Why Walk When You Can Fly?

Every so often, you read about someone who has decided to walk across the country to gain a better appreciation for the land and its residents. Usually, there’s a charity involved; more often than not, a video camera.

That’s always made me wonder about the value of these walks. Not the charity part, the cameras. How can you truly “experience” anything when you’re being trailed by a camera crew and shot in panorama against the setting sun? Or, to quote Forrest Gump:

“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.”

It was just announced this week that another great hero is planning to walk across the country. Superman.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why is Superman walking across the country when he could, you know, just sort of fly and … zip … her’ there?

He's walking

The folks at DC Comics provide the answerStarting in July 2010, coinciding with the 700th issue of Superman, DC Comics will be celebrating this remarkable anniversary of America’s greatest hero with a historic journey…not to alien worlds or distant galaxies, but through the streets, roads, highways, homes, farms, suburbs, and inner cities of America.

The trip will take more than a year, as the Man Of Steel starts in Philadelphia and passes through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington.

Sadly, Superman won’t be walking over the pedestrian bridge across Barnett Road, or from duck pond to duck pond at Lithia Park. His Oregon stop will be within a 50-mile radius of Portland, according to the folks at DC — who have a reader contest as part of the serialized journey.

“The series of issues will examine how Superman sees America, and how America sees Superman,” according to a press release. Strangely, Superman won’t be walking through his adopted home state of Kansas … although it’s hard to go home after becoming a star in the big city. Or a Metropolis.

He’s also ignoring the South, New England, both Dakotas and Arizona (where he might be accused of being an illegal alien). You’d think someone with Superman’s strength and endurance could manage the Lower 48, if not Hawaii and Alaska.

So, why is he doing it? Apparently (and here’s a shocker) to sell comic books. And that’s truth, justice and the American way.

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Dennis, Gary and Art

The deaths of Art Linkletter (May 26), Gary Coleman (May 28) and Dennis Hopper (May 29) once again resurrected the urban legend of how celebrities always die in groups of three. It’s been repeated so often that it becomes one of those things that everyone knows — like not to swim for an hour after eating, or the symmetry between “The Wizard Of Oz” and “The Dark Side Of The Moon.”

None of them is true, of course (well, the Oz/Moon connection is somewhat true), particularly the axiom about celebrity deaths. In fact, Wikipedia’s list of notable deaths in 2010 lists 19 deaths on those three days alone … with another 7 on May 27. And anyone scanning that list will no doubt find at least one name they somewhat recognize.

What’s actually happening is that Linkletter, Coleman and Hopper were more familiar with more people. They were, in their own ways, significant to our shared pop culture experience. And it’s not as though any of the deaths was a surprise. Linkletter was 97; Hopper, 74, was at the end of a long battle with cancer; and Coleman, while only 42, has a history of health issues before the accident that led to his death.

Veteran TV icons Robert Culp, Peter Graves and Fess Parker died within 10 days of each other in March — which, to those who catalog such things, seems like a more natural grouping than, say, last year’s all-time threesome of Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett (who died with 24 hours of each other).

The popular notion can be traced back to The Day The Music Died (thanks a lot, Don McLean) and the plane crash deaths of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens. In reality, though, famous people have died in close proximity for as long as deaths have been recorded, sometimes quite notably (see Thomas Jefferson and John Adams).

More recently, the March 27, 2002 deaths of Milton Berle, Billy Wilder and Dudley Moore reinforced the theory … which regained steam with last year’s Jackson-McMahon-Fawcett troika. The truth is, however, that celebrities die just about as often as anyone else. Except that because they’re celebrities, we tend to read about them more often.

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“Lost,” Found and Things In Between

It shouldn’t have come as any great surprise that “Lost” — a once-in-a-generation television series that was steeped in imagery and metaphor — ended its run Sunday night with a character named Christian Shepherd opening the doors to a multi-denominational church to let in a blinding white light.

All good things must come to an end.

All good things must come to an end.

“Lost” fans being who they are, the two-and-a-half-hour parable that closed the book on our intrepid band of plane crash survivors will be debated and dissected and ultimately given a thumbs-up or -down in terms of answering the show’s mysteries. More than one doctoral thesis will be written about the finale and the show itself.

But I think that misses the point. For all the religious imagery in Jack’s quest to set things right before being able to accept his death and move on, for all the pop culture references, for all the lines of dialogue that could be read several ways (“I’l see you on the other side”), what the creators of “Lost” did in the finale was simplify things.

Jack’s quest was the basic human journey to do the best that we can do and move on. His fellow castaways and the others (and The Others) became time-traveling, shape-shifting characters in fulfilling his destiny. Did they die at the moment of the crash? No. Did the island actually exist? Yes. Did Jack stay behind (with Hurley and Ben) because those who escaped needed to complete their own journeys? Yup.

If you find yourself today wondering about the little nagging questions … well, I don’t blame you … but you’ve got to let it go and move on. That’s part of the message as well. Don’t get so immersed in the details that the bigger picture gets … ummm … lost.

Lingering questions and all, “Lost” ended in a compelling, heartwarming, spiritual fashion. We should all hope we complete life’s missions the way Jack did. Staring up at the sky, with a faithful dog at our side.

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140 Characters In Search Of An Author

It’s a big week in the Twitterverse.

How many was that … 35? Dang it! Now we’re up to … what? … (side note: Do ellipses count as one character or three?)

Anyway, as I was saying …

Let’s start with the news that Twitter is donating its archives to the Library of Congress. Tweets dating back to 2006 are headed to Washington, D.C., where they can be studied by researchers to determine the response to major events such as the Haiti earthquakes, the debate over health care and the latest movie in the “Twilight” series.

Knowing that your tweets over breaking up with your bff will now be safely in the hands of the federal government has to be very comforting. The Library of Congress notes, however, that only tweets meant for public viewing will be available for access in the archives. Private tweets will be restricted.

What the hell are we talking about? We don’t know, but certainly the tweet overlords are onto something big.

In numbers released Wednesday, it was revelaed that Twitter has more than 105 million registered users, and is adding 300,000 new users every day. Meanwhile, the social-networking site is fielding 600 million search queries each day and users are sending out 55 million tweets a day.

The 600 million search queries are significant because Twitter is providing a new service on its search results pages, with the introduction Tuesday of “Promoted Tweets.” Don’t get all excited, twitterheads: “Promoted Tweets” are actually advertisements, so the new service provided isn’t likely to affect your thumbs much. One of the first companies to purchase the twitvertisements is the maker of Red Bull … although you’d think Twitter would be too slow for Red Bull drinkers.

Moving on to literature, the American Library Association, the “IM” series by Lauren Myracle — which includes such titles as “ttyl,” “ttfn” and “l8r, g8r” — are the books that received the most challenges this year over their content. …. No, not because they are written in IMspeak; but because of their content, which includes teenagers using foul language, drinking and having sex.

Speaking of teenagers in love, the Royal Shakespeare Company is behind a current effort to present “Romeo & Juliet” via Twitter. Called “Such Tweet Sorrow,” characters such as julietcap16 are reducing the romance into micro-posts and … it goes without saying … without all that extraneous stuff’ ‘n’ such.

ttfn is such sweet sorrow, indeed

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Cyrus and Sparks, Together At Last

Fingernails across a chalkboard. A steel fork clanging off a tooth. Waterboarding. A “very special episode” of “Blossom.”  Lima Beans. All things that can make rational people resort to irrational, involuntary shakes, shivers and shouts.

To that list we add the pop culture marriage of inexplicable titans: Miley Cyrus and Nicholas Sparks.

uuuuurgharghyyiyigack

The tween princess and the prince of pulp romance have joined forces (imagine Darth Vader teaming up with the shark from “Jaws”) for a new cross-promotional, marketing opportunity. Called “The Last Song” (as if the gods would be so kind), the quote-unquote movie stars Cyrus as a troubled teen with a gift for music (so you know it’s not a documentary) and is based on a quote-unquote book that Sparks barely finished spewing out (this is, after all, a quote-unquote author who has published 15 novels since 1996) before the p.r. campaign had started.

“I think he does romance in such a cool way,” Cyrus told MTV News about Sparks. “He does it like ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ a pure love story without going melodramatic and corny.”

Those of you who remember “The Notebook,” “Message in a Bottle,” “Nights in Rodanthe” and the recent “Dear John” no doubt recognize the similarities between those Sparks masterworks and “Romeo and Juliet.” We can excuse Cyrus from making the connection, though; since she admits that she hadn’t finished the reading book before the movie began shooting.

Sparks, though, has no trouble defining his art and his place in its work.

“There’s a difference between drama and melodrama; evoking genuine emotion, or manipulating emotion,” he told USA Today earlier this month. “It’s a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it’s very rare that it works. That’s why I tend to dominate this particular genre.”

“The Last Song” is the sort of marketing opportunity … okay, “movie” … that speaks not only to a blatant grab for the buck, but to Hollywood’s lack of original ideas. Take the third Olsen Twin, stick her in a project written by the king of airport novelists and make a few hundred million before the action flicks arrive this summer.

I’d rather see a movie based on the “Battleship” board game. Or the comic strip dog “Marmaduke.” Or the 1950s TV series “77 Sunset Strip.” Come to think of it … movies ARE being made out of all three of those.

Pass the lima beans.

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Honest, Abe Needs An Agent

Sitting at an office desk, alone with his thoughts, the President of the United States writes a letter about an upcoming battle, one during which he knows that blood will be spilled. Suddenly, a would-be assassin appears and fires a pistol shot … which the president avoids with Matrix-like artistry.

The gun useless, the assassin shows his fangs and a fight to the death ensues before the president prevails. Welcome to the world of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” a novel by Seth Grahame-Greene (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) that depicts our 16th president entering an arena before only safe for high school cheerleaders. 

The video is a commercial pitch for the novel. Yes, a movie version is planned. Followed, no doubt, by the video game.

What is it about Abraham Lincoln that captivates our society to this extent? At or near the top of the list of most-admired presidents, of course. But fighting vampires? Heck, it was strange enough when Honest Abe fought a duel with George W. Bush on “Robot Chicken.” But at least they battled with lightsabers; so there was some logic behind it.

Abraham Lincoln meets Kirk and SpockStill, no president has popped up in pop culture in as many variations as Lincoln. And we’re not talking legit biopics here. It’s one thing for Raymond Massey or Henry Fonda or Liam Neeson to portray Lincoln in a historical drama; it’s quite another for Abe to show up on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, or at the birth of Superman or joking around with The Muppets … not to mention TV visits to “The Time Tunnel,” “Red Dwarf” and the series “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,” and movie roles in “Bedazzled,” “Night at the Museum” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

Lincoln shows up everywhere. He’s in the cartoon series “The Grim Adventures of Bill and Mandy,” in the “Fight Club” video game, and in the music video “The Ultimate Showdown of Lemon Demon.” It all makes the talking statue of Lincoln in Disney’s “Hall of Presidents” quaint by comparison.

Lincoln’s status matters here, as does his physical bearing. Lincoln looks like an iconic figure. Even if he weren’t so central a figure in our history, he has a presence that stays with you. Sure, John Adams got a Broadway musical and an HBO miniseries … but Lincoln has the cult-status cool of being on “Doctor Who.”

Let’s face it, Warren G. Harding could walk onto the set of “The Late Show With David Letterman” tonight, do three minutes of stand-up and no one would know who he was (only that he’d be funnier than Jay Leno). Richard Nixon’s moment on “Laugh-In” and Bill Clinton playing the sax on “Arsenio” are nothing compared to Lincoln’s ability to remain fresh in our cultural landscape.

No wonder there’s a hidden shrine to Lincoln in the “Fallout 3″ video game … the guy slays vampires.

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Taking Things To The ‘Xtreme’

Reality television series have taken us everywhere — from divorce courts to matchmakers offices, weight-loss clinics to four-star restaurants, maternity wards full of crying children to the Jersey shore.

But leave it to the French to boldly go where no Real Housewife has gone before. This week’s premiere of the reality show “Zone Xtreme” featured a studio audience electrocuting a contestant who couldn’t answer questions posed to him by the host.

Well, not exactly …

“Zone Xtreme,” you see, was a fake reality show (as opposed, say, to “Flavor of Love”). The show, complete with pulsating game-show music and a comely co-host, was actually a set-up for a documentary being filmed to view the reactions of the 80 members of the studio audience. The “contestant,” who presumably “died” after being shocked into submission, was an actor.

If the premise sounds familiar, then you vaguely remember the work of Yale University psychologist Stanley Millgram, who conducted a study in 1961 to see whether experiment volunteers would willingly send a shock to an unseen individual. The French “game show” turned it up a few levels by having the audience members watch what happened.

Although 16 people walked out, 64 audience members stayed – including one woman whose grandparents had been tortured by the Nazis, and another who said she kept hitting the buzzer (which increased the level of the shock) because she was “afraid to ruin the program.”

You know …

We like to think we’re better that the people we see duped on television. Put in the same circumstances, we’d like to think we would be among the 16 who walked away. Even if it meant we weren’t going to be on TV.

But evidence to the contrary is all around us — from game-show contestants who squeal with delight when they’re told to “come on down” to those who willing tell their most intimate secrets on panel shows to those willing to expose themselves to ridicule on series such as “The Bachelor” or “The Marriage Ref.”

Much of our culture has become numb to the idea of thinking for ourselves. Some things really don’t add up — no matter how much money we could win or fame we could achieve. And following a TV host’s every word because … well … they entertain us or soothe us or tell us what we want to hear, just might be robbing us of our individual and communal ability to reason.

We can laugh at the French documentary experiment. We can find it distasteful. But we also know that a similar “show” conducted on American television would find just as many audience members willing to electrocute a contestant not as smart as a fifth-grader.

In between beer commercials.

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Twist … and shout (Spoiler Alert)

Warning: At the end of this blog entry, the much-talked about, soon-to-be much-debated ending to the newly released film “Remember Me” will be revealed.

Honest, I’m not kidding. So, if you’re one of those folks who a) were planning to see “Remember Me,” or b) hate having movie spoilers revealed, or c) can’t resist temptation when someone tells you not to look, or d) all of the above, STOP READING NOW. Thanks for visiting, here are some fun pictures of dogs.

Personally, I enjoy spoilers. The bigger the secret in a movie or TV show, the more I’m likely to scan the Internet to discover it. Right now, if someone sent me the ending to the final season of “Lost,” I’d be there faster than a Kardashian seeking attention. And no, knowing that the Titantic sinks or that Bruce Willis was dead all along doesn’t spoil the fun. According to the bumper sticker, “Life’s in the journey, not the destination.”

Thanks to the Web, movie secrets are a thing of the past. Heck, thanks to filmsite.org, even the surprises of the past can be discovered, alphabetically, from Adaptation to Young Sherlock Holmes. When I started hearing buzz that “Remember Me” has a doozy of a disturbing ending (and, honest, it does), I went to themoviespoiler.com, which solicits fan-written plot summaries for current releases. Alas, it wasn’t there … yet.

I have, however, seen references to the ending of “Remember Me” being “crazy,” “shocking,” “disturbing,” “disgusting” and “the most offensive of the year.” Now THAT, boys and girls, is a secret worth sharing!

THIS WON'T END WELL: Robert Pattinson and Emilie da Ravin in "Remember Me."But first, a quick synopsis: “Remember Me” stars “Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin of “Lost” (which should have been a hint that something was amiss) as starcrossed, would-be lovers whose fathers (Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper, respectively) disapprove. We’ve seen this story before … heck, many of us have LIVED THROUGH this story before.

And as anyone who’s ever seen “Romeo and Juliet” can predict, things won’t go smoothly or end well. But what would be so crazy or shocking or disturbing or offensive about yet another take on Shakespeare? … Perhaps Pattinson finds out that dear old dad — a New York City business mogul — has had an affair with the girl he loves? Nah, it’s been more than 40 years since “The Graduate” put us through that.

It would be disturbing if we discover that the characters of Pattinson and de Ravin were actually step-siblings … but such things are as old as Greek tragedy and a new as last week’s soap operas. What in the world could really be so unexpected as to sicken the stomachs of audience members, and send critics to new lengths of incredulity?

Well, I’ll tell you … and HERE, honestly, is your final warning. If you don’t want to know, leave now. (Don’t like dogs? Here are some cats.)

On the final morning of the film, Pattinson heads to his father’s office building on a crisp, autumnal day, where we learn that the film has not been taking place in the present, but in the past. To be precise, in the year 2001 … in September … on the 11th.

Yup. …At the end of this young-lovers melodrama, our protagonist looks out the window of his father’s office and sees the first of the 9/11 planes headed straight for him. There might not be a shower long enough to wash the gall off the filmmakers. Main characters die in a lot of movies; it might have worked in this one. There are many ways to deal with the random nature of mortality. But to make it be “about” 9/11, without addressing 9/11 itself is … well, a lot of adjectives that apply.

Roger Ebert, who liked most of the movie, says the ending “tries to borrow profound meaning, but succeeds only in upstaging itself so overwhelmingly that its characters become irrelevant.” The Boston Globe was less kind, suggesting the ending “crassly repurposes tragedy to excuse its cliches.”

Neither review reveals the ending, which seems fair given their roles as critics. I’m under no such restrictions. One of the reasons I like spoiler information is for times such as this … when it can keep me from spending money on something like “Remember Me.” How you spend your money is up to you.

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The Magic Of Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen died this week. He had been battling cancer for the past couple of years, so it wasn’t a surprise that he passed away. What was surprising was his age.

Merlin Olsen was 69. Which seems impossible … since it seemed like he had been around forever.

In 1968, Olsen sang “Under the Boardwalk” with his Los Angeles Rams defensive linemates (known as the “Fearsome Foursome”) on ABC’s “The Hollywood Palace” variety show. Variety shows were big back then, and the “Hollywood Palace” attracted every name star of the day to its stage. The “Palace” doesn’t exist anymore, and the Rams — no longer in Los Angeles — are anything but fearsome these days.

Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen

Olsen, a college and professionall Hall of Fame football player, made the jump to the TV broadcast booth in the late 1970s and, as a sidelight, became an actor. He played good old boys and tough guys in movies, but found a home on “Little House on the Prairie” as Michael Landon’s sidekick Jonathan Garvey. Landon, who knew all about acting alongside big softies from his days with Dan “Hoss” Blocker on  “Bonanza,” developed a brotherly rivalry with Olsen.

After “Little House,” Olsen went on to “Father Murphy” and “Aaron’s Way,” each less successful but which kept his face in front of viewers. At the same time, Olsen became the unlikely TV spokesman for FTD florists — a big guy talking about budding bouquets or holding a dozen roses.

We don’t have celebrities like Merlin Olsen today. We have fast-rising young stars who are often replaced in a few years by other fast-rising younger stars. Today’s TV stars more often than not try to do other series (and mostly fail) and if they do TV ads at all, it’s voice-over narration so as to keep their identity a guessing game.

They’ll do the late-night talk shows … but mostly to promote their latest endeavour, not entertain. And we know so much about our sports heroes these days, they’re so controlled by agents and media handlers, that you can’t imagine one taking Merlin Olsen’s path through celebrityland.

For some reason, Olsen’s death made me think of Neil Patrick Harris opening the Oscars with a song-and-dance number. Harris was “Doogie Howser, M.D.”; now he’s Barney on “How I Met Your Mother.” He’s hosted the Emmys and the Tonys, and has become a cult favorite with movies such as “Starship Troopers” and “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle” … and on the Internet with such projects as “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.”

It isn’t a stretch to imagine Neil Patrick Harris on “The Hollywood Palace.” Like Merlin Olsen, he appears to be someone who’ll just seem to have been around forever.

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Things We Might Not Want To Know

I’m not kidding. There are things you might not want to know and, frankly, things I wish I didn’t know. And some of those will be revealed over the next few paragraphs. So, if you’re the squeamish type, I’ll understand it if you decide to move along. Thanks for the page hit; we’ll catch up later.

It used to be that in order to hear about … well, for lack of a better word … icky stuff, you’d have to get an Afterschool Special or a Movie of the Week. Some medical disorder never discussed by Marcus Welby or afflicting any of The Waltons would be contained to a lovely two-hour block of TV time that, if you chose to, you could ignore.

Take, for instance, the 1976 film “The Loneliest Runner.” Written, directed by, produced by and co-starring Michael Landon, the TV film told the story of a teen who grows up to become an Olympic runner. Safe enough, right? HA!  The reason the boy becomes a star athlete is that he’d run home from school every day because his mother would hang his bedsheets out the window of their home every time he wet the bed. Landon, to his credit, said it was a story born from his own experiences.

And while the movie helped humanize the trauma, it broke open the door to what could be talked about on TV. Daytime talk shows, of course, routinely include material so seemingly private as to make bed-wetting seem quaint. Athletes and presidential candidates have made commercials about the benefits of pills to counteract erectile dysfunction.

Name a body part and — at some point during the day — you more than likely can find a commercial, talk show or sitcom discussing what spews from it. One infomercial for a colon-cleaning supplement details the final days of John Wayne. … Don’t ask. … Really, don’t.

Now this isn’t to say that earwax and bellybutton lint (and more severe issues) aren’t important to know about or, at times, in need of appropriate treatment. Of course they are. And maybe this sounds a tad too puritanical or old-fashioned or stigma-bound, but … there really ARE some things we’d rather not hit us smack in the face on our widescreens at dinnertime.

The latest incarnation of this phenomenon comes courtesy of Whoopi Goldberg, who is now the spokeswoman for something know as LBL … “light bladder leakage.” In commercials and a series of short, humorous videos on the “1 in 3 Like Me” Web site, the Oscar-winning co-host of “The View” bonds with those who suffer from the condition while donning the charcaters of Eve, the Statue Of Liberty, Lady Godiva and others. Although the concept of the Statue of Liberty being afflicted by such problems takes some imagination to envision.

The Web site dispenses advice, both medical and personal, includes testimonials from women whose lives have been affected by LBL, and links to products that can help deal with the condition. All of which is well, and good, and necessary.

At the same time, it further breaks down the fourth wall between those who entertain us and the messy realities of life. Our loss, and our gain.

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    Robert Galvin

    Robert Galvin has been with the Mail Tribune since 1999. When he's not writing this blog about pop culture, or his weekly television column (The Little White Dot) for ... Read Full
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