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Mahna Mah Wha?

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Anyone that has ever watched the Muppet Show is familiar with that catchy little ditty with the refrain “Doo dooooooo doo-doo-doo.” I didn’t even have to play you the audio. You knew it.

I was watching the Muppets the other day for the sake of good ol’ nostalgia (which I used to feel more and miss so I guess these days you would call me nostalgic for nostalgia- nostalgicgic) and I was surprised both by the fact that Mahna Mahna was in the pilot episode and by some subtextual things I had not noticed before- possibly because they exist only in my imagination.

Take a moment below, if you will, to refresh yourself on this timeless classic. Even if you don’t read any of this, who doesn’t love the Muppets?

So… if you’ll allow me to flex my critical muscles a little, I’m about to pretentious out on y’all. Firstly, the skit opens with only the Snowths (that’s what they’re called- google, son!) and their peppy little chorus without a hipster artist in sight. This is what struck me as society, or the audience. They are synchronous, fun, repetitive, catchy, flashy, bright and superficial. They’re a jingle. Cue the introduction of the hipster. When he inserts his Mahna Mahna, it fits neatly in between the chorus. It challenges nothing. It disrupts nothing. It enhances only what is already there. But it is not long before the hipster grows bored with Mahna Mahna and starts to play with what he has already invented and that’s where trouble brews and society turns. He’s stepping on the doo dooooo doo-doo-doo.

The hipster retreats to the safety of mahna mahna and ONLY mahna mahna and tranquility returns. For the Snowths. Hipster is clearly bored and not allowed to deviate from form, he tries new angles and distances, to change up the approach. He does everything he can to make Mahna Mahna fresh again, all without the notice of the Snowths who doo dooooo doo-doo-doo oblivious to the throes of creation that surround them. Finally this boils over until the hipster can no longer contain himself. His scatting becomes louder, more aggressive, more insistent and the retribution is far more pointed. He retreats- beaten, pushed back to the simple mahna mahna which becomes increasingly distant until he is literally phoning it in before he disappears forever.

It’s a chilling indictment of the creative process and the relation of an artist to his audience. It’s an adorable skit about aliens and jazz. It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping. It’s Jim Henson and the Muppets at the pinnacle of their craft.

I wonder how much of what I see is intentional. I wonder how much I Rohrschach’d this through my own creative frustrations. I thought it was the inaugural episode of the Muppets, so how burned out could Jim have been? But it was a full twenty years or so that he had been doing puppetry professionally, starting with the low key black and white Sam and Friends in Baltimore and when I was looking for the clip for this blog entry I found this:

This was Sesame Street in 1969 and the things I thought I was imagining are far more explicit here. The cute but ultimately weird snowths were presaged by the traditional and adorable little girls that are looking for a *nice* song. The singer is no hipster but one of their full on hippie forefathers and far more menacing a figure to middle America. I thought no wonder so many government scrooges wanted to defund Sesame Street. It was out there (and Out There) giving people… ideas.

All I know is that when you feel the need for some joy in your life, you could do worse than to watch some classic era Muppets from the Golden Age of Henson. Here’s another favorite from me to you:

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Older than I used to be, and Now I’m Getting Older

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It was my birthday this week and as I pass further into the realm of not as young as I used to be towards no longer a spring chicken, I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on the nature of comedy. Because it’s a thin line between comedy and tragedy. Or so the saying goes. I don’t remember laughing a lot during Romeo and Juliet.

As a regular reader (I hope) of what I’m doing here, you may have noticed that I have the style of humor that I like to think of as classic. You can call it corny if you like. I love a good pun and I could never understand why Stephan Pastis felt compelled to put those self flagellating final panels in Pearls Before Swine where Rat felt the need to pulverize his author every time he felt the bounds of clever wit had been transgressed. But then, that’s probably why you’ve heard of Stephan Pastis and I’m uh… not in that league. Here’s a thought though: By having a character confront the author is it railing in the face of God? Am I so responsibility averse that I don’t use recurring characters for fear that they gain sentience and kill me in my sleep? That’s crazy. Of course not. Stop looking at me!

So… classic comedy. I am lucky (?) enough to have been raised pre reality television. If anything, I like to think that my general ennui/malaise towards life can be attributed to Punky Brewster, the Golden Girls and Cheers. Great as those characters were, the shows were not character driven. They put the situation in situation comedy. I thought when I grew up I would have all kinds of hilarious hijinks where I was mistaken for foreign dignitaries and business scions. Where I would have casual encounters with celebrities where I learned a great Life Lesson when we passed for thirty seconds in the hall. Where I faked my way into great jobs and made wonderfully anecdotal mistakes while fudging my way to competency.

Then reality tv came along. Sure, it was sort of there all along but it didn’t REALLY take off until I was already in college. Then we got to see survivors face their fear factor in the real world under the eyes of big brother. Of course, having to eat a pile of worms or run a footrace over a pile of craggy ankle beckoning rocks is about as likely for most of us as casual celebrity encounters. Despite that, reality tv became the new reality. Our relationships (to this old biddy) feel more complicated and dramatic than they used to be. Our conversations more rhetorical. That’s when I realized that somehow a funny thing had happened to us. Less funny haha than funny tragic (it’s tragic cos it’s true!). The more that we escape into fiction, the better we understand what is real. The more we tried to replicate (regulate?) reality, the more we hyperinflated those things that are fake. Art’s a funny thing, isn’t it? What happens when life imitates crap? Anyways, I think I’ll go infiltrate a strangers’ high school reunion. Time to put the wacky back in this whack job.

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The More Things Change…

The More Things Change… published on No Comments on The More Things Change…

…the more they really change. Can we agree that 2016 has been a really weird year?

gothic
Yup. This weird.

 

I’ll start by saying that cartooning is something that I enjoy. A lot. I’m not the best in the world at it, but have you seen what Garry Trudeau’s early work looks like? Have you seen what Scott Adams looks like now? I will get better. It’s a promise from me to you and, more importantly, from me to me.

Speaking of Scott Adams, I don’t know how many of you noticed this piece he wrote regarding this hellstorm of an election, but he has formally endorsed Donald Trump after stating that he knows nothing about the issues but that he does know that Hillary’s supporters are bullies.

As a certain type of successful white man, he then goes on to talk about how his books are now being downgraded on Amazon as a result of his political uncorrectness (I know it’s incorrectness but I’m fighting back against PC thugs telling me how to wurd). Writers are speaking out against him motivated only by a desire to diminish his authority because of course that and jealousy are the only reason that any writer ever writes about another writer.

A Graveyard Smash
And we all know jealousy makes monsters of us all.

 

This is honestly the kind of writing I would expect from the apologist balladeer of the crappy workplace (my two cents are ‘it’s funny because it’s true!’ is the same logic that gave us Hogans Heroes).

Contrast this with something that I read recently in the book Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts. I would go so far as to say Charles Schulz was the most commercially influential cartoonist in American history. All of the plushies, lunch boxes, coffee mugs and assorted desiderata (I love that word so much) of all the cartoonists working today might approach the level that Snoopy and the gang reached. I assume so, without bothering to research- but it feels right doesn’t it?

In this book there is s0me correspondence between Schulz and a teacher named Harriet Glickman. Harriet very kindly writes Schulz and tells him his comic is so wonderfully received and influential, could he please see his way to add a black character to help with integration? Schulz, again very kindly, writes back that he wouldn’t dare as he would be afraid to come across as condescending to people of color. He writes back and forth with some of Harriet’s black friends expressing his concerns, they share with him some of theirs and eventually Peanuts sees the introduction of Franklin, its’ first black character.

My point? Success comes with privileges and responsibilities, just like being a spider powered superhero. Fifty years ago there was a cartoonist so beloved that he probably could have been president himself who modestly and circumspectly approached the controversial issues of the day- and to be fair I did get a whiff of the protection of his commercial interests at play. Fast forward to today and a niche cartoonist whose niche is not politics and who claims to know little of the issues asks us to upvote his books on the interwebs as a political statement.

I don’t judge or claim to understand either of these men because I have walked nowhere in their shoes. To that end I would like to propose that a well endowed ivy league school give me a LOT of money from their sociology department (first dibs to Princeton so I can meet Paul Krugman) and I promise to fully document all the effects overnight success imposes on a bleeding heart liberal. I look forward to discussing my views on the capital gains tax with you.

Frugally,

Martin

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We Could be Heroes…

We Could be Heroes… published on No Comments on We Could be Heroes…

A few years back Utah was determined to be the nerdiest state in America based on Facebook posts and their contents. I live approximately a 4 minute walk from ground zero of the Salt Lake Comic-con and I’ll testify. Not like at the big churchy building across the street, where I’m not allowed to do that. Anyways, off-topic. I’m rambling.

My point is everywhere else I have visited or lived I am considered a hardcore nerd. I know many people here who believe the same thing. But those are people who don’t know the other people I know here. The real nerds. The ones who argued when the list came out that the nerd criteria and method of data gathering lacked empirical validity. The ones who model what commitment, enthusiasm, creativity and camaraderie can accomplish. And the alphas of those nerds are the cosplayers. The hundreds of hours that go into a costume are truly mind boggling. Not to mention the positive self image. I can’t even get away from using facebook avatars that look like this:

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So I will never understand those that laugh at these grownups playing dress up. They must not be not aware of groups like Heroic, who perform good deeds for charity and delight children and adults throughout Utah as the walking avatars of beloved fictional characters. Or the Mandalorian Mercs– an international group of Star Wars cosplayers who perform charity for underprivileged families while counterintuitively dressing as bounty hunters. (Side note- this is where I display my casual rather than deeply embedded nerddom by admitting that I don’t know if all Mandalorians are bounty hunters or if I’m racially profiling. If this is the case, I apologize for my insensitivity #notallmandalorians)

I’m not sure if it was evident before, so let me state explicitly that I do in fact have a point. Back during SLC Nerd in 2013 someone took a truly epic pic of Batman of Heroic riding off with a Mandalorian from the Krayt clan. It was a great pic, but the background was asphalt. Boring asphalt. So I made it into this: 554598_310070115727188_1569278052_nIt just felt better. I’d like to do it again. If this is the sort of thing you’d like to see more of, I’d like to invite all of our cosplay heroes to send me anything you have that you just know could be epic with a push. I can’t promise to get to everything, but once or twice a week at least I’d like to share these inspirational moments. And a big shout out to our heroes above for their kind permission in letting me put this out there.

 

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