Rudolph The Insensitive Reindeer

The Christmas classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was broadcast on TV recently.  It’s the timeless story of a misfit reindeer with the brilliant nose who ultimately saves Christmas during the Storm of the Century — and a misfit elf who wants to be a dentist rather than making toys.  First broadcast in the ’60s, Rudolph and its songs has been enjoyed by multiple generations of American kids.

94f266d0-ba5f-4498-9511-1268549977a0Until this year, I guess.  In the modern politically correct era where people are a lot more sensitive than they’ve ever been before, Rudolph doesn’t fare quite so well.  After all, the other reindeer are mean to poor little Rudolph at the Reindeer Games after Rudolph’s false nose falls off, and neither Coach Comet nor Rudolph’s own parents really stick up for Rudolph’s right to be different.  Poor Hermey the elf is facing a long life on the toy assembly line where he will be forced to hear the irritating chorus from We Are Santa’s Elves (Filling Santa’s Shelves) over and over again.  Hermey’s got no chance to follow his dental dreams.  Yukon Cornelius is not only a blustering blowhard, he’s a prospector who wants to tear up the landscape in search of gold when he’s not stalking and tormenting the Abominable Snowman.  And the poor Bumble, at heart a gentle soul beneath his terrifying exterior, ends up tortured by having all of his teeth pulled by people who won’t let him be himself.

And Santa, too, doesn’t exactly make a great impression, does he?  He’s certainly not very sensitive to Rudolph’s needs, or all that interested in celebrating Rudolph’s diversity.  At first he’s a bullying, self-absorbed boss, cracking the whip on the slavishly working elves and the reindeer to make sure that he can pull off another Christmas.  Even after Mrs. Claus succeeds in fattening him up and making him look a bit more jolly, he sees the light from Rudolph’s nose and embraces Rudolph’s shiny difference only when the Storm of the Century leaves him no choice.

Of course, all of these plot lines have been part of Rudolph since the beginning — we just haven’t seen the story in this light until now.  And yet, somehow, the kids who grew up watching Rudolph every holiday season ended up being reasonably well-adjusted people who aren’t out there yanking out the teeth of every passing Bumble just for the fun of it.  In fact, you might say that the story of Rudolph and Hermey and the challenges they had to overcome made those viewers just a little bit more receptive to the idea that people can be different — and that’s okay.  Would that message have the same impact if Rudolph and Hermey had been treated like champions from the outset?

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Getting The Axe

Today I took a different route home and discovered that Columbus has a places where you can throw axes: Dueling Axes, in Fourth Street. And since Dueling Axes describes itself as Columbus’ premier axe-throwing venue, I’m guessing that means there’s at least one other, perhaps more low rent place in town where you can hurl axes and let off steam.

When did axe throwing become a thing? Is it really BYOB, as the sidewalk sign indicates? Does Ed Ames* know about this? And who decided that an axe-throwing location should be called a “venue,” anyway?

* Vintage Johnny Carson Tonight Show reference

Hard Knocks, Ho Hum

Russell and I have watched a few episodes of HBO’s Hard Knocks, which promises to be an insider’s look at pro football training camps, coaches, and players. Since this season is features the Cleveland Browns’ training camp, it’s a natural for us.

But after watching last night’s episode, I realized that the show is . . . well, boring. The fact that the exhibition game that was featured in the episode was a 5-0 snoozer didn’t help, but, really, watching a “reality” show about professional athletes isn’t any different from watching a reality show about real housewives or the Kardashians or ice-road truckers or any other group or occupation. After a while, you’ve seen everything, and it all seems pretty rote.

So assistant coaches in the NFL cuss a blue streak? Is anybody really surprised about that? Or about learning that pro athletes often act like adolescents or macho jerks? Or that head coaches are more like politicians than Xs and Os guys? And the “human interest” stories about guys who might not make the team and their families candidly just aren’t all that interesting.

Maybe the Browns are just intrinsically boring, as well as historically inept — or maybe the Hard Knocks concept has run it’s course. Whatever the reason, Hard Knocks is a big ho hum in my book.

The Significance Of Sound

Doug Grindstaff died late last month, at age 87.  It’s a loss for anyone who has enjoyed the Star Trek universe.

Who’s Doug Grindstaff, you say?  He’s the guy who came up with all of those nifty sound effects on the original Star Trek — the beeps and bloops and whooshes that made the show a feast for the ears.  The sssshhh sound when the doors from the turbolift to the bridge opened.  The blurbling bleeps that were emitted when a communicator was opened.  The puffing air that we heard when Dr. McCoy injected someone with some advanced medicine.  And the kind of crackling, whirring humming that the transporter made when Scotty beamed the away team down to the surface of a new planet, where one of the anonymous red-shirted security guys was bound to meet his maker.

We forget about how important sound can be to TV shows and movies.  But take a look at this snip from the beginning of the epic Star Trek “City on the Edge of Forever” episode — and then think about what it would have been like without all of those classic, memorable, and entirely fitting sound effects.  It’s hard to imagine Star Trek without those sounds.  We can thank Doug Grindstaff’s special form of genius and creativity for that.

(Not Quite) The Perfect Wedding

If you’ve ever watched the TV show Bridezillas, you know that some people have a clear, overwhelming urge to make their nuptials “the perfect wedding.”  From the wedding dress to the bridesmaid’s gowns, from the rehearsal dinner to the wedding reception, from the flowers to the table decorations and countless other little details that some guests might not even notice, they have a clear mental image of what their wedding festivities should be, and they won’t settle for anything less than the ideal.

But what if your wedding reception ended up near the opposite end of the spectrum?

c7c002d8f611f84dbb4a87126049271b-vintage-wedding-cake-toppers-wedding-topperThat’s pretty much what happened to an upstate New York couple at their wedding reception in the summer of 2015.  Things started to go south a little before 8 p.m., when the bride met one of the guests outside and found her incoherent and vomiting into a grocery bag.  The bride then saw one guest after another become violently, physically ill, and there weren’t enough bathrooms in the reception hall to meet the need.  Some unlucky guests weren’t able to make it to the bathrooms in time, while others began fainting.  Fire trucks and ambulances were summoned, tarps were laid down to allow guests to be triaged, and some guests needed to be given fluids intravenously to rehydrate them.

In all, at least 100 wedding guests became ill, and 22 had to be hospitalized.  The sickened guests turned out to have food poisoning in the form of a staph infection.  The not-quite-perfect wedding has now resulted in a lawsuit, with the bride and groom suing the caterer for the reception, seeking $12,000 in damages to pay the bills for the guests who were hospitalized.  The caterer denies that its food was the cause of the outbreak.

So the next time someone talks about wanting to have “the perfect wedding,” you might want to encourage them to go for a baseline that’s a little more reasonable — like having a vomit-free reception that doesn’t require guests to be hospitalized, for starters.

Noisy Jobs

The TV show Dirty Jobs features host Mike Rowe checking out jobs that involve difficult, hazardous, and frequently disgusting conditions — like working in a sewage processing facility.  The jobs featured on that show would be a tough way to earn a living, but I’m wondering whether having a job that exposes you to noises all day wouldn’t be worse — for me, at least.

spinaltap_128pyxurzWe’re having some work done to the exterior of our house, and the crew that’s doing the job is using an assortment of tools that make a wide variety of different loud noises.  There’s the humming drone of the air compressor.  There’s the sharp, staccato bark of the nail gun.  And then there are devices that make grinding noises, devices that make sawing noises, and devices that make incredibly high-pitched whines.  It’s like being in a This Is Spinal Tap dentist’s office from hell, with the volume on the amplifier turned up to 11.

For a while every day, when the crew begins their work, I think I can screen out the noise.  And for a while it works.  But ultimately the different sounds, occurring in different combinations, break through the mental barrier.  And once that happens, all I can think about is when the nail gun is going to be sounding off again, and I’ve got to get out and go somewhere where I can find peace and quiet.

The guys who are on the crew are a good group.  They work hard, know what they’re doing, and seem to enjoy having jobs where they get to work outside on sunny days and sing along to the songs on the radio while they saw and grind and nail.  The noises don’t seem to bother them.

My hat’s off to them, but I couldn’t do what they’re doing.  I’ve realized I really need a quiet place to work.

Writer On The Edge Of Forever

Harlan Ellison has died.  An Ohio native, a graduate of the Ohio State University, and a prolific writer who had a long and productive career, he will always be remembered — by me at least — as the genius who came up with the idea, and wrote most of the screenplay, for one of my all-time favorite Star Trek episodes:  City on the Edge of Forever.

city-edge-foreverCity is generally considered one the finest episodes from the original Star Trek series.  It told the story of Edith Keeler, a gentle, peace-loving woman who lived during the Great Depression, helped the unfortunate, and dreamed big dreams.  When Dr. McCoy is inadvertently injected with a drug that induces a psychotic episode and finds a time portal, he goes back in time and interacts with Edith in a way that somehow changes history, prevents the formation of the Federation, and leaves the Enterprise leadership stranded on the planet with the time portal.  Kirk and Spock use the portal to try to fix the damage and also go back to the Depression era, where Spock attempts to build a primitive computer from vacuum tubes — or, as he puts it, “stone knives and bearskins” — to learn what happened and Kirk falls madly in love with Edith.  When Spock determines that McCoy somehow saved Edith from death, and thereby created a universe in which her pacifist leadership delayed America’s entry into World War II and gave Nazi Germany time to win the race to build atomic weapons and capture the world, Kirk has to make the excruciating decision to allow the woman he loves to die.

When he does so, and he and Spock and McCoy return to the planet with the time portal, a heartbroken Kirk says “Let’s get the hell out of here” to end the episode — which legend says was the first time a curse word of any kind was broadcast on American network television, and the censors let it go because it punctuated the episode perfectly.

It turns out that the City episode was a point of great contention between Ellison and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek who thought producing the episode as Ellison wrote it would just be too expensive.  Ellison wasn’t happy with the changes that were made and asked that a pseudonym be listed as the script writer, but Roddenberry kept Ellison’s name on the episode — which then won Ellison a Hugo Award.  Ellison was still fighting, and writing, about the episode years later.

RIP, Harlan Ellison, and thank you for an impressive body of work that just happens to include an all-time classic idea.