Monday, October 31, 2016

She's got a lot of things on her mind.

[Spoiler warning: we usually don't give a spoiler warning for our Monday posts, but this piece pretty prominently features a neat little twist in this week's second WKRP episode, so if you were planning to watch "Daydreams" in advance of our podcast, you may want to skip this post.]

So we've got a good pair of Bailey Quarters episodes this week in "The Painting" and "Daydreams." "The Painting" heavily features Bailey, who eventually gets the better of Herb Tarlek in an increasingly complex and Mamet-esque series of business transactions surrounding a painting from a church sale. But it's the tiny scenelet in "Daydreams" that grabs our attention this week, eight days before an historic Cincinnati City Council 2016 Presidential election.

"Daydreams" sees our cast listening to the practice run of a Big Guy speech and drifting off into their own little fantasy worlds in the process. Part of the fun of recording this podcast was using each vignette to further analyze the cast's psyches. And Bailey's fantasy, where she's in bed with Johnny and we very slowly and gradually learn that Bailey is now the President of the United States, could not be more pertinent on the eve of America possibly electing its first chief executive with the title "Madame President."

We'll leave off analyzing the implications of Johnny being the First Gentleman for our Wednesday podcast, but for now, let's quickly look at the "far-future woman President" trope in television and films in this period. It's interesting that in the 1980s, it was at least taken as an inevitability that America would eventually elect a female Commander-in-Chief; there are several examples of this besides Bailey's admittedly lightweight fantasy sequence. The short-lived 1985 ABC mid-season replacement sitcom Hail to the Chief, starring Patty Duke (and created by Soap helmer and future The Golden Girls creator Susan Harris, last mentioned in HMOTD 029), put the first woman President in a Dr. Strangelove situation of all things in its pilot, all while she needs to balance the needs of her husband and children in a traditional zany sitcom setup. Just as with Soap, we can see Harris struggling with the limitations of what kinds of representation could be allowed on network TV at the time (Patty Duke's President Mansfield also quite interestingly has an openly gay Secret Service agent, who is a recurring character). Given that Hail to the Chief was canceled after seven episodes, even these modest steps forward weren't really smiled upon by the powers-that-be in television in the mid-'80s.

In the '00s and beyond we've been spoiled by depictions of Laura Roslin and Allison Taylor and Selina Meyer; three-dimensional chief executives with a full spectrum of character traits, including flaws. But in the 1980s, the woman President, while inevitable, was still primarily an object of fun, helping male writers in working out their anxieties of the possible "benign violation" of the office of President. But even just that sense of inevitability is still very interesting. It's hard to deny the progress of women in politics globally when the United Kingdom elects a Margaret Thatcher (herself an archconservative) or figures like Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi from earlier in the 1970s. What makes America different? Why have we lagged behind the rest of the world? To answer this, we need to take a closer look at Bailey Quarters, and a little bumpersticker on her desk.

Bailey has always been our "woman trying to make her way in a man's world" proxy, of course. By Season 3, she's boldly out-dealing and out-conning Herb Tarlek and fantasizing about the challenges of being America's first woman chief executive. She's always been politically and socially conscious too; remember the ERA bumpersticker on Bailey's desk? Prior to the wave election of 1980 and the 1981 entry of Ronald Reagan into the Oval Office and the concomitant rise of the influence of his Evangelical allies, the passage of an Equal Rights Amendment was considered a fait accompli across the political spectrum. But all that changed in the late 1970s with the rise of vigorous ERA opposition. Even given an extension for passage into 1982, the ERA would die on the vine, the country's conservative psyche wanting to return to traditional gender roles in the face of the societal turmoil of the 1970s.

Led by prominent antifeminists like the recently-deceased Phyllis Schlafly, who channeled grassroots reactionary opposition to the ERA (and got an explicit ERA opposition plank added to Reagan's 1980 Republican platform), the women's rights movement ended up being dealt a massive counterblow in the 1980s, in large part by men using, as their public allies and faces... other women. To quote the afterword of Margaret Atwood's definitive statement on the Reagan era's antifeminism, The Handmaid's Tale, "the best and most cost-effective way to control women for reproductive and other purposes was through women themselves." (Schlafly and the wives of the 1980s' various televangelists in fact inspired Atwood's depiction of the Commander's wife, Serena Joy.)

We've talked about the 1980 election as the beginning of a sea change, a shift that has formed so many of the features of 2016's political, social, and economic landscape... from media consolidation, to massive deregulation, to union-busting, to today's overall runaway neoliberal consensus. But here, on the feminism side of things, we see the establishment of an explicit antifeminist strain in American politics, one that has interestingly led directly to next Tuesday's election.

What was 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton up to in early 1981 when this episode of WKRP aired, aside from just having given birth to a daughter? Bill Clinton had just been defeated for Governor in the 1980 election; even in traditionally Democratic Arkansas, Clinton could not form a bulwark against the Reagan Revolution. In the two years (1981 and 1982) that Bill Clinton was out of the Governor's mansion, Hillary Rodham was battling for her Carter-era appointment to head a federal organization called the Legal Services Corporation. The Legal Services Corporation was established in 1974 (by the Nixon administration!) to provide legal assistance to underprivileged Americans in civil legal cases, as an equal access issue of civil rights. Under the watchful eyes of the strict constructionists of the Reagan era, though, the LSC was ideologically suspect. Similar Civil Rights Act-era programs designed to provide legal aid to the poor had been one of Reagan's greatest bugbears as Governor of California. Throughout Reagan's first term, the LSC was directly in Reagan's sights. When removing its funding didn't work thanks to Congressional opposition, Reagan sought to stack the LSC with appointees who would essentially destroy the LSC through neglect. Rodham lobbied Congress, worked against Reagan's recess LSC appointments, and otherwise helped save the LSC from oblivion. (The LSC survived the Reagan years, as George H.W. Bush largely decided to dispense with the ideological-purge mentality of his predecessor.)

When Hillary Rodham returned to the Governor's mansion with her husband in 1983, Ms. Rodham was now officially going by the name Hillary Rodham Clinton. I'm sure this was entirely unrelated to the antifeminist mood in the country at the time. As was, I'm sure, the consistent decision by early-'80s syndicators to cut and broadcast a version of "Daydreams" that was missing the one daydream segment that happened to feature Bailey Quarters (Caravella) as a competent, in-charge, take-no-nonsense, be-pigtailed President of the United States.

To paraphrase Jimmy Carter, there are wounds here, ones that have never been healed.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Show Notes for HMOTD 030: He Has Genghis Khan For A Mother

0:58 "Hi Michael! Hi Robbie!": Damn it, Rob, I think we're funny when we want to be.

When it came to deciding when we'd want to have our Moms on the podcast, we knew we wanted an episode that had good solid Mama Carlson content. We had some options available in Season 4, but when I saw we could get "Bah, Humbug" along with a Mama episode, my mind went immediately to doing a sequel to last season's HMOTD 019: The Year WKRP Saved Christmas, which of course resulted in our little "Moms coming to visit for Christmas in October" bit at the beginning of this episode.

(Also, there's so much lampshading in this episode, we could open a lighting store.)

4:06 Pay TV: My uncle Billy was indeed prescient in his college years! Talk of pay television was very much in its infancy in the early '60s, but the FCC already was dealing with the fallout of the very first embryonic cable TV systems in the 1950s, in towns where over-the-air TV reception was difficult-to-impossible. There was also closed-circuit TV in the '50s and '60s, used to narrowcast prizefights to remote venues in the years before cable pay-per-view. These memories of CCTV fights from the '60s and '70s are pretty awesome.

4:58 "I invented TV": One of the most controversial questions in the field of the history of technology and media is finally answered: Betty Jo did indeed invent television in Flin Flon, Manitoba in the mid-1940s, behind the screen door! Okay, that's not really true, of course, but TV is one of those inventions that doesn't have a single iconic inventor. Rob's long been interested in these questions: check out a blog post of his from 2002 (yes, kids, people did blog back then) amended and updated in 2009.

5:12 Flin Flon Saturday Morning Fun Club: I am very sad to report that my research-fu was not up to the task; I cannot find any record of the Fun Club on the internet in 2016. I am wondering which radio station in Flin Flon it was on, though; my primary suspect is CFAR?

Also, digging into Rob's blog archives yet again: would you like to know the quite eerie Secret History of the naming of Flin Flon? Your questions are answered, thanks again to Betty Jo.

6:30 Boomtown with Rex Trailer: Boomtown! There are so many photos of my Dad as a little kid dressed in cowboy costumes, coonskin caps, and so forth; that's just what kids loved back in the '50s, am I right? What endless superhero movies are to the 2010s, cowboy movies and TV were in the 1950s. So it makes sense that he'd want to appear on one of Boston's most beloved kids' shows. Rex Trailer, who hosted Boomtown for two decades from 1956 to 1974, was a Boston Baby Boomer institution. Rex went on to found a television production company in Boston in the years following Boomtown's cancelation. For extra local TV/helicopter mishap fun (in the vein of HMOTD 027), check out this story about Rex and Boston's Bozo the Clown, Frank Avruch, appearing from nowhere in Western Massachusetts to the delight of local children. At least they didn't crash.

8:48 Indian Head test patterns and Betty Jo's first TV: The 1949 World Series did indeed feature the Yankees and Dodgers. You all were early technology adopters, Betty Jo! And as far as the Indian head test pattern is concerned, its design also has a fascinating secret history. I know we've talked about the BBC test patterns in past Show Notes, like the Test Card Girl, but the Indian head was, of course, iconic during the black-and-white TV era in North America and afterwards.

10:23 Sesame Street: This got cut for time, but please check out the book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street if you care for more evidence and observations in the vein of Betty Jo's Madison, WI playground anthropology in the fall of 1969. Sesame Street was a sea change in how parents, programmers, and educators looked at TV. Again, there was that brief glimmer of hope in the 1970s for a revolution in educational TV programming before the deregulation of the 1980s and the inevitable Mattel Chocobot Power Hours of my own childhood... but that's jumping the gun a bit for HMOTD 032.

Also, if you can get through the book's prologue, set at Jim Henson's 1990 funeral, without bawling your eyes out, you are made of stronger stuff than I.

11:34 Mister Rogers: I received an email from my dad following this episode that said legal action was forthcoming for using this story without his express written consent. I still love Mr. Rogers, though.

Edit: Well, I've found that other people had the same experience as I did with my dad, so here's a poll.

12:45 "Hi boys, it's me, Mom!" More Sifl and Olly, one of Rob's and my favorites. I've been waiting to use one of these Calls from Olly's Mom since we decided to do this episode. That's voice-of-Olly Liam Lynch's actual mom doing the voice there, by the way.

14:27 Doctor Who, Fables of the Green Forest: As I've mentioned time and time again, 7:30 on Channel 2 in Boston in the early '80s was Doctor Who time. I'm more intrigued by what I'm guessing Rob meant as his show, Fables of the Green Forest? It did air on TVOntario. See, this might be one of the reasons I never got into anime; I just never watched any of the early Japanese dubbed imports like this or Speed Racer, or even the 1980s latecomers like Robotech or Voltron.

[Rob:] Yeah, Fables of the Green Forest, that's the show. (Here's the opening theme.)  I had no idea it was Japanese! It was based on the books of Thornton Burgess, which were kind of like Walden for kids. Not unlike Hammy the Hamster, to be honest.

16:58 "You had a 'Thriller' party!": We did indeed. That first half of 1983 belonged to Michael Jackson and the album Thriller, but by the autumn, the album was beginning to lose its luster. The "Thriller" video event was a way to re-inject interest in what was already one of the biggest albums of all time. The John Landis-directed 13-minute video debuted on December 2, 1983 and was the first "world premiere video event" on MTV.

17:52 "Colour came late to Canada": Other than Rob's joke about Canada being black and white until the late '70s, this section just fascinates me, especially when I did go to check out how late color TV came to other countries. Canada finalized their color switchover in 1974, just stupefying! Although if you lived near the border, you could obviously get American transmissions. Cuba's an interesting case; they were super early adopters in 1958 but the Revolution put paid to their plans to roll it out completely. Many countries did not get color until the 1980s, including Turkey and Romania (1990!).

18:38 Rob's memories of color TV: We really need to replace "The Mandela Effect" as a term with "The Nowhere Band Effect."

[Rob:] Aka "The Orange Oscar the Grouch Effect."

19:28 "I suppose we need to talk about WKRP!" It was very difficult to keep the balance of awesome family stories to WKRP coverage just right in this episode. We cut a lot of really fun stories, even some stories about our Moms Behaving Badly, which will surface later either as bonus content for the podcast or blackmail material.

21:30 "At what point in history did [Christmas Carol pastiches] become hokey?" Not sure if we have an answer for this, but TVTropes does have a "Yet Another Christmas Carol" trope page. You know, I'd forgotten the Family Ties episode. Now Alex P. Keaton, that's a character who needs a Scrooge-like attitude adjustment.

[Rob:] The A.V. Club has its own list of Christmas Carol episodes, which posits "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962) as the first animated Christmas special and "one of" the first TV Scrooge pastiches. And scroll down to #15 on the list: In 1989 Hugh Wilson recycled "Bah Humbug" in his "critically acclaimed, dismally rated" sitcom The Famous Teddy Z.

23:00 Canceling the Christmas Carol play: It was mean not to cut my mom's "Bob Marley" brain cramp, but it did allow us to preview the pot brownie story. And Rob also had a hilarious cut bit about his own Grade 13 A Christmas Carol play being interrupted by a fire alarm... possibly pulled by one of the teachers being lampooned?

23:57 The Clapper: The Clapper really seems more like a Grasso Family-type product, if you know what I mean (ahem), so I was honestly surprised Betty Jo knew what it was.

25:17 "1950s nostalgia is much better. Much more nostalgic." My favorite funny line of Betty Jo's in this episode.

27:50 "How funny that Herb was the survivor?" I had to evoke the Peter Principle, even though I found that it's come down to us in a slightly different form than its inventor intended, I think.

29:28 WKRP Future: I love the little electronic sounds that the dueling computer systems use to communicate with each other. It's almost as if all the actual communication is happening by modem and the human touches like the voices are just there to make the people feel better about it. Again, strikingly familiar.

33:24 "Do you notice how many of these childhood stories involve the word 'anxiety'?" Ahem. *leaves the party early* While you're waiting for me to return to the party, read this piece I wrote for We Are The Mutants, a new online magazine I'm contributing to, about one of those very same complicated board games I got for Christmas 1986, The World According to Ubi.

34:24 "This is an extremely Canadian story, folks." This story definitely had more snowshoes and cross-country skis in it than I'd ever imagined being part of anyone's Christmas.

37:02 "I pity you." Not gonna lie, using this clip from the Season 1 Simpsons episode "There's No Disgrace Like Home" for the competing Grasso and MacDougall family Christmases was the highlight of my edit. Between my dad calling Mr. Rogers a shithead, my mom getting accidentally dosed by pot brownies, and my spoiled Little Prince-ness, we would've lasted maybe 3 minutes at the MacDougall family cottage before fleeing into the cold Canadian night, hearing "After you! "Thank you so much!" and MacDougall family singalongs echoing in the distance.

[Rob:] Well, if you'd fled into the night, the wolves probably would've gotten you. But yeah, this isn't the first time people have perceived my family as freakishly loving, wholesome, or quaint. (It's a fair cop.) And the Simpsons clip is payback for the glee I took last episode in tagging your musical tastes with Jonathan Coulton's "Soft Rocked." Was that perfect family singing "B-I-N-G-O" a sort of proto-Flanders family, or had the Flanderses been introduced by that point?

[Mike:] Heh. They were indeed some kind of proto-Flanderses. Ned had been introduced as the Simpsons' neighbor in the very first full-length (and, incidentally, Christmas special!) episode, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," but the entire Flanders clan did not appear until all the way in Season 2's "Dead Putting Society."

38:04 "You're going to make me tell that pot brownie story." You can't pahk the cah on the Tobin Bridge, Mom. That is Bat Country. Have this supercut of Mahk Wahlberg in The Depahted (VERY NSFW) to keep you company if you like my mom's accent... and my lack of one. "You, howevah, grew up on the Nohth Shohe, huh? Well, la-di-fuckin'-da... You have different accents? You did, didn't you? You little fuckin' snake. You were like different people."

46:47 "Why do we have that [bad mother] figure?" And this is my favorite serious discussion that Betty Jo gives us. It's a question we still can't answer in pop culture depictions of mothers.

49:30 "They had to make her a strong woman, and make him a weak man." I liked my mom's observation here. Not only are you dealing with the complicated situation with respect to women characters on TV in 1981, you're also dealing with depicting Lillian's ability, as a woman who was doing this kind of work in the 1950s and '60s, to go against the cultural grain and be required and able to "take over the business."

[Rob:] Yeah, and this from Karen is the other great serious contribution that we only partially explore.

55:30 Carol Bruce, Life Magazine, September 9, 1940: Here's cover girl Carol Bruce looking very tropical and tanned, and the saluting picture I found on my search.

57:30 "We'll see you how do without my rolodex." The rolodex is actually a much more recent invention than I'd assumed! It is a product of the postwar office supply boom, patented in 1956, sold starting in 1958, and thus popularized during the actual Mad Men era.

58:00 "I grew up in an office." [Rob:] We pass over this point fairly quickly, but take a minute to reflect all on the changes Karen lived and worked through (and all the shit she undoubtedly had to put up with) as she worked her way up from "office girl" in the 1960s to "running the place" in the 1980s. That's the Women's Movement right there, folks. Here's to you, Karen.

59:50 Les sitting down with Mama: I'm not above a little Whoopie Cushion-type humor, and neither is WKRP.

1:01:52 "The great Jimmy James." [Rob:] I misspoke here but it was intentional. Milton in Office Space is of course played by the great Stephen Root, but he'll always be Jimmy James, Macho Business Donkey Wrestler to me.

1:04:45 The clothing in this episode: Here's a link back to our discussion in the Show Notes of HMOTD 016: Muy Dinero, about women's business fashion and its masculinization in the 1980s.

1:05:23 "Gary Sandy's hair... blow-dried to perfection." This to me is the hidden gem of this episode. The idea of Gary Sandy's hair being aspirational for women of the early '80s is fantastic. Princess Di was just getting secretly engaged to Prince Charles in early 1981 when this episode aired, but within a few weeks she'd be world-famous. The "unfortunate perms" bit also got me thinking of Sarah Paulson's devastating portrayal of O.J. prosecutor Marcia Clark in the recent The People vs. O.J. Simpson.

1:06:15 Huey Lewis: The poster on the WKRP booth wall was for Huey Lewis's self-titled debut album with the News. Their first single, "Some of My Lies Are True (Sooner or Later)" is very New Wave indeed.

[Rob:] Mike, I was very impressed that you went with a 1981-appropriate clip from Huey's first cassette (OK, album) rather than something better known from Sports or Fore. Good man. As for the famous scene from American Psycho, I'm just happy that Huey got the last word.

1:08:51 Sir Tom Jones: Betty Jo's gagging sounds at the thought of seeing Tom Jones live were just priceless; my mom's response even more classic. Rob's gentle correction of Betty Jo is also right on; it was indeed Robert Goulet who angered Elvis Presley into shooting his TV.

1:10:35 Barry Manilow Live: Again, any lampshading about "artsy-fartsy" versus "trashy" in the context of this episode is purely coincidental. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to listen to Tom Jones and Barry Manilow with my mom. Have a bucket of chicken...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

HMOTD 030: He Has Genghis Khan For A Mother

It's finally happened: Rob and Mike are joined this week for a look at "Bah, Humbug" and "Baby, It's Cold Inside" by... their moms, Betty Jo MacDougall and Karen Grasso!

(Full show notes appear at Hold My Order, Terrible Dresser two days after each episode is released. All audio clips are the properties of their owners/creators and appear in this work of comment and critique under fair use provisions of copyright law.)

Check out this episode!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Podcasters

In this week's pair of Season 3 WKRP episodes, "Bah, Humbug" and "Baby, It's Cold Inside," we revisit some well-trod ground. In "Bah, Humbug," we have our second and final WKRP Christmas episode, and in "Baby, It's Cold Inside," we take a good look at the Mama Carlson/Arthur relationship, this time told from Mama's perspective. I think Rob and I both had fairly fond memories of "Bah, Humbug," and rewatching "Baby, It's Cold Inside" as a grown-up definitely revealed new and hidden depths to Mama Carlson, beyond the fantastic drunk work being done all episode by Howard Hesseman, Loni Anderson, and Carol Bruce. Certainly, under any normal circumstances, this would be a fine pair of episodes for HMOTD to cover.

But this pair of episodes seemed to be crying out for something more. I mean, we mined Christmas pop culture nostalgia pretty thoroughly during our look at "Jennifer's Home For Christmas," and the Big Guy/Mama dynamic has appeared in episode after episode of the podcast. Rob and I both thought that this episode needed a little something extra, a fresh perspective on Mama Carlson, who hovers in absentia over "Bah, Humbug" as much as she dominates the action in "Baby, It's Cold Inside." Perhaps in the form of a special guest host... or two.


Yes, it's finally happened. The long-promised Episode With Our Moms is finally here! Dropping this Wednesday, tune in for the podcast's certified two biggest fans, Betty Jo MacDougall and Karen Grasso, as they guest host with us and talk MacDougall and Grasso Christmas memories, the pop culture archetype of the Bad Mom, and what it was like to raise a pair of precocious, TV-obsessed sons in the '70s and '80s. Among other things; to preview this fantastic episode any more would be a horrible spoiler. Just listen in on Wednesday morning!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Show Notes for HMOTD 029: Dayton Can Be Nasty After Dark

0:00 Opening clip: The dialogue here just crackles, doesn't it? "Hotel Oceanview" is really a very visual episode, between Herb's reactions to Nikki (curling up in the fetal position on her bed) and the constant designer jean shenanigans, but you can even just listen to a portion like this here and get a sense of how funny it is.

1:40 Jaime Weinman: The great Jaime Weinman gives an excellent capsule of "Hotel Oceanview" here.

2:40 "Lynchian": David Foster Wallace endeavors to explain what makes things Lynchian here. I approve of his reference to Jeffrey Dahmer, apropos of this episode: "Ted Bundy wasn't particularly Lynchian, but good old Jeffrey Dahmer, with his victims' various anatomies neatly separated and stored in his fridge alongside his chocolate milk and Shedd Spread, was thoroughgoingly Lynchian."

4:50 Moss: Erratum! It's Moss Steiger, not Moss Sterner. I have shamed myself in front of all WKRP fandom. But Jaime Weinman will rescue you with this précis of all of Moss's "appearances" in WKRP canon.

5:10 "A little tight in the crotch, but nice..." There wasn't room for it in this jampacked episode, but if you've never heard President Lyndon Baines Johnson on the phone to Haggar Slacks looking for slacks that won't "cut me... like I'm riding a wire fence," well, make a point of spending 13 minutes with this recording. It's really something else. I'm not sure if the revelations about the Leader of the Free World's pocketknife or, er, "bunghole" are more shocking. The Greatest Generation was really concerned about having enough room in the crotch of their pants!

10:40 Herb Alpert's "Rise": Another smooth hit from 1979-1980; a #1, in fact, just like "Sailing." Check out this video; damn, Herb. You are smooth. He's definitely rocking that late-'70s SoCal tanned middle-aged impresario look I more normally associate with Robert Evans. And let's not ignore the fact that Herb Alpert was not only an artist with immense cultural reach but also a music industry player with enormous influence, as one of the founders of A&M Records (he's the "A," and that's his trumpet on the label). TV saw his influence too; Chuck Barris could not have had the success he did with The Dating Game without numerous Herb Alpert tracks as intro music. One could argue he was behind one of the arguably most famous album covers of all time, too: Whipped Cream and Other Delights, found in '70s rec rooms all across North America! And, of course, an obligatory link to Homer Simpson singing the infrequently-heard lyrics to "Spanish Flea" (originally performed by fellow exotica artist Julius Wechter).

12:00 PJ Torokvei: We linked to this last season, but please take the time to check out this piece about the final years of PJ Torokvei by her friend Stan Brooks.

14:50 Jodie Dallas and Soap: Billy Crystal's character Jodie has his own Wikipedia page, and you can trace the character's... very odd trajectory there. I find it doubly ironic that the creator of Soap was Susan Harris, who would go on in the '80s to create gay camp icons The Golden Girls. It's tricky to say whether Jodie was a step forward or backward for LGBTQ representation in popular media in the '70s. I have a feeling if Susan Harris had it to do all over again, she might do it slightly differently.

15:52 "Again with the football!": You know another pop culture intersection of trans women and football? The World According to GarpRoberta Muldoon, who was a football star for the Philadelphia Eagles, and played memorably by the Oscar-nominated John Lithgow in the movie version of the novel. There is definitely some... anxiety? Transgression? Being exercised by all these cis male writers in placing a trans woman (or gay cis male) in the midst of American society's most patriarchal and homosocial of sports.

17:50 All That Glitters: Check out a capsule of the short-lived All That Glitters here. The implications of a trans woman in a world where the female sex is dominant are really intriguing! Trans men in our universe have written and spoken about dealing with the unexpected results of societal male privilege, so I think it would be interesting to explore that issue in a gender-flipped universe like All That Glitters's. I am guessing that the show in 1977 didn't even have that kind of concern on its radar. The trans character in All That Glitters was played by future Sue Ellen Ewing Linda Gray, whom, in the original version of this episode, I misidentified as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Silver Spoons actress Erin Gray. Oops. I'm just full of errata this episode.

21:27: "How about a... Bamboozle, Art?" Here's a recipe for a Rum Bamboozle, putatively Caribbean in origin but certainly part of postwar America's fascination with all things rum-soaked, exotic, and tropical. Also: that's a hell of a lot of rum. The name seems well-earned.

22:45 Mickey Finn: The good thing about the term "Mickey Finn" is that its provenance and etymology seems pretty solidly based in history. There was a historical Michael Finn in fin-de-siècle Chicago, and he did indeed go on trial for using knockout drops in his drinks to rob his customers. And all this did happen in the years after H.H. Holmes's infamous Murder Castle was revealed to the public. Chicago's pretty nasty after dark, indeed.

24:55 Larry Hankin: This piece is a tremendous look at the life of Larry Hankin, his time in Chicago with Viola Spolin, and his just deciding to up and leave Chicago and go to San Francisco and bring improv there. Definitely check it out. And his performance as Tom Pepper, the Guy Who Steals The Raisins, in the final episodes of season 4 of Seinfeld, is an absolute classic (1, 2)

30:28 Toccata and Fugue in D Minor: How did this stately (if menacing) piece of Bach get associated with horror and evil? It was used even before sound films to indicate creeping dread and horror; here's a page from David P. Neumeyer's Meaning and Interpretation of Music in Cinema which lets us know not only was it used in 1931 horror classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (it was also used in 1934's The Black Cat), but it was being used ironically as early as 1950! It appeared in Sunset Boulevard where it was used to lampshade... an early horror film! Fascinating secret history there.

31:00 The Golden Age of the American Serial Killer: When you Google the phrase "golden age of serial killers," you not only get put on a watchlist, but you find that this was, indeed, a Thing! The social and economic anxieties of the 1970s found release in the endless, countless tales in tabloids, quickie books, and even mainstream news outlets covering ordinary-appearing (almost always male) Americans whose secret hobby was... killing people. The apprehension of David Berkowitz in 1977, the dual arrests of Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy in 1978, the ongoing Zodiac case in the Bay Area, and other earlier cases like Ed Gein and Ed Kemper had deeply penetrated into the popular imagination by 1980.

In the 1980s, the FBI took serial murder seriously enough to institute ViCAP, a technological solution to the issue of serial crime (rape and murder) and one which became the inspiration for a lot of late '80s/early '90s pop culture as the archetype of the "profiler" took off with works like Thomas Harris's Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs (which contains a plot hook, Clarice's recruitment to "quantify" Hannibal Lecter, based quite explicitly on ViCAP's mission) and Chris Carter's The X-Files (remember, "Spooky" Mulder was an "Oxford-educated psychologist who wrote a monograph on serial killers and the occult" and was "generally thought of as the best analyst in the violent crimes section" before he chased UFOs) and Millennium. Also, a favorite of mine from the late '80s/early '90s, Neil Gaiman "Cereal Convention" arc in The Sandman. For an edgy, angsty high schooler in the early '90s, being obsessed with all this stuff was a... "safe" way to explore the dark side of humanity. And then I watched Natural Born Killers in college and... it kind of made me sick. No joke.

(Rob's continuous nervous "uh huhs" in this segment as I expose my deep serial killer trivia knowledge is kind of awesome.)

[Rob: Ooh, I just got an idea for a terrifying movie about a yacht rock loving serial killer.]

35:30 Dr. Joyce Brothers: Regarding Dr. Joyce Brothers's ubiquity: now you get that "I brought my own mic!" joke from that episode of The Simpsons. And here is a link to the video we posted a few months ago on our Facebook Page on 1980s D&D Satanic panic, and here's a little something from Friends of the Podcast 2 Warps to Neptune, with official TSR consultant Dr. Joyce Brothers hawking "Fantasy Forest."

39:20 Designer Jeans: Three quick hits for this segment: this article on the history of the designer jean trend, a link to the book I mentioned about the sociological study of jeans-wearers in North London, and the Wikipedia entry for So Fine. You can see why I thought it was an Italian "rip-off" exploitation film from the poster and from the fact Ennio Morricone did the music. There was also a Mafia plotline in the film. So Weird, more like, am I right?

46:38 Christopher Cross: Listen, I don't mind being called "softsational," I don't even mind Rob's needling me with Jonathan Coulton (bleh) of all people, and his insanely catchy "Soft Rocked By Me." But I'm begging you, just bring up Christopher Cross's self-titled debut on Spotify sometime this weekend and see if it doesn't whisk you away to a relaxing, calm place. "Sailing" is a bona fide pop masterpiece, and Christopher Cross's other big single from his debut, "Ride Like the Wind," was parodied (quite lovingly, I'd argue) not only by SCTV but by Frank Zappa himself!

(Many thanks to the community of Yacht Rock fans on the internet for that Zappa link, and thanks as always to the guys who created Yacht Rock, who gave me a soapbox on their website from which to declaim on the optimistic and progressive political core of Yacht Rock, thematic parallels between "Sailing" and medieval troubadours' evocations of Cockaigne, and much else besides.)

1:01:45 "And reporting it all in a series of award-winning news specials." It's difficult to mine something good from the Les-in-blackface plotline, but there is at least one very oblique reference here I want to cover. Les's patronizing reference to wanting to "live among the Negro along the highways and byways" is, I think, a reference to an historic 1940s radio documentary titled "Freedom's People." It aired on NBC and was produced by the U.S. Office of Education under the direction of black academic and advocate for black education Dr. Ambrose Caliver. The series aired during World War II and was really meant as a propagandistic riposte to fascism by illustrating the story of African-Americans up to this point in American history. It contains an illustrious cast of interviewees and black American personalities of the time. To modern ears, of course, this itself is fraught with complications; we've talked about the WWII-era and postwar American tendency to elide the violence of white supremacy in an effort to look good in the international community, in contrast with both fascism and communism.

One more poignant piece of information about "Freedom's People"; of eight episodes, only two have survived.

1:02:10 Black Like Me: We cover Black Like Me pretty comprehensively in the episode, so there's not much more to say here, other than to say the fact that people of my generation probably know the book best from Eddie Murphy's classic White Like Me SNL bit.

1:05:00 Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael... [Rob: I wish I'd included a few more women in that little tear of mine: Sojourner Truth, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Nell Painter... But hey, that was all off the top of my head.]

1:06:00 "Justice is what love looks like in public..." [Rob: This is of course the unmistakable Cornel West, sermonifying on the black prophetic tradition. Here's the speech, here's the book. West is a bit of a polarizing figure, but I saw him gave a talk at my university once and he completely won me over with the attention and care he lavished on each individual student. I guess some feel his schtick has become a schtick, but a little showmanship in the cause of social justice is no great vice.]

1:08:30 Bamboozled: Spike Lee touched the third rail of pop culture satire in this film: what blackface was, is, and how it survives today; in fact, he wanted to make so sure that people knew this was a satire that he begins the film with a dictionary definition of satire. [Rob: Wish I'd thought to make a Bamboozled / "you make a nice Bamboozle" callback here. "I dunno, Art, but I know one thing: it's got fruit in it."]

1:11:33 Love and Theft: [Rob: In his new afterword to the 20-year-anniversary edition of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, Eric Lott writes, "It is quickly becoming a truism of popular music studies that crossover bootlegging, as rich in result as it is unfair in credit, has always been American music's hallmark--less roots and remixes than masking and mimicry all the way down." Lott also talks about how appropriate it was for Bob Dylan to steal his title without attribution. There are undoubtedly people who think Lott was too easy on blackface, too optimistic about its subversive potential, too much about the love and not enough about the theft. But that's how academics rolled in the 1990s; we really wanted to see popular culture as a force for good.]

[Mike: Probably a good time to link to this series on Slate; most of it's behind a paywall but the intro piece and this Rolling Stones longform are really worth checking out.]

1:12:50 Racist cartoons: If you want to check out the history of racism in cartoons, you can Google "the Censored Eleven." But as Rob says, a lot of the blackface in cartoons is hidden, cloaked in signifiers we don't even recognize anymore. Not only Mickey Mouse but Felix the Cat, the now-forgotten Bosko, and even Bugs Bunny can be seen as echoes of happy-go-lucky, trickster figures from both minstrelsy and from African-American folklore, which themselves quite frequently intertwine. It's definitely a tough, tightly-woven set of cultural ties.

1:15:25 Jim Crow Museum: [Trigger warning: racist images] Speaking as a museum professional, this must be a really fucking tough place to work, but I respect Curator David Pilgrim's mission for the museum and his reasons for collecting racist artifacts tremendously. It must be hard, soul-draining work.

1:20:00 Post-credits Scene: When this episode went up on Wednesday, the final 29 seconds got cut off, depriving you all of a little post credits blooper. So if you downloaded the show on Wednesday before about 9 pm, download it again! :)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

HMOTD 029: Dayton Can Be Nasty After Dark

"Weird-but-good" meets "weird-and-just-bad" as Mike & Rob revisit WKRP's "Hotel Oceanview" and walk "A Mile In My Shoes."
(Full show notes appear at Hold My Order, Terrible Dresser two days after each episode is released. All audio clips are the properties of their owners/creators and appear in this work of comment and critique under fair use provisions of copyright law.)

Check out this episode!

Monday, October 3, 2016

"They're a little tight in the crotch, but nice."

We're six episodes into WKRP's third season, and we're still not quite fully situated back at the station. The first of our two episodes for this Wednesday, "Hotel Oceanview," finds the Big Guy, Andy, and Herb having traveled all the way to Dayton, Ohio, where they're trying to land the crucial Vicky von Vickey designer jeans account. And even a good part of "A Mile In My Shoes," our second episode, takes place in a jury room where Herb is foreman.

Much like most of the third season so far, this week's pair of episodes is a decidedly mixed bag. "Hotel Oceanview" is rightfully considered a classic, if a bit of a weird and surreal one. And while the premise of "A Mile In My Shoes" seems like a classic sitcom plot – everyone at the station has to shift responsibilities in order to cover for Herb on jury duty – maybe the episode ends up a bit too much of a timeworn sitcom premise for the sophistication level we've come to expect from WKRP.

The theme of the third season so far seems to be "taking our beloved cast out of their comfort zones and seeing what happens." ("Hotel Oceanview" even takes this quite literally and squeezes the Big Guy, Herb, and Andy into tight designer jeans.) As we discussed in our Season 3 premiere, the sense one gets from a series that does this sort of thing is that the original premise for the series has gotten tired, and the writers are scrambling to find new and interesting things to make the characters do.

But this really isn't new to WKRP. In Season 2, we encountered a lot of these type of plots. But there, these plots were largely directed at giving individual members of the cast weird situations to overcome, which would allow us to see them under pressure and thus explore their interior lives in more detail. Take Bailey's rejection in "For Love or Money," Les's flashbacks to the traumas of youth in "Baseball," Jennifer's basic loneliness in "Jennifer's Home for Christmas," Johnny's dual existential crises in "Mike Fright" and "God Talks to Johnny," or Herb's fragile sense of masculinity being exposed in "Herb's Dad" and "Put Up Or Shut Up." You can tell a lot about a character by putting them under pressure, and this is one of the reasons why Season 2 of WKRP is so successful and well-loved.

In Season 3, though, that formula of "taking people out of their comfort zones" is frequently not individuated. It's also often made overly literal, and then subsequently applied to the whole cast. One of the reasons why an episode like "Real Families" works so well is that, even while the entire station has to cover for Herb and deal with the Real Families crew, the focus is still largely on Herb and the Tarleks. But in "The Airplane Show," "Jennifer Moves," and "A Mile In My Shoes," that element of dislocation or conflict is spread out over the entire cast and so the impact of the classic sitcom "situation" on the characters-as-characters is diffused.

This isn't to say that in order to have a classic WKRP episode, you need to have a single-character-centric plot; I can think of several episodes with no particular character focus ("Fish Story" for one) that are classics. But when you combine a plot setup that takes us out of our comfort zone along with a messy and indistinct character focus, I think you end up with a tricky-to-love episode of WKRP.