Category Archives: Art

Books, Film, TV, Music, Theater, and all things artsy

Things that go bump in the night

Day late and a Twix bar late with this post, but I was too exhausted last night. But I seem to remember a day when Halloween was not about sexy adult costumes and zombies and bar parties and office “dress-up.” It was about being truly scared.

I remember some friends who held their own haunted house every Halloween. It wasn’t the kind where people hid behind doors and shouted “boo!” when you walked by. It was more tactile. You went through it blindfolded. And you had to touch stuff. They would use things like raw meat (internal organs) and thick liquids (blood) with peeled grapes (eyeballs). As you went through with spooky sound effects in the background, you had to touch each item and guess what it was. It was gruesome and freaky.

cfhI remember old scary movies. On Friday and Saturday nights, WGN (then, only a Chicago station) had a show called Creature Features with old black-and-white monster movies. I think they also ran some of the Dark Shadows TV show. This was in the days when I still had an enforced bedtime. But on weekends, and especially when friends spent the night, we were allowed to stay up late watching these old movies down in the darkened basement.

Today, you don’t see these movies on the Top-whatever list of great horror movies. Most of these films were made back in the 40s, but we didn’t care. The masterful ways in which they used lighting and shadows in black and white films has been lost today. Even by the early seventies, on a little black-and-white TV, they could take you to some pretty dark places. Actors like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., and Vincent Price would don some make-up and hide in the shadows.


Karloff, an English actor, is most known today for his narration on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. But he earned that role by spending decades playing Frankenstein. He also played the Mummy, but he was even more menacing as the fez-wearing crypt-keeper of the Mummy.


Bela Lugosi as Dracula was a Hungarian actor, and probably part vampire himself. With Frankenstein’s flat head, scar, and neck bolts, and Dracula’s dark eyebrows and starched collar, both Lugosi and Karloff took what had been only descriptions in novels and brought them to life in ways that have pretty much become standard depictions of these characters ever since.

ChaneyPhantomoftheOperawolf man

Chaney played a great phantom of the opera — less of the tragic, romantic baritone, and more of the deranged psychopath — but I remember him more from his wolf man movies.

Some of these movies later included Abbott and Costello, who were always stumbling into danger without knowing it.


These movies were not big on blood and gore or the nudity you see in today’s horror films. They scared you by hiding in the shadows of black-and-white film and stalking you throughout the movie. Hey, it may have been the fact that I was ten years old, but these films were great. Plus, they were all the more scary when you stayed up late with friends and suddenly noticed every creak and groan that a house can make at that hour.

So you can have your Michael Myers and Freddie Krugers. I’ll take the old-time monsters every time.

Something smells

As you can probably tell, I’m in the midst of the end-of-summer doldrums. I have no kids to drop off at college or get ready to go back to school. Thus, it’s just that weird period where summer is over but no one has told the weatherman. Football and my beloved Fall temperatures are a few weeks off yet. This September will feature something new for Pittsburgh: baseball relevance. The Pirates seem like they have turned onto Liberty Ave. in the marathon that is the 162-game baseball season. With only 35 games left, they are 8 wins away from their first winning season in 21 years, and 10.5 games ahead of the Diamondbacks for a playoff spot. Not even the Three Stooges could screw this one up. (See me tempting the fates there?) But those things, too, are a few weeks off.

corpseI think it was apropos that the big attraction in Pittsburgh this week was the rare and sudden blooming of the corpse flower at the Phipps Conservatory. I don’t care if it only blooms once a decade. I took a pass at joining the hordes of people who plunked down $15 to go see the phallic flower that smells like rotting flesh. Only at the end of August could something like that become the city’s star attraction. Feed me, Seymour! If I wanted to pay $15 to see something stink, I would have taken somebody to see R.I.P.D. At least that way, I would have gotten some popcorn out of the deal.

Funny, it’s the same thing I thought when I read about UPS blaming Obamacare for dropping health coverage of employee spouses. Actually, the story isn’t bad as it seems. The exclusion is only for spouses who have jobs that offer their own health coverage. Those spouses just aren’t going to be able to choose the UPS plan if it’s better than their company plan. No one here is being denied health coverage.

But still, I thought, Hmmm. Something stinks. Hey, at least it didn’t cost me $15. I suspect that there are going to be a lot of businesses in the next few years that take advantage of Obamacare implementation by doing something they’ve wanted to do for a long time… drop or decrease expensive healthcare benefits. In the past, the company would have taken a hit and morale would have plunged. Now, they can just blame Obama… and save a bundle along the way. Oh, they might pay a penalty if they employ more than 50 people, but I’ll bet the penalty is cheaper than healthcare coverage for employees and their spouses.

Hey, these struggling corporations need the money. As a percentage of national income, corporate profits in the third quarter of 2012 (during the national disaster of an Obama presidency) stood at 14.2 percent, the largest share at any time since 1950. Meanwhile, the portion of income that went to employees fell to 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. Productivity is up. Unemployment is down. It’s just that the profits are not trickling down to the workers. Something is trickling, all right; it’s just not wages.

Meanwhile, Republicans are said to be meeting daily during the recess to scheme of ways to scuttle Obamacare before people actually begin enjoying the coverage next year. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Time’s a wasting. This fall is going to be a cage match. Maybe Republicans would be more cooperative if Obama had proposed the plan of their candidate for the president in 2012… wait, oh yeah…

endwelfareJust a reminder that the stink of politics will be blooming again this fall. There will be fights over debt ceilings, Obamacare, voter suppression, immigration, food stamps, women’s rights, surveillance, and much more. Unfortunately, this is a constantly blooming stink plant. And it will probably cost us more than $15.

There, I just talked myself into enjoying the quiet of late August, as well as the sweet aroma of Congressional recess.




My semi-annual movie rant

summer-movies-for-kids-free-summer-moviesThe movies suck this summer.

I could end the post right there, but I’ll try to expand on that theme.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask moviegoers why a film that came out in May (Iron Man 3) is still winning the summer box office. It’s not because it’s been out longer. (It opened to a huge $175M weekend.) It’s because the big blockbusters, costing hundreds of millions each, have gone down in flames the last three weeks: White House Down ($24M), Pacific Rim ($37M), and The Lone Ranger ($29M). This week, R.I.P.D. will probably do the same. I’ve been to only one movie this summer (This Is the End), and the only other movie I want to see this summer is The Butler. Despite having plenty of disposable income, it feels like I’m not the audience Hollywood is coveting.

I’ve done this rant before. It’s my grumpy old man “the-movies-were-better-in-my-day-now-get-off-my-lawn!” rant. It’s a classic. It goes something like this:

Let’s take a trip back to yesteryear to revisit the number one summer movies in decades past. These movies are #1 only by box office, and only represent summer releases:

  • ET1980 – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  • 1981 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • 1982 – E.T.
  • 1983 – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
  • 1984 – Ghostbusters
  • 1985 – Back to the Future
  • 1986 – Top Gun
  • 1987 – Beverly Hills Cop II
  • 1988 – Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
  • 1989 – Batman

Let’s just take a moment to reflect on how strong a decade that was. So many iconic films. And besides Star Wars (which was a franchise), only one sequel. We have archeologists, aliens, ghosts, time travel, fighter pilots, and one superhero. And give it up for one live action/animation mix. This was the golden age of imagination and art, unhindered by the corporate machine. Let’s try the 90s:

  • forrest-gump1990: Ghost
  • 1991: Terminator 2
  • 1992: Batman Returns
  • 1993: Jurassic Park
  • 1994: Forrest Gump
  • 1995: Batman Forever
  • 1996: Independence Day
  • 1997: Men in Black
  • 1998: Saving Private Ryan
  • 1999: Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace

Here, we have a bit of a mixed bag. We see the creep of CGI reliance here with MIB, Independence Day, and Jurrassic Park. We also see the beginnings of the creativity-killing corporate culture with the Batman movies. And say what you want about Ghost, but can you imagine a romance winning the summer box office? Yet, overall, there is still outstanding originality and story-telling here. Now, let’s move on to what I consider to be the saddest decade ever in motion picture history:

  • pirates-box-office.preview2000: Mission Impossible II
  • 2001: Shrek
  • 2002: Spider-man
  • 2003: Finding Nemo
  • 2004: Shrek 2
  • 2005: Star Wars II: Revenge of the Stith
  • 2006: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
  • 2007: Spider-man 3
  • 2008: The Dark Knight
  • 2009: Transformers 2
  • 2010: Toy Story 3
  • 2011: Harry Potter II: The Deathly Hollows
  • 2012: The Avengers
  • 2013: Iron Man 3

Okay, I’m not saying that these are bad movies, necessarily. I’m just saying that gone is originality and story telling. The only unique story telling is found in the children’s movies. The rest are all based on comic books, past movies, a best selling book, and an amusement park ride. And this is not to say that there have been no creative movies. Films like Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, Memento, Juno, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Stranger than Fiction will continue to slip through the cracks. But they don’t make money, here or overseas, which makes it harder and harder for similar films to ever get financing again,

Hollywood has been taken over by the corporate bean counters who are only interested in overseas profits. Storytelling is out. Comedies are out if they won’t get the jokes in China. Explosions, superheroes, and car chases play in all languages and cultures.

61st Cannes Film Festival - Spielberg and LucasRecently, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg sat down for a chat on the state of Hollywood, and they predicted an implosion. Spielberg remembered the good old days:

“It used to be, when I first started making movies it was really cool, my movies stayed in theaters for one year. If it was a hit, it was a year long. Raiders [of the Lost Ark] was in theaters for a year. E.T. was in a theater for a year and four months… That was an amazing situation, back then.”

But times have changed:

“You’re at the point right now where a studio would rather invest $250 million in one film for a real shot at the brass ring, than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal — and even maybe historical — projects that may get lost in the shuffle.”

Which led to this interesting exchange:

Spielberg: “There’s going to be eventually day and date with movies and eventually there’s going to be a price variance. You’re going to have to pay $25 to see the next Iron Man. And you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln.”

Lucas: “I think eventually the Lincolns are going to go away and they’re going to be on television.”

Spielberg: “And mine almost was! This close. Ask HBO — this close!”

Then Lucas painted a picture where going to movies is more like going to a sporting even or Broadway show:

“What you’re going to end up with is fewer theaters. Bigger theaters, with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies is going to cost you 50 bucks, maybe 100. Maybe 150. And that’s going to be what we call ‘the movie business.’ But everything else is going to look more like cable television on TiVo. It’s not going to have cable or broadcast, It’s going to be the internet television.”

But here’s the good news. This, too, will pass.

“There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even half a dozen of these mega-budgeted movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm again.”

Like anything, life comes in cycles. There will be a return of creative freedom and great story telling. The industry is currently reeling in panic over fleeting DVD sales, crumbling business models, and slow recovery from the 2008 economic crash.

Lucas: “It’s a mess. It’s total chaos. But out of that chaos will come some really amazing things. And right now there are amazing opportunities for young people coming into the industry to say, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to do this and there’s nobody to stop me.’ It’s because all the gatekeepers have been killed!”

So, although we are currently in a creativity drought, you can’t keep the imagination of the human spirit from eventually raining down. It will find a way to come out. Right now, creative freedom and story telling is mostly found on cable TV. But I can’t wait for the day when it returns to the silver screen. Maybe then I’ll actually return to the theaters.

Looking to get lost in a book

tv-was-called-booksJust kidding. I’m not Judgy McJudgerstien when it comes to books. Growing up, I was never what you would call a book worm. I always sort of had to force myself to slow down and read. I didn’t dislike it; I just preferred doing other things, like playing sports or riding my bike or hanging out with friends. When I was young, there was no series of books that made me “fall in love with reading.” There was no Harry Potter, no Twilight, no Hunger Games.

In high school, I was put into an A.P. English track, so there are certain books that everyone else had to read that never crossed my path. So I never read To Kill a Mockingbird or Romeo & Juliet or Moby Dick or Of Mice and Men. Instead, I read Great Expectations, The Tempest, The Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, and The Great Gatsby. These books were fine, but none of them made me fall in love with literature. I had teachers who made me fall in love with history, political science, theater, and music. Maybe I never had that awesome English teacher.

Stephen-King-Night-ShiftBut then I read Night Shift by Stephen King. I’d read short stories in school before, but I’d never before read a book that completely transported me somewhere else. The cover had this hand that was covered with eyeballs. It was full of psychological thrillers, twenty stories that varied from  a real monster or evil force to more subtle stories that played on your phobia of someone grabbing your feet while you run up the basement stairs. Very little of it was slasher/horror stuff. Most of it was just King, getting in your head,  and playing on your simplest unspoken fears. I think six movies were made from those short stories.

So, I stayed with King and next I read The Stand. Holy crap. Once again, there was little violence or blood. There were no big car chases and few explosions. It was mostly just people talking to each other and picking sides, good or evil. But it created this dystopian world that completely freaked me out in a way that Dickens, Shakespeare, and Steinbeck never did. In my imperfect memory, this was the first time I truly got lost in a book.

A few years later, King released Different Seasons. This book had four short stories: “The Body,” which became the movie Stand by Me; “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” which led to one of my favorite movies of all time; and “The Apt Pupil,” about a little boy who discovers an old Nazi war criminal next door and blackmails that man into telling stories of the holocaust; and a fourth of which I have absolutely no memory. “The Apt Pupil” was actually my favorite when I first read the book.

I soon moved on from Stephen King because the more I read, the more his books started to sound alike. Plus, he seemed to be more into quantity (lots of books) than quality (really good books). I moved on to Grisham and Clancy, but they were like watching a TV movie of the week. But there were other books, like Gorky Park, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Presumed Innocent, Bonfire of the Vanities, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Cold Mountain, The Road, The Kite Runner, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… books I could not put down. Books that devastated me or just completely enveloped me for a period of time. I remember finishing The Road while visiting Paris. I was sitting in a cafe there, and when I finished it, I looked around and had…

thatmomentUnfortunately, it’s been a while since I’ve found one of those books. But I feel like “I’m due,” as they say in baseball.

So I’m not looking for suggestions. Everyone’s taste is different. There are some highly regarded novels that never did it for me. But what books did that for you? It doesn’t have to be a classic piece of literature. It can be a pulp fiction, dime-store paperback. What book did you get lost in, twenty years ago or just last week?

Back in Black

Let me say at the outset that rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

I allowed myself a bit of an electronic break, I guess. It began on 4th of July weekend. Since then, it’s been too hot, too crazy, too racist, and a bit too depressing for me to even work up a post. I tried to hide away in baseball and a potentially epic Pirates’ season, but now it’s the All-Star break and the only two days in America when none of the four major professional or collegiate sports play a single game.

For a few days, I immersed myself in the first two discs of The Newsroom. Aaron Sorkin is my guilty pleasure. Sure, he’s over the top. Sure, he’s great at lefty rants. Sure, he plagiarizes himself something fierce, but true genius realizes when the only person worth stealing from is yourself…

But I still love it. And I love The Newsroom. It’s a more up-to-date and better acted The West Wing with f-bombs. Netfilx should be delivering disc 3 later this week.

I avoided all the summer blockbusters but saw This Is the End, which was very funny but probably only worth a rental. I sprang for matinee prices.

Oh, and we now have our niece, affectionately known as The Princess, living with us, which is great. She’s an eager nineteen-year-old looking for a direction in life. Nothing like moving from the Chicago suburbs to Pittsburgh to get some new perspective. She’s already worked up a resume, gone to employment agencies, and will be going through volunteer training at Children’s Hospital in August. And she brought her dog Ella, so Belle the Dog is no longer queen of the castle.

L to R - Belle the Dog, and Ella the Dog. No, they are not related.

L to R – Belle the Dog, and Ella the Dog. No, they are not related.

So life has been busy. And don’t you know I have lots of thoughts in my head about the Zimmerman Trial, Edward Snowden, Wendy Davis, Stand Your Ground, whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be on the cover of Rolling Stone, Cory Monteith, and the Royal fetus… okay, not really so much with the last two. But no new ground that hasn’t been trod a million times by a million pundits.

I guess I’m more distressed that despite the Supreme Court’s assertion that racism is over and Civil Rights legislation can be dismantled, we seem to be a more racially polarized society than ever before. Perhaps, as I stated in my last post, it’s because the shrinking majority is freaked out that they are no longer a majority. Perhaps it’s because of all the voices on talk radio and the Internet. Perhaps it is because we have a black president that is no where near as scary as many on the Right predicted. (I’ll be screening 2016, the black president apocalypse movie, at my house in 2016 to see if it all came true. Bring popcorn!) Who knows? But Stand Your Ground laws, attacks on voter rights, attacks on minimum wage, attacks on food stamps, attacks on public schools, and attacks on the poor in general have created a really ugly narrative in this country. One that is not worthy of the Stars and Stripes and the country our Founding Fathers created.

I’ll just close this post off with a speech from The Great Dictator, starring, written, produced, scored, and directed by Charlie Chaplin, and his most commercially successful movie ever. I won’t go into all the plot points. Chaplin plays several characters in the movie, his first “talkie”. But one of his characters is a Jewish barber who impersonates the dictator to escape the slums, when he is nabbed and forced to give a speech to the nation. This is that speech. Someone has added modern music and images to show how well it still holds up today. The movie was made in 1940, when American still had friendly diplomatic relations with Hitler’s Germany. Chaplin later said that if he had known of Germany’s “final solution” of the Jews, he never would have made the movie. But it’s a damn good speech, needed today as much as ever.

Gittin’ aht a here

git_ahtI so wanted to write about the amazing apology and new direction of Exodus International, the “pray away the gay” Christian organization. It’s such a hopeful and refreshing communication. But before you get too excited, you should see how this guy is being eviscerated on Christian sites in the comments section.

I wanted to get into the losses of James Gandolfini and author Vince Flynn. James’ portrayal of Tony Soprano will be that much more iconic with him gone. And Vince’s spy novels have become one my literary guilty pleasures. They are not art, but they are fun, quick reads. They have been my fix for the demise of Tom Clancy’s fiction over the past 20 years.

I also wanted to get into why this headline became necessary yesterday, and how Republican politicians can’t seem to stop themselves from alienating more and more future voters (women, minorities, young people, gay people, poor people, middle class people) every. single. damn. day.

Then there’s the Keystone XL pipeline. Economic savior? Or expensive and devastating ecological disaster just waiting to happen? Yeah, did you know that Canada has experienced an average of two spills per day over the past 37 years? Now they want us to share in the fun.

And you may want to check out my latest post at The McLean Parlor about the Bank of UnAmerica.

Chicago-178248But I’ve got a little business trip to Chicago for the next four days. I’m really looking forward to it. While it is business, it’s also with friends, so it will be great to get away and hang out. I really need the change of scenery. Oh, and there will be a very important business meeting at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon. Cubs and Astros… I’m ready for some really bad baseball. Beer will be involved. Minutes will not be taken.

So behave yourselves. Enjoy the weekend. We’ll see you next week.

More than meets the eye?

hastingsI was saddened yesterday to learn of the tragic death of journalist Michael Hastings. He was only 33.

Michael worked for BuzzFeed during the elections and was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. He is probably best known as the guy who ended the career of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. operatorsMcChrystal was a colorful character. He and his staff operated in a brash, frat boy manner that charmed most reporters, who were more than happy to drink the general’s whiskey and only report the flattering stuff. The Rolling Stone article, as their articles tend to do, pulled the curtain back on the general and his staff, revealing both their disdain for their superiors and their dissatisfaction with the war effort. McChrystal would insist that much of the article included things that were said “off the record,” but in truth, McChrystal had failed to recognize that Hastings was a bona fide reporter, and a brilliant writer. People may have taken issue with the way Hastings cozied up to the general and then wrote about it, but no one disputed a single fact in the text. The book that followed had one of the greatest covers for a non-fiction title. Love the loose tie, the scotch, and the gun. It’s like the general is being played by Dean Martin.

lost my loveHis previous book, I Lost My Love in Baghdad, told the heartbreaking tale of Hastings falling in love with a fellow reporter, how they covered the Iraq war together, and of her tragic death at a meeting at the Iraqi Islamic Party headquarters. It is a gripping picture of war from a unique perspective.

So far, news reports on Hastings death in a Los Angeles car accident have been sketchy, to say the least. Only the LA Times has gone so far as to say that the incident is “under investigation.” The fiery crash left Hastings’ body badly burned and the coroners are only identifying it as “John Doe 117.” I find it interesting that news of his death emerged with such speed and confidence. According to the Times article, the coroner is still awaiting dental records for a positive identification.

Look, I’m just following this from my computer screen. It may turn out to be a tragic but routine thing. hastings crashBut when a nosy reporter takes down the career of a four-star war general and then ends up in a single-vehicle car crash which involves hitting a tree and bursting into flames at 4 a.m. in Hollywood… well, let’s just say that in a movie or a TV show like 24, that would be the opening scene, not the conclusion. Maybe I’ve just watched too many of those spy shows, but my “spidey senses” are definitely going off.

Whatever happened, Hastings death is a huge blow to journalism. BuzzFeed editor-in-chief said of Hastings,

“Michael was a great, fearless journalist with an incredible instinct for the story, and a gift for finding ways to make his readers care about anything he covered from wars to politicians. He wrote stories that would otherwise have gone unwritten, and without him there are great stories that will go untold. Michael was also a wonderful, generous colleague and a joy to work with.”

Indeed, there are great stories that will go untold. I just hope one of them is not the story of how he died.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s shameless marketing!

Shameless plug. The Carpetbagger has been asked to become a moonlighting contributor at the political blog The McLean Parlor. My first post channels Pink Floyd and tells the tale of two walls. You may want to check it out. Plug over.

And speaking of plugs…. I haven’t seen the newest Superman movie yet, have you? The early buzz I’m hearing is “awesome” but also “it’s soooo long.” Hey, sorry it takes longer than 90 minutes to save the world, pal. Geez.

Superman has always been a lonely figure. An illegal immigrant made good. Hey, he’s also the only writer/superhero, so odds are, there’s a whiskey addiction in his future. superhero bloggerAnd I’m not sure how he even operates anymore with a) no phone booths, and b) the horrible state of the modern newspaper. I’m pretty sure that by the next installation of Superman, Clark Kent will probably be a blogger. (A boy can dream, can’t he?)

But I’m also hearing that for this movie, Superman has recruited a sidekick — the church. Yup, Hollywood has gone all out to recruit pastors to help them get the word out and make bazillions of dollars. Warner Brothers invited pastors to early screenings, hoping that they would incorporate the movie into their Father’s Day sermons. They created group discussion guides, provided film trailers, and even hired a theologian to write up a nine-page sermon outline entitled “Jesus: The Original Superhero.” Dang, how about if Jimmy Olsen serves Communion while Lex Luther collects the offering?

This is not the first time that Hollywood went church hopping. They went full-bore 700 Club when The Passion of the Christ came out. They were petrified because they had a major motion picture that was in a long dead language with subtitles,  was rather anti-Semitic, and was so violent that it earned an “R” rating that many Christians usually stay away from. So they wined (juiced?) and dined churches to get on board and support it, which they did to the tune of a $600 million gross.

Many churches play this “love it and leave it” game with modern culture. In my day, we did not hesitate to use a movie clip (often illegally) or a secular song to help drive home a biblical point. It’s a strange partnership. On the one hand, churches love to point the finger at Hollywood for the destruction of society. But many churches love to hijack Hollywood memes in support of preaching the gospel. I remember hearing about one church that filled their entire auditorium with stalks of corn for a series of sermons using the movie Signs. Entire books have been written that catalog film clips by topic for easy church use. Sometimes Hollywood sues megachurches (the ones with deep pockets) for infringement. But LaLa Land also hasn’t been shy about returning to the churches when they needed help on movies like The Blind Side and Les Miserábles. Of course, those had definite religious themes. But Superman?

superman_jesus_christWell, there’s definitely a tie-in. Superman comes down to earth to be raised by surrogate parents. Growing up, he seeks help in understanding his special powers. Then, when he turns 33 (I kid you not), Superman must willingly sacrifice himself to save the human race. (Not a spoiler alert. I haven’t seen it and have no idea how it ends. I’m assuming that, like Jesus, he lives to fight another day.)

Still, this marriage of Hollywood and the church sort of gives me the heebie-geebies. Anyone else? Like I said, it’s a really strange (and slightly creepy?) partnership. The question posed is “Who’s using who?” I guess it can be called mutually beneficial. Warner Brothers gets Christian butts in the seats, and the church gets a helpful hand at preaching its message.

I for one am glad that my church was Superman-free on Sunday. We’re more of an indie film-sort of church, anyway. And that’s fine by me.

Why the world thinks we are weird

Ran across an interesting list of 13 reasons why the rest of the world thinks Americans are bizarre. My first thought was… there’s only 13? And Bridezillas wasn’t even on the list!? What is interesting is that many of them are related.

1. We drive everywhere.

traffic-jamWell duh. We don’t live in little European kingdoms. We live on a widespread wilderness. We’re used to getting on our horses and exploring. Now we just do it in cars. But I do wish we would embrace the Europeans’ love of trains and mass transit.

2. Buying guns in department stores.

Yeah, I got nothing on this one. But when we got on that horse to explore, we were usually packing. And we bought everything at the general store. Now we just go to WalMart.

3. Price tags.

More specifically, why the listed prices on items don’t include taxes and such. Obviously, merchants want to make the items look as cheap as possible. Why mussy things up with taxes?

4. Americans weird version of Puritanism.

davidcensored1Europeans, in particular, don’t understand why Americans can’t separate nudity from sex. Those are two different things to them. To us, one inevitably leads to the other.

But I’m completely with them on the fact that something as natural and beautiful as the human body is verboten on TV, but all kinds of violence is okay. Sex will corrupt the young minds, but watching hours and hours of people shooting each other, cutting off heads, and beating people to death is perfectly harmless. They totally have us on this one.

5. Cheese.

cheeseWe put copious amounts of cheese on everything from salads to breakfast to bacon. They seem to be particularly disgusted by Mac ‘n cheese.

Hey, comfort food is comfort food. I don’t get haggis, goose liver, lutefisk, and blood sausage, so touché.

6. Pumpkin everything.

They don’t get why every fall we flavor everything with a bland gourd. Basically, they’re just jealous that they don’t get to have Thanksgiving. If they did, they’d get it.

7. Cheerleaders.

vintage CheerleadersIt is rather weird that we dress up young girls in short skirts and pom-poms and make them dance around to cheer on young men. This is hard to explain. Also, try explaining why it’s okay to cheer at college football and all basketball games, but not at hockey, baseball, or pro football. Or soccer, for that matter. But that’s just the way it is. Yes, Dallas, I said “no cheerleaders at pro football games.”

8. Flags.

I guess the rest of the world doesn’t get why we get so emotional over our flag. Why we have ceremonies for it. At sporting events… parades… everywhere. It’s not just about soldiers who have died in wars. Other countries have lost plenty of people in wars. Other countries have fought off foreign invaders. Other countries have patriotism, pomp and circumstance, but they don’t equate it to their flags as much, I guess. Look, we like cheerleaders and flags. And shiny things. So what?

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Maybe this is because the last time a European country went flag crazy, it didn’t go so well.

9. Taking coffee everywhere we go.

starbucks-ed01Have you seen how much time we spend in our cars? Maybe this explains the most significant contribution Americans have made to transportation technology: the cup holder.

And if you could make mine a pumpkin spice latte, that would be great.

10. Obsession with our alma maters.

bamaThis is obvious to me. For the most part, our alma maters are associated more with sports teams than with our education. Last I checked, Oxford hadn’t beaten Paris Tech in anything other than rowing, debating, or glee clubs. Take away sports, and most people probably wouldn’t give two hoots about a college they attended for 4-6 years, 40 years ago. Plus, this probably has a lot to do with #7 and the South.

But then again, walking around Pittsburgh on a Friday afternoon in the Fall is like going to a Texas high school football community. Perhaps we best not judge.

steeler fans

11. Prom.

prom pinkThe world doesn’t get the hoops we jump through, and the money we spend, for the right of passage called Prom. They just go to a hall somewhere and dance. No big deal. We have to turn it into an entire Cinderella, tierra, fake wedding-thing.

It is a little weird, when you think about it.

12. White teeth mania.

The world doesn’t get our obsession with straight, white teeth. Nothing against brushing and dental hygiene, but they really don’t get all the bleaching, whitening tooth pastes, and ultra-violet light treatments.

Wait until they find out about spray-on tanning. Shhh!

Perhaps some of us are simply trying to overcome our British roots… and root canals.


13. Being obsessed with being the best country in the world.

paterno11_600We do have this obsession with being #1. Even when we aren’t. Watch a football game between two also-rans like Rice and Vanderbilt, and inevitably, you’ll see yahoos jumping in front of the camera and holding up the #1 sign, even though both teams are 0-8 on the season. Doesn’t matter. In their minds, “we’re #1!” I figure it’s only a matter of time before someone makes big, foam hands giving the #1 sign… oh, wait.

This is the obvious extension of Nos. 2, 7, 8, 9, and 10.

cheese no 1Well, if this is as weird as we get, I think we got off easy. We don’t have to explain Honey Boo-boo, Justin Bieber, fried butter, marching bands, or Michele Bachmann’s appointment to the House Select Committee on Intelligence.





Feeling old

I’ve seen several things this week that make me feel old.

Red Pen Mama posted about a book by Joe Hill, who apparently is the son of Steven King. Like most people my age, I read several King novels back in the 1970s and 80s. So I thought, Isn’t that great? Steven King’s little boy is growing up to be a writer. Then I Googled him and discovered he is 40.

Last week, I realized that the time period between World War II and Star Wars is shorter than the period of time from Star Wars to today. (You may have to read that one twice.)

starwarsfacepalmHow about this one? I’m the same age as Wilford Brimley was when he made Cocoon. Don’t laugh. Tom Cruise is a year older. (Brimley was actually one very old looking 51-year-old.)


I’m also the same age as Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi) was when he filmed The Karate Kid. Don’t laugh, so is Ralph Macchio.


In two years (October 15, 2015, to be exact), we’ll be at the future date that Marty McFly traveled to in Back to the Future. And by the way, don’t you think that the make up person overreached just a bit when aging future-Marty McFly for that movie?


Last year, Full House had a 25 year reunion party.


Then, this appeared on Twitter for those who remember Friends:


And I wasn’t really a fan of Beverly Hills 90210, but if you were, here’s how old they are now…


And here’s the baby from the Nirvana cover:


And how about technology? The CD turns 35 this year. And remember the floppy disc? Today, it would hold a 1.5 GIFs.

diskAnd who remembers logging on to this in 1993?



That’s okay. I’d rather get old than the alternative. Besides, 51 is the new 48.

So here’s to all us old fogies. Carpe diem!



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