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Posts Tagged ‘humor’

Star Wars Hype

17 Dec

It’s like being 13 again. This time around with a wee bit more hype. When the first Star Wars came out in 1977 I was an anxious newly teened boy.  I don’t remember any hype other than the normal new movie advertisements, and then I started hearing movie reviewers talking about Star Wars. They compared it to old-fashioned good guy / bad guy movies. They compared it to cowboy movies – it was just good clean shooting at other people fun – but way better. Just beams of light. Ok. Relax Star Wars nerds; I’m sure it’s way more complicated than that.

Then it was compared Flash Gordon. These were all important comparisons. See, good and kind intergalactic reader, I had no wheels, man. I was 13 and lived ten miles from the Rhinelander Theater which was actually Rouman’s State Theater. I needed my mom or dad to buy into this very small amount of hype to get me a ride to the theater.

Rouman’s State Theater was built in 1921 and owned and operated by two Greek brothers. Their nephew ran the theater in the 1970’s and his children run the multiplex that was put up around 2000.  I was not originally sure of Mr. Rouman’s ethnicity. There was not a lot of variation, aside from your Polish, German and Irish, in this ethnicity parched region. Was he called Mr. Rouman because he was a Roman? Was Rouman another word to describe Greek? In fact, I always thought his last name was spelled “Roman”.  But as I got older I found out that he had nothing in common with Romans – whom I associated with a keen ability to guard things.  For example, he was not good at guarding the door. If you were old enough to walk and give money for a ticket, you could get into an R rated movie.  Maybe a positive spin was that he was not so “judgy”.

My younger brother saw the Jaws 3D movie at the State Theater (I’m not really sure why he would have seen it anywhere). When his pair of flimsy 3D glasses came apart causing the blue side to fall out, he went to Mr. Rouman to procure a new pair. Mr. Rouman, in his staccato English, told him, “It still works. Cover one eye. It will work.”

Flash Gordon was the clincher. My dad had grown up watching Flash Gordon. I had watched repeats of Flash Gordon. I liked Flash Gordon, in that they were battling in space and on other planets. The thing I didn’t like about Flash Gordon was the way those old serials from the 1930s were made. You see, they were trying to figure out how to create suspenseful cliffhangers.  It was story-telling 101 for this new medium they were trying to figure out. I didn’t like that at the end of one segment, if Flash’s space ship was headed for a crash, they would just crash it. Now why would I come back to see if that really didn’t happen. And in the beginning of the next episode he would come ever so close to crashing – but not. I hated being lied to, but there was nothing else on my three channel television. It’s sort of how today’s political parties still work – only with two channels.

I envisioned this new War of Stars movie trying to trick me in the same way, but by the 1970s there were new ways to trick people. Spoiler alert: Like having a dude almost make out with his sister.  By the 1970’s and moving forward, there were also more effective ways to end stories that you knew weren’t really going to end. But how do you get people to remember to come back and see more of the story three years later?

With regard to hype, the 1970’s may well have been the 1930’s as compared to what 2015 hype looks like. But here’s the honest to goodness truth amicable reader, I love the hype. There are a certain amount of people who have no interest in seeing the new Star Wars, and that’s fine. It would be really weird if everyone wanted to see Star Wars. Like, who would run our stores and businesses?  Luckily there are not enough theaters to hold all the Star Wars viewers on opening weekend.  That could be a national code red, with everyone in a theater. Our defenses would be super down. Although I don’t know if you will be much help in a crisis if your response is to make sounds like “Schrvmmmmmm! Kwishuuuuuu! Vrummmmmmm FVISH! while swinging some kind of imaginary sword. So, it’s really ok that everybody isn’t into Star Wars.

But I have to file a complaint against those who are sick of the hype. I have heard that some are tired of seeing Star Wars oranges, Star Wars cereals, Star Wars Target, Star Wars this and Star Wars that. My complaint is that all the things that are getting in on the Star Wars hype are not bumping space that previously held Part 1 of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The stuff on the cereal box before the Star War themed tie in was probably a toucan in a jungle maze. The Target commercials that reference all things Star Wars were probably talking about another thing at Target with some kind of thing trying to motivate you – like cold or hunger or kitten pictures.

The term “over-commercialization” can apply to Christmas, but the term cannot apply to a movie. You see, I’m here to say that a movie is a commercial item. The movie commercial attention is only taking the place of some other commercially sponsored item. There is only so much time in the day for commercials and you are just seeing more of that time for one thing. I’d rather watch the Jimmy Fallon YouTube a capella Star Wars theme than something Jimmy Fallon does with Madonna, whereas both are promoting something different (and the same – Jimmy Fallon).

Flash Gordon was the clincher to get that parent ride into town to see Star Wars. I was happy to see that the main similarity between Star Wars and Flash Gordon – aside good clean fun fighting in space – was the opening titles coming in from off the front of the screen and other technical things like side wipes. There was not a totally false ending – only unresolved pieces.

I will not be rushing out to see the newest Star Wars this weekend – even though I have a car these days. I will bide my time until the crowds subside. Dear readers, I am an oak tree in the face of hype. My 13-year-old daughter is more like a willow in the face of hype, but Star Wars hype is like Kryptonite to her. She will not be seeing Star Wars until Adele or Taylor Swift are involved. However, my 8-year-old son really wants to see it, with no suggesting on my part.

Since I have wheels now, we may take a road trip to my hometown of Rhinelander and go to the Rouman Cinema and see it in 3D. I bet Mr. Rouman’s kids would give me a new pair of 3D glasses if my pair broke. They, like the hype, have evolved. I bet they’re not unhappy about all the Star Wars hype. Now we just need to see a reinvented and hyped Flash Gordon, and all will be extra well with the Science Fiction space genre.

Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford


Burning Man and a Flask

19 Feb

I did some of my best work in the “garten” -as I like to call it. That’s kindergarten. But before I could get in there, I went through all the rigorous testing of the “pre-garten” during kindergarten registration.

I was at that stage of my life in 1969. This was the time of school psychologists’ ideas becoming – how should I say this – more 1970s. Our school psychologist was just out of college. In 1969 being just out of college and studying psychology meant there was a 62% chance, if a man, he would have longish hair. If longish hair was in place, there would then be a 90% chance that he would have a beard. Our school psychologist checked both boxes with a thick number 2 pencil. He seemed thoughtful like an adult, yet skinny and awkward like a kid. At some point he reviewed our work. Sifting through 5 year olds’ art work like tea leaves. He had been professionally trained and equipped with all of the most modern thoughts and systems. Some of his peers would continue their educations and end up teaching the age old science of psychology to up and coming soothsayers at a college level. Meanwhile, our school psychologist focused on our drawings.

After my basic testing, my mom and I had a meeting with the school psychologist. He quizzed me on my drawing. The drawing was of my family – My mom and dad and siblings. My dad was wearing some regular clothes – pants and a short sleeve shirt. What distressed the professional was that I had colored my dad’s face red. His arms were red and the exposed, badly drawn neck of his open shirt was also colored red. I was very quiet. Some might say a sensitive lad. I watched as the beard talked to my mom. The shagginess of the beard prevented a view of the lips and mouth. There was only a hair hole with sounds emanating and an occasional word with a P that would create a small breeze and sway the follicles nearest the source. I became mesmerized by this natural phenomenon.

I seemed to catch the gist of the one-sided conversation as he spoke in confident low tones of a college educated young guy who probably had tried his hand at a pipe and tobacco until it made him nauseous. It seemed that he believed that I was afraid of my dad. My fear had manifested itself in me coloring my dad’s flesh red. By the way, red is the color of the devil and generally thought by many cartoonists to be the color of anger. Other scientific proof that the color red is aligned with anger is the fact that Caucasian’s skin may become flushed when angry. I was settling in to agree with the professional, because I had seen my fair share of cartoons. Then it hit me. This guy didn’t know what he was talking about.

My dad didn’t scare me. My dad was a farmer and because of this particular occupation he spent a lot of time outside where things are commonly grown. My dad had a permanent farmer’s tan, and in the summer his shirt sleeves were rolled up exposing his arms to the sun. His face and neck were also turned dark brown or reddish – depending upon the week. At this point my coloring skills were very limited and the crayons provided back in 1969 didn’t contain sunburn red or burnt farmer, so I improvised and used red. My mom looked confused by what the beard was saying. I finally chimed in with my explanation about my sun mad dad. The hair hole fell silent. The follicles stood defeated and still. He quickly finished the checklist, ending with letting my mom know that I had successfully walked on the balance beam. I’ve always felt strongly about balancing.

As we walked to the door, the psychologist, looking for his personal Sybil, once again talked in low tones to my mom. I was only five and my ears were still very good for hearing. I heard him make a passive aggressive psychological pitch to my mom that I might be quiet and shy around men because of some kind of strained relationship with my dad. My mom listened to this young Rasputin and said, “Oh,” all the while thinking someone should shave this boy-man’s face. We left the room and I felt as if we had just skirted something dangerous and confusing. I don’t think I understood it was funny in the way I do now. But there was something deep down in me that got that ticklish feeling that I would grow to embrace.

My dad had waited in the car. When we got in the car my mom explained the whole scene to my dad – the bearded, long haired psychologist, the red faced drawing and my normal quietness. She explained how the psychologist had thought I was afraid of my dad and colored his skin red. Before my mom could tell my dad the real reason for the red face, my dad broke in.

“Well, of course he’s afraid, but it’s not me. He’s just never seen a goddamn hippie up close. I oughta go in there and punch that damn long hair, unshaven hippie in the goddamn mouth!”

There was a pause. My first thought was he wouldn’t be able to find his mouth. Then my mom and dad broke into laughter. Oh, I got it. Good times in the Spafford household.

The following fall I went to kindergarten – the place so concerned that my dad was angry was the same place that employed a teacher in her late fifties with a drinking problem. I’ll change her name to Mrs. Miller. I found out later that Mrs. Miller had a drinking problem. And when I say drinking problem, I mean I think she didn’t drink during the day, and that was a problem – for her.

On birthdays we all sat in a circle and the birthday child got to hand out candy to everyone. One particular day the birthday girl was moving too slow so Mrs. Miller took over, the birthday girl freaked out, Mrs. Miller grabbed her with long talon like fingers and dragged her to the bathroom and locked her away – all the while said girl was screaming, “Get your witch hands off me.” Mrs. Miller went to the cloak room (I think the dagger room was off to the right) and drank from a silver container. All the stunned children sat quietly in the birthday circle. Where’s a child psychologist when you need one. He must have been chasing down a poorly colored dad or hunting a hastily illustrated mom. Or maybe he just had gone back to school to get better at his craft.

Jason Spafford