Popular Culture

Fred Steiner, Requiescat in Pace

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Fred Steiner died today.  Not a household name, but you have probably heard his music, as he composed the music for many hit TV shows, perhaps most notably for Perry Mason.  A very young Don McClarey loved the Perry Mason show.  It had no influence on my decision to become an attorney, that option didn’t occur to me until my Senior year in college when I decided that I would rather not work for a living, but it was enjoyable and memorable entertainment.  Continue reading

Captain America

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A trailer for the Captain America movie coming out in July.  Two superheroes have managed to become symbols of the nation:  Superman and Captain America.  One of the first of the comic book heroes, Superman first appeared in 1938  and helped establish the whole concept of a superhero.  “A strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of a mortal man”, Superman was a hit from his first publication and rapidly achieved fame around the globe, as World War 2 GIs carried Superman comics with them throughout World War II. 

Captain America was another favorite comic of American GIs.  He first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 dated March 1941, which was actually on sale in December 1940.  It told the story of Steve Rogers, a classic 98 pound weakling, but with the heart of a lion.  A student of fine arts, he desperately wanted to fight for America in the war he saw coming against Nazi Germany, but was rejected by the Army due to his physical weakness.  He was offered an opportunity to serve his country by volunteering to be a  human guinea pig in an experiment by Dr. Josef Reinstein.  Reinstein injected him with a formula that transformed him into a perfect human specimen:  muscular, quick and agile.  He was to be the first of many volunteers who would be injected with this “super-soldier” formula, but a Nazi agent who had infiltrated the project shot Reinstein to death, before being subdued by Rogers, and therefore he would be the one and only “super-soldier”.  The first issue sold an astounding one million copies, an indication of just how popular Captain America would be with the American public.  However, not all of the public.  Writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby also received hate mail and death threats from isolationists and Nazi sympathizers in the country.  I guess Captain America punching out Hitler on the cover of  issue # 1 was a clear indication of where Simon and Kirby stood as to the Third Reich. Continue reading

Don’s Book Haul

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When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.

Erasmus

We at The American Catholic like to keep an eye, frequently jaundiced, on popular culture.  One recent development that I enthusiastically endorse are videos posted by individuals on Youtube discussing “book hauls”, books that they have recently purchased.  I find this heartening.  I have always regarded myself as a hopeless book addict, and now I learn that my addiction is socially acceptable, perhaps even cutting edge!  This post will therefore tell you about a book haul I made yesterday, but first a bit of background information.

 

When I was growing up in Paris, Illinois, my mother and father used to give me and my brother a dollar each as our allowance.  (Considering that between them my parents brought home about a $100.00 a week, I thought the allowance was rather generous. )  My parents expected us to clean the house each day before school, to do the dishes and to run to the grocery store to pick up items during the week.  It was emphasized to us that the allowances were not payment for our work.  We worked at our chores because we were members of the family, and our parents gave us our allowances because we were members of the family.

You could do a lot with a dollar when you were a kid in the sixties.  Comic books cost 12 cents, cokes were a dime, candy could be purchased for a nickel to a dime.  However, I spent a fair part of my money at the local Goodwill.  Paris did not have a bookstore, but the Goodwill had a bookcase with used paperbacks and hardbacks.  The paperbacks were a nickel and the hardbacks were a dime.  New used books came in fairly frequently.  Most Saturday mornings I would go into the Goodwill and search through the books.  It was there I first made the acquaintance of Plato, Aristotle and Aristophanes.  On one memorable day, the divine Dante came my way for the first time with a paperback copy of Purgatorio, and a “new life” began for me.  History books were plentiful, especially on the Civil War and World War II and I gobbled them up.  Thus I began my personal library, and I have some of those books to this day.  And so my shameful addiction devotion to purchasing mass quantities of books as cheaply as I can began. Continue reading

James Arness, Requiescat in Pace

 

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For all of my childhood, James Arness, and the show he starred in, Gunsmoke, were a constant presence.  The television show, a sequel to the radio show of the same name, came on the air in 1955 and ran for 20 years.  I was born in 57 and graduated from high school in 75.  Each week my family would watch the show, even the reruns.  We  had a slight personal connection to the show, my grandfather, a shoemaker, making a pair of boots for James Arness to wear in his role of Matt Dillon.  Continue reading

Goodbye Oprah

I have to admit that were it not for the Conan O’Brien Show, I would not have realized until now that this was the final week of the Oprah Winfrey Show.  Today National Review Online ran a symposium about her.  My response would have been simply: “Good Riddance.”  Alas other writers offered more detailed thoughts about her.  It was an interesting mix of reviews, some of them positive and others more critical.  While I appreciate some of the good that Oprah has done in promoting literacy, I am squarely in the camp of people who think Oprah’s net influence on the culture has been abysmal.

Several of her critics in this symposium discussed her left-wing politics.  The most succinct summary was Ben Shapiro’s towards the end of the symposium.  While she did indeed shill endlessly for the Chosen One in 2008, her politics never really bothered me.  The popular culture is littered with leftist clown acts.  Instead, her baleful influence on the culture runs much deeper.

Danielle Bean has one of the more insightful commentaries.  She discusses Oprah’s “spiritual” rather than religious side.

When we weren’t looking, Oprah transformed her image into something close to a spiritual icon. Her book recommendations included not only chick-lit fiction titles, but New Age spiritual resources. Her show’s tagline became “Live Your Best Life Now,” a directive that included a spirituality based on the works of New Age notables Marriane Williamson, Betty Eadie, and Sophy Burnham, among others.

In every human heart there is a void — a longing for emotional happiness, personal fulfillment, and spiritual wholeness. Our empty, aching hearts are made for communion with our Creator. Jesus Christ, who alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, can make us whole.

Oprah is a funny, smart, charismatic, and real American woman who has found commercial success by tapping into a human need for “soul food.” When popular culture feeds us New Age mumbo-jumbo, feel-good speak, and words of affirmation, we might be temporarily satiated, but in the end we come away empty again.

Oprah fills our hearts and minds with fleeting feelings. Only Christ can feed our souls.

Oprah is just the most notable representation of our culture’s affinity for new-age spirituality.  We see it everywhere.  Generic mumbo jumbo about getting in touch with our inner feelings has replaced the meatier aspects of religious formation.  Sadly this mentality is not just limited to popular culture.  It’s infected many of our parishes – just look at some of the offerings of our faith formation committees and the bland nonsense which they pass of as religious instruction.  Oprah has fed this beast better than anyone, and that is much more harmful than any of the good she may have accomplished.

Lisa Schiffren gets to the heart of why I’ve always found Oprah so odious.

Enter Oprah. Her personal confessions, tears, and overflowing emotions (delivered articulately enough to suggest preparation), changed the style of casual discourse — and, ultimately, political speech too.

Of course, the feminization of American culture had been underway for a century, episodically, before she showed up. Historian Ann Douglas had ascribed it (partly) to an alliance between victimized women and preachers, attempting to sissify a rugged pioneer culture (e.g. Prohibition or the peace movement).

On her show, Oprah got to be the hurt woman and the preacher. She talked about depression, weight, and sexual abuse, in a manner familiar to women from the intense, intimate confidences of deep female friendship. Those agonies and confessions won the love and allegiance of millions of American women, who were a little lost at whatever point in their lives they were home, watching. It worked because, in the same show, she’d go from victim to healer, offering a female version of the deeply American boot-strapper archetype.

The triumph of her style has helped de-stigmatize real victimization — which is a clear good. Alas, it has made life that much harder for conservatives and others who prefer the rational to the emotional, who don’t think that understanding necessarily equals forgiveness, and who think that there are constraints to material reality, even if there aren’t with love and forgiveness.

There are positive elements of the  feminization of the American culture, as Lisa points, but the overall effect of the Oprah-ization of America has been completely destructive.  Weepy sentimentality has become prevalent. Yeah, it’s good to deal with your emotions, but there is much more to life than perpetual group therapy.

Mollie Ziegler Hemmingway offers the most succinct summary:

If you support the widespread practice of pseudo-confessional but ultimately self-justifying defensiveness, the unleashing of hayseed morons such as Dr. Phil and trust-fund prevaricators such as James Frey, the spreading the New Age teachings of “The Secret” and normalization of a generic spirituality that views all religions as equally truthful, and encouraging grab-bag materialism over time-honored virtue, there is no question that Oprah Winfrey has had a net positive on American culture.

Amen sister.

Some will defend Oprah by saying she is a marked improvement over Jerry Springer and that brand of trash daytime television.  But a clear majority of people looked upon shows of its ilk for the trash that it was and is.  Oprah’s version of the daytime format is more nefarious because so many people actually buy into it.  In other words, almost all of America recognized that Jerry Springer was a clown.  Not so many recognize the same in Oprah.

Rumpole of the Bailey

 

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I have sometimes been known to say, especially after a fairly crazy day in the law mines, yesterday was such a day, that I practice law mainly because of the amusement that it affords me.  As long as courts, judges, attorneys, and innocent and not so innocent clients exist, vaudeville will never be dead.  I rarely have found entertainment on television to match it in dramas or comedies regarding attorneys.  Most of them tend to be bloated soap operas, a la that wretched piece of tripe from the eighties, L.A. Law, but every now and then I do find a show that is a cut above, entertaining while relaying some truth about the legal system.

Perhaps the best I have come upon is the British show Rumpole of the Bailey, which ran from 1975-1992.  Written by John Mortimer, a playwright and noted Queen’s Counsel, (a rank given to British Barristers who are considered the top of their profession),  it follows the legal misadventures of Horace Rumpole.  Rumpole is a barrister, a British attorney who represents clients in court.  A self-described “Old Bailey Hack” (The “Old Bailey” being the London criminal court.),  both fame and fortune have eluded Horace.  No judgeship for him, not even the rank of Queen’s Counsel.  (Horace refers to them dismissively as Queer Customers.)  However, Horace is a happy man.  He realizes that he is a gifted trial attorney, and that knowledge is good enough for him.  The episodes usually revolve around one case, as we see Rumpole mostly prevailing, while illustrating both his own absurdities and those of the British legal system, his clients and society at large.  John Mortimer, at least in his younger days, was a political left winger, but there are no sacred cows in Rumpole land, no matter if they moo to the left or the right. Continue reading

Eleanor Powell and Friend

 

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Hattip to Bookworm Room.  The Queen of the tap-dancers, Eleanor Powell, filmed this sequence with her dog Buttons, in the film Lady Be Good in 1941.  Powell trained the dog herself, and the filming occurred in her living room in order to make it more comfortable for Buttons as the dog was used to performing there.  Both Powell and her dog give energetic performances and they both seem to be having a good time. Continue reading

Rango

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Johnny Depp has always been high on my list of very irritating actors, so it was against my better instincts that I truly enjoyed the above trailer.  It looks like the film Rango will be a grand spoof of some of the spaghetti westerns of my mis-spent youth and should be a lot of fun.  Besides, I have always been a sucker for owl mariachi bands.

Captain America vs. The Tea Partiers!

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In my mispent youth back in the Sixties I read a lot of comics.  My parents would give me and my brother a dollar each as our weekly allowance and at 12 cents a comic we could buy quite a few, even more if we purchased them for a nickel each used  at an antiques\junk store in downtown Paris, Illinois.  The most sacrificial Lent I have ever made was in 1965 at the age of 8 when I gave up my beloved comic books for Lent!  Back then comics were quite safe for kids.  On the whole I’d say they were beneficial for me, extending my vocabulary, introducing me to literary genres such as westerns and science fiction and the writing sometimes was of an unexpectedly high level.  Some of the artists who drew the comics were of high calibre.  Steve Ditko for example, the original artist who drew Spider-Man, had a very effective and memorable style of drawing.  I stopped reading comics back around 1972, although I do buy silver age comic compilations for nostalgia and I keep half an eye on the industry as an aspect of popular culture.

I was not surprised to learn that a current story arc in Captain America has the Captain taking on the tea party movement.  Comic book artists and writers have skewed heavily to the Left since the Sixties.  My first protest letter, my first pre-computer attempt at a blog post, was a letter I wrote to Marvel Comics in pencil in 1969 protesting a story line in which Captain America was turning against US involvement in Vietnam. 

In issue 602 of Captain America, the Captain and the Falcon, a black super-hero, see a tea party rally and decide that it poses a danger to, well that is not precisely clear, although I assume it is dangerous to the government.  Captain America hits upon the brilliant plan to have the Falcon pose as a black IRS agent and go to a red neck bar and stir things up.  (Hmmm, apparently plots and story lines have gone into steep decline since my day!)  The hoot about this is that as long as the Republicans had the White House, the comics were filled with paranoid story lines involving evil government plots.  With Obama in the White House, it is now evil to protest the government.

This of course has caused a huge amount of controversy.  When controversy rears its head the comic book industry has a traditional response: back down faster than a man who has forgotten his wife’s birthday.  Continue reading

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