Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Your Own Personal Jesus

News this week that James Cameron has an upcoming documentary on television showing what some are claiming is the "tomb of Jesus" doesn't sound like news to me. I've been hearing these stories now for a few years. The catacombs in Jerusalem, well known for a long time, have a tomb supposedly inscribed, "Jesus, son of Joseph," and one for Mary Magdelene and even one for "Jesus' son" by M.M.

Cameron, well-known for making a popular movie of one of the most famous disasters of the 20th Century, the Titanic, and turning it into a schmaltzy love story, has something to do with the Jesus documentary. Cameron is like a lot of Hollywood -types, a huckster selling a product. If they can get people to watch this stuff, why not? It's like those stories I've heard off and on of finding the remains of Noah's Ark, or relics, splinters of bone from a saint, or a vial of Christ's blood. There's no end to any of it, as witness the ongoing story of the Shroud of Turin, which pops up every now and again to some public attention. People eat this stuff up, whether they agree with it or not. How much furor was set off by a potboiler like The Da Vinci Code?

If it involves religion or Jesus it's going to get attention. The faithful won't believe it, the unbelievers will scoff, and the mystics will argue about it. In the meantime folks who made the documentary will walk away counting their money.

Jesus is a public figure whose image is everywhere. I went through my house and even I, the least religious person I know, have pictures of Jesus. I looked at them, scanned some of them and noticed that not one of them is identified as being Jesus. Not necessary. Jesus is like Santa Claus, with an image and persona instantly known.

Click on pictures for full-size images.Two of the pictures I have, the Jesus jigsaw puzzle and the cheap five-and-dime store black-and-white print, show a more effeminate Jesus; a kinder, gentler Jesus. The picture of Jesus talking to the couple in the garden is from a 1959 book called Your Bible and You by Arthur Maxwell. The picture is by the great illustrator, Harry Anderson. The anachronistic sight of Jesus in modern setting was popular a few years ago. I remember the button-down, crewcut 1950s and this Jesus would not have been talking to a couple in their garden. He probably would have been hauled off by the police. If it was ten years later the couple would have mistaken him for a hippie, flower power and all that. The picture up on top of this essay is of a more rugged and macho-looking Jesus I found on a postcard. This is the resurrected Jesus outside of the tomb where he laid for three days. The idea that the new documentary promotes is that Jesus was but a mortal person who lived, died and had a wife and kid.

TV hype and hoopla notwithstanding, my interest in all this is our common perception of Jesus. All of the pictures I've posted here have things in common: Jesus has long hair parted in the middle, he has a beard, and he's wearing a white robe. This is what people think when they picture Jesus. I believe this is more of a modern image, within the past few hundred years, anyway. Jesus wasn't described physically in the New Testament, so we're basing our image on an idealization made many years after he lived. Some of the pictures look like modern American guys, not like a resident of the Middle East from 2000 years ago.

What I wonder is, if it is true that Jesus actually was a god who was sent to earth, born and lived as a mortal, is the only person who ever died who has been resurrected, then what happens if he comes back and no one recognizes him? What if he looks more like someone of Middle Eastern origin than a guy from a Hollywood casting agency?

If Jesus is coming back, maybe it might be a good idea to know who we're looking for.

As for James Cameron and his documentary, I won't be watching. I'm tired of being burned by this sort of thing. The cable channels constantly run "documentaries" on UFOs, Bigfoot, haunted houses…the list goes on and on…and they never prove anything one way or another. They just repeat the same old unsolved mysteries we've heard about over and over, ad infinitum. I don't expect anything different from this documentary, thinking it's probably closer to the "mystery" of Al Capone's vault than the solution to a mystery 2,000 years old.

Ciao for now.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Sunshine Superman

This is a picture of Barack Obama, striking a pose in front of the Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois. Superman has become visual shorthand for an ideal. Poor Barack. He looks kind of slim compared to the chiseled, buff Superman.

Superman has been around about 70 years, growing from the lithe concept thought up by a couple of Cleveland, Ohio, boys named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, into the gargantuan and grotesquely muscled character of today.Closer to the lithe concept is the movie version. My wife and I saw the Superman movie on its first run in 1978 which introduced then unknown actor Christopher Reeve, who looked good, but had no big, bulging muscles. Ditto the actor in the 2006 Superman Returns.

Superman is so familiar and iconic he can appear in this Sunday funny, "The Flying McCoys," with no need to explain the joke to anyone.I read the Superman comics from about 1957 until 1960 or '61. This past Christmas I got the book, Showcase Presents Superman which reprints many of those same issues I read as a youngster. Occasionally I pick up the book and read a story and I may remember it, but now I'm reading it from an adult viewpoint instead of that of a kid. I'm sure it was deliberate for the publisher to put out the book with those issues from those years, because those were the years the baby boomers were reading them.

Even though I read the stories as a kid who was not as discriminating as I am as an adult, I remember thinking how screwy some of them were. The motivations escaped me. I couldn't figure out why Superman needed a secret identity. Just be Superman all the time, screw the Clark Kent schtick. Superman/Clark were a real pair, like a split personality, creating a two-person lover's triangle. Lois loved Superman, Clark loved Lois.* Boy, talk about turning a guy--even a super guy--into a head case. I know the Clark character created more story possibilities, but c'mon. Superman didn't really need Clark, and that always bothered me.

When I was a kid I became aware that we can recognize people by the sound of their voice, the sight of their teeth or the color of their hair. In other words, we recognize people not only by the obvious, but by the very subtle. It just always struck me that unless the people around Superman were totally blind and/or stupid, there wasn't a way they couldn't know Superman was Clark.

Another thing that bothered me were the endless powers: flight, strength--strong enough to move planets!--x-ray vision, heat vision, telescopic vision, super ventriloquism, super hearing. Every time the writer needed a gimmick out came a new power. One of the rules of fiction is that you've got to have conflict, so you put your character in danger to see how he reacts. Superman couldn't be put in danger. He could bounce bullets off his chest . He could literally do anything. The only thing that bothered him was kryptonite, which was a rock from his home planet. Kryptonite must've fallen to earth by the ton, because a lot of the stories in the reprint book used it as a plot device. They had written themselves into a corner because they made Superman too powerful. The endless supply of kryptonite as a plot device was yet another thing to bug me.

Since this blog is Paranoia Strikes Deep, here's some paranoia: How could any government on the face of the earth react to a real life Superman? If there were such a person the people looking to get rid of him wouldn't be the crooks, it'd be governments (some say we're still talking crooks) who couldn't stand the thought of him able to breech any kind of national security at will. There'd be no way to stop him unless they built kryptonite filing cabinets to hold all of the national security files. I think any government would be extremely nervous having a Superman flying around.

There were just so many things like those examples that I couldn't fathom about the character that at a young age I dropped Superman from my reading list. Re-reading the gimmicky stories in this volume made me remember why the stories always struck me as so untrue. I guess the writers, artists and editors thought if you could accept a guy in a blue and red circus costume flying and lifting buildings, and that even those closest to him didn't know he was living a double life, then you'd accept the implausibility of his secret identity .

They were wrong. The Superman I read about in the comics, and the one I wanted to read were two different characters.


Lois' fantasy.

*Lois was kind of a nightmare figure for a boy. She was always after Superman, conniving, scheming, trying to trick him into marrying her. It was a view of women held by the writers and editors, and then handed down to the young and impressionable readers. There was no sex, quite the opposite. Lois was so non-sexual you have to wonder what attracted Superman to her. I mean, why have hamburger when you can have steak? Superman could have had any babe he wanted. Lois was a pest, a plot device, the damsel in distress to be rescued by Superman over and over. There were probably times when he thought, "If I have to fly to a volcano one more time to save Lois, I swear I'll pretend I don't see her and let her fall in."

Superman's fantasy.
But the ideal is what it is, and Superman would never do that.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

24 Skiddoo

Did anyone else notice this about this week's episode of 24? Milo got shot. Jack looked at the wound and said, "It's a through-and-through. No arterial bleeding. You'll be OK."

Milo was so OK that a half hour later (remember, this show is supposed to be transpiring in real time), Milo is in the office asking Chloe why Morris smells like alcohol. No mention of the shooting, no holding his side in pain. That's pretty good. He would have had emergency personnel arrive at the shooting scene, he would have likely gone to the emergency room, had his wound cleaned and dressed, given a tetanus shot, antibiotics, whatever, maybe even put in a hospital bed, but no-o-o-o-o-o, not in 24's unreal world of "real time."

I'd have more comments about this show but I start to watch every episode and for some reason I wander off and find other things to do. It's hard to sit still and watch such silliness.

Ciao for now.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Come and keep your comrade warm..."

I enjoy a good paranoid conspiracy theory. Tell me your beliefs about the JFK assassination, how he was killed by the CIA/Mafia/Cubans/LBJ, how the government has flying saucers stored at Area 51, how black helicopters are abducting cows and cutting out their sex organs, how the Illuminati actually rule the planet. I'm interested in all conspiracy theories, I just don't believe any of them.

About the only conspiracy story I believe is that some Al Quaida terrorists conspired and then flew some planes into the World Trade Center buildings.

Growing up as a liberal Democratic-type in Utah during the 1960s I felt totally surrounded. The state was then, as it is now, redder than red. Border-to-border Republicans. Talk about conspiracies! In Utah County just south of us the John Birch Society was very powerful. If you don't remember the Birchers google them. They were a bunch of right-wingy-dingies who had a lot of conspiracy theories going on, among them Eisenhower being a Communist-dupe.

One day in about 1965 a teacher of mine, who I later found out was a Bircher, played a tape for us by some evangelical type. It was Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles. I'd forgotten about the tape until a Google search of "Beatles" came up with the pamphlet you see pictured above you. Among other claims by the speaker was that the Commies controlled the music business. They had put out children's records in the late 1940s (get 'em young) on a label called "Young Peoples' Records" (aha! "Peoples" is a dead giveaway that something is pinko!) He played a part of one record called "The Little Puppet," which he claimed had a drumbeat set to the pace of a heartbeat to put the listener--a young kid--into a state of hypnosis, and make him suggestible.

The speaker even claimed to have the "first" rock 'n' roll record, and he played part of it, but I don't remember what it was. That's when I knew the guy was full of it. As dumb as I was in my high school days I knew there was no such thing as a first rock record. As anyone with even a small bit of musical knowledge can tell you, rock grew out of several different genres: rhythm and blues, country, jump, swing, big band…you name it, it had an influence on what was later called rock 'n' roll.
The speaker told us in grave tones and so many words that the music aimed at "today's youth," (and by that, I mean mid-'60s) was sent to us by wicked, evil people intent on corrupting our morals, bringing down our great country. Well, I'm paraphrasing because I'm depending on memories that are four decades old, and if my recall isn't right on, then it's clear as to the intent of the tape.

I made some noise in the classroom about how it was crap. My friend got up and marched around the classroom like the little puppet, "hypnotized." As I recall we were both told to shut up and sit down, but I felt if I had to listen to this stuff I might as well let the person inflicting it on me know what I thought of it. I don't remember it ever being brought up again in class. Maybe the teacher got told he was overstepping his bounds.

The idea that rock music was some sort of tool of the devil is still around, although I haven't heard the communists invoked in a long time, probably because they don't have a lot to do with anything anymore. They aren't the straw men the conspiracy theorists like to point at. Nowadays it's almost more likely to be our own government at the root of the conspiracies rather than some external force.

I've heard so many conspiracy theories about music that I've lost track of them. Backwards masking, satanic messages, etc. It's all interesting, though. A good paranoid conspiracy tells me more about the person who espouses it than it does about the conspiracy.

I'll bet when "Back In The U.S.S.R." came out it drove the right-wingers nuts. They wouldn't have had any sense of humor about a funny riff on the Beach Boys.

What's also funny is that while these folks with Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles were claiming the music was inspired by the communists, countries like the Soviet Union were denouncing rock music as a tool of the capitalists to corrupt their youth. Nowadays when I step into a store and hear Beatles songs played over the store sound system it's hard to believe that they were anything but mainstream. But there was a time when the Beatles were blamed for a lot of things. Our parents' generation was baffled by their popularity, what made them so appealing to us. There just had to be something else going on…no one could really like that noisy stuff, could they? Maybe now our own kids and grandkids wonder what it was about the Beatles that made us like them so much. I'd say that rather than being part of a conspiracy, the Beatles were there at the nexus of the sixties social movement, replacing the old with the new. That would seem like a conspiracy to many people, but the Beatles also had the talent. Whenever I listen to their music I'm reminded of how different, fresh and new they sounded in their era. Even if their music is now mainstream--even fogeyish to the hip-hop crowd--it still has all of the elements, lyrics, music, vocals, that made it great and turned our musical worlds upside down. You don't need a conspiracy to do that.Ciao for now.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Blog People

I read in a print magazine today that only 8% of Americans read blogs. The writer was snorting with derision, accusing us blog-writers of just reading each others' blogs. To which I snort right back and say, yeah, so?

If that anonymous writer--and I won't identify him or his magazine--would have done a little math he'd realize that if 8% of 300 million Americans read blogs, that would be an astounding 24 million blog readers. I don't know about you, but given the chance to have even a percentage of 24 million people read my stuff makes me feel kind of lighter than air, y'know? How many people read his magazine?

My buddy Eddie has a counter on his blog but I don't. I don't really want to know how many people read my blog. It could be one or 10, it could be 10 million. So what? Years ago I sat in my basement office with an electric typewriter my dad bought in 1965. I wrote letters every night to my friends, one at a time. I've always done that. I finally burned out the typewriter in the 1980s, and before going with the computer I wore out another electric typewriter and had started on my third. Now I've been through four computers.

I see this blog as a continuation of those letters I spent hours on every evening. I have a compulsion to write. I'm sure many other blog writers feel the same. Maybe a lot of people don't feel the compulsion to read us, but that's OK with me. I am still compelled to put it down and send it out.

The blog is good for something else. I save a lot of ridiculous pictures I find in various places. This I found on an old book. Where else would I get a chance to show this?Click on picture for full-size image.

To the approximately 23,999, 999 people who probably aren't reading my blog all I can say is you're missing out on that.

Ciao for now.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cheaters Cheat

Like everyone else I've been following the story of the astronaut, Lisa Nowak, who drove 900 miles to confront a rival for a fellow astronaut's affections. People are really titillated by the case because of the stories of disguises, wearing a diaper so she wouldn't have to stop to pee, spraying her rival with pepper spray through the window of a car. Wow. Who wouldn't be titillated?

It's too bad that this poor woman has to be this year's Runaway Bride, exposed to humiliation for all of the world to see. When it comes to love, folks, we've all gone a little bit goofy at times.

We hold ourselves to a high standard that few of us are able to reach, so we have our ways of rationalizing. I don't know astronaut Lisa's story, but I'm willing to bet she left her husband and children thinking the single male astronaut was going to marry her, then found out there was another woman he was seeing. Why doesn't this surprise me? I think I saw it in a movie once. She had probably told herself that this was the guy for her, her one chance for true love, etc., etc. The reasons don't matter…what matters is that she stepped over a line we've drawn that separates acceptable from unacceptable behavior. I'll bet you've done unacceptable things and never been caught. I have. Thank god I didn't get my picture splashed all over the front pages of the world's press. Thank god I'm not an astronaut/evangelist/politician/movie star or whoever else it is that we hone in on when they screw up.

I read a statistic once--and I take statistics with a grain of salt--but this particular statistic said that about 50% of partners in a marriage cheat outside the marriage. They have an affair, they have a one-time thing, whatever. If you were to ask a group of people, "Is it good or bad to cheat on your spouse?" they'd all say, "It's bad." If you polled them individually as to whether they had done it they'd say, "Yes, but I had a reason." It's always the other person who is immoral, who is the cheater. Not me. Not us. I--we--had a reason.

I'm not about to judge other people on what they do outside their marriage. I'm more interested in how they view what they do. I spoke once with a woman who, with her husband, is a swinger. They have a particular moral code. If they get together with other couples for a foursome, or with a man or woman for a threesome that's OK if they are both there during the sex. If one of them goes outside the marriage, has sex with someone and the partner isn't present, that's cheating.

Or there was the married woman who told me once, explaining her behavior with someone else's husband, "anything short of 'sticking it in' (her term) is just flirting. If you 'stick it in' it's sex." I'll bet she was fun on a date, but her partner would be disappointed at the end to find out it's just flirtation.

The case of Lisa Nowak brings up a question I've always had about leaving one's spouse for another person. What happens if that second person turns out to be a mistake? Do you keep repeating the behavior until you find the right one, or do you get smart?

I worked for a woman once who left her husband for another man. The man left his wife and teenage son for her. He was 42, she was 24. They left a lot of destruction in their wake. They disrupted the business where we all worked; they wreaked havoc on his former wife and son, they practically destroyed her husband, who lost all pride in trying to keep her. Her excuse was, "I deserve happiness, and you're not giving it to me." Well, la-de-da. Someone owes you happiness?

She and her lover took off for parts unknown and weren't seen again for 30 years, when she came back to town. She looked me up via e-mail. I talked to her and found out the man she left her husband for had died of cancer some years before. She was still angry with him, though, because during their marriage he had "cheated on her." She fixed him. She "cheated on him," too!

It struck me that she had cheated with him, ruined two marriages and expected him not to continue his behavior? That seemed naïve to me but I didn't say anything, just let her finish her story. Now she'd met a wonderful guy; he was retired so he had her retire and they were joined at the hip. They were with each other 24 hours a day. Well, that's one way to keep her husband from cheating.

I thought the truest thing I ever read about the aforementioned situation was in a piece of fiction, a short story whose title and author I've forgotten. In the story a man and woman who had left their respective families were confronting further adultery by the woman. The man is anguished, screaming, "I lost everything for you! I left my family, my job, my life for you! How could you do this to me?" She just replied, "Because we're cheaters, and cheaters cheat."

There doesn't really have to be a reason. It's just how we're built as humans. With that in mind, I wish poor Lisa Nowak good luck in facing the criticisms of a harsh and hypocritical public, basking in her misery while we hide our own dirty secrets.

Ciao for now.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Stupor Bowl

Show of hands. Who watched the Commercial Bowl this past Sunday night? You know, the show where they introduce a lot of commercials and squeeze a little football in between. I saw about 15 minutes, which is about my tolerance for this sort of thing.

I can accept the fact that Americans have made this day, this so-called "Super Bowl Sunday," a de facto national holiday, replete with parties, booze and food…like a second New Year's Eve. I can accept rabid football fans wanting to see their team win. What I can't accept is that so many people actually tune in to watch COMMERCIALS! Jesus, folks…you are out of your frickin' minds.

It all goes along with my theory that Americans have formed a sick and symbiotic relationship with their television sets. If all television disappeared tomorrow most Americans would probably have to kill themselves for feeling that part of them had died, and from want of something to do.

Television is killing more of your brain cells than alcohol. It is more addictive than cigarettes, and puts you in a worse state of mental discombobulation than LSD.

I have some recommendations for those of you with the TV jones, who need to take a breather from the image orthicon tube…
  • Read a book.
  • Go out and look at the sunset. Look at the moon. Look in your neighbor's window. Look at your neighbor mooning you.
  • Read another book.
  • Play with your kids, and I don't mean a video game! Toss a ball around. You do know what a ball is, don't you? You see them on TV all the time when you're plopped in front of the tube watching anything that moves on ESPN.
  • Make love. Make war. Make anything but another stab at the remote buttons, hoping in vain to find "something good on."

And what the hell is this fascination on one night of the year with television commercials? I mean, who really cares? These are exactly the same commercials you'll now be skipping in order to go to the bathroom. Unless you're so far gone you wear an adult diaper so you don't have to get up during your TV viewing. What do I care if Budweiser or Coke or Doritos spent $2.6m for 30 seconds? There's a sucker born every minute, and in this case, there's a sucker born every 30 seconds.

Let's have a big whoop for how much money those advertisers spent to reach you.And furthermore with commercials, have you checked the running times of your favorite shows lately? It used to be that without commercials an hour drama on television was about 52 minutes long. When I went into Comcast's On Demand the other night (yes, I was watching TV, so do as I say and not as I do), I saw that shoes like CSI, CSI: Miami, et al, now give you 44 minutes of drama. So that means instead of eight minutes of commercials an hour like we had before, we now have 16 minutes of commercials. It's no wonder I can do my laundry, mow the lawn and read the latest issue of Newsweek before the show comes back on.

Ciao for now.

The panel on top (click on it for full-size image) is from an old Mad comic book and is for my buddy Ed, who has a really great blog called Chicken Fat, and is a major Mad comics fan.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Usefully Useless

Several months ago I showed you some items I'd found at thrift stores for a dollar or less. I have an eye for the kind of oddball thing that maybe only I can appreciate. I call them the usefully useless, which means that they are kind of orphan objects. They stand out to me, but have no real use except maybe one, if even that. Every time I look at them I think, "I oughtta get rid of that useless crap." But then I think, "Someday I might make use of it."

It's probably the same reasoning that caused me to pick up the item I call Hippie Boy. It's a bookend, unfortunately just one of a pair. I kept my eyes open for years looking for Hippie Boy's mate. I didn't know whether he'd been part of a pair with a Hippie Girl or another Hippie Boy. No matter. I never found either one. Hippie Boy is a caricature of a college student, circa 1970 or so. He has long orange hair and an orange mariner's beard. He's about 19 or 20 years old, wearing a flowered shirt and sandals. He even has glasses with the eyeballs painted on. Over the years as memories fade the image of a hippie has replaced what hippies or even college students really looked like in those days. The one thing I found about Hippie Boy that seemed close to my recollections of the era is that his feet are dirty. They weren't when I bought the item in the 1980s for a dollar. They got that way from sitting on my dusty shelf holding some books against a wall. I remember that about hippies: barefoot or sandaled, a lot of them had really dirty feet.Click on the pictures for full-size images.

The other item is what I call the Tattooed Poodle. He's a bank, but for some strange reason, known only to the designer, he's decorated with some really strange marks. I like him. He sits on a shelf with about 15¢ in change inside him to make him useful.The last item is my favorite. It's a hand carving, a woman with a broomstick stuck up her butt. She's about 18" tall with the handle. In looking at the item, which I picked up several years ago in a thrift store in Logan, Utah, for $1.00, I think I know where the unknown Gepetto started carving, and maybe his impetus to carve a woman. There are marks on the wood that look like nipples. One on the right protrudes, the one on the left is inverted, but he probably looked at a piece of wood, said, "Hey, that looks like boobs!" and got out his pocketknife. You can see he even crudely made some dress folds with a wood burner tool. The bonnetted lady has a big nose and a sharp-toothed smile. When my wife looked at it with her usual look of, "What the hell do you want that ugly thing for?" she asked, "What do you think it's used for?"
I looked at it and said, "It's a hubby-bopper. Like a rolling pin." I made a pantomime of bouncing it off my skull. "Guy comes in late, wife grabs the hubby-bopper to let him know he's gone wrong." Luckily my wife's never used the hubby-bopper on me. It's heavy. It'd hurt. Thank god that for now it remains a useless object.

Ciao for now.