======================================================================== Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 4 Number 3, Mar. 2005 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com ========================================================================

Skeleton Key to Pop Culture

In [Little Orphan Annie's] isolation and "helplessness" Harold Gray has portrayed for millions of readers the central success drama of America -- that of the young, committed to the rejection of parents ... Curiously, it is not a theme that "serious" writers have chosen to exploit since Mark Twain. We have here just one instance of popular entertainment keeping in play a major psychological tension in America to which the sophisticated writers are often blind. -- Marshall MacLuhan, 1951 "The Mechanical Bride -- Folklore of Industrial Man" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1584230509/hip-20 ) I originally planned to write this column as a Christmas gift to myself, for December 2004. I thought it would be fun to write, but not very topical for my readers. When the Bateson arc expanded to three parts I had to scuttle this plan, and now I offer it as a sort of April Fools gift to all of you instead. As to what it has to do with C3M, consider these two factoids: 1) Norbert Weiner defined cybernetics as the study of "control and communication in the animal and the machine," and 2) when introduced to a group of telecommunications executives, congressman and former pop singer Sonny Bono said, "I'm in the communications business too." I must also admit that there is a strong component of rationalization here. You see, in the year 2000 my wife and I had a bunch of friends over every Sunday night for a few weeks running, to watch the TV show "Twin Peaks" on the 10th anniversary of its broadcast. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JKES/hip-20 ) One of my friends saw a little sign taped to my computer monitor that used colors and a mnemonic to help me remember the names of Kate's three daughters on the old TV situation comedy "Petticoat Junction" (1963-70). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0007ZN1TK/hip-20 ) It reminded me that Bobbie Jo has brown hair, Betty Jo has red hair and Billie Jo has blonde hair. ( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/junction.html ) My friend burst out laughing. I became defensive and explained that the show was on in the morning during the time before work that I spent checking personal email and reading news on the web. I also claimed the show was really important, not just fluffy entertainment. "It's kind of a skeleton key to pop culture" I claimed. I spent the next 5 years trying to prove myself right. Many of the points raised in this month's e-Zine are products of that quest. ("But it is really important!" I find myself insisting.) * * * * * * * * Lisa: Is Hootersville close to Chicago? Oliver: Yeah, kind of. You just have to change planes twice, and then you take the bus from the county seat over to Pixley, and you take this little train, and there you are. -- dialog from "Green Acres" (1965-71) quoted at "Spotlight on Petticoat Junction" web site ( www.mortystv.com/feat1.shtml ) So lets begin with "Petticoat Junction" (1963-70). It was part of a complex of shows on CBS that also included "The Beverly Hillbillies" (1962-71), a story of country people moving to the city, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000067IWS/hip-20 ) and Green Acres (1965-71), a story of city people moving to the country. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000V4906/hip-20 ) "The Beverly Hillbillies" was the first show of the set, and most people fail to remember that it had a character named Cousin Pearl Bodine, sister of Jed, mother of Jethro and aunt to Ellie Mae who was part of the Clampett family in Possom Holler in the Ozarks. When Jed struck oil on his land it was Pearl who urged the family to move to Beverly Hills; she was the one who read movie magazines at the beauty parlor. But after getting to Beverly Hills, she discovered that while she was considered worldly in Possum Holler, she was a hick in big city. She was the one who moved back. The actress who played Pearl, Bea Benaderet -- who also did the voice of Betty Rubble on the prime-time cartoon "The Flintstones" (1960-66) -- went on to star as the widow Kate Bradley in "Petticoat Junction," a story of country people living in the country. By my reading, the sub-text of that show was Tennessee William's "The Glass Menagerie" (1949), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0811214044/hip-20 ) a story of a widow with children desperately trying to avoid sliding into poverty. You see, the road through the Hooterville Valley had washed out some years back, and only the little train they called the Hooterville Cannonball kept guests coming to Kate's hotel, the "Shady Rest." Mean old railroad executive Homer Bedlow kept threatening to shut down the Hooterville line. Women were weak in this world, both physically and financially, although not morally. Oddly, while they were offering these rural comedies the networks were simultaneously fielding suburban comedies, such as "Bewitched" (1964-72) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6304197195/hip-20 ) and "I Dream of Jeannie" (1965-70). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6304197152/hip-20 ) In the suburbs the men were weak dolts and the women had supernatural powers. The corny shows about places like Hooterville continued until the early 1970s, when there was a revolution in programming. Rural shows were out. Edgier, more urban shows came to replace them. We began to see urban comedies like "The Mary Tyler Moore" (1970-77). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JLIC/hip-20 ) Mary Richards didn't need magic to overpower her man, she simply didn't have one. But unlike Kate Bradley she was a childless career woman doing well on her own. This shift from rural to urban had effects throughout the entertainment industry. Many performers had operated in the country humor niche, working from vaudeville to Nashville and its Grand Ol Opry, then radio in Nashville and New York and finally television in Los Angeles. By the 1960s LA was full of hick humorists. A classic example (though he never worked the CBS rural comedy shows) was Tennessee Ernie Ford. A look at his credits on Internet Movie Database ( imdb.com/name/nm0285892 ) shows a TV career that spans 1954 to 1973, when after an appearance on "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" he vanished from the airwaves. There is a subtle tribute to this loss in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00007AJGH/hip-20 ) when private eye Eddie Valiant opens up his revolver and looks at his bullets, who talk to him with the voices of hick humor character actors from the past, such as Pat Buttram, who played Mister Haney on "Green Acres." Buttram started his career on radio, and then met singing cowboy Gene Autry and became the star's comedy sidekick in the movies before moving to TV. In the 1970s he switched to voice work, like many of the Grand Ol' Opry generation, and was heard in Disney films such as "The Aristocats" (1970, as Napoleon), "Robin Hood" (1973, as the Sheriff of Nottingham), "The Rescuers" (1977, as Luke) and "The Fox and the Hound (1981, as the Chief). The producers of "Petticoat Junction" had trouble filling the roles of Kate's three beautiful but unsophisticated daughters, because it was perceived (rightly) that such a role could ruin the career of a young actress, typecasting her as a hick right when they were falling out of favor. (This is not unrelated to the fact that musician Glen Cambells' wife claimed to have divorced him because he released the song "Rhinestone Cowboy.") The only actress to stay on board for the entire run was Linda Kay as the supposedly "homely" redhead Elizabeth Josephine "Betty Jo" Bradley. Her real name was Linda Henning, she was the daughter of producer Paul Henning, and she had no plans to continue her TV career after the show's run. In fact, when the script called for one of the other "beautiful" daughters to marry crop dusting pilot Steve Elliott (who solved the washed out road problem by falling from the sky into the Bradley household), played by Linda's real-life boyfriend Mike Minor, the obvious chemistry between them lead the writers to rewrite him as Betty Jo's love interest. The other two daughters, perky brunette Roberta Josephine "Bobbie Jo" Bradley and dreamy blonde Willimena Josephine "Billie Jo" Bradley were played by two and three actresses respectively. As the Internet Movie Database gives it: Pat Woodell as Bobbie Jo #1 (1963-1965) Lori Saunders as Bobbie Jo #2 (1965-1970) Jeannine Riley as Billie Jo #1 (1963-1965) Gunilla Hutton as Billie Jo #2 (1965-1966) Meredith MacRae as Billie Jo #3 (1966-1970) Most of these actresses were tarred with the brush of Hooterville, and had trouble finding other work. A notable exception was Meredith MacRae, who strolled into that show dressed like she'd just had a makeover in a Beverly Hills fashion district. My research on "Petticoat Junction" -- usually done on the internet over a broadband connection while I was watching the show -- uncovered two clues to the darker side of Hooterville: "the Curse of the Cannonball" and "the Seventh Daughter of Kate." "The Curse of the Cannonball" was that every person who was shown on-screen with their hand on the throttle of that train later became too sick (or dead) to appear on screen, and had to be replaced. This included all of the engineers and Bea Benaderet herself, who died of cancer during the show's run. The Kate Bradley character was "replaced" by another character played by June Lockhart, famous for playing a TV mom on both "Lassie" (1959-74) and "Lost In Space" (1965-68). "The Seventh Daughter of Kate" is how I refer to the bizarre trivia that a seventh actress was selected to play a Bradley daughter but never appeared on-screen. The role of blonde beauty Billie Jo was originally given to Sharon Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski who was killed in the Manson "Family" murders. ( www.cemeteryguide.com/tate.html ) She was fired before production began when it was discovered that she had posed for Playboy Magazine. The grisly story of the Manson Family murders is told in "Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders" (1974) by Vincent Bugliosi. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393322238/hip-20 ) That title, of course, comes from the song "Helter Skelter" (British slang for playground merry-go-round) on the Beatles' "White Album" (1968). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002UAX/hip-20 ) Manson believed the song was a sign from God instructing him to plot murders. Twenty years later, in a live performance in Denver, Colorado, U2 front man Bono introduced a cover version of the song by saying: This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles... we're stealing it back. This pivotal moment in pop history is documented in the film "Rattle and Hum" (1988). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000022TT6/hip-20 ) And to wrap up this deep-sea dive into the depths of "Petticoat Junction" SIGNIFICA (as Gary Owens called it -- "It's not trivial!"), I was gratified when I happened up Neal Stephenson's on-line short story "Spew" (1994) commissioned by Wired Magazine. ( www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/spew.html ) They asked him to write about the future of the World Wide Web (WWW), and he came up with a story in which a "Hee Haw" rerun (digitally delivered of course) was a significant "Maguffin" (plot device). Interestingly, "Hee Haw" was the show that CBS slapped together to replace the politically outspoken "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" after they cancelled it under pressure from the newly-elected Nixon administration in 1969. In may ways "Hee Haw" was the last hick comedy, a throwback selected because it was "mostly harmless," and an obvious anachronism in its time. Some called it a country version of "Laugh In," the show that NBC put on the air to rival the Smothers Brothers' show. Stephenson seized upon a moment which was of great significance to his protagonist, a market researcher surfing the "Spew" (the Web of the future) looking for the Next Big Thing: Just before the train pulls into your stop, the terminal in my face surfs into episode #2489 of Hee Haw. It's a skit. The banjo picker is playing a bit part, sitting on a bale of hay in the back of a pickup truck - chewing on a stalk of grass, surprisingly enough. His job is to laugh along with the cheesy jokes but he's just a banjo picker, not an actor, he doesn't know the drill, he can't keep himself from looking at the camera - looking at me. I notice for the first time that his irises are different colors. I turn up the collar on my jacket as I detrain, feeling those creepy eyes on my neck. So if a Hugo Award winning sci-fi author can find hidden meanings in "Hee Haw" ... (you fill in the blanks). * * * * * * * * Yeah, I know it's boring of me to send you plain old Text like this, and I hope you don't just blow this message off without reading it. But what can I say, I was an English major. On video, I come off like a stunned bystander. I'm just a Text kind of guy. I'm gambling that you'll think it's quaint or something. So let me just tell you the whole sorry tale, starting from the point where I think I went wrong. -- Neal Stephenson, 1994 "Spew" ( www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/spew.html ) Karl Marx said we have 3 classes in society. In 1948 Aldous Huxley described the world of "1984" as having Inner Party, Outer Party and "proles" (proletariat, Marx's term). Kurt Vonnegut predicted in 1952 in the sci-fi novel "Player Piano" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385333781/hip-20 ) that we would end with managers, engineers, and unemployed workers. In 1959 C. P. Snow -- trained as a scientist but with literary aspirations -- wrote the oft-quoted essay "The Two Cultures" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521457300/hip-20 ) in which -- ignoring the proles entirely -- he bemoaned the split in Western Civilization between the Sciences and Humanities. He thought is was a deep chasm, and fraught with gravity. ... by and large this is a problem of the entire West. By this I intend something serious. I am not thinking of the pleasant story of how one of the more convivial Oxford greats dons -- I have heard the story attributed to A. L. Smith -- came over to Cambridge to dine. The date is perhaps the 1890's. I think it must have been at St. John's, or possibly Trinity. Anyway, Smith was sitting at the right hand of the President -- or Vice-Master -- and he was a man who liked to include all round him in the conversation, although he was not immediately encouraged by the expressions of his neighbors. He addressed some cheerful Oxonian chit-chat at the one opposite to him, and got a grunt. He then tried the man on his own right hand and got another grunt. Then, rather to his surprise, one looked at the other and said, 'Do you know what he's talking about?' 'I haven't the least idea.' At this, even Smith was getting out of his depth. but the President, acting as a social emollient, put him at his ease by saying, 'Oh, those are mathematicians! We never talk to THEM.' No, I intend something serious. I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups. Snow complained that though scientists might read Homer or listen to Beethoven, humanists never seemed to study Euclid or Godel. We still have this problem. People brag about being computer illiterate. "I'm not technical," they say, like it was a cult with a bad reputation. Nobody brags about being ignorant of History or the Arts, though. They're ignorant enough, but they try to fake it. Today in addition to the Two Cultures we also have what I call the Zero Culture. In a modern corporation the Humanities run management and marketing, Science runs engineering and IT, and the Zeros work in the factory, in the warehouse, and do temp work in the back office. But the amazing thing is that the Zeros have taken over the public discourse, stolen it from the Humanists in Journalism and replaced it with Pundits on TV. The biggest example I've seen of this is the turning of the "Millennium" back in 2000. In the 1968 future fiction novel "Stand On Zanzibar" by John Brunner ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1857988361/hip-20 ) it is proposed that the Zeros would celebrate the Millennium on the night of December 31, 1999, even though the journalists would tell them it's the wrong year. But it didn't happen way. The journalists didn't want to upset the Zeros -- many of them are, now anyway -- and it went almost totally unmentioned, even though Pope John-Paul II (representing the Humanities side of thing, and the Church which invented the calendar) and Neal Armstrong (first man on the moon -- which the Zeros don't believe -- representing the Science side, and the US Government's Naval Observatory which is the authority on scientific time) both made quite a fuss. Nobody listened. Quite a few obviously well-educated people rationalized that it was "arbitrary" when the Millennium started, and so 2000 was as good as 2001 -- plus the party could be sooner. So if it's "arbitrary" why didn't we celebrate in 1968? Or, I know, why not have a party every year? Novelist Thomas Pynchon (English major at Cornell, technical writer at Boeing) occupies a nearly unique position in Western literature in that he writes for the Humanists, the Scientists and the Zeros. An example is "Gravity's Rainbow" (1973), his story of the search for V-2 rocket technology in post-war Europe. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140188592/hip-20 ) As I have mentioned in a previous issue, one paragraph requires knowledge of rocket science, Partial Differential Equations (PDEs) and Homer's "Odyssey" in order to make sense of it all: So was the rocket's terrible passage reduced, literally, to bourgeois terms, terms of an equation such as that elegant blend of philosophy and hardware, abstract change and hinged pivots of real metals which describes motion under the aspect of yaw control: [partial differential equation] ( de.geocities.com/geri130162/pyv20002.jpg ) preserving, possessing, steering between Scylla and Charybdis the whole way to Brennschluss. And yet he panders to the Zeros with decadence (sex and drugs) and pop culture references (such as comic book character Plasticman) as well. Not that this has made him any sort of pop icon. Until recently if you'd asked a Zero about Pynchon, and they MIGHT come up with the character of newspaper-owner Mrs. Margaret Jones Pynchon on the TV drama "Lou Grant" (1977-82), a "Mary Tyler Moore Show" spinoff. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6302747031/hip-20 ) But since Pynchon (playing himself in voice form) has become a repeat "celebrity" guest on the prime-time US TV cartoon show "The Simpsons" (1989-present), he IS a pop icon. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005ML6Y/hip-20 ) * * * * * * * * When we try to pick up anything by itself we find it is attached to everything in the universe. -- John Muir I remember being quite astonished the first time someone pointed out to me (at a party of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" fans, no less) that the US TV comedy "The Honeymooners" (1955-56) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000BV1XX/hip-20 ) was the prototype for the US prime-time cartoon "The Flintstones" (1960-66). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0001CNQUS/hip-20 ) The following table shows the correspondences: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Ralph Kramden = Fred Flintstone Alice Kramden = Wilma Flintstone Ed Norton = Barney Rubble Trixie Norton = Betty Rubble ----------------------------------------------------------------- Inspired, I began to look for other such patterns. Of course, the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou" (2000) directed by the Coen Brothers ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003CXRM/hip-20 ) is based on Homer's "The Odyssey." ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0147712556/hip-20 ) It says so in the opening sequence, and fan sites and other web sites list many correspondences. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00005QATY/104-4797558-6171903?v=glance&vi=quotes-trivia ) And a little web surfing turned up the story that the characters in the TV cartoon show "Scooby Doo Where Are You?" (1969-73) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0001CNQVM/hip-20 ) are supposedly based on stereotypes of students at some closely-located colleges. But the funny thing is there are different versions. It has been claimed that they are based on the "five colleges" in Amherst, Massachusetts: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Scooby-Doo = University of Massachusetts Norville "Shaggy" Roberts = Hampshire College Freddie Jones = Amherst College Daphne Bakers = Smith College Velma Dinkley = Holyoke College ----------------------------------------------------------------- and on the Claremont Colleges near Los Angeles, California: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Scooby-Doo = Harvey Mudd College Norville "Shaggy" Roberts = Pomona College Freddie Jones = Claremont Men's College Daphne Bakers = Scripps College Velma Dinkley = Pitzer College ----------------------------------------------------------------- or on five Virginia Colleges: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Scooby-Doo = University of Virginia Norville "Shaggy" Roberts = University of Richmond Freddie Jones = Virginia Commonwealth University, or College of William and Mary Daphne Bakers = Sweet Briar College Velma Dinkley = Mary Washington College ----------------------------------------------------------------- or on five Maryland colleges: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Scooby-Doo = University of Maryland at Baltimore Norville "Shaggy" Roberts = Townson State College Freddie Jones = University of Maryland at College Park Daphne Bakers = Goucher University Velma Dinkley = Johns Hopkins University ----------------------------------------------------------------- Some enterprising fan tracked down the creator of the show, and found out none of these stories are true; the characters are based on those in the TV comedy "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-63). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00078MD28/hip-20 ) If you know both shows it's not hard to draw the correspondences: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Scooby-Doo = Dobie Gillis Norville "Shaggy" Roberts = Maynard G. Krebs Freddie Jones = Milton Armitage (played by Warren Beatty!) Daphne Bakers = Thalia Menninger (played by Tuesday Weld!) Velma Dinkley = Zelda Gilroy ----------------------------------------------------------------- But I mentioned this to my wife, and she said she's been told that the Dobie Gillis characters are based on "Archie Comics" (1941-present). So the complete mapping becomes: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Scooby-Doo = Dobie Gillis = Archie Andrews Norville = Maynard G. Krebs = Jughead Jones Freddie = Milton Armitage = Reginald "Reggie" Mantle III Daphne = Thalia Menninger = Veronica Lodge Velma = Zelda Gilroy = Betty Cooper ----------------------------------------------------------------- How interesting that it cycles from comic to live action to cartoon. The first one of these patterns that I figured out all on my own was the mapping of characters from "Gilligan's Island" (1964-67) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000WN1WW/hip-20 ) to the Seven Deadly Sins of Medieval theology. ( www.le.ac.uk/arthistory/seedcorn/faq-sds.html ) Here are the correspondences: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Gilligan = sloth Skipper = anger Thurston Howell III = gluttony Mrs. Howell ("Lovey") = avarice Ginger = lust Professor = pride Mary Anne = envy ----------------------------------------------------------------- Once you get started finding these types of patterns, it can be hard to stop. As I said, I was watching "Petticoat Junction" because it was on at a convenient time in the morning for me to answer email and web surf at the same time. A variety of syndicated shows followed in this same approximate time slot, on various cable channels, including "Designing Women" (1986-93), "The Golden Girls" (1985-92), "Mad About You" (1992-99), "Caroline In the City" (1995-99), "Just Shoot Me" (1997-2003), and "The Rockford Files" (1974-80). Soon I was finding patterns in these as well. I found "Designing Women" intriguing because it revisits the "city slickers vs. hicks" issues of the CBS rural comedies. The creator of the show, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, hails from the Poplar Bluff, Missouri, in the Missouri Ozarks, and the show's character of receptionist Charlene Frazier (played by Jean Smart) is also from there. I first noticed this when looking up her production company, Mozark Productions, on the web. In the show they mentioned Charlene had done some political work in Little Rock, Arkansas, and there is also a Bloodworth-Thomason- Clinton connection. After "Designing Women" she was producer of: Legacy (Bill Clinton Retrospective - 2000 DNC) (2000) (TV) A Place Called America (1996) (TV) The Man From Hope (1992) (TV) According to a fan web site, ( www.topthat.net/DWT/Bios/LBT.html ) she has donated some of her TV fortune to the girls of the Mozarks: To honor her late mother, Claudia, Bloodworth-Thomason created The Claudia Foundation, which provides scholarships for qualified girls in Arkansas and Missouri who would otherwise not be able to attend college. Bloodworth-Thomason has donated over one million dollars to these scholarships, which has put 87 women in colleges and universities across the country. When they stopped showing "Designing Women" reruns and started showing "Golden Girls" I noticed this correspondence: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Suzanne Sugarbaker = Blanche Devereaux (the flirty one) Julia Sugarbaker = Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak (the sarcastic one) Mary Jo Shively = Sophia Spirelli Petrillo (the mom) Charlene Frazier = Rose Nylund (the ditzy one) Anthony Bouvier = Stanley Zbornak (the token man) ----------------------------------------------------------------- And when they later replaced "Caroline In the City" with "Just Shoot Me" I noticed this pattern: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Caroline Duffy = Maya Gallo Del Cassidy = Jack Gallo Richard Karinsky = Elliot DiMauro Annie Spadaro = Nina Van Horn Charlie = Dennis Finch ----------------------------------------------------------------- In explaining the pattern to my wife, she pointed out they both derive from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" -- the queen mother of "girl in the city" shows: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Mary Richards = Caroline Duffy = Maya Gallo Lou Grant = Del Cassidy = Jack Gallo Murray Slaughter = Richard Karinsky = Elliot DiMauro Rhoda Morgenstern = Annie Spadaro = Nina Van Horn Ted Baxter = Charlie = Dennis Finch ----------------------------------------------------------------- In the fall of 2003 my wife and I began watching the trendy new NBC show "Las Vegas" starring James Caan, after seeing a preview on "The Twenty," a 20-minute previews show seen in some digitally-projected movie theaters. It looked like a movie preview, and it's shot like a movie in Hi-Def (and available on BitTorrent in HiDef, BTW) so we were suckered right in. But later I noticed it was similar in format to "The Love Boat" (1977-86), viz: ----------------------------------------------------------------- Big Ed Deline = Captain Merrill Stubing Delinda Deline = Vicki Stubing Danny McCoy = Yeoman-Purser Burl 'Gopher' Smith Mike Cannon = Bartender Isaac Washington Mary Connell = Cruise Director Julie McCoy Sam Marquez = Cruise Director Judy McCoy Nessa Holt = Doctor Adam Bricker ----------------------------------------------------------------- And it wasn't hard to notice the recapitulation of "Seinfeld" (1989-98) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JLEX/hip-20 ) in today's hit "Will & Grace" (1998-present): ----------------------------------------------------------------- Jerry Seinfeld = Will Truman Elaine Benes = Grace Adler Cosmo Kramer = Jack McFarland George Costanza = Karen Walker (the one the other three feel morally superior to) ----------------------------------------------------------------- And finally I realized that "Sponge Bob Square Pants" (1999-present) is the new Mickey Mouse (1924-present): ----------------------------------------------------------------- Sponge Bob = Mickey Mouse Squidward = Donald Duck Mr. Crabs = Scrooge McDuck Patrick = Goofy Plankton = Beagle Brothers Sandy Squirrel = Chip 'n' Dale ----------------------------------------------------------------- * * * * * * * * Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. -- Raymond Chandler, 1950 "The Simple Art of Murder" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0394757653/hip-20 ) Well, now, the gum's on the other shoe. -- Nick Danger, on a sudden plot shift, in "The Case of the Missing Yolks" quoted at www.thrillingdetective.com/danger_n.html ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/630293348X/hip-20 ) One of the most fascinating and enjoyable -- for us -- threads of story genealogy is the noir detective. ( www.filmsite.org/filmnoir.html ) First conjured up by Dashiell Hammett in the 1930s in novels like "The Maltese Falcon" (1930), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679722645/hip-20 ) he began as San Francisco private eye Sam Spade, played by Humphrey Bogart in the movie version. In the 1940s Raymond Chandler reconjured him as Los Angeles P.I. Philip Marlowe, with an office in a Hollywood brownstone, in novels like "Farewell My Lovely" (1940). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0394758277/hip-20 ) (There is an utterly charming movie version of this from 1975 directed by Dick Richards, starring Robert Mitchum as Marlowe.) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000003NDA/hip-20 ) The genre inspired movie director Roman Polanski to shoot "Chinatown" (1974). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000022TSH/hip-20 ) And it certainly inspired the US TV show "The Rockford Files" (1974-80). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JMHF/hip-20 ) ( vintagedvds.net/store/view_product.php?product=THE18YEZ6 ) The dead give-away is the reference to "Bay City," a Chandler code name for corrupt Santa Monica. After watching the show for half a year I sent this email to some friends and family: August 19, 2004 What I've learned from watching the Rockford files: 1) If you're a private eye with one of those new-fangled telephone message machines, don't bother checking your messages. Out of 113 messages for Jim Rockford over a seven year period, not one was a client looking to hire him (unless you count: "Mr. Rockford? You don't know me, but I'd like to hire you. Could you call me at...my name is, uh, never mind. Forget it.") -- or for that matter any kind of good news whatsoever. 2) Even if you charge $200 a day plus expenses, you'll still end up bouncing checks. 3) LA is full of petty crooks who can't shoot straight. They take a pop at Rockford in almost every episode and never even wing him. 4) Good guys drive gold 1974 Firebird Esprit 400s, bad guys drive gun-metal grey Mustangs or black Lincolns. If you're in a Firebird being chased by bad guys, just spin a U-turn and head back past them -- they'll go into a ditch trying to follow you every time. 5) If a beautiful ash blonde comes to you for help, especially if she looks like Joan Van Ark, Lindsay Wagner, Linda Evans or Shelley Fabares, don't take the case. Or, if you do, double your fee to help pay your medical bills when some goons drive you out to some derelict oil wells in Baldwin Hills or an abandoned warehouse on Terminal Island and rough you up. 6) If Angel Martin comes around, just strangle him and dump his body off the Malibu pier in a sack of rocks. It will be less trouble in the long run. The noir detective inspired a counter-culture P.I played by Richard Dreyfuss in "The Big Fix" (1978) directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6300182606/hip-20 ) It also inspired the underground L.A. audio comedy troupe known as the Firesign Theatre to create the character Nick Danger Third Eye, based on Marlowe. He first appeared in "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger" as one whole side on the record album "How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All?" (1969). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005T7K4/hip-20 ) A few years later they did a parody of their own character, creating a Japanese version of Nick Danger in "Young Guy, Motor Detective" on the "Not Insane" (1972) album. ( https://lodestonecatalog.com/cgi-bin/ltmcat.cgi ) A few years after that a string of "solo" albums came out, each written by a single Firesign but voiced by all four. Phil Austin's effort was "Roller Maidens from Outer Space" (1974). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000AAZXZ/hip-20 ) The narrative was et upon the stage of the LA TV channels, with network stations like 2, 4 and 7 near the low end of the dial and most of the cheesy independents like 9, 11 and 13 at the high-end. A bunch of sit-com characters on channel 13 all have the same dream, and so they call a private eye for help. But it's not the '40s PI Nick Danger, but a '30s version from a black and white movie on channel 5 (as I recall), "Dick Primate, Private Dick," obviously a less-evolved character like Sam Spade. He must work his way up through the channels to reach Ozzie Normal & the other reruns that need his help. But after re-inventing and reinterpreting the PI for a few years, the Firesigns went back to Nick Danger by popular demand. They released the "Extended Play" (EP) record (actually, the opposite of extended) called "The Case of the Missing Shoe" (1979), ( www.firesigntheatre.com/albums/album.php?album=cotms ) followed by the video "Nick Danger and the Case of the Missing Yolks" (1983), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/630293348X/hip-20 ) and the first spoken word CD in the US, "The Three Faces of Al" (1984). ( www.firesigntheatre.com/albums/album.php?album=tfoa ) It's nice to know the Firesign Theatre survive in the new millennium on XM Satellite Radio, on the web, ( www.boo.net/~rarnold/tft.html ) and even in Podcasting. ( firesigntheater.com/podcasting ) Other comedy interpretations of the noir detective include the movie "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982) starring Steve Martin. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0783232063/hip-20 ) Science fiction versions have appeared, first in the animated movie "Heavy Metal" (1981), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0767836316/hip-20 ) in the first "chapter," the tale of Harry Canyon, a cab driver in New York City in 2031, followed closely by "Blade Runner" (1982) directed by Ridley Scott, which set the noir sci fi standard. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0790729628/hip-20 ) The delightful "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (1988) directed by Robert Zemeckis mixed live action and "toons" in the post-modern story of PI Eddie Valiant, whose own personal "Chinatown" was "Toontown." ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00007AJGH/hip-20 ) US cable TV "Showtime" produced a masterful collection of 30 minute dramas in the noir genre, with A-list directors and stars, based mostly on '40s short stories, in a series called "Fallen Angels" (1993). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6302946301/hip-20 ) The one exception was a story by contemporary novelist James Ellroy, who has carved out a niche doing retro noir fiction. His "LA Confidential" (1990) was a '50s story of LA police corruption, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0446674249/hip-20 ) and was made into a beautiful movie in 1997 directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0790734850/hip-20 ) Ellroy's "The Black Dahlia" (1998) based on a true sex and violence LA crime of the '40s ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0446674362/hip-20 ) is now being produced as a 2005 movie by director Brian De Palma. ( imdb.com/title/tt0387877 ) the Fox TV show "Veronica Mars" (2004-present) is a retelling of the noir detective story for the new millennium, ( www.upn.com/shows/veronica_mars ) as is the movie "Sin City" (2005) directed by Robert Rodriguz and Frank Miller, now in theaters. ( www.imdb.com/title/tt0401792 ) ( wired-vig.wired.com/wired/archive/13.04/sincity.html ) But the most subtle noir detective has to be "the dude" in the movie "The Big Lebowski" (1998) directed by the Coen Brothers. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00007ELEL/hip-20 ) I saw this film and enjoyed it at the time as a historical snapshot of 1990 Los Angeles, but then I kept thinking about it, and began reading on-line reviews. One Salon.com reviewer ( archive.salon.com/ent/movies/1998/03/cov_06lebowski.html ) Described it thusly: "Lebowski" boasts a dizzying concentration of elements, from a shambling '90s knockoff of "The Big Sleep" to a tribute to bowling culture, a delightful visual celebration of artificial light and synthetic surfaces, a send-up of art-damaged Euro-pretension, fantasy/dream sequences that would make Busby Berkeley or Michael Powell proud, a running gag on the conventions of voice-over narration and a paean to middle-American male sentimentality. My initial reaction was "nuh-uh!" This film was NOT a detective movie, and it was NOT a knockoff of the "The Big Sleep." But then I began to think about it, and realized that the references were deeply buried. As Internet Movie Database explains, ( www.imdb.com/title/tt0118715/trivia ) there are plenty of clues: The Coens were inspired by Robert Altman's movie, "The Long Goodbye" (1973), which also features a down-on-his-luck protagonist. Both films are radical tweakings of Raymond Chandler. Both films parody and pay homage to Los Angeles culture. Altman's film even features a gangster who is a devout Jew much like John Goodman's character in "The Big Lebowski." The title is a reference to the novel "The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler. The wheelchair-bound Big Lebowski is largely based on the character General Sternwood in "The Big Sleep". The Dude is in every scene of the movie, with the exception of the scene where the Nihilists are ordering pancakes. This is in keeping with the traditional film-noir, in which the protagonist is the narrator and acts as the audience's guide throughout the film. I am extremely confident that the prototype of the noir detective will be leaving its mark for centuries to come. * * * * * * * * To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour. -- William Blake, 1863 "Auguries of Innocence: A Poem" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0006E8QCO/hip-20 ) After seeing all of these connections in pop culture, an obvious question is "Why?" I have a number of possibly overlapping theories: * These may all be what I call "hallucinations of significance," i.e., the patterns are real, but they don't have the significance I attribute to them. Most coincidences are like this. Robert Anton Wilson describes a series of coincidences surrounding the number 23 which seem to have this property, in "Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati" (1977). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1561840033/hip-20 ) * These may be examples of screenwriters amusing themselves. Novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once told how he has a relative with and excellent education in English Literature, who spends his days making up jokes about celebrities for a TV show. Surely the gag writers for "America's Funniest Home Videos" sometimes miss the classics, or just go mad with boredom, and sneak stuff in. * More than one person has reminded me, while I was prattling on about the patterns in pop culture, that many of them derive from the old Renaissance "pantomime" shows, usually called La Commedia dell'Arte. ( www.delpiano.com/carnival/html/commedia.html ) Here is how I map these characters onto the "Gilligan's Island" men's parts: ------------------------------------------------------------- Harlequin = Gilligan (the fool who makes fools of them all) Pulcinella = Skipper (the sad clown) Pantalone = Thurston Howell III (the miser) I Dottori = Professor (the self-inflated academic) ------------------------------------------------------------- * There may be fundamental human patterns at work here. Joseph Campbell -- from whom I borrow my title this month based on "A Skeleton Key to Finnegan's Wake: James Joyce's Masterwork Revealed" (1944) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1577314050/hip-20 ) -- wrote "The Hero With a Thousand Faces" in 1949, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0691017840/hip-20 ) finding a common pattern in the worlds mythologies which he called "the monomyth." He claims these are the stories people like to tell, and to hear: about being at home, receiving an invitation from a strange creature (who gives us a charm), crossing a magical threshold and discovering we can't cross back, meeting a foe who become a friend, dealing with a crone and a princess, training with a wizard, vanquishing a monster and then making a magical flight home with the treasure. The story has been told how "Lord of the Wrings" creator J. R. R. Tolkien and "Star Wars" creator George Lucas were both friends with Campbell, and used his work in theirs. As to why, Campbell defers to the "archetypes" of Carl Jung, and Jung says they're in our DNA. So there's the biggest potential connection I've found -- it's in our genes. I'll be pondering this as the media watchers wait to find out if the Pope's funeral Friday is the highest rated TV show in history. * * * * * * * * Princess Leia is famous, and I look like her. -- Carrie Fischer In preparing this month's e-Zine I have been assisted by the following web sites: * Internet Movie Database ( imdb.com ) * epguides ( epguides.com ) * TV Tome ( www.tvtome.com ) * Firesign Theatre Lexicon ( www.faqs.org/faqs/firesign-theatre/lexicon/part1 ) * "Apocalypse of the King -- Thank Elvis for Small Favors" (1999) by Erin Franzman -- if you're paranoid enough it's ALL connected ( thestranger.com/1999-12-30/music.html ) I have been inspired by the media-repurposing project by rock group U2 that they called "the Zoo TV Tour," using a wall of TVs and pirated satellite signals as a backdrop to their music, documented in the video "U2 - Zoo TV Live from Sydney" (1992). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6303092128/hip-20 ) Front man Bono said they called it "stealing from the thieves," adding, "when they started stealing it back, we knew it was time to stop." And speaking of Bono, consider once again pop singer Sonny Bono, ex-husband of Cher. Consider that one the longest-lasting legacies of his career may not be songs like "The Beat Goes On" (covered by Vanilla Fudge in the haunting audio collage "Voices In Time") ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000GX0A/hip-20 ) but the "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act" (S.505), passed by the US Congress in 1998, which gave the Walt Disney Company 70 more years of state-granted monopoly drawing Mickey Mouse, among other things. And if you're still thinking this is all trivia, consider that the web site Roy Disney set up to oust Michael Eisner ( savedisney.com ) not only has fluffy stuff like "which is better, Tokyo Sea or Disneyland?" but also reports on boardroom power struggles at the world's largest media company.
Postscript to C3M Volume 4 Number 2, Feb. 2005 "We Pride Ourselves On Service" -- One reader wrote: One really refreshing thing about this discourse was you felt no compunction to mention Stafford Beer even once. while another said: From my reading, the most profound applications of cybernetics to management science were those of the British operations researcher Stafford Beer. His cybernetic Viable Systems Model of organizational structure is an unparalleled tool for the diagnosis of pathology in business. For those interested in cybernetics and management, I cannot recommend enough his trilogy on the VSM: "The Brain of the Firm," "The Heart of the Enterprise," and "Diagnosing the System For Organizations." In my view, "The Heart of the Enterprise is also the "heart" of the VSM trilogy and the one most worth reading, with "Brain" providing useful background and "Diagnosing the System" only needed as an introductory reader for those short on time. I also highly recommend an earlier Beer trilogy, "Cybernetics and Management," "Decision & Control," and "Management Science," which follow a similar pattern: "Decision & Control" being the key volume to study, and "Management Science" being the lay-reader version of the first two. and a third added: Thank you for all of the excellent information in your zine. In the latest however, I did notice a gap, that I believe you might like to fill in. My earliest mentor in cybernetics was Stafford Beer. I was living in Europe in the early 1960's and after reading Wiener and a few others got to know Beer who focused most of his attention on "Management and Cybernetics," the name of one of his earlier books. The "Heart of the Enterprise" and "Brain of the Firm" were a couple others. He was head of the Cybernetic society in England, and the co-worker of Allende (in Chile), building a cybernetic society, when the CIA got rid of Allende (Allende had been a Medical Doctor, and Cybernetician in England). Beer has written a number of other books as well, I could give a more complete list if you like. But I did want to pass on the fact that if there are others that are interested in cybernetics and business Beer is the man. There was a course at the University of Manchester in Management and Cybernetics, that he designed, not sure what is there now. (I had refrained from talking about Beer because I had mentioned him extensively five months previously in Volume 3 Number 8, Sep. 2004, "All I Know About Operations Research I Learned from the Walt Disney Company," which you'll find in the archives.) Also, I wanted to mention I am reading "Technology Paradise Lost: Why Companies Will Spend Less to Get More from Information Technology" (2004) by Erik Keller. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1932394133/hip-20 ) It goes into more detail that other sources I have seen on how some of the $100 million plus enterprise software boondoggles of the 1990s (I2 at Nike, SAP at Hershey, etc.) happened. More when I finish it. ======================================================================== newsletter archives: www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047 ======================================================================== Privacy Promise: Your email address will never be sold or given to others. You will receive only the e-Zine C3M unless you opt-in to receive occasional commercial offers directly from me, Alan Scrivener, by sending email to abs@well.com with the subject line "opt in" -- you can always opt out again with the subject line "opt out" -- by default you are opted out. To cancel the e-Zine entirely send the subject line "unsubscribe" to me. I receive a commission on everything you purchase during your session with Amazon.com after following one of my links, which helps to support my research. ======================================================================== Copyright 2005 by Alan B. Scrivener