Taking the ‘Action’ Out of Action Figures

Pop Matters.  I could read them for days, but then I’d be out of a job…unless they’d hire me.

I thought this was a great piece on the dearth of female action figures out there.   I’m not going to pretend that when I was growing up, there were a ton of female action figures.  Amid the GI Joes, Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, Thundercats and TMNT, there was probably one female in each.  Then you’ve got your Wonder Woman, Bat Girl, etc., etc.  I’d possibly throw Jem and her crew into that category, too.  Who am I missing?

While you look through the old toy collection in your mom’s attic, I’ll talk about the one issue I have with this piece.  It doesn’t really cover how kids 30 years ago viewed action figures and played with them.  I don’t have kids (yet) so I have nothing but my feeling and sense and my own personal interactions with action figures to draw on, but my argument is this: my peers and I saw action figures not as individual figures or representations of themselves (e.g., I’m Leondardo; I’m Han Solo), but as a collected representation of another reality.  And you needed the whole set of players – women and all – to fully realize and be able to recreate that reality at home.  If you need proof, look back at the commercials for these action figures.  GI Joe commercials included a really cool ‘battle ground’ (really:  Jimmy’s backyard), with gravelly hills that GI Joe jeeps could storm, and lakes that broke the fall of the bad guy when Joe torpedoed an enemy jet.  Then, the voic051e-over:  something to the effect of “Collect all 8” or “Get the whole set.”  Mattel and others promoted the WHOLE action figure ‘gestalt’ – ladies and all — which is something they don’t do today.

Chicken and egg argument – did they stop because they saw kids gravitating to one character with which to more strongly identify?  Or did they decide which characters they wanted to put more promotional dollars behind, thus narrowing kids’ choices?

I’ll be honest. I haven’t thought about action figures in years.  I don’t think the gender dearth is necessarily an oversight — or an outright slam.  I just think the way kids think about play has changed.  So has the way they actually play.  Sadly, they no longer get on the rug, open up Castle Grayskull or the Millennium Falcon, drink a Hi-C Ecto-Cooler, and just lose themselves in make-believe.

Now, I’m going to call my mom to see whether she still has my Star Wars action figures…

No “Sarding” in Shakespeare*

Please forgive any typos in this post. My eyeballs fell out of my head when I saw this story about whether to sanitize the anti-Semitism, racism and sexism in Shakespeare’s play and I’m still feeling around for them on the floor.

What’s next? Censoring the Bible? Pretty sure that’s got it all – murder, rape, incest, bigamy, possibly some polygamy, prostitution, a few stonings here and there, and then there’s that pesky crucifixion. PG-13 compared to the “Wife of Bath” in Canterbury Tales – the Olde English precursor to “There once was a man from Nantucket…”

How can you even THINK about censoring great works of art? Art, people. Not porn on X-Tube. Now, we could start a whole separate thread about whether porn is art, but let’s focus while I bastardize Walter Benjamin for a minute (sorry Walt!):

Authenticity is so important in art – it’s presence in the moment in and the place at which it was created can never be duplicated or reproduced. If we believe that, then we have to believe it can never be removed without twisting or completely destroying a particular work. By censoring Shakespeare or anything else – regardless of how racist, homophobic, sexist, or otherwise offensive they may be – we’re basically erasing, recoloring and ultimately altering the direction of our collective culture. Think about it in a pop culture way: if 1950s Marty gets together with Lorraine (his 1980s mom), he destroys the entire path of his future and that of everyone he touches.

Hello McFly!

*(For those not well-versed in medieval swear words, “sard” is the precursor to the “Big F”)

Movies: Making art or making money?

I love and respect Ann Hornaday.  I’m pretty sure I’ve literally read every word she’s ever written for the Post.  And, I usually agree with her, including this latest piece in defense of cinema as art rather than spectacle, as form over content.

I think it’s sad that she had to write this at all.  But she’s 100% right.  In most cases, even the best idea, the best story, the best script is eclipsed by marketing muscle that is pegged to the lead, the special effects, the controversy.  Admittedly, it too, like filmmaking, is an art, albeit a sad one and one that dilutes everything about films that makes them powerful…not necessarily good or enjoyable, but powerful.

I’m not talking about the message here, but the medium (channeling McLuhan – who would have thought?).

Over time, the marketing push around films has completely altered our relationship with them.  I don’t think of going to the movies or watching a movie as an event or a privilege.  It’s just something you do because you’re craving buttered popcorn and soda in a cup so large that you’d have to be Shaq to get your hands around it.  Remember: people up through the 50s and 60s used to get dressed up to go ‘see a picture.’ It was an extravagant night out; a true experience that only the wealthy could afford.  Theatres were intricate, ornate and luxurious.  They had ushers that would take you to your seat for chrissakes!  Today, I’m lucky if I can unstick my shoes from the theatre floor.  And you won’t find me dressed in anything more than jeans – and not even my ‘dressy’ dark jeans!

I digress…Lumiere

Hornaday is right – we don’t know how to watch movies.  More specifically, we don’t know how to appreciate them as art for art’s sake.  Instead, we are attracted to them them because we like the star, it’s got a lot of buzz (See:  The Interview) or a critic told us to (or not to) – story, script, acting, dialogue, editing, lighting, sound be dammed!   What’s surprising to me about this article and Hornaday herself is that SHE’S surprised that this would be any different – that we would have a different relationship to films when they’re so obviously more about the box office gross and less about craft.

Oh, that we could get back there, though. I would love to experience movies – filmmaking – as a craft, not a publicity stunt.  Ann Hornaday, I’d be an excellent foot soldier if you wanted to lead the revolution.

Go with God (or don’t)

I’m a lapsed Catholic.  Baptized. Confirmed. Communion-ed.  But my attendance at Sunday mass is anything but religious.   My lovely wife was raised without religion, and if/when we have kids, we don’t plan to have them follow anything other than the Golden Rule – do unto others…

This is quite a far cry from my parents and their parents and their parents, etc., etc., who didn’t risk being non-believers and non-followers. Back then, religion was the underpinning of culture.  Woven in.  If you violated your religion, you violated the culture.  That really turned up the pressure on being both religious and being a sane, decent human being.

But at some point, being religious and being a good person got pulled apart.  As I’m sure we’ve all experienced, the former is no longer synonymous with the latter.  In fact, saying you’re religious, particularly if you’re devout, probably makes people recoil with images of daily mass, home schooling, no TV, and little girls who are permitted to wear only dresses.  People can hide behind and loudly preach a particular doctrine to appear moral, but they don’t necessarily embody or live that morality.  I think our good friends at the Westboro Baptist Church are the reigning example of this.  In essence, religion has taken on a negative connotation – right or wrong.

So where do we go from here?   Have we non-followers completely lost our moral compass?  Is our culture destined to anger the gods and become the next Pompeii? Take heart fellow recovering religo-holics,  According to this LA TImes op-ed, secularity is actually serving the next generation really well and in some cases even better than organized religion.

Keep calm and pray on if you must. If you don’t, prepare for a culture that is potentially more empathetic, accepting, rational and independent.  How ever will we survive?

You can almost smell the disappointment

In the back of my mind, I kinda sorta suspected all along that the state of American pop/rock music had sharply plateaued and, dare I say, has even taken a pretty violent tumble in some race to the bottom of awfulness and triteness.  Reading this confirmed my suspicions and made me feel just a little worse about where music is headed.

guitar

I’ll stop here to tell you that I’m a HUGE music fan.  While I don’t play any instruments (piano lessons were a nightmare.   For everyone involved), I love music – all kinds.  70’s punk rock is probably my favorite, but I will listen to Pink Floyd for days on end and I love a good Metallica speed metal ditty, too!  I truly worry about the music my kids will listen to, and I bemoan the fact that many of the artists I like – Pat Benatar, Blondie, Cyndi Lauper – will be long retired by the time they get into going to shows.  I guess the reason I love these musicians so much is because every time I listen to one of their tracks, the music still feels new to me; I discover something in the tune or the lyrics I never picked up on before, and the hook never fails to grab me like it did the first time I heard the song.    When I listen to the radio today I can’t tell the Bieber from the One Direction from that last guy who won American Idol.

Admittedly, bemoaning the state of music today is the very definition of a first world problem, and I don’t even pretend that it stacks up to really serious issues, but I am disappointed in and ashamed of the musical wasteland that lies before us.  That we don’t demand better, that we accept over and over again the same in the hopes that it will eventually sound new to tired, complacent ears means we have surrendered our music will, our cultural will. Then again, maybe the fact that music sales are down so pitifully low is us taking back the industry and dragging it down, well below rock bottom so that the musical beast can slowly slouch toward Bethlehem (or Capitol Records) to be re-born. *

 

*Bet Yeats never saw that comin’!

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall (or why the U.K.’s got it going on when it comes to crime dramas)

I just finished watching season one of The Fall.  Now, I’m not a hanger-on of the Beebs (BBC, not Justin Bieber.  God, definitely not him!) and I don’t watch a lot of British dramas (OK, except for the first two seasons of Downton Abbey and The Young Ones way back in the day).  In fact, I really didn’t like the first episode of The Fall, but I pushed through because I have a lovely and persistent wife who was determined to make it to the end of the season.

I isolated the issue that spawned my initial distaste for the show, and I think it’s the fact that The Fall doesn’t follow ‘the formula’.

U.S. FORMULA:

The Crime + Detective Work = The Criminal

The Brits approach it in a different way – and a way that, having grown up on ‘the formula’ – didn’t immediately resonate with me.

U.K. FORMULA:

The Criminal + The Crime = Detective Work

It’s much more methodical and all about the process.  It’s slow.  There is no Whodunnit.  The focus is all about HOW and WHY he did it and the individuals who are investigating the crime.  It’s a character study that we more commonly associate with a feature film than a serial drama.

The dramatic tension is in the psychology, not the action.  As a result, it would never fly here because we need to be constantly stimulated.  We can’t tolerate the slow build.  We need instant gratification because that’s how the entertainment industry conditions  us.

Once I admitted my programmed ‘need’ for a car chase/explosion/shoot-out and put it aside, I started to really enjoy the series.  Less action?  Yes.  But, oddly, much more to grip on to, much more that stayed with me well after the credits rolled.

Even though the industry claims that they want to attract loyal eyeballs — and they do — I can’t help but feel that we’re being a little short-changed with “flash” vs. substance that they’re using to lure us in…especially once you’ve had a look at the alternatives.