Imaginary Voyages

The Austin airport is pretty darned cool, with some little touches that bored travelers who are walking around while waiting for their flights will appreciate–like this mock “Interimaginary Departures” board found at Gate 14. It changes just like your standard departures board, only the destinations are fictional locations from literature, film, TV, comic books, video games, and other elements of popular culture. The airlines are fictional too, of course, but very cleverly named. And all flights leave from Gate Infinity.

For example, you could catch a flight to Gotham City on DystopiAir, or head to Hogwarts on Spellbound Airlines, or visit the Hundred-Acre Wood on Wistful. I’d avoid the flight to Isla Nublar on GossAmerica, myself. On the other hand, I admit to being tempted by the chance to experience the most wretched hive of scum and villainy in the known universe, so I would probably grab a seat on the 11:07 to Tattoine in order to check out the Mos Eisley spaceport.

I’ve included photos of two of the many boards with this post. Somebody obviously had a lot of fun with this great idea.

The destinations on the “Interimaginary Departures” board are a kind of litmus test of your awareness of different elements of popular culture, and I am sad to say that I am not aware of many of them. How many of the references do you recognize? And, like me, if you see a destination you haven’t experienced through books or movies or comics, are you motivated to check them out?

Return Of The Western?

We’ve watched every episode of Yellowstone, we enjoyed 1883, the first of the Yellowstone prequels (which apparently is returning for a second season), and we are caught up on 1923, the newest Yellowstone prequel. We figure 1903 can’t be far behind, and there are many more tales to be told of the rambunctious Dutton clan and their constant battles to hold on to their beautiful spread in the wilds of Montana. (Don’t be surprised, for example, if there is a 2063, about future generations of Duttons.) With the success of the Dutton shows, you have to wonder: will westerns finally be making their TV and movie comeback?

It’s hard to believe now, but in the early days of television, westerns dominated the network programming. Shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Have Gun, Will Travel, and The Rifleman dominated the nightly programming and the ratings. Westerns were so popular for so long on television that variations on traditional westerns, like Branded, about an unjustly accused soldier, and The Wild, Wild West, with its newfangled gadgetry, were introduced. During those same decades John Wayne and other stars were churning out westerns at the cinema, producing classics like The Searchers, High Noon, Shane, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. And the movie industry also made its share of non-traditional westerns, like The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

It’s not hard to see why westerns dominated popular entertainment during those years. The western genre was very elastic, and accommodated simple good guy versus bad guy tales and much more nuanced and complicated stories that left you wondering about who really was the hero. Westerns were cheap to make, with the sets for most TV westerns found on a Hollywood studios back lot, and even “on location” shoots occurring within only a few hundred miles of studio headquarters. And, in America, there always has been a certain romance about the west, and a fascination with the gunslingers, sheriffs, and train robbers, the wars with native Americans, and the many hazards and rough justice of frontier days.

At some point in the late ’60s, though, westerns suddenly vanished from the TV screen, and movie westerns largely disappeared only a few years later. Perhaps Americans had just had their fill, or perhaps westerns just didn’t fit with the then-prevailing notions about the world, or perhaps science fiction films and TV shows co-opted the standard western plots and threw in some cool special effects, besides. Since the demise of the western genre, there have been predictions about its renaissance–in the wake of TV shows like Lonesome Dove and movies like Young Guns and Silverado–but those forecasts have proven inaccurate.

Could now be the time when American viewers are ready to return to the western, and an era when problems seemed less complicated and a simple showdown on a dusty street was seen as a way to actually solve a problem, once and for all? With Beth Dutton’s two-fisted approach leading the way, who knows? We may see a lot more horse operas in the future.

To The Depths — And Below

Hollywood writers obviously are a very clever bunch. Just when you think they’ve mined every possible plotline that would illustrate some feature of a character, they open a new vein of dramatic gold and dig still deeper.

Yellowstone is a great illustration of this process. I’ve written before about how, as the show has progressed, Jamie Dutton has been converted from capable, high-powered lawyer for the clan to a sniveling mess. After last season, I frankly doubted there was anything the writers could come up with that would make Jamie Dutton more pathetic and contemptible than he had already become. Whoo-boy–I was wrong on that one!

We finished catching up on Yellowstone episodes earlier this week, and Jamie continues to sink deeper and deeper. Spoiler alert: He’s being exposed as not only feeble and weak-kneed, but also so gullible, hapless, foolish, and pitifully eager for some crumb of attention that he can fall for the most obvious manipulative scheme ever attempted in Big Sky Country. The femme fatale from the development company hasn’t even tried to disguise her ultimate goal, and she couldn’t have picked a more direct route to pulling Jamie’s puppet strings. Now we’re having to endure squirmy scenes where Jamie, after their latest romp between the sheets, is baring both his chest and his soul to someone he met only days before. The gal pal’s maneuvers are so painfully obvious that even Jamie’s loyal secretary at the Attorney General’s office deviated from her customary professionalism and tried to warn him–but to no avail. Anyone who ignores wise advice from their secretary is plumbing new depths of dim-wittedness. This guy is supposed to be a Harvard grad? What better evidence of grade inflation could there be?

We’ve enjoyed this season of Yellowstone, and have particularly liked the increased emphasis on the “cowboying” element of the show, as well as seeing new aspects of the relationship between Rip and Beth. But, in many ways, the continuing downward spiral of Jamie Dutton is the most noteworthy part of the show, as impossible to tear your eyes away from as a slow motion train wreck. Credit to the writers and to Wes Bentley, who must be licking his acting chops as he thinks about how to make his character’s latest horrible decision remotely plausible.

How low can this guy go, and what can the writers’ room come up with to make this sad, quivering wreck into a character this is even more imbecilic, wretched, and odious? I guess we’ll have to watch to find out.

You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch

We’re at the point in the holiday season where many of us have begun to experience Christmas music soundtrack overload, and we feel like we might go into a saccharine sentiment coma if we hear It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year even one more time. That’s why You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch has become such an essential part of the holiday season. You can be sitting in a restaurant, hearing a standard mix of songs like Up On The Housetop and Frosty the Snowman, and then suddenly detect the strains of You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch cutting directly through the sugar content, and you find yourself using your best super-deep voice to sing about bad bananas with greasy black peels.

Written as a key part of the TV broadcast of How The Grinch Stole Christmas that was first broadcast in 1966, the music for You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch was composed by Albert Hague, and the song was memorably sung for the TV show by Thurl Ravenscroft, the same actor who voiced Tony the Tiger and his “they’re great!” catchphrase. But it is the lyrics to the song–penned by Dr. Seuss himself–that are a hilarious revelation and a wonderful antidote to the unrelenting spun sugar sweetness of most holiday soundtracks. Here they are, in all their glory:

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch
You really are a heel
You’re as cuddly as a cactus, you’re as charming as an eel, Mr. Grinch
You’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel!

You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch
Your heart’s an empty hole
Your brain is full of spiders, you’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch
I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!

You’re a vile one, Mr. Grinch
You have termites in your smile
You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, Mr. Grinch
Given a choice between the two of you I’d take the seasick crocodile!

You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch
You’re a nasty-wasty skunk
Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch
The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote
“Stink, stank, stunk!”

You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch
You’re the king of sinful sots
Your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots, Mr. Grinch
Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful
Assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots!

You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch
With a nauseous super “naus”!
You’re a crooked dirty jockey and you drive a crooked hoss, Mr. Grinch
You’re a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce!

You have to give Dr. Seuss credit for coming up with lyrics like “your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots.” He understood that the Christmas spirit is best demonstrated with some negative contrast, before the central character is redeemed. It’s the same approach that makes Dickens’ A Christmas Carol such a classic.

And maybe I’m wrong–but doesn’t it seem that You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch becomes more popular every year?

Airing The Dirty Laundry

As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I don’t get the whole fixation with the British royal family in the United Kingdom, but especially here in the United States (although I did admire the recently departed Queen Elizabeth). I can’t imagine why anyone would want to waste even a few hours of their lives watching the Harry & Meghan Netflix “reality” show to hear “Harry” and “Meghan” try to build their one-name brands by telling their tales of woe about how tough it is/was to be a “royal.” I guess we’ll never be able to fully appreciate the grit and determination these two showed in the face of crushing adversity.

Apparently the most recent episode of the series goes into some detail about the the private meetings of members of the family–from the perspective of the twosome being paid to air the dirty laundry. It makes you wonder why anyone would be motivated to spill the beans about the inner workings of their family, no matter how rich and famous they might be. My upbringing taught that some things are private and must always remain private. My grandparents, for example, would observe that when someone talks about private family matters with people outside the family, it tells you something about the character and integrity of the speaker–and what it tells you is decidedly not positive.

Of course, things have changed since my grandparents’ era, and these days people of all stripes write “memoirs” about their family lives–and other people line up to buy at least some of them. Apparently that is true with Netflix shows as well, because the ratings show that people are watching Harry & Meghan–although it finished well behind a show about an Addams Family character. Still, I wonder: if you had to interact with Harry and Meghan, would you rely on them and their discretion? Would you want to serve on a board with them in a situation where a challenging decision had to be made, and there was a confidential discussion about the issues? I wouldn’t. Why would you trust anybody who would throw their own family under the bus for a few bucks and a few more minutes of fame?

Elder Action

Last night we watched the first episode of Tulsa King, the new Paramount+ series starring Sylvester Stallone. Created by Taylor Sheridan, one of the creators of Yellowstone, Tulsa King is the story of a mobster (don’t call him a “gangster,” incidentally), Dwight Manfredi, who is released from prison after 25 years. Because he didn’t rat out anybody, he expects to be welcomed back with open arms and given a prominent place in the family business in New York City. Instead, he’s exiled to Tulsa, Oklahoma and told to take over the town.

We’re only one episode in, but Tulsa King looks promising so far. It’s got the fish out of water element, with the street-wise New Yorker schooling the credulous, safe-in-middle- America Bible Belters about crime, and also the Rip Van Winkle element, with Dwight having been in the Big House for 25 years and not knowing about things like iPhones and Uber. Stallone has always had good comedic talent and timing–Demolition Man, for example, includes lots of funny scenes, and so do some of the Rocky movies–and he does a good job with the humorous parts of Tulsa Kings.

The real challenge in the show, however, is the tough guy stuff. It seems weird to question the ability of Sylvester Stallone, the guy who brought to life Rocky, Rambo, and countless other hard-ass characters, to carry off the action scenes, but the actor is 76 years old. He’s evidently had some facial work–his cheeks look puffy, and his eyebrows are perpetually raised–and physically he looks to be in pretty good shape. But when your star is in his 70s, you’ve got to be careful not to strain the viewers’ willing suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. In the first episode, Dwight coldcocks one younger guy, punches out a few others, throws a water bottle that knocks out a tubby security guard, and has a bedroom encounter with a much younger woman. It all was reasonably plausible–Dwight may have been a workout fiend during those 25 years in the clink, right?–but let’s hope the show doesn’t use CGI to have the star chasing down a fleeing truck, defeating multiple attackers with kung fu moves, or beating up an Apollo Creed lookalike.

America is growing older, so it makes sense that action characters would grow older, too. Who knows? “Elder action” might become an entirely new genre on TV and in theaters. I’ll be interested in seeing how Sylvester Stallone’s character develops in Tulsa King, and whether he experiences some of the issues that afflict the rest of us who are aging out. And I’ll also be interested in seeing how Harrison Ford, who is 80, is presented in the fifth Indiana Jones movie, which is to be released next year. You’d expect Indy to be using a lot more of his gun and a lot less of his whip at that age. Will Indy–who once famously observed that “it’s not the years, it’s the mileage”–recognize that the years take their toll, too?

Risky Business

2022 hasn’t exactly been a banner year for cryptocurrency. In the spring, the crypto markets experienced a spectacular crash, and last week a leading crypto exchange platform, FTX, slid abruptly into bankruptcy amid questions about its operations, liquidity, and use of funds. The SEC and Department of Justice are reportedly investigating whether the company’s sudden collapse involved criminal activity or violations of the federal securities laws.

The demise of FTX was so quick and catastrophic that the company’s founder and CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, is reported to have lost 94 percent of his net worth in a single day. The rise and sudden fall of FTX may well rank right up there with Enron in the riches-to-rags business bust category. But there’s an even more ironic twist to the FTX failure: only a few months ago, during the 2022 Super Bowl, FTX ran a commercial where a skeptical Larry David, with a record of rejecting inventions like the wheel and the light bulb, also rejects the idea of investing with FTX, which is presented as “a safe and easy way to get into crypto.”

As is always the case when a high-flying entity suddenly crashes and burns, there are ripple effects from FTX’s spectacular failure. For example, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, the third-largest pension plan in Canada, disclosed last week that it had invested $95 million in FTX entities. (Fortunately for Ontario teachers, the investment apparently represents only a tiny fraction of the money invested by the Plan.) Other entities also had investments in FTX. One of them, a venture capital firm called Sequoia Capital, announced that it will mark down its $214 million investment in FTX to zero. Sequoia told its investors: “We are in the business of taking risk,” and “[s]ome investments will surprise to the upside, and some will surprise to the downside.”

Sequoia’s observation is, of course, true–if the investor understands, as Sequoia did, that cryptocurrency is a risky investment. The problem is that crypto advocates keep trying to present it as something else, as FTX tried to do with that in retrospect hilarious Larry David commercial. If the everyday investor is paying attention, the FTX collapse will make it harder to sell cryptocurrency as the next best thing to the light bulb. And we might want to check to make sure that our pension plans or mutual funds have learned that lesson, too.

“This Was CNN”

During the first Gulf War, CNN was our go-to source for news. With Bernard Shaw and Peter Arnett leading the way, CNN offered informed, reliable reporting of events, often with its journalists reporting live from the scene of the action. Whatever time of day or night, you knew that you could tune in to CNN and get the straight story about what was happening with Desert Storm–and you would get to hear the deep voice of James Earl Jones gravely intone “This is CNN” every so often, too. We weren’t alone in our channel selection; CNN was dominant and hit ratings records during the Gulf War crisis 30 years ago.

Those days are long gone. CNN has struggled for years, and it seems like all of the news stories about the network that you see these days are negative. First CNN closed down CNN Airport, the channel that made hearing CNN a part of every airport experience (and, incidentally, made traveling a quieter, more pleasant experience in my view). Then the network’s streaming service, CNN+, was an embarrassing flop and was shut down after only one month of operation. CNN’s ratings have been poor, it can’t seem to find prime-time programming that is competitive with other networks, and its efforts to move its high-visibility personalities to different time slots doesn’t seem to be working, either. Now the press is reporting that, with CNN profits dropping, CNN’s new leader is going to try to take the network in a different direction, significant job cuts are in the network’s future as part of a “right-sizing” effort, and network employees are bracing for layoffs.

CNN seems like a good candidate for a business school case study, to try to identify why a network that was on top of the world 30 years ago has fallen so far. Some of CNN’s struggles clearly involve big-picture things beyond its control–like the shift in consumer preferences to streaming services, which has shrunk the viewership base for traditional cable offerings like CNN–but others seem to have been more self-inflicted. Did CNN become too top-heavy, hiring administrators when it should have been hiring in-the-field reporters? Did CNN lose sight of its purpose of reporting the news–“news” is part of its name, after all–in favor of point-of-view programming that some of its viewers found off-putting? Does CNN really need high-visibility personalities to host prime-time shows, when it could just be reporting the news, period?

It will be interesting to see where CNN goes next. I wonder: is a return to the straight, old-fashioned news reporting that used to be a trademark of the network 30 years ago one of the options that has been considered?

Sports Gambling, Everywhere

Recently I was watching a baseball playoff broadcast–it might have been a pregame show, or it might have been one of the games themselves–when a little box flashed up on the screen with some of the bets you could place on the game. It wasn’t just who would win, either. Instead, you could bet on the final score, the spread, who would score first, and whether a particular player would hit a home run during the game. Time to pick up the phone and call your bookie, fans!

It’s not just baseball, of course, You can’t watch a pro football game without seeing ads for DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, or Caesars Sportsbook. The NFL broadcasts not only feature commercials telling viewers that they still have a chance to bet, the pregame shows include segments where specific bets are suggested. In the commercials, the wagerers always seem to win (although, in one particular point-of-view ad that is broadcast regularly, the bettor eats some pretty crappy-looking pizza while a player improbably scores to make his bet pay off, so maybe there’s an implicit gambling-isn’t-so-great message there).

The sports world is so associated with gambling these days that organizations like NASCAR have joined forces with the American Gaming Association, as shown in the picture above, to encourage fans to bet responsibly and “know when to pit.” Such ads seem like a way to have your cake and eat it, too: the sport is saying that some betting is just fine and perfectly natural and understandable, but can point to their ads as encouraging moderation rather than betting your bottom dollar. The problem, however, is that gambling addicts don’t know when to stop. They lose, and lose, and always believe that the next bet is a sure fire way to turn things around and get them back on the plus side.

In the last few years, gambling on sports has emerged from the shadows and come out into the daylight, and moved well beyond office college football or NCAA tournament pools. Sports betting is now legal in many states, and reports indicate that the amount of gambling skyrocketed during the COVID pandemic–with unfortunate consequences for some people who lost their shirts. It’s clearly a big-money business–which makes you wonder when the next sports betting scandal, with games being fixed and players tanking, might happen. Could another Black Sox scandal be just around the corner?

Talking Too Much

I watched the Guardians-Yankees division series playoff game last night on TBS. By the end of the broadcast, I was left with two unshakeable conclusions.

First, it’s hard to beat a team that has spent huge amounts on player contracts. Every player in the Yankees batting order seemed to have hit at least 20 homers, knocked in at least 70 runs, and either won an MVP, a batting title, a World Series title, or a Golden Glove award before they went for the big money in the Bronx.

And second, Bob Costas just talks too much. Way, way, way too much. So much that his partner in the booth, Ron Darling, was hard pressed to get a word in edgewise, even though, unlike Costas, he often had something interesting to say about what was happening on the field. By the end of the game, I felt like hitting the mute button, just so I wouldn’t hear Costas rip through another set of weird statistics and seemingly pointless anecdotes.

There’s nothing to be done about the payroll difference. Regrettably, it’s just part of the big-league game these days and something that you need to accept when you root for a small-market team against one of the cash-rich big boys. All you can do is hope that lightning strikes and your team can somehow prevail despite the stacked deck. But the broadcast booth blabbing is jarring. You’re used to listening to your hometown TV team, and then suddenly you’re dealing with a national media personality who apparently feels compelled to gush out verbiage like a fire hydrant on a hot summer’s day.

Baseball is a slow-moving, pastoral game. Part of its appeal is the sights and sounds and rhythms. A chatterbox announcer interferes with all of that. Make your occasional point, and call the action, sure — but there is absolutely no need to fill every precious moment of silence or background crowd noise or the organ sounding the notes of the “charge” call with mindless yammering about in-the-weeds data analytics or curious back stories that really don’t have anything to do with the game.

Bob Costas has had a storied career in broadcasting, but in my view his approach really interferes with enjoyment of the game. Take a breath now and then, Bob — won’t you?

Dragon Fatigue

We’ve watched the first few episodes of House of the Dragon on HBO, and I would pronounce it shrug-worthy. They’ve obviously spent a lot of money on costumes and settings and special effects, but the show really isn’t very compelling. Unlike Game of Thrones, this prequel of sorts not isn’t must-see TV. Instead, it’s a big meh.

Why is this so? I think there are a lot of reasons. For one, there really aren’t many likeable characters. In fact, I would argue that there is only one: King Viserys. He seems like a good, decent, peace-loving guy who doesn’t want to fight wars or ride dragons and would rather spend his time building his replica of King’s Landing in his room. But he’s about it. Every other character seems to spend all of their time scheming, misbehaving, working to claw their way to the top, and engaging in every kind of sinful behavior you can imagine. Even their young kids seem like terrible jerks. You’d be hard-pressed to identify any likeable characteristic or endearing quality of any of the Targaryen clan, the other nobility, or the royal hangers-on. It makes you long for the Starks hanging around the great hall at Winterfell.

Second, the story is moving way too fast. We’re hopping directly from one great event to another, without much character-building story-telling going on in between (see point one). Characters are introduced, promptly die in childbirth or are killed in bloody, violent fashion, and the tale races on. There seems to be more interest in showing scenes that are graphic or disturbing than in providing any meaningful background or context, and as a result it’s hard to care much about anyone or anything. In contrast, the first few seasons of Game of Thrones–the best seasons, in my view–moved at a very deliberate pace, and gave the viewer a lot of time to find out interesting things about the world of Westeros, the noble houses, and even the common folks. We’re not getting any of that in House of the Dragon.

Third, the overall story arc pales in comparison to the white walker/winter is coming/end of the civilized world plot of Game of Thrones. And there really aren’t any good bad guys to hate with every fiber of your being and root against, either. The brooding brother of the king doesn’t hold a candle to Joffrey Baratheon, Cersei Lannister, Walder Frey, Ramsay Bolton, or Littlefinger. You couldn’t wait to see those horrible people get their ultimate comeuppance. I don’t feel that way about Daemon Targaryen. He’s mostly there, brooding and frankly being more annoying than horrible.

Finally, there’s very much of a been-there, done-that feel to this show. Swordfights, palace intrigue, sea scenes–it all seems like a rehash of what we’ve seen before. And throwing in the obligatory scene of someone riding a dragon doesn’t move the needle much, either. Good special effects, to be sure, but there’s nothing intrinsically interesting about an unbeatable superweapon. Showing flying dragons and having characters shout “dracarys” so someone can get immolated doesn’t solve the fundamental problems with this show.

We’ll continue to watch, but so far House of the Dragon has been more drag than dragon.

Back To Borax

Yesterday I had a very juicy burger for lunch. When I went to the restroom to wash my hands after I was finished, I found this soap dispenser offering “Boraxo” powdered hand soap to help with the wash-up process.

Boraxo? As in 20 Mule Team Borax, the long-time laundry soap sponsor of Death Valley Days, the old TV western that Dad used to watch?

Borax is a sodium compound that is found in places like Death Valley–hence the logic of the old TV show sponsorship–where water evaporated and left behind dried mineral deposits. Boraxo soap is a white granular powder. You use the plunger at the bottom of the dispenser to apply Boraxo while your hands are wet. The water dissolves the powder into a gritty, soapy substance that, in my view, does a very effective job of giving your hands a thorough cleansing scrub.

Borax used to be a popular cleaning ingredient, but it fell out of favor with some people because its grittiness and alkaline component can irritate your skin. But the Boraxo dispenser in the bathroom suggests that it is being rebranded as “naturally sourced,” “non-toxic,” and “eco-friendly.” In short, they’ve apparently got the 20-mule teams at work again and headed out to the Death Valley deposits to gather the borax.

The return of borax soap in the name of eco-friendly cleaning makes me wonder if we might see the resurgence of Lava soap, which was made with actual pieces of pumice–volcanic rock that also could accurately be described as “naturally sourced.” Lava commercials featured large male hands covered with axle grease that were quickly scoured to a pristine state after a rough encounter with the Lava soap, and mothers everywhere thought that if Lava soap could defeat axle grease, it might actually get the layers of dirt and grime off the hands and faces of 9-year-old boys before they say down to the family dinner.

With the emphasis on eco-friendly products, we might be moving back to the era when cleaning products were a little bit tougher than the fragrant soaps and foams that dominate modern bathrooms, but aren’t found in nature. You might want to give Boraxo a try–and keep an eye out for Lava at your neighborhood supermarket.

Understanding Mr. Green Jeans

When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching Captain Kangaroo. I liked the Captain, of course, and Dancing Bear and Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit, but my real favorite was Mr. Green Jeans. He would come on the show, wearing his trademark green jeans and usually a straw hat and flannel shirt, perhaps play a guitar or sing a song with the Captain, and maybe show you a plant or animal and talk about it. But Mr. Green Jeans was at his best in helping Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit play a gentle prank on the Captain–one that usually involved the Captain getting showered with dropped ping pong balls. It was a gentle prank for a gentle show.

I was thinking about Mr. Green Jeans the other day in connection with the gradually dawning concept of people having jobs. As adults, we’ve lived with the concept of work for so long that we’ve forgotten that the notion of people getting paid to do something isn’t necessarily intuitive, and has to be learned like other lessons of the world. For me, at least, Mr. Green Jeans and Captain Kangaroo were part of that process.

At first, a very young watcher would take a show like Captain Kangaroo at face value, as if the broadcast somehow gave you a brief peek into the actual life of the Captain, Mr. Green Jeans, and their friends. At some later point, you come to understand, perhaps because your Mom patiently explained it to you, that the show wasn’t “real,” in the same way life in your home was real, and that Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit were just puppets, and that Captain Kangaroo was a show put on for kids like you to watch and enjoy.

Later still came the realization that Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans were actors, that being on the show was their job–hey, just like your Dad left every day to go to his job!–and that the Captain and Mr. Green Jeans were getting paid to be on the show. That last step in the understanding process was a big one, because it required you to get the concept of money, too, and why people needed to work, so they could eat and have a house and clothes and a car–and the fact that you would undoubtedly need to work, too, at some point. It was part of a bigger realization that the world was a complicated place, and there was a lot more to it than the Captain reading stories and pranks involving ping pong balls.

By then, as you watched Captain Kangaroo with your younger siblings, you thought that being Mr. Green Jeans would be fun. But by then your sights had changed a bit, and your friends were talking about being firemen or astronauts when they grew up.

A Football-Free Sunday?

Having watched a terrific college football game last night, my appetite is whetted for more. I’m ready to plop myself down on the couch, crack open a cold one, and watch some NFL football today. I’m ready to hear the pads cracking and revel in the extreme athleticism, speed, and power of oversized human beings racing around on the gridiron.

Except . . . there is no NFL football today. Even though we got a full slate of college ball last night, football fans hungry for another pigskin fix will be hearing crickets over the Labor Day weekend. The NFL regular season doesn’t kick off until Thursday. So what are football fans to do? Watch the U.S. Open, baseball, or golf? Catch up on HBO’s House of the Dragon? When you’ve got a hankering for clashes on the turf, nothing else really satisfies.

What’s up with this sad reality? Can’t the NFL schedulers and the college schedulers get together and declare that the football season is formally here, so fans can get into their normal Saturday college/Sunday pro routine? Getting only the Saturday half of the equation is like getting the yin without the yang.

The Monkees, Redacted

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been in the news a lot lately. Many on the right think the FBI has recently become politicized–but the reality is that the agency has been involved in investigations of political matters for decades, ever since it was asked to look into loosely defined “subversives” back in the 1930s. Back in the J. Edgar Hoover days the FBI collected information on Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, and . . . the Monkees.

What a second–the Monkees? The zany, made-for-TV rock band that had a brief but memorable TV show, produced a series of number 1 albums, were a sensation among teenagers, and incidentally recorded some great rock music that still stands up? The FBI investigated those guys?

It did. According to the FBI’s “Vault” webpage–which, if you’re interested, allows you to search for FBI records on line–the agency has two records about the rock band: “a 1967 Los Angeles Field Office memorandum on anti-Vietnam war activities and a second document redacted entirely.” The 1967 field office memorandum was released to the public about ten years ago, and is very heavily redacted. (You can see the original report, in its redacted form, here.) The unredacted portion reports on a concert the Monkees gave in which photographs were broadcast on a screen behind the band that a redacted informant considered to be “left-wing intervention of a political nature”–which in reality reflected what was actually going on at the time, like racial rioting and protests against the war in Vietnam.

Now Mickey Dolenz, the last surviving member of the Monkees, is suing to try to get the FBI to release the full records about the band. The lawsuit seeks “any records the FBI created and/or possesses on the Monkees as well as its individual members.”

In the grand scheme of what is going on in the world, trying to determine what information the FBI collected about the Monkees is a small thing, but it also raises a big point about transparency and getting a fuller accounting of the FBI’s activities over the years. It’s hard to believe that the document from the Monkees’ FBI file that was released in 2011 merited the heavy redaction it received; what kinds of information could it possibly contain that would reasonably need to be kept secret, decades later? Now that another ten years have passed, there is even less cause for continuing secrecy. I’m hoping the lawsuit is successful and we get to see what the FBI considered so important and secretive. Perhaps the lawsuit, and the reaction to any documents that are released as a result of it, will cause a reassessment of the agency’s actions and, particularly, its continuing, overly aggressive redaction of documents that the public actually has a right to see.