I have decided to revive Russellpop from it’s early grave. I just got through reading an excellent biography of Charles Schultz entitled Schultz and Peanuts by David Michaelis. As I was growing up I identified with Charlie Brown and Linus. I understood the underlying loneliness and dark humor beneath what seemed at first to just be a family-friendly cartoon. Actually it was the first newspaper cartoon which reflected life as it is, with all of it’s disappointment and sad wistful longing for a world that never existed to begin with. Peanuts wasn’t always great, and as Schultz grew older his strip lost it’s edge, and became much more sentimental. But in the fifties and sixties he spoke for the baby boom generation, introducing a comic strip ‘anti-hero’. Today is Christmas and instead of writing about my usual crappy feelings on this holiday, I thought it appropriate to write a little about Peanuts, after all the best known Peanuts cartoon was actually the Christmas special which aired in 1965 and has since become a regular holiday event. Unfortunately most of the animated films of Peanuts which followed were dreadful, with the exception of the Halloween special which was excellent, and the second Christmas special which was almost as good as the first. But most of what followed is unwatchable. As I killed time on this holiday, browsing through old Peanuts cartoons (I am embarrassed to say that I have hardback copies of all of the Peanuts strips from the beginning (1950) through 1970.) As I read them I wished that many of the classic ones could be animated, brought to life with color, and voices, and movement. Then, as I browsed Youtube for Peanuts related material, I discovered that in 2008, 20 motion comics were made based on some of the best strips from 1964. They were made with the blessing of the Charles Schultz estate, and they are excellent. Even though they are not fully animated, you would never notice it. Peanuts is a very simple, basic comic and so the animation required is minimal anyway. But the color and the voices which sound identical to the voices used on the classic Peanuts animated films, are excellent. Very special care is taken to preserve the integrity of the original Schultz drawings. In some cases, the humor comes across even more strongly when animated. I hope more of these will be made. I have noticed that they got mixed reviews, negative from those who would rather the old strips were not messed with, and positive from those who like how those classic strips were enhanced by this motion comic process. Not all comics lend themselves to this kind of treatment, but because Peanuts had a simple visual structure, it lends itself well to this format. I would encourage you to read the biography of Charles Schultz I mentioned, which contains some surprising information which flies in the face of what is traditionally thought about Schultz. For instance, even though he was quite religious in his younger years, teaching Sunday school and including religious themes at times in his strip, he came to dislike evangelical Christianity and any kind of mass commercialism of Christianity. He developed a kind of melancholy view of life, wistful, longing for a past that really only existed in his imagination. He never thought he amounted to very much, and thought, at the age of 75 that it was a total waste of time to have spent all his life drawing a comic strip. He was not particularly fond of children, and thought that children were anything but innocent, that actually they could be very cruel. He kept returning to the loneliness and hurt of his childhood right up to when he died. His comic strip meant a lot to me when I was a child. I never thought of myself as a child, rather I thought I was a small adult, and Peanuts captured my point of view exactly. Here are four short motion comics of some of my favorite strips from 1964.
I have been a fan of Bettie Page since her resurgence in the eighties. She died in 2008, and was a sweet Christian little old lady. Bettie had an innocence even when posing completely nude and in suggestive ways. It is hard to get to the bottom of her appeal. There were many pinups in the fifties, but Bettie stood out. I think it is because when men looked at her nude photos it was as if they had violated Bettie herself. She seemed sweet and innocent, unaware of the lustful intents of her fans, and would have been shocked if she knew what men did as they viewed her photos. At least this is what men wanted to imagine. Women who no longer felt the slightest shame and viewed sex completely as a necessary commodity in order for them to live, in other words, whores, were not much of a turn on to men who wanted to dominate their women. Bettie seemed to invite such domination.
But of course all of this is nonsense. Bettie knew what she was doing, but it is true that she might have developed a split personality isolating the naughty Bettie from the God-fearing Bettie. She claimed to see nothing wrong with what she did, but I am not sure I believe her. She took her Christianity very seriously, perhaps too seriously. I don’t know any of the particulars of why she spent time in a mental hospital, but I suspect it may have been the conflict between her religious values and her livelihood may have sent her around the bend.
Bettie was sexy in a kind of effortless way. She seemed to keep a bit of herself hidden from view, pure and unsullied. We could lust over her lovely body but not her soul. Sex should never become ordinary and unremarkable. There should be a dark thrill at the sight of a woman’s pubic hair. It brings forth the desire to possess, to conquer, to rape and pillage. Pure naked lust married to aggression is the driving force behind the appeal of Bettie Page’s fetishistic work. It is disguised as playful, but this stuff is dark. It involves degradation and humiliation. Sexual pleasure becomes confused with these things, and with physical pain itself. It is curious that Bettie appeared to embrace this lifestyle, given her near obsession with Christianity. I am sure she claimed she didn’t really understand what all the bondage stuff was about, but I think that is disingenuous. She knew. She liked it. Then she could no longer accept this courting of the Dark, and reinterpreted her life to preserve her innocence. At least this is how it seems to me.
This still doesn’t get to the bottom of her appeal. She is naughty in a non-naughty way. She was a way of satisfying one’s prurient desire while pretending to have only an ‘artistic’ interest in Bettie Page. This is true even of this post. Is she really the icon of hip female sexuality? or is she the icon of the rape of the innocent and the subjugation and humiliation of women? Perhaps both. Bettie was the beginning of the metrosexual. A culture in which it is cool to find pleasure in pain, and that your body should be a banquet for all your admirers to feed upon. Having said all that I am still a fan of Bettie Page although I admit to having mixed feelings about it, as I have mixed feelings about any pornography. But this isn’t pornography, I can hear some of you saying. Sure it is. If you are getting a boner looking at it, it has excited your prurient interest. Not necessarily a bad thing. Do I feel some of you squirming as you contemplate your values. Good. I have achieved my purpose.
WARNING: THIS POST COULD BE CONSTRUED AS PORNOGRAPHIC BY THOSE WHO ARE OFFENDED BY THE SIGHT OF MALE GENITALIA. I DO THIS TO INJECT SOME HUMOR AND TO GET THE READER TO THINKING ABOUT HIS OR HER REACTIONS TO THE SIGHT OF A PENIS. IF YOU ARE OFFENDED BY PENISES I SUGGEST YOU CLICK OFF OF THIS POST AND FIND SOMETHING MORE TO YOUR TASTE.
The penis is a much disparaged organ. It is blamed for the appalling state of our popular culture. If only men were dickless then perhaps things would be better. I think that kind of thinking is wrong. I feel sexuality should be celebrated, while recognizing how it’s misuse leads to sickening abuse and worse. I love my own penis, other guy’s jolly organ I tolerate. I can certainly understand why women (and men) would consider the penis to be quite ugly. It is just a tube after all. It serves it’s function and that is pretty much it. It isn’t even particularly good design. Urination and procreation performed by the same tube? Bad idea. But I already posted my thoughts about the penis. Here I want to write about Cock Culture. I don’t even like the word ‘Cock’. I don’t like ‘Cunt’ either. That ‘k’ sound is so unpleasant, not sexy at all. I prefer penis because it is a silly name, at least the name is unoffensive even if the organ isn’t. Actually it is the person attached to the penis that is offensive, don’t you think?
This testosterone driven culture that we inherited from the British enabled us to almost conquer a continent. We raped and pillaged our way across virgin territory, driving out the native Americans. Because we could. That is the ethos of Cock Culture. If you can’t eat it, then fuck it. Spreading our seed without regard for the feelings of the fucked was our manifest destiny. We felt we could always manage to achieve an erection and push ourselves onto the rest of the world. We shoved our cock into the mouths of Vietnam, and today we are attempting to do the same in Afghanistan and it isn’t working so well. Of course it failed miserably in Vietnam. Many still reason that we lost that war because we just didn’t keep on thrusting until we achieved orgasm. We committed the cardinal sin of Cock Culture. We pulled out. We continue to force the rest of the world to take notice of us. We shove our cocks into the unwilling faces of the rest of the world, with little regard for the indigenous culture. We have to have the largest and longest cock, the greatest nation in the world!! This is our sickness. Our politicians jerk us off every four years with their patriotic talk of America’s greatness. As you undoubtedly know (provided you are a man), your judgement is impaired when you are caught up in a lustful frenzy. Ooops! I just assumed she wanted it. Of course she did, look at how she is dressed. She is begging for it. And of course the penis, being a mere tube, has no scruples.
But make no mistake, Cock Culture built America. When we built the railroads and sent these phallic engines charging across the landscape asserting our economic will, this was one of our grandest erections. Many men today look back fondly on that spectacular orgasm. Back in those days men stroked their cocks with pride. They were doing the lord’s work! Of course it wasn’t until Sigmund Freud explained it to us that we recognized how important a role the penis played in all aspects of civilization by the sword. It is all about sex, Freud said, and he made a good point. But that proved to be the beginning of the end for Cock Culture. It used to be, and still is to a large extent, that the penis was forbidden. You didn’t talk about it, think about it, you never played with it, and you certainly never presented it for perusal in mixed company, or any company for that matter. It is perfectly ok to display the vagina for this helps to dispel the mysterious hold this enclosure has over our male psyche. But displaying the penis is sick. Why? Because it amounts to the same thing as pulling back the curtain to reveal the little old wrinkled man pulling the levers, pretending to be this magnificent monster, the Cock!! It helps to dispel the myth of the penis, the myth of forbidden sexuality. I view with considerable trepidation my posting photos of the penis. WordPress may punish me dearly for this transgression. What if children saw this? I doubt any children check out my blog anyway, but if they did, it might just (oh my God!!) lead to questions. Why is the penis bad, daddy? Ask your mother. Why is the penis bad, mommy? Ask your dad. And on it goes, until finally they get something along the lines that it is nasty and private. Such ideas really make for a lousy time of it when these children attempt to come to terms with their own penises or vaginas. I say that is nonsense, people are nasty, penises are not. I would like to print t-shirts with a penis on them saying “Chill out! It’s just a tube!”
So anyhow I push the limits of acceptable blogging once again and if this causes my blog to suffer, I will remove the offending posts and do my penance. Forgive me for my outrageousness. (have you ever noticed how when something really bad happens, especially if it is sexual, it is called ‘outrageous’. I always thought that being outrageous was a good thing. It is the root of artistic creation and innovation. The popular media has hijacked this word!!! and made it offensive. Is being bland and inoffensive a sign of mental health. I think not. If this offended you, I gave you fair warning and you looked at it anyway. Why is that??
OMG!! What will Russellpop do next????
And so, boys and girls, let me tell you the story of a man named Jed, he was so poor he barely kept his family fed, but then one day…. He struck it rich! And so, once again we are enchanted by the media. It could happen! A miracle within our pathetic hard working existence! We could strike it rich! When I was a kid I recall watching the Beverly Hillbillies on our black and white television. More recently, in fact just a few days ago, I was reminded of how we are all affected by movies, television, and all other sorts of media. We are media saturated! I was with my coworkers in Muir Woods and in the midst of all of this breath-taking beauty, my coworkers were reminded of the movie ‘Star Wars’ which was partially filmed in Muir Woods. I recognized how so much of our lives are filled with the media. It has a much more powerful impact upon our lives than we recognize.
It used to be that storytelling was the means to enchant the masses. The drab lives of everyday people were enriched by the stories they heard. These myths held a special power, and in a sense, were far more real than the actual physical existence people experienced. Dreams are important. They allow us to create the kind of reality we desire. Popular media is instrumental in shaping our dreams.
No one understands this fundamental principle as well as the politician. The truth isn’t as important as what we think is true. Perception is tantamount. We bathe in the media each night, and are frightened and manipulated by the media. We are instructed in what is important and what is not. We are reminded that we live in a crazy mixed up, and violent world. You are instructed in what to buy to really gain the acceptance of these invisible people all around you, that judge your every move.
This is sick. It has gotten out of control. We are approaching a time of hyper-reality, enhanced reality, which so saturates us that we have no choice but to tune it all out. There will be a backlash to this enchantment. There has already been some backlash. What is disguised as entertainment nevertheless conditions us. We form opinions unbeknownst to our conscious minds. It effects our voting and our social interactions. We become overly concerned with branding, and sexuality, and lose sight of what really matters. This is a dark enchantment designed to distract us from the way we have been disenfranchised. We have lost our power to make a difference. Corporations make a difference in the twenty first century. And, as you know, they are people, aren’t they? It is incumbent upon us to resist this enchantment and be skeptical of all media. This program of total mind manipulation has not been as successful as they would have liked.
We are not stupid, and we have capabilities that we have only begun to explore. We are not just passive consumers any longer. We are interactive with our world, and we will not allow ourselves to be duped. Politicians are going to find it much more difficult to find a simple message to dull our senses and lull us into compliance with their agenda, which is driven by a lust for power and wealth. They are ironically the victims of their own enchantment. The power brokers are just as taken in by the lure of various forms of pornography, be it sexual or not, as any of us, perhaps more so.
Media is a powerful tool. It is not as harmless as it is often perceived to be. It shapes our opinions, our sense of reality. But to a lesser extent now than in the past. The internet is both helping to dispel this media enchantment and it is aiding in the enchantment itself. However, so long as we have people who are willing to step outside the media dictated norm, this dark spell cannot maintain it’s hold for long. I have hope for the future.
So much for a cosmic radio broadcast on the subject of popular media and it’s dark agenda.
Two very different men died recently. Dick Clark and Levon Helm were almost opposites. One epitomized pop culture’s star making machinery, the other a pop culture which avoided the star making machinery. Both are important, and have left an indelible mark on our culture.
Dick Clark, at first glance, seems trivial and unimportant. Just a talking head introducing the latest teen idols. A pleasant voice, face, and demeanor calculated to not offend, unless of course you found that very inoffensiveness offensive. But this isn’t fair. Dick Clark cared about popular music. At a time when rock n’ roll was being derided by Frank Sinatra as a vile aphrodisiac Dick Clark showed that this new music wasn’t about crime and immorality, or at least, it didn’t have to be. Dick Clark saw that if teenage music was to survive it had to change, lest it be driven underground where it might just fade away into oblivion. He also loved rhythm and blues, and although he is remembered for Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Vee and other vanilla squishy soft rockers, he also contributed to the success of Sam Cooke, Smokie Robinson and the Miracles, Chubby Checker, and other black artists. If Dick Clark had been as conservative as some believe, he would have allowed rock n’ roll and r & b to die, leaving us with the rat pack. I think Dick Clark wanted to be hip, but he just couldn’t make it work. That actually added to his charm. He remained the upbeat dj with the perfect teeth, perpetually young until his death. His message was simple. Pop music is good clean fun. He was never taken seriously by anyone, and that is the way he liked it. You couldn’t really knock him because he had no pretensions. He knew he was just a familiar face introducing us to the imaginary world of pop music. That is the key thing to understand about Dick Clark, American Bandstand, and Rockin’ New Years Eve, it is all a show. It is a pop music version of Disneyland. None of it is serious. It is selling us the modern American myth of malt shops, drive-in’s, fast cars, and a sweet innocence. None of it was real and almost no one was fooled. Of course not all of it was imaginary. Teenagers had the opportunity on American Bandstand to watch teenagers just like themselves dancing to the same songs they listened to. You could root for the song you wanted to see make it to number one. It provided a shared experience which really doesn’t have a contemporary equivalent. Pop music today tends to be fragmented, and the whole idea is to celebrate decadence and irony. Innocence? It never really existed except in the imaginary universe of places like American Bandstand. It is true that by today’s standards Dick Clark seems bland, but his blandness made a revolutionary new trend in music acceptable to the parents, and the moguls of the music industry. Because of that, the way was prepared for the arrival of the Beatles and everything that followed. For that, we owe Dick Clark a debt.
Levon Helm has a very different story. Levon is the real deal. He was a musician and songwriter who lived to create. He was the drummer for the Band, for which he sang songs which feel as though they had always been there. ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, ‘Rag Mama Rag’ and ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ are timeless pieces of Americana. He didn’t care about commercial success. He wasn’t looking to be famous. He was the Everyman. He sang for all the nameless men who populated the American landscape from it’s very inception. You can hear Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Jesse James, Mark Twain, and James Dean in his voice. He managed to achieve that universality, that anonymous timeless quality that Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson aspired to but whose vivid personalities prevented. Levon Helm is a ghost. He was totally devoted to the music and evoking the spirit of America with his work. Levon Helm wanted to blend into the background and be remembered by other musicians. He could care less about anything more than that. He will be missed because the honest ones come along infrequently. Most artists are swayed by the star making machinery, and it affects their artistry, Levon Helm stayed true to his muse.
We need both kinds of men. We need people like Levon Helm to keep us honest and remind us of what true artistry is about, and we need people like Dick Clark to prevent good music from fading into obscurity. For any of us to hear the good stuff we must endure the superficial and realize that nothing gets heard if it isn’t promoted. Dick Clark was the master at promotion, at letting you know about music. His taste was mainstream, but he still managed to put some major talents on the map. Some artists kid themselves that they don’t need to play the game, but a certain amount of that is required if you want to make a difference, and help steer the course of popular music.
Not long ago I posted a pretty scathing critique of television and I used Alec Baldwin as the poster boy for poor television. I’m sorry. I have no business getting up on my high horse because if I don’t watch television how can I possibly know what I am talking about? I can’t. Sometimes it is good to not have a point. To just mindlessly exist with no purpose. I’m down with that. I am sick of all this self-important nonsense that I spew. What the hell do I know? Television provides some comfort to many. Our lives consist of work, which we must do in order to survive. Hopefully we like our work, but even then it is still work. When we come home we don’t want to have to think. It is up to us to find meaning in our lives. If you derive satisfaction from television then who am I to deride it? It is a burden to be heavy and significant every moment of your life. The trivial has it’s purpose. It placates the restless anxious mind. That’s a good thing. I think I was being far too harsh on television. True art is a rare thing. If it were common it would cease to have it’s impact and become trivial. Some experiences are meant to be disposable. Enjoyed and then forgotten. Such is television. It never asked to be taken seriously. It was meant to bring a bit of pleasure and information into the average household, to make our lives a little less dreary. There were no lofty expectations, and there ought not be any now. So kick back and watch something fun, something totally dumb and pointless, because that is, in fact, the point. After I wrote that piece, which not surprisingly garnered no likes, I took stock of myself and realized I was full of it. How dare I knock television? By my own admission, I never watch it. FAIL Actually it’s not as bad as all that. It is just entertainment. If you want heavy significance read Nietzsche.
And finally, to belabor the point some more. I find that I often take life far too seriously. I just need to lighten up a bit. Maybe even a lot. I have been spending so much time dangling over the edge of a cliff that I have forgotten how to have fun. Television can offer that, if you let it. You can’t watch television like a critic watches it. That’s no good. Put your judgements in your back pocket and just let it wash over you. Forget all your cares and woes and just cut yourself adrift in an electronic sea. Give yourself a media massage. It helps a lot if you have plenty of chips, a pizza, some soft drinks. Junk food and tv are the perfect combo. You need not become a total couch potato, just restrict yourself to an hour or two of guilt free nonsense. You deserve it. For two hours cease to take yourself seriously, and be a total boob. Have no point and immerse yourself in trivia. That is my advice, although knowing myself as I do I will probably continue to take myself too seriously and indulge in blogging instead of watching television. But I know you will take to this advice with relish, hopefully on a couple of hot dogs. Enjoy!!
I don’t watch much television. People start going on about tv shows and I am in the dark. So I tried watching more tv and you know what? It sucks. Not only does it suck, it sucks badly, really badly. Most of the tv shows I saw are embarrassments. What has happened to the fundamental tenets of plot and character? Now the whole thing is to be too hip for their pants, or whatever. I don’t know what the current lingo is and I don’t care. Fail!!! That’s fine. As for as I’m concerned you could stamp Fail across all of current network television. I like Jon Stewart most of the time, but the suckiness even creeps in there. I attribute this to just plain laziness. Why bust your buns trying to put together something of genuine quality when you can get by with crap. Hasn’t this been the problem with television from the beginning? When I was younger I was still entertained even though I knew it was crap. But now, I have less patience. I have only so much time left, you know? I don’t want to waste it. I watched the first twenty seconds or so of 30 Rock the other night and I couldn’t stand another second of this uninspired ‘look at me aren’t I hip and hilarious’ sitcom, which isn’t a sitcom really. It is just one liners that aren’t funny delivered as though they are the cutting edge of comedy. It made me want to gag. I saw the Office briefly too. Same thing. Cardinal lesson in comedy: do not point to the comedy!!! The audience does not need to be told that the program is funny, it either is or it isn’t. I have to admit, though, that I don’t get a lot of young humor these days. I thought I was missing out on something, but I’m not. It isn’t that I am out of touch, it’s just that none of that stuff is funny. It is trendy. It is faux cool. So I don’t bother with it. Somebody suggested I watch Grimm because of the crazy premise. The premise is interesting but the creators had no clue about how to be truly inventive. So they stuck with formula, make it a stupid thriller, designed to appeal to thirteen year olds. Sorry, I meant to say three year olds, I don’t want to insult thirteen year olds. This show might even insult the intelligence of a three year old. Most movies these days aren’t all that great either. Popular culture today is a wasteland of talent contests and reality show bullshit. I hate it. The music is mostly uninspired as well, You can find interesting exceptions if you try but I am talking about the general trend. Where is the talent? It’s not on television.