Last week, I touched on some pretty heavy, serious stuff. If you didn’t get the chance to check out Beth and Brandon’s story, click here. It’s worth a read. Brief update on that: things are progressing slowly. Brandon’s gaining strength and therapy is paying off, but they are not out of the woods. Baby is still hanging in there, waiting for Daddy to get better. Also – thank you to all of you who shared their story and/or donated. Warms my heart.
Now, I wanted to take this week and do a little more lighthearted fare. I do like to have fun when I write, and I’m free to do whatever I want on this site. If you don’t like that, start paying my hosting fees and you can tell me what to write.
Last week I bought two of the new Google Chromecast devices. Since I got in on the first day early enough, each device came with 3 months of Netflix for free. A solid deal. I like Netflix. We haven’t had it for a long time, simply due to the fact that we consume plenty of content in other ways thanks to my home media center that it wasn’t necessary.
But I’m still a fan of the service, and as a ridiculous fan of documentaries, I was happy to have the option to discover new stuff from Netflix back in my life. And as I browsed around, I started noting the topics that interest me the most. I thought it might make for a good write-up, so I can explore a little bit of why I might be interested in these topics all the time…
The first documentary I watched was the American Masters special on Johnny. I had seen it once before, but I loved it and wanted to see it again. I own a box set of the best of Johnny Carson that I love dearly. The odd thing is, I look back so fondly on the years of Johnny, yet he went off the air in 1992 – when I was seven years old. So what gives?
There are a few pieces of Johnny that really fascinate me, and one is that he was respected and trusted by almost 100% of the American population. He was what everyone watched at night. That was it. There was no “Do you watch Leno or Letterman?” It was Johnny.
Wanted to reach the biggest audience? Get on Johnny’s show. Wanted to see the biggest stars of Hollywood and TV? Watch Johnny.
The other thing that gets me is that Johnny always had an aura of class surrounding his show. I never knew the man, but he always seemed to respect the guest and make the show about them, not himself. He made dirty jokes for sure, but he always did it in a way that was more of a wink to the audience instead of bashing you in the face with innuendo. Here’s a great exchange:
Dean Martin, after correcting Johnny’s grammar: “You were dangling a participle…”
Johnny: “Well, I’ll wear a long coat and no one will notice.”
Being such a fan of pop culture (see below), Johnny’s show has always been a great window into it. That’s probably why I like him so much. I have the utmost respect for him as a performer, and nobody has ever done it like Johnny since.
World War II
This isn’t to say I like war. I hate it with a passion. But World War II was such a beast.
In America today, and in recent decades, there are always sympathizers. There are always people who wonder out loud (and usually obnoxiously), “WHAT IF WE’RE THE BAD GUYS?!?”
By and large, this did not happen in the days of World War II. You knew Hitler was a bad dude. You knew the things he was doing were wrong. And you were ready to fight for it. And for your country.
This is another topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. I love Band of Brothers and The Pacific. Visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. was one of the top 5 most-engrossing experiences of my life. Visiting the museum in Berlin to see the German side of the story was one of the more unique experiences I’ve ever had (and for the record, they don’t defend Hitler at all – they agree
he was a bad dude). I’ve read books like We Who Are Alive and Remain.
But here’s a quick rundown of the different facets of World War II that grab my attention and hang onto it tightly:
- The idea that one man could be so universally hated.
- The methodic and gradual takeover of Germany’s culture and brain that Hitler was able to execute.
- The bonding experience of young men coming of age in the middle of a war.
- How one nation largely united for the single cause without question (i.e., rationing supplies for the troops, etc.).
And so on.
I don’t ever wish to live in that world, but it amazes me nonetheless.
Pop culture throughout the twentieth century
Put me in the Air and Space Museum, and the display that’s going to stick with me the most is the display of how a young boy’s bedroom might look during the rise of air travel and fighter pilots: little toy airplanes, airplane wallpaper, airplane bedsheets. Books on hero fighter pilots.
It was a time when a boy’s hero was somebody who actually existed (or could conceivably exist). He wasn’t a Power Ranger. He wasn’t Batman. He wasn’t some cartoon turtle. He was a man. A man who stood up and fought for the good in life.
See how quickly I get romantic about this stuff? I get into it, man.
Pop culture works great for history because it usually has the pulse on the mindset and attitude of a nation during a particular time. It speaks more relatable information than a textbook would. That’s why VH1’s I Love the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s was so good to me. It gives you a little snapshot into the daily life of someone. Puts you in their shoes.
Early Hollywood, especially MGM
Metro Goldwyn Mayer owned Hollywood in its early days. It had its biggest stars, biggest movies, biggest musicals.
And while money making has always been the goal of Hollywood movies, there was at least a passing attitude of respect for the genre. Respect for the art of filmmaking. This respect doesn’t really exist anymore, and it’s what really disappoints me about the current state of movies.
Everybody wants a blockbuster. But that means movies turn into formulaic, “let’s do what worked before”-type movies, rather than hiring and paying intensely creative people and giving them the reigns to build the picture they want. I love seeing how movies came together in the past, before computers made every movie a green-screen affair.
Alternately, I miss the days when going to the movies was a special event that meant something. Movies have really lost their appeal thanks to repeatedly bad flicks and mounting ticket prices.
Seeing a trend? Maybe I’m longing for a “simpler time” in my life…
I am very, very fortunate to have grown up when I did. One of the first movies I ever saw in the theater that I can remember was The Little Mermaid, which came out when I was four years old. I’ve loved Disney ever since.
The Little Mermaid was the kick-off of a period of time known as The Disney Renaissance, when the company started knocking animation out of the park and put out insanely successful and influential animated features like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.
But my love for Disney goes beyond that. My favorite place in the world is Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I look up to Walt Disney as a businessman and a creative genius.
Look at how the Disney Company does business: paying attention to details, creating movies and experiences that work for the whole family and not just children, putting quality above everything else.
Do they always succeed? No. But the effort is always apparent, and that’s what sets them apart from a lot of other businesses out there. It’s why they can charge so much for a ticket to Disney World and you don’t care because you know it’ll be worth it.
DVD Commentaries and the Creative Process
This is one that paints me as a nerd (if the others didn’t).
Back in the world where new seasons of Arrested Development didn’t exist, we had the DVDs and that was it. After you watch all those episodes a few times, you start looking for other things on the DVDs to watch. I watched blooper reels, featurettes, and interviews. I had never thought of watching a DVD commentary. Then I gave it a shot.
For Arrested Development, they picked a few episodes and had a DVD commentary track with the entire cast and show creator Mitch Hurwitz. And not only did I enjoy funny stories and comments from the cast, I also enjoyed the insight to the creative process: the motivations behind why certain creative choices were made, or how studio executives reacted to certain plots or scenes.
There’s something about the process of writing and developing ideas that always interests me. I think that’s why I love DVD commentaries.
Since then, I’ve watched and enjoyed commentaries for New Girl, The Simpsons, Friends, Boy Meets World, Community, and Parks and Recreation.
If it makes me a nerd, so be it. But I learn so much, gain a new appreciation for actors and scenes, and it adds another layer of enjoyment to shows and movies, in my opinion.
So if you want to speak my language, appeal to me through one of these topics! What about you? What floats your boat? What fascinated you to no end?