Sporty Spice Vs. Arty Spice
Without having to embark on a dissertation and thesis, could you let me know if you have any idea when liking sports and liking "the arts" became mutually exclusive in the popular mindset? It wasn't always this way, right? If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a self-styled poet sneer at athletes, or each time I saw a high-school jock intimidate a "faggy" bookworm, I'd have enough money to hire my own researchers to answer this question. As well, why is sport neglected in discussions of pop culture? It can't merely be a lowbrow/highbrow thing, can it? And if so, when did sports become the lowbrow? Thanks,
Christopher Bahn responds:
A complete answer to your question probably really would require a sociology dissertation, but here's my three-paragraph answer: Speaking in really broad terms, art rewards individual expression and iconoclasm, and thus becomes a haven for the liberal, freethinking parts of society. Sports reward teamwork, physical strength and agility, and the ability to follow rules, and thus tends to be the province of the conservative, militaristic parts of society. So conflict between them is probably inevitable. I don't know how far back in history the divide stretches, but I'm tempted to say that it's always been there because it springs from a natural divide in human society. It certainly has echoes in the '50s beatnik subculture's rejection of mainstream American values, and earlier iconoclastic art like the 1920s Weimar cabaret. Also, the movie Revenge Of The Nerds.
Obviously, there's plenty of crossover between the two sides—plenty of A.V. Club writers are also sports fans, as were (and are) writers like George Plimpton, Chuck Klosterman, Ernest Hemingway, and Hunter S. Thompson. Yo La Tengo named themselves after a story about New York Mets infielder Elio Chacon. Bob Dylan wrote a song about how great Yankees pitcher Catfish Hunter was. White Sox pitcher Scott Radinsky is also the lead singer for punk band Pulley. Shaquille O'Neal, Deion Sanders, Oscar De La Hoya, the 1985 Chicago Bears and lots of other athletes have moonlighted as rappers (though usually not good rappers).
As for why sports are "neglected" in pop-culture discussions: Well, for one thing, they aren't neglected at all in the wider realm of popular culture, what with entire cable channels like ESPN devoted to sports, and major representation on every local TV news show and newspaper in America. Most local TV news shows devote zero airtime to the music or arts scene in their town; can you imagine them deciding to skip out on reporting the ball scores even for a single day? So it's small wonder that people who write about the arts tend to overlook the world of sports; it's already being covered extensively elsewhere. But also, at least to me, sports and art are created in such different ways and ultimately occupy such different roles in our lives that there's not enough common frame of reference between them to make talking about them together very useful or interesting.
Fools, Said I
I just heard that Marcel Marceau passed away, and that got me thinking about a record album I've heard of. It sounds like a gag, and it probably was. One of Marcel's performances was (supposedly) captured live. The album started with a minute of applause, followed it with 30 or so minutes of dead silence, and ended with one more minute of applause. I think it came out during the '60s, and I'm pretty sure it exists. Or have I just lost my mind?
Donna Bowman helps you find your mind:
Mime-based humor. Funniest stuff in the world, in our opinion. Only slightly less funny than actual miming.
The news of Marceau's death prompted a spate of Internet references to this alleged recording. It exists, but not in the form purported by the legend. No, it isn't a live album—that is, it doesn't document a real performance. Yes, it's a joke—but a joke that went all the way to the pressing plant and came out immortalized in vinyl.
As you can see from this jacket from a recent eBay auction, the record was produced by MGM in 1971, numbered SE 4745. It's a "special disc jockey record—not for sale" according to the label. So it was never intended for release. As you intuited, it's an inside joke, a gag for industry insiders. The deliberate misspellings of Marceau's name on the jacket and on the label are no doubt a ploy to avoid infringing on the famous mime's image and fame.
The track listing on each side of the LP reads: "1. Silence—19:00. 2. Applause—1:00." Would it have been funnier to list some of mimecraft's greatest hits (Walking Against The Wind, Trapped In A Box, etc.)? We prefer the minimalist, truth-in-advertising effect of this label. But other small-time Internet sellers who've created gag CDs of mime routines disagree. And then there are the folks who collect songs like "The Sound Of Silence" and put them on homemade mixes labeled "Marcel Marceau Sings!" Pure comedy gold.
Just in case an unsuspecting radio programmer or gullible MGM secretary might not get the joke, the back cover is splashed with blurbs from Jacqueline Susann's dog, Spiro Agnew, Governor Reagan, Otto Preminger, David Merrick, and George Wallace ("It's dirty, isn't it?"), among other luminaries of 1971. The Best Of Marcel Marceao is credited to Michael Viner, a Harvard and Georgetown graduate who worked on RFK's presidential campaign and roomed with Rosie Grier before entering the entertainment industry. He's a co-producer on Sammy Davis' hits "Candy Man" and "Mr. Bojangles," and through Sammy, he became involved with the Nixon campaign and Republican politics. The "Marceao" project isn't his only foray into novelty records; he created a group of studio musicians called The Incredible Bongo Band, which in the early '70s released two LPs of spoofy rock and folk covers like "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley, Your Tie's Caught In Your Zipper." In one of those coincidences that can only happen in the record biz, the 1973 cut "Apache" from Bongo Rock has become one of the most sampled beats in hip-hop. (A.V. Club contributor Michaelangelo Matos wrote the definitive history of the song and its afterlife in DJ culture, and you can read it and hear audio snippets at the Soul Sides blog.) In 1987, Viner founded Dove Audio, an early producer of mass-market audiobooks. And thus his career in the recording industry came full circle—from "1. Silence—19:00" to "1. Author Yammers On (abridged)—180:00."
The Sun And Moon Declare Our Beauty's Very Rare
As a child of the '70s, I watched a lot of PBS. I remember a Saturday-morning show, I believe from Canada around 1976, where they showed kids from all around the world. They showed a cartoon character of a globe named Globie. He would give an address to write in, and they would hook you up with a pen pal. They would also show like a movie—I remember one was called The Witch's Sister. It scared the hell out of me.
The character's name was actually "Big Bluie," as derived from the show's title, The Big Blue Marble. Here's the anthropomorphic globe himself in action:
The pen-pal segments are what most people remember about The Big Blue Marble—my older brother got a pen pal via BBM, as I recall—but the program also featured little documentary segments about kids around the world, and yes, beginning with episode 38, The Big Blue Marble serialized an adaptation of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's The Witch's Sister, about a 10-year-old girl worried that her older sister is spending too much time with a spooky neighbor lady. Overall, according to the website of C/F International (which owns the right to the series) The Big Blue Marble produced 151 episodes between 1974 and 1983, and won 13 Emmys and a Peabody. I wouldn't be surprised if some kind of DVD set showed up fairly soon.
Stumped No More!
Last week, we once again offered you the chance to help out your fellow ATAVC readers by tackling questions we couldn't. Here's what you came up with:
Rob was looking for a '70s horror movie, in which "an old Native American man spreading a magic powder in a line across a road. When a car came down the road, it 'crashed' into an invisible wall the powder created." "Gordo971" on the comment boards was the first to ID this as 1976's Shadow Of The Hawk, starring Jan-Michael Vincent as an assimilated Native American who returns to his heritage and winds up fighting evil spirits. Surprise surprise, like so many lost Ask The A.V. Club wonders, it's Canadian. Unfortunately, it isn't available on video.
Greg Parker was looking for a sci-fi short story about a cyborg, which came with a lot of graphic details (and parenthetical additions) about how his strength leads to him killing a woman during sex, and how a technician takes him out by remotely operating his prosthetics. "John" identified this as Joe Haldeman's "More Than The Sum Of His Parts," from the Dealing In Futures collection.
Andrew was trying to recall an '80s cartoon "where all the humans were turned into paper dolls. They were all marching in a line, as thin pieces of paper. I remember there was a point in the movie where an old couple, who were still humans, were guarding a baby whose parents had been turned into paper dolls." Much to his evident delight—and apparently the delight of some other people who were also trying to remember scenes from this film—"JWW" identified it as the 1983 anime film Unico In The Magic Island, the second Unico film. JWW even found the scene in question. The animation is pretty neat (though Andrew had a major detail wrong), but check out the hair on that Toby guy!
Greg was looking for "this game that my friend got with his super-fast computer in the futuristic year of 1997… a fighting game where the players were robots with different abilities. The character I always chose would shoot his arm into the air, leaving him defenseless, while the arm targeted the opponent and shot at him before returning to the robot. Any ideas?" Readers had a lot of ideas, notably Rise Of The Robots, One Must Fall 2097, and Rise Of The Robots 2, but Greg looked into those and said none was what he was looking for. Several more suggestions were proffered—Virtual On, Black Hole Assault, and Zero Divide. Of these, Virtual On sounds most likely—the Wikipedia page describes a character with "ejectable remote limbs"—but until Greg takes a look, we won't know for sure. Ball's in your court, Greg.
Finally, Cydnee described a cartoon she saw in the '70s with "this scarecrow helping these two kids. They were fighting dragons and the scarecrow could shoot lightning from his fingers." No one came forward with any ideas on this, so it's just possible that this is the fabled show that someone just completely dreamed up. Sorry, Cydnee.
Next week: Liquid light projectors, dubbing audio sync, and more. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.