Ren and Stimpy the first time around, it was a tremendously popular cult hit among all ages when it first premiered in 1991. Ren and Stimpy, with it’s oddball, grossout humor, paved the way for shows such as Spongebob Squarepants, South Park and Adult Swim. But the quality of the show went downhill after John Kricfalusi — the show’s creator — left due to creative control issues with Nickelodeon. The cable channel formed it’s own animation studio and continued to make Ren and Stimpy, with disappointing results. Hopefully, we’ll never see those episodes on DVD.

The Spumco Ren and Stimpy Archive (on Fortune City, dont slashdot it!) has the story on Spumco’s split with Nickelodeon. The Nicktoons website also has a short and fairly accurate history on the Ren and Stimpy Show.

Anime vs. the Governator: Wired Edition

Sep 01, 2004 in Pop Culture

From the latest issue of Wired magazine: Charles Mann reports on the upcoming films from anime giants Mamouro Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), Hayou Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) and Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira). The article touches on the influence of manga (Japanese comic books) on modern Japanese animation, and the influence of Japanese pop culture on the West.

An old roommate got me into anime about five years ago, when we attended weekly showings of the anime club at Ohio State. While there is some really good anime out there, like anything else, 90% of it is crap. This goes especially for the stuff they pass off as anime on American cable television. (How does a series like Inuyasha remain an incredibly popular late-night staple, while the excellent samurai saga Rurouni Kenshin gets confined to the ghetto of CN’s schedule and eventually winds up cancelled?) The sad truth is that truly stellar series such as Neon Genesis Evangelion or Ranma 1/2 will probably never see the light of day on American TV.

I’ve always noticed that American animation tends to stick to three main genres: 1. Comedy (The Simpsons, South Park, etc.), 2. Family fare (Disney movies, Shrek), 3. Kids stuff (Pretty much everything else). Whereas anime, on the other hand, runs the gamut from four-year-olds to extremely graphic adult fare. Non-Japanese audiences are recognizing this, and as a result, Japan is the largest exporter of pop culture aside from the United States.

Also in the same issue is the cover story on California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; a balanced, yet somewhat glowing analysis of Arnold’s unique political style. The article also includes a short feature on how to overhaul the electoral system. (The best suggestions: Open-source the electronic voting machines, and abolish the electoral college, replacing it with computerized runoff voting.)

Has anyone bothered to tell this guy that pro wrestling is FAKE?

Aug 28, 2004 in Pop Culture

Hulk Hogan’s Heroes - Why pro wrestlers should be in the Olympics. By Dave McKenna

McKenna, a sports columnist writing for Slate argues that professional wrestlers should be allowed to compete in the Olympics, much like pro basketball players.

Now, I don’t know much about Greco-Roman-style wrestling (the sort that’s practiced at the Olympics), but I’m sure it has little in common with the acrobatic testosterone soap opera that is the WWE.

If you’ve watched the weightlifting competitions at the Olympics, it should be apparent that pro lifters do not at all resemble the buff, ripped, and supplement-enhanced bodybuilders. In fact, the pro lifters often have noticeable pot bellies and considerable girth, but they can lift 500 lbs. without breaking a sweat. It’s unlikely you’d see a bodybuilder compete at that level.

Neither do Olympic wrestlers resemble the cartoonishly-ripped pro wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan. In fact, I bet that those entertainers would have a hard time holding their own against an experienced Olympic grappler.

Tennesee really does make the best whisk(e)y…

Aug 25, 2004 in Pop Culture

…and I’m not talking about that Jack Daniels stuff (although their tour is very interesting and educational, and I would recommend it to any tourist who makes it down Tennessee way). I’m talking about George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky (spelled without the ‘e’, because Mr. Dickel believed that his whisky was as good as the Scotch whiskys that share the same spelling.)

Dickel and Daniels manufacture the only whisk(e)ys in the world that bear the designation of “Tennesee whiskey.” This is because of the extra step of mellowing the whiskey through at least ten feet of sugar maple charcoal. Bear in mind too that Tennessee whiskey is different that bourbon whiskey, which is usually manufacured in Kentucky and lacks the mellowing process.

If this sounds like a ringing endorsement, it is. I’m far from a wine and spirits connoisseur, although I do have an appreciation for fine ales. (Even Guinness tastes like milk to me.) But this is by far the best whiskey I’ve ever drank. And the best part is that, at least in Tennessee, George Dickel No. 12 is around $5 cheaper than Jack Daniels black label. (I paid $15 for this bottle.)

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Merle Haggard, speaking here to the Onion’s AV Club:

“I think George Dickel is absolutely the best Tennessee mash whiskey. It’s my understanding that Jack Daniel’s was an attempt to try to take the recipe of George Dickel to a commercial state of reproducing it. Whereas they couldn’t do that with George Dickel, because in order to make it the way they make it, they would have had to repeat too many different formulas. It would have been impossible. They did certain things at certain temperatures in a certain kind of water. So I went down there and looked at their distilleries and saw what they were doing, saw the difference between that and Jack Daniel’s, and I couldn’t believe it. You take George Dickel and you pour it over ice and hold it up to the light, and it won’t separate. But if you take Jack Daniel’s and do that, hold it up to the light, you’ll notice that the corn oil starts separating from the whiskey, because it hasn’t been married at the correct temperature. When you go down and have this education thrown upon you, and then you drink it?everybody got drunk when we was taking pictures. It was about 20 girls and about 20 guys, and we’re all down in this creek drunk with two fists of George Dickel apiece, and we all stayed over and had breakfast together, and not a one of us had a hangover.”

Unlike Jack Daniels, which has existed pretty much continuously since 1866, George Dickel’s distillery has made more comebacks than Elvis. The distillery closed down during Prohibition, and remained closed for almost forty years. A man named Ralph Dupps rebuilt the distillery in 1958, which was later acquired by multinational conglomerates such as United Distilleries, who closed the distillery in 1999 due to business problems. Current owner Diageo reopened the distillery last year, and as a result, much of the No. 12 whisky sold since then has been sitting in barrels for as much as 12 years, nearly twice as long as normal.

I’m not certain of the availability of George Dickel Whisky outside of the Southeast, but it can always be ordered online (state laws depending). Here are a few other resources about Tennessee whisk(e)y to whet your appetite:

  • A brief comparison between Jack Daniels and George Dickel No. 12
  • Articles from the Louisville Courier-Journal and Cigar Aficionado magazine on Dickel’s history and the recent re-opening.
  • An academic article from 1999 on the history of Tennessee distilleries.
  • Unintentional drug references in Rocky and Bullwinkle?

    Aug 07, 2004 in Pop Culture

    Tonight I ordered a pizza from Papa John’s (spinach alfredo, ate three pieces before I became unusually full) and got one of the free DVD’s they’ve been giving out for ordering a large. (Anyone looking to aquire or complete a Weekend at Bernie’s collection? Cuz they’ve got both!)

    So I got the Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle first season DVD sampler. The sampler has three episodes, comprising half of the “counterfeit boxtops” storyline. (One thing that’s really interesting about Rocky and Bullwinkle is the way a storyline would stretch across multiple episodes, sometimes as many as 20 consecutive half-hour shows!)

    Rocky and Bullwinkle has long been lauded as being clever, intelligent and sometimes subversive. During one of the episodes, I caught two unintentional references to drug/intoxicant use that never would have made it on TV today:

  • In the Rocky and Bullwinkle segment, Bullwinkle is hanging precariously on a giant outdoor tower clock. The time on the clock reads 4:20.
  • In the Mr. Peabody segment, a sleepy horse is repeatedly revived by inhaling glue.
  • Now, of course, the 4:20 reference to marijuana usage would not be coined for about ten more years, and I doubt few people at the time considered the possibility of inhaling glue to get high. But still, it’s funny to find modern references to drug use innocently inserted into old cartoons.

    Oddly enough, only a few good pages exist that are dedicated to Rocky and Bullwinkle. Hokey Smoke! is probably the most comprehensive and updated. Also, read about Jay Ward’s attempt to acheive statehood for a small island north of Minnesota he named Moosylvania.

    How to solve the triangle peg game

    Jul 24, 2004 in Pop Culture

    Anyone who has ever eaten at a Cracker Barrel has played the triangle peg game. The objective is to jump and remove the pegs, leaving as few pegs remaining as possible. One peg remaining is “genius,” two pegs is “purty smart,” three pegs is “just plain dumb,” and four or more remaining makes you an “egg-no-ra-moose.”

    Despite the obvious simplicity of the game, two pegs remaining is the best that many people can do. I’ve played this game probably hundreds of times (I used to own one of these as a kid), but have yet to find a one peg solution, except by accident.

    Since puzzles are inherently mathematical, the full range of solutions can be found with a simple computer program. Dan O’Brien’s Peg Board Puzzle Page features downloadable text solutions and the source code for his program. This Cracker Barrel page also has instructions, history, and an online version of the game.