Thursday, January 14, 2016

Classic Novels Retitled as Clickbait--Number 2 Will Blow Your Mind!

We all know that no one reads anymore. Well, they do, but they read short, punchy articles designed to titillate, enrage, or stroke the ego while they sit on the toilet looking at their phones. However, as someone who pushes reading on the public, professionally, and as someone who writes books and hopes people might take to reading again, I have done the hard work of making Literature relevant again with these clickbait titles. In fact, I've taken the liberty of linking these titles to places where they can be purchased. Since my readership is so high, I'm pretty sure the folks at Amazon will be sending me a nice big check as a thank-you.

1. A White Boy stumbles across a Runaway Slave. His Reaction is Perfect!

2. A Man takes a Job on a Whaling Ship. What he thinks of the Captain will Blow Your Mind. 

3. A Tornado Sweeps Away a Girls House. Where it Takes her is Surprising!

4. A Man Survives the Bombing of Dresden. What He Has to Say About it is Hilarious!

5. Member of the One Percent is visited by three ghosts. What he learns from the third one is amazing.


6. THIS man think humans should have freedom of choice. God's reaction is a bit overboard. 


7. A Man with a Severe Learning Disability and his Friend are Looking for Work. The Kind of Animal They would like to Raise is Puzzling. 


Well, my work here is done! This alone probably did more for reading then my 14 years as a professor! You're welcome, progeny. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Inane Rambling of Rankin/Bass' "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is without a doubt the most asinine and repulsive Christmas special available to the imagination. It is the purest example of how the technological advancements of the 20th Century outpaced common sense and storytelling. By 1970, Rankin/Bass had a successful formula for holiday television specials; get an aged celebrity to narrate an animated story based on a Christmas song. Rudolph, Frosty, and The Little Drummer Boy all got the Rankin/Bass treatment. Most of these were stop-motion mini-movies--some simply cartoons--and they all have a place in our modern holiday celebration (many more have hardly been seen, of course. Who of us have seen "The Cricket on the Hearth," "Mouse on the Mayflower" [narrated by Tennessee Ernie Ford!],  or "The First Christmas"?). But it's 1970's Christmas special that I want to examine.

How absurd can a show be?

Fred Astaire is a postal worker who takes a break in the woods to frolic around answering Santa's mail for him, addressing the disembodied voices of the children who sent the mail and the woodland creatures who couldn't stay away from the road and are too petrified of the crazy man to do anything but humor him.

He chooses to answer questions regarding Santa's origins and, evidently, he has no fucking clue what Santa's story is. But that doesn't stop

Let's pretend, for a second, that Santa Claus is an new subject for you. You might be excited about the chance to learn a little about the guy.

This isn't the place to do it. According to Fred, Santa was a foundling left on the doorstep of the most ridonkulous bad-guy of all time, the Burgermeister Meisterburger. He's a second-rate Boris (of Boris and Natasha, yo) who hates everything. He rules over a town--evidently the only town in the world--and is some sort of kingish-mayor-guy. He rejects the baby, sending it to die in the forest. Pretty messed up. He's rescued by animals. He's rescued by the Winter Warlock. So now there are two badguys. And he's taken to a little house full of silly little men in red coats. This family that raises him gets him to love toy making and wearing red cloaks. Boom. Origin explained.

The forest animals teach him everything else about being Santa. That is, they teach him how to laugh. I'm sorry, not the forest animals, but the seals. Because they sound like ho-ho-ho, right? No. No they don't.

Anyway, you get the picture. The Burgermeister outlaws toys, Santa makes and delivers them, the Winter Warlock turns into a good guy, and the reindeer fly. It's just that any kid could have come up with better explanations. Let's take a look at those explanations.

Outlandish and Lazy Explanations
  • How did he get his name? He had a necklace with that name on when he was found.
  • Why does he make toys? Because the family that found him makes toys.
  • How did he get his laugh? Seals.
  • Where did he get his coat? His adoptive mom gave it to him.
  • Why stockings? Because "how clean your stockings are" is the only thing that matters in Sombertown, thus they are always hanging them up by the fire.
  • How does he spy on children? A monster living in the woods showed him how to make a magic snowball that shows him what kids are doing.
  • Why does he go down chimneys? A penguin told him to when a door was locked once. It was fun.
  • Why do the reindeer fly? That monster from the woods gave him magic beans.
  • Why Christmas? Because it's the most magical night of the year (many kids feel that this is a chicken/egg situation)
  • Why does he have a beard? Because he grew one.

There are more, but you get the idea. This is pure lazy. If there is some element of the Santa narrative that you've ever wondered about, he was either born that way or a ridiculous warlock/flibbertygibbet gave him the magic ability to deal with it. The lazy storytelling doesn't stop there. The heartless and frightening Burgermeister who chases Santa throughout the entire story never does come around and turn good thanks to love or Christmas or anything, it's just that,  "Well, you see, the Burgermeisters eventually fell out of power."

I would have been dropped from my college had I shown such sucky storytelling abilities.

The Songs

Again, Rankin/Bass really gets me with the poor song choices.  This is a Christmas movie and you'd think that once in a while the songs might deal with that subject. After all, the darn show is named after a Christmas song! But no!

Most memorable of the songs is probably the one where the Winter Warlock turns good. This song starts out as a metaphor for taking babysteps to change your direction in life, but eventually, as the video illustrates, the metaphor takes over the song and instead of learning how to behave, the Winter Warlock is actually learning how to walk like a baby!

The least memorable song is the one that Jessica (the future Mrs. Claus) sings. It's a psychedelic head trip where the girl learns through love (and possibly, drugs) that authority sucks and toys rule.

Aside from the titular song, there is nothing mentioning Christmas. I see this as a hugely missed opportunity.


Rankin/Bass made their money much the same way Micheal Bay does today: taking source material with a built-in audience and lazily throwing together interesting visuals that suck people in. We watch it because watching the same show every years somehow musters feelings of childhood and nostalgia.

But besides, the final message is a good one. It's a lot of fun to watch. I just wish they had put a little more into it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Skeleton in the Closet--An Alternative to Elf on the Shelf

I get that modern-day parenting favors positive reinforcement. In most instances, I like it, too. But let's face
it: Elf on the Shelf features an artistically boring little jerk that has a far-from-positive message. We like to interpret it positively, and I love Santa Claus, myself, but this Elf brings police-state images to the holiday.

So, let's be honest! We've all been craving a return of Krampus, and the Internet Age has brought his awareness worldwide. If you haven't yet heard, Krampus is the Alpine opposite of Santa. A messenger of Satan, he takes children who have misbehaved for the year away. Some say he takes them to Hell, some say he drowns them in a washtub. Either way, parents win.

This year, instead of "Elf on the Shelf," try Krampus' own, "Skeleton in the Closet!" Moritory, Krampus' minion, will spy on your children and make damn sure that they behave!

The Skeleton in the Closet starts off in your child's closet on the first day. They open the door, say, looking for a dress, and find that it's that time of year again! Time to get your act in order so a washtub-toting madman doesn't drown you!

Soon, you find dozens of great ways to remind your kids to behave! Are they getting too excited about gifts piling up under the tree? You'd better remind them that they may not live long enough to open them.

Holiday stories are so heartwarming and positive these days. Let your kids know that the world is heartless and unforgiving, just like Krampus!

One of your kids just not getting it? Visions of sugar plumbs still dancing in their heads? Interrupt their slumber with horror and dread!  Let Moritory keep them on the path of the meek and mild. This year's wish list can be all about SURVIVAL!

If you enjoyed post, consider getting my new book, Danger at Donner Pass, for your kid for Christmas. Besides being about cannibalism, it's also about a skeleton named Moritory and living through the night!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Horrible Lessons Found in" Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer"

Every year, we wash ourselves in nostalgia by watching a slew of Christmas Specials (and not-so-specials) that gently blow the embers of childhood memories and remind us what it was like to experience magic. We hand these down to our children in a kind of cultural cannibalism that makes our species so much easier to sell to. Some of these movies or cartoons are wonderful, even perfect--like A Christmas Story. Some are not quite as good as their source material, but still a nice way to stoke Christmas memories while learning about the holiday hidden behind the commercialism, like "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." And some are just plain awful and lazy and nearly completely full of evil messages.

Rudolph and the whole gang of you at Rankin/Bass, I'm looking directly at you.

Somehow, the stop-motion animated cartoon continually gets played year after year in our household--and in households across the country. While the animation is enough to tickle you, the writing, the songs, and the messages found inside this show make it less worthy of Christmas than the Star Wars Holiday Special.

The Writing

For the moment, let's be good sports and leave the main of the plot alone--the part that comes directly from the original song about a caribou with a shining red nose. What in the world is going on in this arena? There is nothing that makes the remotest bit of sense here. An elfin dentist who is hated for his passion; skinny Santa getting fattened up; an island of misfit toys that is ruled over by a winged-lion; an island of misfit toys that is ruled over by a winged-lion; an island get it. That's really bad.

These misfit toys are complete junk, Charlie-in-a-Box aside.
We can certainly forgive Charlie for his name. But an airplane that doesn't fly but floats? A pistol that shoots jelly? A train with square wheels? Try giving your toddler a train with square wheels and see where that gets you. Just watch the look on Mom's face when little Davy squirts her Christmas sweater with grape jelly. There's a bird that swims in a fish bowl, and while I don't have any real huge issue with that on principle, I can't imagine it making the top of any kid's wish list. That spotted elephant looks like crap. Sometimes crappy toys are just crappy toys.Sometimes toys are misfits for a reason.

Why in the world does a winged-lion have anything to do with these awful toys? Why doesn't he ravage them in an awesome bought of fury? He's wearing a crown, he's in a castle on the North Pole, and he's harboring the world's crappiest toys just miles from the capital of all toys ever? There is no strain of logic that can make this add up. You can't just say, "they were on drugs" or whatever, because that is just as lazy an excuse as they are giving us for a script. There isn't a single lesson that we can learn here. I don't pity these toys, I don't want them in my stocking, I don't care that they get whisked away and dropped down a chimney at the end of the movie. Inexplicably.

The Morality

Everyone in this show is a jerk. I fail to explain even the simplest actions taken by the supporting cast to my daughters. They cannot fathom why Santa comes rolling around moments after Rudolph's birth only to slam his mom and dad to the ground for birthing this changeling. He's nearly venomous in his dealings with them and their newborn. He's ashamed!

Comet is likewise a jerk. He has to train a new generation of flying caribou, and he takes the time to rain ridicule down on one of his poor students. Comet the reindeer--the very beast who lands on our rooftops pulling Santa's sleigh--leads the kids in bullying and excluding Rudolph because of his physical difference. I get that this comes from the source material, but in the far superior Fleischer Brothers Rudolph Cartoon (1948), the bullying is at least kid-to-kid bullying, and comes across as cruel hazing rather than out and out hate crimes:

Besides the institutionalized hate that Rudolph experiences thanks to Santa Claus and his Minions, there's a elf who gets excluded from society for wanting to help other elves practice dental hygiene. There's a good deal of people on the Internet who believe that this little elf is a homosexual metaphor.

The Songs

Besides Burl Ives' wonderful rendition of "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer," there is no song worth listening to. The chorus of misfit toys sings in a bland single voice explaining the most horrid afflictions a toy could have. "Silver and Gold" spends a few minutes celebrating the commercial monster that Christmas has become. The eardrum-splitting song "We Are Santa's Elves" is arguably meant to be annoying, for God's sake. There really isn't a lot of room for intentionally bad music in a musical.


The end lesson that we learn is supposed to fall into something like, "Our differences make us stronger" or something, but it really comes across as "Conformity is Key" and "Exploit your Differences for More Effective Conformity." Fitting in is key in North Pole society, and people and beasts only admit their faults if the difference they were making fun of is useful in the end. While this has always been a deficiency in the Rudolph legend, it's much easier to pass by in the original song and single-reel cartoon, as there is little room for anything other than a shallow morality-play where those who wronged Rudolph are shown their error through very clear and decisive measures. In a 47-minute Christmas Special (an hour with commercials), there is more room for subtlety and morality, but instead the insanity is just amped-up to a dizzying degree.

Perhaps the most unforgivable and maddening error is the character of Santa Claus who--instead of spreading cheer throughout his kingdom--enforces fear and hatred. This is not the symbol of secular love and forgiveness that we have come to enjoy on our holiday. Instead, it is a mechanism for conformity and irrational prejudice that permeates the worst side of mankind.

I watch this show, and I will continue to watch it for years to come, but it gets more eye rolls from me than warming memories these days. The Rankin/Bass team made some really amazing movies during their apex and was brave enough to pioneer animation methods that Disney wouldn't touch, but their lack of judgement and writing prowess makes this movie an archive of a different time rather than a lasting legend to be handed down from generation to generation.