Friday, November 18, 2016

Show Notes For HMOTD 032: Can You Teach Me About Magnets?

0:00 Clips and editing: A couple of quick notes on how we edited this episode. Much like our fantastic chat with Leah Biel earlier this season, we packed a lot into our two-plus hours of recording with Mandy. We erred on the side of including the social issues and history instead of going deep on the episodes themselves this time around. As such, we had to cut a lot of discussions about some of the great comedy in “Frog Story.” I’m hoping that some of these Show Notes will give you a window into what we cut.

Likewise, we felt it made more sense to give you more content and fewer clips in this episode of the podcast. So many of the clips from WKRP would’ve been served better by giving them another 45-60 seconds of runtime to breathe, but, as we just mentioned, we felt we had more important content in the form of the three of us talking. We’re going to link to clips as needed in these Show Notes (especially the entirety of “Venus Explains the Atom”) so hopefully you won’t miss these clips in the actual podcast episode too much.

1:55 Introducing Mandy Leetch: If you enjoyed this episode of Hold My Order, Terrible Dresser, definitely feel free to follow Mandy Leetch here on Facebook, especially if you're interested in ecopsychology, activism, and radical politics... all three of which we need right now more than ever.

9:40 ‘90s sitcom sets/Friends: Here are some photos from some ‘90s TV show sets. They do definitely look different from the 12th Precinct on Barney Miller, the Sunshine Cab Company from Taxi, and the bullpen of WKRP, am I right?

13:20 The podiatrist: One of the side-discussions that got cut is how well the podiatrist in the Flimm Building, Dr. Hunnisett, stole the show. He’s played by a gentleman by the name of Kenneth Tigar. His bit part performance was so good I just had to go to IMDB to see if he was from The Committee. He's not, but not only is he from around Mandy’s and my way (Chelsea, MA), but I bet most young folks/Marvel Cinematic Universe fans will recognize him as the Holocaust Survivor Who Stands Up to Loki in The Avengers. Quite timely.

17:30 Great introduction to these characters: Way back in our listener mail segment in Season 1, Leah Biel asked how I would get new viewers into WKRP. Well, I think I have my answer now. I agree with Mandy; “Frog Story” is a tremendous introduction to almost all the characters, with the possible exception of Venus and the Big Guy, and for that, you could maybe show people “Who Is Gordon Sims?” So there you go, boom. Two episodes guaranteed to demonstrate what WKRP can do, in terms of both comedy and drama.

18:50 Johnny’s B-plot, hypochondria: Again, one thing that had to go in our final edit was our discussion of Les’s tormenting of sickly Johnny, who’s looking “a little grayer than usual.” Les spends a lot of time medically testing Johnny (which leads to the classic one-liner, “What about your joints?” which delights both in terms of Howard Hesseman’s deadpan reaction and the studio audience’s raucous reaction to a drug reference) which leads to a diagnosis of “schistosomiasis,” which of course Johnny cannot instantly look up on the internet. Les’s joyful scamper away at the end of the episode finally lets us know that yes, Les does know more than he’s letting on and is fully capable of being a chaos figure all on his own.

20:00 It’s a useful site, guys.

20:30 C.S. Lewis: An intriguing letter in the C.S. Lewis collection of Letters to Children confronts the theological question posed by a nine-year-old American boy in the late ‘50s: “What if I love Aslan more than Jesus?” Lewis kept up a three-year correspondence with the boy (later a computer science professor) where he reassured him: “God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all).”

21:00 How ecopsychology makes things personal: [Mandy: Here is an introduction to ecopsychology.]

25:30 A little bit of Jan Smithers: It seems a shame we did not highlight Jan Smithers’s real life environmental and ecopsychological connections in the episode, but if you are interested, please check out the 50-year anniversary follow-up that Newsweek did with their cover girl from 1966. Jan Smithers namechecks both Amma the Hugging Saint and environmental activist and scholar Vandana Shiva. (Please note: I misspoke in the episode when saying Smithers was a devotee of Transcendental Meditation; I was obviously confusing her with another ‘70s/’80s sitcom star who was a TM devotee, about whom Mandy’s written quite eloquently on my old blog, Renfusa.)

26:05 Death of a Fish: I’d never read Adam Gopnik’s “Death of a Fish” before Rob recommended it in the lead-up to this week’s episode, but it’s well worth your time. Touching and thought-provoking. And Alison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby, which was released in 2009, looks fascinating as well; there are some interesting outgrowths of her research featured in this article about the infant brain’s receptivity.

27:35 Two classroom stories: [Mandy: My 3rd grade teacher also read us Stone Fox, and her grandpa had just died and so when she got to the same part in the story, she broke down and the class had to finish doing the reading.]

32:28 “It is easier to identify with a completely different creature...” [Mandy: This one is my own construct, it's pulling from the intergroup conflict literature on otherization, depersonification, and dehumanization, and things like anthropomorphism and identification. It was first sparked for me in a course on mythology and literature and confirmed as I studied group dynamics, ecopsychology, etc.]

33:35 Ecology movement: Vague childhood memories of the “ecology movement” focus around how they intersected with my own childhood, and one place that happened: in board games. The board game Careers (which itself has an interesting history, having been invented by sociologist, conlang creator, and science fiction writer James Cooke Brown) was first released in the 1950s with period-appropriate careers for the time, but as new editions of the game came out, outdated careers were jettisoned and new ones emerged. In the 1970s version of the game that one of my friends had growing up, there was indeed an “ecologist” career.

33:52 The Incredible Shrinking Woman: Yeah, watching clips from this movie on YouTube led to an episode of media-related childhood flashback dread for me second only to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Incredible Shrinking Woman was written by Lily Tomlin’s longtime creative partner and now-wife Jane Wagner and if I do think too long about Lily Tomlin’s character slowly shrinking into nothingness in a puddle of bright blue detergent while singing goodbye to her family, I do start to get a little bit queasy. So as far as inculcating a knee-jerk revulsion for modern consumer capitalism in a tiny child goes... mission accomplished, Jane and Lily.

35:37 "Energy Warning": The sound here is from Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada’s bricolage of a 1979 4-H PSA about energy conservation, called, appropriately, “Energy Warning.” I wrote about this track here at online magazine We Are The Mutants, where I’m a Contributing Editor. If you like HMOTD, I get a feeling you will enjoy some of the stuff we write about there. [/plug]

37:30 Greenpeace and the Nazca Lines: Just some really idiotic activity here from Greenpeace. It can be very disheartening when the people who believe in the right things so fervently go about trying to change people’s minds in the worst, most destructive way possible. (That may be meta moment #10 or 11 for these Show Notes.)

Also, my tongue-in-cheek reference to ancient aliens making the Nazca Lines should in no way diminish the genius of the actual Nazca culture who made these stunning and massive geoglyphs. Actually, We Are The Mutants will be featuring a piece quite soon on the racial destructiveness and not-so-hidden white supremacist origins of the ancient astronaut myth.

41:09 SSS Bob Barker, SSS Sam Simon: On the Sea Shepherd website, you can also find details on the SSS Steve Irwin and the SSS Brigitte Bardot. And if you’re a Simpsons (or Taxi!) fan, check out this heart-rending 2014 piece (written by comedian and former David Letterman collaborator Merrill Markoe) on Sam Simon facing his own mortality. Simon passed in March 2015.

43:05 Fear based environmentalism: Yes, the story about the Great Barrier Reef broke a little while before we recorded this episode and sent everyone into paroxysms of guilt, blame, and confusion, which proves Mandy’s point about fear-based environmentalism quite neatly.

44:52 "Venus and the Man": I will confess, I had several cringe moments not just in the first half of “Venus and the Man,” but in the very first scene with Cora. It all seemed a little too neat, a little too perfunctory, a little too stereotypical... tone-deaf, in the way a white writer might pose the issue of Arnold quitting school.

49:20 Frank’s Place: I really want to watch Frank’s Place after all this talk about it we’ve done over the course of HMOTD. I do remember watching a couple of episodes in first-run back in ‘87, but even with my excitement over Venus Flytrap as the star, the issues of black identity and the North vs. South, urban vs. rural dynamic were WAY too far above my 12-year-old head.

51:50 Keny Long: Keny Long, whom I do think did a fantastic job in a very tough, near-impossible situation in this episode, actually did go on to become a performing arts teacher! You can see him talking AIDS education here (AIDS hit the world of dance with immense destructive impact in the 1980s) and some comments from his students here. Strict but fair! Like Venus!

56:25: Conflict literature, implicit vs. explicit racism: [Mandy: All my intergroup resources are from the Oxford Handbook of Intergroup Conflict. Project Implicit’s bias tests are also a good resource.]

1:00:15: “It’s a stark contrast to the fear from the rest of the cast.” Yeah, the portrayal of Les's racial awareness throughout the series is fraught and complicated at best, but the place we came to in the course of this conversation, where we note that Les shows no fear and is friendly and outgoing... does bring me down on the side of "awkward but well-intentioned."

1:04:10 Survival vs. conquest: Not only is Venus's dichotomy in terms of his assignment of sex and education to each of these drives respectively quite clever and welcome, but purely just the very fact he separates the world into these two particular drives is genius. Survival and conquest both have to loom large in Arnold's present situation. Again, Venus customizes his message to the audience as best he can.

1:04:50 Tim and Tom in school: Definitely check out the Tim and Tom book, written by Reid and Dreesen with Ron Rapoport, Tim & Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White for more stories of both their comedy club and school education careers.

1:05:25 “I can give you the basics of the atom in two minutes.” So here’s a link to the best version of the Venus Explains the Atom scene I could find on YouTube. It’s worth watching if you’re not a WKRP fan. Again, some aspects are cringey, but the underlying message of bringing an abstract concept, cloaked in impenetrable jargon, down to earth culturally for a young black student, is amazing.

1:08:00 Making it relatable: And speaking of making the jargon relatable, what do people think of Venus’s sly elision of the origins of “nucleus” and “-tron” as being Swahili? It puts Arnold off-guard just enough to be receptive to the information, but Venus equivocates on it later. I am guessing that Venus didn’t want to be a liar to Arnold, so he told him the straight truth as they finished the lesson.

1:09:45 Johnny leads them back into the world of whiteness: Johnny as psychopomp again! But of course Johnny as spiritual figure, trickster figure, racially liminal figure, bridge between black and white with his love of 1950s rock and roll, is nothing new.

1:12:35 Teacher burnout in 3-5 years: [Mandy: So, this statistic is from over a decade ago (when I was doing my own teacher training); the new numbers are a bit different. It's hard to verify how the burnout numbers are going, but fewer people are becoming teachers in the first place (I am obviously a representative of that statistic).]

1:14:30 Humanitas Award: Here’s that page for the Humanitas Award winners. I note with interest that Frank’s Place won one in 1988.

1:16:00 Educational programming: Whoo boy. Our repeated discussions of TVOntario educational programming may be a bit self-indulgent, but really, the pull, the hold, the absolute power that PBS educational programming had over me, both domestically-produced and imported from Canada, as a youth cannot be adequately measured. You all know this is one of my major hobby horses, how heartbroken I was when Sesame Street went to HBO, how much I believe that Republicans’ crusade against PBS is probably at the root of a lot of the problems we’re having in this country right now... yeah, yeah, that may be fucking naive and simplistic but I really believe it. Without a public broadcaster with a mandate to educate without having to worry about the vagaries of the market and selling Tickle-Me-Elmos... we as a nation are lost. Lost. So I hope that you all won’t mind if I confess that I wept for a very long time as I went to YouTube to get the 3-2-1 Contact theme song, watched the opening credits, and considered what has happened to this country in the past week or so.

1:16:50 Mark Fowler: I hate to burst Rob’s bubble on the positives of his countryman Mark Fowler but it’s fairly likely that Fowler led the charge to break up the AT&T monopoly and eventually profited personally from it; after leaving the FCC, he was a communications lawyer and a VP at Bell South. (We should probably get used to these kinds of public servants in our government again.) Also, when I said he “tried” to repeal the Fairness Doctrine, I probably should’ve completed the story and said that he basically succeeded.

1:18:13 Strawberry Shortcake: Could a better tale of the Hinge Years be devised than the tale of Strawberry Shortcake? Mandy’s analysis is spot on: she was just an image on greeting cards in 1979, but the combination of deregulation and a red-hot toy market for the kids of the Baby Boomers in the 1980s led to the inevitable multimedia blitz. And like all those Hasbro characters, the fad burned out quickly.

1:20:55 “We do export our neo-cons.” I can only name David Frum, but I'm sure Rob knows some others. [Rob: I guess I was thinking of David Frum, with whom I had a nice dinner one time, and who is practically a bleeding-heart liberal by 2016 standards. But there's always Ted Cruz.]

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