Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Legend of Lightning Rodriguez, the Speedy Gonzales of Tiny Toons

The gist: Your Tiny Toons experience was incomplete.

a rainbow of toon diversity... notably minus the color brown

Now that I’m an adult, I can look back on Tiny Toon Adventures and scratch my head at the fact that anyone ever decided Looney Tunes wasn’t kid-friendly enough and therefore needed to be reconfigured into a “new generation.” But that’s what Warner Bros. did, and damned if eight-year-old me didn’t eat up that Acme-brand cartoonage. For what it’s worth, the goal of re-creating all the Looney Tunes was achieved: Bugs had his spirit split into Buster and Babs (thereby eliminating the need for cross-dressing), Pepe Le Pew had his sex energies turned on their head with the introduction of the female loveskunk Fifi La Fume, and Elmer Fudd begat Elmyra Duff, a developmentally disabled lass who, like Lennie from Of Mice and Men, loved animals so enthusiastically that she endangered their lives. The show’s unlikely breakout star, Elmyra became popular enough that she nearly got a spinoff focused on her family — Tiny Toon Adventures featured two backdoor pilots for such a series — and that in itself is worth a hearty, declarative “huh.”

To its credit, Tiny Toon Adventures didn’t stop with the main Looney Tunes cast. No, rather unfamous characters got “junior” versions too. The space alien dodo birds from “Porky in Wackyland” got Gogo, the chronically drippy Sniffles got the equally congested Li’l Sneezer, Beaky Buzzard got the grape-colored Concord Condor, and even Cecil Turtle got an analogue in the Tiny Toon Tyrone. Hell, even Shirley the Loon — the valleyspeak-spouting psychic waterfowl who was the subject of one of the first-ever “pop culture minutiae” posts I wrote here — is a bizarre hybrid of the actress Shirley MacLaine and an extremely minor Looney Tunes character, Melissa Duck.

But you know who’s missing, of course: Speedy Gonzales.

It isn’t news to anyone who knows anything about Warner Bros. cartoons that Speedy went M.I.A. for a long period. And while the most know the reasoning — negative stereotypes of Latinos — most don’t understand that it’s not Speedy himself that people were objecting to: It’s the other mice, who lack his energy and craftiness and whose sombreros droop over their eyes all drowsily. Hell, there’s even a mouse named Slowpoke Rodriguez. Somehow, in the effort by Warner Bros. to exhibit racial sensitivity, Speedy Gonzales lost out and all of his shorts were dropped from syndication. It was only in 2011, with Cartoon Network’s The Looney Tunes Show, that Speedy zipped back into the spotlight and interacted once again with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in a way that showed that Warner Bros. wasn’t ashamed of the character. And that’s good. I mean, if we’re talking about depictions of Latinos in pop culture, Speedy is positive. He’s smart and good-natured and as quick-witted as his is fast-footed. Who could argue with that?

Unfortunately, Tiny Toons premiered when Speedy Gonzales was trapped behind a barbed wire fence of censorship, and he only made a single appearance on the show. Here’s how Tiny Toons creator Tom Ruegger explained the lack of any sort of Speedy analogue:
We already had a fast character in Little Beeper [the Roadrunner anaglogue], so having a young Speedy wasn't a high priority. The 50s and 60s Speedy Gonzalez cartoons were already encountering some trouble as far as the character’s ethnicity goes, and we were not about to create any problems for ourselves. A Latino character was certainly viable, but we weren’t in the market to create any ethnic stereotypes, especially potentially negative ones.
The thing is, such a character did exist, at least in a very preliminary sense: Lightning Rodriguez.


In the same interview, Ruegger noted that the name was “jotted in as a possibility only,” but today it’s how people refer to this would-have-been. And while he didn’t have a role to speak of in any Tiny Toons episode, he actually appeared in one:


Granted, it’s just for a second and it’s a static image of him and he appears among a scroll of basically every other Tiny Toons character, but he’s there. I know it’s bad form to read authorial intent, but I kind of like thinking about this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance as some artist’s means of rebelling against an embargo that didn’t make any sense. Well, that or his way of giving grown-up nerds something cool to find twenty years after the fact.

That’s it — just an explanation for why one major Looney Tunes character didn’t seem to have a counterpart on Tiny Toons, but why he also actually did, however invisibly.

Things you didn’t know were things, previously:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Summer’s Breakout Star? Archery

I’ve said before that Joel McHale makes a good point, but it’s especially remarkable this time because the point was offered without sneer, snide or snark. Said the McHale today:


Yes, he obviously left out the biggest archery-centric movie of the year, but seriously — what the hell? What bug got into the collective mind of the moviemaking community and said “Hey, aren’t bows and arrows really cool?”


I’m happy that The Avengers, Brave, Snow White and the Huntsman and The Hunger Games can combine forces to make kids nationwide convince their parents to shell out big bucks for top-of-the-line bows and arrows and archery lessons. No, really. I am, because those parents all need to learn a valuable lesson about how their uncoordinated children, when placed in certain contexts, can imperil the lives of other children. But it does seem odd that there’s be such an spike in archery representation in mainstream cinema. Is it the fault of the Olympics?

For what it’s worth, McHale did eventually recognize that he’d left one movie out.


And for what it’s worth (non-famous person edition), I’m betting that this autumn will be the shotput’s moment to shine.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Re: Moonrise Kingdom, Potential Paper Topics Therein

Wes Anderson’s latest offered a perfect moviegoing experience. And while you have every reason to just sit there and enjoy it for the magic that it is, you could also attempt to break it apart with your cruelly analytical English major mind. Personally, I don’t have the time. But in case you do…


Representations of animals (literal and metaphorical, real and artificial)

Mythologies and storytelling — “real” stories like Noah’s Ark and Ivanhoe vs. ones invented by characters themselves to explain unknown circumstances

Eyewear and associated other visual equipment

Types of vanishing (could be related to eyewear and vision)

Light — lightning, blackouts, lighthouses, faux lighthouses (could be an extension of the previous two)

What does the title mean? (The moon never appears, unless I’m mistaken. Is it a reference to rising tides and the island’s tidal rivers? Or is the moon another eye/source of light?)

Protagonists named Sam and Suzy — intentional reference to “Muskrat Love?” (seems less unlikely when you consider Wes Anderson’s previous movie)

This is all for now. However, if there’s not a band named The Francine Odysseys by the end of the year, I owe you a Coke. It’s the most marketable of all Suzy’s books. The more daring band, of course, would go with The Return of Auntie Lorraine.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Penis Where You Would Not Expect One

When you’re riding in the waybackseat and it occurs to you that English has two looms — the noun for the thing your weave on and the verb that dark clouds and scandals do — you really have no better opportunity to look up the etymology on your iPhone. Because when else would the two looms seem more pressing?

The two words have nothing to do with each other, in the end. You could have guessed that, maybe, but you know for sure when the etymology identifies the verb loom as being Scandinavian in origin and perhaps being related to the word lame. The noun loom, meanwhile, comes from Old English and would seem to be related this Old English word andloman, meaning “apparatus” or “furniture.”

But then there’s the penis.

The second sentence of the entry for the noun loom throws a curveball. I quote: “Originally ‘implement or tool of any kind’ (cf. heirloom); thus, ‘the penis’ (c.1400-1600).”

No explanation of that. Just “thus, ‘the penis.’”

See? And you thought looms were boring.

In closing, I would like to say that no discussion of looms — penile or otherwise — would ever be complete without this throwaway joke from The Simpsons.


It’s Marge demonstrating to Bart how she took loom in school, and it represents everything about Marge Simpson as a character.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Less Boxy Vintage

To me, it’s like that one picture of Mr. Rogers drunkenly backhanding a group of schoolchildren or that one old Superman comic where he exposes himself while making racist comments: Franzia, the drink that puts the revolted derision in everyone’s pronunciation of the term box wine, only in a bottle:


To think — a glass bottle! It’s almost like a real drink! Granted, it’s a tiny, airplane-sized bottle, but it’s more importantly not a little box.

When you think about it, the term box wine isn’t fair. A box is involved, sure, but the wine is most specifically contained in a temperature-sealed mylar sack. And wouldn’t sack wine more quickly communicate the message that this product is gross and shouldn’t be consumed by people that no better?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mortimer Snerd Had a Bowel Movement

This week, I’m ignoring my every verbose instinct and just cutting to the chase: This word sounds funny.
sherd (sherd) — noun: an historic or prehistoric fragment of pottery. 
Yes, that’s sherd as opposed to shard. A shard, for your records, is the same irregular, jagged shape as a sherd, it’s just that the latter is made of stone or glass. A sherd — short for potsherd — has to come from old, broken pottery. It’s just an added bonus that sherd sounds like a regional accent pronunciation for the past tense of “shit.” Even if the distinction is type that diehard archeologists would come to blows over, why make it? I mean really — would’t it be easier to just have shard cover your bases for all manner of broken knickknacks? Of course not. Because there’s actually a third term to throw into the mix for when the broken piece has writing on it: ostracon.

Archeologist fights are the best, of course, because they all carry bullwhips.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Finally, Definitive Proof That Caligula Is Creepy

Here is a bust of Caligula, history’s greatest superfreak:


A noted incestoid, Caligula puts to shame your modern-day despots in the departments of sexual indecency (he proudly used the Roman nobility as his personal harem), abuse of power (he built a pontoon bridge from Baiae to Peteoli to prove wrong a soothsayer who once told Caligula that the chances that he would become emperor were on par with the chances that he would ride a horse across the Bay of Baiae), and sheer batshit craziness (he demanded that his horse be appointed consul — yes, same horse from the pontoon bridge). Caligula also stands out at the looniest character ever portrayed by Malcolm McDowell in a film, and that’s saying a lot.

However, it’s not Caligula’s legacy of depravity that makes this bust creepy. No, it’s something far less significant.

Do you see it?

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

Okay, here it is:


Yes, Caligula, mad though he may have been, was coherent enough to realize that he would look especially fierce with the visage of demonic Cabbage Patch Kid emblazoned on his breastplate.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

On Mongers and Mongering

Recently I learned that a coworker has a side-career as a cheesemonger.


This was surprising news to me because I forget cheesemongering is still a profession, for one, and also that I had quietly decided that a monger of anything, cheese or otherwise, couldn’t monger as a side-career because the thing they monger must — must! — have that thing they monger dominate their entire life. A cheesemonger could only know cheese and nothing else. He’d smell of cheese and speak only of cheese and when he adjusted his coat, bits of cheese would fall out. He’d live in a cheddar-yellow house and sleep on a bed of ricotta and make love to a mushy cheese wife, Brie.

Apparently some of these beliefs don’t accurately represent the private life of a modern-day cheesemonger, but I know better now.

The funny thing about cheesemongers, aside from the name of their profession, is that they are one of the few types of mongers who aren’t associated with something that society generally perceives negatively. Think about it: What other kinds of mongers can you think of? All the obvious ones are bad:
  • gossipmonger
  • hatemonger
  • rumormonger
  • warmonger
  • whoremonger
  • fleshmonger
  • fishmonger
Yes, my epiphany about cheesemongers notwithstanding, I feel like fishmonger just strikes a sour note with me — a sour, fish-stenchy note that the fishmongers can never wash off, no matter how desperately they try. (I actually may not know better yet.)

But why should warmonger be so much more familiar to me than peacemonger, which Wiktionary asserts is a word? For that, I have no answer — only two guesses. First, because I read news and watch television, I hear people insult each other more often than compliment each other, and it’s more of a headline-maker to accuse someone of being a warmonger than it is to stand up and authoritatively say, “This is a man who traffics in the business of peace and civility!” Second, monger just sounds bad. It calls to mind the marauding Mongol hordes and mungbeans and mongrels and mungo and cruel British children mocking the developmentally disabled and people dropping the first syllable in among in a vain attempt at folksiness Monger strikes the ears like a raw potato, hurled across a kitchen at an incompetent sous-chef.

Wiktionary, it should be noted, also suggests that a great variety of mongers exist, from the pleasant (lovemonger), to the unlikely (miracle-monger), to the suspicious (pupil-monger), to the confusing (barbermonger — it means “fop”), to the mean-sounding (cockmonger — barnyard sense but why limit it?), to the nerdish-sounding (questmonger — someone who encourages petty lawsuits), to the outright un-pretty (pearmonger — is there an uglier word in the English language?), to the what-I-am (wordmonger).

Were we all mongers, maybe we’d think better of the term.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

With “It” Being the Look of a Woman Who Knows Something

I’m kind of surprised it doesn’t come up more often, especially with the tendency for pop culture put everything in terms of “X is the new Y,” but doesn’t Nicki Minaj look a hell of a lot like Chaka Khan?

Nicki Minaj looks like Chaka Khan

No little joke here. I just think these two are one wig swap away from looking like sisters. I’ve noticed this before watching video footage of Minaj. I’d see a flash of Chaka Khan in there, just for a second. But in this side-by-side in particular, I think the resemblance is pretty dead-on.

Who Wore It Better?, previously:
Am I the Only One Who Sees It?, previously:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

So Five Minutes Ago

Being a person who writes about pop culture and tries his damnedest to elevate it beyond the level of “OMG, can you believe [unremarkable thing] happened?”, I had to be proud of this past weekend. Basically, for a brief, 140-characters-or-less moment, I got to engage in dialogue with a guy who represents what I think I should want my career could be. Earlier this month, cool guy writing person Rich Juzwiak of fourfour fame tweeted about the linguistic legacies of Clueless, noting one ism in particular as having crept into everydayspeak.


I starred it. I thought about it. And eventually I had the time to look into whether that was true. It’s not. Although linguists aren’t sure exactly when five minutes ago starting coming out of the mouths of the snide and snobby as a put-down for anything that once rocked but now sucks, they claim It’s not actually Clueless that popularized the phrase. It’s the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie that did it, and William Safire himself said so. (He was neither the first or last wordy nerd to point out Buffy’s effect on linguistics, it should be noted.) And while that’s a feather in Joss Whedon’s “I directed Avengers” headdress, it also proves that you don’t have to be Shakespeare to be a driving force in language. Current-day pop culture invents and popularizes language too. Hell, the OED entry for much — in the sense of “Way to trip. Walk much?” — cites Heathers, Buffy (the TV series this time) and a Gilda Radner-era Saturday Night Live sketch.

I tweeted a response to Juzwiak — almost a month later, fully in the spirit of five minutes ago, I should point out — and he responded:


Acknowledging my point while also tactfully pointing out the garbagey nature of the ovie I’m giving credit to. See, this is why people read him.

All that said, I figured that five minutes ago made as good a launchpad as any for a certain strange and wonderful word:
nudiustertian (noo-dee-uhs-TUR-shun) — adjective: of or relating to the day before yesterday.
Yep, so much build-up for useless vocabulary. I’m just happy this word exists, for the same reasons that I like bissextile and perendiate, and no, it’s not because they sound like sex words. If five minutes ago is what the popular girl says to dump on someone else’s style (and, in fact, that’s just how Hilary Swank’s character uses it in the Buffy movie), then nudiustertian is what the awkward, bookish girl tries to use in a similar circumstance, only to have the popular kids take her book and hit her with it. It comes from the Latin phrase nudius tertius, which in turn is a contraction of nunc dies tertius est — literally, “today is the third day.”

I guess it would be a little on-the-nose to point out that any dictionary that actially bothers to include the word nudiustertian notes it as being obsolete. I’d like to think that it was rendered so five minutes ago by so five minutes ago.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Doll of Wax, Doll of Sawdust, Doll of Metaphor

In writing about the accidental ode to oral sex, “Les Sucettes,” it was pointed out to me that another France Gall song merits a mention: the one whose name translates, unfortunately, as “Doll of Wax, Doll of Sawdust.” Believe me, the actual song skews a lot more epic than that title might suggest.


So why is it notable, aside from the stirring sound of it? The Serge Gainsbourg-penned song works on two levels, just like “Les Sucettes” does. On one, Gall is just singing about a doll — a wax-cased doll filled with sawdust, as French children played with back in the day. (Did they? Those poor French children!) However, the French title is Poupée de cire, poupée de son, with son translating as both “sawdust” and “sound.” And even cire, “wax,” is suspect, in that it could be a reference to old-timey waxen records. Thus, even before Serge Gainsbourg demonstrated that he was a masterful behind-the-scenes manipulator with the whole “the song about lollipops is actually about mouth sex” foofaraw, he was feeding his protégé songs that hint at the true nature of their relationship.

Well, that and the fact that he’s one of the few pop songwriters who actually bothered to have fun with the language he was setting to melody.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Reactions I Have to Learning Someone Actually Saw Battleship

In no particular order:

“Oh, did you have a relative who was in it?”

“Did you, like, win a radio contest and the tickers were non-transferrable?”

“Did you have to see it for a class or something?”

“Are you a member of the Milton or Bradley families?”

“Was Avengers full?”

“Did you wander into the theater thinking you were going to see Avengers but then the movie started and you were already in the middle of crowded row and you felt awkward getting up and stepping over all those people, so you just stayed?”

“Were you mad at yourself that day?”

“Did someone post a Craigslist missed connection about you at the movie theater and you were trying to re-create the situation and Battleship just happened to be the movie that best fit in time-wise?”

“Were you on a scavenger hunt that tasked you with finding someone lacking any modicum of good taste or good sense?”

“No, but seriously — what did you do this weekend?”

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Good Night, Haunted Lantern

After bouncing a few different ideas in my head all day, no interlocking parts snapped into place and formed a good idea. It happens. However, I can show you what drinking did. Perhaps you’re a more upstanding, more put-together and more clicked-into-place type of person and you won’t relate, but it occasionally happens that my nights ends boozily, with me aimlessly clicking around the internet. That happened last night, which meant that this morning was an archeological expedition into what my drunk mind is like. But I can’t for the life of me remember what led me here or why it was decided that it should be the last thing I looked at before I dinosaur walked off to bed. Oh wine, you old rascal.

Here is the image:


SAY HI TO HER SHE IS HAPPY TO SEE YOU!!!

Isn’t that disturbing? It’s by Hokusai, who, it turned out, didn’t just draw pretty Japanese landscapes. My reaction is… complex. It’s horrifying, sure, but the immediate association I made with this painting is summer — a warm summer night. Isn’t that strange? It makes me think of Hausu, too, what with its angry ghost ladies and unhappy-to-be-animate furniture.

The story behind the illustration, per Wikipedia: It’s what it looks like. It’s an evil spirit taking over — or coming out of — a paper lantern. The specific spirit belongs Oiwa, a woman who was deformed as a result of a cursed facial cream sent to her by a rival. (No, really.) She’s too ugly to bear, so her husband leaves her, but her ghost ultimately comes back and prevents her former husband from finding any measure of happiness or peace.

So there you go. May you sleep as well as I did last night.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Drew Does a Close Reading of the Zoobooks Commercial From His Childhood

Flipping through channels tonight, I saw an ad for Zoobooks. No, scratch that. I saw the ad for Zoobooks — the one that I distinctly remember seeing during the cartoons I watched when I was a kid. I’ll place my experience with it around 1991, during the Tiny Toons and Darkwing Duck days. You may likely remember it as well. Please, watch it and then report back.


Now, a few thoughts:

Zoobooks are still being advertised. Therefore, Zoobooks still exist. No, really, they do — I checked. So newspaper circulation may be plummeting and Encyclopedia Britannica may cease publication, but Zoobooks somehow endures. Zoobooks apparently has a spinoff publication, Zoobies. See?


I don’t understand what Zoobies are, but just based on the name, I’d guess it features exposed cow udders and floppy simians mammaries. Yes, I realize that it’s probably about something else. I’m just saying: That’s what it sounds like.

Jungles or no jungles, I would not encourage my children to visit anywhere that the adjective steamy had been affixed to. That’s just me.

What the hell is wrong with the boy in this ad that he’s reading a copy of Zoobooks when he has a monkey perched on his couch?


Nothing in any issue of Zoobooks ever will be as interesting as a monkey in your house. Nothing. Either the commercial lies or the boy is blind and cannot see the monkey, in which case WHY IS HE READING ZOOBOOKS IF HE’S BLIND?

Let’s talk about the kid. How old you do you think he is? Twelve? Fourteen? If I am remembering correctly that I saw this commercial back in 1991, then he today would be easily old enough to have a child who could be old enough to be reading Zoobooks on his or her own. That makes me feel ways.

On a similar note, most of the animals pictured in the Zoobooks issues featured in this commercial are long dead by now.


Is it to the elephants’ credit that their issue is free? Is it, like, “If this isn’t a tempting enough offer, we’re throwing in a special issue on a species so great you just can’t say no: ELEPHANTS. Come on, prospective buyer — trunks and tusks and shit!” Or is it kind of insulting to elephants that they’re a free throw-in offer?

Also, after all these years, the elephants issue is still the special offer? Doesn’t the passage of twenty years render it significantly less special?


Did you own the complimentary tiger poster? Did you have it up in your room? If your answer is yes, then I either would have really wanted to be friends with you or I really would not have wanted to be friends with you, depending on the year we’re talking about.


I would also discourage my child from interacting directly with the mailman. That’s just me, but then again the juxtaposition of this thought at the “You must be 18 years or older to call” warning adds up to something sinister.

Note: I will be re-reviewing this commercial when I see it again in twenty years. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Beyond the Perils of Pauline

In 1914, actress Pearl White starred in the film serial The Perils of Pauline, which we all know today (whether we realize it or not and whether its accurate or not) as the thing that gives of that image of the silent film damsel tied to the train tracks by some mustachioed villain and about to be squished by an oncoming locomotive. White followed up The Perils of Pauline with a sequel series, The Exploits of Elaine, but the pattern ended there. I say this should have continued until the franchise was run into the ground in the following manner:

The Perils of Pauline

The Exploits of Elaine

The Hazards of Hazel

The Travails of Trixie

The Deeds of Deirdre

The Anecdotes of Adelaide

The Errands or Earline

The Bank Transactions of Bettina

The Squirrel Sightings of Silvia

The Dress Fittings of Dorcas

The Naps of Nadine

The Tedium of Teresa

The Jigsaw Puzzles of Jacaranda

The Catatonia of Camilla

The Aging of Agnes

The Stares of Starla (Who, It Turns Out, Was Dead the Whole Time)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Everything You Know and Cherish About Mr. Belvedere Is About to Be Dropkicked Like a Jacket

It’s a story as old as 1985: Someone dropkicked his jacket as he came through the door… and no one glared. Yeah, it’s glared, not cared. To think, you’ve been karaokeing the Mr. Belvedere theme song incorrectly all these years! But stop hitting yourself, stupid, because this is the least of what you probably don’t know about Mr. Belvedere.

A few weeks ago, I was looking at Shirley Temple’s filmography in hopes of finding that one movie in which she has her hair in ringlets and sing-talks all adorably. A 1949 film title jumped out at me: Mr. Belvedere Goes to College. “What I coincidence!” said I, “Surely this cannot be the same Lynn Belvedere of my childhood!” But it totally was. Almost forty years before the 80s TV series began, Clifton Webb had portrayed Lynn Belvedere, persnickety butler, in on the big screen.


But that’s not all: Mr. Belvedere Goes to College is, in fact, a sequel to a 1948 film, Sitting Pretty, which had paired the butler character with a different family unprepared for his snooty sort of British love. There was even a third movie, Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell, and on top of that, the character originated in a 1947 novel, Belvedere, written by F. Hugh Herbet, the guy who wrote The Moon Is Blue. TCM has some clips that show some footage of Webb in the role:


As you can see, he’s very much so that type of effete Lord Autumnbottom character that makes you ask, “Is he just very particular about everything, or is he supposed to be gay?” — sort of a forerunner to Niles Crane, and look how that turned out. Mr. Belvedere's ambiguous sexuality may well have resulted from the fact that Webb himself was gay. The version of Mr. Belvedere that Christopher Hewett played on the TV series had fewer queeny tendencies, but it’s probably worth noting that it’s speculated that Hewett — per Wikipedia, “a devout Catholic and lifelong bachelor” — was also gay, and not in that trite “OMG, I heard [Attractive Young Actor] is gay, OMG” way but in the sense that he fairly obviously was gay but was also just too religious and too publicity-wary to be open about it. To Hewett’s credit, he did play Carmen Ghia’s lover in The Producers, and I totally didn’t realize that until I wrote this post. And that counts for something.

Clifton Webb, meanwhile, was visited by and posed for a photo with Marilyn Monroe on the set of Sitting Pretty, during which he apparently did the what came naturally to a man who had no sexual interest in her whatsoever: crammed her mouth with food.

on the left: moderately famous person laurette luez (less famous but far longer-lived than marilyn)
 
Webb died in 1966, meaning he did not witness Hewett’s take on his character. (I’m sure he would have disapproved, in classic, Niles Cranesian style.) Had he lived through the early 90s, however, Webb would have seen two echoes of his film work on mainstream American TV. There was Mr. Belvedere — which ran from 1985 to 1990, which is about ten years less than I feel it should have run, based on how often I remember watching it as a child — but there was also Twin Peaks, which ran from 1990 to 1991, which is about thirty years less than you might guess, based on how often film studies types talk about it today. Twin Peaks featured a bird named Waldo and a veterinarian named Dr. Lydecker, and the two combined to form a nod to the 1944 film Laura, in which Clifton Webb played Waldo Lydecker, the man who unsuccessfully tries to kill the title character, after whom noted Twin Peaks floatie Laura Palmer was named.

And that, friends, is all I have to say about Mr. Belvedere, save for one last thought: Remember Angela? The Kimmie Gibler-type who’d visit the Owens family and mangle Mr. Belvedere’s name? In case you wondered if anyone had attempted to compile all the things she’d erroneously called him, rest easy knowing that the internet is already on it. Thanks, internet!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Points in Favor of and Against the Common Sawhorse

You should already know, really, but here is a sawhorse:


In favor:
On one hand, it’s remarkably quaint that we speak about this thing like it’s any kind of horse. It’s a holdover, I guess, from a time when people encountered horses on a daily basis, and I wonder if there’s something deeply rooted in the way we think that we see something that has four legs, more or less, and that’s used for work and say “ooh, horse!”
Against:
Why doesn’t the horse have a head? WHY DOESN’T THE HORSE HAVE A HEAD? WHY DOESN’T THE HORSE HAVE A HEAD?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Another Slight Against the Drews and Andrews of the World

Hello. You may be new here. If so, you should know that my name is Drew.

It’s actually not Andrew, as my parents had no intention of ever calling me anything other than Drew, so they just named me that. Wise of them, I say. Still, I tend to get lumped in with the Andrews, and people occasionally try to call me Andy — not a lot, but probably more often than you get called Andy, so long as your name isn’t Drew or Andrew. I’m not sure where my parents got the idea for my name, but I at least know that it wasn’t Drew Barrymore, because E.T. didn’t come out until a week after I was born, and I doubt my mom and dad would have had any reason to know about her before that. It’s a decent name, overall, even if it rhymes with too many problematic words (poo perhaps foremost among them), can be substituted too easily into love songs in a mocking manner (“I’m Saving All My Love for Drew,” “Nothing Compares to Drew,” etc.) and makes for unfortunate associations with Nancy Drew (no comment). I’d actually thought I’d heard every possible way someone could make fun of my name until just recently, when I found a new one.

It’s my word of the week.
merryandrew (meh-ree-AN-droo) — verb: to play like a clown.
It’s seldom-used, sure, but if the OED says it’s a thing, I’ll believe it. It’s ever-so-slightly less rare than the noun merry andrew, a clown, but when I say that do understand that next to nobody ever uses this word, and the handful of weirdos who do use the noun. I just like that the noun spawned a verb, hence my pick for the week. Merriam-Webster weirdly defines the word as “a person who clowns publicly,” and I have to wonder: Is a person who clowns privately actually a clown? Or are they merely awkward and clumsy and perhaps fond of wearing bright colors?

public clown or private sinister weirdo? you decide.

Of course, I wondered why Andrew would get attached to being a dumbass instead of any other person’s name. Etymonline claims that no one’s ever figured that out. Wikipedia suggests that it could have been Andrew Borde, the man with sisyphean task of being Henry VIII’s doctor. Borde frequently addressed crowds of people, imparting medical knowledge in an entertaining way, and those who imitated his style were called merry andrews — and rightly so, because how could you compete with a guy who has intimate knowledge of the king of England’s digestive tract? And while there does seem to be some history of merry Andrew referring to the guy who assisted those old-timey quack physicians who staged shows to sell bogus medicine, but that doesn’t prove a connection between merryandrew and Andrew Borde, who, given the level of health that Henry VIII’s appearance projects, probably wasn’t that merry.

In closing, I’ll tell you one more bit that I’m placing at the end of the post just because I couldn’t figure out where else to fit it in: Obscure and little-understood though the term may be, merry andrew is nonetheless used in the Meg Ryan romcom Kate & Leopold and the cartoon Ed, Edd and Eddy, and that, friends, is the only time these two works will ever be mentioned in the same breath.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Womannequin

I don’t want to be that guy, but it hasn’t to be said: Damn, that mannequin’s got some big ol’ jugs.


Like, really. I feel like every mannequin I’ve ever seen is fairly flat-chested, but this gal is showing off more that a lot of shirtless dummies would. I’m almost inclined to say that this photo captures something interesting, what with her in the center, this partial human form who’s anatomically different than most of her type. And then she’s flanked on either side by this disembodied mouths grinning meanly. And there’s the skeleton hanging in the background, reminding the shoppers — themselves partial human forms, as a result of the photo’s cropping — that no matter what they purchase at whatever discounted price, the item will likely persist long after they too die and become like the skeleton.

But naw — just them jugs. That’s the prevailing sentiment here. Jugs.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Betty Boop Laughs at Your Quaint Understanding of Reality

You know that weird kind of dream in which nothing outright scary happens but which nonetheless seems scary because the world presented operates on a screwy logic that you can just never understand? Yes? Well, that — that is how I can best explain this 1934 Betty Boop cartoon.


It begins with a live-action shot of an artist drawing Betty and continues on blending animated and non-animated, Roger Rabbit-style. And that’s unnerving enough, but it gets sinister when Koko, Betty’s fellow Max Fleischer doodle, emerges from the ink well and develops a toothache. Betty plays dentist and prepares to remove Koko’s tooth, turning on laughing gas to make the extraction process easier. Only Betty also gets gassed and forgets to turn it off. The gas cloud then escapes off the piece of paper — remember, this is all happening as a drawing on the artist’s desk — and flows into real-life New York, gassing various inanimate objects into hysterical laughter. It’s damn surreal, and that statement means a lot coming from someone who knows that Betty Boop was originally designed to be a dog. Check it out:








And then that’s it. But what more should anyone need other than the takeaway that everyone laughed to death?

Friday, May 11, 2012

“The Girl Likes Lozenges. Can You Blame Her?”

The lessons to be learned here: (1) One good ye-ye deserves another, and (2) Serge Gainsbourg had a pervy sense of humor.

Yesterday, I wrote about the French Adele, but in bouncing around online to research that post, I came across a story about another French pop song from the same era — “Les Sucettes,” an ode to lollipops sung in 1966 by France Gall. Yes, that’s her stage name, and yes, it’s just one letter off from France Gaul, which would be the name of the country she’s from and the ancient name for area that country now occupies. Such nationalism! She damn near rivals that airport guy.


And what a face, too. Seeing what she looks like, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that France Gall was once considered for a live-action musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. It failed to materialize after Walt Disney died in 1966, but no worries, because Gall’s career was also stewarded along by Serge Gainsbourg. The same year as Disney’s death, Gainsbourg wrote the song “Les Sucettes” specifically for Gall. The following video resulted.


Let’s take a quick inventory: It’s about sucettes (“lollipops,” but literally “suck-ettes”), the French lollipops of the 60s were flagrantly phallic, cutaways show women who aren’t France Gall cramming lollipops into their mouths and, finally, people wear full-body lollipop costumes that allow them to waggle their long, pointed shafts back and forth. Gainsbourg had transformed Gall into a Lolita. Incredibly, though Gall was nineteen when “Les Sucettes” was released, she claims she was oblivious to all the sexual implications. And though you have to wonder what nunnery could have produced a girl naïve enough that she found nothing suspicious about the lyrics “When the candy stick / With anise flavor / Goes down Annie’s throat,” According to Wikipedia, Gall was so mortified when someone finally pointed out the obvious that she dissolved her successful partnership with Gainsbourg.

And that, friends, is the story of the sweet little French girl who accidentally sang a song about gobbling dongs.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Adele & Adele

With a small number of exceptions, most of us attempting to make a name for ourselves in this pineapple upside-down cake of a world also face a problem in that no matter how hard we work, some idiot with a sex tape or a novelty single or a poorly planned assassination plot could easily render us un-Googleable. Even worse: Even if you did actually become something halfway towards a thing in your day, some idiot with your same name could trot along decades later and wipe you from searchable existence. Hell, it could even be your own descendant, named in honor of how great you were. Oh, the irony.

A few years ago, I came across this amazing song by a singer named Adele. I listened to it again and again, because it resonated with me in a deep way that few songs do. Months later, I learned that Adele was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live and was therefore thrilled. Not only did this indicate that talented performers could get mainstream recognition, but it also meant that Adele was contemporary when everything about her sound made me think she had recorded back in the 60s. Then she took the stage and sang. In English. This was not my Adele. This was the British Adele, whom everyone knows now and who now gets to be an icon for either womanhood or plus-sized womanhood, depending on who’s talking. I actually don’t have a problem with this. Adele has genuine talent, and I wish all pop music could be as good as hers, so if she usurps the title of “that pop singer who’s just named Adele (no last name),” I’m fine with it and won’t make a cruel joke about there genuinely only being room for one Adele in this world.

However, as a result of Adele’s ubiquity, my Adele — the original, French Adele — is far more difficult to research. ‘’ I know her real name was Christine Allegrini and that the song I like — the song that may actually be her only hit — came out in 1966. Like I said, she sings in French, so I don’t actually know what the song is about other than that the title, “J’ai Peur Parfois,” means “Sometimes I Have Fear.” That’s enough, really. The song moves me, comprehensible or not.


(Please note: She actually kind of looks like Now Adele. Could Now Adele possibly be a polyglot time-traveler? Sure, why not?)

Anyway, I thought I’d do what I can for my Adele. What with Francoise Hardy’s “Le temps de l'amour” getting play in the trailer for Moonrise Kingdom and Megan Draper getting radio play with Gillian Hills’s “Zou Bisou Bisou,” there might be an interest in the ye-ye sound — guitar, French songspeak, timid sexuality, a hot chick. I hope there’s also an interest in my Adele too.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Religiously Ambiguous Baseball

Everyone knows that Albert Pujols has the funniest name in professional sports for the moment. (Admit it — you assumed your instinctual pronunciation, “poo holes,” was wrong until someone admitted, “Yeah, that’s actually how he says it.”) But there’s something to be said for the head-scratcher that is San Francisco Giants centerfielder Angel Pagan.


Nate reminds me that it’s pronounced “ahn-HEL pah-GAWN,” of course. Just reading it, however, my first reaction wouldn’t be a thirty-year-old Puerto Rican guy. No, my mind goes where every other sane person’s would: chubby goth girl. And if it only it really were a chubby goth girl playing pro-level baseball, the story of Angel Pagan would be so much more interesting.

Farewell, Saint Hot Dog

And eventually there came a day when I said goodbye to my eclectic twentysomething years and hello to a third decade full of collared shirts, white appliances and eye rolls inspired by the newly adult.


As I was leaving my old apartment for the last time, I dropped off a box of unneededs at Goodwill, and it included (but was not limited to) the George Foreman I received my junior year of college, the food processor I received my super senior year of college, speakers I bought got my sophomore year of college and the above pictured “trophy,” Saint Hot Dog. For reasons I can no longer explicitly recollect, my friend Kami gave me Saint Hot Dog when she left Santa Barbara. I think she thought I’d think it was worth preserving, and though I did, I realized that I couldn’t move it a third time. I just couldn’t. So funny, sunny specialness notwithstanding, Saint Hot Dog ended up getting placed in the “to go” box with the same care I’d offered it throughout the two previous moves that managed not to destroy its stapled-on, paper wings.

The drop-off process, however, didn’t go as planned. I thought there’d be a charity dumpster I could just throw my donations into as a sped by. No such luck. They had the “free shit” equivalent of a doorman there to sort through the contents and shame me in case I tried to give foiled-covered rocks or Acme-brand booby traps or whatever. Everything in my box passed with approval until he got to Saint Hot Dog.

“What the hell is this?” he asked.

I legitimately didn’t know what answer would appease him. So I didn’t even try. “It’s Saint Hot Dog,” I responded.

Him: “Is this a joke?”

Again, how can that question ever be answered? My best attempt at a response was a shruggy “Sort of?”

He just looked at me.

Me: “It’s… quirky,” as if that explained my very wrong belief that poor people would want Saint Hot Dog.

Eventually, the “free shit” doorman relented. “I’ve been hearing that word a lot,” he said, effectively concluding our interaction.

Most of me thinks that Saint Hot Dog got tossed in the garbage moments after I pulled out of the parking lot and headed east, leaving the Santa Monica fog in my rearview mirror for the foreseeable future. A small part of me, however, believes that Saint Hot Dog is now sitting on some thrift store shelf, forcing a little kid to ask “Mommy, why? What is it?”

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Water, Water, Oil, Oil, Room Service, Room Service

I know what you’re thinking: What is Princess Vespa without the unmistakable spark that Daphne Zuniga brought to the role?


But the takeaway here isn’t the proof that someone at some point adapted Spaceballs as a novel. No, it’s that one person in particular did: Jovial Bob Stine. He also made book-like-things out of Ghostbusters II and Big Top Pee-wee, but you probably know of him for different reasons. The same author wrote a great many more books under the name R.L. Stine, including the whole of the Goosebumps series (yes, yes, “mah fravrit berks”) as well as the Fear Street series, which I never read but which I will always remember for their bumpy-textured covers depicting ambiguously unhappy teens at night.

I actually know very little about R.L. Stine. The Goosebumps books only became a thing right when I was growing out of them, and I felt the older-skewing titles threatened my adolescent masculinity, what with their relatable heroines and approachable-seeming male love interests with their tucked-in shirts. But looking at this guy’s collected work, I realize he’s a freaking Stephen King for the puberty set, exorcising this bit of nascent existential angst and that bit of hormonal confusion with near-horror, semi-suspense and the mild macabre. It’s actually almost impressive that he actually exists — you know, as opposed to Franklin W. Dixon or Carolyn Keene — and this one guy actually thought up so many technically different nightmare scenarios for young people.

Then again, in complete contradiction to the that last statement, there are the synopses to R.L. Stine’s Babysitter tetralogy to suggest that such a body of work could be amassed by any idiot with a rainy afternoon and a pair of dice with stock plot devices taped to them.

More or less straight from Wikipedia:
The Babysitter: Sixteen-year-old Jenny Jefferes receives threatening calls while she is babysitting, and the person making the threats turns out to be Mr. Hagen, the father of the boy she’s watching. He hates babysitters because an inattentive one accidentally killed his daughter. Mr. Hagen initially offers to take Jenny home but instead takes her to a rock quarry where he tries to kill her but then fails to killer so badly that he himself dies.

The Babysitter II: Suffering from nightmares about a zombified Mr. Hagen rising from his grave, Jenny has begun to see a psychiatrist. While babysitting a malevolent boy genius, her psychiatrist’s receptionist attempts to kill her.

The Babysitter III: Jenny goes on a babysitting outing with her cousin, Debra, when threatening calls begin again. Then Debra finds out the calls are coming from Jenny, whose mind has been overtaken by a “Mr. Hagen” personality.

The Babysitter IV: Jenny attempts to put her dark babysitting-related history behind her by accepting another babysitting job. She is terrorized by murderous ghost children.
Had the series continued into Jenny Jeffers’s seventeenth year of life, I can only imagine what horrors she would have faced on yet more ill-advised babysitting jobs, , and I can only imagine that the synopses get shorter yet. Something in the ballpark of “Jenny babysits kids who turn into dinosaurs, also Jenny is two robot twins.”

Monday, May 07, 2012

Five More Words With Surprising Etymologies

People seemed to enjoy “Five Words With Surprising Etymologies,” so here’s a sequel. Happy Monday.

phosphorus: It was previously an adjective meaning “light-bringing” and a proper name for the morning star before it got attached to the chemical element. But what’s interesting about phosphorus is that it’s essentially the Greek form of a Latin name with a very negative association. That phoros, “bearing,” is the same root you see in Christopher, which means “Christ-bearing.” Phos, meanwhile, means “light,” so phosphorus means “light-bearing.” That’s exactly what Lucifer means.

bellwether: It might be used today to refer to some on-the-cutting-edge person whom trendwatchers have their eyes on, but the etymology goes back to a far more provincial place. It’s literally the sheep that wears a bell around its neck and leads the flock. A wether is a castrated ram.

a trendsetter, via

galaxy: I actually buried this one in an old word-of-the-week post, and I feel like it’s worth mentioning again. So you know how we live in the Milky Way galaxy? Well, astronomers had known for a while that clustered stars had a milk-like appearance. In fact, the word galaxy comes from the Greek galaxias kyklos, “milky circle,” and that first syllable in lactation goes back to the same Proto-Indo-European root as galaxy.

germane: It doesn’t have anything to do with Germany, though it comes from an old word german that in the mid-fourteenth century meant “having the same parents.” The modern usage is first documented in Hamlet, where germane used the old meaning in a figurative sense. Germane goes back to the Latin noun germen, “sprout,” which also gives English germination.

bulimia: It literally means “ox hunger,” though that first syllable — from the Greek bous, “ox,” — is used here as an intensifier, so “hunger of an ox” and not “hunger for an ox,” I’m thinking. But the weird part is covert bovineness notwithstanding, that first syllable doesn’t have any relation to bull, which comes from some mysterious Germanic place.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Bad Vibrations (Or — Shut the Fuck Up, Best Coast)

What follows is an open letter to the band Best Coast.
Hi there, Best Coast!

My name is Drew. You don’t know me, but I’ve been enjoying your work for some time now — since 2010, my iTunes library tells me, when I downloaded the phenomenal “Boyfriend.” I’ve come to love your low-fi sound and the way you take surf rock to a place as bright and fun as, well, a beach.

But we’ve got a problem: Your new single makes me want to drive my car into the Pacific Ocean and drown. We get it. You fucking love California. I mean, look at what you named your band. In a way, it’s refreshing to know that indie rockers had the courage to wholeheartedly support something when the stereotype for your kind is apathy or a deadpan, ironic endorsement. But “The Only Place” goes too goddamn far. I hate to say it, but Hipster Runoff is right: It sounds like a Best Coast parody.

Have you listened to your song?


A tourism board ad jingle could not possibly be more insistent about enumerating California’s virtues. You’re a talented group of people, and you need to aspire to better lyrics than these:
Why would you live anywhere else?
We've got the ocean, got the babes
Got the sun, we've got the waves
This is the only place for me
So leave your cold behind
We’re gonna make it to the beach on time
These sound like lyrics that Zack Morris’s band would sing. Hell, this is worse than a California Dreams song. Yeah — I’d rather listen to “Don’t Wake Me Up Because I’m Dreaming” than this thing you have made.

Please keep in mind that this is coming from a guy who’s lived in California more or less his entire life. In fact, I’ve recently relocated to Los Angeles, and I’m in the midst of a fairly serious love affair with this city. But that doesn’t mean I can tolerate “The Only Place” stinking up my KCRW on my morning drive to work. Can you imagine how this sounds to someone who lives in one of the other forty-nine? To someone in Delaware? California needs to encourage out-of-staters to come visit and spend money here, not to avoid us at all costs because they think we’re a bunch of idiot beach bums who can’t stop going on about how great we have it and how the rest of the U.S. is Mad Max and oh my god — doesn’t our shit smell like coconut oil?

In closing, I’d like you to consider the fact that your band name speaks for itself. Also, the whole of your fanbase, Californian and not, would probably prefer it if you sang about other subjects in the future — relationships maybe, or perhaps how Idaho is kind of cool too, in its own way — because “The Only Place” has explored the pro-California thematic territory more thoroughly than any song needed to.

Eagerly awaiting your future musical explorations,
Drew Mackie

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Look! Up in the Sky! It’s… Oh God, Get Under Cover!

I’ll give you one guess how I picked this week’s word.
aasvogel (ASS-foh-gul) — noun: any number of species of South African vulture.
Last week, I ended a discussion of the pretty-sounding word suzerainty with a discussion of a less fortunate string of letters, superanus, which does not refer to any sort of distended part of the human anatomy but which any reasonable human would assume does. This week, more of the same, really. Actually, no — it’s worse, because aasvogel actually refers to an indubitably unpleasant thing: a bird that eats dead flesh.

(He’s making that expression because he just found out what humans call him.)

In fact, that’s literally what aasvogel means. This obscure Afrikaans term, which today is rendered as aasvoël, comprises two parts: aas, “carrion,” and vogel, meaning “bird” and coming from the same Proto-Germanic word that gives English the word fowl. And while a South African person would probably recognize aasvogel for what it is, Wiktionary provides an unusual usage note: “This word has no currency in modern South African English. It has been used by writers Rider Haggard and Saki to lend color and authenticity to their works.” If that’s true, then it’s validating to hear, because that means I’m not alone in seeing this word and saying, “Now that word. That is the weird flavor I’m looking for.”

The flavor in question being aasvogel flavor.

Ahem.

And yes, the modern equivalent of aasvogel, aasvoël, is really close to assfowl and therefore assfoul, and that it itself presents certain complications.

And additionally yes, there once existed an author named Rider Haggard. Should it surprise you to know that he wrote adventure books? No. No, it shouldn’t.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Hey, Claudio — I’m Trying to Talk to You Over Here

Thing learned today: The Spanish title of the BBC miniseries I, Claudius is Yo, Claudio. I find this hilarious.


See, I’m not even making this up.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Angel at the Top of the Stairs

(It hangs over me.)


Before I stepped out for work — and I had stepped out a few minutes late this morning — I heard my doorbell ring. Whatever the cause, it could wait until tonight, I decided, and I drove off to work, looking back for a moment to see that, yes, there was someone standing there, apparently trying to get through the front door. But when I got home, I walked around to the front of my building to see what note or package or dead, nailed-to-the-wall cat could have merited such an early morning call. So what was there? Nothing. I have no idea still who stood at my front door this morning, and I have to assume that whatever they wanted to give me, whether warm handshake or firebomb, will be extended again at a more convenient hour. It won’t worry me any.

Still, it seems noteworthy that post-nothing, as I climbed up steps leading from the front door, I felt increasingly tired to the point that the top step made me sit down, then lie back, then fully spread out on the floor and look up at the light fixture that hangs over the top of the stairs. It’s old. It’s older than my grandmother, and she’s old, yet it’s been cared for and preserved and maybe even restored. And me lying there, on my back, at the top of the stairs, well-lit but alone in an otherwise dark apartment, I just looked up and thought about what scenes it’s presided over and what it knows and how its white plaster makes it as close to classical as you can get in southern California. And I thought about the Greek statues that this light fixture clearly wanted to imitate. And I thought about perfection and nemesis and tragedy, because why shouldn’t a stupid light fixture make you think about Greek mythology?

Eventually, I was upright again, and chopping vegetables. I honestly couldn’t say what got me from the top of the stairs to the kitchen. I watched Modern Family and then Adventure Time — because why not? — and then I drank more of the wine than I intended. But before I get to bed, I’ll go back and turn off that light at the top of the stairs.

The light may be my favorite part of the new place.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Ha Ha — Your Name Is Funny From More Than One Angle

A new addition to a long neglected series: I was pretty pleased when I found out that the DC universe has a C-string mobster villain named Guano Cravat, but I am much more impressed with the real-life Australian Football League named Steele Sidebottom.


Laugh at him and he will exact vengeance using his famous metallic part. (Hat Tip: Sam Downing’s well-reasoned post on famous people with silly names.)

“Ha Ha — This Person’s Name,” previously:
“Ha Ha — This Thing’s Name,” previously: