Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mr. Chamberlain Deconstructs His Dream House

“Martin and I love houses,” wrote actor and author Richard Chamberlain in his memoir Shattered Love. “A wise friend and teacher of ours says we have house karma. Over the years we’ve created several wonderful houses, always remodeling existing structures. Our lifelong goal has been to design and build our dream house.
“We love living in Hawaii, and for 20 years we’ve had our eyes on a particularly beautiful house site. About three years ago the lot became available, and to our surprise and delight the owner accepted our first offer. This all happened so easily that we assumed our project was blessed.
“This home was to be our final stop and guarantee our future happiness. We hired an architect and created a serene and handsome design that took maximum advantage of the gorgeous setting. We even engaged a top-notch interior designer from the mainland and started thinking about furniture. We were on our way to a nirvana of sand, surf and sunsets.
Richard Chamberlain in Hawaii in 2003
“We sold our big house in Honolulu, put a lot of stuff in storage and crammed ourselves and the rest of our possessions into our small beach house in the country to wait for building permits and for construction to begin.
“Then, out of the blue, a series of bureaucratic hassles big and small began an endless series of delays and costly legal confrontations. I’ve lost track of how many times we all said with relief, ‘Well, that’s finally over, now we can begin!’ only to be surprised and dismayed by yet another, sometimes whimsical change in official policy. Permissions granted, permissions withdrawn. Our guarantee of happiness was turning into the prescription for a mix of smoldering rage and clinical depression.
“Though we love the sweetness of the people here, over the years we’ve found the State of Hawaii bureaucrats to be self-important, arbitrary and downright unfriendly. Our frustration with this latest lengthy fracas with officialdom led us to think seriously about selling the lot and leaving the islands for good. We both felt worn down, hugely disappointed and unaccountably victimized.
“So where is the Christ, where is the Buddha in this mess of frustrated dreams?
“One recent afternoon, feeling thoroughly bummed out by all this, I sat down in the living room of the beach house we’ve owned for 26 years and took a long look at the absurdity of letting the supposed source of our future bliss, our imagined tropical Shangri-la, cause us so much unhappiness and angst.
“I got very quiet and just looked at our situation as objectively as I could. Gazing out the windows, I noticed the sunny perfection of the day and heard the rhythmic rumble of the waves. The plumeria trees were blooming and scenting the breeze, the doves and mynah birds were gabbing. A lamb stew was simmering in the kitchen. Our much-loved dog was asleep at my feet. There wasn’t a hint of turmoil anywhere. If I was stressed out, the cause was nowhere in sight. The cause must be in my own head, in my thinking.
“It was suddenly clear: I had attached my well-being to an imagined dream house and its easy manifestation. Ignoring past experience, I had staked my happiness on cooperative, concerned officials and honest, thrifty, competent contractors (good luck!).
“And I wondered why it’s so easy for me to forget that my sense of well-being is only now in the present. It cannot be dragged in from the past, which is gone, dead and buried, nor can it be found in the future, which doesn’t exist. Well-being is simply being well right now, living with as much integrity, clear awareness and open-heartedness as we can muster, with a willingness to examine whatever barriers we’re putting in the way of our innate if sometimes elusive wisdom.
“When I remember to quiet down and do this, the problems that pollute my thinking and vaporize my wa (inner harmony) become interesting challenges rather than subversive attachments — I’m free to “be well” and at the same time to vigorously deal with the difficulties at hand. I had been victimized only by my own thinking. I was painfully disappointed not by the officials who were just doing what they do for inscrutable reasons of their own, but by my unrealistic expectations.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Chamberlain: The Ugly Stories We Tell Ourselves

Richard Chamberlain appeared as the compassionate, dedicated Dr. Kildare on television
Aspiring actor Richard Chamberlain had a problem. Growing up with an unstable, overbearing, alcoholic father, he became emotionally withdrawn and guarded, presenting a false image of perfection and fearing his own feelings. And that proved to be no way to win over an audience with the truth of a performance.
“This is a near perfect example of how we endlessly torture ourselves and distort our lives with our own faulty thinking,” wrote Chamberlain in his memoir Shattered Love. “There I was, a reasonably talented young actor trying to get work in Hollywood, ruthlessly sabotaging my efforts with distant memories of mean old Dad. My father was far away busily saving people in AA, but I couldn’t help dragging him back into my life. In his absence, I took on his role of suppressing and making me fell impotent. Dad was gone, but I couldn’t let go or all my painful stories about the damage he’d done me and about my inadequacy in his presence. I continued to hate him even though I had assumed his nefarious ways.
“We bamboozle ourselves with largely fictional stories all the time. My father despises me (how can I know that for sure?); anyone who really knows me couldn’t possibly love me; my children don’t appreciate me; my husband doesn’t listen to me; my religion makes me better than you; they should have dealt with me fairly; I’m more important than you because I’m famous; I’m too addictive or stressed to quit smoking; life is so unfair; they should have taken better care of me.
“Byron Katie, a savvy teacher I know, suggests putting our mental stories and beliefs to the test with three questions: 1) Can I really know this is true? 2) What do I get from this story or belief, what does it do for or against me? 3) Who would I be in this situation without this belief?
“Then she suggests we turn it all around and take full responsibility for all the stuff we’re blaming on others. For instance, the story ‘You don’t love me enough!’ becomes ‘I don’t love myself enough, and I don’t love you enough.’ My story ‘My father suppressed and weakened me’ becomes the much more accurate ‘I suppress and weaken myself with my thinking, and I also suppress my father by probably misunderstanding and misrepresenting him.’ 
“In other words, being a grown-up means taking responsibility for my own life and my own integrity. My father’s integrity or lack of it is none of my business. My business is to come to understand the stifling fictions of my thinking and learn to prefer and honor reality, truth, what is.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Word About Anthropomorphic Super-Animals...

The first superhero to which an American child of the 1950s was likely to be exposed was either Superman or Mighty Mouse, both of whom were on television.
Mighty Mouse’s appeal was obvious and derivative, combining the 1928 Disney sensation Mickey Mouse with the 1938 DC Comics sensation Superman. The Terrytoons character debuted in 1942, appearing in 80 theatrical cartoons until 1961. A considerable number of cats got beaten up in the process.
Charlton Comics, which rarely failed to copy any popular trend or character (the Lone Ranger, Casper the Friendly Ghost, etc.), offered multiple Mighty Mouse knock-offs that interested me as a child. All were caped, black-clad funny animal heroes who, in one of those derangements peculiar to the nuclear-nervous 1950s, used the word “Atomic” as a synonym for “Super” in their names.
We had Atomic Mouse, Atom the Cat (a Tom Cat, get it?) and two atomic Leporidae, along with one magical one. In 1955, Atomic Rabbit gained the powers of flight and super strength by eating irradiated carrots.
The talented artist Al Fago “…handled Atomic Rabbit from his first appearance, dated August, 1955, through the end of the series under that name — #11, dated March, 1958. As of #12, it was changed to Atomic Bunny, and it’s not certain they're the same character,” comics historian Don Markstein noted. “Bunny looked like Rabbit in the first issue, (although) drawn by Charlton’s editor, Pat Masulli, but his appearance changed radically after that. Then, he was back to his former appearance with the last issue (December, 1959).”
A 1997 issue looks back with cheekiness
“Funny animal superheroes have been a part of the animation and comic book scenes since the days of Mighty Mouse and Supermouse, respectively — almost as long as human superheroes have been around, in fact,” Markstein noted. “Marvel had Super Rabbit, DC had The Terrific Whatzit, Fox had Cosmo Cat etc. But the biggest concentration of the sub-genre was at Charlton Comics during the 1950s, which had Happy the Magic Bunny, Atom the Cat, and several others — in fact, its longest-lasting superhero title ever was Atomic Mouse. What Magazine Enterprises (Red Mask, Presto Kid) was to western heroes with secret identities, Charlton was to funny animal superheroes.”
In particular, the company boasted an embarrassment of super-rabbits. Happy the Magic Bunny was Charlton’s barely retooled version of Fawcett’s Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, who debuted the same year as Mighty Mouse. When Captain Marvel and his pals were legally hounded out of business by Superman, Hoppy/Happy remained quietly on the back pages, the last surviving member of the once million-selling Marvels.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Short and Double Life of Private Strong

Even given the quirky history of comic books, The Double Life of Private Strong was an odd title.

For one thing, what other superhero comic was named after the protagonist’s secret identity? For another, why would a title created by two industry legends — a title that was launched at the perfect time to become popular — be killed after only two issues?

Created for Archie Comics by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in June 1959, just ahead of the 1960s’ boom market for superheroes, the title took the route that had proven successful with DC’s the Flash (and would work well for Green Lantern the next month, in July 1959, and later for the Atom and Hawkman). In each case, a popular 1940s superhero was rebooted, updated and streamlined for the jet age.

Simon and Kirby’s most successful creation had been 1941’s Captain America, a Marvel character they essentially parodied for Prize Comics with 1954’s Fighting American. Ironically, in their third try at a star-spangled superman, they were revamping a character they might once have been accused of copying.

That’s because the first flag-costumed patriotic superhero had been the Shield, published in January 1940 by MLJ, which would become Archie. Joe Higgins, an FBI agent who possessed superhuman strength and durability, fought criminals and spies as the Shield until 1948 (although his super powers had faded by then).

In retooling the Shield, Simon and Kirby amped-up the superman factor, granting him flight, super-strength, invulnerability, super-vision and the ability to project lightning. The orphaned son of a scientist who’d given him his expanded-mind powers, Lancelot Strong was adopted and raised by a kindly farm couple.

All that was a bit too similar to Superman for DC, which promptly threatened legal action and ended the title after its second issue. However, this Shield would reappear once or twice more as a guest star in the second superhero title Simon and Kirby created for Archie, The Adventures of the Fly.

They made the Shield’s secret identity that of an Army private, perhaps because most young men were drafted in those days, and perhaps because their most successful character had also hidden his red, white and blue costume under the tan of an U.S. Army uniform.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Peter Cannon, Son of Amazing-Man

The writer-artist who created the Charlton comics “action hero” Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt was, ironically, a secret crime-fighter himself.
But first, some history. Thunderbolt was also, in a way, the brain-grandchild of the celebrated artist Bill Everett.
In 1939, every comic book publisher wanted creators to come up with knock-offs of the new sensation Superman. Everett was one of the few who managed the difficult feat of an original take on the much-imitated Übermensch template – not once, but twice.
For what would be Marvel Comics, Everett created the amoral, arrogant Sub-Mariner, an anti-superhero who murdered people in fits of pique and helped others in manic spasms, wrecking Manhattan infrastructure like King Kong.
And for Centaur Publications, Everett created Amazing-Man, another champion of justice given to occasional derangement. An orphan raised by the presumably Buddhist monks in the Council of Seven, John Aman was yet another character who acquired uncanny abilities in Tibet, the country that seems to be the central headquarters for super powers in popular fiction (The crime-fighting magicians Chandu and Mandrake and the Shadow had already been empowered there).
In 1966, a New York City police officer who moonlighted as a comic book artist, Pete Morisi, was inspired by his childhood memories of Amazing-Man to create his own variation on the theme, Thunderbolt — “a thoughtful superhero comic that contained some of the earliest respectful invocations of Eastern mysticism in American pop culture,” Wikipedia notes.
Morisi, who disguised his identity under the nom de plume PAM, wrote, “Peter Cannon, orphaned son of an American medical team, was raised in a Himalayan lamasery, where his parents had sacrificed their lives combating the dreaded Black Plague! After attaining the highest degree of mental and physical perfection, he was entrusted with the knowledge of the ancient scrolls that bore the secret writings of past generations of wise men! From them he learned concentration, mind over matter, the art of activating and the harnessing the unused portions of the brain, that made seemingly fantastic feats possible!”
Both Amazing-Man and Thunderbolt had mysterious super-powered enemies back at their temples (the Great Question for Amazing-Man, and the Hooded One for Cannon).
Two more superheroes sprang from that same source — Marvel’s Iron Fist, who was a 1974 version of Amazing-Man, and DC’s Ozymandias, a 1986 iteration of Thunderbolt who appeared in the graphic novel Watchmen.
Although Morisi’s art was a bit static for my taste, I had to admire the realistic veneer he had worked out for his character. Thunderbolt’s will-based powers were relatively restrained by comic book standards, and his costume was really a monastic training outfit with an added mask.
Cannon didn’t want to fight crime, having an enlightened contempt for the greed and corruption of a western culture that remained alien to him. He just wanted to be left alone so he could write. 
Cannon had to be prodded into action against various menaces by his socially conscious companion Tabu. If the blond hero and his turbaned Tibetan sidekick seemed naggingly familiar, maybe that was because they bore such a weird resemblance to a grown-up Jonny Quest and Hadji.

The Bad Old Days, But Still Better than Today

The corporate news media was in such a goddamn hurry 
to get rid of Howard Dean that they didn't even bother
coming up with a plausible reason.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

They Might Be Mighty

The company that became Archie Comics, MLJ, has often anticipated the popularity of superheroes while being unable to fully exploit that knowledge.
In November 1940, the publisher introduced the first flag-draped patriotic superhero, the Shield, but that concept would get knocked out of the ballpark 14 months later at what would become Marvel Comics.
From 1939 into the late 1940s, MLJ published dozens of mostly low-powered, surprisingly gory superheroes, with one of them — the Black Hood — branching out into radio drama and pulp magazines.
As the Golden Age superheroes vanished, Archie Andrews paid the bills. But just as the Silver Age superheroes were becoming popular in 1959, the publisher tried again with the Shield, a Superman-ish reboot by Jack Kirby that ran afoul of DC Comics’ lawyers and disappeared after two issues of the oddly titled The Double Life of Private Strong.
Kirby’s second MLJ creation headlined The Adventures of the Fly, which ran for 30 issues until October 1964 and guest-starred the Black Hood and the Shield. The insect-powered hero with a magic ring inspired an animal-powered hero with a magic belt in The Adventures of the Jaguar.
Within a year, the Fly had returned as Fly-Man, gaining the advantage of additional powers like the ability to expand to giant size along with the burden of some heavy-handed “humorous” writing.
The renamed “Mighty Comics” could never quite fan away the smell of flop sweat, with the cheeky voice-over narrator’s attempts to mimic Stan Lee’s confidence coming across more as desperation.
The fact that the Fly’s nom de guerre was changed to Fly-Man in May 1965, months before the Batman TV show premiered in January 1966, demonstrates that the name change wasn’t inspired by Batman or Superman, but by that newly popular hyphenated hero, Spider-Man.
Almost all the company’s old Golden Age superheroes were revived before the Mighty Comics line died along with the Batman boom in 1967.
The only character I found really interesting was the Web, a criminology professor who’d left his heroic days behind in the 1940s. Marrying one of his students, John Raymond saddled himself with a nagging wife and mother-in-law who forbid him to do anything silly like fight crime in tights. He began to sneak around behind their backs to do just that, nursing some unexpected aches and pains in his middle-aged muscles. 
As a metaphor for lost dreams, for the exuberant illusions of youth fading into the disappointing limitations of age, the character had a certain poignant appeal.

The Total Stillness of Something Absolutely New

“One hot afternoon, during summer vacation from grammar school, I wandered around in the yard looking for something to do,” wrote actor Richard Chamberlain in his memoir Shattered Love, describing his 7-year-old self.
Richard Chamberlain
“None of my pals seemed to be around, and I was bored. For want of a better idea I climbed the walnut tree and sat on the wall, leaning back against the restful curve. A light summer breeze ruffled the leaves as I watched the occasional car or pedestrian pass on the street. I gazed up at the over-hanging branches and hoped some of our local feathered friends — mockingbirds, blue jays and doves — would come and visit me.
“As I sat there motionless, something absolutely new happened to me. I was filled with total stillness. It was almost as if I wasn’t even breathing, almost as if I’d become a part of the wall, part of the tree. And in this stillness I was observing everything around me with complete neutrality, with no thought at all. There seemed to be observation, but no observer.
“I don’t know how long this lasted — probably not more than half an hour, possibly less. I did not know what was happening to me. I only knew that my thinking went silent, and my sense of self disappeared. I experienced absolute simplicity and peace.”
I had two similar experiences — once when I was about 5, on the sunny lawn in front of our house in Effingham, and another time when I was about 22, watching a fan revolve on a pleasant summer afternoon.
Telling no one of his experience, Chamberlain recalled that he very much wanted to feel that sense of vibrant, alert peace again — but never did, until 60 years later.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

One Morning in the Faculty Dining Room

Painting by Cheryl Ratcliff
In the Faculty Dining Room: “Christ, it is sad, sad to see, on quite a few of these faces — young ones particularly — a glum defeated look. Why do they feel this way about their lives? Sure, they are underpaid. Sure, they have no great prospects, in the commercial sense. Sure, they can’t enjoy the bliss of mingling with corporate executives. But isn’t it any consolation to be with students who are still three-quarters alive? Isn’t it some tiny satisfaction to be of use, instead of helping to turn out useless consumer goods? Isn’t it something to know that you belong to one of the few professions in this country which isn’t hopelessly corrupt?
“For these glum ones, apparently not. They would like out, if they dared try. But they have prepared themselves for this job and now they have to go through with it. They have wasted the time in which they should have been learning to cheat and grab and lie. They have cut themselves off from the majority — the middlemen, the hucksters, the promoters — by laboriously acquiring all this dry, discredited knowledge; discredited, that is to say, by the middleman, because he can get along without it. All the middleman wants are its products, its practical applications. These professors are suckers, he says. What’s the use of knowing something if you don’t make money out of it? And the glum ones more than half agree with him, and fell privately ashamed of not being smart and crooked.”
— Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

Monday, March 14, 2016

When the Superheroes Battled Them!

It all started, like so many things in popular culture, with an explosion.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and President Truman warned Japan to “…expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”
That action spelled the end of the world war, but the beginning of world nightmares about nuclear annihilation that would be reflected and distorted in the mirror of popular culture. And if the danger was titanic, so was its dreamy reflection in darkened movie theaters.
That fear of radiation reanimated dinosaurs like the latter-day dragon Godzilla while spawning monstrous spiders, grasshoppers and mantises, colossal men and 50-foot women and, most prolifically, giant ants.
James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn and James Arness fought monster ants mutated by radiation from the first atomic bomb test near Alamogordo in the 1954 film Them!
One of our agents infiltrates the enemy camp.
The fact that the movie was a critical and popular hit was not lost on comic book publishers. And maybe the inspiration ran both ways. After all, Quality Comics superhero Plastic Man fought radiation-spawned giant ants in 1952, two years before the release of the Warner Brothers film.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Superman, Captain Marvel Junior and the jungle hero Kona, along with many others, would find themselves enlisted in the war against giant ants. Over at what would become Marvel Comics, Stan Lee even gave them names like Grottu and Krang. And shockingly, the quisling cub reporter Jimmy Olsen gained super powers and went over to the giant ants’ side. But that, as they say, is a story for another day…

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Day I Watched Superman Die

In 1992, Superman was “killed” in a meaningless slugfest that was ridiculously over-reported by journalists who were apparently unaware that fictional characters cannot, in fact, die.
In fact, this was not the first or even the best death of the legendary Man of Steel. In 1961, in Superman Comics 149, Superman’s co-creator Jerry Siegel and artist Curt Swan gave us an “imaginary tale” of the death of Superman that was more poignant and morally sophisticated than the 1992 brawl.
In fact, the story anticipated the musings on the ethical implications and limitations of the superhero that Alan Moore would explore in his Watchmen a quarter-century later. Here, Siegel dared to suggest that it was Superman’s very virtues that would be his undoing.
Criminal scientist Lex Luthor feigns reform by providing the world a cure for cancer, prompting Superman to seek his parole. And when the freed Luthor refuses to aid other criminals in their scheme to kill him, Superman’s final suspicions are put to rest.
But his archenemy has been playing the long game, knowing that Superman’s optimistic faith in the possibility of human redemption — his very love for mankind — is a means by which he can be destroyed.
Luthor betrays, traps and murders Superman with a kryptonite ray, gloating over his slow death agonies. Lois Lane, the Justice League and the Legion of Super Heroes view his green-skinned body lying in state. But while Luthor is celebrating with the underworld, Superman bursts through the wall! This is the kind of “hoax” story we kids had come to expect from DC, but this time Siegel faked us out. “Superman” tears off a disguise to reveal herself as the Man of Steel’s cousin Supergirl, Superman’s until-now secret weapon.
Superman is in fact dead. The Man of Tomorrow is the Man of Yesterday. Children across the country puddled up, this story resonating darkly with the real headlines of two years before that had proclaimed “Superman Kills Self” (George Reeves, the star of the 1950s TV series).
Supergirl hauls Luthor to the bottled city of Kandor to stand trial for the murder of a Kryptonian. And as just as Superman’s virtues betrayed him, Luthor’s own sociopathic vices prove to be his blind spot. Luthor offers to enlarge Kandor back to normal size if his captors free him, smugly certain that no one will sacrifice their self-interest for mere justice. He is shocked when, refusing him flatly, the Kandorians project him into the Phantom Zone for all time.
The last scene shows a somber Supergirl and Krypto taking up Superman’s patrol as Superman’s spirit waves to them invisibly from the clouds. As the Silver Age comics would put it: “(Choke!)” 
Siegel’s ingenious plot spring-boarded straight from the well-established personality traits of these famous characters. And some have suggested that the story struck even closer to home for Siegel. A naïve, trusting man betrayed by a scheming “friend?” Or maybe a couple of naïve, trusting teenagers who sold a billion-dollar character to their “friends” at a comic book company for $130?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Offered Without Comment

The Epistemology of Fox News

"Fox News instills in its viewers a formidable distaste for critical thinking. It encourages dogmatism while discouraging curiosity. It teaches people to care more about 'what' a belief says about the world than 'why' one should accept it. It propagates what philosophers would describe as bad epistemology.
"This is incredibly dangerous to our country’s future because critical thinking is the intellectual backbone of every functioning democracy. The fact that Trump is leading a pack of truth-challenged White House hopefuls is unambiguous evidence that our democracy is not functioning properly. A dysfunctional democracy is, of course, exactly what Fox News wants, for the obvious reason that it makes controlling the masses of cognitively stunted voters much easier. But then Trump rolled in from left field with his billions of dollars and charismatic authoritarianism and quickly filled the vacuum of ignorance, fear and gullibility that Fox News and its media cohorts had diligently carved out for the past seven years." Phil Torres

Sunday, March 6, 2016

When Batman Battled King Kong

From Batman 75, 1953: Original script by David Vern; art by Lew Sayre Schwartz and Charles Paris
Batman has a history of tackling challenges outside his weight class that long predates the Batman vs. Superman movie.
For example, how about King Kong vs. Batman? What kid could resist that? Few, as it turns out, either in 1953’s Batman Comics 75 (The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City) or in 1962’s third Batman Annual, where the story was reprinted (and slightly censored to accommodate the Silver Age Comics Code).
Why was the Masked Manhunter fated to fight a giant ape in 1953? I’m going to suggest it was because in 1952, RKO had re-released their 1933 hit film King Kong. Advertised on TV, the movie became a tremendous smash again, generating more box office receipts than the original 1933 release had. Cinema owners named it Picture of the Year.
Okay, but exactly how do you pit an acrobatic detective against a titanic simian, story-wise? By putting a human criminal’s brain into the ape. 
Executed for murder, George Dyke has his brain transplanted into a giant ape’s body, then goes on a rampage of larceny with his super strength, intending to lure Batman out and steal his body in turn.
Seems a villain more suitable to Superman, but it would be years before the Man of Tomorrow tackled his own giant ape foe, Titano, in 1959’s Superman Comics 127. By that time, Batman would be up to his cowled neck in giant monsters and bizarre aliens.
The Gorilla Boss was the first of many giant monsters subdued  by Batman

2016: The Year the Pseudo-People Took Over

Neal Gabler writes about why and how the corporate news media has turned politics into professional wrestling:  “The far more grievous crime is what the media have been doing to our politics for decades now – something for which Trump just happens to be the chief beneficiary.
“Nearly 60 years ago, the historian Daniel Boorstin in his seminal book ‘The Image’ described a society in which things were increasingly staged expressly for the media without any intrinsic merit of their own – things like photo ops, press conferences, award ceremonies. He labeled these ‘pseudo-events’ because they only looked like real events, while being hollow inside. And Boorstin defined pseudo-people too – people whose activities, as he put it, had no intrinsic value either. He called them ‘celebrities,’ and he defined them as people who were known for being well known.
“Politics would seem a far cry from the pseudo, if only because it determines real things with real effects, namely how our country is governed. But almost from the time Boorstin was writing, the media had been growing increasingly bored with traditional politics. The media, after all, were in the business of getting an audience, not educating it, which is why campaigns began to assume the contours of movies, and why personalities began to overshadow policies. Still, campaigns retained some grain, however small, of seriousness. Issues were debated. Party ideologies were contrasted. Qualities of leadership were dissected.
“Until 2016. If the media were spoiling for a pseudo-campaign, they finally got their wish this year at the point where all the usual trimmings and frivolities of a campaign moved to the center, and the center disappeared. Another way to think about it is that a pseudo-campaign is all about itself and not about the presidency. Just look at the horse race aspect, which has long consumed 95 percent of our election coverage. Trump is the horse-race candidate, expatiating on little else besides his lead in the race. But let’s be clear: Donald Trump did not create this situation. He is its heir, and simply the most gifted practitioner of the pseudo-campaign.”
The prescient playwright Paddy Chayefsky anticipated it decades go in his 1976 film ‘Network.” His deranged anchorman Howard Beale laughs and says: “But, man, you're never going to get any truth from us. We’ll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell. We'll tell you that, uh, Kojak always gets the killer, or that nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker’s house, and no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don’t worry, just look at your watch; at the end of the hour he's going to win.
“We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear. We deal in *illusions*, man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds... We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even *think* like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! *WE* are the illusion!”

The First Time I Saw the X-Men

Stan Lee wanted to call Marvel’s next new superhero team The Mutants, but publisher Martin Goodman objected that kids wouldn’t know what that meant.
So it became The Uncanny X-Men — “X” being a spooky kind of a letter that suggests mystery (and for once, I agree with Goodman).
I bought my copy of the first issue off the newsstand in 1964, along with Avengers No. 1. (the more exciting choice, because it was a team composed of five characters I already knew and loved).
The X-Men seemed to combine the teenaged appeal of Spider-Man with the bickering bombast of the Fantastic Four, featuring an icy teen instead of a fiery teen and a Beast instead of a Thing. I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to see that the Beast’s power was super-agility rather than the Thing’s and the Hulk’s super-strength.
The team’s central protagonist was clearly Cyclops, the brooding romantic underdog whose overwhelmingly powerful eye beams were also an impairment that alienated him from the world.
I should say “further alienated him,” because the concept of humanity’s distrust of the mutant heroes was built into the concept from the first.
The X-Men have a sui generis explanation for their super powers — mutation. They don't need radioactive spiders or exploding planets. They can easily exist in their own self-contained universe (although, like all the other Marvel superheroes, they didn’t).
It’s no coincidence that the first successful superhero team in the movies would be the X-Men, because the explanation for their powers has that appealing dramatic simplicity. It’s harder for audiences to accept a dozen different excuses for the characters’ super powers (the Avengers got that problem out of the way by spring-boarding from separate origin movies that established the characters).
Even the villain in that first issue would become a major Marvel icon. The title itself fared well under Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, then faltered in other hands.  
A 1970s revamp and revival would propel it permanently into the stratosphere, helped along by a popular character who would anticipate the dark turn to come in comics. The superheroes were going to grow claws.

Friday, March 4, 2016

And now for the 647th Republican Debate!

The Strange Moments of Judi Dench

Actress Judi Dench in 'Philomena'
Judi Dench had a strange moment in West Africa in the early 1960s.
“During the tour, we went to lunch with a man from the British Council, and in the middle of the lunch I suddenly had a premonition that was so strong I asked if I could phone home to England, in a total stranger’s home,” she recalled in her memoir And Furthermore. “I rang home, and Daddy had just had his second heart attack. He had recovered from the first one in 1954, but this one was much more serious, and somehow I sensed it from thousands of miles away.”
Later, back in England in rehearsal at the Oxford Playhouse, she had a second premonition.
“I had set off from my flat in Regent’s Park Terrace when I suddenly had the strongest feeling that I should go back and ring Daddy. I talked to him and Mummy for about 20 minutes, and then I set off again for the rehearsal, and now I was quite late, just after midday, when usually I am one of the first to arrive. Daddy died later that day, just after midday. I didn’t know he was going to die, it was the same as in West Africa, I just knew I had to talk to him.”
Oddly enough, in West Africa Dench had been playing a witch (in addition to Lady Macbeth). In Oxford, she had been playing the Queen of Fairy in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist.