Archive for February, 2013

Pop Culture Captains: Leaders and Inspirations

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
If you can find the captain's quarters, congratulations! You have X-ray vision!

A mighty ship, perfect for a captain.

I have noticed that pop culture has a lot of captains in it.  Most of them are capable leaders who inspire greatness in the people serving under them as well as in the people observing them on the other side of the screen or page.  Others seem to just enjoy the power that comes with their position, willing to abuse that power for their own benefit or amusement.  I have had the pleasure of encountering some unique and colorful captains in my time, some more competent than others, but all having something important to add to the fabric of pop culture.  Here’s a brief look at some of my favorite captains.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

My mom once told me that most nights when I was a baby I would cry for hours on end, but when the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme started playing on TV, I would immediately stop crying and then start crying again when the theme was over.  Later on in life I started watching the Star Trek: TNG complete series DVD collection my dad and I had given my mom for Christmas, and while I still loved the theme, there was something else about the show that stood out to me now.  It was the bald guy in the captain’s chair with the baritone voice, always telling his crew members to “Engage,” “Make it so,” and boldly go where no one (besides Kirk and his crew) had gone before.  He looked like a nice guy, someone who you could tell was a capable leader just by looking at him.   After seeing him in action for seven seasons and a few movies, I can safely say he definitely lived up to my first impressions.  I’d like to have a long chat with him about in living in outer space; of course, my beverage of choice for this conversation would be, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” 

Cap’n Crunch, cereal mascot

This captain is, I feel, a bit less inspirational than Picard or Kirk, but he does serve an important purpose: making sure tasty cereal is part of your daily breakfast.  I always smile a little when I see the Cap’n’s big, wide grin on a cereal box; there’s just something about his face that makes the whole world seem brighter.  I’ve also noticed that he looks a little bit like the Quaker guy in the corner of the box: they both have white hair, wear blue hats, and sport smiles more innocent and sincere than the Cheshire Cat’s.  I don’t care if there’s more nutritional or better-tasting cereals on the supermarket shelf, because his smile always draws me in and makes me feel at home.

Captain Tenille, MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge

This captain does not belong to any particular navy, although he apparently does own a few ships.  In fact, his official role on this Japanese game show parody is “field marshal.”  Captain Tenille (known in Japan as General Tani; I’m still not sure why he went down in rank when the show was exported) is the guy the show’s producers turned to when they needed someone to shepherd contestants through the toughest obstacle course on television.  I think he does a decent job in this regard; he certainly does lead dozens of contestants to near-constant pain and  injury over the course of a half-hour.  However, Tenille does this with a certain degree of aloofness.  His signature taglines are “Let’s go!” at the start of the show and “Get it on!” at the beginning of each new set of obstacles, and he delivers these lines in a way that, to me, indicates he doesn’t really care what happens to the contestants just as long as he gets to continue enjoying the game.  He has been known to push contestants out onto the course in order to keep the show moving.  He has even manipulated the teams’ scores a few times to serve his own interests.  For instance, in an episode pitting Democrats against Republicans against Independents in which no one scored any points during the entire show, Tenille gave the GOP team a point at the end because that was the party he voted for during the election.  Yes, he’s a deplorable figure, but, in my opinion, he’s one of the most entertaining characters on the show, and a hard person not to like.

Captain Underpants, children’s book series star and superhero

As with Captain Tenille, this gentleman is a captain in name only, but I think he lives up to his moniker.  I have read his adventures for many years now, and I think he does look the part of an inspirational and heroic figure, despite the fact that most of the time he is wearing just some tighty-whitie briefs and a red cape (tastefully rendered by author and illustrator Dav Pilkey, no less).  He is also a very well-meaning hero, fighting for truth, justice, and improving readers’ literacy in the face of overwhelming odds.  When you’re going up against armies of talking toilets, aliens disguised as cafeteria ladies, and evil professors trying to give everyone in the world embarrassing names, you need all the courage and self-esteem you can get, so thank goodness Captain Underpants has that in spades.  Of course, his young sidekicks George Beard and Harold Hutchins take care of most of the day-saving while the Captain stands around giving speeches about never forgetting the power of underwear, but what’s wrong with that?  Don’t most great superheroes have young sidekicks for juvenile readers to look up to?  Think of Batman and Robin, Captain America and Bucky, Flash and Kid Flash, Superman and… wait a minute, Superboy was just Superman as a kid, wasn’t he?  Anyway, Captain Underpants provides hope for people everywhere that their kids will have fun while learning to read, and I think his stories are still just as fun to read  now as they were when I first discovered them.

These are the captains who have meant the most to me over the years.  Other captains came and went like Captain Kirk, Captain America, and Captain Nemo, but none of them had the staying power in my heart that the above captains possessed.  They helped me to sail to greater horizons (and in the cases of Captains Tenille and Underpants, great laughter), and they all left memorable imprints on me.  Do you have a favorite pop culture captain, and if you do, why do you like them?  Are there any other pop culture figures with military ranks you like?  Sail into the comments section and leave your answer at the docks.

Pop Culture Questions (And My Answers!) 2: Walking the Plink

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

A new batch of pop culture questions have popped into my head since the last time we met.  These are becoming very fun for me to think about and come up with answers to, and I hope you are enjoying them.  This time, let’s start off in that magical realm sandwiched between the talk shows and the soaps, the home of spinning wheels, big bucks, and the proverbial “No Whammies,” daytime game shows.

How come Plinko is called Plinko? 

I’m a big fan of the game of Plinko from The Price is Right (the one where contestants drop a bunch of oversized poker chips down a peg-filled vertical board to win up to fifty thousand dollars), but I think it could have easily been called something else.  From what I have read, the name of the game comes from the distinct “plink” sound the chips make as they hit the pegs on the board.  Depending on how one thinks of the sound, I can imagine that the game could have had a different name.  Who wouldn’t want to play “Plonk-o,” “Plunk-o,” “Plank-O,” “Bump-o,” or even “Metallic-impact-off-of-a-peg-on-a-vertical-board-o?”  I’ve also heard “plink” being used to describe the sound made when you pluck guitar strings with a pick.  Maybe it’s time for a version of Plinko where you toss acoustic guitars down the board instead of chips.  I would really like to hear the sounds that game might make!     

How come Charlie Bucket is the successor to Willy Wonka, but the other kids don’t get jack squat?

At the end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen either of its movie adaptations), Charlie Bucket, the last boy remaining from one of the world’s strangest tour groups, is selected by eccentric candy maker Willy Wonka to be his successor, promising to put him in charge of the factory and the Oompa-Loompas when he comes of age.  There’s a part of me that feels the other kids got the short end of the stick, though.  After all, Charlie may have come from nothingness to achieve great things, but as far as I’m concerned, beyond a good heart and what seems to be a good head on his shoulders, I don’t know if he’s got what it takes to keep a chocolate factory up and running. 

If he really wants to be a success, I think Charlie should bring the other kids into the fold and put them in charge of certain factory departments that could use some new life.  Augustus Gloop could lead personal tours of the chocolate room and lead swimming classes in the chocolate river on alternate Thursdays (Of course, they’d need to seal up the pipes whenever he was around, but what’s a few lost hours of business when the whole community can get some exercise?).  Veruca Salt could head up the new roast goose (or roast squirrel if you read the book or saw the second movie) division which could diversify the factory’s food offerings.  Violet Beaureguarde might have some good ideas for new types of gum or ways to work blueberries into existing candy recipes, and if we’re going with the first movie’s Violet, then I think her dad, the used car salesman, could put together an aggressive advertising campaign.  Mike Teavee, having experienced the wonders of television chocolate firsthand, could work with the Oompa-Loompas to send small samples of candy products over the airwaves and thus creating the phrase “must-eat TV”; at least you could put him to work with a focus group watching the commercials Violet’s dad makes and testing the general public to see if is ready for distribution.  If Charlie puts the kids to work in the right ways, at least the little brats won’t be terrorizing the rest of the world!        

How come “I am the Eggman, they are the Eggmen, I am the Walrus (goo goo gachoo)?”

To be quite honest, I always thought this lyric from the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” was a little weird, although it is very catchy.  The whole song itself is a bit out to lunch, but for me, this part really takes the first prize in terms of absolute lunacy.  If I were to take this lyric literally (and why wouldn’t I?), I would be both the Eggman and the Walrus, but there would still be two or more Eggmen off in a corner somewhere, “sitting on a pillow, waiting for the van to come” (and take them away from this crazy song?).  Who are these other Eggmen, and what are they doing elbowing in on my Eggman-based territory?  How can I be both an Eggman and a Walrus?  Am I an Eggman dressed as a walrus or at least wearing a walrus pelt?  Am I a walrus wearing the husk of an Eggman (and would I be arrested if I did that in real life)?  What’s the “goo goo gachoo” part for; is it the cry of a baby confused by why Uncle Paul McCartney and his three weird friends are singing a weird lullaby?  I think there’s a lot more questions this song raises than it actually answers!

I hope you all enjoyed this question-and-answer session as much I enjoyed writing it.  If you have any other questions you’d like to see answered, let me know in the comments.  Thanks for reading, and be careful about what cornflakes you sit on!

Weekend Thoughts: Feb. 24-25, 2013

Monday, February 25th, 2013

When I started this blog, it was my intention to post at least one new entry every weekday while taking weekends off to rest and recharge.  During my first weekend away from the blog, however, I noticed that there were a few things I wanted to write about based on what I had seen and heard during the two-day period.  Therefore, I have decided that that from now on, my Monday entry will be devoted to various  thoughts I came up with during the weekend based on what I have experienced.  This way, every day of the week can feel like they have a home here.  My base thought is presented in boldface followed by my personal opinion and analysis.

The bonus puzzles in Wheel of Fortune can be ridiculously hard and unfair sometimes.  I was playing a version of Wheel of Fortune on my iPad over the weekend, and I noticed that some of the puzzles used during the bonus round turned out to be a very obscure turn of phrase that I doubt would occur to most people.  I often feel frustrated when I see such puzzles turn up on the TV version of Wheel, but at least in that context they provide an interesting problem for contestants to solve and even if they don’t get it, they usually have enough money and other prizes to have done a good half-hour’s work anyway.  Such puzzles in the video game, however, leave me feeling like I am missing something.  There is a line of logic the puzzle writer sometimes follows which does not occur to me as a player, not just because I picked the wrong letters, but because the kind of English phrase being used just isn’t one I would use normally.  Unless its something I might commonly use or hear other people using, there’s a good chance I won’t get it.  I think it would probably be the same way for most people.  If I was writing a puzzle for a game like Wheel of Fortune, I would first test it out on a focus group before unleashing it on the larger public.  I feel that such puzzles need to be understood by a wide variety of people in order to be successful thus keeping the videogame just as exciting and interesting as the television show.

The old and new styles of Spongebob Squarepants actually do go well together.  Nickelodeon programmed a seven-hour marathon of Spongebob Squarepants episodes for Sunday; I watched quite a bit of it.  It was a mix of episodes from two different eras of the show, one consisting of the first three seasons, and the other containing episodes released from season four onward after The Spongebob Squarepants Movie came out.  Normally, I consider these two eras to be wildly different from each other based on the changes in the animation teams that made them and the different styles of humor on display during a typical episode from each era.  Shockingly, I found the episodes picked for the marathon fit very well together thematically and had roughly the same sense of humor emphasized throughout.  I happily gobbled down the episodes like popcorn and left feeling satisfied, but also wanting more.  Even though I am a big fan of the show, I haven’t felt that way about Spongebob in a long time.  This marathon was a much-welcomed surprise, and I wouldn’t mind seeing another one like it soon.

Even after a 150 year separation in time and space, there still can be such a thing as “too soon.”   I was watching the Academy Awards with my parents on Sunday night, enjoying the attempt to merge host Seth McFarlane’s controversial style of humor with a more sedate, understated event like the Oscars.  For the most part, everything I saw worked on a basic level and didn’t take away from the glamour and honor the event typically displays.  He did show off his talents for song and dance in ways that I thought were very tasteful.  However, there was a weird moment involving a McFarlane joke which my mom and I had slightly differing opinions on.  Shortly after mentioning the movie Lincoln as part of a monologue bit, the host joked that the only actor who ever truly succeeded at getting “inside” Abraham Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth (his assassin).  Naturally, the entire audience seemed very uncomfortable about this joke, prompting McFarlane to comment on this by saying something along the lines of, “What, don’t tell me that after 150 years, that kind of joke is still too soon.”  My mom was very disgusted by the joke and McFarlane’s response to the audience’s groans, and I can understand why.  Lincoln’s death at Booth’s hands remains to this day one of the great tragedies of American history.  Any attempt to make light of it could be considered unthinkable by most people.  However, I think McFarlane was pretty brave to even attempt to do something like that on such a prominent stage, and to his credit, his “too soon” line went over much better with the crowd.  I thought the “getting inside Lincoln’s head” part was a slightly clever turn of the traditional meaning of that phrase, and the way that that particular moment was just about the edgiest thing McFarlane did all night made me glad that he held his composure on one of the most important nights in Hollywood.  Not to mention that having seen and heard some of his edgier material myself, in my opinion, it is not the worst thing he has ever done, and thank goodness he didn’t try anything worse!

On that note, I believe it is time we let this weekend blog post come to an end.  I hope all of you enjoyed it.  Please leave your recommendations and other thoughts in the comments.

Real Advice for Fictional Characters No. 1: Mind Games

Friday, February 22nd, 2013
You send mail, you'd better get mail.

Look, you’ve got a letter!

I enjoy helping people however I can, both in my personal life and through my writing.  As a fun exercise in providing such help and in the spirit of such great advice-givers as Ann Landers, “Dear Abby”, and Dr. Phil, I decided to start an advice column for fictional characters in need of help.  For the sake of privacy, the help-seekers have kept their identities hidden (however, I have linked their nicknames to their Wikipedia pages, just in case any of you are curious as to who they really are).  I hope you enjoy the fruits of my efforts.  Let’s get to some letters.

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I always felt like a rat in a maze, but now I’m in a real tight spot.  I’ve been trying to achieve my goals and, for a while, I was on a straight path to happiness.  Now, though, the ghosts of my past are coming back to haunt me.  I’ve looked for any and all paths to freedom, but it doesn’t look like there’s any place to turn or escape.  I’ve lost my way and my appetite mulling over this problem.  What do I do?  Signed, Pellet Muncher

Dear Pellet Muncher,

It does indeed sound like these “ghosts of the past” have got you cornered.  I’m not too surprised by this outcome, though.  These tight situations often happen when you follow a singular path for a long time without considering other and, in some cases, better options that may appear along the way.  Don’t worry too much.  Stop and look at your problems from a larger perspective.  It may seem like you’re trapped now, but if you back up a little and see all of the other options you can take, you may find a better way to go.  If all else fails, remember to trust the people and things around you that have helped you the most (at the moment, those would be the power pellets and that tunnel that can shoot you out to the other side of the maze).  I hope this helps, and don’t forget that fruit will keep you very healthy!  Ben

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

Mamma mia!  Have I got a doozy for you!  There’s someone special I really want to see, but she keeps playing hard to get.  I’ve been hopping mad trying to get to her.  Life has put a lot of obstacles in my way, namely turtles, chestnuts, man-eating plants, etc.  But with a good bit of athleticism and agility (and a few mushrooms, but trust me, they are for healing purposes only!), I have powered through everything.  Every time I show up at her castle, though, one of her friends always tells me, “Thank you, but our princess is in another castle!”  I’m tired of this routine, and I’m starting to think she’s not really worth all this trouble.  Should I keep going or should I pack up my wrench and go home?  Signed, Perplexed Plumber

Dear Perplexed Plumber,

I’d say keep going.  It sounds like you have been through a lot lately, and I’m sure the path has been rough at times, but it sounds like you really are enamoured of this girl.  Just look at all you’ve been through just to get to this girl’s house.  It takes a lot of dedication and perseverance to go through so much trouble just for one person.  Even though you know the world around you has made it very difficult to see this young lady that you profess has captured a special place in your heart, you keep trying anyway.  I will give you one more small piece of advice though.  After all that you have done, this girl had better be worth the time you’ve put into getting to her!  If she still does the whole “missing in action” bit, then feel free to find some other person or goal, but at this point in time, I think you shouldn’t give up just yet.  Keep on hopping!  Ben

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I’ll keep this short; I don’t want to waste your time.  A little while ago, I was speeding through life like I always do.  I was making split-second jumps, bopping the bad guys, and grabbing all the brass rings I can (actually, they’re more like gold rings in my case, but you know what I mean, right?).  All of a sudden, though, I ran right into a wall (covered in spikes, no less)!  All my progress stopped, I lost track of what I was doing, and now I’m having trouble getting back up to speed.  Can you give me a running start?  Signed, Blue Blur 

 Dear Blue Blur,

Don’t worry, you aren’t wasting my time; I’ve got plenty of it.  Actually, I’d suggest you slow down, a good deal slower in fact.  The reason you ran into that wall is because you were going too fast to begin with.  I’m certain you couldn’t possibly have noticed the wall or anything else while you were moving at the speed of sound.  Next time, cool your jets and move a bit slower.  Soon, you might notice that you can see everything more clearly including those bumps in the road.  If you take time to look where you’re going, you can avoid a lot of trouble for yourself.  I’m not saying you have to slow down too much, for you can still go pretty fast and know what’s in front of you.  Just don’t go so fast that you end up hurting yourself even more if you don’t stop.  There’s truth in the saying, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”  And by all means, keep reaching for those gold rings.  I always thought they sounded better than brass anyway!  Have a blast!  Ben

 

That’s all the advice I’ve got this time around, folks.  I’ve got plenty more messages from fictional characters I want to get to; the mail never seems to stop coming in!  If you’d like to see more or if there’s a fictional character that you know could use some help, let me know in the comments.  I believe that while a good piece of advice can help you get through a tough situation, a great piece of advice can keep on helping you for the rest of your life.  I definitely want to give great advice.

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling Part 1: Clarion vs. Ricky Bolero

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaWhen I first thought about starting a blog, I wanted to make sure it reflected my interests.  I also wanted to use my interests as inspiration for new writing projects.  The following pro wrestling story is the first in what I hope will be a regular series.  The wrestling promotion and wrestlers featured within it are completely from my imagination.  Nothing in this story is meant to resemble any real-world wrestling companies or personalities; if they do, these similarities are purely coincidental.  Paragon Fantasy Wrestling is an idea that has been close to my heart for quite some time now.  I hope you like it.  If you would like to see more, please let me know.

First, a little background information to get us started.  Paragon Fantasy Wrestling is a small independent professional wrestling promotion based in Peoria, Illinois.  It has been operating for only five years, but it has already garnered some impressive reviews from fans and has been one of the featured promotions in the “indies”  column in Pro Wrestling Illustrated.  Its signature style is a hybrid of traditional Southern “athletic” wrestling and the entertainment-focused style of its more monolithic and world-famous neighbor, WWE.  This unique mixture has made for some interesting wrestling shows for Paragon’s fans.

Paragon Wrestling’s most notable competitor at the moment is a man simply known as Clarion.  According to the company’s programs and website, as well as various interviews he has given in the past, he believes himself to be a Greek god.  A strong man with a mighty right-hand knockout punch and surprising agility for someone of his considerable size and build, Clarion has fought his way to the top of the rankings and won the Paragon Elite Championship, the promotion’s highest honor.  He has held the title for the past four months, fighting off competition from both within Paragon and from other wrestling promotions around the country.  He appears to be virtually unstoppable.  Tonight, he is fighting the number one contender to his title, Ricky Bolero.

Ricky Bolero is a self-proclaimed “urban cowboy” from Peoria’s lower east side.  He is frequently seen at the city’s major social events, and, having endeared himself to children and adults alike, he is generally regarded as a likable fellow.  He is the fans’ favorite.  Normally filling a comedic role during most Paragon shows, Bolero has become a more serious competitor as of late, partly due to recent injuries taking out some of the more prominent wrestlers and partly because he is tired of being perceived of as a joke among the wrestling community.  With the fans’ ardent support, he has been on a fiery winning streak and recently won a battle royal to earn a shot against Clarion.  On the last episode of the local Paragon Fantasy Wrestling TV show, Bolero bellowed to all that would listen, “I appreciate all the support the fans have given me.  Now, it’s time to knock this so-called ‘god’ off his pedestal.  Let’s do it to it!  Awoooo, baby!”  All that is now left to determine is whether or not Ricky really can unseat Clarion and earn the title.  So, we begin.

 

Thursday, October 12-9:30 P.M.

It is exactly 9:30 P.M. on a somewhat chilly Thursday night at the Paragon Fantasy Wrestling Arena in downtown Peoria.  The crowd’s mood has risen and fallen as the heroes and villains of the promotion have exchanged wins all night long.  At the moment, they are  in good spirits, and they cannot wait for the main event to start.  The ring announcer, Johnny Mouthpiece, emerges from the curtains from the back of the arena and makes his way into the ring.  Holding his microphone very close to his mouth, his deep bass voice shouts to the crowd, “It is now time for our…MAIN EVENT!  Are you ready?”  The crowd responds with an emphatic “Yesssss!”

Jonny’s voice vibrates as he addresses the crowd.  “All righty then!  This contest, set for one fall with a one-hour time limit, is for the Paragon Fantasy Wrestling Elite Championship!”  The crowd erupts with applause and whoops.  “Rhinestone Cowboy” starts playing over the arena’s public address system.  “Introducing first, the challenger.  From the lower east side, weighing in at 256 pounds, the “Urban Cowboy,” Ricky Boooooolero!”  The crowd starts chanting in a steady rhythm, “Ricky! Ricky!” as the hero they have pinned their hopes on for tonight emerges from behind the curtain wearing a white Stetson cowboy hat, a black vest with the words “Let’s Get Wild” printed on the back, understated black trunks, and black old-school wrestling boots.  Bolero has a determined look on his face, as if to say, “I am going to make good on my word.  No fooling around tonight.”  He climbs through the ropes and ascends to the top turnbuckle of the northeast corner, takes off his hat, and waves to the crowd.  He works his way clockwise around the ring to the other three turnbuckle corners, greeting his fans at each.  He gets down from the final corner and turns toward the entrance way in anticipation of his opponent’s arrival.

“And his opponent, from the Hall of the Gods, weighing in at 262 pounds, he is the Paragon Wrestling Elite Champion, Clarion!”  The crowd boos the champion’s name as he steps through the curtain, resplendent in a silver silk tunic with gold trim, an ivy leaf crown, gold trunks, and red wrestling boots.  He boldly walks down the center aisle, ignoring fans’ outstretched hands and the derisive signs in the crowd with images of him in which his head is replaced by a toilet, accompanied by some very colorful phrases  – none of them flattering.  Clarion’s eyes remain fixated on only one person, Bolero in the middle of the ring.  He has been following this challenger’s progress for weeks, and he now realizes that there is no other recourse but for him to decisively beat Bolero tonight.  He has a rough plan in mind for how to handle this situation, but he will still need to fend off his opponent’s attacks until it is the right time to strike.

Once both opponents are in the ring, the referee takes the championship belt from Clarion and holds it up for everyone in attendance to see, just in case anyone doesn’t realize the title is on the line (of course, the importance of the match is universally recognized, but traditions like this are still carried out for the sake of formality).  The title is given to the timekeeper for safekeeping, the bell is rung, and the match begins in earnest.  Clarion gets in some early offense, landing several punches to Bolero’s midsection.  Bolero responds in kind with some blows of his own.  The champion goes for a simple armdrag takedown by grabbing Bolero’s arm and flipping him in a full circle, but the “Urban Cowboy” manages a catlike landing on his feet and hits a dropkick on Clarion’s chest, knocking him down to the ground.  Bolero goes for a quick cover, but the champ kicks out before the ref can even count to one.

Both wrestlers return to neutral stances, staring holes into each other’s heads from across the ring.  They approach each other slowly, locking hands in a test of strength in the middle of the ring.  Clarion looks to have the advantage due to his more developed musculature, but the crowd rallies behind Bolero who shifts the momentum and breaks the lock by turning the hold into an Irish whip and sends the champ into the ropes.  Clarion bounces back off the ropes and into Bolero’s waiting arms.  The challenger lifts his opponent into a fireman’s carry over his head and slams him hard onto the canvas.  He attempts another cover and gets past one before the kickout.  The crowd remains transfixed on the ring; they know it is still early in the match and that the champion is still fairly resilient at this stage of the game.

Clarion gets his chance for some offense by lifting Bolero up for a modified inverted neckbreaker.  The gentle arc of the champion’s cradle sends Bolero’s head crashing to the mat, causing some viewers to turn their heads away from the ring in fear.  Clarion scrambles to turn Bolero over for a cover; he gets a two-count for his efforts.  Undaunted, the champ backs up to the ropes.  While the challenger is trying to recover his balance, Clarion charges, with a wild clothesline targeting Bolero’s neck.  Bolero hits the mat hard on his back.  Clarion covers him again but only gets another two count.  Frustrated that he is only getting twos, the champ tries kicking the “Cowboy” in the head as he gets up from the canvas, but Bolero suddenly ducks the kick, grabs Clarion’s legs, and rolls him into a collegiate-style “schoolboy package” pinning combination.  This wrestling “ball” is maintained for only a two-count before Clarion kicks out, but the crowd erupts with excitement at the prospect of their hero having come so close to putting Clarion away.

The momentum shifts back and forth for the next ten minutes with every side of the ring seeing a little bit of action.  The fight periodically spills outside of the ring as a result of a suplex or whip from both opponents, and the crowd becomes more excited each time the grapplers get close to where they are sitting.  The action is fast and frenzied without any sign of the match ending.  Soon, however, Bolero begins chaining moves together effectively, slowly wearing down Clarion’s stamina.  The champion appears to be weakening; one big, impactful move from Bolero could spell the end for Clarion, a thought which is greatly appealing to the crowd.   

Bolero starts clapping in a steady rhythm, a signal for his fans to clap along with him.  Together, they start generating a loud, thundering noise which seems to fill the entire arena.  The challenger uses this great momentum to lift Clarion high over his head for everyone to see, in preperation for the patented, earth-shattering Super Stampede powerslam.  Just as he has the champ over his head upside-down and primed for the decisive move, however, another person, dressed in a gold tunic similar to Clarion’s but with green trimming, appears and starts down the entrance ramp toward the ring.  This unknown figure scrambles onto the outside ring ledge, and begins shouting loudly, “This match must stop!  Cease this contest immediately!”  The crowd begins booing  and the referee crosses the ring to him with an order to get away from the ring.  This is the planned distraction Clarion has been waiting for!  Still positioned over Bolero’s head and in front of the entire crowd, Clarion deftly slips brass knuckles, which have been well hidden in a secret pocket, out of his trunks and onto his right hand.  With a powerful knockout blow, he hits the challenger squarely in the head, knocking him out.  With the crowd roaring, they both fall to the canvas.   Clarion lands squarely on his feet, and just as fast as he slipped the brass knuckles on, he has them off and back into the secret pocket in his trunks.  Having sent the intruder to the back and oblivious to the illegal weapon which has just been employed, the referee turns his attention back to the match.  

With gusto, Clarion convincingly covers the already unconscious Bolero.  The ref starts counting, “One…two…three!”  and the crowd loudly protests the obvious miscarriage of justice which has just occurred.  Clarion, having successfully retained his belt, celebrates as only a “man-god” can, hoisting the title up, strutting about the ring, and giving mighty whoops of elation as if he had won the state lottery.  Bolero is still unconscious in the middle of the ring.  A team of paramedics bring a strectcher to the ring and work to lift Bolero onto it and back behind the curtain  – all to the anger and dismay of his fans.  Clarion takes the time to afflict mocking bows on the crowd as he taunts them saying, “Thank you!  Thank you for all of your rightful praise!”  He then leaves the ring and makes his way backstage.  He turns and makes one final bow to no one in particular before leaving through the curtains to a chorus of boos. 

 

Thus concludes the first episode of “Paragon Fantasy Wrestling.”  Clarion is still the Paragon Elite champion after a very exciting and chaotic match, but some big questions were raised as a result of what happened.  Will he be able to keep the title in the weeks to come?  Will Ricky Bolero seek revenge and a rematch?  Who else will rise up to the “Challenge of the Gods?”  Who is the mysterious gold and green-clad figure who helped Clarion to win his fraudulant victory?  Stay tuned for more!

I have plenty of other ideas and characters for future installments of Paragon Fantasy Wrestling.  If you are interested in seeing them, let me know in the comments.  If you have any ideas for characters you would like to see in this new world, please leave a message with the character’s ring name, hometown, and finishing maneuver (you can also give a brief description of his or her appearance if you wish).  Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you soon for more Paragon Fantasy Wrestling stories!

Growing Up with Saturday Morning Shows

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013
Life in a box.

Remember your favorite shows?

I have very fond memories of certain points in my life.  I remember waking up in my crib and, for the first time ever, being aware that I was in my room.  I recall being the ringmaster for a pretend circus in my preschool class, holding a portable microphone and announcing each new act.  I remember spending what felt like ages going through every book in my third-grade class’s computer reading program, astounded by the fact that some of my favorite stories were part of the offerings.  They play out in my mind as isolated incidents, feeling familiar yet distant from where I am today.  I can recall certain parts very clearly while the rest remains forever obscured from my memory.  

However, one area of my life which I remember with particular fondness and clarity is watching Saturday morning children’s television.  There were so many amazing moments which I laid witness to through this type of programming that it would be difficult for me to summarize the whole of it.  Instead, I have decided to address some of the more outstanding moments for me, what they have meant to me, and how they have shaped my life.

Whenever I think of the words “Saturday morning,” I cannot help but recall the opening title sequence to ABC’s One Saturday Morning programming block.  This one was a real eye-opener when I first saw it in 1996-97, and I thought it was the best part of the whole day.  The opening sequence was arranged around a song describing the excruciating torture of working through the week to get to the most fun part of the week, the “five hours of summer, once a week” filled to the brim with great entertainment that, to me, felt like nothing else on TV other than the Fox Kids and Kids WB weekday afternoon schedules (more on those later).  I thought the opening sequence illustrated the idea of Saturday being the most fun day of the week in a very novel way.  The rest of the days of the week were depicted as drab gray buildings filled with homework and assembly lines, signifying how boring and humdrum the rest of the week could be to a kid.  After the camera finished panning past all of these buildings, it zoomed through a dark door and into a sunny meadow where a large colorful skyscraper shaped like a number “1 ” grew up out of a box and a roller coaster expanded and wrapped itself around the building.  The camera then swirled around the “1” and went in through the front door to reveal a gigantic CGI set full of kids bouncing around the place.  This virtual set played host to short skits  in between shows, but I wasn’t as wild about the skits as I was about the opening sequence.  This sequence greatly shaped my perceptions of Saturday morning as a time to forget about my tensions from the rest of the week and have fun for a few hours.  The shows that aired during the morning did not always live up to the expectations established by the opening sequence, but it was still the most memorable part of the morning for me.

I watched the shows on Fox Kids and Kids WB more often than I watched those on ABC.  This was partly because in addition to airing on the weekends, both of these TV lineups also aired on weekday afternoons, giving me an opportunity to watch them more often.  Quite a few of the shows I watched on Saturday mornings were the same ones I watched during weekdays; the Saturday morning airings would usually be new episodes.  There were two shows I watched in this way which I still remember very fondly.  One of them was Histeria, an entertaining and educational show from the creators of Animaniacs which taught history in funny and sometimes controversial ways.  I remember learning a lot from it, and I was disappointed to see it taken off the air after a short time. 

The other show was Digimon: Digital Monsters, a series similar to Pokemon about a group of children adventuring with powerful transforming creatures.  I thought the series had some great characterization and plenty of action and humor which had much appeal to my eight-to-ten year old self.  During my prime days of watching Saturday morning programming, Digimon aired its first three seasons.  Of the three, my favorite was the third, also known as Digimon Tamers.  A more mature take on the show’s premise, this season showed what children with all-powerful monsters might do if they had battles in the real world (surprisingly, a city would not be completely destroyed unless a gelatinous goop with the color and consistency of strawberry jelly invaded).  The first season comes in second for me; it came shortly after I had been watching Pokemon for about three years, turning the latter’s formula completely on its head with humor and action which I thought the other show couldn’t quite equal.   The second season is a distant third in my book; while it was nice to see how the first season’s characters were getting along, I got the sense that there wouldn’t be much else you could do with that particular setting without making some major changes.

As time went by, I started watching less and less Saturday morning television, partly because it didn’t appeal to me much anymore and partly because most of what I had liked I could now find on cable networks.  Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network provided Saturday morning-type programming 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, accessible at any time of day.  Both channels carried old cartoons like Looney Tunes and Alvin and the Chipmunks as well as new cartoons like Rugrats and Dexter’s Laboratory.  Each channel also had unique features which kept me watching, such as Nick with fun game shows such as Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple, and Cartoon Network with the action-oriented Toonami lineup hosting shows like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z.  There was something interesting to watch for seemingly every hour of the day. 

I was actually a pretty lucky kid.  I was able to get all of the major kids’ networks and both of the Saturday morning network lineups.  I watched the best of everything I could wrap my eyeballs around to the point that the way I watched television seemed like programming my own personal network.  In recent years, I have rediscovered many of the shows I enjoyed as a kid, and I have noticed new details and deeper themes in them which have made me appreciate them in a new light.  In a way, Saturday morning can happen for me any time of day now.  Regardless of what may change though, I will still remember when everything fun revolved around “five hours of summer, once a week.”

Pop Culture Questions (And An Autistic Mind’s Answers)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013
Questions

So many questions, so little time…

I love pop culture.  It is a language that I understand as fluently as English.  Sometimes, however, some parts of pop culture seem nonsensical or irrational to me.  They cause me to question the material and the internal logic driving it.  In my attempts to make sense out of them and have a little fun with it all, I have come up with some very unique questions and answers.  Here are a few examples of my pop culture “how comes.”

How come the lyric goes, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore?”  I’m pretty sure that the moon (or any other celestial object of considerable size) making an impact with one’s head would more likely generate sensations of pain rather than pleasure.  I assume it wouldn’t feel like a large pizza, either, which is a shame because I’d rather be hit by something soft and gooey than something hard and imposing.

How come the kids in the Boxcar Children book series are still referred to by that name by other people even though they have clearly not lived in a boxcar in quite some time?  They did manage to make a nice home for themselves in a boxcar in the first book, but I believe it might get tiresome for them to be constantly reminded of this point over and over again.  Besides, by now they’re probably better known as a mystery-solving family anyway.  I think they should embrace their new positions as “Scooby-Doo imitators” and go the whole nine yards.  If they really did want to keep the boxcar thing going, they could probably turn that boxcar into a Mystery Machine-type vehicle and go cross country.

How come Stephen Hawking says time travel doesn’t exist?  In a recent television special, Hawking carried out an experiment to test the validity of time travel.  Basically, he set up a party for time travelers and left an open invitation lying on the ground outside of the building where the party was being held.  According to him, any time travelers curious enough to attend the party would arrive on the spot and, seeing the invitation, would join Hawking inside.  Hawking waited for over an hour to see if anyone would show up, but no one did.  He then stated that he had just proven that time travel doesn’t exist.  By his reasoning, there should have been roughly a dozen people suddenly wandering around the room, but since there was no one else there, clearly time travel had not been invented yet or even perfected at any point in the future.

I think Hawking has a bit of faulty reasoning here.  It seems a bit arrogant to me to send out party invitations to a bunch of time travelers for a television special and expect them to show up instantaneously.  I feel it is safe to assume that they might have encountered problems in the space-time continuum while attempting to get to the party.  Also, they might have seen the special, or at least a rerun of it, in the future, felt insulted by Hawking’s demeaning portrayal of their activity, and decided not to attend to avoid being further insulted.  Some may have actually shown up, but, if certain time travel theories are to be believed, they were either moving too fast for the naked eye to normally observe or they showed up for different versions of the party in alternate universes.  The possibilities of time travel have been debated for generations in both academics and mass media.  Because of this, I believe that Hawking should have waited for more concrete evidence to show itself before passing judgment on something which could possibly exist in the future.

How come the henchmen in Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus video game chase Sly around for a few moments if they see him, but if he gets away, they just go back to their regular patrol route without a second thought?  They know he’s lurking around the place stealing things willy-nilly, especially because their boss just told them so via the public address system.  However, they just retreat back to their normal walking patterns as soon as Sly is out of earshot.  One would think that if these minions used a little more common sense, they would expand their designated patrol areas and hunt Sly all over the map.  Instead, they stick to one solitary zone and leave it to their brethren to try to catch Sly.  The minions in the later Sly games at least have the sense to chase the raccoon over short distances before giving up the ghost.  Of course, all of the minions seem particularly susceptible to a few good whacks from Sly’s wooden cane, so maybe they are actually wise to keep away from their adversary.

How come you always see “endless runner” games on mobile devices but never “endless walkers?”  I have played quite a few endless runner games recently and each has been a delightful experience in and of itself.  However, it is clear to me that a twist on the genre could bring a great deal of excitement, or at least originality, if done correctly.  Instead of outrunning a giant wave of lava or a gargantuan monster, the player could be attempting to cross a busy street which just so happens to have a sidewalk always in the distance (you don’t have to be Frogger to have this sort of setting).  The player’s character could walk at a leisurely pace giving the player a chance to look at the beautiful graphics of the world around them.  The main problem with this idea is that there are very few places where such games could be played.  The Nintendo Wii has had a couple of walking games made which used the Wii Balance Board, but they have not resembled what I am picturing in my mind.  Smartphones and tablet computers, from which a number of endless runners originated, could support endless walkers, but the active portion of the genre might be a bit limited.  If an endless walker could be built into treadmills and implemented at health clubs, they may experience a surge in popularity.  Someone needs to get in on this genre now!

How come the song goes, “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning?” Are there different levels of enjoyment in different states?  Do North and South Carolina offer different levels of early morning enjoyment?    Can happiness levels be considered equal in every part of a state as small as South Carolina?  Do you think taking songs literally leads to temporary madness?

These are just a few pop culture questions that have gone through my mind over the years.  Do you have a different take on the questions I have outlined above?  Are there pop culture queries that have driven you crazy?  Leave your thoughts in the comments; they might influence future posts.  Tune in next week, I’ll have more pop culture questions and answers!!