popular thinking

hopelessly devoted to deconstructing popular culture and conventional wisdom, one blog at a time


From Michael Feldman, Boston University professor who teaches a class on informal English:
It seems clear that "retarded" as a substitute for "stupid" evolved from a childhood insult among baby boomers into a general pejorative adjective at the same time it became politically incorrect to use it as a descriptor for the mentally challenged. It is also interesting to note that while "retarded" became commonly applied to anything not up to snuff (movies, music, jobs, clothes), the adjective it replaced, "stupid" was being converted into an APPROBATORY adjective in "hip-hop" slang, so that stupid and retarded became slang antonyms!


Sometimes I get accused of wanting to do too much. There is some truth, there -- I have difficulties saying no to story assignments and often pitch more ideas than I could ever possibly have time to publish without earning significant overtime. That's not because I want to deprive anyone else of happy fun goodness. I simply have too many ideas running around in my little brain and want to let them all run loose. In today's paper, you'll see only one byline of mine -- Larry sent me (a goy!) to review The LeeVees "Hanukkah Rocks" concert.

But two other ideas of mine saw print...

Beth writes about how Theo Epstein may be living out every disgruntled employee's dream as the Red Sox fumble about without him.

Chris asks Lyrical to make sense of the Saturday Night Live "The Chronic(les) of Narnia Rap." Watch the "Lazy Sunday" video here. It's also up as a link from NBC's home page. Josh Levin, meanwhile, goes off the deep end in this Slate article by suggesting this skit could save hip-hop!


Most people with exhaustive knowledge of trivia are merely content to impress their friends during games of Trivial Pursuit, lest they become another Cliff Clavin. Others find a way to earn a living from their cultural education. And then there is Southie resident Clay Siegert, who has produced and sold hundreds of thousands of his own board games based on the 70s, 80s and 90s -- although by going into bidness with VH1, does that diminish his accomplishments because now we have to endure even more pundit patter from anonymous knuckleheads on VH1.


I saw a homeless guy tonight talking on a cell phone in the stairwell of the Copley T stop. OK. Perhaps I have jumped to a conclusion. Perhaps this guy merely decided to pop the proverbial squat to rest his legs, and strangers mistook his cup of coffee for a receptacle accepting cash donations. Perhaps he was waiting for the Boston Public Library to reopen. Perhaps not.

So...can a homeless guy have a cell phone? I suppose the answer is yes, but he certainly cannot tell anyone it's his home number. Or can he? Why am I asking such questions, anyhow? I must be delirious. Again.


Onscreen couplings that make you say, 'Ewww' (Boston Herald)
“Rumor Has It" that Jennifer Aniston gets it on onscreen with her alleged birth father, played by Kevin Costner.
OK. Wait a second.
That’s a double ick - one for a romantic comedy (in theaters today) that has the gall to include scenes of implied incest for laughs, and another for having Aniston fall for the 50-year-old Costner. This is the second of the “Friends” to go dancing with the wayward old wolf (Courteney Cox rolled around with him in 3000 Miles to Graceland back in 2001). Watch your back, Lisa Kudrow.
But we’ve had to endure these creepy onscreen couplings before.
Witness these matches not made in heaven, but only in Hollywood.

What else can explain Natalie Portman?
Witness Portman (then 17) & Jake Lloyd (then 9) in Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Or witness Portman (15 playing 13) & Timothy Hutton (36!) in Beautiful Girls.
Then again, better not.
Also best to forget these pairings, too.

Lea Thompson & Howard the Duck in Howard the Duck
Ick factor: Beauty and the beast.
A generation grew up with crushes on Thompson courtesy of “All the Right Moves” and “Back to the Future.” Imagine their collective fowl mood when they saw the 25-year-old actress in bed with Howard the Duck in this foul 1986 film. Did we mention Howard was a talking duck? From outer space? Suddenly, seeing Naomi Watts fall for a giant ape seems plausible.

Whoopi Goldberg & Ted Danson in Made in America
Ick factor: Not what we had in mind by making Whoopi.
Goldberg, until then known for comedy and supporting roles, landed her first leading role in this romantic comedy as a mother who learns that the sperm donor for her daughter is none other than Danson. Laughing yet? It gets ickier. Danson and Goldberg became a real-life couple following the 1993 film, culminating in his futile attempt to impress Goldberg with a public “blackface” routine. How romantic.

Catherine Zeta-Jones & Sean Connery in Entrapment
Ick factor: Generation gap.
And you thought we were going to cite real-life hubby Michael Douglas. No, Zeta-Jones found an even unlikelier match in Connery for the 1999 caper film “Entrapment.” Zeta-Jones was 30, Connery was 69. People magazine that year called him “Sexiest Man of the Century,” which he’d have to be to seduce someone young enough to be his granddaughter.

Winona Ryder & Richard Gere in Autumn in New York
Ick factor: Generation gap.
The plot for 2000’s “Autumn in New York” had Gere playing an aging playboy who falls in love with a young woman on the verge of dying. Gere was 51. Ryder was 29. At least they were cast correctly. That doesn’t mean we wanted to see them get steamy together.

Kelly Clarkson & Justin Guarini in From Justin to Kelly.
Ick factor: Two “Idols” don’t beat as one.
Back when American Idol was making its rookie run for glory on TV, Clarkson and Guarini became America’s sweethearts. Clarkson still is. Guarini, not so much. But after that initial season, someone had the bright idea to pair them in a 2003 musical called “From Justin to Kelly.” That person also probably owns and still listens to William Hung’s “Hung for the Holidays.”

Sharon Stone & Sylvester Stallone in The Specialist
Ick factor: Beauty and the beast.
We’ve been unable to erase the sincere displeasure of seeing Stone and Stallone naked, in a shower, having sex during this 1994 bomb. Because we cannot burn this image out of our heads, we’ve decided to share it with you. Happy holidays!

Dishonorable mentions: Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O’Donnell donning s & m outfits in “Exit to Eden,” Chucky and Jennifer Tilly in “Seed of Chucky,” Pauly Shore and Carla Gugino in “Son in Law,” Demi Moore and Burt Reynolds in “Striptease,” and in a special TV-only category, Brigitte Nielsen and Flava Flav from VH1’s very “Surreal Life.”


People around here talk funny. That's true. They also tend to fall back on certain go-to words. Wicked is one. Retarded, er, um, retahded, is another. So with the debut of The Ringer this past weekend, what better time to examine the Bostonian lingo.

‘Ringer’ got it right: Experts decry (mis)use of ‘retarded’ (Boston Herald)
In the new comedy The Ringer, Johnny Knoxville’s character learns to love the Special Olympics, yelling at his uncle, saying he never wants to hear him say the words “retarded” or “tard” ever again.
He might succeed on film.
But could he persuade Bostonians, who say “retahded” in casual conversation without hesitation, to change their slang?
“People use it in a disparaging way,” said Leo Sarkissian, executive director of The ARC of Massachusetts.
“We took it out of our name,” Sarkissian said. The group goes by ARC specifically to avoid saying the word (although it’s part of the acronym Association of Retarded Citizens).
“When we do hear it in music, when we hear it in other places, it does feel like we’re being made fun of,” he said.
In 2004, the Black Eyed Peas had a dance-floor hit with “Let’s Get Retarded,” although the song landed on radio and in NBA promotions as “Let’s Get It Started.” (In multiple concerts here this year, though, the band performed the “retarded” version of the song.)
A recurring skit on “Saturday Night Live” featured Jimmy Fallon and Lexington’s Rachel Dratch as Boston teens, repeatedly telling each other, “You’re retahded.”
And The Boston Globe thought the word so vital to Boston slang that it included it in three separate stories — in its special section for last year’s Democratic National Convention, in a 1997 “student survival guide” and in a 1995 magazine piece on Boston-speak.
Online, the Urban Dictionary has dozens of entries for the word, with submissions defining it in mostly negative, sometimes highly specific terms (one entry reads: “George W. Bush is a retard”).
Dave Lenox, a Special Olympics vice president who served as technical adviser on set of The Ringer, knows as well as anyone how frequently the word gets bandied about.
“I’ve got a son who is 13 and a daughter who is 10, so we hear the word all the time,” he said.
“If I were to ask my son’s friends, ‘What did you mean by that?’ They’d say it’s just a way of putting someone down.”
Lenox said adolescents may think of the slam as just another adjective, without realizing “they’re unwittingly harming a population.”
Changing the language comes down to changing attitudes.
“The only way that’s going to stop is when people feel like they personally know someone who has mental retardation,” Lenox said. “It has to hit you where you live. That’s not a lesson kids are going to get. ‘Oh, don’t say that? Well, I’ll just say it more.’ It really needs to impact them.”
Does derogatory use of “retarded” match that of “gay”?
Lenox, who is gay, thinks so.
“They run right up there together,” he said. “In populations that have been marginalized, whether it’s women, blacks, gays, even people after World War II who had German surnames, the key to them getting respect was them owning up to it and taking charge of their names. . . . That’s what people with mental retardation need to do. Yes, we are (retarded). Now move on.”
As for Lenox, he doesn’t describe things he dislikes as either “retarded” or “gay.”
“I will say, ‘Oh, that was stupid,’ or ‘That was moronic,’ or ‘asinine,’ ” he said. “I don’t do it because it’s the politically correct thing to do.”
Promoting political correctness won’t persuade anyone to alter their boorish behavior. Both Lenox and Sarkissian agree that promoting people with intellectual disabilities as people might help.
“We don’t have too many words to replace it with,” Sarkissian said. “We often say, ‘Try to think of people first. Don’t think of the label.’ A movie like this might go a long way toward educating people.”

UPDATE: I've included comments I received this week from a BU professor in a new posting on Dec. 30

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and good Sunday to you all...


I attended three holiday parties in three consecutive nights earlier this week. How they stacked up...

Sunday, The Comedy Studio, Harvard Square
Entertainment: Tony V and Steve Calechman hosted a holiday revue
Crowd: Packed, attentive, appreciative
Food: Chinese-American goodies by Hong Kong
Drinks: Free Sam Adams and PBR, but $2 for a Coca-Cola?
Highlights: Gary Gulman stopped by for unannounced practice set for The Tonight Show, the Walsh Bros. honor their late nana, later have a dance-off with Kelly MacFarland, Myq Kaplan shows off his bearded Jewishness

Monday, The Comedy Connection, Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Entertainment: Tony V and Steve Calechman hosted a holiday revue (almost but not quite a replica of Sunday's show)
Crowd: Meager (but similar in number to Comedy Studio attendance), ignorant, unappreciative (unless you count all the comics in the back of the room)
Food: Next door at Boston Rocks, unknown provider, although they did have steak tips...does that narrow it down?
Drinks: If you got red tickets, they were free. Otherwise, regular rates.
Highlights: Dance-off among comics afterward in Boston Rocks

Tuesday, The Mayor's Media Party, Beacon Hill
Entertainment: An accordion player!
Crowd: Packed with TV and print journalists from around Boston (biggest turnout by folks from Fox 25 and the Herald)
Food: Included all sorts of goodies, from ham and pork loin for the gentiles to kosher-friendly foods and desserts that anyone could love
Drinks: Open bar (a journalist's favorite words)
Highlights: Finally met Jon Marcus from Boston mag and Dan Kennedy, got within spitting distance of Menino, swooned over Robin Hamilton, after-partied with many new Fox friends at The Sevens


Among the many new movies this week, three are worth noting because you may have questions about them (no, you're not going to see Fun With Dick And Jane or Rumor Has It, because they're not even worth your time). Here is a quick rundown of the other newbies.

The Producers: Not at all like the 1968 original, because it's an adaptation of the 2001 Broadway hit musical rendition, complete with most of that cast and its director, who, not being Mel Brooks, decided to make the film look exactly like a Broadway musical -- only bigger. Because Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprise the roles they've known so well, their performances onscreen come across like a giant in-joke, as if they're constantly winking at the audience and saying, isn't this so much fun? Well, sort of. But it makes for a completely different interpretation than when Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder first discovered the roles. On the other hand, Will Ferrell is hysterical as the misguided neo-Nazi playwright, Uma Thurman gets much more to do (and does it well) and everyone else involved hams it up. To sum up, fun, but not extraordinary fun.
Related...Official movie site.

The Ringer: Much has been made of the fact that the Special Olympics agreed to go along with a Farrelly Brothers production that stars the "Jackass" trying to fake his way through the Special Olympics. But reflect upon it for more than a moment. If the Special Olympics is on board, do you think the resulting film will be an outrageous 1990s Farrelly Brothers movie? Or, do you think it'll turn out like a heartwarming Afterschool Special? Um, if you're still wondering, 'tis the latter. Family-friendly fun. But laugh-out-loud funny-ha-ha? Not really. And there is a deeper irony to ponder...Johnny Knoxville plays a nice guy doing a bad thing by faking intellectual disabilities, and gets found out by the Special Olympians, and yet, some of the other Special Olympians in the movie are, in fact, actors faking their own intellectual disabilities.
Related...official movie site.

Wolf Creek: I've already talked about some of the misleading ads for this Christmas Day horror flick. But it's still a good film, and for those really looking for something un-Christmasy, this is that film. Takes 1970s psychological horrors such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance and translates them to the Australian Outback.
Related...official movie site.

Movies currently playing in a local cinema that I've seen and would recommend: King Kong, Syriana, Walk The Line.


(Interview conducted Dec. 21, 2005)
These could be the busiest two weeks of the year for Tony V.
He hosted holiday parties earlier this week at the Comedy Studio and the Comedy Connection, has entertained corporate parties, performs at Giggles tonight and will host the First Night Women of Comedy show on New Year’s Eve.
"People forget that this is when we work," he said. "They’ll go, 'Can you come to a party on Saturday night?' No!"
Tony V said he helped start the First Night comedy shows, which over the years have moved from Suffolk University to the State House ("that room is not actually conducive to comedy") to the Wang Center and now Hynes Convention Center.
"You’re basically in a plane hangar," he said. "The room we’re in is about as big as basically downtown Concord, New Hampshire. On one side of us there’s a band, on the other side there’s an ethnic thing. Everything is going on at the same time. I’d like to think it’s me (that draws the crowds), but it is First Night, and I’m not a mime. Not to cast aspersions, but at least we’re talking to them."
Tony V does cast aspersions toward Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey onstage, referring to her by a four-letter word that remains a comedy taboo (hint: it rhymes with cunt). Tony V said the holiday-themed club parties allowed for exceptions to the rule.
"That night is intended for us to do everything we couldn’t say," he said. "Which makes it all the worse. It’s like the Walsh Brothers up there, in the most ridiculous sweaters I’ve ever seen, blowing their dead grandmother’s ashes into the audience. Where else could you possibly see that?"
The holiday skits went over much better with the packed Comedy Studio crowd than with the meager group who showed up the next night at the Connection.
"We had something for everybody and they still didn’t get it," he said. "All I can do is chide them for that and make them feel bad."
But the comics all partied merrily together this week.
"It’s a good community still," Tony V said. "We did the Ding Ho reunion show (last weekend at Jimmy Tingle’s), which is completely different from anything else we do. Those are guys I only see once a year, if I see them at all . . . All of us sitting around, telling road stories as if they happened yesterday."
Unlike many of those comics, Tony V still likes to test his mettle with the young college crowds at the Comedy Studio.
"I think anyone who doesn’t do that is an idiot," he said. "You prove yourself every night. You don’t just close your office door and coast. When I get a room of 20-somethings to laugh about something that doesn’t involve their genitals, I feel good. It makes you a better comic and a better person."
He expects tonight’s crowd at Giggles to be ready to laugh, too, because it’s two nights before Christmas.
"That’s not a night you go, 'What do you feel like doing?' and wander into a place" for comedy, he said. "That’s good. People come in there with an expectation."
Which reminds him, he still needs to finish his Christmas shopping.
"I’m a last-minute guy because I work all the time," he said. "They don’t go on my schedule. I wish I could be like Oprah, have people open their stores for me at 3 in the morning."
Tony V will have to make do.
"Luckily for me there’s the Home Shopping Network and the knife channel," he said.
Knife channel?
"After 2 o’clock in the morning, it turns into the knife channel. You can literally get 120 knives for 30 bucks. Why shouldn’t everybody get a knife? Some of these are good knives. One of the guys hawking the knives is missing his middle two fingers. As he’s standing there pointing, you’re thinking, he stayed in that business a week too long."


There are a few things still open for mixing bidness and pleasure. Try these ideas on for size, but read this haiku first...

If the day before
Is Christmas Eve, then today
Is Christmas Adam?


Some people would say that all movie trailers lie in one form or another. They may mislead you into thinking a comedy is funnier than it really is by putting all of the jokes in the trailer. They may use phony soundtrack music. They may splice scenes together from different parts of a movie, or sometimes even show you scenes that didn't make the final cut. But what gets me is when a movie out-and-out lies about its plot -- that's what I've seen in the two TV ads for Wolf Creek, a haunting horror that I saw earlier this month. The ads say that the guy likes to let people get away so he can hunt them down. What? Where did they get that idea? Not to reveal too much, but the bad guy in this movie says he is a hunter, and he don't like it when his prey turns tail, but "lets them get away"? Nope. Not even close. Watch these two trailers online (which are much longer and thereby fall under the category of hey, why don't you just tell me the whole movie in the trailer category) then tell me what you think after seeing the movie when it comes out on Dec. 25.

Related: Wolf Creek official movie site


That's the dilemma facing the National Association of Theatre Owners. Reports surfaced over the weekend suggesting that the cineplex group wanted to ban cell phone signals outright and petition the FCC to do so. The group backtracked from that stance somewhat on Monday when I talked to them. But the intent remains clear. And so does the dilemma -- how do you get people to stop using their cell phones during a movie (or a live performance)?

Jeff Poulos, executive director for StageSource, Boston's alliance of theater artists and producers, said "it's not illegal" to let your phone ring, or even to answer it, during a show. "It's just an incredible inconvenience." Poulos said each theater venue or group has its own creative way of making pre-show announcements to encourage audience members to turn off their phones and pagers (wait, who has a pager anymore?).

John Michael Kennedy from the Huntington Theatre Company says: "The way we handle it is the way most theaters handle it, which is to make an announcement beforehand. People forget, or don't shut off their phones. At some point in the run of each show, we'll have a phone go off in the theater. The other other audience members glare at that audience person." During one show, a cast member ad-libbed a line to reference the ringing phone.

Kennedy would like to see the cells banned. "I think it's a good idea, but I can understand the other issues of people feeling it cuts off a potential emergency," Kennedy told me. Nevertheless, he feels as though front-of-house managers can help assist an audience member if there were an actual emergency that required their attention during a show.


A lot of people mistakenly believe that Peter Jackson's new take on King Kong is a remake of the 1933 original, when really, it's a new interpretation of the original screenplay. As soon as you watch both movies, you realize things are much much different. For one thing, Fay Wray never stopped shrieking at the sight of the big ape. For another, she did, as you pervy film fanatics know, show a lot of nip. But that's nothing compared to the 1976 reinterpretation of Kong. All three films do adhere to a few basics: ship and crew visit little-known South Pacific island, natives take blonde woman and offer her up to Kong, ship's crew rescues woman, nabs Kong, brings him back to New York City, which turns out to be a bad idea. That's the basic story. None of the Kongs ever disclose how the ship got Kong through customs -- did they have to bribe someone? The 1976 film is the only one depicting the trip back, and in those scenes, you cannot help but be reminded of the old Samsonite luggage ads of the day.

Here are some other differences:

1933: Has rage issues; revolutionary (for its time) stop-motion animation.
1976: Looks like a guy in an ape suit, because he was a guy in an ape suit.
2005: Lonely and bored; computer-generated but inspired by real-life Andy Serkis.

1933: None for Kong and Ann Darrow. She shrieks to the end. But Jack Driscoll (here only the ship's first mate) plays a dumb macho guy who somehow instantly falls for Ann, telling her "I love you" at the 37-minute mark.
1976: Dwan (what kind of name is that, anyhow?), played by Jessica Lange in her film debut, asks a horny Kong that trendy mid-70s question, "What's your sign?" And Kong
2005: Kong shows Ann the ocean sunset view, takes her "skating" in Central Park, protects her from dinosaurs and other creepy creatures.

Odd pop culture reference
1933: Filmmaker Carl Denham wonders why every movie needs a flapper.
1976: Dwan, found floating at sea in a life raft, says she was saved by "Deep Throat."
2005: Ship's crew apparently has a "Heart of Darkness" book club.

1933: Dino killed easily by the crew, who seem neither shocked nor scared to see a prehistoric creature.
1976: None
2005: Makes the running of the bulls look like a bad walk through Jurassic Park

Kong's death
1933: Bumpy
1976: Bloody
2005: Poignant


Hollywood really hopes you'll keep going out to the movies, and the studios and everyone involved in the industry expects new technology and special-effects to be the reason you do...

Cinemas hope to ‘Kong’-quer DVDs with monster effects (Boston Herald)
King Kong is a movie that begs to be seen on the big screen.
Which is exactly what Hollywood hopes will ultimately revive the industry after a lackluster year that has seen box-office grosses slump from beginning to end by 7 percent from last year’s record receipts.
The industry literally is banking on special-effects blockbusters such as “Kong” to give audiences a reason to go to the movies rather than waiting to see it at home on DVD.
“We always feel the cinemas need to stay one step ahead of the home,” said Tim Partridge, senior vice president and general manager of Dolby Laboratories’ professional division. “That’s what happened in the 1970s when we introduced surround sound into the theaters.”
Home systems caught up a decade later and leapt ahead more recently with digital home-entertainment centers.
“It seems it’s time again for the cinema to make that step ahead and provide what the audience could never experience at home,” Partridge said.
Warner Bros. has a bona-fide repeat hit on its hands with the re-release of The Polar Express. The 3-D animated film again is earning about $1 million each weekend in only 66 IMAX locations, including the New England Aquarium and Jordan’s Furniture in Reading and Natick.
Enhancing 3-D effects with digital pictures and sound also boosted Disney/Buena Vista’s release last month of Chicken Little.
The film earned $127 million through Dec. 14. But the average grosses were 2.5 times larger in the 81 locations equipped with Dolby Digital Cinema and 3-D effects than in 2-D cinemas.
Locally, Loews Boston Common and the Showcase Cinemas in Randolph and Revere have Dolby Digital Cinema.
Industrial Light & Magic’s Joel Aron oversaw the conversion process on Chicken Little from 2-D into a new 3-D projection technology called Real D, which uses a shutter to shift images from the left to the right eye at 144 frames per second. Viewers must wear unique polarized glasses.
“It’s smoother, you can get the screen a lot brighter and the effect is that much better,” Aron said.
Though turning the “Star Wars” franchise into 3-D is still years off, Aron said ILM is “desperately looking forward to doing more” work with Real D.
Two 2006 films, Monster House (July 21) and Meet the Robinsons (December), will get the Real D treatment.


Here is a 2-minute video clip from New England Cable News on Friday afternoon.

Click link to watch: Shock jock Stern signs off FM radio Friday

Best Chia Ever? Posted by Picasa


Be sure to read to the end of this story for the breaking news portion (hint: The Chia Pet is getting enshrined in the Smithsonian next year! I confirmed this with the museum officials on Friday.)

Sprouting cheer: 'Tis the season for the Pet that ‘anyone can give to anybody’ (Boston Herald)
A holiday tradition for almost a quarter-century, it’s the gift that keeps on growing, provided you maintain proper care of its seeds and water levels.
Would it be Christmas without ch-ch-ch-Chia?
With apologies to Rice-a-Roni, the Chia Pet may be the true San Francisco treat, manufactured each Christmas since 1982 and marketed worldwide by San Francisco-based Joseph Enterprises.
“It is a gift that anyone can give to anybody,” said company vice president Michael Hirsch.
Hirsch said the product’s notoriety developed on its own.
“What we do is promote heavily on television just to make people aware of the product itself,” he said. “We try to have everybody see the commercial three or four times. We don’t have the guts not to advertise. We feel if we didn’t advertise, we wouldn’t have our Christmas.”
And thousands of people each year wouldn’t have bewildered smiles on their faces after unwrapping presents to see a Chia Pet staring back at them.
The company offers 32 different molds - from animals (turtle, puppy, pig) to people (guy and kid), and in recent years, characters from animated movies and TV shows. You might find Chia Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, Garfield, Homer and Bart Simpson, several Looney Tunes characters, and Donkey and Shrek from “Shrek.”
This year, Joseph Enterprises and DreamWorks offer Chia molds of Alex the Lion and Marty the Zebra from “Madagascar.”
Chias sell for $19.99, available locally at most Walgreens, Brooks, Kmart, Ace and True Value stores.
But you can only find a Chia Pet between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The company limits production both out of logistics (it can only produce so many from its handmade molds) and the economics of supply and demand.
Joseph Enterprises - which also makes the Clapper and the Ove Glove - produced and marketed garden products before stumbling upon the Chia Pet.
“We had no idea they would sell the way they did,” Hirsch said. “We thought we were going to lick our wounds and have the Chia Pets all come back to us. We found they were so well-liked we had to take rainchecks.”
The product combined kitsch appeal with ancient practicality.
Chia seeds have been planted for hundreds of years in Central and South America, enjoyed for their ability to sate appetites. Mayans long ago sculpted decorative planters for them.
Since 1982, Joseph Enterprises has sold millions of Chia Pets. Hirsch wouldn’t disclose figures, but he said sales “grow a bit each year, pardon the pun,” with the most likely purchasers being women 35 and older.
New ideas for Chias often come from consumer suggestions.
That’s how the company decided to develop a cat-grass planter, also new this season.
Some molds, such as the original ram and bull, have been shelved in favor of more popular contemporary molds such as Chia Garfield.
Rarest is the Mr. T Chia, a limited-edition stunt for TV Land.
The company wanted to make a Chia Jerry Garcia, but the Grateful Dead said no.
Joseph Enterprises promises bigger and better things for Chia next year as it enters its 25th holiday season.
The company will mark the anniversary by having a Chia Pet in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Museum officials already are collecting everything from business papers and photographs of the company founder to ads, marketing materials and Chia molds.
“We’ll be right up there with Mister Rogers’ sweater,” Hirsch said. “We’re pretty proud of that.”

Related: Ch-ch-ch-Chia!
Related: Smithsonian National Museum of American History


Friday was “F the FCC” day in New York City (and radio outlets throughout America syndicating Howard Stern's final morning radio show). Among the things Stern said in his 25-minute speech to his faithful fans:
-- “If you didn’t give me the ratings, I couldn’t have accomplished any of this.”
-- “We RoboSpanked ourselves into history!”
-- “We’re going to go to a whole new universe.”
-- “Let the freedom bell be rung and let it be rung by a stripper!”

Lots of ‘ahs,’ little shock as Stern signs off (Boston Herald)
In the end, Howard Stern’s departure from so-called “terrestrial” radio sounded and looked a lot like the fond farewells of beloved TV sitcoms.
The mouth that roared for two decades of syndicated morning radio, including a decade locally on WBCN-FM (104.1), got mushy.
Stern and company spent their last four hours yesterday traveling down Nostalgia Lane. Old friends stopped by or called to say goodbye. And Stern’s family showed up for his final hour in the studio. His parents, his daughter Emily, his girlfriend, Beth, and his sister Ellen all offered kind words.
He included a few typical stunts, such as a matchmaking contest that paired a fan with a porn actress.
But Stern played more music than usual, even if it remained, as usual, all about Stern.
On one tune, Stern himself sang: “Radio will never be the same/I gotta go, but I won’t be far away.” Stern and his sidekicks will resurface next month on Sirius Satellite Radio, available to subscribers for about $13 per month.
Massachusetts rockers Staind performed live yesterday at an outdoor rally in Manhattan for Stern’s fans.
A Webcast by Yahoo! showed rally speeches about a half-hour ahead of the radio broadcast, so it was 9:35 a.m. (but 10 a.m. on WBCN) when Stern addressed his fans, proclaiming himself “the last of a dying breed” in radio.
“There will never be a radio show like this,” he said. “There will never be another audience like this.”
But Stern, who incurred millions in fines from the Federal Communications Commission over the years and got dropped last year by Clear Channel stations, promised to keep on fighting the FCC. Referring to his new Sirius fist logo, he said: “I want to ram that fist up Clear Channel Broadcasting. I want to ram that fist up the religious right.”
He also asked WXRK-FM manager Tom Chiusano to “torture David Lee Roth every day like you did me” when Roth takes over Stern’s time slot Jan. 3.
By 10:24 a.m., it was all over.
Fittingly, WBCN resumed local programming with “Over Now” by Alice in Chains.

Related: Howard Stern's official site.
Related: WBCN-FM (104.1) in Boston.


This week's haiku, a tribute to a comic legend.

I’m just a honkie
living in Richard Pryor’s
crazy fun shadow

And now, some ideas for you to enjoy the Hub today, Saturday and Sunday.


Last year, I introduced Gary Gulman to an Arizona comedy-club audience as "the pride of Peabody."
Turns out there is now some truth to that.
Gulman, 34, lives in Los Angeles but returned to his hometown this summer for a special performance on "Gary Gulman Day."
"I got a proclamation from the mayor," he said. "I did a show to raise money for the YMCA in Peabody. The show took place at City Hall. It was really cool. So I am sort of the pride of Peabody, I guess - along with the Northshore Mall."
He comes back every couple of months.
"It’s very odd to go back there," he said. "Most people from Peabody, I don’t know if you know this, but they’ve never been to Boston. They’ve never seen me in person. So I’m pretty excited."
Plus, Gulman is a celebrity of sorts after two seasons in prime time on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Do people treat him any differently?
"I lift weights for free at PowerFit Gym, which is nice," he said. "I still have a core group of fans everywhere I go, but here I don’t worry about selling out the shows as much. That’s really helpful."
Fans have learned about his obsession with cookies, candy and snack food. Sold-out shows across the country during the Last Comic Standing run attracted long lines of adoring fans, many with bags full of cookies.
"I put on a lot of weight during that run," Gulman said.
But it hasn’t deterred him from keeping up on the latest snack-food news.
"KitKat has gone the way of the Oreo - every single combination possible to lure more eaters," Gulman said. "White chocolate. Extra creamy chocolate. Then they tried an experiment with an orange creme KitKat. Moving into the fruit world is a risk. You may lose your core audience. But they are thinking outside the wrapper, so I give them credit for that."
But an extra-crispy KitKat? No, no.
"Nobody gets off on the wafer in the KitKat," he said.
Then again, he added, "that’s how they discovered penicillin, so maybe one of these will be the next wonder of the world."
Just then, Gulman drives past a Bernie & Phyl billboard.
"I love that every person who owns a furniture store has to do their own TV commercials," Gulman said. "Every great thespian comes from a background of selling love seats."
Gulman flies back to L.A. next week to tape The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for Dec. 23, "with Sienna Miller of Jude Law infidelity fame."
Then it’s the ”very rare” convergence of Christmas and Hanukkah on the calendar.
"I’ve wanted to celebrate Christmas for so long," Gulman said. "And I’ve outgrown the toy aspect of it. But the trees and the lights, and I’m not sure about this, but there may have been a religious component to it at some point."
Don’t think Gulman missed the whole holiday-tree/war-on- Christmas debate.
"I think it’s a real waste of time," he said. "The more minute and unimportant, the more they rally around it these days."
When really, we should be talking about KitKats.
"Exactly!" Gulman said.

Gary Gulman at the Comedy Connection in Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Shows at 8 and 10:15 tonight, at 6, 8 and 10:15 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets, $22.50-$25.


Howard Stern is running late -- what else is new? In the meantime...

Radio rivals happy to see Stern sign off (Boston Herald)
As Howard Stern broadcasts his final regular radio show this morning, both fans and foes of the top-rated, always controversial personality will be celebrating.
Thousands will attend Stern’s outdoor rally in Manhattan this morning, in Boston listeners will tune in on WBCN-FM (104.1) — and competing radio stations will be hoping the time is right to lure Stern listeners their way.
“I can’t tell you the excitement that other broadcasters feel because they have a shot at new ears,” said Inside Radio editor Tom Taylor. “This is a moment that people have been waiting a generation for.”
At Springfield-based Talkers Magazine, editor Michael Harrison doesn’t expect Boston stations to make explicit appeals to Stern’s listeners. “I don’t think they’re going to try harder now that Stern’s not there. They’ll just be happy he’s not there,” he said.
In the spring and summer quarterly ratings books, Stern finished second in total listeners between WBZ’s news and WEEI’s sports talk with Dennis and Callahan.
Don Kelley, who directs programming for Greater Media’s five Boston radio stations, said the stations most likely to benefit “are not necessarily the obvious ones.”
He suggested some might seek out familiar voices such as Matt Siegel’s Matty in the Morning show on WXKS “KISS 108,” Dale Dorman at WODS-FM (103.3), Mike Addams at WMJX-FM (106.7) or the WBZ-AM (1030) news team.
“But who knows what people are going to be in the mood for?” Kelley said.
David Lee Roth permanently takes over Stern’s morning slot Jan. 3. Until then, WBCN program director Dave Wellington will pair afternoon drivetime jock Hardy with nighttime deejay Mark Hamilton next week, then sub Paul Marshall during Christmas week.
Other Stern syndicates will play “Best of Stern” repeats, but Wellington said he’d rather take chances and have fun during the wait for Roth. “It’d be anticlimactic to go backward. We want to move forward,” Wellington said.
Stern isn’t really going away. He’ll be on this week’s Saturday Night Live and resurface on Sirius Satellite Radio next month.

Well, if it isn't Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. Posted by Picasa


Catholic League is fuming: Slams 2 Comedy Central programs (Boston Herald)
Don’t expect to see the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and Comedy Central singing Christmas carols together.
In the past week, Catholic League President Bill Donohue has condemned the Viacom-owned cable network for airing two Christmas shows that mock Catholicism.
Donohue unsuccessfully sought apologies and/or early retirement for Denis Leary’s Merry F#$%in’ Christmas and the South Park season finale, “Bloody Mary.”
Leary’s special re-airs five times between Saturday and Christmas, while the “Bloody Mary” episode of South Park is set to repeat Dec. 28 as part of a marathon re-airing of the Emmy-winning animated comedy’s ninth season.
The Catholic League remains hopeful, though, that an appeal to Viacom director (and Roman Catholic) Joseph Califano might find more success than past complaints over the years. They previously tangled with South Park over the 2002 episode, “Red Hot Catholic Love,” to no avail.
“We realize appealing to Comedy Central on a moral basis isn’t going to get us anywhere,” said League spokeswoman Kiera McCaffrey.
Appealing to the public isn’t likely to work, either. Two-thirds of the almost 30,000 responses to an online survey at thebostonchannel.com think Comedy Central shouldn’t apologize for last week’s South Park episode, which featured a bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary and a parody of Pope Benedict XVI.
Another cable channel, Bravo, calls South Park one of its “Great Things About the Holidays.”
The show grew out of an animated short called “Jesus vs. Frosty” when creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were still Colorado college students. In the original toon, Jesus used his halo to decapitate a serial-killing Frosty.
That film got revised as a Jesus vs. Santa death-match called “The Spirit of Christmas,” which ultimately launched South Park.
The South Park tradition of skewering the holidays began in 1997 with the introduction of “Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo.” Subsequent years have seen “Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson,” “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics,” “Are You There God, It’s Me Jesus,” “A Very Crappy Christmas,” “Red Sleigh Down,” “It’s Christmas in Canada,” and “Woodland Critter Christmas.”

Related: South Park Studios


And by gay, I actually mean lame. Lots of people talk about the Golden Globes as this great precursor for the Academy Awards, but really, it's just a big boozy bash in which the Hollywood Foreign Press Association kisses up to as many celebrities as possible. That said, this year's slate of nominees is noticeable for how many gay-themed characters and movies got recognized -- and yet, nothing for Rent. Which means they weren't just handing nods out to everything that had a gay element to it. As Damon Romine told me (see below), "the crtics recognize good movies."

Gay’s the way in H’wood (Boston Herald)
Have the Golden Globes gone gay?
Brokeback Mountain — Ang Lee’s sweeping Western romance revolving around two cowboys — led the way yesterday with seven Golden Globe nominations for best drama, actor, director, supporting actress, screenplay, original score and original song.
The film received best picture honors earlier this week from the film critic societies in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.
But the Hollywood Foreign Press Association didn’t stop there, also spreading love to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered themes and actors in Capote, The Producers, Transamerica, The Matador and Breakfast on Pluto.
“It’s wonderful that such unconventional and original material is being embraced,” said actress Felicity Huffman, nominated for her role as a pre-op transgendered female (or is that male?) in Transamerica. (Huffman also earned a nomination for her role as a heterosexual working mom in ABC’s Desperate Housewives.)
Not everyone thinks Brokeback Mountain is so wonderful.
“Most people find the images of men making love so sickening that Hollywood has to keep finding new ways to push it into society’s face,” said Brian Camenker of the Waltham-based Article 8 Alliance.
“So they have to crank up the propaganda machine. I think that’s what this is all about,” Camenker said. “I would be shocked if the movie did not have homosexuality in this, if it got any kinds of awards at all, on its other merits.”
Damon Romine, spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said the nominations prove that the caliber of films starring gay characters is stronger.
“The critics recognize good films,” Romine said.
He said people shouldn’t think of Brokeback Mountain as “that gay cowboy movie” but rather as “a beautiful American love story” that happens to feature two men.
The honors should help “Brokeback” at the box office this weekend as it expands to 21 more cities, including Boston.
“I think it’s perfect timing,” said Anthony King, arts writer for Bay Windows, Boston’s weekly gay and lesbian newspaper. “People will hear about it more because of the Golden Globes and (the studio) will be able to put their stamp on it.”


(This story originally appeared under my byline in the Boston Herald on Dec. 9, 2005, but in graphic form -- Web link under repair)

Forget all the biblical talk surrounding The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Because to many audience members, that question is moot.
Some haven’t read C.S. Lewis’ books (difficult to imagine for you parochial school alums, but yes), while many others already have seen many of these elements in recent epic fantasy films.
To them, this movie might as well be called “The Hobbit, the Wizard and the Return of the Jedi.”
Quibble all you want about who stole from whom.
Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were contemporaries, whereas George Lucas and J.K. Rowling constructed their fantasy worlds a generation later.
Yet each saga includes similar ingredients.
The recipe: Start with an innocent person or persons hidden away from evil, but have him/her/them destined for greatness and heroic deeds. Send them on a magical mystery tour (cue the wardrobe). Have them encounter ultimate evil (cue the witch). But introduce a mentor (finally, the lion) who prepares the innocents and makes sacrifices for them.
Have one of the innocents tempted to switch sides (hello, Edmund).
Make sure a magical force (who said Force?) can rule over the fantasy world.
Finally, you need a climactic battle and a happy ending.
Sound familiar now?

The Lord of the Rings
- Innocents destined for greatness? Hobbits.
- Magical mystery tour? Their journey redefines over the rivers and through the woods (and climb every mountain, too).
- Ultimate evil? Sauron. Now there's an evil eye!
- Sacrificial mentor? Gandalf.
- Tempted to turn evil? Gollum.
- Overriding force? One ring to rule them all.
- Climactic battle? Many, many battles, featuring much scarier enemies than the pseudo-orcs in "Narnia."
- Happy ending? Aragon gets to be king, marries his elf-lady, and everyone bows down to the hobbits.

Star Wars: A New Hope
- Innocents destined for greatness? Luke Skywalker whines
- Magical mystery tour? Luke wants off Tatooine. Luke gets very far away from Tatooine. Luke learns maxim: Careful be what one wishes for, yes.
- Ultimate evil? Darth Vader
- Sacrificial mentor? Obi-Wan Kenobi (“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”).
- Tempted to turn evil? Han Solo, who threatens to bolt, only to come through in the end.
- Overriding force? The Force.
- Climactic battle? Take that, Death Star.
- Happy ending? A ceremony that looks exactly like the ending of “Narnia.”

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone
- Innocents destined for greatness? Harry Potter.
- Magical mystery tour? Hogwarts Express, now departing from Platform 8 1/2.
- Ultimate evil? Voldemort.
- Sacrificial mentor? Take your pick, every book/movie has one professor who takes one for the team.
- Tempted to turn evil? Professor Severus Snape: Bad? Good? Sorta bad, sorta good? We’re still waiting to find out the ultimate answer.
- Overriding force? Magic. If we need say more, then thine name is Muggle McMuggles.
- Climactic battle? Harry has his first encounter of many with He Who Must Not Be Named.
- Happy ending? Guess who wins that encounter. And Gryffindor wins the House Cup! Whoop-dee-doo.

NOTE: For the home game, try to retell/recast the “Narnia” story using these other sagas: “The Matrix,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan” and “The Wizard of Oz.”


Working down the street from the HQ of Walden Media comes in handy when the company produces a blockbuster movie. To wit...

‘Narnia’ roars to the top (Boston Herald)
Boston-based Walden Media wasn’t sure how to celebrate after its latest movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, vanquished its box-office competition last weekend.
“This is bigger than anything we’ve ever experienced,” said Walden President Micheal Flaherty.
The $65 million opening, better than any 2005 movie after Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, also bested all previous Walden Media adaptations of children’s books.
Narnia is based on the best-selling C.S. Lewis book.
“We’re all just sort of stunned,” Flaherty said. ”A pleasant surprise for me — I thought we were hosed on Friday from that blizzard.”
Local figures weren’t available, but nationwide exit polling led Walden and its co-producer, Walt Disney Pictures, to believe audiences were split equally between families and adults.
Anecdotal evidence suggested the movie’s Christian themes drew many churchgoers, but Flaherty said weekday figures will show whether school field trips also turn out in force.
Last year, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ earned $370 million — thanks in large measure to attendance by church groups. Narnia employed similar Christian marketing efforts.
Chuck Viane, head of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, said releasing Narnia before King Kong and the rest of the Christmas fare allowed the movie to establish a foothold.
Last weekend’s positive momentum “bodes well” for the remainder of the month and into 2006, Viane said yesterday.
Kong, which opens tomorrow, should reign this week.
But Dergarabedian and Viane believe the competition will spur both films to king-sized grosses.


Val Kappa makes me smile, chuckle, giggle and laugh all the time. So when her Comedy Central debut approached with Premium Blend, I did what I could to promote her. Good thing I get to interview comics every week, eh?

Val on MySpace
Val's blog
Watch a clip of Val on Comedy Central

Val Kappa, 27, has a very subtle, dry, wry style.
That might explain why she hasn’t exactly taken to the hills to toot her own horn.
"I haven’t told a lot of people," she said. "For some people, I’ll say, 'Hey, just a warning, I look like a corpse mother on it.' "
At least that was her impression after seeing herself on TV.
"I took a quick peek, and then I looked away," she said. "I think I look like a mom who just got out of a coffin and said, 'Hey, I think I’m going to try my hand at stand-up comedy.' "
Didn’t the other comedians on the show, which include Emerson College colleague Dan Levy, give her pointers?
"No. They were like, 'Just walk to the microphone,' " Kappa said.
Comedy Central was equally, um, helpful.
"There was a memo sent out, and it said not to wear certain colors," she said. "We were told not to wear red."
So Kappa had to find a different shirt.
"Normally, I won’t wear pink," she said. "But I’m not on TV, so I thought, 'I guess I’ll take it down a notch and wear pink.' "
It’s a long way from Saugus, where Kappa grew up among the orange dinosaur, plastic cows and leaning tower of pizza along Route 1.
"Saugus, when you drive through it on the highway, looks like a low-key Vegas," she said. "Growing up, I never thought anything about it. I figured this is what all towns are."
She since has lived in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. For now, though, Kappa is back in Saugus, plotting her next move.
She recently signed up at the local Gold’s Gym, too.
"They have a separate floor for women. I’d never seen that before," Kappa said.
"You don’t have to go to the women’s section. It’s optional. Sometimes I alternate. Yeah, I’ll go to the women’s section today. Other times I’ll work out with the men. I like to mix it up at Gold’s Gym."
Kappa figured some women might feel intimidated or worry about getting hit on by men at the gym. "So they say, 'We’re going to put in another floor for you, girl in spandex, so you don’t have to worry anymore,' " she said.
Kappa isn’t worried.
"I’m just a jolly exerciser," she said. "I’m sure if people watch me, they think I’m not using the machines the right way."
She prefers the elliptical machines, like the ones made famous on infomercials by the pony-tailed Tony Little.
"I don’t exercise like him, thank God," Kappa said. "He’s an intense dude. It kind of makes me not want to use it."
Which brings us back to Kappa’s subtle style.
"I’m not someone who makes anyone want to use a machine. I don’t think I’m a good spokesperson for exercise," she said. "I’d be good at promoting water. That’s about it. I like to drink water. So I could say, 'Hey you guys, drink water!' And then I’d drink it.”
That’s Kappa for you.
"Some people think I’m doing a character," she said. "No. I’m just doing me."


Ah, yes, the obligatory Baby Boomer "trend" story. Boomers turn 50, read a ton of media reports about what that means. Repeat at 55, then at 60. Most media managers also tend to belong to this generation. Coincidence? Forget all the boring generational coming-of-senior-age pieces you'll read about all over the place, and just focus for a moment on the fact that in 2006, a lot of famous baby faces of '46 will be turning 60...

It’s the big 6-0, baby: Taking stock of some famous boomers as milestone nears (Boston Herald)
The first wave of American baby boomers turns 60 next year.
Good news for companies that make 60th birthday cards, but a stark reminder that more Americans than ever before are edgingcloser to retirement, Social Security and all the trappings of senior citizenship.
About 78 million Americans - close to 30 percent of the population - were born between 1946 and 1964.
Born to World War II vets, this generation had an optimistic youth, saw its idealistic heroes assassinated, endured Vietnam, gathered at Woodstock, grew its hair long, then grew up and amassed enormous material wealth.
That, of course, is a generalization.
Each baby boomer followed his or her own path to modern maturity, as these famous baby faces from 1946 can attest.

Six ways to get from 0 to 60
1. Defined by the Vietnam War
Some fought in the war. Others fought the war effort. It was a divisive time, and Ron Kovic, literally “Born on the Fourth of July” in 1946, exemplified that divisiveness. Kovic signed up for Vietnam, returned home paralyzed and campaigned against the war.

2. Answered JFK’s call to civic duty
Perhaps no one took President Kennedy’s words and actions as literally as the then-teenage Bill Clinton, who met JFK at a White House function and made it his mission to become president himself someday, even if he did dodge the draft, fail at pot-smoking and have a weakness for the ladies. How’d that turn out, anyhow?

3. From counterculture to oh-so-mainstream
One of the biggest boomer stereotypes is how counterculture they were. And yet, so many of them found their artistic expressions becoming less and less creative as they grew older. Jann Wenner heralded rock ’n’ roll like no other when he founded Rolling Stone magazine, but his mag since has gathered much moss - and his Wenner Media is more business than pleasure.
Or take Cheech Marin, who produced one box-office bong after another with comedy partner Tommy Chong in the late 1970s and early ’80s, only to find himself on the other side of the law (like his real-life father), playing TV and movie cop roles in recent years.

4. Putting their stamp on pop culture, showing audiences how culture can comment on reality or surreality
Look at this roster of soon-to-be 60-year-olds who all sit in the director’s chair: Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, David Lynch, Ivan Reitman and John Waters.
Dick Wolf plays judge and jury with his several incarnations of “Law & Order” on the small screen. And though the late Mary-Ellis Bunim may not have made it to 60, her “reality” TV productions - first and foremost among them, MTV’s “The Real World” - have altered our television landscape forever.

5. As a legacy of feminism, women learn they can use their positions of influence to become activists.
Candice Bergen famously found herself in a debate with a sitting vice president over the morality of single motherhood, and found that she enjoyed being part of a national discussion. Susan Sarandon continues to be both a star actress and a star activist, and is proud of it.

6. They wanted to have it all, even more than their parents had, perhaps in part to showthe “greatest generation” who’s really greatest.
Donald Trump and George W. Bush both turn 60 next year. Need we say more?


So bad, they’re good: King Kong leads an all-star lineup of the monsters we love (Boston Herald)
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “To be great is to be misunderstood.”
Emerson probably never had a gigantic ape in mind when he wrote those words, but King Kong is back. The American moviegoing public is almost as excited as director Peter Jackson is to welcome the big lug to the big screen on Wednesday.
King Kong remains a classic love story - the ultimate tale of beauty meets beast, beast falls in love with beauty, saves her from dinosaurs, takes her captive, moves to New York City, cannot find enough living space, fights off biplanes and meets untimely end.
But Kong was neither the first nor the last misunderstood monster to find a soft spot in our hearts.
Behold . . .

Martha Stewart
From perfection to prison to redemption - sounds like the Anakin Skywalker story, come to think of it. You mocked her when she went to the slammer, you mocked her when she lost the prison decoration contest, you mocked her when her “Apprentice” didn’t fit in. But you wouldn’t know what to do without her.

It’s alive! It’s ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE!!!
Mary Shelley wrote this cautionary tale in 1818 to remind us that we dare not mess with the dead, much less try to create life from an assortment of corpses. We cannot blame the creature for looking like a monster, or like Boris Karloff or Robert De Niro, for that matter. Just because the mad scientist rejected his creation doesn’t mean we have to - especially if he’s “Young Frankenstein.” Sorry, that’s Frankensteen. (See also: Edward Scissorhands.)

The Incredible Hulk
Bruce Banner was just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wouldn’t you get a little angry if a gamma bomb turned you radioactive? Hulk smash. Hulk make thunderclap. Hulk just wants a hug. Hug Hulk.

Darth Vader
After 27 years, we find out Anakin Skywalker turned to the dark side because the emperor misled him into thinking he could save his wife’s life. To be fair, though, if you had grown up listening to everyone say you’re the Chosen One, wouldn’t that go to your head? And it’s not like he was a deadbeat dad. He didn’t even know he had kids - some Force this one has. So cut him some slack.

Smeagol didn’t know that the one ring he wanted was the One Ring, that his “precious” would force his banishment for hundreds of years, prolonging his life but also deforming him into a hideous, hissing creature with multiple personality disorder. On the bright side, as Gollum, he does eventually lead Frodo and Sam to the promised land and winds up taking one for the team.

The Cookie Monster
C is for cookie, and cookie is for me. That’s no monster. Otherwise we’d all be monsters, wouldn’t we?

The Green Monster
Thousands of power-hitting righties have fallen victim to the alluring left-field wall of Fenway Park. Intimidating? At first glance, perhaps. But you know you’d jump at the chance to watch a Red Sox game from atop it, or even from inside it.

Donald Trump
Sure, the guy puts his name on everything - even products he wouldn’t dare touch. Sure, the guy has every-which-way-but-up hair. Sure, the guy still thinks his TV show and everything it touches is the biggest, best thing ever. But he has a hot wife and a lineup of exes that outshines Desperate Housewives.

Simon Cowell
The judge we love to hate to love on Fox’s American Idol, and yet, he’s the only worthwhile and honest thing about Fox’s top-rated karaoke contest. The man knows how to weed out the untalented masses. At this point, we’re more shocked by the wannabe singers who don’t understand what Simon is telling them.

Bai Ling
How did she get here? Where did she come from? Why is she trying to sing? Are those supposed to be clothes? How can we make her go away? These questions and more . . . after the break.


Who would've thunk it? And yet...
Check out Guitar Hero, the new game for PS2. Then read this:

Take ambitious local musicians, geek them up as computer programmers, then allow the fruits of their day jobs to produce popular video games that, in turn, spread their music to tons of new fans.
That’s harmonic convergence.
Actually, make that Harmonix - as in Harmonix Music Systems, the Cambridge video-game developer responsible for the new PlayStation 2 game Guitar Hero.
The game includes 30 songs with famous rock riffs and 17 extra tunes mostly devoted to Boston-area bands that are Harmonix friends or faves.
"It was a golden opportunity to slide some Boston product into the game," said Greg LoPiccolo, Harmonix vice president for product development. "There was nobody really to stop us, so we did it. It was fun."
They’re celebrating their success with a showcase Saturday at Harpers Ferry in Allston.
In only a month, Guitar Hero is an across-the-board hit, receiving rave reviews from the Web sites GameSpot, GameSpy and GamePro. IGN named it 'game of the month' for November. Guitar Hero also won best-soundtrack honors at the Spike TV Video Game Awards.
From its Central Square offices, Harmonix has carved out a niche in the industry for music-related games, previously roducing Frequency, Amplitude and Karaoke Revolution (think Dance Dance Revolution with singing instead of dancing).
Replace the singing with guitar riffs, and you have the basic concept for Guitar Hero.
The game ($70) includes a miniguitar with fret buttons, a strumming paddle and a whammy bar.
Hit the correct buttons and strum as notes slide down the scrolling fret board and you’ll hear the guitar parts - miss and you won’t. Miss too many and the song/game ends.
Beginners can take a tutorial.
For novice and expert guitarists alike, the game is highly addictive.
Classic riffs range from "Smoke on the Water" to "Iron Man," from "Frankenstein" to "Godzilla." Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix all get a tune. Newer tracks include "No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age and Franz Ferdinand’s "Take Me Out."
All these hits were licensed, then covered by a California company.
There might not be any Led Zeppelin or Van Halen represented, but LoPiccolo said the biggest blow was missing out on AC/DC, since Harmonix used ”Back in Black” as its ideal tune during development.
But they made up for that by including their own tunes in a special level that’s only available once players have earned enough "cash" during the game.
Many Harmonix employees either have a band, used to be in a band or have friends in a band. The company’s audio director is in Freezepop, which has nabbed a song on every Harmonix game.
Other employees play in the Acro-Brats and Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives. LoPiccolo’s brother plays in Din.
All of those bands, plus Graveyard BBQ, Count Zero and Artillery, will perform at Saturday’s Guitar Hero party. Harmonix also will set up a game booth.

Guitar Hero party, with Graveyard BBQ, the Acro-Brats, Count Zero, Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives, Artillery and Din, 8 p.m. Saturday at Harpers Ferry, 156 Brighton Ave., Allston. Tickets, $7. Age 21-plus.Call 1-800-594-TIXX. Or go to www.harpersferryboston.com


If not, then you'll have to wait another month for Andy Ofeish to host his Naked Comedy Showcase with men and women baring all for the funny on the first Wednesday in January.

Comedian Andrew Ofiesh anticipates the first question about why he prefers to tell his jokes in the buff.
"Why, oh why, Andy, are you doing naked comedy?" Ofiesh asked rhetorically at the start of last month’s Naked Comedy Showcase in Cambridge. "I said I’m living a dream - and it’s the one where you’re naked, standing in front of a bunch of strangers, doing comedy."
This Waltham software writer and stand-up comic has fulfilled that dream on several occasions during the past three years, from private house parties to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and ImprovBoston in between.
Ofiesh began a regular residency at ImprovBoston last month, holding court in nothing but shoes the first Wednesday of each month through February.
He delivers some of the same jokes clothed each Saturday at the Comedy Studio, but also gets laughs from Cambridge’s detailed legal explanations for nude performance.
Some comics tell jokes without referencing the fact that they’re naked, while others address their nudity directly. One woman last month presented a silent clown skit, while Chris Walsh closed out the show with his parody of Puppetry of the Penis.
Spectators who appreciated the comedy seemed to outnumber those who may have simply wanted to see naked people.
Ofiesh advises the comics - who tonight should include both men and women and both stand-up and sketch acts - not to worry about their self-image, but to embrace it.
"When you have this vulnerability established by being naked in front of an audience, I say take that and run with it," he said.
Even if that vulnerability, in sub-freezing temperatures, leads to, ahem, shrinkage.
"Let it go," Ofiesh said. "I don’t like the dry skin on my elbows, either. I don’t worry about that."

Naked Comedy Showcase, the first Wednesday of each month through February, 10 p.m. ImprovBoston, 1253 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge. Tickets are $10. Call 617-576-1253.


1. Bono from U2 shows up in your neighborhood's infamously famous Irish pub, and you remain unawares until you read it a day later in both your paper and the competition!

2. You miss out on a sublimely excellent concert featuring Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) and Calexico performing separately and together because...you were in the office until 9 p.m. making sure you filed stories in advance.


That's what Bob Woodward told those assembled at tonight's forum with Carl Bernstein at the JFK School at Harvard. During the Q&A, a first-year student asked Woody under what circumstances he'd withhold information from his bosses -- he clearly took the bait, saying that in the case of the outed CIA agent, he felt "it was a bit gossipy" and therefore not newsworthy. He said a lot more, too, as did Bernstein, who at one point suggested an inquiry into the competency of George W. Bush. But my wireless video stream of the forum kept dropping out and/or buffering, so I'll have to report back later with more details.

Related: Harvard University Institute of Politics calendar


At the downtown Boston headquarters of Walden Media, co-producers of Disney’s big-budget adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, executives tilt their heads at the notion of Christian marketing.
“There is a keen interest on the part of the American media to throw us in the middle of a culture war,” Walden Media president and co-founder Micheal Flaherty said.
“That’s not our expertise.”
C.S. Lewis’ epic fantasy, which opens Friday, may recast Old and New Testament themes. But Walden Media keeps its focus squarely on the film’s book, devoting its time and energies on educators and librarians - a formula that succeeded for it before in adapting childrens’ books “Holes” and “Because of Winn-Dixie” for the big screen.
Only the scale and pressures for “Narnia” are much larger.
“We never had (a project) that people had such high expectations for,” Flaherty said.
So “Narnia” arrives along with a video game, toys and McDonald’s Happy Meals. There also will be a separate Christian marketing campaign by the same people who hailed The Passion of the Christ.
“That’s Paul Lauer. That’s my friend,” Flaherty said. “He’s a great marketer.”
Lauer’s efforts on “Passion,” exceeded all media and Hollywood expectations by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Still, as Disney’s movie marketing chief Oren Aviv told the Wall Street Journal, “We’re not going after any audience we haven’t gone after before. The difference is that this is the first project (where) we’ve gone after all of them at the same time.”
Walden Media did get involved in the PBS production of Dr. Armand Nicholi’s long-running Harvard seminar and book on “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life.”
But Deborah Kovacs, Walden’s vice president for publishing, laughed at the notion of grassroots volunteer efforts.
“We’re in the heavy-lifting grassroots marketing,” Kovacs said. “We’re really in retail.”
Walden Media has sent out 350,000 educator’s guides and 90,000 copies of “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” nationwide, covering just about every elementary and middle school. The company has partnered with Reading is Fundamental, Read Across America and the American Music Conference.
Randy Testa, Walden’s vice president for education and professional development, has visited 17 regional teacher groups.
With help from the Massachusetts Department of Education, Testa developed a “summer content institute” for teachers. Twenty-six teachers from around Boston read the book and developed their own in-school projects.
Testa said teachers here and everywhere else had a simple question: Would the movie be faithful to the book?
Some parochial schools did wonder what faith-based elements made it into the movie, while school districts in the South wondered if the evacuation of the Pevensie kids would translate to students impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Nevertheless, Kovacs said Walden Media is helping school districts nationwide to organize movie field trips this weekend “to a level that theater operators are telling us they haven’t seen.”

Related: Walden Media's official Narnia site
Related: Official movie site
Related: Faith-ful adaptation?: ‘Narnia’ promotion efforts highlight book’s virtues (Boston Herald)

Unfortunate moments in print advertising: This is the first page of a two-page spread by lightScribe, as seen in the Nov. 18 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Of course, the company meant "burn" as in burning of discs, not as in the actual burning of French cities -- oops! Timing is everything. Posted by Picasa


Much has been made of this industry analysis on Herald Media from last week by Messrs. Kennedy, Jurkowitz and the Globe. Here is what my boss had to say on the matter. Oddly, though, few people noticed that a much larger media company also hopes for new investments from private equity firms. McClatchy is among those interested in KR. Or has no one in Boston media heard of Knight Ridder?


Film critics and others who got a sneak peek of Syriana last month were scratching their heads as they left the screening, trying to make sense of Stephen Gaghan’s complex narrative on Middle Eastern geopolitics.
That’s OK by J. Gregory Payne, director of the Center on Ethics in Political and Health Communication at Emerson College.
“I applaud that,” Payne said. “A lot of times, we look at things in sort of black-and-white terms.”
Payne has traveled to the Middle East six times in the past three years, helping foster diplomacy between the United States and Saudi Arabia. He said Syriana accurately addresses the global economic and political problems vexing both the region and American foreign policy there.
“I don’t think it is political propaganda,” he said. “It explores something without being too political, one side or the other.”
Gaghan, who won an Oscar for his complicated narrative about the war on drugs in Traffic, said Hollywood has a difficult time with movies that lack clear-cut good guys.
“The world right now is very nuanced,” Gaghan said in a phone interview last month. “It’s a complicated place. It’s very easy to point fingers. It’s very easy to label guys ‘evildoers,’ but that’s oversimplifying.”
So his screenplay and direction in Syriana reflected those nuances, showing the perspectives of the oil industry, the CIA, covert and public political committees, Middle Eastern leaders and immigrants, suicide bombers, industry analysts, even the Chinese government.
Gaghan filmed in 200 locations on four continents, including Morocco, Dubai and Switzerland.
He acknowledged he and Section 8 (the production company of Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney) originally hoped to release Syriana before last year’s presidential election. But Gaghan said he was grateful to have another year to finish the film.
Gaghan conducted face-to-face interviews with many of the people who’d become fictionalized in Syriana.
“The great thing about this global media environment is that a lot of people had seen Traffic, which opened a lot of doors for me. They felt it was an evenhanded approach to the system,” Gaghan said.
He acknowledged he still drives a GTO convertible.
“I have no pre-existing bias to the oil business. I realize that a lot of my lifestyle has been predicated on America’s hegemony.”
And he believes that “America gets exactly the Hollywood it deserves. There’s no mechanism that’s trying to be more attuned to the nation’s tastes. They may be bored of big, dumb movies these days - and if so, then Hollywood will shift. Everybody gets to vote with their $8 (or higher) admission fee and the results come in really quickly. It can be brutal.”
Payne said Syriana is not going to provide any “Chicken Little, Star Wars-type escapism” for moviegoers. But he wants his Emerson students to see the film, and thinks all Americans could benefit from watching it.
“We have to realize the world is a very complex cabernet,” he said. “I think Syriana suggests that’s the case.”

Related: Official Syriana site.
Related: Seeking a dumbed-down film? Avoid ‘Syriana’ (Boston Herald)


Sure, millions of you saw Oprah make nice with David Letterman (and vice versa), and if you didn't see it already, you can see it here. But The White Stripes bursting the musical cherry last night on The Daily Show? So much more satisfying.

Watch the clips. It'll whet your appetite in case you're tuning in for Jack and Meg White on Conan later tonight...
The Denial Twist
My Doorbell


On the second day
Of December, my true love
Gave to me: haikus?

Looking for something to do this Friday, Saturday or Sunday? Here are some ideas around Boston.


And yet, some stories have happier endings. Scottsdale Road near Indian Bend...hmmm...sounds vaguely familiar...oh, right. Insert sigh here.


I recently attended a mini-reunion/reception for my prep school at the MFA. No, I didn't go to school at the Museum of Fine Arts, or to the SMFA. Westminster School is located two hours from Boston, in fact, in a small happy Connecticut town called Simsbury. Alas, I knew it well. Which made it odd to see Martlets old and older out of their element and in mine. Not that I have an element (nor do I drive an Element). Enough with the digressions. In a couple of hours, I learned that a lot of famous people went to Westy after I graduated (including "The Bachelor" Firestone, NBC Surface's Lake Bell, the guy who won "I Want To Be A Soap Star" (or something like that), although I already suspected the first two to be true). Mr. Brooks told me that Fletcher now coaches at MIT and may live on the street that my ancestors called home for decades. Another guy who graduated a couple of years ago owns some Boston-area nightclubs/restaurants, which means I should be giving him more press. Others work for the state and the feds (both in the good upstanding types of government work, as opposed to the bureaucratic types) or in businesses that might do business with my business. All in all, I was reminded that high school wasn't nearly as traumatic as it seemed at the time. And that networking is always a good thing. And that I need to write my class notes. So what am I doing here?

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