What If Feelings Had Feelings?

Inside Out – The post title comes from here, and be forewarned that there are spoilers in this post. The idea of tiny people controlling the human brain is hardly an original one. The show Herman’s Head comes to mind, and pretty much every cartoon had an episode like that. Some of the jokes, like the train of thought, show up fairly often.

The idea is somewhat paradoxical by its very nature, because if happiness is personified, does that mean this person would always be happy? Would they have free will? Would they have their own personified feelings inside their own head? To its credit, the movie did deal with some of these paradoxes. It focuses on the five emotions of a girl named Riley: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.

While their own personalities are mostly what you’d expect, there are some wrinkles to it. Joy is sad and worried at times, Fear can feel relieved, and Sadness admits that sad things can make her happy. And bitter sarcasm is explained as Anger trying to do the job of Joy. The main conflict arises when Joy and Sadness become lost outside the command center and have to make their way through other parts of Riley’s mind, including her memory, imagination, subconscious, and capacity for abstract thought. This allows the writers and animators a lot of creativity in terms of characters and locations. Dreams are produced in a studio, memory workers dump out useful information while keeping a jingle from a gum commercial, and the abstract mind turns the characters who enter it into cubist art and then two-dimensional objects. A major supporting character is Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, a sort of pink elephant-cat who cries candy tears.

In a sad moment, he ends up sacrificing himself to save Joy. The lesson that sadness is sometimes necessary to keep a person emotionally stable is rather obvious, but the journey has plenty of its own emotional strength. I appreciated the idea of depression being an imbalance of emotions rather than just permanent sadness (both Joy AND Sadness are missing when Riley is at her lowest). One thing I do wonder is that, since most people around Riley’s age go through a period of emotional confusion, does that mean some of everybody’s personified feelings get lost around then? Another interesting element is that, while Joy is the leader of Riley’s emotions, when we look inside other people’s minds this isn’t always the case. Her mom’s mind is dominated by Sadness, and her dad’s by Anger. A lot of the voices were done by Saturday Night Live alumni, but the voice actor I found the most surprising was Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the partner to Pixar regular John Ratzenberger.

As with Avengers: Age of Ultron, I saw this movie on the last week it was playing at the nearby theater. Oddly, there weren’t a whole lot of previews. In fact, the only one I remember was for upcoming Pixar project The Good Dinosaur. The opening short, Lava, felt kind of slow; and I wasn’t really a big fan of the song that narrated it. The design on the volcano characters was great, however, and the story was rather sweet.

I might go see Ant-Man next week (shows at this theater are cheaper on Wednesdays), but we’ll see if that works out. I’m also wondering if the upcoming Fantastic Four film is any good; I haven’t seen any of the earlier ones, but I do like the characters.

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Cover Art, American Style

Is there market research somewhere that says Americans like sparse cover art? I mean, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books had fairly intricate covers in the United Kingdom, but the States tended to reduce them to representational objects.

Or look at the Japanese and American box art for the Dragon Quest/Warrior games on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The first two keep the general idea of people battling monsters, but go with a much more Western drawing style. The other two don’t include characters at all, but only weapons and other items. It’s much the same with the original Final Fantasy.

Showing the Sky Castle IS pretty cool, but I get the impression that they mostly just wanted them to look less Japanese. It’s not like there’s much inherently Japanese about the content of the games; they reference some Japanese mythology, but also a lot of Western mythology.

The early DQ translations rendered the dialogue in what was supposed to be an Elizabethan dialect; and the name of Ladatorme Castle was changed to Tantegel, a reference to the castle where King Arthur was said to have been conceived. The first FF brings in martial artists and robots, but a lot of it is still more or less medieval European in style. Of course, the DQ games still had anime-style artwork within them, but that apparently wasn’t the first impression they wanted American gamers to have. From my American perspective, our covers DO look a little less silly. Well, at least those for DQ3 and 4 do; and the dragon on the first appears more threatening, but has less personality.

If you really want to get into bad American box art from the NES era, however, the obvious example is Mega Man.

That doesn’t even look like a robot, just a guy in weird armor holding a pistol. Did someone not tell the artists that Mega Man’s gun was built into his arm? And is that Dr. Wily behind Crash Man on the MM2 cover? He looks more like Dr. Light, although not that much like either one. Bad Box Art Mega Man has become an inside joke, sometimes appearing as a separate character in various later games.

Moving on, here’s Mega Man 3:

Mega Man actually looks like himself here, although I think his face is a little overly babyish. Were they trying to go too far in the cute direction after the ugly guy on the first two covers? And yes, pretty much everybody has pointed out that he looks like he’s shooting Spark Man in the crotch.

Okay, 4 and 6 artists, when does Mega Man ever fight on cliffs or grassy hills? Pretty much everything in his world looks mechanical, even if it does simulate natural environments. I guess 3 and 5 got this part correct, anyway. And why the random planets in the sky? Actually, the story for MM3 does say that much of it takes place on worlds used for mining, and there’s a science fiction theme to the series in general, but when are you going to see other planets in the daytime? Overall, as bad as some of the covers are, one other point of contrast is that he and the Robot Masters are mostly just posing in the Japanese ones, while the American ones tend to display some sort of action, even if it’s action that doesn’t make a lot of sense. I guess Americans wouldn’t want to buy an action game unless someone is shooting something on the cover. Anyway, this page and this one both have some funny takes on the American box art. I’m not sure why Mega Man was apparently so hard to draw when he’s basically a robotic Mario with no mustache, but he doesn’t look very accurate on Captain N either.

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Ozian Homes and Gardens

I’ve mentioned in the past that, if the Oz books had come out considerably later in the century, they might well have been the basis for action figures. I mean, three of the major characters were eventually given their own personalized homes. Wouldn’t that be perfect for merchandising?

The first one of these homes to appear is the Tin Castle where the Tin Woodman rules as Emperor of the Winkies. The first appearance of the castle is most likely in The Road to Oz, but there’s apparently a certain amount of doubt here. Peter Schulenburg’s The Tin Castle of Oz has the construction take place not long after Dorothy leaves Oz for the first time, hence it would presumably have been ready by the time of Land. Nick Chopper does live in a castle in this book, but I always figured it was the Wicked Witch of the West’s old castle with some refurbishments. It’s described in this fashion: “The travelers were at first somewhat awed by their surroundings, and even the Scarecrow seemed impressed as he examined the rich hangings of silver cloth caught up into knots and fastened with tiny silver axes. Upon a handsome center-table stood a large silver oil-can, richly engraved with scenes from the past adventures of the Tin Woodman, Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow: the lines of the engraving being traced upon the silver in yellow gold. On the walls hung several portraits, that of the Scarecrow seeming to be the most prominent and carefully executed, while a the large painting of the famous Wizard of Oz, in act of presenting the Tin Woodman with a heart, covered almost one entire end of the room.”

In Road, Dorothy mentions the Tin Castle as Nick Chopper’s “new house.” It has “towers and steeples and domes and gables,” all made of tin. The furnishings are also all made of tin, as are the statues outside and the instruments that the court musicians play.

While the gardens mostly contain regular flowers, Emerald City reveals that there is one bed of tin flowers that produce seeds. There’s also a pond of tin fishes. The Wizard of Oz explains that the castle doesn’t rust because Nick “has thousands of Winkies to keep it polished for him.” Tin doesn’t actually rust, and is also not much use as a building material, suggesting that there are other unmentioned metals used in the construction. Tin cans are, after all, mostly steel. It’s also not clear how the tin fishes can maneuver in water when it makes Nick himself helpless, but maybe it’s like the dry water in the Rubber Country in Tik-Tok. Also, how are the tin flowers and fishes showing signs of life? In Enchanted Island, Ruth Plumly Thompson describes the castle as “like a big comfortable house” with only one tower, a far cry from the multiple ones mentioned in Road. It’s also blazingly bright in the daylight, and largely surrounded by a canyon in which tin cans grow. The castle keeper is a woman named Makebel Eva with gold teeth and a tendency to pretend she’s a princess.

Does that mean she’s not happy with her job, as we’re constantly told the servants in Oz are supposed to be?

Road also introduces Jack Pumpkinhead’s farm, where he spends much of his time growing pumpkins to use for new heads. He lives in a giant hollowed-out pumpkin with a door, windows, and a stove. If the illustration is any indication, it apparently also has electricity. As of Jack Pumpkinhead, the house has two stories, although I suppose this could be a different pumpkin house.

The grounds include Jack’s private graveyard, where he buries his old heads. Strangely, John R. Neill’s Wonder City not only suggests that Jack’s pumpkin patch is in the Emerald City, but that he has moved into a decommissioned Ozoplane. Maybe his usual house was being remodeled at the time. According to Runaway, the name of Jack’s farm is Pumpkin Park.

Finally, the Scarecrow’s dwelling, described as both a tower and a mansion, first appears in Emerald City. It’s shaped like a giant ear of corn made of gold and emeralds, and on the top stands a statue of the Scarecrow surrounded by ebony crows. When first introduced, the building contains five floors, each one a single room.

The first floor is a reception hall containing a hand-organ and furniture in the shape of crows, the second a dining hall, and the ones above that bedrooms for the servants. We meet two of these servants in Royal Book, a housekeeper named Blink and a cook named Mops.

The Scarecrow mentions that the mansion was designed by Jack Pumpkinhead, hinting at a skill that Jack had not previously displayed. Surrounding the building are fields of corn, as well as one field of oats from which the Scarecrow can obtain new straw. The mansion reappears in Lucky Bucky, and here the straw man is described as falling down twelve flights of stairs after catching his foot in a coil of wire, suggesting that the tower might have been expanded. This book also mentions a cellar in which a rolled-up river is kept.

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Look What You’ve Done, You Juggalo

Insane Clown Posse: A Family Underground – This documentary was filmed at the 2008 Gathering of the Juggalos, a few years before the ICP briefly returned to the public consciousness with their song about how science ruins everybody’s fun. Their music has been labeled “horrorcore,” and it’s basically rap about extreme violence. From what I’ve heard, I understand the creepy clown gimmick started when they had to change their name from Inner City Posse, but wanted to keep the same initials.

The fans who attend this event tend to be drugged-up fat white guys with dreadlocks, and I point out that they’re fat not to shame them for this, but simply as an observation.

One of the few black audience members they showed, if not the only one, was locked in a cage because he was suspected of stealing beer. It’s possible he actually did, but I’m still not that comfortable with Juggalos taking the law into their own hands. A fair number of the performers were black, including Ice-T, Three 6 Mafia, Afroman, and 2 Live Crew. It was amusing to watch the segments with Ice-T, because he tried to be positive, yet couldn’t help coming across as really confused.

The film overall appears to have been made with a positive slant, like these people were kindly misfits who had found each other, yet still couldn’t help but make the whole thing look very unappealing. I mean, footage of Woodstock always looked filthy and uncomfortable, but I don’t think that was intentional, while it totally was at the Gathering. There was also a lot of violence, including people hitting each other over the head with signs. To be fair, I’m sure everyone who was hit with a sign volunteered for it. What was more disturbing was the habit the Juggalos had of throwing things at the stage. Afroman semi-jokingly said at one point that, if he played the event again, he’d do so in a helmet and pads. I believe it was two years later that Tila Tequila was mercilessly pelted with various objects, possibly including human feces. Now, I have no fondness for Tila Tequila (I’m not sure anybody does), but she’s still a human being who deserves not to be assaulted. The Juggalos make a big deal about being a family, but is that how said family treats their guests? Well, some families do, but I’m not sure anyone would volunteer to become part of one of those. Not to mention that I’m sure Tila was not the only one hit; there was bound to be some collateral damage. I feel bad for anyone who genuinely likes the ICP’s music but wants to see a concert without the possibility of serious injury, assuming there is anyone in that category. Also worth mentioning are the guys who said that some people might be Juggalos and not even realize it yet, presumably unwittingly channeling Bruce McCulloch.

Someone who was basically the archetypal Obnoxious Drunk Chick said she wanted to rape Shaggy 2 Dope. Did she totally rule out the possibility of consensual sex with him? Shaggy does not strike me as a picky man. If you read the AV Club article I linked to earlier in the post, he’s the one who said he wanted to have sex with Tila Tequila.

Before I close out this post, I have to point out that the Gathering must be like Christmas for Faygo Beverages, and share a 2011 video where Mo Rocca tries to convince the ICP that their makeup is cute.

I think maybe they COULD be kind of cute and funny if it weren’t for their attitudes. Why do macho posturing and willful ignorance so often go hand in hand?

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Where the Other Nightmare People Like to Go

Our friend Stephanie asked us if we wanted to go to the They Might Be Giants concert at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and while we hadn’t originally planned to, we decided to attend. Beth is supposed to get free tickets to a show, but when she tried to request them for this one, they said she had to give three weeks’ prior notice. Is that the case for every show, or just this one? The theme of this show was that they were playing the entire Lincoln album, minus one song. That one was “I’ve Got a Match,” which they haven’t played in years, and I’m not sure anyone outside the band knows why. I remember coming across a rumor that John Linnell looked visibly upset playing it years ago, but I have no idea whether that’s true. I know nothing about music, but it doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult to play. They DID play “The World’s Address,” which I believe they’ve left out at other Lincoln shows. They didn’t play the album songs in order, and there were other songs interspersed throughout.

The two Johns performed “Cage & Aquarium,” “Kiss Me, Son of God,” “Istanbul,” and “How Can I Sing Like a Girl?” as a duo. The other songs used the full band, with drummer Marty Beller playing woodblocks on “Piece of Dirt” and a handheld bell in place of the glockenspiel note on “Shoehorn with Teeth.” I guess that’s an appropriate instrument for someone with his surname. Linnell played bass clarinet on “Lie Still, Litltle Bottle” and “You’ll Miss Me,” and John Flansburgh used a rhythm pad on the former.

The sock puppets known as the Avatars of They showed up for the bridge in “Snowball in Hell,” adding in some stuff about Bitcoin. There was no opener, but there was an intermission in the middle. That’s pretty much it, although I have to give jeers to at least two attendees: the person who had both TMBG and Ron and Rand Paul bumper stickers, and the guy who kept yelling out requests. Have you EVER known TMBG to take requests, at least since they stopped doing Stump the Band? And that ended before I became a fan, and I was probably one of the older people there.

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The Salad of the Christ

Humans are naturally omnivorous, but at the same time our capacity for reason and knowledge of mortality have led to considerable debate about whether eating meat is really a good idea. There have been many religious and philosophical movements that have encouraged vegetarianism for various reasons. While Christianity is usually not considered to be among them, such might not have always been the case. I’ve heard it pointed out before that, if you look at the book of Genesis, it’s apparently not until after the Flood that God gave humans permission to eat meat. Now, Genesis is a collection of different stories that don’t always mesh with each other, but God does specifically say in Genesis 1:29, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”

Then in Genesis 9:3-4, he changes this to “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.”

And after this, the recorded human lifespans become gradually shorter. Also, even though God is allowing people to eat meat, he doesn’t seem entirely happy about it. The preceding verse, Genesis 9:2, says, “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.” It almost seems to be saying, “You’re all such jerks to the animals that you might as well just go ahead and eat them.” Pretty strong words from a deity who would have just wiped out all animal life if Noah hadn’t taken a bunch of creatures on the ark with him. The recent Noah movie acknowledged this by making Noah and his family vegetarians, while the wicked people led by Tubalcain indiscriminately killed and ate animals. Animal sacrifice became a significant part of early Judaism, but I’ve seen it suggested that this might have grown out of a sense of guilt for destroying another being’s life to prolong your own. In the New Testament, Paul acknowledges that some followers of Jesus are keeping a vegetarian diet, and while he says it isn’t necessary he also doesn’t discourage it. I’ve seen arguments that Jesus himself was a vegetarian, although that doesn’t explain why he hung out with so many fishermen.

Maybe a pescetarian would make more sense, although it’s not like we have much evidence either way.

Now, I am neither a Christian nor a vegetarian, but I find it noteworthy that whether or not to eat meat has been a struggle throughout known human history.

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Captain Marvel Zapped In Right Between the Eyes

I must admit to being somewhat confused by the name Captain Marvel, as it would make sense for it to be used by Marvel Comics, and indeed it is at this point. The original Captain Marvel, however, was created for Fawcett Comics back when Marvel didn’t yet have that name as a company (although “Marvel Comics” was the name of one of their titles). The Captain was Billy Batson, a boy who could transform himself into a grown man with superpowers by saying a magic word.

It was basically tailor-made for little kids who dreamed of being superheroes. His long-lost twin sister Mary also started fighting crime as Mary Marvel, and there was a Captain Marvel Jr. who actually wasn’t related to the other two.

Some years later, DC Comics filed a lawsuit, claiming that the character was a rip-off of Superman. While their powers were similar, I believe the Captain started flying back when Kal-El was still just jumping really high. Anyway, the title was put on hiatus, and Marvel Comics registered it as a trademark for their own character, an alien agent of the interstellar Kree Empire who became a defender of Earth. His real name was Mar-Vell.

I’m not sure why they found it necessary to use an already-existing name for a superhero, but they were hardly the first to do so. In 1972, DC bought the rights to the original Fawcett character and brought his adventures back into publication. Since Marvel owned the trademark, however, they changed the name of the book to Shazam!, the magic word that Billy said to turn into the Captain and back, as well as the name of the wizard who granted him his powers.

In more recent years, DC has lessened the confusion by just calling the character himself Shazam, although that apparently means he isn’t able to say his own name without turning back into Billy.

Marvel Comics later killed off Mar-Vell, but the Captain Marvel name lived on. Most recently, it’s been used for Carol Danvers, a test pilot who was caught in an explosion with Mar-Vell.

Somehow this resulted in his DNA being fused with hers, giving her superpowers.

She originally went by Ms. Marvel, and I mentioned in an earlier post how Rogue absorbed her powers and memories.

In 2012, she took on the mantle of Captain Marvel at the advice of Captain America. I read a few collected editions of the recent Captain Marvel title, which sees Carol traveling back in time to her own past, combating the alien who was largely responsible for the explosion that granted her powers, punching dinosaurs, dealing with a brain lesion that causes her to lose memories when she flies, and meeting with the Guardians of the Galaxy in outer space. She’s presented as a Star Wars fan, although I don’t know whether this was the case before Disney bought both properties. Apparently the next collected volume that I haven’t yet read explains that her cat Chewie is actually an egg-laying alien, although Rocket Raccoon has actually already figured it out. As far as interesting references go, Monica Rambeau (who also used the name Captain Marvel for a while) at one point refers to a robot as “Nick Chopper,” the Tin Woodman’s real name that’s never mentioned in the MGM film. I guess it could be a reference to Wicked instead of the original Oz books, but still, it’s pretty cool. I understand that Carol will be protagonist of the upcoming Captain Marvel movie, scheduled for release in 2018.

The Ms. Marvel name is now being used by Kamala Khan, a teenage Pakistani-American girl living in Jersey City who comes from a strict family. She’s a nerdy character who doesn’t feel she really fits in with either the modern world or her family’s traditionalism. When exposed to the Terrigen Mist that can restore or enhance inborn powers, she gains the ability to shift shape and expand and contract parts of her body. She is also able to heal at an accelerated rate, but only when she’s in her normal form, which necessitates her wearing a disguise. It’s later revealed that her powers are the result of her having Inhuman ancestry. While the series doesn’t make it entirely clear what Inhumans are, they’re the descendants of people who were granted superhuman abilities by the Kree. She’s a fan of the Avengers, and writes fan-fiction, which must be considerably weirder when it’s about actual people who exist. Yes, I know there is plenty of real-people fanfic, but I still think it’s kind of bizarre. Kamala calls herself Ms. Marvel after her hero, and fights a rather absurd villain known as the Inventor who is basically an attempted clone of Thomas Edison that was accidentally mixed with a cockatiel. She teams up with Wolverine and the cool giant teleporting dog-creature Lockjaw, battles Loki at the Valentine’s Day Dance, and finds out that her first crush is actually a rebel Inhuman.

It’s interesting that Loki is actually trying to protect people during his appearance, he still uses nasty, underhanded methods. Adrian Alphona’s art includes a lot of jokes that might not be obvious at first glance, and there’s a good amount of humor in the series, yet it addresses more serious issues as well. She’s been favorably compared to the early Peter Parker, a teenager dealing with both the normal difficulties of growing up and with supervillains.

As far as I know, there’s no connection between any of the characters to take on the Captain or Ms. Marvel moniker and Professor Marvel from the MGM Wizard of Oz.

Or, for that matter, with Prince Marvel from The Enchanted Island of Yew. Since he/she didn’t appear in The Road to Oz like many other non-Oz L. Frank Baum characters did, I don’t think he/she’s shown up in a comic book yet.

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