One of the latest tempests in a teapot from the Internet is Kristi Capel’s use of the word “jigaboo” last week.
In case you haven’t seen the clip, Cleveland WJW Channel 8 morning anchor Capel went off script on Feb. 23 to comment about singer Lady Gaga’s performance on the Oscars the night before. Fishing for a way to describe the loud music that accompanied Gaga’s performance of “The Sound of Music,” Capel came up with “jigaboo,” as in, “It’s really hard to hear (Lady Gaga’s) voice with all the jigaboo music.” She then repeated the word.
“Jigaboo,” of course, is an offensive term for a black person. Capel’s utterance of it set off a powder keg of commentary online, and it wasn’t long before the term was trending on Twitter. Among many calls for her termination, some commentators took the opportunity to implicate all Fox commentators as racist, which is, of course, ridiculous.
Capel apologized both on air and on Twitter (she was also suspended for three days), but her mea culpa signaled another round of controversy. “I apologize if I offended you, I had no idea it was a word or what it meant. Thank you for watching,” she tweeted.
The firestorm now centered on whether a TV news anchor would use a word that she couldn’t define; and, if so, what it said about her professionalism and judgment. It appeared ludicrous that an adult woman could not be aware of the word and its implications. Where had she grown up?
I was among those people who thought there was no way Capel could have reached adulthood without coming into contact with the word’s negative connotation. But then I read an OpEd piece on NBCnews.com by Jason Johnson, a political science professor at Hiram College, who argued that as a boy he had used the word “goomba” in front of his father to describe mushroom-shaped video game characters in “Super Mario Brothers.”
To Johnson’s father, the word “goomba” was a derogatory term for Italian-Americans. While Johnson doesn’t say if his father explicitly schooled him about its meaning, he writes that “I knew better than to use the word ‘goomba’ again, and I was only 8 years old.” Somehow, Johnson then equates this with Capel’s ignorance about “jigaboo” as an adult, concluding: “If I could figure out how to play Super Mario Brothers without using racial slurs at 8 years old, there’s no reason a grown woman with a journalism degree can’t find a way to talk about Lady Gaga without sounding racist.”
At the risk of sounding ignorant, let me say that as a 46-year-old man, I had no idea that “goomba” was derogatory toward any one group. I have always used the word as a substitute for a large, hulking, not-too-bright person, the kind of heavy who might show up in an old Warner Bros. gangster movie. I can’t swear to it, but I’ve probably even used the word in that context a few times throughout my life.
But if I were to abide by the “rules” of journalism as dictated by any number of Internet wags, I should never use a word unless I know its definition. This sent me to Merriam-Webster, and its entry on goombah (spelled there with an “h”): “1: a close friend or associate — used especially among Italian-American men; 2: a member of a secret chiefly Italian-American crime organization: mafioso; broadly: gangster; and 3: a macho Italian-American man.”
Nowhere do I see a note that the term is offensive to Italian-Americans (although the gangster implication is none too flattering). On the contrary, the first definition is downright positive. It’s only in less authoritative realms — Wikipedia and other sites — that “goombah” is listed as an insult. Obviously, any negative connotations weren’t so widely known that they kept game designers from hanging the word on “Super Mario Brothers” characters.
Of course, no positive entry accompanies “jigaboo” in Merriam-Webster’s, or any other dictionary. The term is unconscionable, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that even a college-educated person might never have come into contact with it. Or even if she had, not in a prohibitive context.
The only difference between Johnson’s story and Capel’s is that his vocabulary misfire happened when he was young, in the privacy of his home, with only his father to witness it. Capel’s happened when she was an adult, on the air, in full view of a public that too often punishes weakness or ignorance the way residents of old Salem punished witches.
Let he — or she — who has never used a word without full knowledge of all its meanings and implications cast the first stone.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published in The Alliance Review on March 5, 2015.
And the Triumph in Marketing Award goes to Dollar Shave Club, which has somehow convinced thousands of men that buying razors in the store is too inconvenient.
I’ve heard the advertisements on the radio and scrolled through the cheeky (pun intended) website. But neither convinces me that going into the local Walgreens for a pack of razors is such an imposition on my time that having an organization mail fresh blades to my door is like manna from heaven.
“It’s all about the cost of the razors,” chirped a Twitter follower when I posted about the silliness of the club on social media earlier this week. “I haven’t done it, but if I were to shave every day, I would.”
Yet my extensive research, which consists of five minutes on the Dollar Shave website while stuffing my face with a bagel, indicates that even less-hirsute men can join. The club will ship razors every other month in that case, although these half-pint members risk going on the “sissy shavers” marketing list.
(No offense intended to baby-faced men. The Roman empire fell in less time than it takes me to grow a beard.)
I could have spared all the research and saved the newspaper a bundle in expenses (the cost of all those bagels adds up), as my last paragraph was confirmed by a Facebook follower, who also informed me that not only are the blades inexpensive, but high quality.
“Additionally, the cream-formed shaving lotion is the best shave cream I have ever used,” he wrote. “I swear, you could shave a tree’s bark down to smooth as marble. Plus, you get a little cartoon flyer.”
A marble shave and cartoons? Hmmm.
I must admit that I have an intense hatred of all things shaving-related. Since I shave both my head and face, I spend an inordinate amount of time with sharp objects, in direct violation of psychiatric warnings. No matter how sharp the blade and how foamy the gel (enough to make me look like the bastard offspring of both Frosty and Santa), I always end up as bloody as an ex-Gitmo inmate.
When people can’t tell if you’ve just shaved or survived a hunting trip with Dick Cheney, you know your skill with a razor is suspect.
It seems to me that if an organization really wanted to create a service that men would subscribe to, a better choice might be the Feminine Hygiene Products Club for Men. How many men have been put into that awkward situation, compounded by the difficulty in locating the box that is just the right size, shape, and product count?
Every man’s nightmare is to be given a shopping list that includes bread, milk, yogurt, aspirin and THAT PRODUCT. On my few forays into the Aisle That Shall Not Be Named, I learned to affect a certain nonchalance, as if I’m using it merely as a shortcut between the bakery and deli. My head never moves, but my peripheral vision is darting, scanning, looking for the 32-count box with the pearls. Brand name or store brand? Mini, regular or maxi? Jumpin’ Jehosaphat, it’s worse than choosing from the 103 varieties of spaghetti sauce because at least there you can stop to read the labels.
Inevitably, at the end of the aisle, once you’ve done a very poor job of hiding THAT PRODUCT beneath a half-gallon of ice cream and a box of Oreos, you’ll run into your boss, the lunkhead from the gym who can bench-press a small elephant, or your mother-in-law, all of whom are going to stare directly in the cart and then into your eyes before guffawing loudly.
So where is the Dollar Avoid-a-Close-Shave Club for such socially awkward situations? For that, most men wouldn’t care if they paid less. As a matter of fact, I bet most would gratefully fork over a premium.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Feb. 5, 2015, in The Alliance Review.
A friend asked on Facebook recently if it’s still OK to enjoy Bill Cosby’s albums.
It’s a fair question. While no charges have been filed against the comedian, the accusations by a steadily growing number of women are hard to put aside when watching or listening to his work.
One of Cosby’s bits, “Spanish Fly,” from 1969, is eerily prescient in light of the current scandal. In the routine, from the album “It’s True! It’s True!,” the future Jell-O pitchman and all-American paternal icon relates his experiences trying to secure doses of the legendary aphrodisiac. After all, every neighborhood has its Crazy Mary, a woman who will do just about anything once her drink has been spiked.
Cosby imagines seeing five girls standing alone at a party. “Boy, if I had a whole jug of Spanish fly I’d light that corner up over there,” he muses to shrieks of laughter from his live audience.
What was a fairly innocuous routine by 1960s standards, albeit one reflecting society’s callous disregard for and objectification of women, takes on a more sinister meaning in 2014, when some 15 women have basically accused Cosby of doing exactly what he joked about decades earlier.
Some venues have canceled Cosby’s live shows, NBC and Netflix have dropped deals with him, and the chances that he’ll ever spell “J-E-L-L-O” for money again is about as likely as Republicans embracing President Obama’s immigration reforms.
I pondered this relationship between an artist’s personal life and work a few weeks back while watching “Chinatown” (1974), almost universally regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. Its director, Roman Polanski, fled overseas after he was arrested for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Since then, he has continued to helm highly acclaimed films and won an Oscar for best director, without ever paying his debt to society. Can audiences still appreciate his movies?
Then there is Phil Spector, famed music producer responsible for a bevy of Top 40 hits and a distinctive Wall of Sound style that reverberated across pop music. Yet he’s also serving a sentence in California State Prison for the second-degree murder of his wife. Does this mean that we can never again enjoy “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes or “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers?
Polanski and Spector are different from Cosby in that they work behind the scenes. Putting out of mind the director, producer or writer of a piece is easier than forgetting its star. This is what makes it harder for some people to watch, say, Mel Gibson, whose anti-semitic vitriol — horrendous as it is — is less egregious than rape or murder but nonetheless has poisoned his career. With an effort of will, I can forget Gibson’s rants while I watch him in “Braveheart” or “Signs,” but only after an initial jolt of remembrance.
Still, this isn’t quite the same as Cosby. Gibson plays characters who obviously aren’t him, speaking lines written by others. Cosby, even when he is playing Dr. Cliff Huxtable, is really playing an extension of himself — or of his stand-up persona. In a situation where the artist truly is his work, it can be harder to reconcile this friendly, outgoing guy with the kind of person who could repeatedly — and allegedly, remember — take advantage of his reputation and position to rape women.
Absent any definitive proof that would stand up in court, fans will always have to deal with doubt when it comes to Cosby. Laughing through such uncertainty is a personal decision, neither right or wrong.
One thing’s for sure, however: The “Spanish Fly” piece isn’t funny any longer. We might question why it ever was.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Dec. 4, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
About three and a half minutes into an interview with Zach Galifianakis, President Obama tips his hand and mentions “healthcare-dot-gov.”
“Here we go,” sighs Galifianakis. “Let’s get this out of the way. What did you come here to plug?”
It’s not the way an interviewer should address the president, but this is no normal interview. Instead, it’s an example of something we see far too little of in politics and the media these days: humor.
The latest episode of Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns,” posted last week, features a spirited give-and-take between the comedian/actor and the leader of the free world. Its humor depends on how much the viewer likes Galifianakis and/or Obama.
I can take him or leave him. Galifianakis, that is. Apparently, a lot of people feel the same way about Obama, judging from his dismal 41 percent approval rating.
The interview is funny. The duo does indeed sit between the two titular ferns, verbally fencing over vital national issues, such as Obama’s basketball skills and whether he will build his presidential library in Hawaii or in what Galifianakis calls his “home country of Kenya.” (This last exchange likely had “birthers” foaming at the mouth — “At last, somebody asks the hard questions!”)
It also gives Obama a chance to sell the Affordable Care Act to those healthy young Americans on whose shoulders his law will prosper or wither. Some critics might see this as an indication of desperation — really, the president had to go on an Internet talk show, the digital equivalent of a community-access cable program, to plug his federal health care law?
But there’s a method in Obama’s madness. By Sunday, the segment had been viewed 17 million times, and a direct link to healthcare.gov lurks right below the clip on the Funny or Die website. That’s a lot of eyeballs for a six-and-a-half-minute interview. If even a few of those viewers, many of whom might never sit still for a more serious presidential interview on “60 Minutes,” click over to the government site to learn more before the March 31 deadline, maybe it was worth sparring over diabetic shoes.
In a kinda-sorta-related pop-culture occurrence, comedians Keegan-Michael Lee and Jordan Peele, better known as Key & Peele, scored the front cover of this week’s Time magazine. The annual “Ideas Issue” finds the two men waxing almost eloquent on the topic of humor and the importance of making fun of everything.
“When a humorist makes the conscious decision to exclude a group from derision, isn’t he or she implying that the members of that group are not capable of self-reflection?” they write. “… A group that’s excluded never gets the opportunity to join in the greater human conversation.”
I’d like to think that includes U.S. presidents, who are roasted regularly on SNL and other late-night programs but who seldom have the chance to poke fun at themselves. Some people think such shenanigans demean the office of the president, but in a world where George Dubaya wore a codpiece on the deck of an aircraft carrier in 2003 or gave the German chancellor a creepy back massage in 2006, we doubt that a little ribbing about drones with Galifianakis will do any damage.
If the executive office — and the nation — survived 12 years with two Bushes, it certainly can withstand six minutes amid two ferns.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published March 21, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
Media 20 Feb 2014 11:39 pm
Bode Miller’s impressive bronze showing Sunday in the men’s super-G was overshadowed by the interview with him afterward.
The race was a historic one for the 36-year-old skier, who became the oldest Alpine medalist in the history of the Olympics. But NBC’s Christin Cooper didn’t focus on that in her interview with Miller. Instead, she wanted to know how his run was impacted by the loss of his brother, Chelone (Chelly), who died in 2013.
Following up on Miller’s first answer, that the race was emotional, Cooper pushed with subsequent questions, each one causing the skier to lose more composure. Finally, with NBC’s cameras in a close-up on his face, he had the emotional breakdown that the reporter and presumably the network were looking for — bent down, overcome with tears. Cooper even put her hand on Miller’s shoulder to demonstrate her compassion.
It was shameless exploitation of the moment, designed to create must-see TV.
It’s hard to blame Cooper for the entirety of the interview, as she may have had a producer in her earpiece, pushing her to proceed. She is also not an experienced reporter, but a former skier and Olympic medalist herself.
When assigning blame, remember this: Most audience members did not watch the competition live, but instead saw it during prime time Sunday. NBC executives had most of the day to determine how to edit and present the interview. They led into the men’s super-G with a story about Miller and his wife that emphasized Chelone’s death and the emotional impact it had on the family. They also put a microphone on Miller’s wife during the competition.
Clearly, NBC was not just covering a story, but partially creating and entirely packaging it. Similar to what is done with reality TV, all elements were designed to create maximum emotional impact on the audience.
If it were otherwise, Cooper would have interviewed the gold-medal winner, Kjetil Jansrud. But perhaps his story was not as compelling as Miller’s. It’s not so hard to imagine NBC executives cursing him for having the gall to win, thus robbing them of another avenue to wring more pathos from Miller’s saga.
Following the storm of criticism after the interview, Miller defended Cooper, basically saying that the reporter was just doing her job. It was a nice touch, and certainly more consideration than NBC gave him. Nobody would have blamed Miller for stopping the initial interview three questions earlier than he did, let alone for not coming to the defense of his tormentor.
Reporters sometimes have to ask tough questions. That’s required and expected. When these questions lead to spontaneous expressions of emotion, the moments are real and revelatory. Even when reporters stick microphones in the faces of people who have just suffered indescribable tragedies and ask that most insipid of questions — “How do you feel?” — the faux pas is somewhat excusable because, really, it’s the only question that can be asked.
But reporters can’t force such moments, and Cooper certainly had many other questions worth asking a six-time medal winner. When she kept prodding and prodding, and NBC’s cameras kept moving closer and closer, like vultures circling their prey, the real agenda was revealed.
This wasn’t reporting, it was ratings.
@cschillig on Twitter
If you’re a kid who’s ever been told that texting will rot your brain or pop music is immoral or video games are turning you into a zombie, you need to read “Bad for You.”
If you’re a parent, teacher, minister or some other well-meaning adult who’s ever told kids that texting will rot their brains or pop music is immoral or video games are turning them into zombies, you need to read “Bad for You.”
Subtitled “Exposing the War on Fun,” the book, by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham, looks at popular fads and new technologies throughout history and exposes some depressing similarities in the way some people respond.
For instance, the book quotes one sarcastic critic as saying that, as a result of a popular new form of entertainment, “There is now very little danger that Americans will resort to the vice of thinking.” Is he referring to heavy metal music? Xbox One? The Flappy Bird app? None of the above. Writing in the 1920s, he was expressing concerns over radio and, separately, “incredibly frightful” jazz music.
One by one, Pyle and Cunningham examine hiccups in the social psyche down through the centuries, including printing presses (a pundit in 1494 noted that paper was less permanent than parchment), telephones (which allow children talk to undesirables against their parents’ wishes), Elvis Presley (derided as “deplorable” by that paragon of virtue, Frank Sinatra), Dungeons and Dragons (believed to cause an increased risk of suicide), and Harry Potter books (feared by some to promote witchcraft).
Text-messaging is examined in depth. As a teacher who believed that goofy abbreviations and jargon used in “text speak” would somehow worm their way into students’ more formal writing, I was abashed to learn how wrong I was. According to some researchers, kids who use “textisms” often have a better understanding of spelling and grammar — and larger vocabularies, to boot.
Rather than being corrupted by “IMHO” and “ICYMI” (google ‘em), kids can easily “code switch” between different registers of language — in this case, between informal text messages and more formal school essays.
To which I can only say: OMG.
But it’s not until the end of the book that Pyle and Cunningham really win me over. In a chapter called “Bad for You: Thinking,” they examine American schools. The section covers the history of education in the U.S. and how schools were influenced by the efficiency movement or “factory model” popular during the Industrial Revolution.
One result of this model is the discovery that workers are more productive with periodic breaks, which led to the idea of recess in public schools. Today, however, recess is under fire as a waste of time, eliminated or reduced in 40 percent of American schools to allow children more time to prepare for standardized tests.
Also cut in favor of standardized-test prep is access to the arts, history, and music.
Standardized testing, which measures convergent thinking (the ability to select one correct answer), is practically a relic in today’s high-tech world. What is needed, experts argue, is more emphasis on divergent thinking (the ability to find more than one answer or solution to a problem), something that can be aided by the very activities being trimmed from the school day — including recess.
“Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun” is written for kids but can be just as rewarding for adults. A word of warning: It’s laid out like a comic book, another form of fun that has come under fire in the past. In the first chapter, the authors look at the hysteria over comic books in the 1940s and ’50s, when a U.S. Senate subcommittee was convened to study their insidious effects and comics were burned by concerned parents.
As a comics-obsessed kid in grade school, I can remember teachers who wrinkled their noses at my preferred choice of literature, immune to my belief, even then, that comics were teaching me more vocabulary and reading skills than anything in their classrooms.
I don’t remember if my teachers ever told me that comics were rotting my brain, immoral, or turning me into a zombie. If they did, I wish that Pyle and Cunningham’s “Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!” had been around to set them straight.
Chris Schillig, who is still a self-diagnosed comic-book addict, can be reached at
chris.schillig@yahoo or @cschillig on Twitter.
Originally published Feb. 13, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
All language is metaphorical, and the language of love is no exception.
Red and pink, especially in February, make most of us think of love. Those two colors dominate Valentine’s Day cards, candy boxes and other items designed to separate us from our money. But why?
Red is the color of the heart, I suppose, and the heart is the organ most closely associated with love. Well, it’s the organ most closely associated with love that can be named in a family newspaper, anyway.
But red is also the color of blood, and blood isn’t all that romantic unless you have a vampire fetish. Which is far more common than you might think, if the Internet is to believed. (And who doesn’t believe the Internet?)
But, Chris, you say, red is also the color of roses, and what is more romantic — or expensive — than a dozen of those crimson beauties, their petals open like an inviting pair of ruby lips?
This brings me to my point. Well, to one of my points, anyway. What is so inherently romantic about a rose? Who was it who decided that this particular flower was joined so intimately with our belief in love?
Scottish poet Robert Burns — “Bobby” to his friends — famously wrote, “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose/That’s newly sprung in June,” but the rose/love connection goes back much farther than the 18th century. It stretches all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who equated the flower with the goddess of love.
But roses have thorns, and thorns cut and scratch and poke. Roses also die. Now, depending on your significant other, maybe your love cuts and scratches and pokes, too. And if your relationships aren’t all that stable (or if they cut and scratch and poke too much), some of them likely die. Not literally, of course, unless you’re a graduate of the Hannibal Lecter School of Lovemaking.
Still, a beautiful, sharp object with a limited shelf life doesn’t sound all that romantic to me, so I’m introducing a new metaphor for love.
From now on, my love is like a mossy rock.
Think about it. A rock is strong and stable. Rocks are found in all climates and cultures; so, like love, they’re universal.
Moss is a living thing, far more hardy than a rose, so it better represents a stable relationship. It is green, representing life. Moss also grows on a rock, the way two partners grow on one another. After all, the nail biting or nose picking that seems so weird in the early days of a relationship becomes rather endearing in later years.
So this year, I’m bypassing the expensive roses and candies and cards to give my wife a gift straight from the heart — a new metaphor for love created especially for her. That’s right, she’s getting a mossy rock.
If you want to beat my time and give a similar gift, borrowing my explanation the way Christian stole the words of Cyrano de Bergerac to woo the beautiful Roxane, go ahead. You’d be smart to do it this year, though. By next Valentine’s Day, I expect the cost of rocks and moss to triple because of the demand. I’m nothing if not a believer in capitalism.
However, in these early days of the rose/rock transition, don’t be surprised if your special someone is less than thrilled to receive a stone in lieu of flowers. It took millennia for the rose to win its place in our hearts, so I expect it might take, oh, two or three years for my more-fitting metaphor to replace it.
In the meantime, though, expect that your love might take your gift of a rock for granite … er, granted.
Ouch. Love hurts.
cschillig on Twitter
Based on the media explosion last Thursday, I knew one of two things had happened: either the world ended or the Browns hired a new head coach.
Thankfully for the world — and for ratings of Cleveland-area TV stations — it was the latter. The only reason I checked the newsbreak at all was to see if Browns management had decided to hire my wife.
A few days before, she’d thrown her hat into the ring by announcing she could probably be as effective a head coach for the franchise as anybody else. I don’t know if that’s technically true, but it feels right.
This is the point at which I have to admit how woefully ignorant I am of all aspects of football. I don’t know how many players belong on the field, the names of positions beyond quarterback, or any rules for scoring.
About all I comprehend is that it’s a game where people behave counter to their instincts. In the real world, when big, burly men descend upon you with an intent to tackle, hurt and maim, you sprint the other way. In football, you run toward the danger.
I played football once at recess when I was around 10. Somebody threw me the ball, yelled “Run!” and I did — in the opposite direction. I was never asked to play again.
I’ve probably watched fewer than a dozen games of professional football in my life, and those only when I am sandwiched between well-meaning relatives on musty basement sofas who assume, as many people do, that everybody born with a Y chromosome must automatically love the sport.
Even the Super Bowl I watch with only one eye, and not because I lost the other one in a horrifying childhood Three Stooges imitation, either. I basically don’t care, halftime wardrobe malfunctions notwithstanding. Is watching the Super Bowl for the commercials the same as reading Playboy for the articles?
These days, my indifference toward the sport is augmented by the squeamish knowledge of how repeated head trauma affects many players later in life. Where are the millions of screaming fans when a former player struggles to remember his grandchildren’s names, is led to the bathroom by a devoted spouse, or dies decades too early? Even passionate football fans may feel a little like Romans, cheering while Christians are fed to lions.
Incidentally, I don’t begrudge anybody a hobby or a passion. I have enough of them myself. But I don’t automatically assume that others share it. I’ve never forced somebody to read a Batman comic book and then rolled my eyes and questioned their sanity when they didn’t like it. But something similar to that happens whenever I admit I don’t follow football.
That said, I have no idea who the former Browns coach was or who the new coach is. I saw some soundbites of the newbie saying all the usual things: So glad to be part of this tradition … building on what’s come before … looking forward to the season … yadda yadda yadda.
He sounds like a nice guy. I imagine he’s slightly more qualified than my wife, at least on paper. Still, she has some innovative ideas, like modifying the uniforms to orange, brown and pink; using the eeny, meeny, miny, moe method to decide who plays what position; and changing Super Bowl rings for each team member (the woman aims high) to Pandora charms.
I don’t know, frankly, if the new guy can measure up to such out-of-the-box thinking. The good news is that she’ll have another chance next year, when odds are that management will lower the axe again and a new round of interviews will begin.
Maybe by then, fans will be ready for players in fuschia helmets. If that happens, we’ll know the world really has ended.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Jan. 30, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
Did you know there was once a fourth Rice Krispies elf?
His name was Pow! (exclamation point mandatory) and he joined Snap! Crackle! and Pop! for two television commercials in the 1950s. In a recent article for Smithsonian.com, a Kellogg’s spokesman explains to writer K. Annabelle Smith that Pow! was never intended to be an ongoing character, but rather a guest-elf of sorts.
This minor deity in the animated pitchmen pantheon got me thinking about other erased or marginal characters in long-running concerns, whether they were TV shows or comic books or commercials.
Does anybody remember:
Castor Oyl — brother to Olive, the string-beaned girlfriend of Popeye the Sailor. When most of us think of Popeye, we imagine the classic cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s. But Popeye made his first appearance in the “Thimble Theatre” comic strip in 1929, after the strip had been in existence for 10 years with Castor as the main character.
These days, Castor is a pop-culture relic, although he did have a role in the “Popeye” movie starring Robin Williams and, more recently, appeared in new Popeye comic book adventures. Yet I doubt most people could identify him today. (Visit my blog, http://blogs.dixcdn.com/leftofcybercenter/ for a visual.)
John Doggett and Monica Reyes — These two characters replaced FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) on seasons eight and nine of “The X-Files,” also known as “X-Files: The Seasons Nobody Talks About.” Played by Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish, respectively, Doggett and Reyes faded into obscurity when Duchovny and Anderson returned for the series’ swan song and two successful films. Patrick’s biggest claim to cinematic fame remains his portrayal of the T-1000 Terminator that bedeviled Ah-nold in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
Mycroft Holmes — the older, smarter, fatter and lazier brother of Sherlock Holmes. Writer Arthur Conan Doyle used or mentioned him only a handful of times in four novels and 56 short stories about the famous detective. He is said to exert great influence over decisions of state, but otherwise just sits around the Diogenes Club, smoking and eating. There are worse ways to live, I suppose.
Chuck Cunningham — Ritchie’s older brother on “Happy Days.” At some point in the second season, he was written out of the series, never to return, and the Cunninghams went from having three kids to only two. His disappearance has even inspired a term, “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome,” used for any characters unceremoniously erased from continuity.
Uncle O’Grimacey — In the world of McDonald’s advertising, O’Grimacey is the uncle of Grimace, the purple, milkshake-loving companion of Ronald. Unlike his nephew, O’Grimacey is green, befitting his role as head huckster for Shamrock Shakes. He last appeared in the mid-1980s and has presumably retired to a small cottage in Ireland.
An Internet search for “McDonald’s characters” will reveal dozens of oddities, such as the Griddler, Iam Hungry and CosMc, an alien who spoke in surfer lingo. I believe all the McDonald’s characters, with the exception of the head clown, have been quietly phased out, relics of a more innocent time when it was acceptable to use cartoon characters to coax children to eat fattening, processed foods.
Word has it the McDonaldland gang rode off into the sunset on the back of Joe Camel, guided by the Budweiser frogs.
Let’s hope they all say hello to Pop!, Chuck, Castor and all the other retirees in the Forgotten Hallows Retirement Center out in Obscuria, Oregon.
Send any other obscure
pop-culture characters to
firstname.lastname@example.org or @cschillig on Twitter.
Originally published Jan. 23, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
It’s slightly out of date after today’s reinstatement of Phil Robertson, but here’s my column for the week.
So, a big, furry guy from “Duck Dynasty” made some controversial comments and got himself suspended from his TV show, and now people are taking sides.
I have never seen an episode of “Duck Dynasty.” Until about a month ago, I had no idea it was even a live-action TV show. When people talked about it, I assumed they were referring to a Disney cartoon with Uncle Scrooge, Donald and his three nephews.
My consciousness was raised (or lowered) one day when I was walking through Walmart and saw the bearded Ducks, all of whom look like refugees from a Grateful Dead concert, staring out at me from a rack of T-shirts.
Further enlightenment came when one of my adult students showed me a copy of the “Duck Dynasty” Christmas CD. I haven’t heard it, but I imagine it’s on par with the offerings of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, both of whom traded on their success in a television franchise of an earlier decade to record albums that range from pedestrian to horrific.
All of which means that I wasn’t really too impacted one way or another when Phil Robertson (I had to look up his name), the leader of the Duck flock, expressed his disapproval of homosexuality and his belief that blacks were happy in the Jim Crow south. Nor was I too surprised when A&E, the network that airs the show, suspended him indefinitely. Now his family is saying the show can’t go on without him, which means that a program I’ve never watched, starring people that I don’t care one whit about, may end.
I repeat: Yawn.
Some people are saying that Robertson’s freedom of speech has been impinged, which is, of course, hogwash. He wasn’t censored by the government. Nobody told him he couldn’t speak his mind. His network merely chose not to associate itself with his opinions and severed the relationship, either temporarily or permanently. Freedom of speech does not equate with freedom from consequences.
The cynic in me wonders if this whole incident isn’t playing out in a predetermined way to benefit both A&E and Robertson. After all, you couldn’t buy the publicity both sides received over the last week or so. Given the manipulative formula of reality TV, where episodes are edited to magnify conflict and create heroes and villains, is it such a stretch to ponder how much of this “controversy” is scripted?
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Robertson apologizes, not for his comments (which appeal to a conservative demographic and are, therefore, valuable) but for the strident and blunt way he presented them; and then if A&E reinstates him, along with some tepid mea culpa of its own. When the show returns, even more viewers will tune in to see what Robertson says next. If it’s a ploy, it’s a brilliant one.
(I’m writing this on Saturday, so if all this comes to pass before my column sees print, I’m quitting my day job and going to work for the Psychic Hotline.)
Really, though, why do so many Americans care so much what celebrities think? Just because somebody’s job involves having a camera pointed at them for a significant amount of time each week doesn’t make his opinions more informed and important than the nation’s working class stiffs.
What Robertson has to say about gays, blacks and religion is merely one person’s opinion. He’s entitled to it, of course, just as others are entitled to share their views. It’s a free country, after all.
Now when Donald Duck or Scrooge McDuck speak up about gay rights or racial equality, I’ll pay more attention. That’s the only duck dynasty that interests me.
Originally published Dec. 26, 2013, in The Alliance Review.