Posts Tagged ‘Television’

Fred Rogers, known to the world as Mr. Rogers.

K. Wilson, author of the blog teachingthekids, commented on my recent post about teachers from pop culture that had an effect on me and noted that Mr. Rogers was the first teacher for many youngsters because he influenced her “in the 70’s.” Fred Rogers was absolutely an important part of my early childhood.

I was one of those kids who hated kids shows because I felt they pandered. I loved The Muppet Show because it wasn’t really for kids, but hated Sesame Street, for instance. However, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was one of those kids shows that I loved. Yeah, I went through a phase at around six or so where I was too big to watch it, but here’s how I know what he did mattered:

It was 2005, somewhere between May and July, and things had been a little bleak. I’d been separated from my soon-to-be-ex-wife (we finalized our divorce in September 2005) and was working at a local bookstore, which I would’ve loved had they paid me what I deserved, treated me the way I deserved, and otherwise didn’t have their heads up their asses (not all of them, just those who were in charge). I sat down to eat my lunch around 11:30/noon, and I only had twenty cable channels. My choices were game shows, talk shows, or PBS. One PBS channel was running Sesame Street. Blech. Another was running Teletubbies. Barf! The last had on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I decided to leave it on. I quickly realized that I remembered the episode from my childhood. I sat watching this show that I hadn’t seen in twenty years, mesmerized. At the end, Mr. Rogers looked into the camera and said in that way he had, “Just remember that you are special. That there’s no one else in this world like you, and that you are important.”

I can’t explain it. I begin weeping.

Lots of stand-up comedians and people who are too cool for school have made jokes that Mr. Rogers was probably a pervert, or some sort of strange dude because of his show. That’s an easy, cynical kind of joke to make in a world where teachers marry students, priests rape their choirboys, and you never know who’s lurking on the playground, the schoolyard, or anywhere else children may congregate.

I have no patience for jokes like that about Fred Rogers. This man was the Real Deal. He understood the power television had and insisted on doing his best to teach children what he could. He understood that by the 1970s, many parents were using the glass teat as a means for babysitting, and that the networks were making tons o’ dough from selling violence, stupidity, and bastardized entertainment to children. Fred Rogers wanted to do something different. He wanted there to be a place for children to go where a human adult could teach them, to build their confidence, and to give to them the sort of love that many children needed. Yeah, he had puppets, but unlike Jim Henson’s beautifully constructed and performed Muppets that lived on a special street in some city, even the dullest child knew that residents of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe were simple hand puppets that were terribly performed.

I can’t believe that I forgot about Mr. Rogers, a man whom I love dearly and wish that I could have met to say, “Thank you, Mr. Rogers. You believed in me, and I thank you for it.”

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You’ve got them, I’ve got them, everyone has guilty pleasures. Those snacks we swore we’d never have again the last time we had them yet are leaving sugar or grease on your fingers as you read this. The little things we do that others might find wrong in some way but we just can’t help ourselves. For the purposes of this blog, those TV shows, movies, books, and songs that we know are bad yet we must have. You know the deal, you just put down your copy of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (or The Remembrance of Things Past, depending on which version you’re reading) and you’re not really in the mood to go to the literature message board you frequent to pick up your argument on why Dostoyevsky matters because, even though it is said he was a creep (you all read the message his girlfriend transcribed during a bitter break-up where he shouted, “Vy dolzhny prosto ulybnitesʹ i udar mne!”) he had such insight into the human condition and had to be a genius, so you pick up the remote and instead of watching PBS (it’s a rerun) you begin flipping through the channels and…well….

This wasn't on TV, but damn!

Flipping through the channels used to be something I did. It was an active choice I made when I wasn’t reading, writing, or fantasizing about a better life. And I often learned things by finding some show on The Discovery Channel, PBS, or some channel that explained something I never knew I didn’t know but, at that moment, seemed that it was important for me to know. I’ve fallen out of the habit of channel surfing which means I’m dumber and I don’t find as many guilty pleasures to watch.

The summer between junior high and high school was a pretty good summer. For the first time in my childhood, I felt like I had a lot of friends. There was a comic book shop right down the street (this is the summer of 1991), and things were generally good. Right at the start of the summer, on one of those days where nothing much was happening, I was flipping through the channels and saw Bruce Willis running around. I stopped the surfing and found myself watching reruns of the mid-to-late-1980s show Moonlighting, which also starred Cybill Shepherd. I was home the next day and watched it again. And again the next day. I was hooked. Here was 13 (nearly 14)-year-old Billy stopping whatever he was doing at 2 PM to watch Moonlighting on Lifetime. Yeah, that’s right, Life-friggin’-time. The Women’s Network. I saw almost every episode of the series that summer…except the final one. I still don’t know how it ends.

Seriously.

A musical guilty pleasure of mine is the song “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls. That’s right, I wrote it. I love the song. I was watching MTV when the video debuted and I remember thinking, This group is going to be huge. And they were. It is a pure pop song that I’m not sure even makes any sense, but I just like it. I consider it to be one of the best pop songs ever.

In the summer of 2007, I found a guilty pleasure I was so embarrassed by I didn’t even want to tell my wife about it. That’s because she wasn’t my wife at the time, but rather my girlfriend. We’d been dating since January and that summer VH1 (which has gone from a better-than-MTV music channel to Guilty Pleasure Central) aired Scott Baio is 45…and Single. When I was a small boy, I loved Happy Days and had to watch this show. Pamela finally found out that I liked the show when I was at her apartment on a night where something major was supposed to happen (I don’t remember what) and I had to watch it. Pamela found it amusing (she often finds me amusing) and let me watch it. She now uses the show as an argument stopper. Whenever she’s watching something that I consider crap and I climb up onto my high horse to let her know, she simply says, “Scott Baio, hon.” (She sometimes follows that up with a “Scott…frickin’…BAio.”).

Scott frickin' Baio.

During the year-and-a-half that we were preparing for our wedding, her guilty pleasures were a slew of different shows about weddings, from budgets to dresses to cakes. On a recent Monday night when we’d been watching something on a local ABC affiliate at 7:30 (a great show out of Boston called Chronicle) there was nothing on afterward and I just wanted to read. The TV stayed on as The Bachelorette came on. It became Pamela’s new guilty pleasure. Please don’t laugh at her, for I have sworn to guard and protect her heart.

Another guilty pleasure we’ve recently taken to is Bravo’s Bethenny Getting Married? Pamela is a fan of Top Chef (and used to like Project Runway when it was on Bravo) so we are aware of their Real Housewives series. Because Pamela likes to have the TV on when she’s doing a task, there have been times the Real Housewives… have been on when no one was really watching it. The show is neither of our cuppa. For some reason (I truly don’t remember the circumstances), we ended up watching an episode of Bethenny Frankel‘s show and were amused. Without all the snipping and drama brought on by the other Housewives, Frankel shines. Her wit and intelligence is evident as she struggles to get her dream wedding in order while dealing with pregnancy and several careers including bestselling writer, head of the Skinnygirl brand, and television personality. Pamela and I find ourselves laughing and relating to her as a person rather than a personality. Is it art? No. Is it entertaining? Hell, yes.

Ironically, now that she is a real wife, rumor is she's leaving Real Housewives...

Being a fan of horror movies and books, I feel like many of my shelves are filled with guilty pleasures. Stephen King doesn’t fall into guilty pleasure category because the man is a helluva writer (though there are some who believe otherwise). The two Nightmare on Elm Street novels I have are guilty pleasures because I don’t think even the writers who wrote them can say they’re any good. Star Wars novelizations and pulp stories are other guilty pleasures I have in the literary realm. I am also a fan of bad horror movies like Basket Case and I Spit on Your Grave.

So what makes a guilty pleasure? I guess it depends on who you are, who your friends are, and other things such as socioeconomic and educational differences. Being a high school teacher in a media program, I hear about many shows that I would only watch as guilty pleasure viewing that the kids believe to be good. I know the same can be said about things I loved as a child, from sitcoms to Stallone movies, many of the things I still recall fondly can only be placed in the guilty pleasure file. The two most important factors are that 1) you feel guilty for liking it (for your own reasons) and 2) you derive a certain amount of joy from it.

Basically, a guilty pleasure is as important as junk food: Without it, one cannot know the good stuff.

For some you, this picture will be a guilty pleasure.

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Do you have any guilty pleasures right now? Or perhaps there is a guilty pleasure in your past that makes you laugh or cringe? Why not share? We promise not to laugh. Too much.

700, or Superheroes & Me

Posted: July 22, 2010 by mediabio in Comics
Tags: , , , ,

So I went to Newsbreak the other day to get the current issue of Mojo, which has a kick-ass interview with Bruce Springsteen, and saw they had issue #700 of both Superman and Batman. Being the nerd I am, I grabbed them. When I got home, I was astounded by the way the covers of these special issues captured the essences of these iconic characters. Superman‘s cover is bright, whimsical, and super. Batman‘s is dark, mean, and scary.


I couldn’t find the covers with the titles and credits on them, but here’s the cover art.

When I was a kid, my father used to bring comic books home from the local convenience store when he’d stop for milk and/or bread. The comics ranged from Superman and Batman to Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk. And there were others, so many others, but those were the mainstays. I remember my father bringing home the 400th issue of Superman. I later got the Batman‘s 400th as a back-issue when I was a teenager. Both of those had paintings for the covers that were symbolic of the characters. Both had different stories by different writers and artists. Both had introductions by well-known writers (Superman had Ray Bradbury, Batman had Stephen King).


I’m pretty sure I’ve lost Supes’s book over time. Batman’s is with my Batman collection.

Batman #500 came out when I was still collecting the Batman comics in the 1990s, though it’s probably towards the end of my collection (the whole Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend storyline). I collected Batman books from about 1990 through 1996/1997. But with more and more monthly issues and one-shots coming out every month, and my novel reading pile grew and grew, I stopped my collecting. I totally missed Superman #500 (though I have it as part of a collection in The Return of Superman).

When my father brought home Superman issue #400 (which is dated Oct. 1984), I was seven. I didn’t understand the issue. It was a sort of buffet of Superman tales told by different artists. Now at the time, I hardly actually read the comics, but rather followed the pictures, and (this will freak some of you comic geeks out) I would add my own art to the pages. That’s right, I drew in my comic books (I always gave Batman eyes). I didn’t understand why the art looked so different from page to page. Even when I did read the issue, I still didn’t get it. Of course, I didn’t realize that Superman had been around nearly fifty years. It wasn’t until 1988 that the hoopla over his fiftieth birthday made the news (and that I was old enough to get it).

Comic books and superheroes were a big part of my early childhood. As I said, the heroes that regularly made the trip from the rack of Store 24 to my hands were usually Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk. A big part of that was because of TV.

As a small child (we’re talking from my earliest memories–which begin around the age of 18 months, I think, but may be earlier), there were superheroes on TV. Superfriends played on Saturday mornings and on weekday afternoons. There was the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno The Incredible Hulk on both network TV and syndication. Nicholas Hammond as Spider-Man in some made-for-tv movies. Reruns of Adam West and Burt Ward on the 1960s Batman. George Reeves played Superman in reruns, not to mention the annual tradition of one of the networks showing 1978’s Superman: The Movie with Christopher Reeve. This last was super special (see how I did that?) because it meant staying up late! The movie would begin at 8 PM and, because of commercials, would go all the way to 11.


One has a padded suit, the other a padded crotch.

I would watch the adventures of these heroes on television, look at their adventures in the comic books, and would give them new adventures with their action figures or by role-playing. I was born in 1977, folks. There were Underoos!

These characters laid the ground for what would be a lifetime of imagination and adventure (if only in the mind). Without those shows, those comic books, and those action figures, I probably wouldn’t have cared about Star Wars (a topic I’ll cover someday), which led me to a bunch of other things. The seeds were sprinkled here, with these characters.

I liked Spider-Man, he was cool. I was fascinated (and a little scared) of the Hulk (though he would lead me to a fascination with Jeckyll-Hyde/shapeshifters/werewolves). However, I loved Superman and Batman. Those were the characters I always gravitated to. What kid doesn’t wish he could fly or be invulnerable? What kid doesn’t want to have all the toys at his disposal right in a pouch on his belt?

When I was eleven, the media frenzy that surrounded Tim Burton’s Batman swirled in and caught me up in it. This same frenzy came at a time in the late 1980s when comic books were changing. In April 1989, I knew nothing about Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One. I knew of Robin’s death because of the news stories (I actually saw an issue in a rack at the grocery store, too. I’ve kicked myself since that I didn’t ask Mom to get it for me), but Store 24 had stopped selling comic books and I hadn’t received one in a loonng time. By June 1989, I knew about Frank Miller and his take on Batman. And as time passed, I knew more and more about comic books.


This is actually one of the first images I remember from 1989’s Batman.

It was hard to avoid. Comics were everywhere. And it was pretty obvious who I was gravitating toward: Batman.

The early-to-mid-1990s were a crazy time to become a comic book fan. The groundbreaking storytelling by Frank Miller and Alan Moore, the blurring of comic book art and Art art, and the sense that the time had come for comic books to take its rightful spot as an American Artform were all over. Oh, and someone said they were collectible.

See, I was never into baseball cards. Hell, I was never into baseball–or football, or basketball, or whateverball–so I was often the odd one. Now I was cool for a moment. I knew people who’d never read a comic in their life who suddenly wanted all the variant covers for X-Men #1. Yeah, I played a little. I had a few of those variants (I have no idea where they are), but for me, comics weren’t about the someday money, they were about the story. The art. Good versus evil. This personality versus that personality. For me, the DC comics were the ones I enjoyed. Marvel, for all its flash and coolness, didn’t do much for me.

Superman and Batman. Batman and Superman. World’s Finest. These two guys were the first to teach me right from wrong. They showed me it was okay to dream. They both gave me something to strive for. I know I’ll never be able to fly, and I am all-too vulnerable, but I can understand Superman’s desire to feel like one of us, to feel as though he belongs. I know I’ll never have a Batmobile or a utility belt with all those cool gadgets, I’ll never be a world-class fighter/gymnast/detective, but I can strive to become the best person I am capable of being. And if I lose myself in another persona for a bit…well, aren’t we all more than one person sometimes?

The covers of Superman #700 and Batman #700 are pitch-perfect for their characters. The stories behind the covers? Well, I loved Superman’s (I may even follow J. Michael Straczynski‘s run on the book), I wasn’t a fan of Batman’s. Who knows? Maybe as I’m getting older I’m feeling the need for the more idealistic superhero. The best thing to come out of those two books, though, was the seven-year-old Billy’s joy in reading them.

That, folks, is what it’s all about.


The author as superheroes, circa 1981/82. I’m still not sure how those yellow/green tights worked in my head for Batman,but you work with whatcha got. The real question, in my mind, is, “Whatever became of that horse lamp?”