Monday, November 25, 2019

Millennials Make it Official: Today’s Music is Lousy

Like most people of my generation, I am convinced that the music I grew up with, from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, is better and more authentic than the over-produced, auto-tuned, computerized rubbish that now dominates sales and downloads.

To some extent I think every generation feels that same loyalty to the songs and the bands that were playing when they first discovered music, so it’s not something I tend to debate with anyone who prefers the oeuvre of Cardi B. If they’re happy, I’m happy.

But there are signs that those growing up with what’s currently topping the charts (do they still use charts?) have also started to realize they’re settling for less. That message is being sent via a YouTube phenomenon that I’ve known about for a while but never experienced – the reaction video.

If you’re not familiar, these are videos posted by people, most of them in their 20s, who play an “old” song and then react to hearing it for the first time. I thought it was a fairly ridiculous concept that sounded no more interesting than watching someone eat a Milky Way bar for the first time. What do I care if they like it or not?

But since I hooked up my Amazon Fire TV and can view YouTube on my big screen, I’ve found myself watching a lot of stuff I’d normally pass by. And one night, I noticed a video in which someone billed as “JB Lethal” was going to introduce himself to “We’ve Only Just Begun,” by The Carpenters.

What I learned about JB Lethal is that he’s an African-American man in his 20s, who grew up listening to r&b and rap. So I was curious how this guy who was born about ten years after Karen Carpenter died would react to hearing a type of song that could not be further removed from the music on which he was raised.

As the track played, Mr. Lethal bowed his head, and then shook his head as if he could not believe what he was hearing. “Wow, man. That was beautiful,” he said when it was over. “That was so beautiful it’s ridiculous. It brightens my mood. It moves my soul.”

Shortly thereafter he reacted to a live version of The Carpenters performing the same song, because the concept of someone actually being able to sing as well as they sound on a recording is no longer taken for granted. Once again the reaction was one of admiration and astonishment.

‘Her voice is so pure. “Where is the talent at in this generation?”

It wasn’t long before he moved on to “Close to You,” “Superstar” and “Rainy Days and Mondays.”

And now I was hooked. I wanted to see what other songs and bands he’d never heard, and what he would think of them. I watched JB Lethal discover Queen and Abba and Pink Floyd and Journey. I watched him get almost tearful at Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” head bang to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and be blown away by the working class lyricism of Billy Joel.

“How did y’all decide on a favorite band, when all of them were this good?” he asked after listening to “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers. “What happened to music?” Why don’t we have songs like this now?”

Of course much of my pleasure in watching these reactions was rooted in confirmation bias. But there was also some relief that quality still mattered and was not entirely lost on a generation being raised on inferior product.

There was a touch of envy as well, at all of the joy that is in this young man’s future. Led Zeppelin has been part of the soundtrack of my life for four decades, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like to for him to hear “Stairway to Heaven” for the first time. That was fun to watch.

Zeppelin seems to be one of the leading go-to groups for discovery among millennial reactors. “This band sure knows how to play its instruments” extolled reactor “Jayvee” - as if that wasn’t at one time a pre-requisite for a professional career in music.

One of the unexpected pleasures I’ve found in these videos is how they inspire me to listen to old chestnuts with more focus and more appreciation than I have for many years. Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing” typically just begat a mild grin of recognition when they pop up on an oldies station. Now I really try to listen to them again – and be amazed once more by how great they sound.

“This was some really good music you guys had.”

--JB Lethal

Yeah, we know.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Emmys proved it

he Emmy Awards proved what is truly wrong with television today.  The three biggest winners are premium pay services HBO (34 wins), Netflix (27 wins), and Amazon Prime (15 wins).  Without a Kyle Busch Rule in effect, premium pay is pushing the envelope in X-rated material.  Netflix spends more money on television programming than the broadcast networks, even when the three major networks (as established by the NFL— Fox, CBS, and NBC) spend mostly on acquiring NFL rights, college sports, and golf.

As we've noted on television many times, "TV-MA" is a code meaning X-rated programming spoken here.  Without a Kyle Busch rule, studios are deliberately pushing the envelope and airing X-rated programming that the studios push to critics.  Then, the critics push the recommendations to get people into buying these services and watching the X-rated material.  When the nation's most watched regular television series (NCIS) is not even nominated for Emmys while X-rated material is allowed, have we reached a boiling point?  Is quality on television now regulated based on how banal they are where the X rating is best?

What good will it be when television focuses on adults-only programming?x

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Hong Kong . . . and an NBC announcement

 release from NBC regarding their top-rated show on television that starts in a week with a special Thursday episode had me reminding myself of what has been happening in Hong Kong.

If, in the words of the late Jim Lange (from the 1980's version) or if you're even older, James Narz (aka Tom Kennedy) from the 1970's version that the lady we now know as the Mrs. Frank Gifford was part of that version, you "listen and name that tune," you will catch the reference to this tune with the recent NBC announcement.

Can you identify the reference?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

#DennyDelivers number of channels, anyone?

I have to roll out a FedEx Toyota with a boatload of cash delivered by NASCAR superstar Denny Hamlin to the winner of the PGA Tour championship in East Lake -- but really it's an annuity the winner doesn't take home now, it is kept for the player in the future.

But that reminds me of his Toyota's number -- #11 -- and this disturbing statistic I caught while scanning channels today. This year's MTV Video Music Awards  air on eleven different channels under MTV's control. That's as bad as ESPN's College Football Playoff and, in alternating years, the NCAA Men's Final Four and Championship when AT&T carries them.  How have we spun numbers where 11 different limited access channels air major events instead of one broadcast network channel, which is what college football and basketball once were?

Just sad how far we've fallen when you use 11 different channels to air one show for one night.

In 2007, we were stunned by a "relevant Bible study" for youth in church featuring MTV stars.

And of course, in 2003, after the Spears-Madonna-Aguilera incident, we called all three of them to the Big Red Truck.  This time, who gets called to the Big Red Truck?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Retro TV Friday: Television does imitate life!

The recent "sequel" of Beverley Hills, 90210 as a six-episode summer mini-series on Fox, once I read details on the preview listed by our television, I thought was based on the real-life actions of classic television fans. The Aaron Spelling series was a coming of age for both the stars and the Fox network, which by 1994 had become a major network while CBS (which now owns the franchise after acquiring Mr. Spelling's library) had been relegated to minor status (and as I've learned over the years, our market came precariously close to losing the network as a whole).

The setting of the show's first episode was naturally, a classic television convention which our esteemed editor knows very well from having been to a few, and fans know from seeing classic television shows featured in these events. So it came to my attention that art had to imitate life when the show's setting was a classic television convention, and the fans had arrived to see the stars of the show. Someone writing this sequel must have seen what actually happens in those classic show meetings to get a script for this episode. Though I may have wanted Bob Jenkins to be a guest star on this, since for a few years on ABC, Jason Priestley was the INDYCAR analyst, a move similar to Dennis Miller on NFL coverage. What?

So those who attend these classic television meetings, such as the one in Maryland, are able to see it referenced on a present-day television programme. Go figure.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Is Francis the sorrow and the pity of the Catholic Church?

Back in the day, when I was going through my instruction prior to converting to Catholicism, a priest asked this question: "If you stood accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"  It's an excellent question, thought-provoking but also chilling, when one is forced to admit (as I do, freely) that most of the time I'd get off scot-free.

Pertinent to this, here's a corollary to that question, which I don't mind posing today: "If you weren't already Catholic today, would you be convinced to convert?"

I'm not entirely sure what my answer would be—it's always hard to answer a hypothetical, especially in a situation that depends on ignorance of what you already know. Given that, my temptation is to answer that question: No.

(If this were a radio program, you'd now hear me say, "The reason why, in a moment," followed by a commercial. But since I don't have commercials, you'll just have to imagine it, as a way of building a dramatic cliffhanger.  OK, we're back.)

Catholicism had held a great deal of interest for me over the years prior to my conversion. At the beginning, there was an aesthetic component to it, what with the ritual and the symbolism and the ceremonial nature of the Mass.*  I'd been drawn to the news coverage of the deaths of Paul VI and John Paul, I in 1978 and the conclaves that had ensued, and I'd been impressed by the dignity and bearing of the new pope, John Paul II. I'd begun reading more about the Church some time after that, and found not only an intellectual component that had been missing from my spiritual life, but a core set of beliefs that convinced me the Catholic Church stood for something.  There wasn't anything particularly political or ideological about it—it was more of the idea that the Church, in her teachings, was something worth living—and dying—for.

*Much of which had, in the post-Vatican II world, disappeared by that time.  Nonetheless, there were memories of earlier days, seen on television; in addition, mass media has always had a hard time shaking the myth of the old days in the Church; whenever you want to suggest religion on television or in the movies, the shorthand is always an ornamental Catholic church.

I've not made many comments about the current pope; it's a fray that for the most part is not worth getting into, since the voices that speak the loudest often have the least influence. Wading into the Catholic blogosphere is also an invitation to act in an uncharitable manner, and God knows I don't need any provocation in that area; I do well enough on my own.

However, based on the few things I've written, it probably would come as no surprise to you that I'm not a big fan of this Bishop of Rome. One must be careful here in parsing words; to say that I do not like him does not mean that I dislike him. It's more of a studied indifference, I suppose; nonetheless, I say in honesty that I do not like him. I worry about the fast and loose way in which he appears to use words, his apparent indifference to liturgical beauty, his identification with social justice to the (perhaps) detriment of theology. I don't like the way the MSM fawns over him. I don't like the way liberal Catholics use his words to justify their own reactionary beliefs (assuming, that is, that those beliefs are different from his own—with him, who can tell?), and I don't like the way "conservative" Catholics ridicule those who express such concerns.

This last group can be the most infuriating. When I was in politics, I used to say (coming from a conservative Republican perspective) that at least when the Democrats stabbed you, they did in in the chest, which meant you could see the blade coming. If you were stabbed by a Republican, on the other hand, you wouldn't know about it until you saw the tip of the blade protruding through your chest—in other words, after they had stuck it in your back. I feel much the same way about these supporters of the pope. They seem to go out of their way to antagonize people like me, using phrases like "those of us who get him" (meaning the rest of us are just too damn stupid to understand), and "I love this guy" (and the rest of us, apparently, don't). I'm not sure if these words are meant to infuriate, like poking a stick in the tiger's cage, or if they're just thoughtless. However, as is the case when a hammer falls on your foot, it doesn't matter whether it was accidentally dropped or if someone hit you with it: it still hurts.

I've resolved over the past months to watch this fight from the sidelines. When I was hospitalized a few years ago, I made a vow that I would try to avoid any discussions which tended to inflame the situation*. (I've been pretty good about that, but not perfect.) So I've had some time to think and observe what's going on, and try to keep from getting sucked into a whirlpool of depression.

*I also knew, instinctively, that were he at my bedside the pope would be as gentle and gracious as anyone could ask for. Which, again, is why I caution that I do not dislike him, something that would require active participation. Plus, just because someone is kind and loving, that doesn't necessarily mean they're competent.

And to get back to the question from the beginning of this piece (before the commercial break), my feeling is that there's very little coming out of the Church right now that can be considered a flag to which the wise can repair. There's precious little intellectual stimulation emanating from Rome; people who try to assure us of the orthodoxy of papal pronouncements often seem to be required to twist themselves into shapes that even the best chiropractor would be challenged to untie. For the first time since before my conversion, I didn't watch any of the papal ceremonies at Christmastime; I just didn't have the interest in it. There's no heft, no gravitas.

Frankly, were I approaching this as an outsider, I'm not at all sure I'd see anything that would convince me of what the Catholic Church stood for, if anything. That whole, "Who am I to judge?" fiasco was, I think, incredibly damaging to the Church, because it not only implied (rightly or wrongly) a lack of importance in taking the measure of a situation, it also encouraged people to parse all of the pope's other words on that basis. When words can be twisted as easily as this, then everything becomes relative. I'm only glad that the workers who build airplanes work from more specific instructions than those that come to us from Rome.

At worst, this pope is a dangerous man, prepared to set the Church back to the dark ages following Vatican II, a time of confusion, disappointment and alienation, a time when "everything goes" seemed to apply to everyone except those who thought they were following what the Church had always taught.  This would be an invitation to the second pontificate of Paul VI, and we all know how successful that one was. At best, this pope is a man who means well, has a good heart, and lives by orthodox beliefs, but has an amazing lack of awareness, an almost naive misunderstanding of the media, and a stunning inability to express himself with clarity and authority, leaving demoralized and dispirited believers in his wake. At any rate, a man who lacks the ability to be "as cunning as a serpent." Either of these alternatives, it seems to me, suggest an uncertain future - uncertain, and just as disastrous as the one above.

Much has been written about the "cult of personality" surrounding the modern papacy. I think there's more than a little merit to this, although in an era of 24/7 news that seeks to turn all leaders into media "newsmakers," it's probably impossible to completely avoid such a situation. But there's an old saying that I think applies in this case—you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And anyone who's part of an organization, large or small, knows that they may be the ones responsible for the first impression someone else gets. In other words, we're all role models.

Perhaps, with the oversized papacies of John Paul II and (to a lesser extent) Benedict XVI, we became used to seeing the pope as synonymous with the Church, and that's obviously false; over two centuries, the Church has survived many a bad pope. Still, for an outsider, someone who looks at the Catholic Church with an eye to conversion, that first impression may well come from the world's most visible Catholic.  What impression is he giving?  That of a man ready to lead a Church during uncertain times in a hostile world? A man of strong beliefs, representing solid ground upon which the faithful can stand? A man who understands the problems the Church faces? Or is it a man reassuring us that we're all OK, someone who places earthly needs above spiritual ones, someone who in his celebrity is all style, no substance? A man content to be all things to all people, with nobody quite sure of what he really believes in? A man hostile to the traditions of the Church, and indifferent to those who have fought hard to preserve them?

So here's the answer to my question: if I were looking at the Church from outside, I would see few of the things which drew me to Catholicism in the first place. I'd see people campaigning for social justice rather than trying to bring salvation to men's souls. I'd see that Church being led by a man who is soft, who doesn't have the stomach for the fight that lies ahead. I'd see dissension and discouragement in the ranks. I'd see very little that would convince me it was worth dying for.

I might still convert. I'd like to think that, thanks to the Grace of God, I would do so in spite of any doubts I might have, because I would then be joining the One True Church. But in doing so, I'd keep in mind the words of Whittaker Chambers, who remarked that in leaving Communism, "I know that I am leaving the winning side for the losing side, but it is better to die on the losing side than to live under Communism."

The Catholic Church cannot be the losing side. Christ Himself promised that "the gates of Hell" would not prevail against His Church. And that is the reassurance that keeps us from slipping into despair. If the pope can't infuse us with that confidence in Christ's words—if he cannot share with us that hope amidst a world of despair—then, quite frankly, what can he do?

Originally published January 8, 2014

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Opera Wednesday

Xrom one of my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons of all time - here's how Bugs handles an opera prima donna. I wonder how many children, through the years, had their introduction to opera and classical music from Looney Tunes cartoons? (And not only children!)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Keep Your Faith To Yourself – Unless I Say Otherwise

In 2015, a county clerk for the state of Kentucky named Kim Davis decided to deny marriage licenses to gay couples, in open defiance of federal law. She did this, she said, because she believed the teachings of her church were more eminent than those of her country.

For doing so, she was roundly condemned and eventually relieved from this responsibility. The loudest voices of opposition came from the political left who howled about “separation of church and state!” She’s free to believe what she wants on her own time, they generously consented, but as long as she lives in this country she better abide by its laws, by jingo.

They probably didn’t say “by jingo,” but it seemed to fit.

These crusaders against Christianity having any say in politics probably don’t know where the concept of “separation of church and state” originated, and why it was created in the first place (it’s certainly not for the reason they think). But that is not relevant here.

What is relevant is that last week, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) just became the country's first 'sanctuary church body.’ They have proclaimed their intention to shelter and protect those who are in this country illegally, from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that are attempting to enforce a law that has existed for decades under both Democrat and Republican administrations.

And the same people who mocked and condemned Kim Davis are now at risk of spraining their wrists from applauding so hard, in celebration of Christians openly defying federal law.

Has something changed? Did we become a theocracy when I wasn’t paying attention? Come on, you guys, someone should have told me.

This announcement was particularly troubling to me because I was baptized and confirmed in a church that now identifies as evangelical Lutheran. It was just plain old Lutheran back then, but I guess someone decided 32 Christian denominations weren’t enough, so it was time to add a few more.

I went to the ELCA’s Facebook page to get a sense of what the rank and file were saying about what I assumed would be a controversial decision. I expected opposing views, intelligently expressed; what I did not expect was insults, arrogance, and a level of discussion as puerile as what you’d find in the comments section of a fringe political blog. With few exceptions there was no attempt at respectful dialogue and debate. It was like a Trinity Broadcast Network version of Crossfire.

But if the question were to be decided by popular vote, the consensus on that Facebook page suggests this decision has majority support.

I think it’s terribly misguided, and the fact that I would even have to explain why is a sad reflection on how the world has changed. Right and wrong, legal and illegal, have all become amorphous terms in a society that is now allergic to emphatically expressed truths.

A legitimate government is enforcing a just law. Every country can and should regulate immigration as a right related to its national sovereignty. Period.

What message is the ELCA sending to the million or so immigrants who come to America legally every year? That they’re like fools who circle a parking lot for ten minutes waiting for someone to leave, when all they had to do was pull into that handicapped spot without a placard? Who cares about doing things the right way?

What message does it send to other churches who may wish to defy a law it believes is unfair? If the ELCA can shield an illegal immigrant from lawful deportation, why can’t a Catholic church detain a woman who wishes to terminate her pregnancy, to protect the innocent life of her child, because that too would be in accordance with a higher law?

This is a big door swinging open, and my guess is that all the Trump-haters who love seeing him get a middle finger from a house of worship have not considered all of the ramifications. This time it’s great because they agree with it. But they reserve the right to tell the church to hit the road on issues where they don’t. I’ll take “Cafeteria Christians” for 600, Alex.

Yes, there is a Gospel imperative to “welcome the stranger.” But any legitimate church’s doctrine also supports the right of sovereign countries to have borders, and the reality that immigration must be subject to some regulation.

The ELCA has elected to separate from that doctrine. That will get them some good press from a left-leaning media for a while. But I wonder if anyone will ask its members (or those cheering from the secular sidelines cause Jesus finally got one right) if they ever gave a thought to the strangers laying all over the sidewalks of San Francisco and Seattle and Portland.

I’m guessing they haven’t – thankfully the Catholics and the Protestants are doing their best to provide food and shelter and counseling. Maybe if some of those pitiful souls decided to have a gay wedding, they’d get a little more attention.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Wish I'd written that: The trouble with developing taste

A critical faculty is a terrible thing. When I was eleven there were no bad films, just films that I didn’t want to see, there was no bad food, just Brussels sprouts and cabbage, there were no bad books—everything I read was great. Then suddenly, I woke up in the morning and all that had changed. How could my sister not hear that David Cassady was not in the same class as Black Sabbath? Why on earth would my English teacher think that The History of Mr Polly was better than Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie? And from that moment on, enjoyment has been a much more elusive quality."

Nick Hornby
Fever Pitch

Monday, July 29, 2019

Wish I'd written that: How religion dies with a whimper

here was no fanaticism or intolerance in [Pastor] Lund. Like a long line of Lutheran ministers I had known before him, he was well-meaning if somewhat narrow in his views and comfortable in his faith without being smug. At the same time, it had always impressed me that in the hands of men like Lund, the strange, bloody, and wonderous Christian story inevitably turned rather drab.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

July 23 Notebook

Now That's a Watching Party.  The husband of a contestant on RTL's Press Your Luck 2019 (airing on ABC, produced by the German television network Radio Television Luxembourg) made some crazy tee-shirts for the viewing party when the episode she taped in May debuted.  Contestants of the ten-episode summer third revival of the 1977 Second Chance (ABC daytime) and 1983-86 Press Your Luck (CBS daytime) William A. Carruthers Company and 2002 Whammy! The All New Press Your Luck (GSN) production were told of their air dates afterwards, and a watch party was organised by the contestant's husband.

Ironically, the contestant's opponents ended up with red fur as both of her opponents were disqualified from the game for reaching the Chinese adage why elevators do not carry the number of a certain NASCAR Monster Energy Series champion that won his first race Sunday.  (It's used in Asian-themed cooking shows also why they assign certain number of servings they avoid that number of servings too!)

Is This the Future?  The controversy over the Women's World Cup National Football Team that won it all continues.  But meanwhile, as we see masculine failure around us, the question will arise as more "equal pay" and "equal use of venues" becomes the issue thanks to Title IX, and even research by groups.  In college, a student who was my classmate did his Senior Thesis paper on how Title IX abuse ran him out of his previous college, as he was a wrestler on scholarship and lost his scholarship and his admission to the school as a result of abusing the Patsy Mink Education Act of 1972.  I made a reference in 2012 to the consequences, but after women scored $3,000,000 in the last World Cup and men were BUST (as they say in RTL's Card Sharks bonus round, another classic game show revived for 2019, but I am not a fan of how slow the game is because Joel McHale doesn't do it the way Bob Eubanks and the late Bill Rafferty or Jim Perry did the game), the debate opens.

The controversy over the national football team will be a warning for parents of boys.  The feminine superiority and masculine failure wil lead to the advancement of ideals in high schools, as we see participation of sports by boys drop and girls rise in many states.  Friday Night Lights will soon be girls' high school futbol, with dance teams dancing at halftime.  Boys will soon be losing their entire extracurricular activities as Title IX activists will ensure only girls are allowed to have events, and boys will not.  Dance teams are replacing cheerleading at many schools because it is girls only while cheerleading is becoming coed in order to give boys who are proficient at gymnastics (which for men is a strength sport, as seen in high bars and rings) and want to be in CrossFit (gymnastics activities are required in those events) a chance to participate in strength activities.  In New York, we learned when new schools opened, only girls could have sport activities in the schools to meet Mink Act rules.  Will boys be subject to these heinous rules in new schools first as schools try to appease the wishes of these authorities working to eliminate masculinity?

You wonder what's next.

What Are You Teaching?  Visiting a church in the area after a long day out of town, there is a discipleship training class (which is an evening Bible study before church services).  As we went through Elijah's story of discouragement, somehow Mendelssohn's Elijah came back to my head after reading about "O Rest In the Lord" and "If With All Your Hearts".  Those songs were written from the oratorio based on the Bible.  Compare that to today's modern worship songs based on feelings of the writer, and not a single part from the Bible.  Go figure.  Why are we teaching feelings instead of objective Word?  That's part of the problem in our culture today.

Regietheater Run Rampant.  So MGM/UA and EON have decided James Bond is retiring and will be in Jamaica for the next film, while regietheater freaks have replaced him with . . . someone in the PC world.  This person fits all the checkmarks of the modern progressive movement.  What?

A Tribute.  The Take-No-Prisoners editor of The Washington Times, Wesley Pruden, died Wednesday at 83, hours after just another hard day of work for the legendary editor.  The man who was that newspaper from its 1982 founding all the way to the end of his life just hours after finishing up another day at the office leaves a legacy of a newspaper he edited and knew how to do things.  Sadly, Amazon, which indirectly owns the rival The Washington [BLEEP], left insults at Mr. Pruden's stepchildren that Media Research Network noted.

An appreciation of Wesley Pruden can be found here.

And here is Pruden's last column.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Age of the Clueless White Guy

The current Hollywood crusade (well, one of them anyway) is inclusion and color-blind casting.

The live-action adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid will feature an African American as Ariel; the new 007 will be a black female. Other characters originally established as one race and one gender have been played by those outside those groups in projects related to Harry Potter, Frozen, Marvel’s Thor, and nearly every other fictional construct introduced in times now rebuked as less enlightened.

As a result, though they would never dare say it aloud or post it on social media, actors cursed with the affliction of being Caucasian may wonder if there will now be fewer roles open to them.

But fear not – this shift in perspective has resulted in a new and flourishing growth segment in the lucrative field of television commercials: the clueless white guy.

If you choose to watch a few commercials instead of fast-forwarding past them, it won’t be long before you’ll spot one of the copious examples of this popular trope. Usually, the ad opens with our dim-witted protagonist saying or doing something no rational human being would ever dream of doing, until he is shown the error of his ways by a smarter, better-looking, and just plain cooler person of color.

I was going to list several examples, but watch TV for five minutes and you’re sure to spot one. Or check out this compilation that someone put together on YouTube.

To be clear, there have been clueless white guys in commercials dating back to the 1950s. Demonstrating the benefits of one product was frequently achieved by introducing some hapless soul still using ‘brand X,’ who has yet to realize what he’s been missing if he’d only switch.

But as everyone else in those commercials was also white, there was no association between his race and his obliviousness. Today these same scenarios play out with the same frequency, but when it comes to filling the role of the dumb sap, casting directors find themselves limited in their options. To have a white person explain to a person of color that the product they are using is wrong would clearly send an inappropriate message. Reversing the roles is the easiest way to avoid condemnation.

Is there anything wrong with this? I don’t know. If every role should be open to every actor, that should mean heroes and villains, geniuses and dullards, cool kids and nerds, can all be played as easily by a man from Hong Kong, Mexico City, or Somalia as they can by someone from Nebraska.

If this is penance for the stereotypes of decades past, then it’s apparently appropriate to right a wrong against one group by perpetrating it on another. Once everyone gets to be in the alpha class for a while, perhaps we’ll reconvene and figure out something else.

Either way, the Republic will survive. And as an observer of television I just find it interesting. If this writing gig doesn’t pan out, it’s good to know that I may have a future in commercials, as the guy who can’t figure out how kitchen appliances work.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Poetry Wednesday

I write this column just days before I sing in a choral production of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem and Randall Thompson's The Testament of Freedom that these documents include crucial historical references from three major battles -- the Revolutionary War, the Crimean War, and the Civil War.  For the first time in ten years, I have the opportunity to sing with the husband and wife soloists of Michael (baritone) and Serena (soprano) LaRoche, which those who have known me enough understand Mrs. LaRoche taught me to sing, opening my musical horizons outside of the commercial pop church music and has sent me into Händel, Haydn, Beethoven, Fauré, and others where I've called out the bad Top 40 on KLVR after deeper analysis.

Mr. Williams was influenced by reading the poetry of Walt Whitman, especially his Civil War poetry, which most of us know from "O Captain! My Captain!," an elegy of President Lincoln.  The first of three which we sing, "Beat! Beat! Drums!," was written after he attended a Donizetti opera, and news spread that Fort Sumter had launched the Civil War, which this battle went to the Confederacy.

(Nota Bene:  We're singing both at the SOM Recital Hall in Columbia on June 28 at 7:30 PM and June 30 at 4 PM.  Today's Poetry Wednesday references Whitman's three poems that are war-inspired.)

Beat! Beat! Drums!
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying,
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.

From the 1900 version of Leaves of Grass:

Word over all, beautiful as the sky! 
Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost; 
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world:   
... For my enemy is dead—a man divine as myself is dead;   
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin—I draw near;   
I bend down, and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

Dirge for Two Veterans
From the 1891 version of the aforementioned book:

   The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath,
On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking,
   Down a new-made double grave.

   Lo, the moon ascending,
Up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon,
   Immense and silent moon.

   I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they're flooding,
   As with voices and with tears.

   I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring,
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
   Strikes me through and through.

   For the son is brought with the father,
(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,
Two veterans son and father dropt together,
   And the double grave awaits them.)

   Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive,
And the daylight o'er the pavement quite has faded,
   And the strong dead-march enwraps me.

   In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin'd,
('Tis some mother's large transparent face,
   In heaven brighter growing.)

   O strong dead-march you please me!
O moon immense with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans passing to burial!
   What I have I also give you.

   The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
   My heart gives you love.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Those who forget history . . .

A recent ABC news release announced that of their two RTL Group television revivals, Press Your Luck with Elizabeth Banks will air after the Rose Ceremony final for The Bachelorette, a production of AT&T.

After noticing ABC's schedule, I found historically, the decision did not sound appropriate for a new generation to play the same games their grandparents played, and a show that many from my generation remembered watching in the 1984 and 1985 summers that was a revival of Bill Carruthers' Second Chance that increased the emphasis of the bonus board and changed how the question round was played.  It also launched the career of Savage Steve Holland, who later animated Eek! The Cat and eventually became known for two movie flops (Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer) that gained exposure airing on HBO late nights, who animated the show's signature villain.

ABC should have inserted the Joel McHale-hosted revival of Card Sharks after the rose ceremony.  If you're not familiar with that, note the career path of The Bachelor's casting director, Lacey Pemberton.  Think of the connection and see why McHale, not Banks, should be after the rose.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Wish I'd written that: a warning for the future

on Tschammer und Osten said that all Roman Catholic and Protestant youth organizations are, like all Jewish organizations, to be expressly forbidden to pursue any sport. As far as the Nazis are concerned, people are going to have to make a choice between religion and sport. The point being that all sports training is to be done under Nazi auspices. He actually said that the Nazis are conducting a cultural war against the church.”

“He said that?”

“Any Catholic or Protestant athletes who don’t join Nazi sports clubs will lose their chance of representing Germany.”

I shrugged. “So let them. Who cares about a few idiots running around a track anyway?”

“You’re missing the point, Gunther. They’ve purged the police. Now they’re purging sports. If they succeed, there will be no aspect of German life in which they won’t be able to exert their authority. In all aspects of German society, Nazis will be preferred. If you want to get on in life, you will have to become a Nazi.”

- Philip Kerr, If the Dead Rise Not

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Classic Sports Thursday: Doris Day edition

Frank Mirahmadi, the track announcer at Santa Anita (winter) and Monmouth Park (summer), once called the horses at Turf Paradise, which is the track where a legendary country sing was written after its writer visited the Arizona mile.

In memory of Doris Day, no less, this scene took place on her 89th birthday.  A horse carrying the same name as one of Day's well-known songs won, and Mirahmadi, known for his antics on more casual races, went crazy again, and the track's video page reacted too.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Retro TV Friday: GLOW and Card Sharks

With the announcement ABC is reviving Mark Goodson's Card Sharks (aka Play Your Cards Right in the UK and NZ) as a summer series with Joel McHale as host (?), this story came back to catch us.

The late Emily Dole, a star shot put athlete who was in the Olympic Trials twice, who played Mount Fiji on the original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling "promotion," was involved in a 1988 episode of the Bob Eubanks version. Keep in mind Eubanks had just turned 50 and Dole was 31. (Dole died age 60 in 2018; Eubanks is now 81, and his son is a famous stuntman.) The ten GLOW actresses were asked how many could lift Mr. Eubanks over his head. Dole tried it -- and see for yourself what a shot put star could do trying to bodyslam a game show host.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Wish I'd written that: how tough was it?

I wouldn’t say we lived in a tough neighborhood, but when I was growing up we still called a story with a happy ending an alibi.”

- Philip Kerr, If the Dead Rise Not

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Twenty-Five Years Later. 0817 CET

Outside the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, outside the Variante Tamburello chicane, is a statue where many flowers and Brazilian flags are placed every year, but none more prevalent day than May 1.  It was 1417 CET (8:17 AM EDT) when it happened, twenty-five years ago today.

Thomas Grønvold's archive of that day:


A review of the site.

Newly inducted Class of 2019 Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame inductee Bob Jenkins that afternoon offered a tribute during the broadcast of the Alabama 500 (clip of opening the tribute of silence, which was interrupted by the second Big One). It also includes the Earnhardt interview.

BBC Interview of the booth:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Opera Wednesday

Victor Borge, the Great Dane, offers us a little opera comedy - and, let's be honest, who among us couldn't use a little laughter nowadays? The brave Marilyn Mulvey accompanies him.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Wish I'd written that: reflections on Earth Day

The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshipers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.”

- G.K. Chesterton

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday with Bishop Sheen, 1956

I often make the point on these pages of how much things have changed over the years, not only in television but culture in general.

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's Life Is Worth Living ran on DuMont, ABC and in syndication from the early 1950s through the late 1960s.  Blessed with a sharp mind, a whimsical sense of humor and a gift of gab, Bishop Sheen brought his ecumenical message to millions of viewers each week; as Brooks and Marsh put it in their Complete Guide to Prime Time Programming, the word "homily" would be strong for the friendly, accessible talks from the good Bishop.

A half-hour of religious programming in prime time on a national broadcast network would be unthinkable today - that pretty much goes without saying.  And while that is one measure of the change in television between then and now, it's actually another point that I'm thinking of: the idea of a "talking head" as entertainment programming.

There were no fancy graphics, no special effects, on Life is Worth Living; the closest thing being the invisible "angel" (actually a stagehand) responsible for erasing the blackboard Sheen used to illustrate his points.  People watched and enjoyed that, week after week.  As someone wrote not long ago about the Dick Cavett shows, it hearkens back to a day when conversation was actually considered entertainment - and by that I mean actual, you know, talking, rather than shouting, interrupting, declaiming, insulting, offending, and what have you. Of all the changes we've seen in television over the years, I think this is one of the most underrated and underappreciated.

What we have here is either from Good Friday, 1956; It was sponsored (as I recall from the version I have) by Progresso, and presented without commercial interruption.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Unplanned thoughts

The author with Abby Johnson, 2012 Pro-Life Dinner at SC March for Life
The recent release of Pure Flix's Unplanned, about Abby Johnson's departure from Planned Parenthood, was a box office hit despite mainstream media attempts to sabotage the film.  But as I watched it myself on a Sunday, having to drive 55 miles near Shaw Air Force Base as we don't have a movie theatre for 45 miles, and the ones closest to me were owned by Chinese Communist interests (which for a New Taipei City native legally can have you in trouble over the wants of the Communist Party), I found a screen not owned by Wanda (if you've seen their ads in football, their running series, or triathlons, you'll understand) to watch the movie.

The story starts innocently as Abby and Doug Johnson are at home, and Abby leaves for work after she greets her daughter. The title of the movie is not shown, except for the fact it is built around an eponymous book. The shocking details of the Planned Parenthood of Bryan, TX director being asked to observe an abortion and assist in it starts what is the legitimate reason the movie was handed an R rating, as it depicts children being murdered in a gruesome manner, as the murder takes place.

That scene will repeat itself later as they flash back to her trip to a volunteerism day while in college, introduced deceptively to Planned Parenthood. But what I initially observe is a huge mistake in the movie, as access to the parking lot of that venue is blocked, despite federal law (FACE) signed by the Clinton Administration. The Pure Flix producers also use the inappropriate stereotypes for pro-life folks around the murder mill, and we see the first signs of a product placement (40 Days for Life) being rampant in the movie. I've known Pure Flix has made product placement crucial in their movies, often ruining the message by running advertisements. They flash back to her first failed marriage and her trip to that very same baby murder mill, as a patient, told to consume mifepristone (better known as Rousell Uclaf-486), a drug legalised by the Clinton Administration, to kill her first child. The drug was used to escape the bad marriage in the film, and the horrific bleeding and death of the child could have become two deaths as a result of that scene. It was horrific, and allowed people to see how deceptive the marketers were in pushing the drug (which should be banned, if you saw the consequences).

After the failed marriage, she found love again, a marriage that continues to this day. They also attend church for the first time together, which brings to light a second disturbing scene and product placement. In my 22 years of volunteering with the state chapter of National Right to Life, which I continue to this day as a member of the local chapter, I've met Mrs. Johnson at the Clover Wolf Memorial Pro-Life Weekend in 2012 (the name was added in 2018 following the death of the current state director's mother). I understand they are Catholic, and over Christmas Day itself, I visited my Citizens for Life friends at their Catholic cathedral to observe their services (though not permitted to take communion because of being a Protestant, I deliberately carried my Bible to the service). When the scene notes the Johnsons attending church, instead of a vast cathedral in the College Station area being shown, we are shown an auditorium similar to what you see in a high school, a rock band, and a "minister". In observing the closing credits of the film, we are told the minister in the film is a minister at the notoriously heretic Bethel Church of Redding, California. There is no way a rock band and this type of minister would be at the church the Johnsons attended, as Bethel is a cult, with events such as the "Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry" (see this article or details), and the "Kundalini movement" inside that church. Sadly, the movie's music also comes from Bethel, which should be a warning as many churches today have adopted Bethel, along with its "Jesus Culture" and "Bethel Music" brands, into their churches, not knowing royalties support them.

Scenes of pro-life prayer warriors (around the campus of the baby murder mill where she was working) being sprayed by the sprinkler system have an eerie reference to the civil rights rallies in Birmingham, Alabama, of the 1960's, complete with notorious police chief Eugene "Bull" Connor's use of fire hydrants to spray those pushing for desegregation. Abby is then named the director of the Bryan area Planned Parenthood, followed by her award as director of the year, and plans for a larger facility are announced.  We also learn her parents have prayed for her because of the troubling position she heads—she has only thought the organization was for women's health care (but it was not).

The crucial turning point of the movie take place after we see her awards. There is an innocent time where Doug and Abby have date night at a local cantina, and the television news screens show the death of Kansas baby murderer George Tiller. The prosecuting attorney going after Mr. Tiller was Phill Kline (now having been been part of Citizens for Life these years), who would later lose his law licence when the Governess (who later became the Obama Administration's HHS Secretary, advancing new regulations that we call Obamacare), stripped him for political gain because of his prosecution of Mr. Tiller. He also had previously spoken at a March for Life. After that, Abby is more open and we see how killed children must be reassembled prior to disposal. The children are placed in a barrel and a Prayer for the Dead (though initially I thought it resembled Mormonism's baptism for the dead) are conducted. After that, we return to the opening scene of the film where Abby is called to an abortion examination room and after that breaks down after seeing the child die. She is in the bathroom and broke down, then counseling to the pro-life counselors that were around the room.

As we know now, with the gruesome truth exposed, Johnson quits Planned Parenthood. Their lawyers taunt her, as you might expect, and after finding an attorney that actively is pro-life, she wins her case. She now works on the other side, and we see one expecting mother choose life instead after Abby explains the story. The movie ends with Executive Producer Mike Lindell driving a tractor and pulling down the Planned Parenthood sign as the clinic closed.

My concern was was Bethel's product placement too rampant to push their heresy?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

We don’t deserve Notre Dame

Like millions around the world, I watched the images of Notre Dame engulfed in flames. As a Christian, though not a Catholic, it was devastating.

I’ve been to Paris twice, and both times a visit to the cathedral was essential. One cannot help but gaze in astonishment at its overwhelming beauty and majesty. I did not attend services there, which I regret now, but the first time I entered I had the pleasure to witness a wedding taking place within its hallowed walls. That made the moment even more special.

And now much of it is gone.

A cause will be identified for the fire, while people of faith will debate whether its destruction was a simple accident, or if there is some deeper meaning to be found in its loss. How could an 800 year-old structure that survived a bloody revolution and two world wars be gutted by an extreme makeover?

We should always be cautious to ascribe earthly tragedies to divine intervention. But somehow it seems a little harder to dismiss this time.

Governments throughout the civilized world sanction the murder of millions of unborn children, and applaud (not just figuratively but literally) legislation that makes it easier, not more difficult to expand these grim statistics. We take legal action against memorials and monuments with a religious connotation. We mock those who pray after tragedy, expel God from schools and cheer every time the popular culture takes another step away from grace and civility.

And while secular society ceaselessly strives to eradicate any reference to faith from our culture, the perversions and prevarication of far too many who represent the Catholic Church have hastened its path to obsolescence, and only made it easier for its enemies to advance their agendas.

In times like these, in Easter week, how could one not see a message being sent by the destruction of this magnificent, holy edifice? How can we not draw a conclusion from the loss of a place that symbolized reverence for the divine, and for life, and for beauty? Our world may finally have become too ugly to sustain such treasures.

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild. That’s good. But in today’s France, where 5% of Catholics attend Mass, and atheism is more popular than Jerry Lewis, the loss of a cathedral carries no more meaning than the loss of a theme park attraction. Oh, well, now the tourists will just have an extra hour to visit Disneyland Paris.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Retro TV Friday

First off, before we start, Charles van Doren, RIP.  His intelligence was the subject of a major scandal when "Twenty-One" was rigged, as he admitted in Washington, leading to the major quiz show scandals taking down its biggest name.

But we go off to a Retro TV Friday that reflects on game shows, as you might expect.  This week, singer Julianna Emanski made a social media post that would have been worthy of being a blooper on the short-lived Jay Wolpert produced Bud Austin game "Whew!" that aired in 1979, as the object of the game was to correct the bloopers read by Jim Narz (aka Tom Kennedy, used a stage name to prevent people from confusing him with his brother Jack, also a well known game show host.

I've made her post into a "Whew!" blooper as if it was on the show.  Can you solve it?  (She corrected it;  I've edited it to make it resemble a question on the game.)

“The vast majority of pop music and lyrics is written by Mark Martin and Lukas Gottwald?”

(NOTE:  The original post that she posted:  “This is super interesting. Popular music today is a product designed to sell, not to inspire. Did you know that the vast majority of pop music and lyrics is written by Mark Martin and Lukas’s Gottwald!??? Just two people??? Watch this vid, y’all.”  It was since corrected.)

Here's the game reference (courtesy Wink Martindale):

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Wish I'd written that: what happens when the grid breaks down

All those signal grids, evenly beating in the night sky. Think what would happen if we didn’t fill the grids. People. Pause and think. If the grids break down. Think how empty it would be. Suddenly nothing. Would be dark. Would be bleak. All the words that end in the letter k. What is out there? Who are we? Would be infinite winter in our rooms.

-Don DeLillo, Valparaiso

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Opera Wednesday

isette Oropesa was named the winner of the 2019 Richard Tucker Award. The soprano has already become a major headliner worldwide, including the Royal Theater of Madrid and the Royal Opera House as Lucia de Lammermoor. The award, named for an American singer, is awarded to a rising American soprano.

And while thinking about it, she fits two categories that your humble writer fits -- the Southeastern Conference alum, and Marathoner!

Oropesa shows this video of her running in Lausanne, set to her performance in Ambroise Thomas' operatic version of Hamlet that she was performing at the time, Act IV, "La mort d’Ophélie" (The Death of Ophelia).

This happened in 2013 at the NYC Runs Brooklyn Marathon.  Yes, the National Anthem singer is in running gear and a bib.

Congratulations, Lisette!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Wish I'd written that: on entertainment as pain

I’d been to public entertainments before, of course; I’d been to the cinema and the pantomime and to see my mother sing in the chorus of the White Horse Inn at the Town Hall. But that was different. The audiences I had hitherto been a part of had paid to have a good time, and though occasionally one might spot a fidgety child or a yawning adult, I hadn’t ever noticed faces contorted by rage or despair or frustration. Entertainment as pain was an idea entirely new to me, and it seemed to be something I’d been waiting for.

- Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Throwback Thursday: What women want?

Most of you are probably familiar with the stories that continue to come out, pointing to an "epidemic" (I think that's the word they used) of student-teacher sex affairs. Of particular interest to many was the number of female teachers who had become involved with young male students, many of them in their early teens. Some call these teenage boys "abused," others consider them "lucky." Whatever, clearly the answer to ending this scandal is to allow teachers to marry - wait a minute, my mistake; it's allowing priests to marry that's supposed to end sexual abuse of teenage boys.

Clearly, if we learn anything from this whole mess, it's that the theory that allowing priests to marry will eliminate the pedophile scandal is nothing but a red herring. First of all, it's not pedophilia but pederasty that drove the Church's scandal - that and a rejection by the priests involved of Catholic teaching.

This, however, is a matter for another day. What interests so many about this teacher abuse study is a fundamental question of human curiosity: what do these grown women see in teenage boys? There's something almost nauseating about the whole thing. What I find interesting about it is how this behavior contrasts so dramatically with how women used to behave, or at least how they were portrayed in popular culture. Forget for a minute whether or not that pop culture portrayal was an accurate one; what mattered, in order for the portrayal to be a successful one, was that it was plausible.

Nowhere is that more evident than in pulp detective fiction, especially that from one of the genre's masters, Mickey Spillane, and his greatest creation, Mike Hammer. Hammer is, to put it mildly, a chick magnet (as well as a magnet for bullets, fists, Commies, Mafia, and all sorts of other unsavory characters). And we're not talking about ordinary women here - just beautiful ones. Breathtakingly beautiful ones. Hammer, at first blush, would seem to be the most unlikely object of desire.

He is, by his own admission, not a handsome man. It’s true that women often meet him after he’s been beaten virtually to a pulp by some nefarious perp, who invariably winds up dead, either right away – in the “you should see the other guy” school – or later on, when Hammer fulfills his mission of revenge. It’s clear, though, that Hammer harbors no illusions about his own appearance, even in the best of times.

And yet women literally throw themselves at him. Within minutes of the initial meeting, they’re tossing off suggestions and bon mots at him that would make a sailor blush. To these invitations Hammer often reacts lewdly, taking advantage of some, disdaining others. It must be nice to pick and choose that way.

Hammer is by no means unique in the world of detective fiction. Philip Marlowe, for one, has the same, shall we say, problem (especially when he’s played by Humphrey Bogart), and easy sex with loose women is a staple of both pulp and mainstream mysteries. Even Nick Charles, he of the Thin Man series, is one of those men who women want and men want to be like. Nick is considerably smoother and more handsome than most of them, however, plus he has Myrna Loy to come home to, and so he remains above those kinds of temptation.

Nevertheless, what is it about these characters that causes beautiful women – far more beautiful than the men are handsome – to throw themselves at them with a speed worthy of a Puccini opera? The reason for this animal magnetism, implicit in the Hammer books, is a simple one: manliness. Hammer is a real man, not a fake – a man who knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and, most important, isn’t afraid to take it.

And this is what brings us back around to the central question asked at the beginning – why the epidemic of female teacher-male student affairs? What is it that these older women – some barely older, some much older – could possibly find of interest in these boys? One theory that I find plausible is that implicit in these actions is a rejection of modern malehood – the lack of manliness so prevalent in men today. As the metrosexual (if that term isn’t already passé) becomes a dominant archetype of the modern man, more and more women yearn for that old-style masculinity found in the likes of Hammer and others. Enough with men who seek to be in touch with their “feminine side.” To many women, this breeds doubt, uncertainty, an unwillingness to take the initiative – hardly qualities that make a man truly attractive. Hugh Grant may be the ideal man for those tissue-drenching chick flicks that Lifetime and Hallmark live on, but it’s not hard to imagine that a real relationship based on that Hugh Grant character would lead to frustration and exasperation before too long.

So, confronted with the lack of “real men” out there, and dismayed by the alternative - young men wrapped up in rude, crude and boorish Maxim-like behavior, women reject the choices presented to them by conventional society and instead turn to the raw material, the stuff that their dreams can truly be made of. In the handsome, virile boy in their classroom they find a boy eager to learn, eager to please, with much to offer in the physical sense; but also one not yet corrupted by sensitivity training. Perhaps he’s a rugged jock, or a boy who exhibits all the hesitant masculine boisterousness that teenage boys usually have. Or he’s untapped ground, one who can be shaped not by the demands of society to emasculate himself, but by the desires of a woman who thinks (however misguided) she can teach him how to be a real man.

This kind of thing is really nothing new however, as is shown by Richard Strauss’ comic opera masterpiece Der Rosenkavalier. The subject matter in this story, written in 1911 but set in 1740s Vienna, was the source of some controversy as well. In it, we have the Marshallin, a charming but aging noblewoman, who is involved with Octavian, described as “a handsome young man with an eye for beautiful women.” Through a series of impossibly convoluted twists and turns, Octavian loses his heart to the beautiful young Sophie, who herself is engaged to the inept and repulsive Baron von Lerchenau.

Although the Marschallin is captivated by her affair with Octavian and falls in love with him, she knows that eventually he will leave her for a younger woman - one more his age. Eventually, this happens, and in the heart-wrenching trio "Hab' mir's gelobt" she releases Octavian to follow his heart and go to Sophie, saying she loves him so much she only wants happiness for him, even if it is with another woman.

With this ending, Strauss hints at the natural law of things, that eventually people - especially young ones - gravitate toward those of their own kind, their own age. And I think that what people most strongly object to in these teacher-student affairs is the idea that the young are being robbed of their future, of their natural maturing into the world beyond their youth, in essence being trapped into a lifestyle (and the consequences) long before they're ready to accept - or even understand - that life. Thus, they are not victims of sexual abuse per se, but of the same kind of abuse that we see in advertising campaigns, in peer pressure, in a hundred different ways - the abuse of forcing children to become adults before they're ready. Some would say that the unfortunate, if not ironic, aspect of this is that in the teacher-student case this is often being done by women who refuse to grow up, who yearn instead for their own childhood, free of responsibility.

As I say, I’m no sociologist, so I don’t pretend that this is anything other than a theory that I find compelling. It also suggests, but doesn’t necessarily deal with, the immaturity that these women themselves exhibit, their own failure to grow up and act responsibly. It does, however, answer a great many questions. And undoubtedly it says a lot about the present state of masculinity – or the lack thereof – in the modern male. I don’t know if we should be more worried about this epidemic of schoolhouse abuse, or the cultural forces that may be playing a part in it.

Whatever the case, this whole phenomenon should cause us to look closely at what our culture has become - how we view childhood, what it means to be a "real man" (and how through our culture so many of the natural aspects of manhood are being stripped away), and how for so many nowadays, adulthood is something to be put off as long as possible.

Originally published December 13, 2007
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