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  • 01/12/16--12:34: The Choice
  • Martin Short in Clifford (1994)
    One can chose to be a responsible adult just like this fine, upstanding young man, who is employed as a teller at the First National Bank.


    Just look at this man.  He is, by appearances, a model citizen.


    This is one of his distinguished colleagues.


    Now, let us look at his opposite, the man-child.

    Roscoe Arbuckle in Brewster's Millions (1921)
    Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Here Come the Co-Eds (1945)
    Adam Sandler as Billy Madison (1995)

    Jerry Lewis in The Patsy (1964)
    Steve Martin
    Bill Murray
    John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell in Step Brothers (2008)
    John Candy
    Kristen Wiig
    Pee-wee Herman
    Jason Segel
    Danny Pudi
    John Lithgow
    Robert Downey Jr.
    Tina Fey
    Simon Pegg
    Pegg
    Pegg
    Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step Brothers (2008)
    Martin Short in Clifford (1994)
    Stephen Colbert
    Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey in Due Date (2010)
    Pee-wee Herman
    Red Skelton as Mean Widdle Kid

    The Three Stooges were especially good at making unending childish antics look like irresistible fun.


     
     

    But should one chose to be a securely responsible adult or should they chose to be a laughable eternal child?  This question and others are discussed in I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present.


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  • 01/17/16--10:46: The Weirdo Idiot Man-Child

  • The man-child can at times assume the form of a ridiculously maladjusted weirdo idiot.  These characters are, typically, a maelstrom of lunacy, idiocy and juvenility.  It is impossible for this sort of fool to find maturity or even a modicum of sanity during the course of their wildly comic escapades.  It is because these comedy characters mostly express idiosyncratic and otherworldly qualities that they do not appeal to everyone. 

    Here are the fifteen all-time greatest weirdo idiots of film comedy.

    1.) Larry Semon


    Buster Keaton said of Semon, "[H]e was so weird looking that he could have posed either as a pinhead or a Man from Outer Space."  Semon's surreal gags were often on the eerie side.  Let's take, for instance, a gag from Lightning Love (1923).  When Semon gets his bottom half stuck in one end of a barrel and a dog gets its top half stuck in the other end of the barrel, it creates the illusion of a half-man/half-dog creature. This unnatural hybrid has the same unnerving effect in Lightning Love that similar hybrids would later have in horror films, including The Mephisto Watz (1971) and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). 

    2.) Dot Farley


    In the early days of film comedy, Farley was able to get laughs by exaggerating to a grotesque extent her less than beauteous features.  She drastically twisted her facial muscles to make herself look outlandish.  It can be seen in this portrait that the actress had a slight overbite. 


    Farley jutted her teeth out even more to make herself look unattractively buck-toothed.  Farley is credited by Columbia University's Women Film Pioneers project for her "trademark facial and bodily distortions."  But she went even further with her make-up and hairstyles.  An IMDb reviewer who saw Farley in a 1920 comedy was surprised to find Farley in possession of "outrageous pigtails sticking out horizontally that look like something found on an alien."  It was that the actress played her funny characters with an utter lack of vanity that made her popular with film fans. 

    Farley helped to pave the way for our next two oddballs.

    3.) Alice Howell


    Film historian Steve Massa ideally described Howell as follows: "A round Kewpie-doll face, with large eyes and bee-stung lips was topped off with a mountain of frizzy hair piled high on her head producing the effect of smoke billowing from an active volcano. . . The mountain of hair and a stiff-backed penguin-waddle walk became her signature trademarks."

    4.) Louise Fazenda

    As Farley and Howell, Fazenda relied on unusual make-up and costuming to insure she left a strong impression in her film appearances.  The actress became best known for playing a bizarre farm girl in a series of Sennett comedies.  Fazenda explained to The Stanford Daily that she was "rigged up so absurdly" for her comic roles.  The newspaper reported, "When she plays those peculiarly shaped, timid ladies, she wears a special corset amply padded fore and aft and all around.  Personally she is very attractive, but the public and the producers value her genius for comedy too highly to let her be her real self on the screen."  Today's funny ladies owe a great debt to comedy actresses like Farley, Howell and Fazenda.

    Kristen Schaal

    5.) Harry Langdon 


    Entertainment historian Trav S. D. acknowledged that a significant number of people dislike Langdon for his strangeness.  He wrote, "The complaint is usually some combination of 'strange' and 'weird' and 'I don’t get it'. . . I think Langdon is like a lot of other outre performers in that audiences just need to be exposed to a lot more of the work of that performer in order to develop an appreciation. . . Harry’s weirdness is what’s funny."

    6.) Larry Fine 

    The frizzy hair.  The rubbery face.  The spacey stares.  Fine was certainly a comedian with an offbeat look and, even more, an offbeat sensibility.  Actor Eddie Deezen described Larry's hairy head blossoming out "[l]ike a fast-growing chia pet. . . into an Afro-like monstrosity."  Larry stood out as the oddest of an odd group.  Consider a scene from Pardon My Scotch (1935) in which Larry removes a flower from a table centerpiece, sprinkles it with salt, and happily devours it.


    7.) Ben Blue

     
     
    Geoff Collins analyzed Blue's acting in the 1930s "Taxi Boys" series on the blog "Third Banana."  He wrote, "I have to admit that for a while I just didn't 'get' Ben Blue, with his unfocused eyes, giggling, failed attempts at folding his arms, and odd exclamations such as 'Well, I'm a tippetywitchet!'; but ['Third Banana' founder] Aaron [Neathery] has patiently explained to me that Ben is an Alien Life Form, an extraterrestrial pretending to be a nightclub comic pretending to be a taxi driver.  You see, it all makes sense; 'Blue' isn't his surname, it's a nickname based on his actual skin colour.  He's a genuine tippetywitchet; it's not his catchphrase, it's his excuse!"

    8.) Huntz Hall  
     
    Hall's quirky screen persona, Horace DeBussy "Sach" Jones, was an odd duck by anyone's standards.

    9.) Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens)


    Alden Ford of the Splitsider website wrote, "I guess I just never got Pee-Wee Herman.  As a kid his show kind of creeped me out.  I didn’t and still don’t really get what’s funny about him."  Ford wasn't the only one.  Journalist Stone Phillips noted while interviewing Reubens, "Even at the height of your popularity not everyone was entirely comfortable with the persona you created.  Newsweek, I think, at one point wrote, 'You either love him or he gives you the willies.'"  Reubens was the inspiration for other freakish comedians, including Emo Philips and Chris Elliot. 

    Emo Philips
    One of Pee-wee Herman's contemporaries, Martin Short's Ed Grimley, got a significant boost from Pee-wee's success.

    Martin Short as Ed Grimley
     
    10.) Chris Elliott


    Megh Wright of the Splitsider website noted that Elliott made it his specialty to play "strange, smarmy, and unstable weirdo characters."  Vulture critic John Sellers said that Elliott built a career on playing "cocky optimists who don’t realize how pathetic and disgusting they are to other people."  Frank DiGiacomo of Rolling Stone thought that a good reason to see There's Something About Mary (1998) is to watch Elliot's daring portrayal of "a hive-covered nutjob enslaved to the radiant beauty of Cameron Diaz."  DiGiacomo believes that Elliot "deserves both our revulsion and our love."


    11.) Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson)


    Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times defined Mr. Bean simply as a "strange rubbery man causing havoc."  A. V. Club's Amelie Gillette described Mr. Bean as "a slightly dark, unpleasant man in a crumpled brown suit, with a bizarre, funny set of problem-solving skills."  Misha Colbourne of the Dorkly website wrote, "There's a thin line between 'eccentric weirdo' and 'deeply unbalanced psycho' - and that's never clearer than in the case of Mr. Bean."

    12.) Adam Sandler 


    Sandler established himself as a movie star with Billy Madison (1995), in which he sets dog poop on fire, chases a hallucinatory man-sized penguin, and conducts a heated battle between a shampoo bottle and conditioner bottle while soaking in his bathtub.
     

    Although Madison has supposedly learned vital life lessons during the course of the story, he still acts far from normal when he delivers a graduation speech at the end of the film.


    13.) Mary Katherine Gallagher (Molly Shannon)


    Mary Katherine Gallagher, who started out as character on Saturday Night Live, has the leading role in the feature comedy Superstar (1999).  Gallagher is a nervous, hyperactive and socially inept student at Saint Monica's Catholic High School.  Her discomforting trademarks include flashing her underwear and sticking her hands under her armpits and then sniffing them.  The SNL sketches stuck to a strict formula.  Wikipedia described the formula as follows: "The sketches would usually begin with a school-related dramatic arts function, such as choir practice or school play rehearsals.  Mary Katherine would run on stage and introduce herself, and then attempt to participate, hogging the spotlight until she would lose her cool and do something socially inappropriate. . . [T]he sketch would usually end with her losing control of herself, such as falling over, crashing into a wall or destroying something.  She would then jump up, compose herself, and extend her hands in the air, proclaiming 'Superstar!'"  Strange for sure.

    14.) Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder)


    Do I really need to explain this one to you?

    15.) Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey)


    Roger Ebert wrote, "[Ace Ventura] basically has one joke, which is Ace Ventura's weird nerdy strangeness."  This weird nerdy strangeness is obvious when Carrey stuffs asparagus spears into his mouth to provide a manic imitation of a walrus.


    Read more about the comic man-child in I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present.


    Additional notes


    Carol Burnett as Norma Desmond
    Mary Katherine Gallagher had many forerunners in television.  We can start with Carol Burnett, who provided grotesque caricatures of everyone from Nora Desmond to Charo.  Later, Laugh-In introduced to television sketch comedy a stock female character whose peculiarities quickly made her a national icon.  The character, Gladys Ormphby, was created by actress Ruth Buzzi with nothing more than a hair net, support hose and a purse.  Ormphby launched a major trend that continues in television today.


    Laugh-In inevitably followed up with similar characters, none more popular than Lily Tomlin's Ernestine.


    But it was Saturday Night Live that created a long-running industry out of the simple idea that grotesque female characters were funny.  Prominent among the SNL characters are Roseanne Roseannadanna (Gilda Radner), Pat (Julia Sweeney), Gilly (Kristen Wiig), and Amber, the One-Legged Hypoglycemic (Amy Poehler).

    Kristen Wiig as Gilly
    It should be noted of course that Lucille Ball, the First Lady of Television Comedy, made a point on occasion to don ugly disguises for laughs.


    Have a weird and wild day!



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    Let us start with bowling.

    Harold Lloyd
    Bill Murray in Kingpin (1996)
    Woody Harrelson in Kingpin (1996)
    Aaron Ruell in Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
    Kelli Garner and Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
    Jackie Gleason in "The Honeymooners"
     The man-child's great devotion to bowling was best exhibited in The Big Lebowski (1998).


    A few man-child friends played checkers.

    Laurel and Hardy in Brats (1930)
     A rare number played craps.

    Roscoe Arbuckle, Sybil Seely and Buster Keaton
    Abbott and Costello in Buck Privates (1941)
    Even less picked up a ping-pong paddle.

    W. C. Fields and Mary Forbes in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939)
    Comedy duos liked to compete on the tennis court.

     
     
     

    Gathering around a pool table could be fun.  Of course, you did have to be careful with the pool cue.

    Laurel and Hardy in Brats (1930)
    Hillary Brooke, Lou Costello and Bud Abbott

    Art Carney, John Griggs and Jackie Gleason in "The Honeymooners"

    A pool room was W. C. Fields' favorite element.

     
     
    Let me just clarify that marbles is no game, at any time, for a red-blooded American boy.


    Golf is a more suitable game for the fearless male.


    Golf allowed a young man to get plenty of fresh air and  provided an opportunity for vital male-bonding.

    Charlie Chaplin in The Idle Class (1921)
    The Three Stooges in Three Little Beers (1935)

     
    Tammany Young and W. C. Fields in You're Telling Me! (1934)
    Oliver Hardy
    Paulette Goddard and Bob Hope
    Bob Hope and Bing Crosby at The Bob Hope Charity Tournament
     
     
    Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in The Caddy (1953)
    Ted Knight in Caddyshack (1980)
    Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Dan Resin, Knight and Brian Doyle-Murray in Caddyshack
    Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore (1996)
    Sandler, again
    Poker has remained a popular game for many ages.  It was played in every saloon in the Old West.

    The Three Stooges in Goofs and Saddles (1937)
    W. C. Fields in My Little Chickadee (1940)
    Here it is being played on a Mississippi showboat in the late nineteenth century.

    W. C. Fields in Mississippi (1935)
    And it was popular throughout the twentieth century.

    The Three Stooges in Ants in the Pantry (1936)
    Fields in Tillie and Gus (1933)
    Bud Abbott, Lou Costello and reporter Bob Thomas

    The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup (1933)
    Phil Silvers as Sgt. Ernie Bilko

    As indicated by this still from The Odd Couple (1968), a poker game remained a common form of recreation for men in the 1960s.  Also, you can see a dartboard on the wall.  Slightly out of camera range is a battered bag of golf clubs.
    John Fiedler, Herb Edelman, Walter Matthau, Larry Haines and David Sheiner in Odd Couple (1968)
    For certain, the adult recreations of past decades were far different than today's man-child recreations.  Lou Costello wasn't into skateboarding around a skatepark or staying awake all night to play video games. 

    The man-child friends of Knocked Up (2007) engages in impromptu games that have no clear rules or objectives.  One pair battle each other with quarterstaffs to see who can knock the other into a dirty pool of water.

    Another pair  employ hockey equipment (mask, sticks and gloves) and a bicycle helmet for a newly invented combat sport.


    A final pair box with gloves that have been soaked in lighter fluid and set ablaze.


    In fact, life is nothing but endless play for this group.

     

    Today, the man-child always seems to have easy access to a backyard swimming pool.

    Will Ferrell in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
    Of course, the availability of a liquor cabinet often leads to drinking games.

    Paul Rudd challenges Jon Favreau to a drinking game in I Love You, Man (2009)
    One traditional game that has maintained its popularity in modern world is pool.

    Vince Vaughan, Jon Favreau and Jason Bateman in The Break-Up (2006)
    Read more about the comic man-child in I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present.


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    Food is vital to the survival of a growing child, which is the reason that the man-child will invariably demonstrate gluttonous behavior whenever they find themselves in close proximity to eatables.

    John Belushi in Animal House (1978)
    For sure, the man-child greatly enjoys eating.  Long ago, it became a popular stock scene in film comedy to feature the man-child greedily devouring food.  Chef, bring out the food!

    Our chef, Roscoe Arbuckle,was himself a hearty eater.


    The eating continued for decades.

    Charlie Chaplin in City Lights (1931)
    The Marx Brothers in Room Service (1938)
    The Three Stooges in Calling All Curs (1939)
    The Three Stooges in An Ache in Every Stake (1941)
    The Three Stooges in In the Sweet Pie and Pie (1941)
    Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis share a bottle of milk.
     
    Jerry Lewis and Kathleen Freeman in Ladies Man (1961)
    Lucille Ball
    Food was a principal issue of Modern Times (1936), the action of which focused on hungry vagabonds.

    Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard in Modern Times
     
     
     
     

    The gluttony grew worse.

    John Belushi in Animal House (1978)

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

    This scene reworked Chaplin's cafeteria scene from Modern Times.  The humor is memorably redefined by Belushi's defiant gluttony.

    Paul Reubens in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

    Tom Hanks in Big (1988)

     

    Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (1993)

    This still was widely distributed to promote Groundhog Day.

     

    Let's look at screen captures of the actual scene.

     
     
     
     

    Adam Sandler in Big Daddy (1999)

     

    Will Ferrell in Elf (2003)

     

    Rowan Atkinson in Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007)


    Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in This is 40 (2012)

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

    Joshua Burge in Buzzard (2014)



    Miranda Hart and Sarah Hadland in "Miranda" television series


    Ice cream cones can bring a couple closer together.
     
    Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels
    Jerry Lewis and chimp pal
    Patricia Arquette and Adam Sandler in Little Nicky (2000)
    Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent (2014)
    Jason Alexander and Jerry Seinfeld in "Seinfeld" sitcom
    Sal Vulcano of "Impractical Jokers" television series
    Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead (2004)
    Pegg and Frost in Hot Fuzz (2007)

    Of course, childish squabblers can use ice cream cones as messy weapons in a food fight.  

    By the Sea (1915)


    Groucho Marx

    Seinfeld, which was the ultimate man-child sitcom, featured characters that exhibited on a weekly basis an unhealthy and uninhibited obsession with food.  My point is made clearly by the Buzzfeed article "46 Foods That Will Always And Forever Remind You Of Seinfeld." 

    Kramer (Michael Richards) was a big eater.


    But, amazingly, George (Jason Alexander) outdid him.

     
     
     
     
     
     

    George was once caught eating an eclair that he pulled out of a garbage pail.

     
     
     

    Who else but comedians pose for publicity photos with food?

    Chevy Chase
    Steve Carell
    Ellie Kemper
    Kristen Schaal
    Louis C.K.
    Nick Offerman
    Seth Rogen and James Franco
    Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson

    Eating all of that food has made me sleepy.


    Read more about the comic man-child in I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present.

    Additional notes

    The fabulous illustration that appears at the start of this article was created by Nicole Arciola.  I met Nicole through Facebook.  I have long been a fan of her work, which has occasionally appeared on her Facebook page, and I was thrilled when she kindly agreed to illustrate this all-star birthday party scene to help to promote my new book.  I thank you, Nicole!  You are indeed a talented artist.     


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    Stan Laurel in The Devil's Brother (1933)
    No explanation is necessary on this topic.  Let's just let the tears flow.

    Andre Deed
    Buster Keaton
    Jobyna Ralston and Harold Lloyd in The Freshman (1925)
    Billy Gilbert
    Charlie Chaplin in City Lights (1931)
    Harpo Marx in Horse Feathers (1932)
    Curly Howard in Calling All Curs (1939)
    Chris Farley and David Spade in Tommy Boy (1995)
    Jason Alexander and Jerry Seinfeld in "Seinfeld"
    Jason Alexander in "Seinfeld"
    Zach Galifianakis
    Seth Rogen in Funny People (2009)
    Steve Carell in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)
    Carell

    Who are the biggest sobbers in film comedy? 

    1.) Stan Laurel

    Of course, one of Laurel's funniest and most endearing trademarks was his whimpering cry.

    The Pest (1922)
    Mandarin Mix-Up (1924)
    Below Zero (1930)
    Mae Busch, Laurel and Dorothy Christy in Sons of the Desert (1933)
    Babes in Toyland (1934)

    2.) Will Ferrell 

     

    Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)


    Step Brothers (2008)


    Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

    Ferrell and Christina Applegate

    Get Hard (2015)




    3.) Adam Sandler

    The Wedding Singer (1998)

     
     

    50 First Dates (2005)



    4.) Jim Carrey

    Ace Ventura, Pet Detective (1994)


    Dumb and Dumber (1994)




    Liar, Liar (1997)


    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) 


    Fun with Dick and Jane (2005)

    Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011)


    Read more about the comic man-child in I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present.


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    Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman in The Big Lebowski (1998)
    Let us examine the history of the man-child slacker in the history of film comedy.

    Harold Lloyd in Why Worry (1923)
    Buster Keaton
    Keaton in The Navigator (1924)
    Keaton in Seven Chances (1925)
    Even a war cannot invigorate a true slacker.

    Keaton and Cliff Edwards in Doughboys (1930)
    Billy Bevan and Andy Clyde in Wandering Willies (1926)
    The Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera (1935)
    Harpo and Groucho Marx in The Big Store (1941)
    Groucho Marx in The Big Store
    Art Carney, Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows in "The Honeymooners" television series
    Michael Bentine, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers
    Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961)
    Harold Ramis and Bill Murray in Stripes (1981)
    In Stripes (1981), Bill Murray cannot even muster the energy to sit up when his girlfriend (Roberta Leighton) is breaking up with him.

     
     

    Stranger Than Paradise (1984) was a seminal slacker comedy.  The characters lack purpose or direction. They slouch and shamble their way through uneventful lives.

    Richard Edson, John Lurie and Eszter Balint in Stranger than Paradise (1984)
    Lurie and Edson in Stranger Than Paradise

    Lurie in Stranger Than Paradise
    Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
    Martin and Candy again
    Adam Sandler
    Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran in Clerks (1994)

    Seinfeld's ultimate man-child George Costanza is too lazy to ride a bicycle, too irresponsible to own a dog, too unalluring to attract a kiss, too insensitive to cry, and too impatient to take a bath.  But, much like a baby, he is focused almost entirely on sleeping and eating.


    George made it part of his daily office routine to hide under his desk for a deep afternoon snooze.


    George's friend Kramer was just as unproductive.

    Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes in "Spaced" television series
    Jeff Bridges in Big Lebowski (1998)
    Will Ferrell in Elf (2003)
    Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead (2004)
    Stephen Root and Justin Long in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
    Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel and Jason Segel in Knocked Up (2007)
    Charlene Yi and Martin Starr in Knocked Up (2007)
    Matt Dillon and Owen Wilson in You, Me and Dupree (2006)
    Celia Weston and Seth Rogen in Observe and Report (2009)

    Murray is still a slacker after all these years.  Here he takes a nap on the set of The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009).

    Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jr. in Due Date (2010)
    Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson and Jay Baruchel in This is the End (2013)
    Joshua Burge and Joel Potrykus in Buzzard (2014)

    Jeff Garlin is concerned about his slacker daughter (Keira Knightley) in Laggies (2014).

    Ilana Glazer of "Broad City" television series

    A clue that a film is about a slacker is the presence of a lounge chair in the poster.

    Jason Segel, Rashida Jones and Paul Rudd in I Love You, Man (2009)
    Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey in Failure to Launch (2006)

    Who are the biggest slackers and nappers in film comedy?

    1.) Charlie Chaplin 

    The Adventurer (1917)

    The Tramp, as other homeless fellows, spent much of his time looking for a good place to curl up and take a nap.


    The Tramp(1915)

    Edna Purviance and Chaplin

    One A.M. (1916)


    A Dog's Life (1918)

     

    Sunnyside (1919)

    Tom Wilson and Chaplin

    The Kid (1921)
    Jackie Coogan and Chaplin


    The Idle Class (1921)

     
     
    Chaplin and Purviance

    Woman of Paris (1923)

    Chaplin and Purviance
     The Gold Rush (1925)

     

    City Lights (1931)

     
     
    Harry Myers and Chaplin

    Modern Times (1936)

    Paulette Goddard and Chaplin
    Limelight (1952)



    2.) Laurel and Hardy

    Laurel and Hardy were among film history's greatest layabouts.  The two men slept like a pair of babies.


    3.) The Three Stooges

    No Census, No Feeling (1940)
    It is no secret to comedy fans that the Three Stooges slept a lot.

    Hoi Polloi (1935)
    Half Shot Shooters (1936)
    False Alarms (1936)
    Dizzy Doctors (1937)
    Dizzy Doctors (1937)
    Three Missing Links (1938)
    How High is Up? (1940)
    In the Sweet Pie and Pie (1941)
    In the Sweet Pie and Pie
    In the Sweet Pie and Pie
    Cactus Makes Perfect (1942)
    Sock-A-Bye Baby (1942)
    Idle Roomers (1944)
    Hold that Lion (1947)
    In the Sweet Pie and Pie (1941)

    Putting together this report was tiring.  It's time for a nap.


    Read more about the comic man-child in I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present.


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    I just finished reading Jonathan Lyons'"Comedy for Animators."  Lyons writes, "Many people believe you can't teach comedy.  Many comedians don't want to dissect it.  My approach is to describe the many ways people have done it before in order to simply share the valuable lessons I have found."

    Lyons examines the way that comedy has evolved through history and provides valuable insight into the way that comedy works.  I especially like the way that Lyons ties modern comedy into comedy from centuries past.  For instance, he identifies modern variations of the Commedia dell'arte characters in The Simpsons and Futurama.  Drilling down to the bedrock of mankind’s comedy traditions is always a worthwhile venture for the comedy enthusiast like myself. 

    Lyons, who has been employed in the animation field for over 25 years, is an accomplished at creating funny characters and putting them into funny situations.  One of Lyons' most notable credits is his animation work on the first four Pirates of the Caribbean films.

    I recommend this book to comedy fans.

    You can purchase the book now on Amazon



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  • 04/26/16--11:27: Ye Olde Pye in the Face


  • Peter Reitan has traced the pie-in-the-face gag to a British comic novel published in 1709.  The author, Delarivier Manley, gave her book a title that was a real mouthful – "Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality, of Both Sexes, from the New Atlantis, an Island in the Mediterranean." 


    Manley provided a satirical account of a domestic dust-up between a priest and his homemaker wife.  The fight is first presented from the perspective of the husband and then elaborated upon by a bystander.  The husband reports in his account, "The Devil would not let her rest long without tormenting of poor me; down she comes, and before I was aware, snatches the Pye, and by a dexterous whirl of her Hand, sends it full in my Face and Eyes. . ."  The bystander adds, "[H]is Face look'd all over besmear’d with something, no Body could tell what; but at last it was known to be piping Hot Apple-Pye, out of the Oven, which she had scalded him with, in a very handsome manner. . ."

    Little did Manley know at the time that, in later centuries, a countless number of faces would become besmear’d with pie.

    You can read Peter's full article at http://esnpc.blogspot.com/2016/02/a-pie-in-face-update.html.



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  • 04/26/16--11:38: Race Ridicule

  • Accusations of racist portrayals in entertainment extends back more than one hundred years.  The debate on this issue is represented in an opinion piece published in The Moving Picture World on October 15, 1910.  I offer this artifact without commentary.

    Race Ridicule

    Now and then there crops out a crusade against a play that seems to be a deliberate attempt to ridicule some certain race or religion, particularly race.  There is very little ridicule of religion of any kind done in a public way anywhere.   A year or so ago certain distinguished representatives of the Irish people made strenuous objection in various parts of the country against what is generally known as the "stage Irishman."  The agitation became very heated and in a number of instances it went so far as the throwing of missiles at Irish comedians in various parts of the land.

    It seems that now the crusade has cropped out against the moving picture with the Jewish people as the plaintiff.  From reports that come to us a certain picture has been objected to in Boston on the grounds that it ridiculed the Jewish people.  We do not know what the picture was and for the purposes of this discourse it is not particularly necessary to have the name of it.  The principal thing to be borne in mind, in these days of nervous prosperity, is that there are very many irritable people knocking about, and if you are not careful what you say or do you are going to be set upon, even though you never thought of offending anybody.  There is a good deal of hyper-sensitiveness about this race business, and some races seem to be more sensitive than others. Every race has its typical ideal.  Washington, for instance, is the typification of all that is good and lofty to American minds.  Frederick the Great is the idol of goodness to the German people, Garibaldi inspires beautiful thoughts with the Italian, while Napoleon holds an equal place in the hearts of the French.  These men are ideals and the exhibition of their pictures at most any time and place is a symbol of reverence.  But typifications do not stop with reverential figureheads. As every nationality has its ideal, so also does it have its caricature.  Through a long succession of humorous artists and writers, there have come, as a matter of evolution, stereotyped figures that are recognized everywhere at a glance to be typical of the general characteristics of some nationality, and accepted as a joke at the expense of that nation, even by the natives themselves. Thus do we come by the well known figure of "Uncle Sam.""John Bull,""La Belle France." etc.. but these are mostly political.  There is another, or national type, that we all know.  The fat German with his long blonde moustache and long stem pipe; the Frenchman with his three pointed whiskers and the shrug; and so on through the whole list of nations and races.

    There are funny looking people belonging to every race.  Among a whole race of people there is bound to be some similarity, as we know.  Therefore, among a whole race of people the funny ones taken together are perhaps so similar that they may be easily embodied into a distinct type. We do not believe a sensible man of any race would deny that there are funny specimens of that race.  We do not believe he would deny that there are also characteristic proclivities or instincts that are peculiar to his race.  For instance, the Jewish people are noted for their business instinct, while the colored man is noted for his fondness for chicken or watermelon.  There is nothing disgraceful about either of these things, so why not admit it, especially if it is true?

    Every race is caricatured, and, naturally enough, the best delineators of racial humor are those within the race.  Such men as Harry Lauder, who show us the funny Scot, is a Scot himself.  All of the best Jew comedians belong to that race, and the same may be said of all the others, especially the Irish, for during that crusade it turned out that the Irish comedians were, as a rule, more Irish in blood than the crusaders themselves.  There is no good reason why anyone should find amusement at the expense of one race, and then wax indignant when the fun is poked at his own race.  But this is very true, nevertheless.  Go to a theater and you will not find an Irishman defending the negro race from any negro makeup he may see there.  You will not hear the Jew protest against an exaggerated German.  No, they both laugh with the rest.  But turn it around so it strikes home and they are indignant, indeed, which shows that they are one-sided and unwilling to contribute their share to the gavety [merriment] of nations.

    There is no nation on the face of the earth that has been caricatured more than the American, and the best of it we get is done by Americans themselves.  If "Mutt and Jeff" were Jewish or Irish characters there would be a protest right away, but being Americans, it is all right, simply because the American enjoys a laugh at his own expense.  You never heard an American complain at a tramp character, and yet the tramp is typically American.  Also the "Rube," or farmer, or grafter.  Looking at the serious side, it is just and fair to say that for every Shylock. Shakespeare wrote a Richard III; meaning, of course, that he did not spare his own race any more than any other.  When it comes to villains in real life, the proportion of them is about the same in every race and nation.

    If the picture complained of in Boston included a Jew in the role of a villain, we are not altogether shocked, for such a thing is possible.  The Jewish people should reflect that to balance that one Jewish villain they have seen probably several thousands of Christian villains, written and acted by Christians, without any particular disparagement to the race.  If the picture complained of contained a funny Jew, we are not surprised, for such a thing is possible.  It was a well known Jew who made the remark that "There is nothing in the world funnier than a funny Jew."

    This complaint from Boston inclines us to think that the complainant is rather thin-skinned and sensitive, as well as a little inconsistent.


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  • 04/26/16--12:35: Tidbits of April, 2016

  • It was an old trick of the British Music Hall to catapult a comic actor through a trap door at the front of the stage.  The device, known as a "star trap," is discussed at length in my book The Funny Parts.  Here is an example of the star trap in Abbott & Costello's Comin' Round the Mountain (1951).

     
     

    Jules Verne's 1879 novel, "Tribulations of a Chinaman in China," involves a despondent man who hires a hit man to kill him but then changes his mind and is unable to call off the committed assassin.  A 1910 film by Max Linder, Le pacte (1910), seems to be loosely based on this book.  The plot was used again later in Up to His Ears (1965) and Bulworth (1998).  Now, the plot turns up yet again in a comedy from the Netherlands, De Surprise (2015).


    John Bunny runs into modern-day pirates.


    Dorothy Devore climbs outside of a building to recover an expensive bracelet from an organ grinder's monkey in Hold Your Breath (1924).

     

    In The Battle of the Century (1927), Stan Laurel becomes so invigorated as he prepares for a boxing match that his ears excitedly wiggle.  When asked how this effect was achieved, Stan's daughter Lois said, "Imagine a kind of fishing tackle which does not photograph and is attached to the ears and pulled gently from behind the camera."


    I never tire of pictures of Buster Keaton.


    Keaton does the "hat mix-up" gag with Eddie Cline.


    Here we have the many faces of Bill Dana. 


    This is one of ZaSu Pitts' early film appearances.

    Fred Ardath brings his popular stage act to films in the Vitaphone short The Corner Store (1929).

     

    Lupino Lane plays an inept fireman in A Half-Pint Hero (1927).


    Our Gang gets a ride from motorcycle police.

    Johnny Burke sprays Vernon Dent with a seltzer bottle in The Lion's Roar (1928).


    Ham and Bud received regular coverage in the trade magazines.

     
     
     
     

    This is vintage Mad Magazine.  The artist is George Woodbridge.  The writers are Dick DeBartolo and Donald K. Epstein.


    Wilfred Lucas has the title role in the Keystone comedy Baffles, the Gentleman Burglar (1914).  The Keystone Cops are able to capture Baffles because he gets stuck in the chimney.


    Let's get into more "stuck" comedy.

    Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) has difficulty working as a janitor in The Honeymooners episode "Dial J for Janitor" (September 15, 1956).

     

    Patty Duke gets her head stuck in pipes under a kitchen sink.


    Hey, this stuff just happens sometimes.  Take, for instance, this incident in China.



    Martin and Lewis were drawn again and again to the mirror routine.

     



    This is good comic book reading.


    The Murphy bed gag returns in The Boss (2016).

     
     
     
     
     
     

    Let me try to identify a few of the entertainers celebrated in this 1905 illustration by P. Richards.


    Campbell and Johnson worked as comedy cyclists from at least 1904 to 1908.  They mostly garnered good reviews.

    Variety (April, 1906)
    Campbell and Johnson scored strongly in their bicycle and acrobatic act.
    Variety, August, 1908
    [Campbell and Johnson] have apparently found that the rougher clowning receives the louder applause and have accordingly "taken the lid off."  This may be well enough unless they are led astray to too great an extreme of knockabout assault and battery, as they appear to be in danger of doing.
    Couture and Gillette were comedy acrobats.

    J. A. Murphy and Eloise Willard were a popular husband and wife comedy team.  The illustration shows them performing their "Phrenologist" sketch, which was one of many acts that they created to amuse vaudeville audiences.  The team later worked at Lubin with Oliver Hardy.

    Elouise Willard

    A. Roy Knabenshue was an American aeronautical engineer and aviator who became well-known for making daring flights with his California Arrow dirigible.  The aviator exhibited his dirigible to audiences throughout the country.  I assume, though, that he showed up at his vaudeville appearances with a scaled-down mock-up of the California Arrow.


    Joan Davis performs the inflating raft routine in an I Married Joan episode, "Joan's Curiosity" (December 3, 1952).  The same routine was undertaken again in the 1960s by other actresses, including Mary Tyler Moore and Patty Duke.



    Nora Ephron credited her parents, screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron, with introducing the "head caught in the banister" routine in Walter Lang's Jackpot (1950). 




    However, Buster Keaton did a brief version of the routine nearly three decades earlier in The Haunted House (1921).


    This is the end.



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  • 04/27/16--05:47: Musicians on the Range


  • In the old westerns, a cowboy rode his horse across the open plains accompanied by majestic music from the likes of Elmer Bernstein, Dimitri Tompkin, Max Steiner, Ennio Morricone and Alfred Newman.  The reason for this proliferation of music on the plains was explained by the 1951 short comedy So You Want to Be a Cowboy.  The film showed that hidden among the sagebrush was an earnest orchestra. 


    Mel Brooks later reused this gag in Blazing Saddles (1974).

     



    Woody Allen turned out a similar gag in Bananas (1971).  We in the audience accept it as part of the soundtrack when we hear a harp playing over a scene.  But Allen suddenly becomes distracted by the music.  He walks over to a closet, throws opens the door, and finds inside a harpist. 




    What about this scene from Fanny and Alexander (1982)?



    We are sometimes surprised to find that the music in a scene is actually ambient sound. 

    How about this scene?



    Okay, that time I tricked you.


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    Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's famous 1928 Broadway comedy The Front Page was a man-child comedy.  Hecht and MacArthur described Peggy, the fiancé of the play's protagonist Hildy Johnson, as follows: "Despite her youth and simplicity, Peggy seems overwhelmingly mature in comparison to Hildy.  As a matter of fact, Peggy belongs to that division of womanhood which dedicates itself to suppressing in its lovers or husbands the spirit of D'Artagnan, Roland, Captain Kidd, Cyrano, Don Quixote, King Arthur or any other type of the male innocent and rampant."


    In March, 1903, a critic with The New York Clipper came upon an amusing schoolroom sketch at the Weber and Fields Music Hall.  The newspaper reported, "Charles A. Bigelow, as the shrewish schoolma’am, did better work than he has hitherto shown on this stage, and convulsed the audience by his broadly farcical playing.  Peter F. Dalley was the baby of the class — a huge and ‘precocious’ child."

    In vaudeville, a comedian found it was a sure way to get laughs to imitate a baby crying.  In March, 1903, the New York Clipper noted: "Alfred Lalone, the hypnotic comedian, never fails to make a hit in his impersonation of a crying baby."  In 1916, Fanny Brice got big laughs by imitating a baby crying in "If We Could Only Take Their Word."  In 1919, Variety reviewed a show at the Harlem Opera House in which Alfred Jackson imitated "an infant crying, finally appeased by a milk bottle stuck in mouth."  The same year, Variety was pleased with a version of this act performed by Emily Walters.  The Variety critic wrote, "A crying baby 'bit' by the girl was a big laugh and applause getter."



    A significant man-child comedy of the 1970s was Shampoo (1975).  This scene shows that, if the man-child gets called on his irresponsible ways, all that he needs to do to gain forgiveness is to cry.


    Tom Hanks played a number of his boyish roles astride a bicycle.

     
     
     

    Marlon Wayans, Ken Kramer, Kerry Washington and Shawn Wayans visit the doctor in Little Man (2006).


    Here we have a master man-child at work.

     

    Here a few random images.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     

     
     

    The fascists of the world continue to be the biggest babies.


    You can read more on the man-child in comedy in my new book.



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  • 04/27/16--06:33: Television Overstimulation


  • As it turns out, a person committing murder has a more calming influence than a person applying make-up.


    Recently, I managed to binge-watch a complete season of Perry Mason within five days.  It felt strange afterwards to return to broadcast television.  I went to an episode of Face Off that I had on my DVR.  The style of the show sharply contrasted the style of the Mason show.  Face Off was suddenly too bright, too colorful and too loud for me.  It felt as if I had consumed a wildly hallucinogenic drug. 

    A scene early in the show featured a makeup artist explaining his latest makeup design.  The man was simply talking while seated at a work table.  I'm sure that there's a simple and practical way to shoot a scene like that.  But this scene was not presented in a simple or practical way.  The scene was captured with a handheld camera that the operator jerked about restlessly.  It drifted to the right.  It drifted to the left.  Was the cameraman floating across a lake in a canoe?  The idea of centering the man in the frame and holding that position while the man talks is presumably too boring for the young viewers.  But it wasn't only about the restless camera.  The scene was broken up into a rapid succession of cuts.  As if that was not stimulating enough, a flash of light was inserted between the cuts.  Lastly, the makeup artist’s design ideas were illustrated with jazzy animated graphics.  This is television junk food.  The fast cuts, flashes of light and animated graphics are equivalent to loading supermarket snack foods with high fructose corn syrup.


    This is a good way to suffer stress, mental fatigue and burnout.  Studies have shown that fast-paced television impairs brain functions, including planning, memory, problem-solving and inhibition regulation.  I would rather calm my brain with meditation.

    I had to turn off the show.  It was far more than I could take.



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    This is a term paper that I wrote for an Abnormal Psychology college course in 2006.

    In 1997, the Institute for Alternative Media reported, "The average American child will witness. . . 200,000 acts of [television] violence by the time that child graduates from high school."  A substantial body of research has been conducted to determine whether a child's exposure to media violence contributes to an increased likelihood of physical aggression and a general desensitization to real-life violence.  The results of the studies have been mixed and the interpretations have generated a great deal of debate.



    In the last 40 years, hundreds of lab studies have been directed to find if children exposed to visual depictions of dramatic violence are more likely to behave aggressively toward other children.  Typically, one group of children is shown a violent program and another is shown a nonviolent program.  Afterwards, both groups are tested on their aggressiveness.  The tests have taken several forms.  Judith Levine summarized the tests as follows: "After watching a film of a teacher kicking a blow-up Bobo doll, children battered Bobo, too.  Students who watched boxing films were more willing than those who didn't to administer shocks to an errant research assistant.  In other studies, people who watched media with violent content responded to questions about hypothetical provocative situations and, more than those in the control group, imagined themselves striking or punishing others."



    Researchers have claimed that, in their analysis of children exposed to violent media, they found aggressiveness increased at rates as high as 16%.  However, the rates in general have varied significantly, usually close to 10% and sometimes as low as 1%.  Rates and every other aspect of the studies have brought about an unending storm of controversy.

    It has been argued that the lab experiments, which are controlled and scientific, are unnatural experiences, the results of which cannot be generalized to the real world.  Levine wrote, "In real life, a video gamer may desire the kill-or-be-killed thrill of Quake 11 for 20 minutes, then feel like rebuilding civilization with Civilization.  He's also probably playing with other kids, joking, competing, commenting and resting.  Similarly, a violent TV show is interrupted by commercials, channel surfing, chats with family members and trips to the kitchen.  All these activities alter the messages, mood and effects of the media experience."  

    Also, it is impossible to determine whether the aggressive behavior observed is a reaction to the violent television show or an attempt on the part of the child to meet the adult researchers' expectations.  As Kevin Durkin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Western Australia, stated, "Even quite young children are good at working out what adults want them to do."  It take slight prompting to get a small boy to strike a doll.   

    Simulations of physical aggression in a lab do not have the weight of evidence accumulated from a field study.  Field studies, though, present a problem for researchers.  Joanne Cantor, who insists that the relationship holds in real-world situations, acknowledged the methodological constraints of social science research in this complex area.  She argued, "We can't randomly assign children early in their lives to watch different doses of violence on television and then 20 years later see which children committed violent crimes."

    Undaunted, researchers have gone out into the field to collect information on children's viewing habits and behavior.  Huesmann and Moise wrote, "More than 50 field studies over the last 20 years have also shown that children who habitually watch more media violence behave more aggressively and accept aggression more readily as a way to solve problems."  The best known of these studies was conducted by Leonard Eron of the University of Illinois.  Eron originally surveyed a group of eight-year-old boys in 1960.  The U. S. Surgeon General arranged for Eron to conduct a follow-up survey in 1970 and then again in 1981.  In 1981, Eron identified in the subjects a high rate of alcohol abuse, spousal abuse, and violent crimes.  Barbour explained in 1970, "[T]he boys who had watched the most violent television at age eight were the most violent at age nineteen."  However, this violence didn't show up in psychological testing, only in the assessment of the subjects by their peers.

    A backlash has occurred against these studies in the last fifteen years.  It is during this period that the researchers' methods have been found flawed, their reasoning has been criticized, and their results have been contradicted. 

    In the nineties, separate research studies by Derek Scott and Akira Sakamoto found little support for the theory that playing violent video games induces aggressive behavior or can be associated with social maladjustment.  Susan Villani added on the topic, "Shimai et al. (1990), in a study of kindergarten children who played video games, found them to have superior development in several areas of social skills compared with nonplayers. In another study, Subrahmanyam and Greenfield (1994) found video games useful in teaching spatial performance, particularly for children with relatively poor skills in this area."  A four-year study by the Australian government showed that, more than anything, children and teens playing these games at the mall arcade benefited from the enjoyment, challenge and social interaction.

    Over the years, the experiments have become varied and creative.  In 1982, research was conducted by Karen Hennigan to determine if violent crime rates increased after television was introduced in the United States.  The rates, it was concluded, did not increase.  The following year, David Phillips examined homicide rates to see if homicides increased following a heavyweight prizefight.  Phillips could only identify an increase if he allowed for a 3-day time lag between the fight and the homicides.  Even then, the numbers he cited weren't significant. 

    Brandon Centerwall, a psychiatrist in Seattle, correlated rates of homicide with rates of television ownership in Canada, the United States and South Africa.  But Centerwall's findings were contradicted by other researchers.  Richard Rhodes wrote, "As Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins of the University of California at Berkeley subsequently pointed out, homicide rates in France, Germany, Italy and Japan either failed to change with increasing television ownership in the same period or actually declined, and American homicide rates have more recently been sharply declining despite a proliferation of popular media outlets - not only movies and television, but also video games and the Internet."

    Levine pointed to a 1995 study in which researchers Irwin and Gross allowed boys to play violent video games and reported afterwards that the boys acted rowdy and treated toys roughly.  The researchers reported high levels of aggression although the boys never became violent with one another and simply displayed harmless aggression towards inanimate objects.  Levin finds Irwin and Gross' overstatements to be common for these type of studies and believes such overstatements have greatly diminished the researchers' credibility.

    The most widely cited criticism of these studies is that, while these studies show that exposure to violent media correlates with aggressiveness, the correlations do not prove causality.  Just because a child who watches violent television shows behaves aggressively does not prove that the violent television programs caused the violent behavior.  Children with an aggressive temperament are drawn to aggressive entertainment.  A child can have a preexisting tendency to shove, kick or hit, removing responsibility from television for their actions.  Jonathan Freedman, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, indicated,  "Boys watch more TV football than girls, and they play more football than girls, but no one, so far as I know, believes that television is what makes boys more interested in football."  A child will seek out shows that express feelings they already have or satisfy their longings for mayhem. 

    Others are concerned that media violence not only teaches children how they should act but that it teaches them how society operates and how other people behave.  L. Rowell Huesmann and Jessica Moise contend, "It causes children to expect others to act violently and therefore be justified to react with violence in frustrating and threatening situations." 

    British scholar Martin Barker strongly disagrees.  He thinks it's wrong to assume that "horrible things will make us horrible - not horrified" and "terrifying things will make us terrifying - not terrified."


    Mimicking

    Children do not give indication that they mindlessly mimic the behavior they see in a television show.  Sales figures show that seeing Joe Camel light up a cigarette didn't convince teenagers to buy Camel cigarettes.  Teenagers, rather than buying into cute cartoon images, tend to smoke if their parents smoke.  Males' survey of 400 Los Angeles middle schoolers found children of smoking parents three times more likely to smoke by age fifteen than children of nonsmokers.  In 1989, the Centers for Disease Control reported, "75 percent of all teenage smokers come from homes where parents smoke."

    The theory of social learning maintains that children imitate the actions of parents and peers.  In observing role models, children internalize cognitive scripts to deal with people and situations.  This is a generally accepted idea.  However, debate arises when a social scientist extends the theory to give television characters the same influence as parents and peers.  Cutler wrote, "[U]nmediated interpersonal experience all shape kids' lives, minds and behavior more powerfully than any entertainment products."  Others disagree.  They believe that, as a result of media violence, these scripts contain the underlying view that violence is the right way to solve problems.  The media, in this way, severely reduces a child's empathy and guilt.

    Interactive video games like Grand Theft Auto heightened the fervor of this debate.  These games, in which children are immersed in realistic environments and make choices to kill characters, can potentially have a greater effect on cognitive development.  This issue received great attention when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who were said to have played hours of violent video games, killed thirteen people and wounded twenty-four others at Columbine High School.

    It needs to be noted that nonviolent games, which often have funny animal characters racing and flying through candy-colored environments, can still increase arousal or aggressive affect.  Riding a stationary bicycle for miles can similarly stimulate adrenaline and create an aggressive effect such as hitting a doll.  The real question, posed by Brad J. Bushman and Craig A. Anderson, is whether violent games can stimulate the long-term development of aggressive knowledge structures.  This allows for, what Anderson and Bushman called, "a rehearsal of violent reactions." 

    In contrast, a study conducted at the University of Western Sydney showed that people tend to rewrite messages of movies to suit their own views.  Children, unless they are seriously troubled or deficient, react critically to television shows.  Cutler wrote, "[K]ids understand early that cartoon violence is a joke, not a model.  Even wrestling, once kids figure out that it's staged, gets processed differently from, say, a schoolyard beating." 

    The matter is, perhaps, too complex to study conclusively or define simply.  Youth violence is caused by poverty, poor parenting, poor education, drugs, alcohol, abuse, neglect, divorce, biology, cognitive impairment, a deficiency of good role models, and many other factors.  Durkin sees parenting as the greatest factor.  He explains, "High television is correlated with lax parenting; aggressive behaviour in children is also correlated with lax parenting; hence, it is possible that the real source of the problem is family management." 

    Many other researchers believe that it is bad parenting combined with maladaptive beliefs that produces behavior disorders.  Jeanne Funk wrote, "For younger children, in the absence of counterbalancing influence from parents, other adults, or peers, the messages of violent video games could be internalized as moral imperatives: violence is fun, violence is acceptable, violence is without negative consequences, violence is necessary."


    Catharsis

    Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim didn't believe so much that war games purge impulses as they helped boys to confront, channel and ultimately control their impulses.  Bettelheim insisted that forbidding war toys would be like suppressing sexual feelings in children and creating guilt feelings in them.

    Seymour Feshbach, an American psychologist, asserted in the early 1970's that hostile fantasies act as a substitute for action, producing gratification and lowering drive states.  In 1971, he studied boys living in three private schools and four homes for boys in California and New York.  Boys were randomly assigned to watch violent or nonviolent television over a 6-week period.  He found among the control group more than twice as many instances of physical aggression, defined as "fistfighting, hitting, and kicking," compared to the treatment group.

    Wendy Josephson did a similar field study in 1987.  She found that, overall, the boys who watched violent programs were less aggressive.  However, it was the specific results of the study that interested her more.  According to this information, the boys with higher initial aggression became more aggressive and the boys with lower initial aggression became less aggressive.  

    In some quarters, the debate has shifted to whether violent characteristics are strengthened by violent media.  Cutler wrote, "Media violence is a risk factor that, working in concert with others, can exacerbate bad behavior.” 

    Bushman has argued heatedly against the longstanding notion of catharsis.  He puts particular blame on A. A. Brill, the psychiatrist who introduced Freud's psychoanalytic techniques to the United States.  Brill, according to Bushman and Anderson, "prescribed that his patients watch a prizefight once a month to purge their angry, aggressive feelings into harmless channels."  Brill is quoted to have said, "Children, too, have plenty of bottled up protest against life's little tyrannies - keeping clean, learning lessons, behaving themselves and the screen is the great medium for giving the child an outlet for this revolt." 

    Bushman, with fellow researchers Roy F. Baumeister and Angela D. Stack, wrote in "Catharsis, Aggression, and Persuasive Influence: Self-fulfilling or Self-defeating Prophecies?": "The continued widespread belief in catharsis is that the mass media continue to endorse the view that expressing anger or aggressive feelings is healthy, constructive, and relaxing, whereas restraining oneself creates internal tension that is unhealthy and bound to lead to an eventual blowup.  Because activities considered to be cathartic also are aggressive, they could lead to the activation of other aggressive thoughts, emotions, and behavioral tendencies, which in turn could lead to greater anger and aggression." 


    Context


    It matters, to a large degree, the context in which violence is presented.  Levine wrote, "[This] larger world of relationships and meanings in which the child views a show, associates the images in it with things he knows and feels, and behaves when the picture is turned off.  This is the context.  The first part of the context of media violence is what happens inside the story and how the story is told. . . [T]he context affects every viewer and determines whether she comes away seared, angry, amused, excited or altogether unaffected." 

    Author Laurence Jarvik contends that television programs, much like an old Bible story, frequently use violence to teach moral lessons.  Jarvik wrote, "[G]ood cannot be taught unless evil - including acts of violence - is also depicted. . . When Cain slew Abel, it did not have the same moral dimension as when David slew Goliath." 

    Javick referred to a Masterpiece Theatre episode, "Dandelion Dead," in which a person caught poisoning people is tried, convicted and hanged.  Jarvik wrote, "The hanging was the triumph of good over evil - a violent triumph.  In fact, the violence of the hanging was greater than the violence of the poisonings. Yet the poisonings were the crime, and the hanging restored the moral order."  The author reasoned that it would be impossible to impart moral lessons without depicting immorality.

    Freedman wrote, "In most violent television programs villains start the fight and are punished. . .  If children are learning anything from these programs, it is that the forces of good will overcome evil assailants who are the first to use violence. . .  [I]t hardly encourages the children themselves to initiate aggression." 

    The rap song "Cop Killer" became problematic as, its detractors said, it gave youth justification, guidance and instruction to shoot police officers.  It put violence in a moral context in which it was encouraged.  Defendants on trial for shooting police officers did, in fact, claim to have been influenced by the song. 

    Mariann and Charles Winick, authors of "The Television Experience: What Children See," found that young children whose parents fought a lot responded with more distress to the dramatic depiction of people yelling and screaming.  This is because the child, in their perception of the scene, draws from a real frame of reference.  The scene, in this type of context, takes on meaning and power, which it needs to have an emotional impact on the child.


    Closing commentary


    Parents who are convinced that media violence is worthy of condemnation have to wonder what steps they can take to protect their children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has a long list of recommendations, from the v-chip and content-based media ratings to a simple parenting strategy of keeping children's bedrooms media free.  Pediatricians are advised to suggest healthy alternatives, such as sports, art and reading, for children at risk.  The academy noted, in a 2001 policy statement, "Video games should not use human or other living targets or award points for killing, because this teaches children to associate pleasure and success with their ability to cause pain and suffering to others."  The child specialists are particularly concerned with the glamorization of war, what some have called "the John Wayne syndrome," and the promotion of "hateful, racist, misogynistic, or homophobic language." 

    This, in effect, becomes an ideological argument rather than a medical one.  Political factions, on the left and right, have turned this into their own personal kick ball.

    Cantor wrote, "Boys find out when they are very young that war is respectable through endless role models of great conquerors, heroic warriors, and brave soldiers.  It is not only patriotism that leads so many parents to acquiesce in the sacrifice of their sons in unnecessary wars but also pride in their sons' manhood.  The problem is compounded because many young women raised with the image of men as tough and dominant find men in uniform sexy, thus further reinforcing the values of the masculine mystique."

    It is purely a value judgment as to whether or not the type of aggressive physical behavior epitomized by war is an acceptable solution to conflict.  War has a moral context, after all, and these researchers seem ardently opposed to war for any reason.  They do not see brute, coercive force as an acceptable substitute for ways to resolve conflicts and satisfy needs.  Cantor finds it patently wrong to give children permission to release aggressive behavior even if it is to allow good to triumph over evil. 

    I am in no way an advocate of war, but I am uncomfortable with the phobia some researchers express towards masculine aggression.  It makes it worse that they do not differentiate different forms of aggression.  Aggression, as part of every man's nature, is innate, integral, and inextricable.  The human race survived and flourished by being ambitious and competitive.  Our aggressive traits, so often cited as antisocial, are in fact what built society.  Man, according to President Andrew Jackson, would be a "sluggish beast" without it. 

    These studies appear at times to be an attack on boys, who leftist social engineers want drugged into submission with Ritalin.  They want the masses, in general, to be pacified so that they can be freely controlled by big government.

    This social engineering, which seeks to feminize boys, threatens to drive aggressive impulses towards expressions less outward but, perhaps, more insidious and damaging.  Rachel Simmons examined, in her book Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, the deep psychological abuse inflicted on schoolgirls by their counterparts.  Simmons, following visits to 30 schools and discussions with 300 girls, catalogued chilling and heartbreaking acts of torment as disparate as gossiping and the silent treatment.  The schoolgirl bully will single out a girl as a victim and set out to systematically destroy the girl.  They will turn classmates against her and exclude her from social activities.  They will gang up on her to make fun of her clothes.  They will pass notes in class to make fun of her weight.  On a quiet day, they will simply glare at her.  It is similarly described in the book Girl Wars how girls go on a campaign of gossip, teasing and exclusion against other girls. 

    Women are as aggressive as men, even though not always as overt in expressing it.  Another study, this one by Wesleyan University, discovered that the culprit of conflict and hurtful behavior is most often a girl.  Nearly 20% of the girls reported that their peers engaged in some form of social aggression, compared with nearly 5% of the boys.  More than 30% of girls described social ostracism, compared with less than 6% of boys, and 27% of girls reported malicious rumors, compared with 11% of boys. 

    The girls are allowed to be aggressive and coercive, regardless of who they hurt, as long as they do it in a nonphysical way.  However, they are a lot more dangerous than the boy bully, who pushes down your son and takes his milk money.  The trauma they create goes deeper and lasts longer than a black eye or a bloody nose.

    Generally, it is hypocritical to single out physical aggression from other forms of malicious aggression.  Anyone who has spent time in a courthouse knows that our formally restrained attempts at conflict resolution are dominated by malicious aggression.  A legal battle is often more vicious, damaging and unjust than any schoolyard beating.  William the Conqueror, a warrior who created this adversarial system, originally called it "trial by battle."  These were not inquiries to find the truth.  The aggrieved and the accused, dressed in full battle garb, had to bash in each other's heads to decide the outcome.  The premise was that the man of valor, the one with the righteousness of cause, would be directed by God and have the divine strength to be victorious.  I have been in court and I would prefer a barroom brawl.  

    Society is filled with perverse messengers and poor role models, violent or otherwise, who can best be countered by loving, involved parents.  I have no complaint with ratings, which allow parents to make informed decisions, but these researchers aren't satisfied with rating systems and continue to work vigorously for much greater control.  

    Let me add, I am not persuaded against the catharsis theory.  Excessive emotional stress stimulates several chemical responses in the body.  The pituitary gland releases beta-endorphin, ACTH, and prolactin.  The adrenal gland releases epinephrine.  The sympathetic nervous system releases norepinephrine.  This activity, which prepares the body to perform physical activity with greater speed, strength, and agility, was helpful at a time when man was mostly stressed by furry, fanged beasts and simply had to make a decision to fight or flee.  Now, we are trapped in living situations which create chronic states of stress.  Repressing that stress can lead to depression and, in extreme cases, suicide.  A person cannot manage this overload of emotion and stress without creative release mechanisms.  They can shout at a basketball game.  They can laugh at a funny movie.  They can bicycle to work.  The pillow, which they can use to punch or they can use to cry into, might be a good tool for at least short term relief.  Shedding a few tears will make a person feel better for a few minutes, which is all the time that they might need to call a friend and invite them to a movie.  Sometimes, that little momentum is all that a person needs to get going again.

    As a child, I derived satisfaction from westerns, spy adventures, and horror movies.  I was able to identify with the hero.  I felt great relief when the good guy killed the bad guys.  It had a calming effect.  It comforted me to think that villains come to the bad ends they deserve. 

    Aggressive behavior is more likely to be inspired by exposure to real violence than media violence.  This real violence is something that children cannot avoid.  It is not something a rating labelling can protect them against.  The many children growing up in unsafe neighborhoods will see real violence outside their window.  They will read about relentless bloodshed in their history textbooks.  They will turn on the television and see news about an ongoing war or a death penalty execution, which is sure to have a brutalizing effect.

    Males asserts, "[D]uring the eighteen years between a child's birth and graduation from high school, there will be fifteen million cases of real violence in American homes grave enough to require hospital emergency treatment.  These assaults will cause ten million serious injuries and 40,000 deaths to children.  In October 1996, the Department of Health and Human Services reported 565,000 serious injuries that abusive parents inflicted on children and youths in 1993. The number is up four-fold since 1986."  Children need only to open a book and newspaper to acquire a generally negative world outlook.  Our world contains more sharks than puppy dogs. 

    It is presumptuous and alarmist to believe that violent behavior can be spread as easily as a cold, transported into a child's system from highly contagious electronic waves sneezed out of a television set.  However, politicians like to create demons when they can't make progress against real social problems.  Researchers are able to satisfy grant providers by making aggressive claims that favor liberal causes.  This is the kind of aggression that brings about misinformation and bad social policy.  This is the type of aggression that really makes life difficult for the rest of us. 


    Reference Sources

    American Academy of Pediatrics (2001, November).  Media Violence, Policy Statement from the Committee on Public Education.  Pediatrics, vol. 108, No. 5, pp. 1222-1226.

    Barbour, Scott (2003) Media Violence Does Not Cause Teen Violence. "Teen Violence: Opposing Viewpoints Digests."  Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center, Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale Group. 

    Brad J. Bushman, Brad J., Baumeister, Roy F., & Stack, Angela D. (1999).  Catharsis, Aggression, and Persuasive Influence: Self-fulfilling or Self-defeating Prophecies?  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 76, pp. 367-376. 

    Cantor, Joanne (2000).  Media Violence and Children's Emotions: Beyond the 'Smoking Gun'.  Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.  Downloaded on March 16, 2006, from www.nwresponsiblemedia.org/articles/MediaViolence.pdf.

    Dellasega, Cheryl, & Nixon, Charisse (2003).  Girl Wars : 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying.  New York, N.Y.: Fireside. 

    Cutler, Maggie (2001, March).  Whodunit - the Media?  It's Easy to Blame Cartoons for Gun-Toting Kids, but the Truth Isn't So Tidy.  The Nation.

    Eron, L.D., Huesmann, L.R., Lefkowitz, M.M., & Walder, L.O. (1972).  Does television violence cause aggression? American Psychologist, volume 27, pp. 253-263.

    Freedman, Jonathan L. (1996, May).  Violence in the Mass Media and Violence in Society: The Link Is Unproven.  Harvard Mental Health Letter, vol. 12, issue 11, pp. 4-6.

    Funk, Jeanne B. (2002, October).  Children and Violent Video Games: Are There "High Risk" Players?  Paper presented at “Playing by the Rules: Video Games and Cultural Policy, conference sponsored by the Cultural Policy Center, University of Chicago.

    Huesmann, L. Rowell, & Moise, Jessica (1996, June).  Media Violence: A Demonstrated Public Health Threat to Children.  Harvard Mental Health Letter, vol. 12, issue 12. 

    Jarvik, Laurence (1994, December 19).  Violence in Pursuit of Justice Is No Vice.  Insight, The Washington Times Corporation.  Downloaded March 15, 2006, from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_n51_v10/ai_15981038.

    Levine, Judith (2000).  Shooting The Messenger: Why Censorship Won't Stop Violence.  Report prepared for Media Coalition.  Downloaded March 15, 2006, from http://www.mediacoalition.org/stm/stm_individual_aggression.htm

    Males, Mike (1997, October 1).  Who Us?  Stop Blaming Kids and TV (for Crime and Substance Abuse).  The Progressive

    O'Connor, Tom (2000).  Juvenile Offenders and Troubled Teens.  MegaLinks in Criminal Justice.  Downloaded on March 16, 2006, from http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/juvjusp.htm. Last updated 3/1/00. 

    Rhodes, Richard (2000, September 17).  Hollow Claims About Fantasy Violence.  The New York Times.

    Savage, Joanne (2003).  Does viewing violent media really cause criminal violence? A methodological review.  Department of Justice, Law and Society, American University, Washington, DC.

    Simmons, Rachel (2003).  Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.  San Diego, CA: First Harvest Books.

    Villani, M.D., Susan (2001, April 4).  Impact of Media on Children and Adolescents: A 10-Year Review of the Research.  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40:4, pp. 392-401.

    Winick, M. P., and Winick, C. (1979). The Television Experience: What Children See.  Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.


    I was never entirely satisfied with the findings that I presented in this paper.  Common sense tells me that depraved media violence can have a damaging psychological effect on the viewer.  I can, without a doubt, feel an unpleasant feeling whenever I watch a violent scene.  It is like biting into a piece of fruit and finding that the taste is bitter.  I know immediately that this isn't something that I should be consuming.  Why would I want to bring something as rotten as that inside me?  But dark tendrils uncoil from the blood-splattered images and they can, if we let them, find a warm and ready home inside us.


    Not much new research has been conducted in the field since 2006.  An extensive article on Wikipedia expounds upon the many flaws identified in the field's best known studies.  Let's look at four of the most common complaints.


    1. The researchers fail to adequately define "aggression."  Jeffrey H. Goldstein, a psychology professor and author of "Why We Watch: The Attractions of Violent Entertainment," identifies a particular fault in the fact that researchers fail to differentiate between "aggression," which is aimed at causing harm to another person, and "aggressive play," which involves people (usually children) engaging in aggressive behavior for mutual enjoyment.

    2. The next complaint turned up often in my own research.  Wikipedia notes, "[The researchers'] measurement techniques are sloppy and evidence suggests that the researchers manipulate the results to support their conclusions.  There is also a problem with selective reporting, which is when a reporter fails to report findings that do not support their conclusions."  Realizing that researchers blatantly manipulated data to promote the prohibition of violent media had the greatest impact on my conclusions.  These were the actions of desperately frustrated men.  The researchers' frustration made the point better than anything else that, though violent media might very well cause violent behavior, this theory was in the end unprovable.  Also, I find it distasteful to side with cheaters.

    3. The third complaint is defined by Wikipedia as follows: "Some scholars contend that media violence studies regularly fail to account for other variables such as genetics, personality and exposure to family violence that may explain both why some people become violent and why those same people may choose to expose themselves to violent media.  Several recent studies have found that, when factors such as mental health, family environment and personality are controlled, no predictive relationship between either video games or television violence and youth violence remain (Ferguson, San Miguel & Hartley, 2009; Ybarra et al., 2008)."  This is without a doubt a complex issue.  Many factors certainly contribute to violent behavior.  But I have to wonder if, after biology and family life predispose a person to violent behavior, it isn't violent media that can act as the final trigger.  Violent media has certainly provided instruction and guidance to those who are pondering what to do with their violent urges.

    4. The final complaint is the one that I must dispute.  Wikipedia reported, "Large spikes in violent crime in the United States occurred without associated media violence spikes at times.  Similarly, this theory fails to explain why violent crime rates (including among juveniles) dramatically fell in the mid 1990s and have stayed low, during a time when media violence has continued to increase, and saw the addition of violent video games."  I noted in my paper that the various correlation studies do not agree.
    The context of media violence has changed greatly in the last ten years.  In absence of parental guidance, a child can be susceptible to the influences of Hollywood's axe-wielding serial killers and sadistic hit men, especially if those characters work in concert to spread a particular violent ideology.  This is simply a matter of context, which I discussed in my paper.  The specific circumstances of a violent scene does in fact, teach a child how society operates or should operate.  What is a child to think if a television character displays ecstasy while committing a violent act?  What if, as in the case of No Country for Old Men's (2007), a character obtains a substantial financial profit for committing multiple murders and then he escapes punishment for his crimes?  The message is that violence is pleasurable.  The message is that violence is rewarding.  Hollywood films bombard children and adults with the most perverse and brutal violence, which cannot possibly wash through them without having an effect. 

    You can tell children the wrong type of stories. . .


    . . . and it is bound to have a bad effect.


    Many people insist that, if media violence rates do not correlate with violent crime rates, it must be concluded without further debate that media violence is not harmful.  Let us pretend for the moment that every researcher agrees that this is a wholly verified and indisputable correlation.  I maintain even then that this point could not withstand fair and comprehensive scrutiny.  It would be an act of cruelty to show the grotesquely violent Martyrs (2008) to a group of five-year-old children.  We should at least be able to agree on that.  Would the film necessarily make these children commit a murder or would it have other adverse effects that are not as easy to measure?  Just because something doesn't increase the murder rate does not mean it does not have a harmful effect on society.  The murder rates are unable to tell us if violent media makes children more fearful of the world around them or less empathetic towards others.

    If we look clearly at the changing world around us, it would be difficult to deny that our culture has been coarsened by the vulgarity and violence of modern media.  I look at the violent demonstrations that have occurred during the present presidential election and I believe that this is all proof that anyone needs of society's increasing descent into barbarism.  Another problem with focusing on the bare crime rates is that too many variables affect the increase and decrease of crime rates.

    I have to, in the end, get back to the common sense argument.  A horribly violent film does not provide a cathartic effect.  Why else would people toss and turn in bed because they're having nightmares about a film they saw the day before?  Why would people refuse to go to the beach after seeing Jaws?  Violent scenes inhibit and disturb us.  They do not make us feel relieved and refreshed.  Quentin Tarantino, the most moronic director in film history, said in his defense of hyper-violent Django Unchained (2012), "I do think it's a cultural catharsis, and it's a cinematic catharsis.  Even — it can even be good for the soul, actually."

    I want to ask yourself a question the next time you see a person being butchered in a film: "Is this good for my soul?"



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    I watched dozens of Gunsmoke episodes this past summer.  I found it interesting when the same classic western elements that inspired and informed Gunsmoke turned up in grotesque and lurid form in Quentin Tarantino's perverse western The Hateful Eight.  This is no real surprise as Tarantino always patches together his films from story elements, character types and visuals from other films.  I really liked a shot of a stagecoach traveling through a snowy route.  I said to myself, "I have to give the man credit for this nice shot."

     
    No, I don't have to give him credit because he stole the shot from Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence (1968).


    Tarantino even made use of Corbucci's religious crosses in the snow.


    The Hateful Eight is essentially a closed-room murder mystery.  A group of stagecoach passengers, including bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive captive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), takes shelter from a blizzard at a way station.  The station is already occupied by several unsavory men, who have also been stranded by the blizzard.  Ruth is suspicious that none of the usual station attendants are present.  He is convinced that at least one of the travelers is not who he pretends to be and this imposter must have a plan underway to free Domergue. 
     
    Randolph Scott and Richard Boone in The Tall T (1957)

    Other westerns have involved a gang of fugitive outlaws taking control of a way station (otherwise known as a relay station).  This became a reoccurring plot in the 1950s with Rawhide (1951), Hangman's Knot (1952) and The Tall T (1957).  The plot turned up again in a 1964 Gunsmoke episode called "Help Me, Kitty."  Jack Elam, who was Rawhide's greatest asset in his portrayal of a lascivious bad guy, plays virtually the same role in the Gunsmoke episode.

    Jack Elam and Susan Hayward in Rawhide (1951)
    Amanda Blake and Jack Elam in Gunsmoke ("Help Me, Kitty," 1964)

    The Jennifer Jason Leigh character, Daisy Domergue, reminded me of a wholly repugnant character that Virginia Gregg played in the Gunsmoke episode "Phoebe Strunk" (1962).

    Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue


    Virginia Gregg as Phoebe Strunk


    Elements of Agatha Christie's classic novel "Ten Little Indians"(1965) can be seen in The Hateful Eight.  These same elements came to bear on a Gunsmoke episode called (appropriately enough) "Ten Little Indians."  In the episode, the Long Branch Saloon becomes a gathering place for a group of unsavory characters, all of whom have arrived in town with a deadly hidden agenda. 


    One of those characters is The Hateful Eight's Bruce Dern.

     

    Lastly, Russell was a reoccurring guest star on Gunsmoke.



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    I know that you have probably had more than your share of political discussion on Facebook lately.  Believe me, I have had more than my share, too.  I rarely go on Facebook these days because the political posts have gotten so out of control.  I wouldn't mind seeing socially conscious people engage in civil, erudite discussions.  But that's not what this is.  I'm not sure what this is exactly.  It is anger.  It is stupidity.  It is, mostly, insanity.  But, although you don't need me giving you more political commentary, I am so fed up with the political posts that I have to vent about it somewhere or else my head will explode.

    I would recommend that these sweet folk try something different in their social media postings.  Take a break from the political rancor.  Post a recipe.  Or a baby picture would be nice.  Best of all would be a funny pet video.  This is a favorite of mine.



    But I wonder if I am asking the impossible.  The level of savagery that I have seen in these posts suggests that the authors live on a strict diet of raw meat.  I wouldn't be surprised if they dined on the entrails of their offspring, which would preclude them from posting a baby picture, and it just might be that they torture small animals, which would make it unlikely they have a funny pet video to post.

    John Lennon encouraged me to imagine.  I feel inspired to try that today.  Okay, here I go.  Imagine there were no political activists.  A wave of relief washed over me as I typed those words.  It serves society to have citizens who are righteous, resolute and vigorous. . . except when it doesn't.  Citizens must also be reasonable, respectful and lawful.  We admire men of thought and will except when thought and will produces chaos, stridency and oppression.  I don't want to be dragged along in the wake of radical thought.  I do not want to see my country destroyed because a radical mob has forced it to undergo a massive, unwarranted and unwanted transformation of values.

    The worst that I can say about the activist is that the activist is divisive.  Recently, an activist journalist suggested that a presidential candidate could not win in the primary in Florida unless they supported "Latino interests."  What are Latino interests as defined by the journalist?  The journalist started out by saying that Latinos are concerned with the economy.  Who isn't concerned with the economy?  The journalist said that Latinos are concerned with education.  Who isn't concerned with education?  Latino voters are being told that they are different than white voters, which is a lie.  

    On Facebook, a man who had protested the Vietnam War in his college days ardently supported the militant actions of Bernie Sanders' rally-busting Chicago activists.  He insisted that the group was simply exercising their free speech rights.  It is not free speech to trespass on private property and shout down somebody who thousands of people want to hear speak.  This is an absurd idea of free speech.  Two people shouting into each other's faces is not free speech because nothing either person has to say can be heard.  Two people shouting into each other's faces is, at best, free noise.  Two people shouting into each other's faces is anarchy, which is the true goal of the political activist.


    Stephen Stromberg of the Washington Post condemned Bernie Sanders for his "red-in-the-face diatribes."  Stromberg concluded, "[Sanders'] campaign is not about governing in the real world of trade-offs and constraints.  Which is to say, it is not about governing at all."

    Political activism, which seeks to fundamentally change the dominant system, is anti-law and anti-government.  It is the role of the activist to create social unrest.  It is the role of the activist to create anarchy.  Political activists pressure, threaten, and ridicule.  Their plan is to create fear, confusion and retreat.  They seek no dialogue or compromise.  They are warriors who seek to destroy the opposition, which is often everyone in mainstream America.

    Society must be wary of the agitators.  They bring no joy to the world.  They create dissatisfaction and discord whether it is justified or not.  Protest and agitation is its own form of government.  Take a look at Saul Alinsky's instructional manual "Rules for Radicals."  The radical's tactics are designed to agitate and aggravate.  According to Alinsky, the main job of the radical is to bait an opponent into reacting.  Alinsky wrote, "The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength."  That is really what is going on at these protests.  It's agitation, nothing more and nothing less.


    The election booth is where we, as Americans, exercise our greatest power.  An election should be a fair and orderly process.  The political rally is an important part of the election process.  It is true that, by shutting down a political rally, you prevent free speech and free assembly.  But, even more important, you are shutting down the most vital step that voters take on their way to a free election. 

    The biggest Baby Boomer myth is that political activism shapes and energizes a democracy.  The truth is that political activism distorts and depletes a democracy.  Political activists hate the democratic process and seek to undermine it at every opportunity.  Political activists are quick to dismiss elections as foolish and impractical.  Jenny Marsh wrote in her article "How to be a Political Activist,""Political activism is much more than turning out on voting day and ticking a ballot sheet.  That is far too passive and ineffective, and will NEVER be enough. . ."  The alternative to elections, if you believe this, is to take power and bring about change through force.  This is not something that I could ever support. 

    Elections are won by a majority vote and political activists are abhorred by the idea of majority rule.  So, they seek political power from bullying, manipulation, propaganda and, above all else, caterwauling.  They follow the crude principle that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  Imagine a family going out for dinner.  Everyone wants to eat at Outback Steakhouse except for little Timmy, who wants to go to McDonalds so that he can get a Minion toy with his Happy Meal.  Dad suggests the family takes a vote.  As expected, Timmy is outvoted by the rest of the family.  But Timmy's response is to scream and cry so much that his weak-willed parents and siblings give in and go to McDonalds.  Academy members voted for the Oscar nominees, but the big babies cried like it was the end of the world because the votes didn't go their way.  Clamor politics is, in the end, an appallingly childish form of politics.  It is no way to run a civilized society.


    Let me take a moment to defend majority rule.  It is logical and practical to serve the needs of the majority.  If 75 percent of the population benefits from a law, it is in all likelihood a good law.  A lot of citizens will now, in some way, enjoy a better life.  The public interest is served by policies that help many people.  But political activists see it as the role of the government to serve minorities and leave the majority to take care of themselves. 

    It is important to understand that minority interests do not always relate to skin color.  A homeowner who doesn't have children receives no direct benefit from having his property taxes raised to increase revenue for schools.  But most of his neighbors have school-age children and they support having their property taxes raised to give their children a better education.  This places our childless homeowner in the minority.  So, should the man chain himself to a school flagpole and scream about his rights being violated?  I, myself, have never had a secure place in the mainstream.  I have found myself being in the minority on many occasions.  Still, I am fine with the majority interests.  I do not expect the world to revolve around me.  I am glad if my neighbors' children are going to get a better education.  Just respect my basic rights and I will be fine with you.

    It is true that the power of majority rule can potentially lead to the abuse of minorities, but this is the reason that our founders enacted the Constitution.  Of course, this does not mean that the protection of minorities is everything.  It also does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that majority rule is evil and must never be tolerated.  It is by no means a great social injustice for every law to fail to benefit every citizen.  It would only be bad if every law benefited the same group of people every time.  Activists, who are utterly selfish and short-sighted, only want laws to benefit themselves and they can tolerate no laws that leave them out.  They will attack any proposed law that does not directly benefit them.  It is the "Wah! Veto."  Contrary to what they say, they are not looking to bring about benevolent social change.  The changes they propose are hostile to everyone but themselves.

    Back in 2002 and 2003, I was involved in a political activist group.  The experience allowed me to come to an understanding of how political activist groups operate and become familiar with the sort of people that are drawn into these groups.  I saw the dark way that most of these groups operate.  I saw the angry, dysfunctional misfits who found in an activist group far more than a cause.  Men and women who devote themselves to actively promoting political causes are antisocial jerks.  The whole reason for their existence is to provide an oppositional stance against the mainstream public.  These groups provide a haven for a misfit.  It is place where a misfit could find a family, a circle of friends and a hallowed fellowship, all of which eluded them in the wider world.  This brings about a minority of oddball fanatics who unjustly drive political action.

    In one way or another, these people thrive on social unrest.  It makes them feel exhilarated and self-satisfied.  In truth, political activism allows dysfunctional people to preoccupy themselves with exciting activities, which is preferable to such people remaining still and looking inside the depressing hollowness of their own existence.  A prankster finds it empowering and exciting to explode a firecracker under someone's chair, but the prankster must accept that he is an idiot if this is the only way he can find to bring purpose and pleasure to his worthless life.

    The number one rule of the political activist group is "The end justifies the means." These people are willing to operate in the most immoral way possible to get what they want.  They do not petition lawmakers for change in the same manner as the honest, loyal and respectable citizen.  They pressure, manipulate and deceive in the most lawless and perverse ways imaginable.

    Their new favorite phrase is "shut down."  This means stopping people from saying things that disagree with their views or disrupting opponents' assemblies.  Recently, political activists have shamelessly shut down a political rally, an Easter church service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and a memorial service for terrorist victims.

    The sane man wants security, stability and tranquility.  He wants to establish a life for himself and live that life as best as he can.  A civilized society highly values public peace.  That is the reason that comprehensive laws address disorderly conduct, public nuisance, desecration, harassment, riot, incitement to riot, and giving false alarm.  Political radicals never allow the public a moment of peace, or satisfaction, or pride.  Activists want society to be in a constant state of upheaval.  Constant upheaval, from their perspective, brings constant progress.  So, they wield a giant sledge hammer to destroy everything in their path.  Conservation is for conservatives, who the activists somehow see as bad people.

    The world will never be a perfect place, but we have a right to live in our imperfect world with at least a modest degree of peace and harmony.  The agitators want life to be a non-stop stream of ugly words and vicious protests.  They want and need perpetual war.  It takes little to set them off.  Every day, they find something new that they can rage about.  You cannot satisfy the activist by meeting his demands because it is not about the politics of the activist.  It is about the psychology of the activist.  It is about their need to rage and destroy.  The last thing that the rageaholic wants is to work together in a civil and productive manner to address society's problems.  In their wildness, they are unable to focus their attention on truly pressing problems.  I see too much rabble-rousing over nothing.  The fact that Idris Elba was not nominated for an Oscar is not a genuine problem. 

    The radical activist sees themselves as a hero.  It is his objective, he says, to provide deliverance to the downtrodden masses.  He wants us to believe that, through his protests, he champions the pursuit of universal justice.  He is, he says, a hardened fighter of oppression.  But all that he is, if you get past the bluster, is a self-righteous twit.

    No system of government will make a country into a paradise.  It wouldn't matter if Christ came out of Heaven and presented us with a blueprint for the perfect society.  Capitalism started out as a great idea.  It served the public good in many ways.  But the human race exploited that idea at every opportunity to serve their own self-interest.  It was only a matter of time before we corrupted capitalism beyond all recognition.

    Still, I believe that the best that we can do is to live under our current government.  No matter what you want to call it - a democratic republic, or a constitutional democracy, or a representative democracy.  Whatever it is, it works for me.  It works best for everyone regardless if everyone can see that or not.

    Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest, views a political movement as a complex coalition of human organizations all working to improve the world.  He wrote, "Part of what I learned concerns an older quiescent history that is remerging, what poet Gary Snyder calls the great underground, a current of humanity that dates back to the Palaeolithic.  Its lineage can be traced back to healers, priestesses, philosophers, monks, rabbis, poets and artists who speak for the planet, and other species, for interdependence, a life that courses under and through and around empires." 

    It is the height of arrogance for these people to present themselves as a special "current of humanity" that has the right to tell the rest of us the way to live.  I remember a writer (I think it was Melvin Konner) saying that the political activists are the "conscience of society."  Hollywood actor Peter Coyote has used the Snyder quote in his book "Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle."  It is a problem when so many Hollywood actors see themselves as the poet and artists of Snyder's "great underground."  It makes them think that they are right to appoint themselves as our moral leaders.  This hammy oligarchy is the ultimate minority rule.  I prefer a simple old-fashioned election to speak for the public.



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    We live today in anarchy.  Not even the most basic and longstanding moral beliefs can take root in anarchy.  Let's take, for example, lying.  I grew up believing that lying was wrong.  A person who makes a habit of lying is, from my perspective, despicably immoral.  But what is the state of lying as a moral concept in the modern world?

    As Breaking Bad approached its series finale, a fan assembled a compilation of scenes in which the series' ever-slippery Walter White lied.  Vulture's Caroline Shin wrote, "[O]n Breaking Bad, we got a time-lapse peek at just how far Walter White has come in his ability to lie.  Back during his first meth cook in the desert, he had to rehearse before telling Skyler that he was working late at the car wash.  Since then he's learned to slander, deny, prevaricate, and dissemble in 100 different ways without a moment's pause.  Looking back on five seasons of the show, five distinct Walt strategies for bullshitting emerge." 


    This video prompted discussions of lying in various Internet forums.  Many people made it clear in their remarks that they saw no immorality to lying.  They regarded the occasional (or maybe not so occasional) mistruth as a highly useful tool.  To them, lying was just a normal part of life. 

    My assumption at the time was that these people never had proper parents around to tell them lying is a bad thing.  I know that the "lying is bad" message isn't something that television has ever bothered to teach children.  I remember when I was a child that most television shows had characters who lied with no hesitation on a weekly basis.  Think about Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, McHale's Navy, Hogan's Heroes, Mission Impossible or F Troop.  You knew you were about to hear a whopper of a lie when Dr. Bellows brought to Tony Nelson's attention the latest evidence of Jeannie's magical mischief.  Take, for instance, this scene in which Bellows says to Tony, "I can't wait for your explanation of what you are doing with an elephant in your bedroom."


    I learned long ago never to look to television for valuable instruction.  I certainly never depended on television to deliver a moral message to my son.  I, myself, taught my own son not to lie.  I am proud to say that my son has matured into an honest young man.  But, evidently, other parents did not carry forth this message.

    Ulrich Boser of U.S. News wrote, "Don't feel bad [if you lie].  You're in good, dishonest company.  A growing body of research shows that people lie constantly, that deception is pervasive in everyday life.  One study found that people tell two to three lies every 10 minutes, and even conservative estimates indicate that we lie at least once a day."

    I cannot think of one time today that I lied.  I cannot think of a time yesterday that I lied.  Did I lie in the last week or the last month?  No, not even once.

    Let me tell you about something that did happen to me in the last month.  I live in a friendly neighborhood where people are always bringing me food.  One afternoon, a little old lady came to my door with a Tupperware container.  "I made rice pudding and I thought that you would like some," the old woman said.  The rice pudding was awful and I dumped it immediately into my trash can.  Did I tell the old woman about this?  No, of course not.  But I didn't tell the woman that the rice pudding was delicious.  I said at our next encounter, "I thank you again for the rice pudding.  That was very kind of you." But it is asserted in this article that I should have said the rice pudding was delicious.  Robert Feldman, a University of Massachusetts psychologist, said, "We use lies to grease the wheels of social discourse.  It's socially useful to tell lies."  Boser underscored this.  He wrote, "Studies have shown that people who lie frequently are viewed as friendlier and more amiable than their more truthful counterparts."


    It was made very clear in the article that the best lies of all were the lies that we tell to ourselves.  Richard Gramzow, a psychologist at the University of Southampton, said, "Exaggerators tend to be more confident and have higher goals for achievement.  Positive biases about the self can be beneficial."  I know people who cannot acknowledge their flaws or their failings.  It is a serious problem.  Self-delusion is no way to go through life.  The self-deluded can never improve themselves because they can never admit that they have anything to improve.  But, beneath the lies that they tell themselves, they still carry around guilt and shame for their shortcomings.  The truth is the elephant in the room.  When we stand in a growing pile of elephant dung, we can never escape the smell.


    If we as a society can't agree that lying is wrong, then we cannot agree on anything being wrong.



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    The leftish Grimm's Fairy Tale version of the Hollywood Ten story is no longer relevant in the modern world.  So, if you can't get gut-aching drama or political passion out of this spent myth, you have to go in an entirely new direction with this story.  The makers of Trumbo went with camp.  The titular Trumbo comes across as a villain from the Adam West Batman series.  Call him The Red Scribe.  Be honest, is anything more camp than a grinning jackass who smokes a cigarette in a cigarette holder?

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Even more clownish than Trumbo and his silly cigarette holder is a fictionalized version of the Hollywood Ten that made a recent appearance in the Coen Brothers'Hail, Caesar! (2016).  These characters are creatures of pure camp and were easily able to put a grin on my face.


    The Hollywood Ten wanted to turn the motion picture industry into their own personal political propaganda machine.  The blacklist was designed to stop that from happening.  Motion pictures exert a great deal of influence on the public.  The idea of allowing Hollywood's self-important writers and directors to exploit the power of motion pictures to their own political ends would have been equivalent to putting a loaded gun into the hands of a five-year-old child. 

    Sneaking political propaganda into studio product was, without question, an offense that should have gotten a writer fired.  It's like the employee of a cereal company replacing the free toy inside of cereal boxes with miniature edition of The Communist Manifesto.  At first, the defenders of the Hollywood Ten claimed that the writers did not conceal political propaganda in their scripts.  This was hysteria, they said.  How often did they call the blacklist a "witch hunt"?  But the authors' scripts were so rich in Soviet notions that their denial of propaganda was futile.  Later, the claim was made that the scripts simply reflected the authors' worldview and it would be impossible for their worldview not to naturally seep into their writing.  But these are overpowering views presented in the most contrived and heavy-handed manner.  The examples of propaganda are many.  Allan H. Ryskind wrote in "Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters – Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler,""[Alvah] Bessie, who fought on the Soviet side in the Spanish Civil war, bragged about inserting pro-Soviet propaganda that was 'subversive as all hell' into the 1943 film Action in the North Atlantic."  The latest defense of the Hollywood Ten is to claim that these men were socialists who were bringing a necessary message to the American public.  Certainly, today's Bernie Sanders-loving millennials believe that the Socialist philosophy is a good philosophy to preach.  But, even if we accept this argument, the men were not Socialists.  These men were revolutionary Stalinists who supported overthrowing the American government by force and violence. 

    There's no way to get around the fact that these were unpleasant men.  Ann Coulter wrote, "Ukrainians were eating their shoes and watching their children starve to death in Stalin’s orchestrated famine and Jews were being hauled off to the gas chambers by Hitler.  Both regimes championed by Trumbo and the other Hollywood 10.  But Dalton Trumbo was forced to write scripts under another name for about decade.  The horror."

    The scripts of the Communist writers were scrutinized by Dorothy B. Jones, the chief film analyst for the Office of War Information.  Jones found that Hollywood's Communist writers injected propaganda speeches into their scripts.  She wrote, "These speeches take the form of condemning the capitalistic system, and wealthy people, or bemoaning the plight of the poor, and suggesting this condition would not exist under communism."

    Hollywood still wants to deny the truth about these men.  Trumbo's daughter, Nikola, was a consultant on the film.  Nikola admitted that the first version of the script that she read did not actually state that her father was a Communist.  She said, "The political part was really important to me.  I didn't want — what's the word where you hop over something and pretend it didn't happen?  He was a Communist.  I think it was really important that was stated." 

    Communism was about more than paying labor a fair rate of pay or sharing a sandwich with a hungry man.  The "sharing a sandwich" business, as absurdly simplistic as it is, was the definitive description of Communism that was provided in the film.


    The fact was that the beliefs of Trumbo and his associates were a major attack on American values.  This was reflected in the grotesque way that the writers portrayed other parts of American life, including marriage and religion.

    Marx and Engels accused the bourgeois of seeing a wife as "nothing but an instrument of production."  A marriage was nothing more than a man subordinating a woman for free labor.  Clean the house.  Make the dinner.  Pop out the next baby.  Marx called this "domestic slavery."  It was as if the man did no work himself.   Marx cast husbands as owners and wives as workers, the basic idea being that the owner husbands made a surplus of wealth exploiting the worker wives.

    Engels called for women to abandon their homes and become worker drones in his 1884 essay, "The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State."  Engels wrote, "The emancipation of women becomes possible only when women are enabled to take part in production on a large, social scale, and when domestic duties require their attention only to a minor degree."  Engels knew what he was talking about when it came to management screwing labor.  In his own home, Engels had an adulterous affair with his housekeeper and eventually got the woman pregnant.

    Erin Pizzey, who founded the world's first shelter for battered wives in 1971, wrote about her experiences with radical feminists.  She recalled that these women carried around copies of Mao's Little Red Book and had posters of Mao in their living rooms.  Mao, who was heavily influenced by The Communist Manifesto, alleged that the patriarchal system oppressed women and women could only find freedom by rejecting "husband authority," leaving their homes, and taking their place on the labor front.  So, in China, women went into the fields and joined in production.  Male and female workers became indistinguishable in their unisex frocks.  Mao was no French dude who advocates "Vive la différence."  In the 1960's, he initiated a police crackdown in which police officers beat women for wearing lipstick. 

    It is more important than anything to know that the Hollywood Ten were enormous hypocrites.  Coulter wrote, "They were using their immense power to. . . blacklist writers who were anti-Soviet, such as Eugene Lyons.  Hollywood reds pioneered the practice of blacklisting, then cried bloody murder when it was applied to them."

    The actual Dalton Trumbo

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  • 04/27/16--10:40: President Parody
  • John Alexander parodies President Teddy Roosevelt in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
     
    Actors have for a long time entertained audiences with witty impersonations of U. S. Presidents.  But the impersonations of bygone days were different than the type that we see today.

    In December, 1906, the vaudeville team of Delphina and Delmora performed a comedy musical act in which one of the performers impersonated President Theodore Roosevelt.  Their act was billed as "Musical Travesty."  Teddy likely issued melodious musical notes as he called out, "Bully!"  The audience, it followed, could be expected to furnish polite applause.

    In 1907, comedian Frank Finney wrote and staged "On the Panama," a political satire about America's efforts to build the Panama Canal.  This lively burlesque entertainment featured Finney in the key role of President Roosevelt.  Variety reported, "Frank Finney was the most prominent person on the stage.  He is a conscientious comedian, has irresistible methods, and crested much laughter in a quiet and unassuming manner.  One of the funniest spots in the show was the patriotic speech which occupied fully ten minutes and amused.  His impersonation of Roosevelt brought much laughter."


    It is unlikely the laughter was at Roosevelt's expense.  At the time, impersonations of U.S. Presidents were usually reverential.  The key word in this review is "patriotic."  Variety added, "There are many patriotic phrases and the stars and stripes wave gloriously."

    Benjamin Chapin as President Abraham Lincoln

    Benjamin Chapin became renowned for his dramatic portrayals of Abraham Lincoln.  He toured with his Lincoln act, originally titled "At the White House," from 1905 to 1917.  Variety noted in 1908: "Mr. Chapin's sketch makes a really intelligent appeal to normal patriotism.  His sympathetic interpretation of President Lincoln is sincere and unforced and there is no strained exploitation of the flag. . .  The sketch scored a tremendous popular success, Mr. Chapin being called upon for five bows."  Acclaim for the act increased with each new year.  In 1917, an ad published for Chapin's act featured the following text:
    Benjamin Chapin traveled for 12 years over the United States, giving his Lincoln monologues.  He also gave over 2,000 performances in vaudeville, as 'Headliner' in a series of one-act Lincoln plays.  The people of this country love Lincoln, and THEY KNOW CHAPIN AS LINCOLN.  Their appreciation and patronage made Chapin the highest-salaried lyceum artist, and one of the highest- salaried performers in vaudeville.
    From 1911 to 1921, Hollywood had four actors who competed regularly to appear in films as Abraham Lincoln.  This included Chapin, Ralph Ince, Frank McGlynn Sr. and Francis Ford.  Ince's performance record rivaled Chapin's.  From 1913 to 1921, the actor regularly entertained vast film and stage audiences with his vivid portrayal of Lincoln. 


    In 1917, Chapin starred in a 14-part movie serial on the life of Lincoln.  Sadly, he died of tuberculosis while the series was still in production.

     
     
     

    In 1907, impersonator Harry Allister made a satisfactory showing as the third act on the Alhambra bill.  It was the highlight of his act, "Impersonations of Famous Men," to present the theatre audience with striking impersonations of Presidents Roosevelt, Taft and McKinley. 

    Harvey Brooks impersonated Taft in a sketch of the 1908 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies.

    In 1908, W. E. Whittle introduced a lifelike impersonation of Roosevelt as part of his ventriloquist act.  He was so convincing in the role that Fox Film later cast him to play Roosevelt in Why America Will Win (1918).

    W. E. Whittle and his partners

    In 1908, Huntington May appeared as George Washington in an act titled "The Patriot."

    The musical act of Lowe and Lewin stirred up patriotic sentiment at the American Music Hall in January, 1909.  The men relied upon a xylophone duet accompanied by colored slides to deliver a medley of national anthems.  The act climaxed with a rendition of "Yankee Doodle" and the appearance of President-elect Taft, President Roosevelt, "The Spirit of 76" and Uncle Sam.

    In 1910, Henri French headlined on the Orpheum Circuit with a variety of impersonations.  But French refused to impersonate presidents or other American patriotic figures.  It was stressed in ads that French did not bother with "inflicting upon us the old chestnut imitations of Lincoln, Grant and the rest of the category."

    In 1910, the comedy team of Harry Fiddler and Ray Byron Shelton debuted a spoof of the presidential politics that featured Fiddler as Taft.  Fiddler and Shelton were, as the photo below shows, black men.

     
    But nothing in reviews of the day suggest that humor was derived from the fact that Fiddler's version of the U. S. President was a darker shade than the real president.  By every indication, Fiddler provided a color-blind portrayal of Taft.  Fiddler and Shelton had developed a reputation for avoiding black stereotypes and presenting a clean and refined act.  This was no vulgar watermelon-eating Black Taft.  The Taft sketch proved to be so popular that Fiddler was still performing a variation of it in 1928.  A notable change in the act occurred when Fiddler replaced his Taft caricature with a Roosevelt caricature. 

    Surprisingly, the black Roosevelt was not as original as the black Taft.  Vaudeville already had a well-established black Roosevelt essayed by popular blackface comedian Lew Dockstader.

     


    In October, 1912, John W. Ransom appeared as the second act on the Riverside bill.  Variety reported, "Ransoms [sic], with a Teddy Roosevelt makeup, stuck to campaign topics.  His act gives him a chance to sound his audience and at the Riverside he found them very progressive.  With politics red hot now, Mr. Ransoms should be able to get along."  The ad below shows that Ransom also impersonated Taft.


    Columnist Marion Howard insisted that it was an unpardonable offense to ridicule the president during wartime.  This may be the reason that wartime president Wilson was immune to impersonation.  Also, Wilson was boring.

    In March, 1919, The New York Clipper reported, "Danny Simmons, 'The Military Hobo,' singing, talking, dancing and an impersonation of Theodore Roosevelt, kept the crowd in a cheerful mood all through his act."

    In 1919, Alfred Bryan and Fred Fisher commemorated Teddy Roosevelt's death with a popular song called "Good-bye, Teddy Roosevelt, You Were a Real American."  The patriotism of the song was evident in the title as well as every line of its lyrics, which began "Oh, he stood like the oak in the tempest."

     
    In 1935, comedian Chic Sale soberly portrayed Lincoln in a MGM short subject, The Perfect Tribute.


    McGlynn turned out to be the last Lincoln standing.  He last appeared as Lincoln in 1939's The Mad Empress.

    Shirley Temple and Frank McGlynn Sr. in The Littlest Rebel (1935)

    A musical number in Babes in Arms (1939) featured Mickey Rooney as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Judy Garland as Eleanor Roosevelt.  When the film was reissued in 1948, the light-hearted scene was removed in deference to Roosevelt, who had died three years earlier.

     

    In 1940, Fred Ardath dressed up as Roosevelt for The New York World's Fair's "American Jubilee" show.

     
    Maybe, attitudes changed after "Arsenic and Old Lace" introduced Teddy Brewster, a mentally ill man who has deluded himself into believing that he is actually Teddy Roosevelt.  This psychotic man's buffoonish depiction of Roosevelt is an outright parody of the once-revered president.  Or, maybe, the respect for our bygone patriots dissipated as television sketch comedians turned out comic reenactments of Washington crossing the Delaware.  Washington hardly seemed such a great man after he was run through the mill by Ernie Kovacs, Laugh-In, Bob Hope and Stan Freberg. 

    Vaughn Meader as President John F. Kennedy

    As it turned out, the 1960s brought us absurd doppelgangers of the presidents through the mimicry talents of Vaughn Meader (John F. Kennedy) and David Frye (Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon).  Reverence went totally out the window. Gerald Nachman, author of "Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, " wrote of Frye:
    It was Frye who came up with the definitive Richard Nixon, an animated version of Herblock's swarthy shifty-eyed cartoon — jowls wagging, wary darting eyes looking up from under shaggy brows, arms stretched maniacally into a V — that comics still palm off as their own.  Frye's Nixon looked, sounded, and thought like Nixon.  To his full-length presidential portrait he added the trademark Nixonian line that captured forever all of Tricky Dick's menacing paranoia: "Make no mistake about it— I AM the president."
    Frank Gorshin as Kirk Douglas and David Frye as President Lyndon Baines Johnson

    Today, the phrase "I AM the president" puts a lethal target on a man's back for parodists.


    Additional notes

    In 1912, the Oakland Tribune reported, "Harry Fiddler and Byron Sheldon are colored entertainers.  They sing, play and impersonate in a creditable manner.  Sheldon is also a pianist and features his trick playing.  Fiddler is a mimic."  The San Francisco Call referred to Fiddler and Shelton as "the great negro vaudeville team."  Variety called them "colored boys with music and mimicry." 

    Fiddler was the more prominent member of the team.  He was active on stage from the early 1890s to the late 1930s.  That's almost half a century of stage craft.  Fiddler was credited by The Afro-American newspaper of clearing the way for black comedians to play in the major theatres.  It was a departure at the time for Fiddler and Shelton to be, as the paper noted, "sandwiched into an all-white vaude show."   

    It should be noted that, although Fiddler avoided black stereotypes, he did indulge in another type of racial stereotype.  The comedian's most popular act involved an unflattering impersonation of a Chinese immigrant.  Those familiar with vaudeville comedy know that ethnic humor was extremely popular in the day.  The audiences cheered.  The reviews were favorable.  Variety said of his appearance at Chicago's American Theatre in May, 1926: "[Harry Fiddler] did a Chinaman for a finale, getting laughs by garbling the English language."  Variety noted of his appearance at Chicago's Congress Theatre in February, 1928: "[Harry Fiddler's] Chink impersonation was a stand-out."

    Fiddler eventually parted ways with Shelton.  He had other partners afterwards, but he mostly performed on his own.  He was billed as "The Proper Tone Comedian" and "The Man of Many Faces."  One theatre that promoted his appearance promised "An Abundance of Delightfulness and Humor."

    Fiddler belonged to a wave of black comedians that attained popularity in the 1880s and 1890s.  Fiddler's peers included Billy Kersands, Dan Avery, Jim Crosby, Bert Williams, Ernest Hogan, Bob Cole and Billy Johnson.  All of these men were groundbreakers.  Booker T. Washington wrote in 1909, "The success of Ernest Hogan has made it possible for other Negro comedians to gain a foothold in the better class of the theatres, and create a more worthy kind of Negro comedy."  But, despite all of this praise for Fiddler and Hogan, the most famous of the group was Kersands. 

     
    Here is part of an excellent Wikipedia article on Kersands:
    [Kersands] was a hit with both white and black audiences, particularly in the South.  Tom Fletcher wrote that "In the South, a minstrel show without Billy Kersands is like a circus without elephants". . . Kersands's comedy act centered on his enormous mouth, which he exuberantly contorted into countless shapes.  He peppered his songs with these movements and their accompanying noises.  One observer remarked, "The slightest curl of his lip or opening of that yawning chasm termed his mouth was of itself sufficient to convulse the audience."  He could even fit several billiard balls or a cup and saucer into his mouth and still perform a dance routine or fill the theater with boisterous laughter.  Tom Fletcher wrote that while touring in England, Kersands told Queen Victoria that if his mouth was any bigger, his ears would have to be moved. . . His "Old Aunt Jemima" lent its name to the stereotyped mammy Aunt Jemima that later was developed into an iconic trademark for a brand of pancakes.  Despite weighing over 200 pounds, Kersands was also a talented dancer and acrobat.  His trademark dance was Essence of Old Virginia or Virginia Essence, which he may have introduced.  The dance later developed into the soft shoe.  He was also known for the Buck and Wing.  His dance routines helped cement such dance acts as fixtures in later vaudeville and Hollywood routines.
    I give praise to these outstanding entertainers.
    Ernest Hogan


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    "I thought how I hate any kind of mob - I hate mobs of sports fans, mobs of environmental demonstrators, I even hate mobs of super-models, that's how much I hate mobs.  I tell you, mankind is bearable only when you get him on his own."

    ― Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole

    TV Land dropped The Cosby Show reruns after the media reported rape allegations against series star Bill Cosby.  Daniel Holloway of The Wrap wrote, "The Cosby Show has become a pariah on television."  Larry McShane of The New York Daily News wrote, "American's dad Bill Cosby was banished. . . to 'Can’t See TV.''  The mob that arose in the wake of this scandal demanded Cosby's blood along with every bit of vinyl, celluloid and video tape onto which the comedian had imprinted his voice and image.  

    A mob with an unbridled fury for justice, at least what they perceive to be justice, is not more important than the law.  Today, the self-appointed justice league argues that it will serve society to convict Cosby as a rapist and throw him in prison.  But the strange and contrived path that has been taken to justify Cosby’s trial is something that should bother anyone who values court procedure.  It reminds me of what Eisenhower said when mobs protested the Supreme Court's decision to desegregate the public schools (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).  The President said, "Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts."

    The strategy of the activist mobs today is crude and childish.  It comes down to the same solution for everything.  You don't believe that the justice system will give you the outcome that you desire.  So, stomp your feet and scream.  You don't believe that the election process will give you the outcome that you desire.  So, stomp your feet and scream.  Never trust a mob.  A mob never thinks.  A mob only feels.  

    The Cosby controversy brings up many issues that fascinate me - the conflict between mob frenzy and legal doctrine, the separation of art and artist, the distinction between coercion and consent, the worth of a cultural icon's legacy compared to the worth of social justice.  The least interesting aspect of the story to me is Cosby himself.

    I am really here today to discuss the part of the controversy that has to do with art.  Sure, law is more important than the mob.  It is one of the most important principles of our government.  But, just as important, the furious mob is not more important than art.  As I get older, I find myself believing more and more in utilitarianism.  I believe, exactly as this doctrine holds, that the best moral action is the one that maximizes utility.  Certainly, I must question if we as a society are losing more than we gain to pursue this matter.  This is about more than a man's guilt or innocence in a sexual assault trial.  It is about the substantial amount of art that this man has produced in the last fifty years.  We need to treasure our art and be careful with the way we tend to it.  In the process, we need for sure to separate the art from the artist.  It just might be that one is far more important than the other.

    So, you don't think that Cosby was funny?  At a time that the Cosby story was first receiving extensive coverage in the news, another famous comedian fell under scrutiny for unsavory sexual activities.  The comedian was Charlie Chaplin.  David Harding of the New York Daily News wrote, "The guy really was a tramp, according to divorce papers from 1927."  Divorce papers that were drawn up nearly 90 years ago were discovered in an abandoned Los Angeles bank.  The documents provided the nasty details of Chaplin's divorce from his second wife, Lita Grey.

    By Grey's account, 35-year-old Chaplin seduced her when she was 15.  As it turned out, Grey got pregnant, which is something that happens in these circumstances.  Chaplin demanded that Grey have an abortion, but her mother threatened to report Chaplin to police unless the couple married and had the child.

    Harding wrote:
    That union went ahead following a discreet ceremony in November 1924, but the troubled marriage lasted just three years and produced two sons.  The papers claim that Grey was forced to perform sexual acts that were illegal in California during the 1920s. . .  He also asked her to take part in a threesome with another woman.  She described Chaplin's actions as "revolting, degrading and offensive". . .  Chaplin allegedly told Grey that his requests were reasonable.  "All married people do those kinds of things," he said.  "You are my wife and you have to do what I want you to do."
    Late in his life, Chaplin admitted to having had sexual relations with more than 2,000 women.  Yes, the man was a tramp.


    Maria Puente of USA Today pointed out, "History is replete with artists behaving badly."  She observed, "Considering how long and how often it has happened, Western culture should find it easy to separate art from artist — to judge a particular work of art apart from the behavior, even reprehensible behavior, of its creator. . . "

    Peggy Drexler, a Cornell University psychology professor, was even more emphatic on the matter.  She said, "Chances are good that if we delved into the private lives of every single artist whose work we admire, surely we'd find plenty not to like, and even to be disgusted by.  It's possible we'd never see a movie, look at a work of art or read a book again."

    Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers in "The Good Life"

    British actress Felicity Kendal said that she couldn’t be less like the loving and devoted wife that she played in 1970s sitcom The Good Life.  Kendal admitted to having a "dark side."  The twice-divorced Kendal said, "Look, the aura and sweetness has got bullshit all to do with my life. . . I always did have affairs when I wanted – it’s just how you feel at the moment. . . [The Good Life was] a short period 40 years ago but it’s extended to now because it’s on all the fucking time and it’s what people talk about. . . It’s quite flattering that I did so well people think it’s real.  But the character I played wasn’t me." 


    This is yet another artist with a dark side.  This is yet another artist who is not what they appear to be.  I have more than once fallen in love with an actress because I loved a character that the actress played.  It could not have been more devastating to learn that Linda Carter didn’t go around in real life spinning a golden lasso or Lauren Graham did not really have a wisecrack for every occasion.  It could be disturbing to be smitten by an actress who played a thoughtful and loving woman on screen only to see her on a talk show and realize how flaky and shallow the actress was in real life (I will not name the actress because, even though my heart was broken, I have moved on). 

    So, do we now initiate a ban on City Lights?  No work of art would be immune from this type of ban.  I have many Facebook friends who adore Laurel and Hardy.  What if a judge suddenly unsealed divorce papers for Stan Laurel and the papers included accusations of sexual misdeeds by Laurel.  Do we stop enjoying Sons of the Desert or Way Out West?

    Greg Ferrara of Movie Morlocks wrote, "I remember hearing this choice nugget about The Exorcist, and still do, when the movie is brought up:  'Did you know it’s based on a real possession?' Again, yes, I’ve heard that.  And, no, I don’t care.  What I care about is what is in front of me on the screen when I’m watching the movie. . ."  I feel the same way.  So, it doesn't matter to me if I am watching The Gold Rush with a friend and the friend says, "Did you know that Chaplin had sex with underage girls?"  I don't care.  It has no bearing on Chaplin eating his boot, which is pretty funny.

    After the "Harry Potter" book series had finished its run, J. K. Rowling suddenly announced that Harry's headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay, which was information that the author had never passed to readers in any of the series' seven books.  Once the author made the announcement, fans rushed back to the books to see if this was just a fact they happened to miss.  But no amount of textual analysis has yielded the slightest clue that Dumbledore was gay.  A fan found that an anagram to Dumbledore's name was "Male bods rule, bud!"  The simple truth, though, is that, if it isn't on the page, it doesn't exist.


    It's like if the man who painted this Paris cafe said that he imagined a man passed out in his own vomit in the cafe's bathroom.  It's not relevant.  All that is relevant is what I can see and the effect that this has on me.  The painting and an observer experience a personal one-on-one transaction.  The artist ceases to be relevant as soon as he washes off his brushes and moves on to his next painting.

    It's like George Lucas coming back to the Star Wars films years later to insert new CGI effects, alter dialogue, and change music.  The fans were furious with Lucas.  As far as they were concerned, the filmmaker had no right to do this as the films no longer belonged him.  The films now and forever belonged to the fans. 

    So, The Good Wife's Barbara Good was, in real life, an adulteress.  Forty years ago, Kendal stepped out onto a set and delivered a performance to the broadcast world.  Since that time, her performance has been aired innumerable times across the world.  An actor gives a performance to an audience, who immediately takes possession of it.  Barbara Good doesn't belong to Kendal anymore.  So, no matter if she left the set and screwed her brains out with a German Shepherd, it shouldn't have the least effect on the performance that she provided.


    Cosby's records, films and television shows belong to the fans, who should only be concerned with what these works present to their eyes and their ears.  The exception to this is Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad, which Cosby can and should keep to himself.

    No, please, let us separate the art from the artist.


    Additional Notes: The Casting Couch

    Everyone understands how the casting couch works.  An actress willing to trade sex for an acting role reclines on a couch in a producer's office and allows the producer to have his way with her.   Cosby's way, if the stories are to be believed, might have been stranger than most.

    This is a couch. 

     
    It is nothing more and nothing less than a couch.  As far as Hollywood tradition goes, it takes a naked young actress reclining across its cushy expanse to make it a casting couch.  So, to avoid impropriety, I recommend that a young actress keep on her clothes and submit nothing but her resume during an interview.

    Rebecca Carroll of The Guardian wrote, "There is a convenient myth in the entertainment industry: 'the casting couch.'  As the myth goes, young women willingly sacrifice their virtue on this metaphorical piece of furniture to older, seemingly benevolent men who just need a little sexual encouragement to bestow their mentorship on the next big thing.  And, maybe, for some women that was true – but there has always been an uncomfortable whiff of coercion to the myth, and more than a little slut-shaming of the women who, willingly or usually less than willingly, found themselves on that couch."

    Thandie Newton

    Actress Thandie Newton began a six-year-long relationship with a 39-year-old director, John Duigan, after auditioning for a film at the age of 16.  She claimed to have been coerced into the relationship.  She said, "I was a very shy, very sweet girl.  I wasn't in control of the situation.  Would I have liked things to be different?  Sure.  But I can now value myself more for the way I got through it."

    Newton was later given a lead role in Duigan's critically acclaimed film Flirting (1991).  The film put her into the spotlight and led to her becoming a star.  Newton became a director's girlfriend and the director launched her career in one of his films.  Was this trade or coercion?  Was this exploitation or love?  It was a six-year relationship.  It had to be have more complicated than a casting couch tumble.  It is also significant to note that this happened in Australia, where the age of consent for sexual activity is 16.  Newton acknowledges that Duigan broke no law, but she remains angry about the relationship and sees it no differently than the other instances of casting couch abuse that she had to endure.  She complained about a photographer who had her in a leather miniskirt bending over a desk.  Isn't that just Tuesday in show business?

     
    Newton described in detail to CNN's Max Foster an even worse experience, which she regarded as "horrific."  She was at the time eighteen years old.  She said:
    The director asked me to sit with my legs apart.  The camera was positioned where it could see up my skirt.  [He asked me] to put my leg over the arm of the chair and, before I started my dialogue, think about the character that I was supposed to be having the dialogue with and how it felt to be made love to by this person.  I was thinking this was strange.  Why would I need to do that?  But this is the director. . . It must be normal. . . I'm thinking, I was in a protected [environment].  There were boundaries.  Three years later, I was at the Cannes Film Festival.  My husband and I bumped in this rather drunk producer. . . who mentioned the director I had had this audition with, and he looked very sheepish and walked away.  My husband grabbed him later and said, 'Why did you start to say something and didn't?' It turned out that the director, who had went on to make the film, used to show that video late at night to interested parties at his house.  A video of me touching myself with a camera up my skirt!
    I do not know what this scene revealed that made it so special.  I don't know why a producer would think it was so extraordinary that he would have to show it to late-night visitors.  Flirting, which was made at around the same time as this audition, features a scene in which Newton spreads apart her legs to allow a young man to reach under her skirt.  The actress has done many explicit sex scenes in films.  If you want to see Newton stimulating sex, you don't need to belong to a secret underground society of film industry perverts.  You just need a subscription to Mr. Skin.  How was her touching herself between her legs out of line with her other acting work for the last twenty-five years?  You either want to preserve your modesty or you don't.


    Newton was willing to act sexy in front of film cameras and was presumably willing to act sexy in auditions to prove that she could handle these roles.  I am confused, honestly.  I have tried my best to put myself into Newton's place at that audition.  The director asks me to play with myself while he points a camera down my pants.  Even if I am sixteen years old, I have to become uncomfortable.  I have to question if this is a necessary part of the audition.  So, I don't unbuckle my pants.  I leave.  Or, maybe, I am feeling unusually bold that day and I do see this as a necessary part of the audition.  So, I unbuckle my pants.  I make a choice.  It's not a grey area.  I imagine that Newton wanted to please the director to get a role in his film.  She, too, made a choice.  A person needs to take responsibility for the choices they make in life.

    Was this outfit coercion or choice?

     
    Was this outfit coercion or choice?
     
     
    The average person doesn't care about the sleazy stuff that goes on behind the scenes in Hollywood.  Even if they did, it is beyond their control to do anything about it.  As long as an aspiring actress is willing to sleep with a producer for a job, we will have the casting couch.  It is the choice of the starlet to sell her body for the possibility of fame and fortune.  Mickey Rourke said, "There's ways you get a job and ways you get a job."  The sleaziest proposition is just a proposition.  The starlet has the option of accepting or rejecting the proposition.

    Kirsten Dunst, who worked with Newton in Interview with a Vampire (1994), was once asked in an interview if she was ever pressured by a director to have sex.  She said, "No.  I don’t give off that vibe.  I think that you court that stuff, and to me it’s crossing a boundary that would hinder the trust in your working relationship."  Feminists were infuriated with Dunst over this remark.  This was, in their minds, blaming the victim.  Her remarks were reshaped by angry bloggers into blunt and provocative statements.  It was claimed that, in essence, Dunst said, "If you end up on a casting couch, it’s because you were probably a slut to begin with."  Allison of dlisted wrote, "So, let me get this straight – basically she’s saying is that if you find yourself in a casting couch situation, it’s because you were asking for it?"  Some actors come into an audition with feeling that they'll do anything for the role.  That's the sort of desperation and vulnerability that is sensed immediately by a sexual predator.  But be strong and say "no."

    You should never be harassed in any way when you apply for a job.  There's no question about that.  But I do not believe that an actress lacks control in the situation.  Keep your dignity.  Leave your resume.


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