Listening Backward

One thing I was reminded of in response to my recent post on Satanic panic was that there were some people who genuinely did do horrible things due to what they thought were messages from the Devil or some other supernatural power. The panic wasn’t that long after Charles Manson thought “Helter Skelter” was about race war and David Berkowitz thought a dog was telling him to kill people. That doesn’t really sound like something a dog would say. Maybe he misheard, and the dog actually told him to kill squirrels. Richard Ramirez, an active serial killer around the height of the panic, is known to have practiced Satanism. Obviously these murderers had other problems as well, but there probably are times when people devoting themselves to evil should be a genuine warning sign. On a personal level, I don’t generally find occult symbolism scary, but Nazi imagery is viscerally disturbing even when used as a joke. Maybe it’s because I don’t believe demons really exist, but I do know Hitler existed. Maybe that’s not always the best standard to use, though.

Something I’d wanted to address more specifically in terms of pop culture and Satan and hidden evil is the idea of subliminal messages in music, particularly backwards recordings. Backmasking in recording dates back to the 1950s, although people knew you could play records backwards well before that. The Beatles had some backwards instrumental parts, and the end of the song “Rain” is another section of it played in reverse. It’s kind of a cool sound, really, sort of an uncanny valley thing if that exists for sound. It still sounds musical, but a little off, hence kind of dreamlike. This seems to have led to people searching for backwards messages in other Beatles songs, since they knew it was possible. But then, backwards singing sounds like audible gibberish. It’s usually not exactly hidden, as you can still recognize a human voice, although there are techniques to make it less obvious. The effort involved to make something sound intelligible both forwards AND backwards would be astronomical, but that didn’t stop people from claiming that they heard messages about Paul McCartney being dead when they played actual singing parts in reverse. A lot of the time it’s just the power of suggestion at work. “Revolution 9” was a popular candidate for hidden messages, presumably because it didn’t make any sense forwards. When the “number nine” part is reversed, it sounds kind of like “turn me on, dead man.” The “dead man” part is clearly just “rebmun,” or “number” backwards; but I’m not sure how “nine” (which really should sound about the same in reverse) becomes anything like “turn me on.” It is pronounced with what sounds like an extra syllable or two, so that probably has something to do with it. And the inner groove of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a repeating loop that’s mostly unintelligible, but you can clearly hear, “Never could be any other way.” Played backwards, it famously sounds like “We’ll fuck you like we’re Superman.” Not that this even makes sense as a hidden message, as Superman is generally portrayed as a nice guy, and I don’t think we know much about his sexual habits. Still, it’s kind of eerie. While it wasn’t original with them, Camper Van Beethoven included a few recordings on their albums that were just other songs in reverse. The hidden track on Camper Vantiquities (which isn’t, for what it’s worth, on the cassette; that was how I first owned that album) that’s “I Don’t See You” backwards is called “Om Eye,” because the chorus in reverse kind of sounds like “om eye, sweet isthmus, we are one.” There are other cases where they edit a little more instead of just reversing the original, as with “Five Sticks” (based on “Ambiguity Song”), “Circles” (based on “Oh No!”), and “We’re All Wasted and We’re Wasting All Your Time” (based on “Take the Skinheads Bowling”). They Might Be Giants, another band that’s often surreal and likes to experiment with sound, unsurprisingly used backmasking at times. One of the most interesting cases is the song “On Earth My Nina,” which came about when John Linnell listened to the song “Thunderbird” backwards and sang what it sounded like that way. Oddly, the original song wasn’t released for another five years after that.

While the rumors about hidden messages in Beatles songs were supposed to be scary, I’m not sure anything thought they were Satanic, even if there was that “more popular than Jesus” overreaction. Wikipedia suggests that the idea might have come from the scene in The Exorcist where the possessed Regan speaks backwards, and while I don’t know if this is true, it sounds feasible. Aleister Crowley was apparently playing records backwards to develop his subconscious mind well before that, though. Would a backwards message even work as subliminal? I’m not sure that’s how the human mind processes sound. Maybe someone learned about how the retina turns images upside down and figured it was the same with ears. There was a Michael Ian Black comedy routine where he talked about backwards messages, saying that the Devil was screwed when CDs came out, and that he thought the messages would be more effective if they were friendly instead of creepy. You catch more Lords of the Flies with honey, I suppose. After the rumors began spreading, some musicians started intentionally putting in backmasked lines about the Devil, often humorous ones. Weird Al fans probably know about the backwards “Satan eats Cheese Whiz” in “Nature Trail to Hell.” There have also been cases where bands used backmasking to slip in profanity. And the Simpsons episode “New Kids on the Blecch” had Bart joining a boy band whose songs had subliminal recruitment messages for the Navy, but for some reason the phrase “Yvan eht nioj” was sung backwards phonetically instead of actually reversed.

I guess part of the joke was how incredibly obvious the secret message was, but it seemed a bit dumbed down to me. I mostly had cassettes growing up, so it wasn’t until I had a computer with an Internet connection that I could listen to anything in reverse. I’m not sure whether that makes me more or less susceptible to the Devil.

Posted in Beatles, Camper Van Beethoven, Cartoons, Christianity, Conspiracy Theories, Humor, Music, Religion, Satanism, Television, The Simpsons, They Might Be Giants, Urban Legends, Weird Al Yankovic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Buggane You?

The Buggane is a monster in the folklore of the Isle of Man, which I suppose makes it a Manxome foe, like the Jabberwock. As an American, the main thing I know about the place is the tailless cats. Since a cat uses its tail to show its feelings, does a Manx have the feline equivalent of a poker face? But anyway, the word apparently means anything scary and unidentified, and is etymologically related to monster names like boggart, bogeyman, and pooka. Bugganes are shapeshifters, but in what’s presumably their natural form, they’re covered in coarse black hair, with glowing eyes, sharp tusks, and cloven hooves. They’ve sometimes been portrayed as similar to moles.

When they take human form, they still have long teeth, nails, and hair; but I have to suspect that’s just an excuse to pick on poorly groomed people. The creatures also have the power to cause storms.

What might be the most famous story of a Buggane involves St. Trinian’s Church at the foot of Greeba Mountain, where such a monster dwelled. Like many supernatural beings in Christian Europe, Bugganes were unable to stand on hallowed ground, and the creature was afraid he’d never get to sleep with the bells ringing. A variant on the tale has him angry at St. Trinian for stopping him from wrecking a ship. It’s hard not to take his side, since he WAS apparently there first, and I’m sure there were other places they could put a church. Anyway, when the church was built, he tore off the roof, and blew it off with a storm when the people tried to replace it. Then a tailor named Timothy made a wager that he’d spend the night in the church and make a pair of pants while there. He was just able to finish it as the Buggane was about to attack him, so he ran away. The monster knocked the roof off again, then threw his head at the fleeing tailor. That was presumably the end of that particular Buggane, but no one ever bothered trying to replace the roof again.
Sometimes Bugganes were enforcers for the fairies, as in the story of a woman who was captured by a Buggane who lived behind a waterfall as punishment for baking after sunset, but managed to escape by cutting off her apron strings.

A different woman captures a Buggane who had been pushing smoke down chimneys and sheep off cliffs. There’s another tale about Fionn mac Cumhaill visiting the Isle of Man and trying to avoid fighting a Buggane by having his wife disguise him as a baby. They did eventually fight, however, creating the channel between Kitterland and the Calf of Man in the process. When Fionn retreated over the water to Ireland, the Buggane tore out a tooth to throw at him, and that tooth became Chicken Rock. Apparently every landmark on the island had something to do with Bugganes.

Picture by Ryan Best

Posted in Animals, British, Christianity, Etymology, Fairy Tales, Language, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oceans Rise, Empires Fall

I’ve seen several people mention on social media that they refuse to celebrate Independence Day, which is understandable in the light of all the crap that’s going on now, much of which has always been present in the United States. I can’t say I did that much myself, but I do still enjoy eating hot dogs, probably more than I did when I was a kid. I have to say I’m a little uncomfortable about patriotism even in the best of times, as the whole notion of the nation is pretty arbitrary. But there’s also a difference between patriotism and nationalism, and people’s insecure insistence that their country is The Best fits more into the latter. I think most countries are better than their leaders, but at the same those leaders, even the ones who come into power illegally, obviously have significant popular support or they wouldn’t stay in power. It’s good that most of our nation doesn’t seem to like Donald Trump, but way more people do than I had thought possible. I feel that, on a personal level, I’ve always been ostensibly against racism but was largely unaware of it in practice, an unfortunate reality for a lot of people who grew up in mostly white spaces. I feel that Trump being in power has made it pretty much impossible to ignore the systemic racism in the country, and yet not much has changed in that respect. Anyway, I’m going to move on to some movie reviews.

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy – Not a very patriotic choice, perhaps, but Wednesday was Canada Day. I had only seen this once before, at the student union when I was a freshman in college, and I’d never heard of the Kids in the Hall prior to that, at least as far as I can remember. I only became aware of them when I became a fan of They Might Be Giants, as they have a significant overlap in online fanbase. A few seconds of the TMBG song “Spiraling Shape” (or “Spiralling Shape,” as it’s spelled in Canada) appear in the movie, and I know Kevin McDonald has been photographed wearing a TMBG shirt, but I can’t say I really know what KITH and TMBG have in common. Anyway, Beth has shown me most of the TV show by now. I remember finding parts of the film pretty funny when I first saw it, but I’ll admit I was a little put off by the raunchier jokes. I had some weird hang-ups at that age, and really not very common hang-ups for someone who was eighteen or nineteen. It’s not like the movie requires the audience to have any particular knowledge of the troupe in general, although it helps to understand the kind of humor used in it. Some of it is pretty dark, like Chris Cooper’s father’s incompetent suicide, the Cancer Boy character, and the fact that Scott Thompson’s old lady’s happiest memory is of her family paying her a really short visit where they insult her. The character of Don Roritor, played by Mark McKinney, is a Lorne Michaels parody, and I couldn’t help thinking of Dr. Evil, who’s Mike Myers doing a Michaels impression. They guy has obviously pissed off a lot of comedians. I couldn’t help thinking on this viewing how depression and sadness are not the same thing, but that’s not really a criticism since it’s not like they were aiming for realism. It’s just that I find it irritating when people really do think that way. It kind of presented the moral as being that happiness all the time isn’t a good thing, which is true but obvious. The satire was more on how the for-profit pharmaceutical industry leads to a lot of immoral decisions. And Bruce McCulloch made a pretty cute woman playing Cooper’s love interest. This was a flop at the box office, but I liked it, and I know other people who do.

Hamilton – Beth was really into the soundtrack for the musical, as I guess society in general pretty much is. John Bolton even referenced it in his book title, and I doubt he was the intended audience. I’d listened to it as well, and while I wasn’t as much into it as she was, I could certainly appreciate the cleverness. There was a Family Guy episode where Stewie Griffin called it something like “Gilbert and Sullivan for Hispanics,” and while I’m not sure about the last two words, the G&S comparison definitely fits. A lot of it is fast-paced, and there are a lot of witty rhymes and wordplay. Finally actually seeing it performed was interesting, as there’s a lot that’s confusing without the visuals. That includes physical acting, but also how I couldn’t always tell who was singing what line.

There’s kind of an irony in that most of the performers are people of color playing slave owners, an irony of which I’m sure Lin-Manuel Miranda was aware. On a certain level, it’s a celebration of the United States that ignores many of the harsh truths about the nation, and makes many of the Founding Fathers out to be cool guys. Aside from Alexander Hamilton himself, Thomas Jefferson especially was portrayed as very coolly self-confident and witty, even though he was opposed to Hamilton.

At the same time, you have to read between the lines a bit. I mentioned the similarity to Jesus Christ Superstar to Beth, and she asked if I meant because the main character’s friend caused his death, which I guess is also true. But no, I meant in that it was a heavily mythologized historical tale told through a modern lens, with the music, vernacular, and sometimes values of today.

Posted in american revolution, Corporations, Drugs, Food, Health, History, Holidays, Humor, Music, Plays, Politics, Prejudice, Television, They Might Be Giants, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Devil’s Busy Decade

I had heard of the phrase “Satanic panic” before (hey, it’s very catchy), and had some idea of what it entailed, but I thought it was worth looking into a little more. While there are many components, the phrase largely refers to a period in the 1980s when fundamentalist Christianity was on the rise, and with it came ideas of Satan and his followers having control of basically everything. Obviously Satan being Lord of the Earth is a much older concept, but here it tended to be associated specifically with children, the Devil infiltrating rock music, role-playing games, and even day care centers. I would think Satan would have better things to do, but I guess if he’s the source of all evil, that includes micromanaging. I suppose sloth is one sin in which the big guy himself does not partake.

The panic was also fueled by evangelical Christians who claimed to have gotten out of Satanic cults in which they inevitably held really high positions. Their stories not only were outlandish, but they didn’t line up with each other even though these were supposed to be worldwide organizations. There tended to be a lot about child abuse, sacrifices of humans and pets, and occult symbolism everywhere.

They also tended to mix Devil worship with Wicca, which, while it seems to be pretty open about theology, doesn’t even have a Devil as far as I know. Of course, witches worshipping the Devil is a really old idea.

According to some Christians, worshipping ANYTHING other than Yahweh and Jesus is serving Satan like how pagan gods were often treated as demons. They’ll even sometimes say other Christians and even atheists are in Satan’s employ. I doubt too many atheists believe in the Devil but not God, which would be like believing Sherlock Holmes isn’t real but Moriarty is. But this is Devil worship by proxy, while these cults allegedly directly worshipped the big red guy with the goat horns. Rock music and Dungeons & Dragons DID include some occult symbolism, but this was largely just for flavor rather than because anyone took it seriously.

If you could really learn spells from a D&D manual, there would be a lot more unexplainable phenomena going on, and fewer geeks would have been bullied.

Does this only apply to people who role-play magic-users? What if you play a barbarian? Do you just get Army recruiters?
And sword-and-sorcery has a tradition of combining actual religious and magical beliefs, often largely forgotten ones, with fiction.

As for ritual abuse, this article mentions that this was at a time when child abuse accusations were only just starting to be taken seriously and heavily publicized. In the cases where it was mixed with charges of Satanic rituals, regression therapy was used to lead patients and implant false memories. One of the most famous examples of this was when psychiatrist Lawrence Pazer wrote about the supposedly repressed memories of ritual abuse by his patient Michelle Smith, whom he later married, because doctors having romantic relationships with patients apparently isn’t itself really creepy. The book was later discredited, but not until after a lot of people had taken it as accurate.

The thing is, a lot of this is funny when taken by itself, but not so much when it’s used to harm people. I would say Satan should sue the panickers for defamation of character, but what lawyer would take his case? Well, according to hacky jokes, any of them.

Posted in Christianity, Conspiracy Theories, Cults, Fundamentalism, Games, Magic, Music, Mythology, Religion, Satanism, Wicca | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daughter of Disease, Maker of Snakes

Picture by Tero Porthan
In my ongoing search for topics from mythology and folklore, and specifically in terms of ogres and witches, I saw a mention of the Syojatar (properly spelled with marks above the letters, but that’s a hassle) from Finnish mythology. Sometimes one individual and other times a type of being, she serves much the same role Baba Yaga does in Russian lore. She’s also known as the mother of monsters and diseases. She’s likely related to Loviatar, herself considered the goddess of disease. From what I’ve read, she’s probably the same as the witch Louhi, a villain in the Kalevala, but the different names have led some to consider them two separate individuals. She’s the daughter of Tuoni, god of death and the underworld. Born blind and ugly, she was impregnated by the wind when she slept with her back to it, which just goes to show that abstinence isn’t a surefire way to avoid pregnancy after all. She had nine sons who were diseases, although exactly which ones seems to vary somewhat.

The relevant Wikipedia page lists only eight, but then gives a passage from the Kalevala with nine, and several differences besides. Maybe it’s largely a result of translation. One of them, syoja, rendered as “cancer,” presumably literally means “eater.” Syojatar’s own name, from what I’ve found, means “man-eater.” So is that who Hall and Oates were singing about? I’ve seen her name given as the Finnish version of “ogress” or “harpy” as well.

Picture by NAM-KE
Loviatar banished the worst of the nine personifications, but it’s not clear as to which one this is, and some versions apparently leave him unnamed. She’s sometimes said to have had a tenth son, who was the father of Sjoyatar. The ogress’ saliva, through various methods, became the first snake, lizard, and wolf. She’s also said to have created the fir tree, but it’s as the mother of snakes that she seems to be best known. She’s the villain in some fairy tales, one that I came across having her just sort of randomly messing with a family, tricking nine brothers into leaving home, killing their sister’s dog, and switching forms with the girl like Mombi did with Jellia Jamb. Oddly, this tale appears on a page of fairy tales with brothers turned to birds, although from skimming the story itself, I don’t think they’re turned into anything. It does have the same sort of structure of tales of that sort, though. Another one, mentioned on Wikipedia, has her stealing children and replacing them with dogs and pigs. And a variant of the Cinderella story puts her in the role of the wicked stepmother. All three have them end with the witch burned to death.

I should probably actually read the Kalevala someday, as I’ve come back to it a few times recently. Is there a translation that’s particularly good? I’ve found the John Martin Crawford one, but I have to say I was a little put off by the introduction. “The skull of the Finn belongs to the brachycephalic (short-headed) class of Retzius. Indeed the Finn-organization has generally been regarded as Mongol, though Mongol of a modified type.” I know it’s from 1888, but that’s pretty racist. Maybe I should just skip the preface, though.

Posted in Animals, Fairy Tales, Finnish, Health, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Norse, Russian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Give God Your Strength!

Breath of Fire 2 – I watched my brother play through this years ago, but I never did myself. I was getting a little frustrated with the other games I was playing, so I downloaded this on the 3DS and played through it, finally finishing this past Sunday. It’s kind of become a regular occurrence in Japanese role-playing games to have to kill God, or at least a powerful being who claims to be God, but this is one of the first times I remember seeing it. You play as Ryu Bateson, the son of a village preacher who mysteriously disappears, and no one in town remembers his existence. After an encounter with a demon, the game skips ahead ten years, where you and your childhood friend Bow are working as Rangers, who are hired for various tasks, in the creatively named HomeTown. Bow gets in trouble for stealing from a guy named Trout for another guy named Kilgore, even though he doesn’t actually take anything. While Bow goes into hiding, Ryu has to track down the real thief, a girl with wings, which leads to his gaining more companions and fighting a lot of monsters, in typical RPG style.

In this world, most of the characters who join your party are anthropomorphic animals: Bow is a dog, Katt…well, you can figure that one out, Rand is an armadillo, Nina has bird wings, Sten is a monkey, Jean is a frog (with a French accent, so there’s kind of a subtle insult in there), and the bonus character Bleu has the body of a snake.

Ryu turns out to be part of the Dragon Clan with the ability to turn into a dragon, and Spar (full name Aspara Gus) is a plant person, so that’s a little different. For most of the characters, you eventually find out their back stories and meet other members of their clans, although you only find one other cat-person and no more dog-people. While some parts force you to use certain party members, you’re usually allowed to choose. I tried to level them all up about the same amount, but the party I ended up using in the final dungeon was Ryu, Bow, Rand, and Bleu. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses, but I thought it was interesting that Rand, who’s kind of a tank character, also has healing spells. And over the course of your adventure, you find out that the powerful and popular Church of St. Eva is a conduit for transferring energy to an ancient demon by way of prayers.

So maybe offering thoughts and prayers isn’t just ineffective, but genuinely bad?

The exact nature of the world’s religions is a little unclear, not helped by a pretty sloppy translation from Japanese, where concepts like demons and gods aren’t as clear-cut as in standard Western religions. It’s decent enough to let you follow the story and get a sense of the characters, but there are grammatical problems, item names and descriptions that don’t make sense in English, and instances where you get a yes or no option and they’re reversed. Legends of Localization has a run-down on the sorts of bad translations in the game.

Character limits also come into play, leading to some hard-to-decipher abbreviations. Some of the names are inconsistent, like how the demon Habaruku is called Babaruku at one point. The ending credits provide names, sometimes both first and last, for many of the characters who aren’t named within the game, but the translations are very literal and not always in accordance with those who ARE named elsewhere. Rand’s last name is Marks as a play on “landmarks,” which doesn’t really work in English. In addition to Kilgore and Trout, there are many other references to literature, music, and even brand names. The witch Nimufu’s original name was a play on “nymphomaniac” and the engineer Eichichi’s name basically means “large breasts,” but it’s doubtful that the translator even caught these. The members of the resistance against St. Eva are named after Disney characters: Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Max, Pete, Pooh, Chip, Gaston, and Tigger. Only the last one is named in-game,and he’s called Tiga. The winged thief is called Patty Smith, but that turns out to not be her real name.

This page explains many other references. The demon-god of the St. Eva Church is named Evans, or Deathevan when you fight him, so I’m not sure we know whether St. Eva is a separate individual.

As far as religion goes, there’s also a Dragon God and a god of agriculture, and they both seem to be good, so maybe the lesson is that gods need to specialize instead of being all-encompassing. Most of the members of the Church are basically decent people who were duped, with a few exceptions who literally turn into demons. Some of the stranger parts of the game include hunting down insects for Jean to cook, avoiding being cooked in a restaurant run by monsters, helping an overweight queen lose weight by fighting the fat monsters inside her (that one is gross AND kind of offensive), and entering an old tree’s memory. You have to go into toilets a few times, too.

There are some elements in the game that I really didn’t implement fully, although I did find out how to get the best ending. There’s a town that you help to rebuild, and bringing certain characters there will let the place fly, which contributes to this ending.

I didn’t use the flying town that much in the game, though, for the same reason I never much worked with the shamans who can grant the characters additional powers, which is that they’re kind of tedious and time-consuming. I also know that there are different outcomes when you recruit different people for your town, but I just accepted the first ones I found. I never tried fishing, and only hunted a little bit. They’re all interesting ideas, but not really necessary to play the game. And aside from the translation problems, shopping can be annoying because there’s no indication as to whether a weapon or piece of armor is better than what you already have. That’s the sort of thing I now tend to take for granted in RPGs, but they didn’t always have it in earlier ones, and we had to muddle through. It helps somewhat that most party members use only one type of weapon. As in the Dragon Quest series, you get resurrected when your party is wiped out, but you lose money. And resurrection items are available starting in HomeTown, although they’re a little expensive for the beginning of the game. Rand also has a move that will sometimes bring a dead character back to life in battle, but it’s not all that reliable.
I have to say I enjoyed revisiting this game, and maybe I’ll go even farther back to the first Breath of Fire in the near future. I’ve started playing Phantasy Star 3, which seems a little primitive for when it came out (1990, same year as Dragon Quest IV), but I’ll see how it works out for me. I finished the first PS years ago, and started PS2 but was really confused by it early on.

Posted in Animals, Breath of Fire, Dragon Quest, Magic, Monsters, Names, Phantasy Star, Religion, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

California Scheming

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – This was a quite ambitious movie for its time, bringing together many of the most famous comic actors of the time. Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, and Terry-Thomas all play major roles; and many other comedians have cameo appearances, some very brief and others more significant. I’m not that familiar with all of them, but I was certainly aware that there were some pretty big stars involved. One actor I didn’t realize I’d seen before but actually had was Dick Shawn, who here is Berle’s character’s idiot brother-in-law, and was also the hippie who played Hitler in The Producers. They’re largely the same character, really. The plot starts with a dying burglar, played by Jimmy Durante, revealing the location of a bunch of money he hid to a few people who stop to help him, who can’t agree on how to split the loot, so they all take measures to get there first. Spencer Tracy plays a police chief who had been working on the crook’s case, and tracks all of the treasure hunters, eventually trying to escape with all the money himself. There are a lot of car and plane stunts along the way, and obviously plenty of both physical and spoken comedy. There were some bits that I feel went on rather too long, perhaps partially because there was a lot of restored footage on the DVD release, but apparently even contemporary critics said this. It’s so packed full of gags that, even if one doesn’t work, you might like the next one. One reason I thought I should see this, other than just being a significant comedy film, was how often it’s referenced elsewhere. I guess I’m mostly thinking of the bit in the Simpsons episode “Homer the Vigilante” that briefly reenacts the film, including a recreation of a kid tricking Silvers into driving into a river, only with Bart as the kid.

I also remember an episode of the Beetlejuice cartoon where most of the show’s recurring characters raced each other to find an island with a giant ape.

Interestingly, in both of these parodies, the treasure turned out to be a hoax, while in the original movie the money was real, but none of the leads ended up with any of it. Even Follow That Bird seems to have taken inspiration from it, especially the scene of Bert and Ernie in the biplane.

I remember, on the Simpsons commentary, Matt Groening (or maybe someone else, but I think it was him) talked about how he saw the movie as a kid and was excited to see the Three Stooges’ cameo, which ended up being a very short scene where they’re dressed as firemen. They were very recognizable, though, and apparently got a lot of applause in theaters.

Curly Joe Derita was the third Stooge here, as this was after Curly and Shemp had died. Joe Besser was still alive, and was actually offered a different role in the film, although he ended up not being able to take it. I didn’t notice Stan Freberg, who has a non-speaking role as a deputy, and I think his voice also can be heard on a police radio.

He did a radio spot for the movie in which he claimed it was funnier than Cleopatra.

I understand the big W was actually in a private park in Rancho Palos Verdes, although it’s no longer standing.

Hackett and Rooney land Jim Backus’ plane at Rancho Conejo, an actual airport at the time. The fictional Santa Rosita is shown at one point to be south of San Diego, which would mean it’s on the opposite side of Los Angeles from that airport.

Posted in Advertising, Cartoons, Celebrities, Humor, Muppets, Sesame Street, Stan Freberg, Television, The Simpsons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jumping Jupiter!

Donald Duck: Uncle Scrooge’s Money Rocket, by Luciano Bottaro – The second in the Disney Masters series features the work of another Italian artist and writer, showcasing three imaginative madcap tales. In the titular story, when the Beagle Boys find out about Scrooge’s private island where he plans to store his money, he instead uses Gyro Gearloose’s rocket to hide it on the Moon instead. Instead, they end up on Jupiter, which is not only solid with breathable air, but home to green people who speak English and eat metal. Meanwhile, Rebo, the S.L.U.G. (Supreme Leader and Unquestioned General) of Saturn, is attempting to conquer Jupiter, but can’t come up with an effective robot design.

One of his generals tries to abduct Gyro, but accidentally takes Donald instead, and he saves the day by messing up the Saturnian war machines without even trying to. The story seems to shift gears a whole lot, as if Bottaro wasn’t sure where he wanted it to go, and characters suddenly turn mean just to keep things running. I know Scrooge is often mean to Donald, but usually only when he actually does something wrong. Here, Scrooge and Gyro initially decide to take Donald with him to help with the work, then maroon him on an asteroid when the rocket is too heavy, only to later realize that the weight calculations didn’t work out because Huey, Dewey, and Louie had stowed away. And the Jovian who rescues Donald from the asteroid later sells him to a science lab. The follow-up, “The Return of Rebo,” written thirty-five years later, has Scrooge conspire with the editor of a magazine he owns to fake a UFO encounter with Donald dressed as an alien, only to have the Saturnians abduct both Donald and Scrooge, along with a bunch of Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s toys that they use as models for weapons. The third comic is unrelated to the other two, instead focusing largely on another character Bottaro used quite a bit, Witch Hazel from “Trick or Treat.” Scrooge finds her sneaking up to his window to watch TV, while also figuring out ways to get free advertising for his products on quiz shows.

Again, the plot is kind of all over the place, but Hazel herself is entertaining.
<img The biography in the collection mentions Bottaro's affinity for "near-psychedelic deformations of characters' shapes," which we can see in the space travel scenes, as well as with the rubbery forms of the Saturnians and the bizarre geometric patterns of the scenery and buildings on Jupiter (as per the volume's back cover).
The comics might not make a lot of sense plot-wise, but they really deserve to be seen.

Now, Then, and Everywhen, by Rysa Walker – This was a book I got on Kindle through an Amazon Prime promotion. It’s a prequel to the CHRONOS Files series, which I’ve never read. As such, there were aspects to the universe I wasn’t familiar with, and I couldn’t really say whether that affected my understanding or enjoyment, but I suspect it did. Towards the beginning, there was some discussion of an extremist cult called the Cyrists, seemingly related to the Branch Davidians (“Koresh” is the Hebrew form of “Cyrus”), but it never plays an important role; I understand it was integral to the plot of an earlier book. Even more confusing was the switch between two different time-traveling narrators, Tyson Reyes and Madison Grace. Tyson works as a historian, going back to time to learn about the KKK in the twentieth century. Both leads find out about changes in history that have both John Lennon and Martin Luther King killed considerably earlier than they originally were. There’s a fair amount of focus on the Beatles, and how white supremacists hated them because they refused to play to segregated audiences, then used John’s “more popular than Jesus” comment as an excuse. The actual 1966 concert in Memphis when someone threw a cherry bomb on the stage, which was apparently one catalyst for the group giving up on touring, plays a significant role. It turns out that a group from the future is playing a game where they try to change history, regardless of how many lives are lost or ruined in the process. While a lot of the back story was lost on me, I appreciated the focus on a particular part of history as the crux of a time travel adventure.

Posted in Art, Beatles, Book Reviews, Cartoons, Comics, History, Humor, Music, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iron Constitutions

I’ve been looking a bit into witches, and I latched onto one physical trait the Russian Baba Yaga is sometimes said to have, which is iron teeth. Such teeth seem to be associated with witches in general in Slavic lore. One Russian tale I came across,  “Prince Ivan, the Witch Baby, and the Little Sister of the Sun,” starts with a royal couple who are so ashamed of their mute son that they wish and pray for another child, only to be punished for their treatment of the first child by having a daughter who’s a witch with iron teeth. She eats the parents, but Prince Ivan manages to escape on a fast horse on the advice of the stable groom, and is somehow able to talk after this. He encounters two old women and two giants and asks to stay with them, but they refuse him because they’re being forced to perform a particular task for the rest of their lives, sewing for the women and throwing trees and mountains for the giants. Finally, he comes to the castle of the Little Sister of the Sun, who befriends him and gives him magical gifts that create more trees and mountains for the giants, thereby extending their lives, and apples that make the women young again. He confronts the witch-baby and once again escapes from her. The witch is said to use her iron teeth to gnaw through trees and mountains in her way during her pursuit of Ivan, but breaks them by gnashing too hard after he finds refuge in the Little Sister of the Sun’s castle. In another, a witch chasing a boy named Ivashko forces a smith to make her iron teeth in order to chew through a tree. This story also has Ivashko trick the witch’s daughter into cooking herself in a manner reminiscent of that in “Hansel and Gretel,” after which the witch eats her own progeny. And the German witch Perchta is sometimes said to have an iron nose.

Maybe some of them also have iron breasts, which would explain why a witch’s tit is regarded as being so cold.

Slavic mythology also has the psoglav, information on which is rather scant, but it’s said to have a human torso, the legs of a horse, and a dog’s head with a single eye and, yes, iron teeth.

They live in caves and eat people, including digging up graves to devour human corpses. And to get away from Eastern Europe for a bit, in the Akan mythology of southern Ghana, there’s the Asanbosam or Sasabonsam, a sort of vampire ogre with iron hooks for feet.

Some interpretations make them more bat-like, and will use “Sasabonsam” specifically to mean the chiropteran variety.

The association of witches and monsters with iron teeth and other body parts is interesting because, in other parts of the world, iron is said to ward off witches and demons.

In Britain, it was considered the bane of fairies, and that presumably expanded into being protection against other sorts of magical beings.

It appears to be a pretty common occult belief that magic won’t work on iron, or that the metal at least has a dampening effect on it. I’m sure the supernatural properties of iron come at least partially from its magnetism and conductivity, as well as how it makes more durable tools and weapons than bronze. Iron-working led to an increase in technology, so it can represent the power of humanity to tame nature. In the Finnish Kalevala, iron was poisoned by a hornet while the legendary blacksmith Ilmarinen was first tempering it, so it came to be primarily used for harmful implements.

This account also says that iron came into existence where three goddesses had squirted out their breast milk onto the ground.

This page suggests that iron symbolized the victory of Christianity over the more nature-driven pagan religions, and that in Britain it was used to fight off the native Britons, who only had bronze weapons. I know I’ve seen the Wicked Witch of the West noted as an exception to the rule of witches not being able to work magic on iron, as she specifically makes an iron bar invisible to trip up Dorothy. But then, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century United States, iron would have been considered much more commonplace than it was to the writers of old folklore. The Tin Woodman might well be mostly made of iron, since tin doesn’t rust, but he doesn’t talk about that part of his metal composition. In the Russian Magic Land books, he’s actually called the Iron Woodman.

Posted in African, British, Christianity, Fairy Tales, Finnish, German, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Monsters, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Religion, Russian, Slavic, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh Yeah, Mario Time!

I have pondered Mario’s age before, and mentioned how he’s officially supposed to be in his mid-twenties. But then, I grew up with the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, where Captain Lou Albano was playing Mario and Danny Wells Luigi in their mid-fifties and late forties, respectively. Not that this means the characters were supposed to be that old, but it would be pretty difficult to buy that they’re in their twenties. But then, Nintendo apparently let licensed properties do essentially what they wanted back then, and later contradicted these ideas in canonical material. As per the Yoshi’s Island games, several of the main characters are around the same age. Mario and Luigi are twins, again contradicting the apocrypha.

It’s possible they were always intended to be twins, since they were basically identical prior to Super Mario Bros. 2, but I don’t think we know for sure prior to YI. And since Bowser is a baby in the YI games, he can’t be that much older than Mario.

For some reason, it’s even harder to accept that he’s maybe thirty at the most. I understand Paper Mario: Color Splash establishes that Mario has been fighting Bowser for thirty years, although it’s not clear whether that’s a meta-reference or in-universe.

I guess they both work, since they first fought as babies. Thirty or thereabouts is really young to have eight kids, but since Nintendo has already retconned the Koopalings into NOT being his children, I guess that age works.

I wonder if the change was intentional because of Bowser’s more recently established age, or that’s just a coincidence. In the SMB3 cartoon, Wendy O. Koopa (called Kootie Pie on the show) has her sixteenth birthday, which presumably would mean her dad was only a teenager when she was born if this were still being taken into consideration.

Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time suggests Princess Peach is a little younger than the Mario Brothers, but not by that much. And in Yoshi’s Island DS, Wario is a baby at the same time as the others. Contrary to my previous speculation, however, the prevailing theory online seems to be that Baby Donkey Kong is the infant version of the modern DK, not of Cranky Kong.

Since this DK presumably wasn’t even born until Mario was an adult, as he’s the son of the original Donkey Kong Jr. who’s still a kid in his own game, this means he couldn’t be from the same time period as the others. I don’t think YIDS ever explains how Bowser and Kamek managed to travel through time to kidnap babies, but I guess if they could go back to Bowser’s own childhood, they could also go to a time after that but before their present when DK III was a baby. On the other hand, the reason they’re going back to that specific time is that Kamek determined the seven stars fell around then and bonded with several babies.

While it’s possible the seventh star took a while to find a host, how would they specifically know that host would be Baby DK when they couldn’t tell which other babies were Star Children?

And no, Jumpman can’t be Mario’s father as I’ve seen suggested, as Super Mario Odyssey pretty much confirms that the same Mario and Pauline appeared in both games. It’s also not entirely clear whether the green Yoshi who becomes the seventh Star Child after hatching during the ending of YIDS is the same as THE Yoshi, or if there even is one main Yoshi.

We also don’t know whether Daisy and Rosalina, who appear as babies in some of the Mario Kart games, are from the same time period as the YIDS babies.

It would seem that Rosalina couldn’t be if she flies by her home planet in the Comet Observatory, which she helped to build, every century.

Another element from the DiC cartoons and other media around the time that appears to have been retconned, although I’m not sure there’s been any official word on the subject, is that Mario and Luigi lived in Brooklyn. While Shigeru Miyamoto has said he intended the original Donkey Kong to be set in New York City, it’s at least implied that it’s been relocated to New Donk City.

There was even a plan to place the brothers’ old plumbing shop in New Donk, although it was dropped before the game was finished.

As such, there’s not much requiring the games’ events to take place at any specific time relative to our own world. Well, except that the manual for Wario Land 4 claims that it takes place in 2001 when the game was released, and Ice Ice Outpost in Mario Kart 8 has a reference to the Toad Polar Expedition 2014-2015, both giving the impression that their years match up pretty closely with ours.

But even if that’s the case now, it doesn’t necessarily mean the events always match up with when the games were released, and we know they can’t with prequels. It’s still not totally clear whether there’s a sliding or condensed timeline, or aging just works differently in that world.

Posted in Cartoons, Donkey Kong, Mario, Monsters, Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Television, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment