Culture on My Mind – Quarantine Con, Episodes IX and X

Culture on My Mind
June 26, 2020

 

This week’s “can’t let it go” is yet another panel from the Classic Track Irregulars!

Well, really, two panels. And a bonus feature.

Still broadcasting from their respective socially distant quarantine bunkers, the Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track panelists have returned. First, the panelists put their suits back on and swear under oath that Krull, Lost in Space, Doom, and Starship Troopers are okay to watch and enjoy. This week’s avocados at law are Sherman Burris, Kevin Eldridge, and Darin Bush.

As an added bonus feature, Classics Track co-directors Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel offer a blooper reel of sorts with the lost thirteen minutes from a crossed wire. This is what happens when you think you’re streaming live to Facebook, but the panel is broadcasting to YouTube instead.

Here are thirteen minutes of fun that were had when the panel thought everyone was watching.

The tenth entry in Quarantine Con is a celebration. It was Joe Crowe’s birthday, so Gary Mitchel and Dr. Scott Viguie arranged an Ask Me Anything party where the Classics Track’s fans could ask Joe… well… anything.

There’s even a surprise phone call from Joe’s mom! “Lord have mercy,” she says.

That’s a lot of content for a week, but if there’s one thing that a track dedicated to the entirety of science fiction media greater than ten years old understands, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

They have a lot more fun discussions planned in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to the YouTube channel and the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Lessons from Short Circuit

Culture on My Mind
June 12, 2020

 

This week’s “can’t let it go” are a pair of favorite movies from my childhood.

I love the Short Circuit films.

Yeah, I said it. Both of the films are drenched in late ’80s cheese and dance around the lines between programming and life. I have no shame.

The first film, Short Circuit from 1986, focuses on a robot (designated Number 5) built for war that gets struck by lightning and develops a consciousness. Number 5 is voiced by Tim Blaney, who modern audiences would recognize as Frank the Pug from the Men in Black films and his puppeteering work over the last 35 years. The five war robots were programmed by two scientists, played by Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens, and when Number 5 is struck by lightning, it inadvertently escapes the defense research facility and ends up in the care of Stephanie Speck, a food truck owner and animal lover played by Ally Sheedy.

The film also stars Austin Pendleton as the irritating president of the robotics corporation and G. W. Bailey doing what he does best as the head of security. It was directed by John Badham, who also brought us Saturday Night FeverDraculaBlue Thunder, and WarGames. Number 5 has a true sci-fi pedigree since he was designed by Syd Mead, the “visual futurist” famous for his work on Blade Runner and Tron.

Over the course of the film, Number 5 develops sentience and proves that he is alive, after which he chooses his own name: Johnny 5. It’s a fun and cute, but ultimately forgettable romp.

The sequel, Short Circuit 2, came out in 1988. Only Fisher Stevens and Tim Blaney made the jump to the second film, with a voice cameo from Ally Sheedy, and Kenneth Johnson – the TV sci-fi guy responsible for VThe Bionic WomanThe Incredible Hulk, and Alien Nation – picked up the directing duties.

The sequel finds the two original characters on the streets of New York City with a con-man (Michael McKean), a new love interest (Cynthia Gibb), and white-collar crime. This one is a bit more cringe-worthy in many aspects, but I enjoy the robot’s story and character a lot more, especially when he keeps two books (input) for special attention: Pinocchio and Frankenstein.

The film ends with the Be a Real Boy trope of granting the “other” American citizenship for their special efforts. It was the ’80s, gang, Cold War and all.

A third movie was developed by the studio, but there wasn’t enough interest.

 

All of the cheese and schmaltz aside, the biggest problem with these two films lies in cultural insensitivity. The sole human character that stars in both films – Ben Jabituya in Short Circuit, but Benjamin Jahveri in Short Circuit 2 – is a white man portraying an Indian man.

For background, the character was not intended to be Indian. Fisher Stevens initially had the role, but he was fired and replaced by Bronson Pinchot. When Perfect Strangers started, Pinchot left for the television and Stevens was rehired. When the character was changed to Indian descent, Stevens grew a beard, dyed his hair black, used contacts to change his eye color, and darken his skin with makeup.

In short, the film employed brownface to make the character work.

The effect was convincing among Indian moviegoers. As the urban legend goes, many believed that Fisher Stevens was actually Bollywood actor Javed Jaffrey. The resemblance is uncanny, particularly with the beard and round eyeglasses, but Jaffrey set the record straight soon after. Another fan who was confused, but for an entirely different reason, was comedian Aziz Ansari.

In 2015, Ansari published a piece in the New York Times discussing acting, race, and Hollywood. In it, he describes how he was amazed to see an Indian character as a film lead with a love interest.

Seeing an Indian character in a lead role had a powerful effect on me, but it was only as I got older that I realized what an anomaly it was. I rarely saw any Indians on TV or film, except for brief appearances as a cabdriver or a convenience store worker literally servicing white characters who were off to more interesting adventures. This made “Short Circuit 2” special. An Indian lead character? With a Caucasian love interest? In the 1980s? What’s going on here? A bold foray into diversity far ahead of its time?

Sadly, no.

He was devastated when he found out that Stevens used a culturally insensitive method to play a role. Brownface (and yellowface) are siblings to the practice of blackface, a practice that was popular in the 19th century. In the United States, it was used by white actors to portray blacks, and spread racial stereotypes that betrayed the true nature of slavery and society’s views on minorities. It was popular through the early 20th century, but has since become seen as offensive, disrespectful, and racist.

To that end, when Ansari found out the truth, he saw it as a mockery of his ethnicity. What amazed me, though, was how Ansari tracked down Stevens to talk with him about the role and the pain that it caused. The end result was something that we can all learn from.

After a long conversation, I can confirm Mr. Stevens is not a villain, but was, when he took the role, a well-intentioned if slightly misguided young actor who needed a job during a more culturally insensitive time.

It was 1987, Stevens needed work, and the world wasn’t nearly as culturally savvy as we are now. To his credit, as Ansari discovered, Stevens tried to make the portrayal as authentic as possible, including full immersion in the culture.

Through the discussion, Stevens grew to understand just how much the approach harmed the culture even though he put the work in to avoid playing his own minstrel show.

Go read the accounts by both Aziz Ansari and Fisher Stevens on their meeting. They’re quite enlightening.

 

The reason that I bring this up is because of my love for these films. I’m not Indian, but I understood where Ansari was coming from as I grew to understand the damage of blackface and similar practices. It threw my enjoyment of the movies into question. Does it make me a bad person to still love the film even though it contains these cultural misrepresentations?

Similarly, look at any of the classics that we still enjoy today, from Star Trek to the James Bond franchise. How do we square our fandom with the ideals that drove those shows, from subtle racism and jingoism to misogyny and beyond?

Ansari and Stevens came to the answer in their discussion, and it’s the same one that Sue Kisenwether, Gary Mitchel, Mike Faber and Michael Gordon, Michael Bailey, and so many others in our circles have talked about many times: It depends on the lenses that we use to analyze it. It’s okay to still enjoy classic Trek or Short Circuit as long we acknowledge the shortcomings of the time and how culture has evolved. We can still enjoy something, be critical of it, and acknowledge both the cultural impact and how we’ve evolved in the time since.

It wasn’t okay for Fisher Stevens to apply brownface for those films, but it was accepted. To that end, it is not acceptable now.

This is how we learn and grow as a human culture, and how we develop sensitivity and respect for each other.

 

Rumors have been about for a while about making another Short Circuit film, either as a sequel or a complete reboot. Aziz Ansari and Fisher Stevens agreed on how to make the character of Benjamin right going forward.

Without a doubt, the role should be played by someone of Indian descent.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Quarantine Con, Episode VIII

Culture on My Mind
June 12, 2020

 

This week’s “can’t let it go” is yet another panel from the Classic Track Irregulars!

Broadcasting from their respective socially distant quarantine bunkers, the Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track panelists have returned to talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But, not the Marvel Cinematic Universe that you know. Rather, the one that might have been.

Classics Track co-directors Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel are joined by Van Allen Plexico and Darin Bush to talk about what would have happened if we got the MCU in the 1970s!

As before, Joe and Gary will be hosting more of these, so stay tuned to the YouTube channel and the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Quarantine Con, Episode VII

Culture on My Mind
June 8, 2020

 

This week’s “can’t let it go” is yet another panel from the Classic Track Irregulars!

Broadcasting from their respective socially distant quarantine bunkers, the Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track panelists have returned to talk about which classic vampires they would let near their necks.

Classics Track co-directors Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel are joined by Jason De La Torre and Michael Williams to talk about vampires in ’80s and ’90s movies and TV. Lost Boys! Interview with a Vampire! Near Dark! Forever Knight!

More things like that!

As before, Joe and Gary will be hosting more of these, so stay tuned to the YouTube channel and the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – The Floor is Lava?

Culture on My Mind
June 5, 2020

 

This week’s “can’t let it go” is a childhood game.

Last month, game designed, curator, and writer Holly Gramazio published an essay on her blog about the game The Floor is Lava. It’s really a fascinating read.

The game is pretty simple: Players chase each other around while never touching the floor or the ground. It’s usually played indoors, much to the chagrin of parents as kids are trouncing all over the furniture.

When Holly Gramazio was growing up, though, the floor was never lava. Quicksand, maybe, but never lava. So when she heard the general version of the game was about molten earth, she ran a social media poll of 3500 people and got some interesting results.

Especially regarding what the game is called and how it works in other countries.

Seriously, check it out: “The Floor” by Holly Gramazio

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Quarantine Con, Episode VI

Culture on My Mind
June 1, 2020

 

This week’s “can’t let it go” is yet another panel from the Classic Track Irregulars!

Broadcasting from their socially distant quarantine bunkers, the Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track panelist have returned to speculate about who’s beating who.

Classics Track co-directors Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel are joined by Deanna Toxopeus and Darin Bush in a short rounds version of Sci-Fighters! We’ve all played this game as geeks: Who would win in a battle of the Enterprise vs. the Millennium Falcon?

 

As before, Joe and Gary will be hosting more of these, so stay tuned to the YouTube channel and the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – The Cautionary Tale of Eaglemoss Publications Pre-Orders

Culture on My Mind
May 29, 2020

 

This week’s “can’t let it go” is a cautionary tale about pre-orders.

Eaglemoss Collections is a British publishing company that produces licensed magazines and collectibles based on popular franchises. They have small resin and die-cast handpainted models from Marvel, DC Comics, Doctor Who, Star Trek, and more. In fact, inspired by the rave reviews among people I trust regarding the Star Trek starships collection, I decided to invest in the lineup of Doctors from Doctor Who.

By the time I got involved, many of the classic Doctors were out of stock and no longer being produced. But, in October 2017, I spotted a post from The Doctor Who Site with big news: Eaglemoss was going to republish the figurines starting in November 2017 with multipack sets.

Image via The Doctor Who Site

The first set was a set with the revival-era Doctors (Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth), which I sought out from Entertainment Earth. They had that set and the “mid-era” set (Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and War Doctors) available for pre-order, so I snagged both of them.

As always, Entertainment Earth’s customer service was pretty good. I placed my order in November 2017 and received the revival-era set shortly thereafter. The release date for the mid-era set was pushed back a couple of times, but I finally received that shipment in March 2018.

Despite seeing an advertisement on The Doctor Who Site, I saw no pre-orders for the remaining box set from any of the typical merchants. Finally, the “First 4 Doctors” came up on the official Eaglemoss site in October 2018 along with a pre-order for the Thirteenth Doctor figurine. Knowing that this purchase would complete my set, I put in my pre-order for both.

Image via The Doctor Who Site

The box set eventually graced my doorstep as promised. The Thirteenth Doctor figurine, which was slated for a December 2018 release, never shipped.

My order was processed on October 8, 2018. On December 31, 2018, I noticed that the figurine was gone out of stock on the website, so I wrote to check on the status of my order. I was promised that when the stock was replenished, it would be shipped. Knowing how the release dates kept sliding to the right for the combination sets, I was patient with Eaglemoss, even when I saw other online retailers around the world repeatedly getting the collectible in stock and selling out again in short order.

That patience started to fray by October 2019, one year after the initial pre-order. Various other retailers had been out of stock for a while, and the Eaglemoss website had actually dropped their price. I wrote again to check on the status and to ask about the price difference. They replied ten days later that there was no estimated arrival time for the item and that there was no pre-order price guarantee. But, because I’d been waiting so long, they would adjust my purchase price when the figure shipped.

December came and went, marking the one-year anniversary of the supposed release date. By February, I was out of patience and started a serious effort to find out where I could finish off this collection. I was frustrated by both the TARDIS and Sarah Jane Smith offerings that were poorly painted and produced, but what irritated me more was the fact that Eaglemoss was releasing a different Thirteenth Doctor sculpt, this time with the character’s three companions.

In reality, that was the shining beacon that I was going to be kept out in the cold.

I tried the e-mail route with them through early February 2020 before finally hitting the phone lines. During this time, I started receiving e-mails that my shipping date was coming up. When February 7th came and went without a delivery, I called and found out that they were delayed until February 14th. It was pushed again to February 21st, seemingly giving the squeaky wheel some grease with nothing to back up the promises that they were making.

When I received the February 21st date, it was from an excellent customer service representative who dug into the system and noted that the package was due to ship, but they had no inventory on hand to actually process. She was honest with me: Despite my patience over the previous sixteen months, there was little to no hope of getting what I was promised.

This was despite the fact that the United Kingdom version of their store showed the figurine in stock, but they do not permit American customers to order on that site.

The customer service rep made some notes in my account and told me to call back after the 21st. I did, my order was canceled, and my account was settled.

I purchased the figure shortly thereafter from a collector in the United Kingdom on eBay for slightly more than I would have paid at Eaglemoss.

While that is a happy ending for me, the path to get there was a disappointment. Over the course of more than a year, I watched as both domestic and international sellers have received stock and sold out, but I stayed with the hope that Eaglemoss – the very source of the figure I’m trying to buy – would not leave me twisting in the wind.

This is a company that deals with specialized collectibles for geeks and genre fans. They advertise on podcasts and social media, and they constantly innovate to bring unique perspectives that other companies fail to provide. Those Star Trek starship models have piqued my interest since I uncovered my old Star Trek and Star Wars Micro Machine vehicle collections. I would happily add the TARDIS consoles to my Doctors collection because no one else makes something like that. Similarly, no other company puts out Battlestar Galactica ships.

But they abandoned a customer. A customer that pre-ordered one of their products, which I consider to be a promise from supply to demand. A customer that expected a bare minimum of communication over sixteen months but received very little with the exception of hollow promises.

Their customer service requires a significant overhaul. They prevent customers in the United States from ordering on their UK portal, despite the fact that the offerings are different. They apparently don’t transfer items within the company to fulfill promised pre-orders. There is no way to check an order’s status on their website, and there is no history of previous orders or client activity. In fact, the customer account functionality is virtually non-existent. Further, correspondence by e-mail takes several days – in one case, upwards of ten days – and each auto-reply from their system makes a point of stating that they “are experiencing a high volume at this time”.

High volume requires better customer relations and greater communication. In my experience, Eaglemoss provides neither.

Eaglemoss may produce good quality and unique products, but my experiences have soured me on their offerings and company. If I find something that I want from them in the future, I’ll wait for a good deal on eBay or at a convention dealer.

I won’t purchase directly through Eaglemoss again.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Quarantine Con, Episode V

Culture on My Mind
May 22, 2020

 

This week’s “can’t let it go” are the awesome mullets of science fiction.

It’s the irregulars from Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track, back once again from their individual COVID-19 quarantine bunkers, this time talking about the business in the front and the party in the back as they tackle the mullets of classic science fiction.

This has been a tradition at the Classics Track when Tegan Hendrickson can make it to Dragon Con. Her presentation of the best mullets in ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s sci-fi is both a love letter and a gentle parody of the things that we love so dearly. Especially when you consider “that horse”.

The mullets panel is one of the most talked-about presentations on the track. It’s amazing.

Classics Track co-directors Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel are joined by Tegan Hendrickson and her truly outrageous presentation.

As before, Joe and Gary will be hosting more of these, so stay tuned to the YouTube channel and the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – WHOlanta’s Virtual TARDIS

Culture on My Mind
May 18, 2020

 

This week starts with news of a virtual convention.

This year was supposed to be our hiatus year from Wholanta. But current lockdown situation has provided a way for us to have a con after all! And basically, I have a slight problem and have had a difficult time letting this thing go. So another Wholanta is born!

WHOlanta, the Atlanta-area Doctor Who-centric convention, hung up the scarf and bow tie last year after their annual celebration of all things wibbly-wobbly and timey-wimey. But, as R. Alan Siler said, there was an opportunity so he jumped on it.

The convention will be hosting a virtual event on Saturday, May 30th from noon to 8:00pm EST. So far, they have character/creature actor Jon Davey, actress Sophie Aldred (who portrayed Ace), revival era director Rachel Talalay, and series composer Dominic Glynn. They also promise more guest announcements to come.

For the celebrity panels, there will be streaming Q&As where attendees can post their questions in the chat. They’ll also be supporting a virtual dealer room and cosplayers.

Keep an eye on their Facebook page for more information.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Quarantine Con, Episode IV

Culture on My Mind
May 15, 2020

 

This week’s “can’t let it go” are those who are about to rock, because I salute you.

It’s the irregulars from Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track, back once again from their individual COVID-19 quarantine bunkers, this time taking it to eleven with geeks who make music.

Classics Track co-directors Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel are joined by Leigh Tyberg, Madison Metricula Roberts, Tegan Hendrickson, and Ryan Cadaver. Tune in and crank it up!

As before, Joe and Gary will be hosting more of these, so stay tuned to the YouTube channel and the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.