Showing posts with label Moral Controversies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moral Controversies. Show all posts

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Simpsons

At this point, The Simpsons has been on the air so long it's difficult to remember it was once a fledgling enterprise; at this point its presence has become so ubiquitous it's pretty much just one long unending stretch of syndication and reruns. While now the show holds court as the longest-running sitcom, at the time of its debut in 1989 the notion of a adult-targeted animated television series had many critics scoffing. After all, cartoons are for kids. If you're going to make a show for grown-ups, why not cast it as a live-action series with real actors? It just didn't add up.

Matt Groening and friends were clearly onto something, though, based on not only the incomparable longevity of the series but also judging from the innumerable grown-up animated shows that spawned in its wake. Although the show's main target audience was adults, many family-focused groups took issue with the allegedly poor behavioral example the show espoused. Bart became an easy target for outrage as critics spoke out against his irreverence and misbehavior met with little to no discipline. For those of us out there relying on television to parent our children, this was bad news indeed.

The Simpson family made their television debut as a short on the Tracy Ullman show in 1987, featuring parents Homer and Marge, children Bart and Lisa, and baby Maggie. The animation was crude and the voices were rough around the edges, but the show's initial concept has remained largely untouched since its premiere. Groening named the characters after his own family members, replacing his own name with Bart, an anagram for "brat." Aside from some tinkering with the Lisa character, the characters America met in these late-80s shorts remain largely frozen in time.

Their audience, of course, has aged considerably, but there's something reassuring about the sameness and reset-button quality of unchanging television. Aside from the quality of the writing, that is. You can't stay hip and irreverent forever, though The Simpsons held onto their satirical credibility for an impressive run. Quantity and quality are always difficult factors to balance, and quantity usually emerges victorious in the end. Regardless, the show deserves credit for its incredible perseverance in the face of lagging ratings. As long as Dan Castellanetta is still there interpreting the scripts' "annoyed grunt" as "D'oh!", there will be a considerable group of people willing to to tune in.

In an amazing feat of faithfulness, the original 1987 cast still provides voices for today's shows. After 21 seasons, these voice actors have established some pretty cushy job security.We can't chalk it all up to rah-rah solidarity and deep commitment to art, though; the almighty dollar played a pretty major role in their extensive retention. At $400,000 an episode for reading off of a script in the comfort of a sound studio, it's seems like a tough offer to refuse. In defense of their exorbitant paychecks, the voice actors employed by The Simpsons are indeed talented and multifaceted. Observe, a clip from the cast's appearance on Behind the Actor's Studio:

Like any good merchandising machine, the show introduced a number of catch phrases into the modern vernacular. They could hardly print the slogan-emblazoned t-shirts fast enough. Bart's signature "Ay Caramba!" "Don't Have a Cow, Man" and the ever-popular "Eat my Shorts" caught on quickly. Some American schools banned Simpsons apparel on the basis of its rebelliousness and in-your-face anti-authority attitude. There's nothing like tv-driven neologisms to really bring out the censor in our humorless figures of minor authority.

The Simpsons established a number of well-known and easily recognizable hallmarks throughout its run. The show's writers specifically chose the town name of Springfield as the basis of a long-running gag, concealing the city's location and giving vague misleading clues about the Simpsons' home state. The opening sequence also features Bart in full old-school punishment mode, forced to write "I will not ______________" or some such reprimand 100 times over on the classroom blackboard.

The show was no stranger to controversy, embracing its role from an early date as a source of social commentary and tongue-in-cheek satirical digs. The Simpsons has caught flack from a variety of sources, including the Rio de Janeiro tourism board for an episode which they claim depicted Brazil as a crime-ridden, pest-infested hellhole. The elder Bush president also stirred things up in 1992, declaring in an address to the National Religious Broadcasters convention that "This nation needs to be closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons." In typical Simpsons fashion, creator Matt Groening shot back, "Hey, the Simpsons are just like the Waltons. Both families are praying for an end of the Depression." Burn.

Perhaps no contemporary show has embraced the celebrity cameo and guest star role to the gratuitous extent of The Simpsons. Some celebrities had ongoing gigs with The Simpsons playing recurring fictional characters, such as Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, and Kelsey Grammar. Others, like Michael Jackson and Mel Brooks, made memorable one-time appearances. The show actually holds the Guiness Book of World Records title for "Most Celebrities Featured on an Animated Series." Who knew such a thing existed, but it's apparently a valid claim to fame. It just goes to show, if you get specific enough with your criteria, we can all be bragging-rights worthy record holders someday. Someday.

It's far from high art, but The Simpsons has had more than its fair share of influence over the last 20-odd years. It doesn't hold quite the level of impact on social commentary as it did during its popularity heyday, but the show's persistence in the media marketplace is admirable. So long as Bart is still out there serving as a bad role model for children and imploring us to eat his shorts, The Simpsons will remain a pervasive element of pop culture in our society. in And hey, when that's over and done with, there's always syndicated reruns. So many, many reruns.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Shel Silverstein Poetry Books

It takes a special kind of adult to truly get inside a child's head. We so often forget the whimsical, imaginative world of childhood as we're hardened by our collective cynical ascendancy to adulthood. It's rare to find a grown-up who is able not only to get in touch with his inner child, but who is able to bring it to the surface and forge a lucrative career from it. While his friends are off becoming doctors and lawyers, he's got to be content with writing poetry about ponies and dragons. It's a tough job, certainly, but someone's got to do it.

Granted, Shel Silverstein is a special case in children's book authorship; his extensive range of career endeavors would likely make many parent purchasers of A Light in the Attic or Falling Up blush. Silverstein's work spanned drawing cartoons for Playboy magazine to writing STD-laden songs entitled "Don't Give a Dose to the One you Love the Most." And did I mention he wrote Johnny Cash's country music hit "A Boy Named Sue?" Oh, right, and in the late 80s he wrote nine plays for adult audiences. You can't say the man didn't have varied interests; Silverstein squeezed several lifetimes worth of lucrative artistic careers into a mere 67 years. Not too shabby.

To generations of kids in the mid-to-late 20th century, Silverstein provided us with a certain silliness that was simultaneously irreverent and irresistible. Not all parents were crazy about the sometimes inane and often ridiculous content in his poetry, but Silverstein undeniably sparked a love of reading in children. For the most part, adults were just happy to see their kids excited about reading; it may have not have been heavy literature--I don't think a poem entitled "Ickle Me Pickle Me Tickle Me Too" registers in that class--but it was reading nonetheless. It was enough to make even the begrudgingest readers among us pick up a book of our own will and accord. That's pretty strong stuff.

Silverstein's unique sense of word choice and clever use of double meanings paired with cute illustrations provoked delight in young children. Finally, here was something right on pitch with the mysterious inner workings of a child's brain. Based on Silverstein's astronomical success, the recipe for writing a really effective children's poem seems to be as follows: write something kind of crazy. Show it to an adult. If the adult think it's crazy, stop drilling; you've hit children's literary oil. It's a tried and true formula: if adults find something to be crude and distasteful, that's the ultimate litmus test of its potential appeal to children.

Children have a far likelier propensity for possessing a sense of humor than their grown-up counterparts, so this formula was right on target. Silverstein found monumental success with his children's poetry anthologies, outlasting some of the 90s' most persistent blockbuster authors on the New York Times Bestseller list. "A Light in the Attic" spent a remarkable 182 weeks on the list following its 1981 release, proving that books geared toward children can have serious mass market appeal.

There was, admittedly, a certain naughtiness to his children's poetry that made children devour it so gleefully. Many of the poems included PG-rated punchlines or humorously violent turns of events that delighted children with its unexpectedness. For example:

That's funny, right? Come on, you know it's a little bit funny. That illustration is killer. Admittedly, toilet humor was prevalent, but it was used cleverly and quietly, like this:

All in all, fairly innocent stuff. It's not exactly racy content, it's just a joke. You know, those things with the set-ups, the misdirections, and the surprise endings? Kid love 'em.

Unfortunately, not everyone was on board with Silverstein's sense of humor. Wherever you find someone trying to bring something fun and enjoyable to children, you undoubtedly find a group of sour-faced adults hell-bent on killing every last speck of joy and laughter. Naysaying parents argued against a few specific poems, citing their content as being inappropriate for children and encouraging disrespectful and anti-authority behavior.

Some found contention with this poem in particular:

What a group of killjoys, huh? The phrase "lighten up" was coined with this group of ignorant indignants in mind. If your child reads this and immediately proceeds to your kitchen to smash dishes one by one in a subversive manner, then we'll talk. Until that point, we might all want to work on developing at least a mild sense of humor. It might diffuse some of that tension that's sure to arise from the brooding resentment your kids will unleash on you twenty years down the road.

Another poem from A Light in The Attic caught even more flack from sanctimonious parents for its allegedly outraging message. "Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony" detailed the story of a little girl who begged her parents for a pony, telling them she would die without it. They refused her the pony, as parents are wont to do, and she did indeed die. The poem closes with the line, "This is a good story to read your folks when they won't buy you something you want." Holy banned books, that's funny stuff.

It seems the moral of the story is that it's probably okay to expose kids to humorous material. In fact, I'd even prescribe it for your own children, if you have any. I'm not a doctor, though, so you might want to check with a professional before administering that hilarious treatment. Either way, I'd venture it's a pretty safe bet to say your kids aren't going to develop into antisocial sociopaths for having read a clever poem or two. Just a hunch.

We all read it, and we turned out okay, right? Well, to a point at least. Our snarkiness and self-satisfied sense of irony had to come from somewhere, right? Whatever the potentially damaging impact alleged by parent groups, the positive impact of children enjoying reading outweighs the negative of ending up incredibly uptight, humorless, and unyielding. So, thanks, Shel. We'll see you where the sidewalk ends.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Real World

Last weekend, sometime between my many hours wasted watching For the Love of Ray J, World's Strictest Parents, and MTV Teen Cribs I got to thinking where exactly reality TV has veered off course. We all know it's far cheaper and easier for networks to produce reality shows that actual scripted TV shows with content and purpose, but somewhere along the way the phenomenon has spun out of control. While now we're now looking for the greatest American dog and giving Brett Michael's most curious female cast-offs their own half hour of television, in the 90s reality TV was still a burgeoning idea. It may shock and amaze you now, but the modifier "reality" once preceded the noun "TV" without even a trace of irony.

The Real World is still on of course, but we can all agree it's gotten a whole lot less real over its 22 seasons-to-date run. Now at open casting calls I imagine they have check boxes with labels like "Drunken Frat Boy Likely to Pick an Ignorant and Poorly Thought-Out Fight" or "Frustrated Psuedo-Intellectual Racial or Sexual Preference Minority Prototype", but in 1992 when the show premiered the show was a fresh concept.

Producers (and now reality show moguls) Jonathan Murray and Mary Ellis-Bunim initially considered making The Real World a semi-scripted soap opera, giving the preselected cast members a blueprint of their character development and storylines. You know, like they do nowadays on reality TV. If this idea had come to fruition with the quickly dissembled so-called "Season 0" cast, we could have seen Tracy Grandstaff (the then-future voice of MTV's Daria) play out as a character on The Real World. The pilot was soon dropped and exchanged for an actual set of seven strangers, forming the 1992 premiere season of The Real World.

In 1992, we first heard of MTV's grand social experiment, as the New York season premiered with these now-familiar words:

This is the true story... of seven strangers... picked to live in a together and have their lives taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start getting real...The Real World.

For your viewing pleasure, a montage of Real World Intros. I couldn't find them any other way. The first one on there is New York, my favorite part of which has got to be when they intone "...and start getting real," after which we hear a cast member yell, "Can you get the phone?" This was them not being polite/being real in 1992. Amazing.

So, what exactly happened when people stopped being polite and started being real? In 1992, this was actually a provocative and novel question. MTV brought in Becky, Norman, Heather, Julie, Kevin, Eric, and Andre to help us find out. I'm going to go out on a limb here and side with pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman in declaring the first season to be the only season of TRW that was actually "real" by any definition of the world. There was no meta self awareness going on, nor was there shameless self promotion in pursuit of low-tier fame. The first cast was the only one with no idea what was in store, what would get them screen time, or how the show would look as a finished product.

This was a short-lived phenomenon, of course, and soon the show was riddled with the kind of drama producers and sponsors salivate over. Here are just a few of the many, many ratings-skyrocketing dramatic moments that characterized the show in the 90s:

Puck vs. Everyone, Especially Pedro (San Francisco)

Sometimes good heartedness and good TV just don't mix. David "Puck" Rainey was a prime example of this phenomenon. No one could deny that watching his puzzling, over-the-top, and frequently unhygienic antics was entertaining. His worldview, however, was not quite as appealing to viewers as his penchant for picking his nose and eating peanut butter from the jar with his fingers. Puck was a notorious attention hog who represented the brazen new class of wannabe fame-seekers who made up the rising underclass of reality TV. He came to blows with pretty much everyone in the house, but the most memorable and shameful was his confrontation with Pedro Zamora.

Zamora had been diagnosed with AIDS, and his kind spirit and desire to battle ignorance against his disease made him the ideal target for Puck. Essentially, Puck became incensed that Pedro was a far more interesting character than him and thus was receiving far more attention. The only logical solution in his deluded mind was to attack Pedro constantly, instigating unnecessary confrontations. Pedro, in all his goodness, was ready to leave the house under the siege of torment until the other cast members decided to evict Puck. Sadly, Pedro died almost immediately after the airing of the San Francisco season finale, but his triumph over an asshat like Puck was a well-deserved minor victory.

Melissa and Dan Fight Over Postal Rights (Miami, 1996)

I don't know about you, but I take the US Postal Service's code to honor the privacy of my mail very seriously. Which is why it came as no surprise to me when Dan exploded upon finding that Melissa opened his letter containing pricey materials for his work. He goes so far as to call her a stupid bitch, which seems a little harsh for some innocent housemate mail-tampering. Things escalate quickly, as they tend to do on The Real World. In retaliation, Melissa flung some anti-gay slurs at him, which in retrospect was probably not a wise move. The drama just oozes from this clip. It's ridiculous TRW at its finest.

The Slap Heard Round the World (Seattle, 1998)

Possibly the most infamous of Real World moments was what MTV dubbed "The Slap Heard Round the World". Even this early in the game, MTV realized the value of branding and packaging TRW's drama and making it seem like news. I suppose it's a testament to the show's resonance that people still remember this moment, though to its credit it is absolutely crazy.

Irene was looking for an out, so she cried Lyme Disease and asked to leave the show. To be fair, she did actually have Lyme Disease, but her claims of its debilitating impact may have been just a bit exaggerated. In what must have been a Lyme Disease-induced bout of insanity, she outs Stephen as a homosexual. Smooth move, Irene. To retaliate, Stephen does what any normal guy would do. That is to say, he throws her prized stuffed animal into the watery abyss and then stops her moving car to slap her in the face.

If he was working to quell those murmurings about his sexuality, this may not have been his best move. All in all, Irene may have had the last laugh, or at least a validation of her character over Stephen's. In the early 2000s he was arrested for prostitution and then for stealing a 1988 Toyota Camry. Smooth move, Stephen. We can only imagine his indisposed clients asking to reenact that fateful slapping scene. Though to be honest, I'd prefer not to.

As many of you well know, these moments are just the tip of the iceberg. The crazy seemed to snowball with each new season, turning the show into a free-for-all frenzy of threesomes, stereotyped character molds, and general drunken debauchery. In the early years, though, it was more of a legitimate social experiment to see what happened what people stopped being polite, and started getting real. Okay, so that reality may have included a verbal pillaging for semi-innocent mail tampering, but it still beats watching The Real World: Cancun.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Daytime TV in the 90s

If you believe daytime TV is growing increasingly trashier each year, raise your hand. If this is a toughie, I'll give you all a minute or two to think it over. All right, time's up. You ready? Heads down, hands up. No peeking, I'll take a count.

It's officially unanimous. I know it, you know, the American people know it. Elsewhere across the globe, people are scratching their heads and saying, "Wow, is it just me, or has daytime TV really taken a turn?" That's just a rough translation from Estonian, of course, but you get the point.

Ricki Lake

Slimmed-down Hairspray alum Ricki Lake hosted this eponymous daytime talk rag, tantalizing us with the tawdriest of topics. Ricki's show was trashy, pure and simple. We loved dragging out the alleged perpetrator--be it cheating or, in the above case, cousin marryin'--and hissing and booing them to our hearts' collective content.

The satisfying thing about these shows wasn't so much that they were scandalous, but rather that they made us feel better about our own vanilla Wonderbread mundane lives. Sure, we weren't out there wrestling alligators and winning Nobel Prizes, but we also weren't marrying our cousins. Ricki's show served as a sort of trashiness litmus test, and unless you're gazing at a current photo of you and a close relative locked in a passionate embrace, I'd say you passed.


We all like a good fight now and then, but Geraldo really knew how to drive the point home. Early in his series (1988), he invited a slew of ideologically mismatched hate spewers and social activists to duke it out onscreen. Geraldo put skinheads and neo-Nazis onstage with Jewish and black activists and surprise of surprises, it got ugly. Remember, this was just the beginning, but you've got to admire him laying it all out there so early in the game.

Geraldo started strong, but went soft on us by the mid-to-late 90s. They re-spun his show as the more formally titled Geraldo Rivera Show and attempted to showcase a softer, more serious host. Clearly their hosts had missed the memo that people watched tabloid talk shows for the trashiness factor. I mean, we all got the memo. Also, I heard they forgot to file their TPS reports. For shame.

Jenny Jones

Jenny Jones was a Springer-like daytime offering, with only slightly less skeezy topical content. It was, nonetheless, absolutely ridiculous. I mean, there was a show called You May Shake it for Money, But Leave Those Sexy Clothes at the Club, Honey! I'm not saying I wouldn't watch it, I'm just disparaging the writers' poor rhyming scheme.

The Jenny Jones show is now infamous for its implications in a murder case, the crime committed following an appearance on Jones's show. The Ambush was a popular 90s talk show trope as unsuspecting guests were confronted without warning. Michigan native John Smitz came on the show to learn of a secret admirer only to find that the mysterious source of affection was not a woman as he expected but one of his male acquaintances. Reportedly "humiliated" by the incident, Smitz fatally shot his male admirer just days after the episode was filmed. And you thought those episodes about wayward teens bombed. Talk about putting a damper on things.

The Phil Donahue Show

Yep, that's Donahue getting told by Marilyn Manson. Sorry, pal, he only likes the trashier talk shows. Tough break.

Yes, the snowy-haired Donahue we knew in the 90s had already racked up a good twenty years in the talk show business at that point, but his show was pretty adept at keeping up with the times. Despite his increasing resemblance to that old guy from Up, Donahue kept with it for awhile.

Unfortunately for our boy Phil, the incredibly overstocked marketplace of daytime talk shows eventually squeezed him out. While once he'd reigned over the airwaves, new and more salacious (read: shameless) shows eventually got the better of his once-loyal audience. Once upon a time they may have been shocked to hear about the dangers of reverse vasectomies, it seemed pretty tame in comparison to stories of incorrigible six-year olds hell bent on becoming strippers. Or, you know, whatever other filth his opponents were cooking up and serving to us in our daily dose of daytime dirt.

Jerry Springer

Jerry Springer is perhaps the most notorious of these daytime tabloid talk show hosts, if nothing else than for the sheer volume of fights per episode. You'd think his guest simply spend their lives looking for someone to punch in the face, yearning to be held back by a beefy humorless security guy.

Springer is pure entertainment and pretty much no substance, but it doesn't masquerade itself as much other than a sensationalist freakshow. It's like going to the car races to see a fiery fatal crash. You're horrified, but you also just can't look away. It's like some sort of magnetic force field that tugs your vocal chords and prompts you to chant, "Jerry! Jerry!" till everyone onstage has been sufficiently beaten up.

Sally Jessy Raphael

Sally Jessy didn't just have a fun-to-say name, she also had a fun-to-impersonate look. Inasmuch, her show sometimes paraded males costumed in Sally Jessy drag, each more huge glasses-ed and signaturely crop-topped than the last. Actually, tons of Sally's shows featured all sorts of drag queens, whether in pageants or singing showcases. I have no idea why. At least they had the kind sense to call them "female impersonators". Very professional.

Raphael was even spoofed by the usually benign Sesame Street. Now that's how you know you've made it, when there's a grouch character modeled after you:

Maury Povich

A long long time ago, in a galaxy lightyears from here, Maury Povich's show was not simply the who's-your-baby-daddy parade it is today. Back in the 90s, he also used to cover topics like out-of-control overweight babies and irrational snail phobias. These days, though, he's not quite so classy. I'm pretty sure he has some sort of autopilot mode that intones deeply, "The lie detector test determined that that was a lie. You are not the father!"

The Montel Williams Show

Montel pulled what shall now be referred to as a "reverse-Maury" or a "Geraldo special" depending on your point of view and/or preference for well-groomed mustaches. The show started out trashy and actually moved out of the genre rather into the gaping void of the morally empty abyss. The show's later years were characterized by inspirational tales of overcoming adversity and succeeding in the face of life challenges. In other words? It got boring. Bring back silicone breast implant nightmares!


How can you not love a woman who brings out a big ol' barrel of fat to document her own embarrassing diet struggles? That's just good TV.

No one can deny that Oprah is one of the most powerful and influential women alive. She tells us what our favorite things are and we dutifully go purchase $50 cookie dough and cashmere ponchos. She tells us what to read and we eagerly seek her sanctioned stamp of approval at bookstores everywhere. Everyone wanted to talk to her. Even the often elusive Michael Jackson (video above) opened up to her. She's like a good girlfriend we all just want to spill our guts to. In front of millions of people. To possibly get a free car. Thanks, O.

Love them or hate them, these shows expose a deep inner part of our human nature, one for which we yearn to see the complete and totally ridiculous humiliation of others to make ourselves feel better. Some of these shows have grown more salacious with age while others have tamed their trashtastic inner beasts, but in the 90s, the tabloid talk show ruled. Heck, we grew up with it, and we turned out okay, right? Now excuse me while I go file a slew of paternity suits.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Frequently Banned Young Adult Books: 90s Edition

On an aside, this is my 200th post! That's a whole lot of 90s. PS don't forget to enter all and any personal or family Glamour Shots in the Glamour Shots Challenge! Send your undoubtedly embarrassing photos to

Not only did I miss banned books week, this poster is from last year!

I know I'm about a month too late to engage in any sort of nationally conscious discussion during Banned Books week; my complete inattention to detail and timely pertinent bookstore displays is starting to show. It's an important issue at any time, though, and if it means we get to join in on mocking all those who seek to censor our allegedly inappropriate literary content, then all the better. If there's a bannedwagon out there, I'm jumping on it. Get it? Bannedwagon? Anyone?

*Cranes neck and shields eyes from monitor glare to gaze out at bewildered readers through their computer screens*

Painful puns aside, it's an issue many of us may not have been aware of as children but that continues to plague libraries and school systems everywhere. In any given society, there's bound to be a vocal contingency of uptight people engaging in the rectal transport of sticks. In a society that enourages free speech, however, the irony of their existence is no doubt lost on their closed minds. That is, the free speech stipulations that allow them to spout misguided uneducated drivel without consequence is the same ruling that upholds these authors' collective right to publish what they please. Quite a conundrum, huh?

Unsurprisingly, parents make up the majority of literary naysayers. It's natural for parents to be concerned about their innocent children's easily corruptible young minds, but the idea of each of us having our own parents is that families can make decisions for themselves and not society at large. Unfortunately, whoever yells the loudest often gains the widest audience, meaning these book banners garnered a lot of attention for their shouting and finger-pointing.

The most frequent reasons cited for protesting a book are sexuality, language, or "unsuitable material". In short, our intellectual freedom to grow and mature as eager young readers is most often suppressed by a bunch of prudes. Because why encourage a child to enjoy reading when you can teach them the value of complaining?

Here's a light sampling of the most frequently banned young adult books during the 90s. Many of the books were written decades earlier, but remained in the forefront of the censorship agenda:

The Giver

In this 1984-esque Utopian science fiction novel, Lois Lowry outlines a world of compliant individuals content to languish in their colorless world. The protagonist Jonas is stuck in a frightening sterile world where people are tightly controlled and exist without emotion. They even take pills to quell the sexual "stirrings" they feel beginning from puberty. You'd think our book banners would be all for that with all of their anti-sex rhetoric, but apparently what comes next is too inexcusable to give the book any merit in their eyes.

The Giver was banned largely for its themes of community-sanctioned suicide and euthanasia, the "release" characters receive if they fail to fit into the well-ordered society. Admittedly it's a pretty heavy issue for young children, but the book touts these behaviors as a negative consequence of an overly uniform society. In more common terms, they're saying it's bad. Don't do it. The book has a strong message of individuality and personal freedom, which we all know censors don't like one bit. It's no wonder they don't want us thinking for ourselves; they want us thinking for themselves.


Oh, and pretty much every other book written by Blume over the span of the preceding few decades made the list. Some authors really know how to cause a stir amongst conservative morally straitjacketed PTA types. Forever was a shoo-in for raising a ruckus with its explicitly sexual content, detailing the experiences of a high school girl and her boyfriend's foray into physical intimacy. Let's put it this way: the book was released in 1975 and remains in one of the top spots on the banned books chart. I'll give you a hint why it remains so popular among young readers: it's about sex.

On an aside, some statisticians speculate that the dip in popularity of the name Ralph is in direct correlation to the fact that that's what the protagonist's boyfriend names his, er, private parts. Now that's a lasting impact.

Go Ask Alice

This story has a seriously awesome punchline. After years of speculation over the identity of the anonymous author of this drug-addled teenage memoir, it was revealed that it was actually penned by a Mormon youth minister. One of the censor-mongers' own! Ba-Dum-Ching!

Okay, so that didn't really kick the censorship habit. If anything, it just added fuel to the fire. As an anonymous diary, the book was provocative in its depictions of sexuality and extensive drug use. As a book written by a Mormon youth minister, it lost a little of that street credibility. Just a tad. Author Beatrice Sparks allegedly based the novel on the diary of one of her real psychiatry patients, but still. Regardless of the fact that the book is a cautionary tale against drug use, some parents obviously their kids will be drawn to try drugs after reading descriptions of the main character trying to bite her fingers off on a bad trip. Right.


Not all banned books were contested on sexuality. Some were just plain unsavory. At least that's what parents claimed of the wildly popular Goosebumps series. The books had kids delighting in reading, but apparently at the cost of exposure to some cartoon-grade violence. The horror!

Alice Series

A book about teenagers with sex on the brain? Why, I've never heard of such a thing! On her own blog just a few weeks ago, Reynolds Naylor addressed the issue of parents protesting the content of her book:

It’s usually parents who want their children kept “pure,” as many parents tell me, “from harmful influences.” The mother of a ten year old girl was very angry with me for talking about how babies are conceived in Lovingly Alice. She wrote that since her daughter read that book, “the words penis and vagina will be forever ingrained on her mind.” Another mother tearfully accosted me because she found the word “condoms” in a novel for teenagers, and said, “My eighth grade son doesn’t know what condoms are and I don’t want him to know.” Whenever I hear comments like these, my heart really goes out to their children.

Well put, Phyll. Parents are entitled to raise their children however they see fit, and they certainly don't need to check this one out of the library for their kids if it's in contention with their moral values. It's general right to exist, however, is a whole different story. (That story is called Achingly Alice, available at bookstores near you!)

The Boy Who Lost His Face

The Boy Who Lost His Face was written by Louis Sachar, the author behind the Wayside School books. The protests against insinuations of witchcraft I may support, but I can understand them. My favorite challenge, however, was the inclusion of "obscene gestures". Yes, you read that right. The reader doesn't actually see any obscene gestures, he or she just reads a description of them.

Harry Potter

This one is probably sort of a given. Sorcery, witchcraft, magic: all that good stuff is more than enough ammunition to set off religious protest groups. Despite the fact that the novels fell into the fantasy genre, many censors fear that that faithful children will abandon their Biblical aspirations in favor of a career in the dark arts.

Many parents also feared the books were a bit too dark and scary for young children, which is a reasonably legitimate concern. I'd advise for those parents to not let their six year olds read it. On the other side of the banning spectrum, some critics contended Harry and his pals set a bad example for their kids. He gets into all sorts of mischief and doesn't always obey his elders. You know, he has fun and he's a kid. Quick, hide the book!

Scary Stories

They're too scary. We get it. Let's move on.

The Face on the Milk Carton

The "sexual content" charge, though minimal, I can kind of understand, but the "challenging of authority" allegation? I mean, the book is about a girl who's been kidnapped by her own grandparents. Whose authority exactly is in question? Is it just the general notion that adults can make mistakes, commit crimes, or otherwise act unwisely? It's a bit of a stretch, to say the least.

Everyone has the right to their own opinion, and my disparaging remarks about the tightly wound moral crusaders is just another blissful exercise in free speech. Let me freely say that most of these challenges are the most ridiculous, asinine ideas ever to spew from the mouths of overzealous overprotective over-meddling parents. You, of course, have the freedom to disagree with me. That's the beauty of it. Embrace it. Freely.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gender Specific Version of 90s Toys: Stereotyping at its Finest

From infancy, we learn that blue is boys and pink is for girls. Even idealistic parents who seek to give their child a more open-minded experience usually succumb to the plethora of gender-specific paraphernalia in the marketplace. When it comes down to it, your kid is most likely either going to beg you for a dolly or a monster truck, and you're just going to have to deal with it and shell out the cash for different toys for different gendered siblings.

Toy companies are savvy to the fact that creating gender specific toy options gives them double the revenue avenues. They pretty much only have to think up one idea and then tint it either blue or pink accordingly. Figuratively speaking, that is. I don't imagine they actually have an idea dyeing process.

Some of the ideas translated well to dual versions, while others may have been best left to appeal to a single gender. I mean, let's be real here. Everyone knows it's cool for Transformers to turn from a car into a robot. It's fully functional, and now endorsed by Megan Fox. But for a doll to turn into a cupcake? What exactly is the functionality on that one? At least as a robot you can wreak general havoc and destruction. What new power do you gain by disguising yourself as a tasty baked good?

Narrow minded toy producers gave us a clear-cut stance on gender stereotyping, advertising the toys exclusively to the designated gender and thus alienating any kid who may like to play with a toy aimed at the opposite sex. They weren't out trying to destroy individuality, they just wanted to make truckloads of money and figured that appealing to their main audience would probably do that trick. Here are just a few of the stereotypical girl version/boy version dichotomies of toys available to children in the 90s:

Girl Version: Treasure Trolls
Boy Version: Battle Trolls

Let's play a game. It's called good idea/bad idea. It goes a little something like this: troll figurines with rhinestone belly button embellishment? Good. Reinterpretation of that same cuddly figurine to wield an axe and nun chucks? Bad. Don't get me wrong, I understand that trolls are by nature supposed to be gruff and aggressive, but the troll toys available on the market place were generally pretty friendly. The regular ol' trolls were fairly gender neutral until Ace decided to baby dollify them to attract an offshoot group of fawning young girls:

Of course that girl in the commercial would wish for curly hair. She couldn't possibly want a better understanding of precalculus or biomedical science. Nope, its pretty much all about looks. Thanks, Ace!

Hasbro took a slightly different approach in marketing to juvenile male consumers:

Geez, these things are threatening. And we wonder why boys grow up to be so aggressive?

Girl Version: Treasures n' Trinkets Jewelry Making Kit

Boy Version: Creepy Crawlers

Creepy Crawlers have been around for decades, entertaining children with marginally hazardous ovens with the power to nuke gooey bugs. Boys got to do this:

While girls got to do this:

Why exactly young girls would want to make earrings and necklaces out of a disturbingly gummy goo is beyond me, but apparently ToyMax thought they had a real winner here. To be fair, I did own this toy, and I did wear the clip-on earrings. They were sort of cute, in a why-the-hell-am-I-wearing-pink-slime-on-my-earlobes kind of way.

Girl Version: Cupcake Dolls
Boy Version Transformers

I know I've already began a partially-completed rant up top there, so I should just let these commercials speak for themselves.

Boys had this:

Whereas girls had this:

I'm sorry, "she cooks sweet and looks sweet and smells sweet, too"? Boys get killer robots and we get a junior housewife in training? Boy, I just can't wait to rush home so I can practice baking and looking pretty. Who needs global robot takeover when you've got domestic skills?

Girl Version: Barbie Lamborghini Power Wheels
Boy Version: Jeep Protector Team

Yes, you heard that right. We're going to shop, shop, shop, till we drop, drop, drop. Now there's a positive message to send young girls. Let's just hope our young male suitors packed a credit card in their kawasaki ninjamobiles.

Well, isn't that nice? Boys get to be heroes and girls get to go shopping. How enlightened. Thanks, Mattel!

Girl Version: Happy Meal Barbie Toys
Boy Version: Happy Meal Hot Wheels Toys

McDonald's Commercial (1998) - The best free videos are right here

I admit this one is sort of a cop-out. Barbie and Hot Wheels are not really related in any way other than that they are both children's toys and obviously have some sort of lucrative relationship with McDonald's. They're certainly not alternative versions of the same toy. Rather than selecting a universally appealing consolatory toy to offer children as kudos for finishing their McNuggets, McDonald's went the route of giving all boys one model toy and all girls another. The message here was clear: girls should like dolls, boys should like cars, and McDonald's counter employees will scorn and berate you for requesting otherwise.

I'm not all that up on current toys so I really couldn't tell you if today's offerings are any more enlightened. It's pretty safe to say that as long as there exists a marketable demographic of toy buyers, toy companies will employ utterly shameless tricks with little regard to sensitivity or diplomacy. That is to say, corporations will continue to shill pink crap for girls and blue crap (with lasers!) for boys until it stops being profitable. If you can't beat the system, you might as well join on in. Now where's that cupcake doll?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Married With Children

Sitting around today watching the entire cannon of Modern Family available to date on Hulu, I got to thinking about Ed O'Neill playing the patriarch of a dysfunctional family. I know, I know, it's sort of a stretch, but I'm almost certain I've seen this before. The patriarch part, that is.*

It just goes to show that Ed O'Neill was wasting his time playing all those hard-nosed detectives and policemen in the interim period. He was pretty much meant to be play this cliche of a former football-playing clueless bumbling dad. It's not typecasting, it's just logical selection.

Married with Children was one of those quintessential 90s shows that effectively captured the cynical sense of humor of a coming-of-age Generation X. The show focused on the Bundy family, a sort of white-trash take on the family situation comedies that flooded the airwaves in the 80s. Indeed, the show's working title while in production was Not the Cosbys. The Bundys truly were a form of anti-Cosby, a screwball comedy with a husband and wife team cut in the classic disparaging style of The Honeymooners.

While there was the occasional moment of heartwarming awwness, generally the show had a sort of hard cynical shell with which it reflected the negative side of family life. In a time when all family shows were happy family shows, Married with Children
stood in stark contrast for its controversial humor. Because, you know, anything that doesn't reflect alleged good family values is immediately deemed subversive by middle America. Conservative family values-spouting critics with too much spare time needed to spout something, so a TV show featuring a humorously misanthropic title family seemed as good a target as any.

The tasteless humor and vulgar subject matter divided audiences, with some crying out against the lack of TV-grade perfection in the Bundy family and others laughing at the show's non-glossy take on the grittier side of family living. Like Al Bundy says,
"When one of us is embarrassed, the others feel better about ourselves." As long as the Bundys were out there week after week humiliating themselves and bringing shame to their family names, the rest of us could seek comfort in the fact that at least our own families weren't that bad. It may not have been an outright victory, but instead a sort of consolation prize. Married with Children gave us the emotional equivalent of a lifetime's supply of Campbell's tomato soup. We may not win family of the year, but at least we've got something.

Even the intro gave us a tongue-in-cheek approach to the family sitcom, contrasting the sunny Sinatra tune "Love and Marriage" against the mundane images of our tasteless starring family:

Al Bundy (O'Neill), our (sort of) hero, was the family's mediocre breadwinner. Now awashed-up middle aged guy, Al had once been a talented high school football player with a bright future until he knocked up his then-girlfriend, now-wife Peggy. With dreams of college athletic scholarships dashed, Al settles for marrying Peggy and taking an unexceptional job as a shoe salesman at the mall. Al is nothing if not the picture of mediocrity, driving a crappy car, working a thankless and mindless job, and taking joy in bowling and watching TV in lieu of spending quality time with his family.

Al's wife Peggy (Katey Sagal) is an indifferent and inattentive woman who delights in outspending her husband's meager earnings and refusing to cook, claiming a fire allergy. Her daily quota of bonbons could support a chocolate-hungry small Caribbean nation, though she somehow manages to maintain her svelte figure. She's a vision in painted-on spandex pants, a fire engine-red bouffant hairstyle, and sky-high heels.

With parents like these, it's easy to see how these kids didn't grow up to be personified beacons of moral light. Their blonde bimbo daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate) is a dim-witted and ignorant teenager known for her promiscuity and complete lack of understanding of everything. Her brother, Bud, is slightly better off intellectually though he is not known for his luck with the ladies. He's something of a leader for a band of merry misfits.

Their neighbors weren't much better. In early seasons, the lived beside Marcy (Amanda Bearse) and Steve Rhoades (David Harrisson), a somewhat more upwardly mobile couple who both work as bankers. Marcy and Al became rivals, with the former delighting in the latter's misery at every turn. Unsurprisingly, she was Peggy's best pal. Harrison left the show to pursue his stage career was replaced with Marcy's second husband, Jefferson D'arcy (Ted McGinley) a slacker bartender whom she married unknowingly while drunk. See, it's just one big happy family after another.

The show was extremely popular, though it was often plagued by public controversy. A few episodes in particular fell under attack by angry viewers:

A Period Piece (AKA The Camping Trip):

Conveniently available in condensed minisode format for your viewing pleasure, here is the short version of the episode:

The Bundys go camping with their neighbors the Rhoades during which all of the females have their periods simultaneously. The references to menstruation were more than enough to push some critics over the edge, complaining over the show's lack of taste and non family friendly content. Hey, no one said your kids needed to watch it. Anyway, I watched it, and I turned out okay. Well, anyway, I watched it.

Her Cups Runneth Over

This episode also caught a lot of flack for questionable taste and subject matter. The episode centered on Peggy's disappointment that her favorite bra has been discontinued on her birthday. Al sets out to an obscure and risque lingerie shop to retrieve a new one and encounters a number of inappropriate intimate items.

Terry Rakolta, a suburban Detroit mother who caught her children enjoying (gasp!) this particular episode, made a major to-do over the show's theme and content. She took to national TV, imposing her whiny prudish schoolmarm views on the rest of us. Rakolta explained, "
"I picked on Married...With Children because they are so consistently offensive. They exploit women, they stereotype poor people, they're anti-family. And every week that I've watched them, they're worse and worse. I think this is really outrageous. It's sending the wrong messages to the American family." Well, obviously. That's what makes a satire. It takes the messages and skews them. Someone get this woman a sense of humor.

I'll See You in Court

This episode never aired on Fox, proving too contentious for network TV. It was eventually released in the Season Three DVDs, but it's commonly known by fans as the "lost episode". Following the Rakolta crusade, Fox was especially cautious in its proceedings with Married with Children. "I'll See You in Court" followed Al and Peg as they escaped to an inn to reinvigorate their love life, only to find their neighbor's and their own sexual escapades being recorded on video by the sleazy motel. It sounds pretty tame right now, but in the wake of Terry Rakolta's tirade, it seemed better to be safe than sorry.

Despite our fair nation's uptight segment's penchant for engaging in the rectal conveyance of steel rods the show ran for an impressive 11 seasons, proving at least some of us still had a sense of humor. They told people it wasn't the Cosbys and people were angry that it wasn't the Cosbys. Go figure.

*Let it be known that Modern Family is totally new and awesome and not a rehashing of Married with Children. That is all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Britney Spears

Oh, what a different a decade can make. Reference Britney Spears ten or so years ago, and you conjured up an image of a teen cultural phenomenon, a gorgeous fresh-faced midriff-baring schoolgirl with a cascade of beautiful golden hair. Reference Britney Spears now, and you're taken to a different place entirely. Images come to mind of an out-of-control out-of-shape washed-up train wreck chowing down on Taco Bell barefoot in a gas station in a bathroom somewhere with an unfortunately bald head. Sure, she's managed to turn herself back around and re-reinvent herself thanks to the help of an incredibly adept mangement team and conservatorship, but the original image has been tarnished as we watched our favorite pop princess spiral into the void.

Funnily enough, whenever Britney Spears tickets go on sale nowadays, I hear squealing teenagers everywhere on the radio begging for tickets. It's as if a new generation has rediscovered our old Britney, and that period of lapsed judgment simply never happened. The Britney these kids know, however, is a very different Britney than the ones we knew. Once upon a time, girls everywhere yearned to be Britney. While you'd be hard-pressed to find a teenybopper today willing to trade places with Brit, in our day it was essentially the dream of every mainstream girl who'd ever stood in front of the mirror lip-synching in her tied-up Catholic school uniform.

Hearken back, if you will, to a time when Britney was just a fresh-faced chipper little brunette thing, bouncing around with Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake on The Mickey Mouse Club. It didn't get any squeakier clean than this. The show had been popular in the 50s and 70s, but a revitalized 1990s version brought new life to the concept. Though she auditioned at 8, Britney landed a role on the show at age 12.

Yes, Britney and Justin, the way we'd like to remember them...together.

Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. For all the anonymous gossip blog hater commenters claiming Britney to be a talentless shill, we've got to remember that though she may have been famous for her dancing she was first noticed for her singing talent on Star Search at the age of 10.

The stage seemed set for Britney to take off in a major way. In '97 she briefly joined the dead-end girl group Innosense. Get it? no. sense? These 90s music managers sure were clever. Here's Brit and the girls from Innosense, in case you can't remember. This probably was after their stint as musical conspirators, but it's still adorably vintage Brit Brit.

Just a few months after joining Innosense, Britney was signed to Jive Records, the company responsible for misguidedly catapulting manufactured and highly managed groups like *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys to atmospheric fame. Britney was cute, innocent (after all, this was pre "not that innocent" era), and had that all-American personality that endeared people everywhere to her sparkly smile and Southern accent. She was more than poised for fame, though no one could have anticipated what happened next. I do imagine her managers were pretty pleased with it, however.

In 1998, she released "Baby One More Time", becoming the first ever single released by an unknown new artist to hit number one. The video was late-90s pop at its finest, cementing a Britney Spears brand based on tongue-in-cheek naivete and latent sexuality. In it, Brittany donned pigtails, a tied-up oxford shirt, and a borderline indecent plaid schoolgirl skirt, giving dirty-minded old men everywhere a troublesome jailbait Lolita fetish and forcing Catholic schools everywhere to invest in additional security. I'm also not too proud to admit I coveted those feather pigtail ornaments with a near-religious fervor, buying what essentially amounted to a Britney Spears starter kit at Target and dutifully lacing them through my pigtails at all available opportunities. And that scene where she's got the pink sports bra, the white pants, and the half-pigtails? I yearned to replicate this look more than anything, much to the chagrin of my midriff-abhorring parents.

Britney became something of an overnight sensation, with her fluffy bubble-gum pop hits blaring from middle schooler's discmans (discmen?) across the world. Coupled with a racy Rolling Stone cover shoot, Britney Spears had solidified her semi-contradictory role as virginal teen queen and forbiddenly sexual temptress.

This image was further compounded by the fact that Britney jumped aboard the current pop sensation trend train in declaring herself a virgin, a puzzling statement in the wake of her suspiciously physical and potentially cohabitational relationship with childhood pal Justin Timberlake. Now the idea of their public declaration seems utterly laughable, but at the time it probably seemed like a fairly smart publicity move for their ever-more famous starlet. I suppose it is possible they weren't having sex. They did, after all, show up to an event wearing this grotesque denim-on-denim-on-denim set of matching ensembles. I imagine it was some form of fashion-driven sexual behavior deterrent. It's really the only explanation.

In 1999, Brit's follow up single "(You) Drive Me Crazy" was another successful record, though not on the scales of her debut "Baby One More Time." The song was featured on the Melissa Joan Hart/Adrian Grenier teen movie vehicle Drive Me Crazy.

Britney even did a crossover promotional appearance on Hart's sitcom, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It was, well, magical.

She was nothing short of a rapid-fire hit-making machine, a year later releasing "Oops I Did It Again", a red-jumpsuited, hair-extensioned cheesefest complete with a spoken interlude chock-full of Titanic references. You just can't make this stuff up. No matter the low level of substance, it didn't deter girls everywhere from yearning to learn these dance moves.

Back in the day, Brit wasn't above poking fun at herself. Observe in this 2000 intro to her hosting gig on Saturday Night Live as she makes fun of rumors surrounding speculations over a purported boob job.

Of course, she couldn't keep up her good-girl image forever. Itching to break out of her schoolgirl shell, Britney pushed the limits with a slightly edgier image in her next album. She cemented this move with a sexy MTV Music Video Awards performance featuring dancing nearly-naked with a boa constructor. Nothing says "I'm not a girl, not yet a woman" like dancing with reptilian life.

Itching to get into film, Brit gave us a cameo in Austin Powers in Goldmember:

Followed by a slightly tragic foray into acting with her supposed movie star-making vehicle, Crossroads. Really, I don't care how big a Brit Brit fan you are. It's totally painful.

Holy crap! That is totally Justin Long, about to have sex with Brit's character Lucy n the trailer. I will hold back the mocking, though, I met him once at a craps table in Vegas and he was totally nice even though we were totally drunk. From what I remember, that is. Hence, I'm going to let it go, Justin. Just this once.

Britney stayed famous as ever, but things took a turn as she ached to break the shackles from her tightly managed life. She rebelled, dating and then marrying and then divorcing Kevin Federline, though not before popping out a few wee ones. We all know what happened next, though I'd prefer to gloss over that part. That's neither the Brit I thought I knew nor loved, and I'd prefer to just watch it on E!'s "Britney: Fall From Grace" than recount it myself.

Luckily, she's made a major comeback, though she remains a bit tarnished in reputation from her various past exploits. An MTV documentary can only reinstate you so far. Regardless, her new album is possibly her most successful since her debut, and it's likely she's more famous than ever. Love her or hate her, you've got at least admire her team's well orchestrated comeback:

Is it embarrassing to admit that as I type this, I have that bottle on my desk next to me of that Curious perfume with the atomizer she uses at the beginning of the video? C'mon don't judge. Just think of it as a crossover tie-in promotional item.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Joe Camel

If you ever needed proof that we're fighting the wrong battles, look no further than the late 90s Joe Camel controversy. It's not that these moral crusaders didn't have good intentions, for no doubt they meant well. However, in their fixation on a single cartoon product spokescamel, they began to focus on symptom's of society's ills instead of the root cause. "If we could just get that blasted camel off of Playboy back covers," they thought, "No child will ever feel inclined to pick up a cigarette again."

Unfortunately for these folks, being The Man in telling the younger generation how to behave is probably the worst way to get them to acquiesce. In fact, the way most of us find out what's cool is by seeing what The Man brings down. That's not to say I'm calling cigarette smoking cool, of course. I'm no Joe Camel. That cartoon was one smooth character.

If nothing else, this media crusade only reasserts how uptight Americans are. This is what we do. We see that there are many problems that can not be fixed. Instead of picking a problem to focus on, we pick a tiny aspect of that problem from which to launch a media maelstrom of outrage and discontent. What can we say? We were too lazy to take a swing a solving the problem of youth smoking, so we cast out our excessive anger dart and target whichever minuscule point the dart pin pricks.

Admittedly I'm being a tad facetious. The Joe Camel ads, while certainly not as detrimental to society as moral watchdog groups would claim, absolutely came with myriad of mixed messages. The original Joe Camel ads (commemorating the company's 75th anniversary) featured the tagline, "75 Years and Still Smokin'". Perhaps this isn't the most welcome complement to anti-smoking programs in schools warning of emphysema and lung disease, but then again the ad isn't claiming that after 75 years you'll still be smoking. It's all in the semantics, you see.

Though the first to come under fire (from the media, that is, not lighters), Joe Camel was certainly not the only cartoon smokesanimal. From the 1930s through early 60s, Kool cigarettes had an adorable little anthropomorphic penguin hawking their goods.

A closer look into the Joe Camel Campaign shows it's pretty unlikely these ads were somehow intentionally aimed at children. A 1991 New York Times article explains

He has a penchant for dressing up in stereotypical masculine gear like hard hats, T-shirts, skin-diving wet suits and tuxedos -- all meant to appeal to the male smokers who predominate among Camel customers.

First of all, that sentence is ridiculous. It implies all real men go around alternating between their hardhats and tuxedos before a quick scuba diving jaunt. Obviously on all sides of the Joe Camel argument, serious amounts of exaggeration were in play.

The article also suggests that critics wanted to, er, penalize the character for its supposedly inappropriate traits:

Among the most contentious aspects of Joe Camel's appearance has been that nose. Reynolds has always said this protuberance is nothing more than an exaggerated rendering of a camel's nose; critics say it was drawn in a phallic fashion to suggest that smoking is a virile pursuit.

I have to say I'd never heard that one before, but my God, these people are Freudian. Okay, let's break this down. We've got a penis-nosed camel wearing sunglasses and a tuxedo, surrounded by fawning beautiful women, and proclaiming himself to be a "smooth character". This doesn't sound much like something to appeal to ignorant and impressionable young children. It sounds like something to appeal to ignorant and impressionable young men.

In all likelihood, the actual intent of the campaign was to be edgy and hip in a seriously calculated way. Sure, it's certainly an offense, but it doesn't mean they're trying to stuff cigs into the unsuspecting mouths of 3-year olds. Apparently not everyone felt this way. In this Bill Maher clip, an oddly mismatched group of interviewees discuss the controversial cartoon camel:

Regardless of Baptist Minister Tony Campolo's accusations against Camel, I beg to argue comic Kevin Nealon says it best in this segment: "If they influence kids, then why aren't more kids, like, riding camels?" Hmm. Probing question, favorite Weekend Update host. Why weren't more kids, like, riding camels?

The Journal of the American Medical Association stepped in and dealt the final blow to the thriving Joe Camel campaign. They produced a study that claimed that more kindergartners could recognize the Joe Camel character than Mickey Mouse or Fred Flintstone. First of all, that's really great news for these ad people. Secondly, maybe these researchers should have chosen some more contemporary characters.

The whole affair exploded in a highly-publicized trial, as testimonials claimed that the company was targeting young people because they were the most viable consumers with the most potential for growth. Well, as we said in the 90s, duh. That's how advertising works. We advertise to the people who will maximize our profit margins. It's not exactly rocket science.

Under pressure, the company pulled the ads, paid some money for anti-smoking campaigns, and replaced their spokescamel with a decidedly less cute generic camel silhouette. It just goes to show you: if you make a big enough fuss about some misguided notion, you can use a great deal of time, money, and effort formulating vicious allegations against a supposed wrong-doer and eventually bringing them down. Apparently a great victory for the moral crusaders of the world, the suave Joe Camel character was permanently benched. Thank God for that, too. We wouldn't want our kids exposed to obscene phallic-nosed caricatures.

Yes, I acknowledge that cigarette companies do a whole lot of wrong. That point is relatively moot. I just don't think that producing a suave hardhatted camel is one of them. Unlike today's more direct and effective anti-smoking campaigns, this didn't focus on stopping kids from smoking; instead, it sought to eliminate a character that children may potentially find appealing that could eventually lead to their interest in smoking. Not exactly a direct route there, is it?

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