In a surprise 3 a.m. announcement President-elect Donald J. Trump said notorious alien/Memphian Prince Mongo would join his cabinet as Secretary of the Interior.
"Oh spirits, this was such a wonderful surprise," says Mongo, who's dabbled in Memphis politics for much of his life on Earth, but never held office. "The President-elect said he was looking around on Facebook, just killing a little time, and he saw my new profile picture, and knew I was the spirit for the job."
Mongo admits he was surprised to discover that, while the position is called "Secretary of the Interior," much of his job concerned land management, parks, and the the great outdoors.
"All I know is we're gonna do some decorating," Mongo said excitedly. "I've already got plans for the Grand Canyon that involves miles and miles of clothesline, and some really beautiful underpants designed for larger women."
According to Mongo his conversation with Trump was short but good.
"He asked where I saw myself in 5-years," Mongo says. The answer: "Working closely with the administration in its second term, of course. Only this time I'm Rubber Chicken czar."
The rush to determine the big story of the 2016 election is on. Some folks will get stuck on the rural/urban divide or Florida’s love of third party candidates. Other’s will focus on the failure of polling, vote suppression, and Comey’s bogus email letter while Bernie fanfic spreads like polio in a libertarian anti-vax dystopia. But no matter which way you spin, this cycle's only got one really big story — Honkies, WTF?
TheTimes’ Nate Cohn didn’t say it in so many letters, but he tweeted a helpful rubric for thinking about the election.
They’re also a scared 40% of the electorate, and between craven irresponsibilities of TV-News, and urban/suburban development that’s been hiding poor people since WWII ended, it’s not strange that Trumpian tales about cities where residents mostly just get shot, ring true. Americans are heavily networked thanks to social media, that doesn’t mean we’re connected a bit.
Within the framework of disconnected connectivity, legacy media — particularly broadcast media with its steady slide toward reality programming — was instrumental in building the bleak fantasy world of Comment Section America. Night after night TV-news links images of brown skin and crippling poverty to criminality, while making the “inner city” synonymous with "urban slum." Day after day, for decades, talk radio and cable news re-enforced those scary images, while railing against affirmative action, public assistance, and other things brown people might be getting that they might not deserve. Meanwhile, rural white poverty, extreme and pervasive as it is, goes comparatively unexamined, giving a lot of lost people plenty of non-hateful reasons to feel screwed and forgotten.
The twilight of American manufacturing happened more than 20-years ago now, and those jobs aren’t coming back. Since then the working class— every segment— has taken hit, after hit. The middle class withered, organized labor failed, and slowly but surely white people went fucking insane. The Atlantic chronicled some of this back in January, in a feature about life-expectancy-shortening spikes in suicide, and substance abuse in white, anxiety-wracked America:
“Free trade and automation undercut the bargaining positions of the working class. Political leaders, bankrolled by the wealthy, rolled back the interventionist policies of the New Deal and postwar period. Corporations, once relatively tolerant of unions, tapped a cottage industry of anti-union consultants and adopted unseemly tactics to crush any organizing drives in their workplaces.
Problems of mental health and addiction have taken a terrible toll on whites in America—though seemingly not in other wealthy nations—and the least educated among them have fared the worst.”
At this point a lot of smart people are probably (hopefully) making the jackoff motion with their dominant hand because, “Oh, boo hoo!” things are tough for working people everywhere, and when we’re talking about life expectancy and and disease, African Americans and Latinos still win the booby prize. Unfortunately, nobody experiences the relativeness of poverty, only the privation, which brings us back to that reactionary thing that happened last night, and the chilling message it should send to women, whose bodies remain a battleground, communities of color, still plagued by systemic racism, immigrants (especially darker ones who don’t look like someone a Trump might breed with), Muslims (of course), Jews (that last ad was scary), journalists generally, Katy Tur specifically, Hillary Clinton, and, at long last, Graydon Carter.
Trump’s poll-defying performance had nothing to do with religious piety, family values, being a pretend cowboy, or any of the old conservative bedrock about silent and moral majorities. His Russian linkage is positively surreal for so many of us who saw Red Dawn andRocky IV at the Drive In. Racketeering charges combined with Trump’s billionaire status, and adamant refusal to disclose income tax documents, make the Donald an unlikely champion of the fabled Occupy/Tea Party nexus. So whither this pale coalition of patriots, evangelicals and ordinary average guys?
Angry white bros are always with us. When people are so disaffected, prejudices pour in and grow to fill the void. Everybody needs somebody to blame, and this horrible drama plays itself out everywhere, all around the world. The bigger the void, the bigger the prejudice, and there’s no reason it has to be logical or make any kind of sense at all as Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi showed so deftly in his 2009 description of a Kentucky Tea Party rally — “A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries.”
Nous sommes au Mississippi. (You too Moscow).
If there is a bottom line, it’s this. A large, mostly homogeneous, reliably wrong, and often truly deplorable chunk of America feels the political system’s failed them. And, whether they're thoughtfully protesting neoliberal empire, or lashing out at all the wrong people over self-inflicted loss, and the absence of good paying jobs, they aren't wrong about feeling reamed. Because, unless you’re connected to that fabled 1% we’ve all been badly used. Americans spent the last half century divided six ways to Sunday, fighting culture wars one battlefield at a time, and seeming to win some important fights (one at a time), while everybody on all sides conceded one collective economic defeat after another. It's a cliche, but there’s no I in “we the people.” Sadly, nobody bothered to tell a huge swath of America, including all those angry Trump supporters out in the land of meth labs and lottery tickets.
It’s tempting, on the day after the unthinkable thing got thunk, to look to similar elections for answers. But in spite of some superficial resemblances to Bush/Gore 2000 and Truman/Dewey, 1948, there’s no good precedent for an outcome that amounts to a sniffly national temper tantrum. So the questions turn in a different direction What can satisfy this newly awakened white nationalism? And what happens if President Trump can’t deliver?
I can answer that question with a video I shot at Memphis’ first Tea Party rally in 2009. None of this started in Shelby Co., of course, and the machinery responsible for this year’s election has been grinding away for 40-years, at least. But this is the period when gloves came off. When it became okay for America to stop pretending it wasn’t bigoted at the core. So, return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when it was okay to go out wrapped in the flag, wearing a t-shirt depicting Obama caught in gun sights, with a face full of bullet holes.
Often, though not always, the Tea Party was portrayed as a patriotic, Christian movement, and you’ll hear that point of view repeated even today in places like American Family Radio — an allegedly Christian family of stations that, interestingly enough, began its foray into political programming in 2009. In retrospect, it’s difficult to see this movement as anything but a backlash to the election of America’s first African-American President, creating unusually lopsided momentum going into the typically sleepy midterm. And not just any sleepy round of midterms either, but elections that determined which party would get to redraw congressional districts, gerrymandering for maximum advantage.
In the video I’ve embedded audiences will thrill to the same white nationalist urges Trump taps into, and witness unfocused anger at every turn. Viewers will be amazed by anti-regulation speech built to leverage job insecurity against fair wages and worker protection.
What happened in 2009 was a kind of Right Wing tent revival — a renewal of vows exchanged long ago between America’s white working class and industry tools with no history of reciprocity. It’s a queer relationship with roots in the 60’s, when college draft deferment made education suspect — a class signifier separating those who fought for America (regardless of how they felt about it) from those protesting America.
Ironically, the seed that blossomed into Trumpism sprouted in 1968, while the Donald was a student at the University of Pennsylvania. To make desegregation meaningful, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected freedom of choice in the case of Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, ordering the board to end racial discrimination, “root and branch.” Urban bussing policies that followed created backlash among a newly middle class (and newly suburban) set of former New Deal Democrats, bringing them first under the influence of segregationist Dixiecrat George Wallace, then into the trajectory of Richard Nixon, who made good use of America’s oldest cultural fault lines.
Nixon’s not known for being stylish, but he was a smart strategist. When his people observed that acting like a tough guy increased his support among the white working class, he ran with it, pitting America’s conflicted labor force against a crumbling New Deal, setting the stage for Reaganism, and the not-so-subtle messaging of “Morning in America.” And pretty much everything that's happened since, including a pair of two-term Democrats with Nixonesque tendencies to answer the Left and Right with Conservative core policies.
It’s ridiculous how much Hillary Clinton hurt herself in this election cycle with her infamous “basket of deplorables” comment. While it’s undeniable, that the right side of our political spectrum, is responsible for a lot of clearly deplorable stuff, and tends to feel victimized whenever somebody stops them from victimizing others, America’s fucked up white working class isn’t completely wrong about feeling wronged. They’re just terrible at identifying the real enemies. Labor — which should have been a great progressive unifier — failed them in the 70’s, which is important for two reasons. First, it marked the end of anything like solidarity in a nation that was never that united, and always unable to account for class, factoring in the confounding variables of race and gender. This also relates directly to Clinton’s relentlessly uphill battles going all the way back to her 90’s-era work on universal healthcare since Labor’s historic failures frequently illustrated how sexism was more ingrained in American culture than virtually any other ism. Even in the relatively progressive UAW, multiracial coalitions for fairness on the shop floor crossed picket lines and openly mocked women striking for the same basic reasons. To this day women’s apparent advances are misleading, being more related to declines in male earning power than evidence of changing attitudes.
Pundits like to talk about a "values based" urban/rural divide. But that’s not right. When you break down the pieces, Donald Trump’s brand doesn’t align with anything uniquely rural or urban. His values, as they align with supporters, are best understood as, “classy casino” values” and Saturday Night Live brilliantly illustrated this with the “scratch off,” bit in its widely shared Black Jeopardy sketch. Forget about guns, god, and gays — The 3-G issues, framed and cultivated by talk radio, and cable news to suck consumers into a state of daily outrage, quite unable to explore common cause. The culture stuff is still simmering, but it was all pretext and prelude. People are finally ready to go to war for their God-given right to be as bad off as they are now forever — and the remote chance of inheriting a billion dollars from a rich cat lady they never met, but who greatly admired their work in the local newspaper's comment section.
Speaking of comments, few things from this year’s election reveal more than Donald Trump’s double-pronged scare campaign painting undocumented workers as potential rapists, and the “inner city” — an outdated Morning in America euphemism for “urban slum” — as a place where you can’t walk to the store without being shot. This is the fantasy world of TV news and “comment section America,” where everything exists without context and, in the flyover world of bedroom communities and interstates , often without contact.
Please forgive this momentary theater critic’s aside. But the more I ask myself how we got here, the more I’m reminded of the Vampire play Cuddles, a gruesome hit in New York and Great Britain, currently enjoying its first American production outside New York at TheatreWorks on Overton Square. In addition to being many other things, this nightmare before the apocalypse, is also a special kind of class satire. It tells the story of a joyless caregiver who lives in a lonely castle and locks her life’s biggest embarrassment away, feeding it a steady diet of fantasy, jelly sandwiches, and, on special occasions, a few drops of precious bodily fluids. The embarrassment — a young, deplorably dirty girl — is kept in an old, deplorably dirty place to insure her safety. She's a vampire, you see. Or we’re told so. And true or not, the small, pale girl's demeanor changes eventfully when the caregiver — a person responsible for everything the little bloodsucker consumes, from a normalized polluted environment, to information that’s almost exclusively fiction — decides she’s no longer willing to open an occasional vein. It’s not a terrible metaphor for the relationship of mainstream politics Left and Right to base voters. But it’s an especially fine reflection of the GOP and its cultivation of the “Silent Majority,” the “Moral Majority,” and the “Tea Party.”
Eventually, the monsters we make assert themselves. Which reminds me of another line from SNL’s Black Jeopardy, about animals that won’t hurt you — “What kind of dogs don’t have teeth?”
If you want to know how Trump happened, just watch the 2009 video and maybe you can take some small comfort in realizing we aren't recently horrible. It’s short, so there's no big time investment. And it's full of revealing moments like when Conservative talker Mark Skoda starts preaching like John the Baptist, about the evils of regulation, and the need to support big Oil. He says all the right things to scare miners into not noticing nobody gives damn about the quality of jobs they may or may not lose anyway, or their place in a viable future economy. Skoda, who says he “loves being radical,” was absolutely paving the way for the unsuccessful person’s twisted image of a successful person to come along — a real man’s man, tough enough to look into the eyes of people who won't abide anybody running down their country — and tell them he’s going to make America great again.
That's how we got here. That's the easy part. How we get out's another story entirely.
Having said all that, go see Cuddles. It's not perfect, but it's not bad. I'm pretty sure the Halloween-loving New Moon didn't intend to stage the season's most prescient political satire. But boy, did they.
10-year-old girls think this completely inappropriate title is hilarious.
"Why must it always end in ketchup?"
It's a great line, and my weird family says it all the time. Well, we don't really say it so much as we overact it. It's the angst-ridden cry we unleash when things go wrong. Especially when things go wrong in ridiculous ways — "WHY MUST IT ALWAYS END IN KETCHUP?" The phrase was coined by my effortlessly absurd daughter Josie, as she prepared to shoot a gore-spattered scene in our very first family zombie movie, Attack of the Bloody Hand, starring her and her fraternal twin, Lucy.
I'm an open book on social media, but, tend to keep family life out of my columns. Today I'm breaking that rule because it's Halloween, and, at the risk of seeming self-indulgent, I want to share the family tradition that brought this beautifully bloody catchphrase into our lives.
Shot on location, when old Ozymandias was just around the corner.
I've been making homemade monster movies with my daughters for 10 years now. We've made Sci-Fi flicks too. And at least one swashbuckler. But it's mostly horror because we do it in October, usually the week before Halloween. We have rules too, to make sure things never get too expensive or serious. It's an imagination game, not about set-building. The shoot takes place in our house, but can spill out into the yard, and immediate neighborhood. We have a $20 budget, but can sometimes splurge on an item if it's just that cool, or we know we'll use more than once. Shooting has to be completed in one day, and the whole project has to be completed before Halloween.
I'm not a filmmaker, and don't pretend to be one. This isn't fancy stuff— It shouldn't be about that. Our 5 to 15-minute flickers are all lit with natural light and flashlights. They are costumed from closets, shot on Flips and iPhones, and edited in iMovie. Sometimes we make our own special effects and write our own soundtrack music, but we also truck in parody, mixing in clips and sounds from horror classics. It's the sort of thing anybody can do with tech they carry in their pocket, and as stupidly fun family traditions go, I can't recommend it enough.
Prepare yourself now for the macabre in miniature — Ten years of highly collaborative short movies made with 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14-year olds. We're not Hammer, or Universal exactly. But on a good day we can at least compete withEegah!
1.The Robbers: It's about pirates, but the girls wanted to call it The Robbers. I don't think we really planned this, but just kind of fell into it while playing with toy swords at the park. Little did we realize this was the beginning of something completely ridiculous. This chase sequence is shot in a small format, and it's sometimes hard to hear. We get better.
2. Three Against the Sky: Costarring their friend Avery, this movie found three little girls saving the universe from a three-headed, lightning-breathing dragon, and flying saucers. Lots of pure joy in this one.
3. Attack of the Bloody Hand: We didn't know it at the time that Attack of the Bloody Hand would be part of a trilogy. Part three, in fact. Though shot out of order the three parts of The Bloody Hand Trilogy are The Ancient Evil Mummy, Ancient Evil From Before the Dawn of Time, and Attack of the Bloody Hand. Trivia: There's no bloody hand in chapter one, The Ancient Evil Mummy. The last one — which is also the first one —is a zombie flick with some familiar horror movie music.
4. The Wolfing: I have no idea what we were doing here. Werewolf movie? Bergman parody? Just hanging out on Saturday?
5. The Ancient Evil Mummy: What happens when you unlock the secrets of Cleopatra's closet? Part 1 in The Bloody Hand Trilogy. Also, a lot of fun. So glad we shot this while the Ramses II statue was still at the Pyramid.
6.Invaders From Uranus: This is an homage to a popular Twilight Zone episode starring Endora, and Earth vs the Flying Saucers. The twins, had just started playing musical instruments (and a band with featured friend Janie). So they wanted to try making some of their own soundtrack music. Who knew monsters could be destroyed by tween rock?
7. Ancient Evil From Before the Dawn of Time: In the past we'd written outlines and just made stuff up as we went along. Here Lucy emerges as a strong writing collaborator, with a real sense for Lovecraftian dread. The girls add a nifty original song to the soundtrack— "Shooting Star." This is part 2 in The Bloody Hand Trilogy.
8. The Devil Doll: Inspired by the scariest part of Trilogy of Terror. More Josie & Lucy songs too.
9. Bride of Boggy Creek: This one's inspired by the Bigfoot cheapie The Legend of Boggy Creek and also byThe Blair Witch Project.It's the funniest of the bunch, and probably my favorite. The twins had just discovered Drunk Historyand borrowed some of that show's storytelling techniques. No, there wasn't any booze involved, but you wouldn't know from all the giggling. Featuring a ukulele remake of the original Boggy Creek theme song.
10. Three Against the Sky 2: This year's project is a cease and desist letter waiting to happen. It should have been a 10-year extravaganza, but became one of our least ambitious efforts due to a number of unforeseen obstacles cutting into our planning time. This is a sequel/remake and, at the very least, it's nice watching little heroes grow up. There are flashbacks, and a lot of pure joy in this one too.
Thanks for enduring that. I won't post anymore backyard movies of my kids until we've been doing this for 20-years. In the meantime, I'd love to see other people pick up this tradition. I'll happily publish homemade horror movies here at Fly on the Wall every Halloween. They don't have to be good, they just have to look like they were a lot of fun to make.
Every now and then Fly on the Wall likes to publish something "From the Morgue," which, in newspaper jargon, means an article we published some time in the past that's been filed away. But in this case the expression's especially fitting. It's late October — time to remember Memphis' original horror host Sivad. All links have been updated, so readers should be able to sample some of the movies that made Fantastic Features so fantastic.
The horror first took control of Memphis television sets at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 29, 1962. It began with a grainy clip of black-and-white film showing an ornate horse-drawn hearse moving silently through a misty stretch of Overton Park. Weird music screeched and swelled, helping to set the scene. A fanged man in a top hat and cape dismounted. His skin was creased, corpse-like. He looked over his shoulder once, then dragged a crude, wooden coffin from the back of the hearse. His white-gloved hand opened the lid, releasing a plume of thick fog and revealing the bloody logo of Fantastic Features.
"Ah. Goooood eeeevening. I am Sivad, your monster of ceremonies," the caped figure drawled, in an accent that existed nowhere else on planet Earth. Think: redneck Romanian.
"Please try and pay attention," he continued, "as we present for your enjoyment and edification, a lively one from our monumental morgue of monstrous motion pictures."
In that moment, a Mid-South television legend was born. For the next decade, Sivad, the ghoulish character created by Watson Davis, made bad puns, told painfully bad jokes, and introduced Memphians to films like Gorgo...
The Brain That Wouldn't Die...
and Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent.
Watson Davis' wisecracking monster wasn't unique. He was one of many comically inclined horror hosts who became popular regional TV personalities from the '50s through the '70s. According to John Hudgens, who directed American Scary, a documentary about the horror-host phenomenon, it all began with "Vampira," a pale-skinned gorgon immortalized by Ed Wood in his infamously incompetent film Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Although a Chicago-area host calling himself "The Swami" may have been the first costumed character regularly introducing scary movies on television, the big bang of horror hosting happened in 1954, when the wasp-wasted actress Maila Nurmi introduced her campy, Morticia Adams-inspired character on The Vampira Show, which aired in Los Angeles.
In 1957, Screen Gems released a package of 52 classic horror films from Universal studios. The "Shock Theater" package, as it was called, created an opportunity for every market to have its own horror host. "Part of that package encouraged stations to use some kind of ghoulish host," Hudgens explains. "Local television was pretty much live or had some kind of host on everything back then."
Overnight, horror hosts such as New York's "Zacherly" and Cleveland's "Ghoulardi" developed huge cult followings. "TV was different in those days," Hudgens says. "There weren't a lot of channels to choose from, and the hosts could reach a lot more people quickly. Ghoulardi was so popular that the Cleveland police actually maintained that the crime rate went down when his show was on the air, and they asked him to do more shows."
Tennessee's first horror host was "Dr. Lucifer," a dapper, eyepatch-wearing man of mystery who hit the Nashville airwaves in 1957. Since Fantastic Features didn't air until the fall of 1962, Sivad was something of a latecomer to the creep-show party. But unlike most other horror hosts, Davis didn't have a background in broadcasting. He'd been a movie promoter, working for Memphis-based Malco theaters. His Sivad character existed before he appeared on television. At live events, he combined elements of the classic spook show with an over-the-top style of event-oriented marketing called ballyhoo. So Davis' vampire, while still nameless, was already well known to local audiences before Fantastic Features premiered.
"You've got to understand, things were very different back then," Elton Holland told the Memphis Flyer in a 2010 interview. "Downtown Memphis was a hub for shopping, and going out to the movies was an event. And back then, Malco was in competition with the other downtown theaters, so when you came to see a movie, we made it special.”
To make things special Holland, Davis, and Malco vice president Dick Lightman became masters of promotion and special events. Davis and Holland were neighbors who lived in Arkansas and car-pooled into Memphis every day. During those drives, Davis would float ideas for how to promote the films coming to town.
The studios only provided movie theaters with limited marketing materials. Theater businesses had in-house art departments that created everything else. What the art department couldn't make, Davis built himself in the theater's basement. When 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea came to town, he built a giant squid so large it had to be cut in half to get it up the stairs. He constructed a huge King Kong puppet that towered over the lower seats. For the filmDinosaurus, he built a Tyrannosaurus rex that was 20 feet tall and 45 feet long. It sat in the lobby, roaring and moving its tail.
"All movies were sold through exploitation," Holland explained. "And horror movies were the best ones to exploit. ... I remember when Watson first told me he wanted to be a monster. He was thinking vaudeville. He wanted to put on a show."
Davis' plan to create a scary show wasn't original. The "spook show" was a sideshow con dating back to when 19th-century snake-oil vendors traveled the country hawking their wares. Slick-talking performers would hop from town to town promising entertainment-deprived audiences the chance to see a giant, man-eating monster, so terrible it had to be experienced to be believed. Once the tickets were sold, it was loudly announced that the monster had broken free and was on a bloody rampage. The idea was to cause panic and create a confusing cover for the performers to make off with the loot.
In the early 20th century, the spook show evolved, and traveling magicians exploited the public's growing fascination with spiritualism by conjuring ghosts and spirits. By mid-century, they developed into semi-comical "monster shows" that were almost always held in theaters. Today's "hell houses" and haunted mansions are recent permutations of the spook show.
When England's Hammer Films started producing horror movies that were, as Holland says, "a cut above," he, Davis, and Lightman took the old spook-show concept and adapted it sell movie tickets. They went to Memphis State's drama department and to the Little Theatre [now Theatre Memphis] looking for actors so they could put a monster on a flatbed truck in front of the Malco.
Davis dressed as Dracula, Holland was the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and another Malco exec played Frankenstein. The company also included a wolfman and a mad doctor.
Davis sometimes joined Lightman on inspection tours of other Malco properties. On one of those tours, the men saw an antique horse-drawn hearse for sale on the side of the road. They bought the hearse that appears in the Fantastic Features title sequence for $500. It also appeared in various monster skits and was regularly parked in front of Malco theaters to promote horror movies.
"One time we had this actor made up like a wild man," Holland said, recalling a skit that was just a little too effective. "While Watson did his spiel about the horror that was going to happen, the chained wild man broke loose and pretended like he was attacking this girl. He was going to jerk her blouse and dress off, and she had on a swimsuit underneath." One 6'-3", 300-pound, ex-military Malco employee wasn't in on the joke and thought the actor had actually gone wild. He took the chain away, wrapped it around the wild man's neck, and choked him until the two were pulled apart.
Music to Sivad to...
The proliferation of television eventually killed ballyhoo promotions and all the wild antics used to promote movies. At about that time, the studios started "going wide" with film distribution, opening the same film in many theaters at one time instead of just one theater in every region. This practice made location-specific promotions obsolete. By then, the Shock Theater package had made regional stars out of horror hosts all across the country. WHBQ approached Davis and offered him the job of "monster of ceremonies" on its Fantastic Features show. The show found an audience instantly and became so popular that a second weekly show was eventually added. Memphis viewers apparently couldn't get enough of films like Teenage Caveman...
and Mutiny in Outer Space...
Joe Bob Briggs, cable TV's schlock theater aficionado who hosted TNT's Monster Vision from 1996 to 2000, says that "corny" humor was the key to any horror host's success or failure. "Comedy and horror have only rarely been successfully mixed in film — although we have great examples like Return of the Living Dead, Briggs says. "But comedy surrounding horror on television was a winning formula from day one. In fact, it's essential. If you try to do straight hosting on horror films, the audiences will hate you."
In 1958, Dick Clark invited New York horror host Zacherly to appear on American Bandstand. "This wasn't the year for the comedians, this was the year for the spooks and the goblins and the ghosts," Clark said, introducing "Dinner With Drac," the first hit novelty song about monsters. Four years later, Bobby "Boris" Puckett took "Monster Mash" to the top of the charts. In the summer of 1963, Memphis' favorite horror host hopped on the pop-song monster bandwagon by recording the "Sivad Buries Rock and Roll/Dicky Drackeller" single.
Novelty songs such as "What Made Wyatt Earp" became a staple on Fantastic Features, and Sivad began to book shows with the King Lears, a popular Memphis garage band that influenced contemporary musicians like Greg Cartwright, who played in the Oblivians and the Compulsive Gamblers before forming the Reigning Sound. Although "Sivad Buries Rock and Roll" never charted, Goldsmith's department store hosted a promotional record-signing event, and 2,000 fans showed up to buy a copy.
In 1972, Fantastic Features was canceled. And though Davis was frequently asked to bring the character back, he never did. Horror movies were changing, becoming bloodier and more sexually explicit in a way that made them a poor fit for Sivad's family-friendly fright-fest. In 1978, Commercial Appeal reporter Joseph Shapiro unsuccessfully tried to interview Davis. He received a letter containing what he called a cryptic message: "Sivad is gone forever" is all it said.
Davis, who borrowed his name-reversing trick from Dracula, Bram Stoker's blood-sucking fiend who introduced himself as Count Alucard, died of cancer in March 2005. He was 92 years old.
* A version of this article appeared in theMemphis Flyer in 2010 —- but with out all the nifty links and embeds.
Last night Senator Bob Corker took to Twitter — like so many brave keyboard commandos — saying it was "imperative" for Trump to accept election results, even if the outcome is unfavorable. It was the yappy lap-dog definition of "all bark," since Corker's endorsement stands. Like so many Republicans this cycle Mr. Corker, a smallish man, and adorable in his junior-sized suits and cute little shoes, has been rendered almost entirely ridiculous by a candidate he's clearly embarrassed by, but upholds as America's only hope for a brighter tomorrow.
It is imperative that Donald Trump clearly state that he will accept the results of the election when complete.
Enough of that. I'm not here to bash Corker — silly as he is — or to criticize Trump either. If anything, I want to express some sympathy for a poor devil, so deep into his own narcissism he couldn't think beyond who was wronging him and who was crediting him long long enough to realize the debate moderator, Chris Wallace, was tossing him softballs made out of pure red meat. Guns? Abortion? Grand bargains— the ultimate Republican Viagra? A reasonably versed Conservative could have grabbed hold of all these opportunities and owned the night. But, unfortunately for both the GOP and America, that candidate didn't show up.
What happened last night wasn't a debate, it was an informercial for Hillary Clinton. When a candidate — in this case Trump — opens with "Nobody has more respect for women than me," then hisses, "Such a nasty woman," in the drama's falling action, this is what we in the storytelling business call a narrative arc. Over the course of that arc Clinton was able to talk about policy using clear, connecting language. She was able to make powerful statements directly to women, all of whom know what it's like to be dismissed and belittled by a man. And she was able to get away with a lot of stuff that needed challenge and critique. The new border technologies she was talking about? Probably drones, not forcefields. And can we have more particulars about "no fly zones" that bring us into close quarters with the Russian army? Instead of thoughtful comment pushing his opponent into deeper conversation, the best we got from Trump was, "wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong." Sniff.
There's no real point in parsing the details of last night's debate — though I could go on for pages about Trump's inner city comments, with all the blacks, and the Latinos, where you can't walk to the store without getting shot. But at this point in the race particulars aren't all that relevant. Trump's trailing. Worse, his downward trend suggests he had to do more than just show improved discipline. He had high benchmarks to hit in terms of clarity and temperament. He never got close, undermining all improvement with his refusal to accept an unfavorable election outcome. That's the thing Corker took him to task for. On Twitter. In his little suit and shoes. While still endorsing the man. While still supporting the man. While, presumably, still voting for the man.
Maybe it's not fair using Corker as the stand in for a Republican party that's failed America by standing steadfastly behind a lazy-minded candidate who doesn't know the difference between a challenge and a threat. But somebody needs to tell him, and all the rest of these little boys using big boy words and playing big boy games, that fake tough is the weakest hand you can play.
I wish I could say America deserves better, but to borrow a line from the comparatively competent Romney campaign, we built this. So stamp away little Bobby. Stamp away.
Man, when it comes to George Perez, where do you start? Avengers? New Teen Titans?JLA?Crisis on Infinite Earths? Wonder Woman?The Infinity Gauntlet? His entirely reasonable reasons for wanting to put the New 52Supermanin his rearview mirror?
(I suppose I could start with he's coming to the Memphis Comic Expo, but that's a little too easy)
As an artist and writer working in the majors, few individuals have done more to refine and redefine the two big superhero universes. He's been doing it for 40-years too, so, even when you think about his greatest hits, there's a lot to choose from. But for me, I think this is a story best told from the beginning. Or, the very near beginning when Perez became a regular artist working on Marvel's Deadly Hands of Kung Fu
I don't know how to rank all the various sub-elements in the SuperOmniVerse. Obviously heroes are on top of the food chain. Then comes magic and monsters, maybe. Then a mix of mainstays that fall in and out of fashion — martial arts, western, war, romance etc. None of it's pure anymore, it's all mixed up. But there have been periods when Marvel Kung Fu was more or less its own thing and some of the coolest pulp around. Hopefully Netflix Iron Fist — an often tertiary hero also getting some play in Marvel animated properties aimed at younger audiences — will show some love for a super comics tradition, diluted in the bigger universe of powers. This a long way of saying, I loved this stuff as a kid, and was a particular fan of a character called White Tiger. He's the first Puerto Rican superhero, with all sorts of crisis and conflict, and his story was forged in a white hot crucible of magic and martial arts. Perez co-created the Tiger with Bill Mantlo.
The female White Tiger — the best part about the cloying Ultimate Spider-Man animated series (if it has a best part) — is the original Tiger's daughter. But now I'm way off track and far away from the point I originally wanted to make, which is this: The man can draw figures in action like few others. And, to the degree the comics reflected Kung Fu cinema, you can see its influence throughout Perez's work. Particularly in quick, intimate, funny moments in the midst of all out brawls.
I don't even know if I could recognize Perez if he wasn't wearing one of his trademark wife-made Hawaiian-style shirts covered in pictures of superheroes or robots or — it's always something. It's so evident that before anything else, he's a big, big geek (in the best way), and a big, big fan. And while I was just praising his smaller moments, he may be best known for arranging a lot of characters in a single frame. If you want the Avengers going toe to toe with the Squadron Supreme: Perez. If you want to write a series that includes every major and minor character in the DC Universe: Perez.
It's probably worth mentioning his co-invention of the New Teen Titans with marvelous Marv Wolfman. If only because the series was able to do for DC what the X-Men were doing for Marvel. And because it's awesome.
You can't blame a master for those who came after him. I can hardly bear the animated Teen Titans Go series that just won't go away. But I could probably watch Perez draw Cyborg all day.
All that and I haven't even gotten around to the writing. If you know you know. If you don't, he's well worth your Google search.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are now leaving Riverdale...
You won't be seeing Betty or Veronica or Archie or Moose on any of the clean cut white bread youngsters once so associated with comic books for readers more interested in ordinary (and not so ordinary) life than superheroes, high adventure, and daring do.
We're on our way to Southern California, and uncharted points beyond America's Southern border.
Life in Riverdale
It's hard to say that the seminal 80's/90's-era alt comicLove & Rockets is unprecedented. As suggested above, in some regards, it's not as big a leap from Archie comics as one might think — although it is a big one. And over time, as characters have come, gone, grown, and diminished, a more direct line might be drawn to one of America's longest running newspaper strips — Gasoline Alley. But with it's punk rock ethos, a multiethnic, variously sexual, heavily Latino cast of characters, and an odd, sometimes unsettling mix of real life and science fiction, it's also fair to say that Love & Rockets is one of the most groundbreaking and influential serialized comics in the history of the medium.
It's only tangentially related, but probably worth mentioning, that the title was also lifted by former members of the pioneering goth band Bauhaus. Sure, they only had one hot 100 hit, but moving out of the punk/goth milieu, Love & Rockets pretty much set at least one of the goal posts for what would become "alt" or "college rock." That's a simplification, of course, but this is a quick hit blog post and I'm okay with that.
One of the most interesting things about Love & Rockets is how it toys with reader bias and challenges ideas about race and gender. Characters drawn nearly in the style of hyper-sexualized superheroes (but in normal clothes) may elicit eye rolls — until you spend time with the characters' stories, and come to grips with the meaning of these exaggerations. It's complicated, nuanced storytelling that takes place in a fictional America (and not America) where the rules of reality are just a little off — and so right on. Great art, great characters, great storytelling. And the story of the comic is very nearly as compelling as the stories the comic tells.
And guess what? Both brothers behind this fantastic Eisner-winning title will be at the Memphis Cook Convention Center this weekend for the Memphis Comic Expo: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez.
Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez
"They have been producing their Love & Rockets comics since 1982 and they were way ahead of the curve," says Expo founder Don Juengling, in an emailed conversation abut the up and coming event. "Gilbert's stories featured a huge cast of characters set in the fictional village of Palomar. Jaime's tended to be set in Los Angeles. The stories featured a diversity of characters previously unseen in comics. These are stories that feature a large Latino cast and they even had gay characters. And often blend magical realism into their dramas. And remember this is an independent comic that started in the early 80's and has managed to survive to this day."
Not only has it stuck around (following some breaks here and there). Love & Rockets, which has mostly been published in the form of graphic novels and collections in recent years, is returning to its original comic book format this week. That's a cool thing if there ever was one.
Do you want to hear a SCARY bedtime story? Do you want to know what the Commercial Appeal will read like in the near apocalyptic future when everything is outsourced and copy is translated into a variety of Chinese dialects (for editing and fact check purposes) then translated back into English for print? Read this story courtesy of WREG. A sample...
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In the case involving Elixabeth Blackwood were she was driving and left a motorcyclist on the road.
Her father Felix Blackwood has been arrested after Blackwood came clean to the investigators that her father was the one who did the hit and run.
Graffiti artist and all purpose vandal Ashlyn Brax pulls his hoodie up and looks both ways before exiting his dorm room. "Shit's not right," he mutters straddling a rickety cruiser and turning its front wheel towards a derelict industrial neighborhood. "The whole point of a rock is it's an anonymous message," he complains. "It's Fist-sized and perfect for knocking out windows in buildings that need to be fixed or knocked down. But it's so much easier to identify the thrower if the rocks have Yodas and shit painted all over them."
Brax's complaint doesn't yield much in the way of public sympathy. Most sources interviewed agreed that curtailing the destruction of property is a good thing, but his is only one of numerous problems Memphians face resulting from a recent mania for painting cute, colorful, family-friendly images on rocks and hiding them in plain sight like so many tooth-breaking easter eggs. The craze has resulted in what some experts are describing as a, "severe unpainted rock crisis."
It's 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning and 87-year-old Tony Lancilunghi would normally be roaming the city with his rolling shopping cart in search of the city's flattest, roundest stones. Lancilunghi is a competitive stone skipper, who hadn't missed a day's practice since he was seven years old. Until last week, anyway, when the old timer says he took up whittling.
"I didn't know there was some rule about taking more than one," he spits defiantly. "I saw some of them were painted up to look like the California Raisins, but I don't give two hoots about any of that hippity-hop mess." So Lancilunghi, who's won several regional titles, and is ranked in the top 500 stone skippers worldwide took a bucket of painted stones to the lake at Shelby Farms where he swears they "skipped even better than an unpainted rock." Shortly thereafter the internet shaming campaign began.
"People shouldn't take more than one painted rock per person," one commenter said while someone else complained, "That old man drowned my babies," and another responded, "#rocklivesmatter."
A rock painter using the handle Thanksy is furious: "It's bad enough that artists are expected to practically give our work away for free as it is, now we put so much time and effort into making common gravel look like the live action cast of Scooby Doo and some jackass just comes along and dumps them in the river? Sad."
Noted regional geologist Bif Berman says he's all about civic pride, unity, and getting outside and looking at rocks, but he's not a fan of the latest fad. "To paint the rock suggests there was something wrong or incomplete about this beautiful piece of sculpture Mother Nature made without spending a dime at Hobby Lobby.
"Imagine the public outcry," Berman concludes, "If some group started painting Sponge Bob on stray dogs or shaving the local squirrel population. Rocks have dignity too. Only they express it over eons, in a language most Americans don't speak."