Johnny Cash’s California driver’s license issued in 1964.
Back in 2013 my Dangerous Minds colleague Tara McGinley put together a post containing images of passports once used by David Bowie, Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin (among others) which I found very entertaining. Mostly because the celebrity subjects look less than thrilled to in their photos—with the exception of Joplin who is grinning from ear to ear. Perhaps the result of an unplanned acid flashback, who can say? At any rate, while conducting my ongoing “research” for my “job” here at DM I came across one of Cash’s old driver licenses from 1964 and that discovery led me down a rather intriguing rabbit hole that was full of other vintage driver’s licenses—some with equally intriguing backstories to go with them.
Robert De Niro’s taxicab licence from 1976.
Cash’s California state driver’s license (pictured at the top of this post) was sold in an auction in 2014 for $4,480 and even made an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman along with the man who had acquired it, Rick Harrison (the star of the reality television show Pawn Stars) who purchased it from an individual who brought it into his store in Las Vegas. Not one to be outdone by the Man in Black, a license once belonging to Alfred Hitchcock (which you can see below) sold at an auction for the tidy sum of for $8,125. Whoa.
Then there’s the coolest one in the lot I dug up belonging to a 33-year-old Robert De Niro (pictured above) issued by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in 1976. Known for his commitment to getting as “method” as possible when it came to his acting roles, De Niro prepped for his role as Travis Bickle the aspiring vigilante about to go off the rails in Taxi Driver by spending a number of weeks driving a New York City yellow cab. According to folklore associated with De Niro’s time behind the wheel, when he was recognized by one of his passengers they actually believed that De Niro was still working as a taxi driver after winning an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in The Godfather II for his impeccable portrayal of young Vito Corleone. Who knew?
When it comes to the story behind Manson’s alleged driver’s license things are a little sketchy. In the 1971 book The Family author Ed Sanders was able to substantiate that Mason lived at the address noted on the license in Santa Barbara—705 Bath Street—along with Lynn “Squeaky” Fromme and Manson Family member Mary Brunner (the mother of Manson’s son Valentine) sometime during 1967—two years prior to his participation in the brutal slayings of director Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate and four others at Polanski’s home in Benedict Canyon. The license notes Manson’s date of birth as November 11th—which is a point of contention between historians and criminologists alike as Manson’s date of birth has also been said to fall on November 12th. So while the jury is still out on the actual authenticity of this creepy artifact, it’s still nothing short of chilling to actually see a mundane personal document belonging to the one of the most notorious criminals in history.
You can see Manson’s maybe driver’s license as well as others that once belonged to Davy Jones of the Monkees (RIP), Joe Strummer, Dean Martin and a beaming James Brown all of whom look about as happy as we all do (with the exception of Brown of course because, cocaine) in our DMV photos which proves that the DMV does in fact hate everyone.
California driver’s license allegedly issued to Charles Manson in 1967.
Back in 2008 this driver’s license once belonging to Alfred Hitchcock sold at an auction for $8,125.
As a suit, tie, and two pipes a day kind of guy, I’m not really au fait with the all the vagaries of t-shirt fashion. For me t-shirts were something I left far behind in my teen years—getting into my tweeds and plus fours as soon as I was over the threshold of my twenties. I was born middle-aged.
However, my attention was recently brought to a range of “tees” (as I believe you young ‘uns call them) which are slightly amusing because of their potential to annoy.
I think it fair to say we’ve all had that irritating run-in with some geeky pedant who wants to correct our inconsequential spelling, grammar, syntax or explain in as much trivial detail as possible why the quote we just gave from some film or TV series is just not quite right—in fact it’s ever so slightly wrong. You know the type.
And they know who they are too. In fact they’d probably correct you on the subject of who they are if you ever got that wrong. Well now, looky here—now there’s a t-shirt, indeed an entire genre of the—just for those kind of people. One that should (hopefully) irritate the living shit out of them.
Punk was boring. Punk was dead. Punk stopped being interesting when it became chart music. In its place came New Wave—which was really just more of the same played with jangly guitars by bands with a taste for Sixties music. The next really big thing was the utter antithesis of punk. Elitist, pretentious, preening, vain, camp yet utterly inventive.
It was called “the cult with no name”—because nobody knew what to call it. It didn’t fit any easy categorization. There were soul boys, punks, rockabillies, with a taste for dance music and electronica all in the mix. It was the press who eventually pitched up with the tag New Romantics which stuck.
I was never quite sure what was supposed to be romantic about the New Romantics. They weren’t starving in garrets or brokenhearted, writing poetry, indulging in absinthe or committing suicide by the dozen. They were all dolled-up to the nines, flaunting it out on the streets—demanding to be seen.
It had all started with Rusty Egan and Steve Strange running a club night playing Bowie, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk at a venue called Billy’s in 1978.
Egan was a drummer and DJ. He was in a band with ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock called Rich Kids which featured Midge Ure on vocals.
Strange had been inspired to move to London and form a punk band after he saw the Sex Pistols in concert. He moved out of Wales and formed The Moors Murderers. The band included punk icon Soo Catwoman, guitarist Chrissie Hynde and Clash drummer Topper Headon. Together they recorded one notorious single “Free Hindley.”
The same year, Egan, Strange and Ure formed Visage—which was to become a catalyst for the New Romantics in 1980 with their hit single “Fade to Grey.”
Visage: Steve Strange, Midge Ure and Rusty Egan in 1978.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s be kind and rewind.
1978: Egan and Strange move their club night to a wine bar-cum-restaurant-cum-dance-club called the Blitz. Egan was the DJ. Strange was on the door. Strange has a strict door policy. No one gets in unless they dressed like superstars.
Going solely by these promotional postcards for hip and happening nightclubs this was where all the beautiful people hung out in the late 1950s and 1960s. Apparently. Beach parties in Miami. Go-go clubs in San Francisco and Florida. Discotheques in New York. Youngsters twisting the night away in South Fallsburg? Most of the postcards are promotional fliers for hotels, motels and restaurants hoping to lure in that lucrative youth market.
Once upon a time, I collected postcards like these. I found them more fascinating than say collecting stamps or coins. Postcards offered a touchstone for creating stories about other people’s lives. Which kinda makes me sound like that freaky kid who didn’t like to mix. Well, yes probably.
When I started underage drinking—in and around Edinburgh—it was always the small hotel bars and faded nightclubs I preferred. These once swinging sixties haunts—with their dated interiors and occasional mirrorball dance floors—were generally so desperate for customers they never checked if you were over eighteen before serving up a pint of warm, flat beer. I certainly would not have minded imbibing in a few of the venues featured below. At least the beer would have been properly chilled.
‘The psychedelic dance scene’—apparently.
‘Teenagers at the Twistick Lounge, Raleigh Hotel, South Fallsburg, New York.’
More vintage scenes of swinging fun, after the jump…
Unless you happened to vacation at Walt Disney World Florida in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you might not be familiar with Horizons, a dark ride attraction at EPCOT widely thought of as the greatest vision of “future living” ever created. The two-story, spaceship-shaped pavilion located on the east side of the park’s “Future World” housed a remarkable 54 Audio-Animatronic figures, 770 props, 12 projectors, and a pair of massive OMNIMAX screens (groundbreaking technology at the time) spread across 24 sets set in the year 2086. Upon its opening in October of 1983, Horizons showcased man’s relationship to the sea, land, air, and space through a beautiful series of stunning futuristic vignettes. In a 1989 interview, Michael Jackson cited Horizons as his personal favorite Disney attraction (alongside Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain). Many still consider Horizons to be the greatest Disney theme park attraction, ever.
However, when the 1990s rolled around the ride had significantly lost its popularity with the general public. With tastes rapidly changing and short attention spans increasing, many park guests no longer had the patience to sit still for 15 minutes, and priorities began shifting towards more “thrill-based” rides such as Test Track and Mission: SPACE. In December of 1994, Horizons closed its doors indefinitely without any formal notice or announcement. Serious Disney park goers were devastated by the sudden news and regretful they weren’t given the chance to say a proper goodbye or ride one last time.
“Hoot” (left) and “Chief” (right) in the Art Deco Apartment scene at Horizons. Photo courtesy of the Mesa Verde Times.
Let’s fast forward exactly one year later to December 1995, as two best friends in their late twenties were working mind-numbing desk jobs and living in a shitty downtown Orlando apartment. Dave Ensign (aka “Hoot Gibson”) and Ed Barlow Jr. (aka “Thunder Chief”) had been insanely huge Horizons fans ever since it opened when they were 15 years old. They were thrilled when the announcement came in: Horizons was to be re-opened for a limited time due to the closure of two other attractions that were down for refurbishment in Future World (Universe of Energy and World of Motion). That’s when this story really begins: Hoot and Chief set out to document the ride and get as much photo, video, and audio coverage as they could before it closed again. Not knowing exactly how much time they had to get it done, not knowing how it would be done, just knowing that it had to be done.
Audio-Animatronic figure with Bionic Fonzi in the Desert Habitat Kitchen scene. Photo courtesy of the Mesa Verde Times.
Their next several workdays in the office following the announcement involved making an extensive checklist as they broke down all 24 scenes in the ride and itemized a list of props, hand-painted backdrops, and set pieces. They wanted to document every detail in the ride at all costs. Over the following weeks and months, they equipped themselves with mag lights, still cameras, and huge JVC VHS and Super 8 camcorders. They quickly realized that properly documenting everything on their checklist the way they wanted to would require exiting the “OMNIMOVER” ride vehicle while it was in motion. How would they be able to pull this off without getting caught, and just how extensive was the security on Disney park rides?
In a pre-9/11 Walt Disney World, security measures were basically implemented only when the park noticed significant and repeated incidents of park guests climbing out of their ride vehicles. Only then would they apply whatever security measures were necessary for that particular attraction: Universe of Energy was monitored on closed circuit television; The Living Seas and Haunted Mansion had intrusion mats (a security system that completely shuts down the ride when stepped on by someone who had exited their vehicle); and Spaceship Earth eventually got infrared sensors. To their good fortune, Horizons was perhaps the only Disney attraction ever built without any security whatsoever.
Hoot and Chief started Phase I of their operation with a very basic strategy for exiting their OMNIMOVER ride vehicle: “Jump out, get shots, jump back in.” However, after this went on for a while they wanted to spend more time on the sets, so they began testing different strategies using trial and error to get a larger gap of empty ride cars. Chief would hang out right near the loading area and watch people board the ride using the mirrors in the entry hallway, and Hoot would stay at the front entrance where people entered the building. Chief would count the ride vehicles; there always had to be at least six empty vehicles ahead of them and six empty vehicles behind for them to remain unseen. Upon boarding the ride and rounding the corner they’d jump out and run like the wind to get as far ahead as possible. By keeping count of the car numbers they had a precise idea of how much time they could spend in each individual scene, sometimes 30 seconds, sometimes a minute or two.
Chief jumps back into his OMNIMOVER vehicle. Courtesy of the Mesa Verde Times YouTube channel.
Chief hangin’ out in the Undersea Classroom scene. Photo courtesy of the Mesa Verde Times.
Over the course of the next several months Hoot and Chief had mastered their technique, meeting at EPCOT in the evening after a long day of work at the office. They got very good at knowing how much time they could spend in each scene simply by doing it over and over. But soon this became boring and repetitive; they wanted to explore the ride more, and make it to some of the areas they weren’t able to get to. This began Phase II of their efforts, exiting their ride vehicles and staying inside Horizons while it was operational, sometimes for as long as 4-8 hours at a time!
More of the adventures of Hoot and Chief at Horizons, after the jump…
When Simple Minds started out they could do no wrong. From their debut album Life in a Day to New Gold Dream, 81, 82, 83, 84—they were the sound of the future. Their antecedents were Bowie, Bolan, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk.
Their early records ranged from the synthpop of Empires and Dance to the non-commercial experimentation of Real to Real Cacophony. They were post-punk, New Wave and greatly liked by the New Romantics.
However, by the release of Sparkle in the Rain in 1984, Simple Minds had evolved into stadium band—vying with U2 for world domination.
It’s almost forty years since Jim Kerr and co. started off as punk band Johnny and the Self Abusers. There’s been plenty of highlights since then but for me, I still get a kick off those early records that sounded like music that’s been transported from the future—“I Travel,” “Chelsea Girl” and “Theme For Great Cities.” Euphoric music to be played loud, shared and enjoyed.
To get a taste of what I mean—here’s Simple Minds at Hurrah’s in New York City performing “Premonition,” “Changeling” and “Factory” in October 1979. It was filmed (I believe) for BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test, and includes an interview with the show’s host “Whispering” Bob Harris.
Listening to Simple Minds perform back then—you could almost believe these songs were written today.
After the launch Playboy in 1953 a deluge of adult entertainment magazines spilled across America. A “flood tide of filth” as one critic described it. Magazines like Adam, Dude, Rogue, Gent, Torchy, Candid, Twilight and Sultry filled the magazine racks. These girlie mags were blamed for the “promulgation of decadence” intended to corrupt America’s youth and make it impossible “for men to revert to normal attitudes in regard to sex.”
Adult magazines were deemed as great a threat to the American way of life as Communism.
Compared to today’s porn industry—these jazz mags are tame. Codes of censorship meant models were more artfully photographed. Full nudity was forbidden—well, until Penthouse broke that ban in the late sixties and Playboy followed with its first full-frontal centerfold in 1972. The focus was mainly titillation or T & A.
There was always some moralizing religious do-gooder (like future financial felon Charles Keating, see below) who claimed these images encouraged perversion, fetishised breasts and were intended to “appeal to the sodomist.” With all this in mind, it’s quite remarkable that our baby boom grannies and grandads grew up to be average, run-of-the-mill, suburbanites.
Or did they?
More from this ‘flood tide of filth,’ after the jump…
Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) having fun smashing glass with his head on the set of ‘Twin Peaks.’
I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.
Agent Dale Cooper
Many of the photos in this post captured while the cameras weren’t rolling on the set of Twin Peaks were taken by actor Richard Beymer (who played ‘Benjamin Horne’ in the series) after the photographer hired to take promotional shots for the film quit (you can still buy a few of Beymer’s beautiful photos here). Others are what appear to be candid photos including an amusing polaroid of director David Lynch yelling into the ear of actress Grace Zabriskie (who played Laura Palmer’s mother Sarah in the original series) with a megaphone.
Deputy ‘Tommy Hawk Hill’ (played by actor Michael Horse) hanging out with a deer head.
As pretty much everyone on the face of the earth has been following along with the drama that has surrounded the return of Twin Peaks to TV (predicted to occur sometime in 2017) after Lynch said sayonara to the folks at Showtime via a series of Tweets to his “Twitter Friends” noting that he had himself began to notify the cast that he was no longer attached to the shows revival. Thankfully for lovers of the Log Lady about a month later the one-of-a-kind master of cult films decided to come back as did pretty much every one of the members of the original cast. And if that’s not enough for you to get excited about the fact that television is about to get really fucking weird again the show will start shooting scenes in location around Washington State specifically North Bend—the home of Twede’s Cafe that still serves up “Twin Peaks” signature cherry pie and of course “a damn fine cup o’ coffee.”
Loads of cool behind-the-scenes shots from 1990 series follow.
Actress Grace Zabriskie (Sarah Palmer) and David Lynch on the set filming one of the last episodes of ‘Twin Peaks’ on March 13th, 1991.
‘Caroline Powell Earle’ (played by Brenda Mathers), David Lynch and ‘Annie Blackburn’ (played by Heather Graham).
If there’s one show that’s generating a ton of buzz right now, it’s the Netflix original miniseries Stranger Things. A lovingly-crafted homage to the 70s/80’s “Golden Era” works of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter, this show is inspiring the kind of love we haven’t seen for a TV program in a long time. Having heard so much good stuff about Stranger Things, I went into watching it with high hopes indeed. On paper this show is so my kind of thing that it’s not even funny: John Carpenter is my all-time favorite director. Stephen King is the guy who inspired me to write, and I can trace my obsession with movies back to formative experiences watching Spielberg’s films obsessively as a child.
So what could possibly go wrong? Well I have a confession to make: Having watched the show now, for the most part I found it… well… kinda boring. I certainly didn’t hate Stranger Things or anything but I definitely didn’t find it anywhere near as “awesome” as everyone else did either. I think it’s basically just… okay. For most of the viewing experience I had a nagging sensation of “Is this it? THIS is the show people are losing their shit for?!” But in truth anything that gets this sort of across-the-board, almost scarily uniform praise—like this particular show—it should raise suspicions.
And before anyone jumps in to tell me that I “just don’t get it!!“my fanboy credentials are more than sound. The fiction I write is horror with teen protagonists! From 2004-2008 I was part of the synth/prog group The Evil Eye, taking influence from John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream and soundtracking various short films including the 80s/video nasties-inspired web serial TV Face. On top of working on these things I am also a child of this era, so I’m as surprised as anyone that I didn’t love the shit out of the show. And trust me, I don’t wanna be The Grinch Who Stole Your 80s Nostalgia Buzz, either. Stranger Things has some serious problems that people seem willing to overlook in the rush to hype it up. So in the interest of fair and balanced journalism, I have put together a guide to what I find to be eight of the major flaws with Stranger Things.
Dare you taste the Hatorade?
1. Winona Ryder
Don’t get my wrong, I love Winona. She’s the beating heart of some of my all-time favourite movies. I’m a Veronica. But BY GOD did her performance do my head in! To the point where I zoned out whenever she was on screen. Her role as “Joyce” (and I had to look that name up, that’s how unmemorable the character was) never strayed from the single, overbearing note of “despairing mother.” Which is not necessarily Ryder’s fault as she was given so little to work with. Still, color me disappointed. I lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of the writers/creators Shawn Levy and the Duffer Brothers. Stranger Things’ characters were paper thin despite some great performances from the child actors. But the adults? From Winona Ryder to Matthew Modine, not to mention the oddly clueless suburban parents and the totally clichéd sidekick deputies… sorry. In the end it seemed like only Steve and Will were genuinely changed by what they had experienced.
But I was willing to forgive all that until it got to:
The treatment of Barb neatly sums up everything wrong with this show. I knew “who” Barb was before I’d even seen a single frame of Stranger Things, which is why I was expecting a lot more from this “beloved” character’s role. But the way they handled her storyline left a bad taste. [SPOILER] After her abduction at the end of episode 2, Barb gets, what, maybe three more mentions over the course of the next six hours? And in the middle of one child disappearance investigation, the disappearance of another kid gets completely and utterly overlooked by the police? Please! I’ve seen mention that this is a comment on the general lack of urgency placed on missing-girl cases (which IS a thing) but that’s retroactively applying something to the show that just isn’t there. Once Barb has served her purpose to the plot she’s basically forgotten about. I get the feeling that the show’s creators expected the audience to feel a lot more empathy for Barb than they ever showed her. Simply put, it was cheap and lazy. And her predicament left dramatically unexplored.
3. The Pacing/Plotting
Let’s be honest here, the pacing was wildly uneven. Long stretches—entire episodes, in fact—passed where the plot barely advanced a single inch. Perhaps this is another homage as Stephen King has been guilty of this kind of uneven pacing and self-indulgent mood-setting in his fiction. But when he has to, he can knock that shit out of the park. Much of Stranger Things felt saggy and repetitive. It’s clear the Duffer Brothers and Shawn Levy haven’t got a grip on writing episodic television yet. Compare the plotting to the 2013 conspiracy-adventure drama Utopia (a masterpiece in my opinion, and a benchmark for mystery-thriller-TV, written by Dennis Kelly.) Utopia covers roughly similar ground: a world-threatening government conspiracy is uncovered through a pop-culture cypher by a ragtag gang of geeks along with a mysterious woman with major ass-kicking abilities. The twists and turns of Utopia‘s plot in the first three episodes alone took the viewer deeper into an unpredictable, exciting story while serving up some boundary-pushing scenes. By contrast, the plot of Stranger Things only really seemed to get going by the end of episode 3, and rather than shock us or surprise us, every plot twist had an almost mind-numbing familiarity. Like how is Will hiding in the electricity? Oh yeah: Because Spielberg.
4. The Relentless Pastiche-O-Rama
It got bloody tiring! While I did enjoy the show in places, at no point did Stranger Things ever transcend its influences to become something truly great with its own unique voice. And that is something the films it references managed to achieve, lest we forget. The show instead relies on a checklist of “spot-the-cliché” (well-produced clichés, but clichés nonetheless.) Despite a couple of entertaining peaks, after the end credits rolled I was STILL thinking about Spielberg, King, Carpenter, Lucas, Craven, Cronenberg, et al, and not the actual story I’d just watched. This seems to be true of almost everyone else talking about the show, too, which says a lot. That’s the fundamental problem with pastiche: not only does it have to be as good as the classics if it’s going to constantly remind us of them, it actually has to stand apart from them too if it wants to eek out its own place in that canon. Otherwise the referencing becomes distracting and makes a viewer wish they’d just watched the originals instead. “We have consumed more 80s pop culture than you!” is really not the best basis for telling a story. It certainly never answered the question as to why I should use eight hours of my life to watch it when I could watch a quadruple-bill of ET, Close Encounters, The Goonies and Poltergeist. With still time for a lil’ Freaks & Geeks thrown in.
5. Eleven’s Psychic Realm
And this was the moment when the relentless pastiching just became TOO much for me. When it spilled over from cute into ugly. When it went from being a constant, wearying nag of “now where have I seen that before?” to “I know exactly where I have seen this before, and GROAN.” The direct lift from Under The Skin (like Utopia, another modern masterpiece) felt incongruous. Not for Under The Skin‘s adult themes or modern setting, but because that film worked so damn hard to take us out of our comfort zones and show us something unique and genuinely alien. Seeing that reflective-black-empty-world (NSFW) again in the context of a cozy-nostalgia-80s-synth-kids-horror-adventure was both jarring and annoying. It was also a hugely missed opportunity: seeing inside the mysterious Eleven’s mind (literally) could have been a chance for the Duffers and Levy to show us something awesome and bizarre and new, but no, they cynically opted for more lazy pastiche. Instead of investing in genuine character insight or visual innovation, we got yet another “have you seen THIS film?” wink-and-nudge reference. Boring!
Which brings me to:
6. The Monster/The Threat
I think we can all agree that the monster in Super 8 was rubbish, right? Both its design and its role within that 80s throwback felt off. But having said that, you have to give JJ Abrams this: at least his monster had an endgame. It had a motivation. A back story. Even a primitive logic. But the Stranger Things monster (as yet un-named, even by the fans. How odd!) had no sense of having its own life beyond being a plot device. Not to mention that its feeding rituals (dead deer or fresh humans?!) and appearances in and out of our dimension were so loosely sketched as to lose any genuine sense of creepiness. Vagueness can be cool if the audience is confident that behind the twitching curtain lurks something truly terrifying (The X-Files coasted on this approach for years until it blew it with a farcically convoluted mythos: We saw behind the curtain and it was just some greasy-haired nerd typing in his Mom’s basement.) In horror for “The Threat” to work it has to be fully realized. This wishy-washy threat never gets satisfactorily explored or convincingly/consistently deployed and this was obviously going to be the case from the first episode. (See also: It Follows.)
To top it all off I just wasn’t a fan of the creature design. The five-second scene of the melting head from The Thing blew it out of the water.
And speaking of John Carpenter…
7. The Score
Everyone’s going on about how fantastic the soundtrack—by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin-based synth quartet S U R V I V E—is. And I’m not saying that it’s bad. It’s certainly authentic sounding, which is good. But just one question—how does it go again? I can’t remember, can you whistle the theme tune for me please? The beauty of John Carpenter’s original synth-based scores was not just in the signature sound palette he managed to conjure up, but in the memorable melodies he lodged in our brains, melodies that came back to haunt us long after the credits had rolled. He’s also the master at using minimal music cues to build genuine tension. In contrast, some of the Stranger Things music cues were way too much. The pounding drums during the sheriff’s breaking in at the research facility didn’t make the scene more tense, it just became grating. One of the things that tripped the score up in my mind, was the inclusion on the soundtrack of some genuinely atmospheric synth masterpieces that put the original score in the shade. I’m thinking in particular of this, one of my favourite pieces by Tangerine Dream (that was used to accompany a fist fight scene?!?):
Which brings me to…
8. The Hype
Ah, the hype. The Stranger Things hype is the thing that is really pissing me off, more than anything actually featured in the show itself. To the point where I felt compelled to write this piece so at least there could be ONE dissenting voice out there to balance the (suspiciously universal) adoration for the show.
“The Insult that Made a Man out of ‘Mac’” (or a variation on the theme) was impossible to avoid if you read practically ANY comic book between the 1940s and the 1980s—and maybe beyond. It was an ad for the Charles Atlas “Dynamic-Tension” fitness program—our hero, a weakling named “Mac,” is humiliated in front of his girlfriend by an archetypal sand-kicking bully on the beach. Later, at home, wounded by the affront, Mac subscribes to the Atlas Dynamic-Tension program and quickly becomes a he-man cut like a Greek statue. He returns to the scene of his emasculation to knock the bully down with a single punch and become the “HERO OF THE BEACH!” His girlfriend of course immediately returns to his side, but other women are taking notice of the musclebound Mac, sooooo…
I am frankly baffled by a contradiction as regards the longevity of that ad. Not that it doesn’t deserve its classic status—disregard for the moment the cringeworthiness of its deference to violent machismo and misogyny and note how well it adheres to the “Hero’s Journey” template, though it first appeared years before Joseph Campbell named and described that literary trope in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. My problem is just that, OK, look, obviously people were buying the program or the ad wouldn’t have run in every comic for decades, but male comics fanatics aren’t exactly reputed for being chiseled physical specimens (obviously there are exceptions but go to a con and tell me how much beefcake you see). If the ad was so successful, wouldn’t the opposite be the case? Wouldn’t the comic shop guy on The Simpsons be an Adonis instead of an obese, embittered, overlooked snob?
I’m tempted to conclude that nobody who bought the book actually followed through with it.
The ad’s eternal appeal has made it fit matter for parody, and indeed, it’s been parodied plenty. Recently, John “Derf” Backderf, the Eisner-winning author of Trashed and My Friend Dahmer (we’ve told you about him before), hipped me to “The Insult,” a webcomic that’s detourned the ad nearly 100 times. Currently, its creator Scott Marshall is posting a new one every day in a lead-up both to his own birthday and to this weekend’s Dartmouth Comics Arts Festival in Nova Scotia. If you have an idea for an “Insult” strip, Marshall maintains an online suggestion box.
Here’s an assortment of strips. Dangerous Minds’ column width makes them a little small to read properly, but a mouse click will spawn an enlargement.