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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Jukebox: Oops I Did It Again by Britney Spears

Although my one and only experience with higher learning ended up without a degree and with a fourteen thousand dollar debt, I will say that the experience of going to university wasn't all bad.

I mean, would I have liked to have gotten a piece of paper saying that I was a university graduate?  Yeah, I admit that it would have been nice.  At the same time though, I knew that my being at that particular school at that particular time would not have amounted to anything because I was in a program that I knew wasn't going to get me a job that I wanted.  I wish it could have been different, but alas, it just wasn't for me.

To tell you the truth, if I had to do it all over again, I probably would not have gone to an expensive university where classes were a thousand students and professors purposely graded on a curve to weed out the competition.  No, I would have probably gone to a community college or a technical school where I could learn something that I could actually use in life, and maybe make a decent living someday.

That's the good thing about entering my thirties.  I find that it isn't too late to go back to school, and I'm really looking into options where I can do exactly that.  My debt load isn't all that much now, and I am in the position where I can probably take a two or three year course in something relevant.  I'm really serious about doing this, especially when you live in a town where the average person is a senior citizen, and there isn't a lot out there for people my age.  I want to feel like I have a future out there in this world doing what I love.  Certainly while writing is something that I love doing, and would ideally like a career in, I realize that I need a back-up plan.  Something to fall back on should the writing dream not come true.

I may have had my 'Oops, I Did It Again' moment eleven years ago, but then again, don't we all have at least one during our lifetimes?

The subject of today's blog certainly has had her share of those kinds of moments.  Heck, her second album was called 'Oops, I Did It Again'.  And the title track just happened to be the first release from that album.  Not only that, but it happens to be the subject of today's blog!

ARTIST:  Britney Spears
SONG:  Oops, I Did It Again
ALBUM:  Oops, I Did It Again
DATE RELEASED:  March 27, 2000

Now you know that Britney Spears is one of those artists that has reached both highs and lows.  When she was riding high, she was very, very high, but when she was low, she crashed and burned.

At the beginning of 2000, Britney's star was shining brightly.  Following her successful 1998 debut album which spawned several hits and popular music videos which were requested on MTV and Muchmusic throughout 1999, Britney had to follow up with an album that was just as powerful as the first.

The song Oops, I Did It Again was a huge success, and many of Britney's fans consider it to be her signature song.  The song's message wasn't anything special.  The lyrics basically tell a story about a girl who treats love as if it is a game, and plays those mind games with her lover, claiming that her innocence is sorely lacking.  Not exactly the most positive message for a song, but I suppose if you believe that the guy is a duplicitous cheater who verbally abuses the girl, one could say he had it coming.

Nevertheless, the song, while only making it to number nine on the American charts, reached the top spot in no less than eleven different nations between April and June 2000.  It more or less solidified Britney's position on the music charts for the next five years.  Part of the reason for the success of Oops, I Did It Again was the accompanying music video, which showed Britney in outer space, getting in a relationship with an astronaut.  The video showed Britney in a skintight red outfit, which was quite provocative for the singer, who had turned eighteen three months prior to the song's release.

It was certainly a far cry from the days in which she starred in the Mickey Mouse club in the early 1990's.  Above is a cast photo of the group.  If you look really closely, you can see other famous faces in the mix.  There's Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, and although she isn't in this picture, Keri Russell was a part of the group too.

For Britney (the girl in the lower right hand corner), the Mickey Mouse club was really her first foray into stardom.  A few years after that, she would record her first album, and ironically enough, she was the opening act for the boy band NSync, which had her former Mickey Mouse club co-worker Justin Timberlake as one of the members.

Britney's success began almost immediately upon the release of '...Baby One More Time.'  The song reached number one right off the bat, and the album was just as successful.  Oops, I Did It Again was another success, and by then, word had gotten out that Britney Spears was now dating Justin Timberlake.

Britney and Justin's relationship was one that both fans and tabloids seemed to be very much interested in, and it wasn't uncommon for the pair to be photographed together at awards shows and other gatherings.  Both their careers were well on the rise.  Justin Timberlake released his first solo album in 2002, whereas Britney had just released a third album and was eagerly working on her fourth.

Then towards the end of 2002, the union between Timberlake and Spears was over, and it seemed that the break-up was anything but amicable, especially given the release of Timberlake's 'Cry Me A River'. 

It's hard to say whether her break-up with Justin triggered Britney's string of Oops, I Did It Again moments, or whether it was something else that made Britney's star dim substantially, but upon retrospect, it very well could have been a part of it.

Beginning in 2004, and peaking around 2007, Britney's life was like a gigantic 'Oops I Did It Again' moment.  Some of the lowlights include marrying a childhood friend, only to get the marriage annulled less than three days later.  She had an accident on the set of the music video for 'Outrageous', where she underwent surgery and was sidelined for a while.  She got married again to Kevin Federline (which was controversial, considering that Federline had left his pregnant girlfriend for Spears), and they had two children together.  During this marriage, Spears was photographed in rather precarious situations, and one famous snapshot showed her driving around in a car holding her son in her lap instead of strapped in a car seat.  It was a rocky road for sure, but that was peanuts compared to what was to come next.

By the end of 2006, the marriage between Britney Spears and Kevin Federline had all but busted up, and in early 2007, Britney lost her beloved aunt to cancer.  It was a very stressful time for her in her life, and one day in February, the stress got to her and she lost control.

On February 16, 2007, Britney had checked herself into a rehabilitation center, but checked herself out the same day.  Later that night, she had her ultimate Oops, I Did It Again moment.

I'm sure that almost everyone in the world knows of the moment that Britney Spears shaved off all of the hair on her head that crisp February night.  Shortly after that, she attacked the paparazzi with a beach umbrella, and with those two incidents, it seemed as though any positive stock and credibility that she had was clipped away.

To top it all off, her appearance at the 2007 MTV Video Awards was a complete disaster.  She was slated to perform the first release from her 'Blackout' album entitled 'Gimme More', but the whole performance was to say the least a huge disappointment.  Her heart just wasn't into the performance, you could tell that she was lip synching the words, and the audience in the arena looked very uncomfortable being there.

Yet another Oops, I Did It Again moment for Britney.

But, in all seriousness, we all have had those moments in our lives.  The unfortunate part about Britney's moments were that they were all televised, or in print for everyone to see.  Thankfully, most of us haven't had our Oops, I Did It Again moments broadcast in nearly a public venue as she had.

Regardless, I haven't really been a fan of kicking someone when they were down unless they did something so reprehensible that forgiveness wasn't even an option.  And, even then, I'd feel more pity for them than anger.  And as far as Britney Spears goes, I do think that too many people kicked her at her lowest point, and it probably didn't help matters much at all.

As I said, we have all had moments in which we consider major Oops moments.  My decision to leave university without a degree but with a massive debt was one that I considered to be a huge Oops moment.  After leaving school, I really did hit a period of rock-bottomness.  2003 was a year that I considered my rock-bottom moment.  I was a university dropout, I was unemployed for almost a year and a half, and stuck in a town that seemingly had nothing to offer.  It wasn't the first time though.  1997 was another rough year for me.  The death of my grandmother in 1991 was another bitter pill to swallow.  And let's be honest, almost dying from an infected gall bladder made the first few months of 2011 a living nightmare.

But, that's what life is.  Life is all about experiencing the highs and lows of life.  1991, 1997, 2003, early 2011...they were all extremely low points in my life that I would have not lived at all.  But, the thing is, I did, and I'm a lot stronger because of it.

Besides, there were some great moments as well.  2000 was a good year for me, because I was finally leaving the school that had caused me a lot of drama in my life.  I enjoyed 2004 because it was the year that everything began to get better for me, including a couple of job and volunteer placements before landing my current job in December of that year.  And 2009 was actually one of my favourite years ever, for it was that year that I did a lot of soul-searching, and made a lot of healthier decisions that have benefitted me in the long run.  Even though 2011 started off horribly, it's shaping up to end a lot better than it began.

So, you see, I certainly have not let my Oops I Did It Again moments define who I was.  They're a part of who I am, but they no longer take over my whole life.  There are ways to work through those moments, and have a comeback whenever you want.

Britney Spears certainly had that comeback.  Though her 2007 appearance on the MTV Video Awards was a bust, her 2007 'Blackout' album was on fire.  In many ways, it was deemed her comeback album of sorts, and it brought her back into the mainstream.  Then came 2008's 'Circus', and 2011's 'Femme Fatale', which have resurrected her once floundering music career.  Britney's also made an effort to get back on her feet and try to be a great mother to her kids.  She still has a way to go yet, but she is definitely looking a lot better than she did a few years ago. 

Britney's gotten another chance to get it right.

And, you know...I think I could learn something from Ms. Spears.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Comic Special Edition: Kevin Keller From Archie Comics

Normally, I would use this spot to talk about Saturday morning cartoons, why I miss them, and what life lessons that I have learned along the way from watching them as a child.  Today's blog entry kind of goes along with that, as the subject is a comic book character.  You might even recall that when this blog began, the Sunday Jukebox section used to be called the Sunday Funnies special.  The reason I changed it was because I felt it redundant to have two separate days dedicated to basically the same thing.  Quite a few cartoons were either made from comic strips, or got their start in comic books.

Recently though, there's one comic character that is still being talked about, even though he was created almost a year ago.  Some of the reactions to this comic character inspired this very post.

I'd like to introduce you all to Kevin Keller.  Nice looking guy, isn't he?  All-American looks, clean cut appearance.  The last thing I would describe him as is threatening, or a disgrace, or even disgusting.

Yet, that's exactly what some people out there seem to think of him.  Without even so much as reading the comic books that he appears in, they have made these judgment calls about him.  Some have called for his character to be removed from the series he appears in.  Some have claimed that he is a threat to their children.  Some have even accused the company of ulterior motives just based on the creation of this character alone.

I suppose you're wondering what the heck this character has done to warrant such a controversial reaction from a group of people who claim to be fans of the comic.  Why is Kevin Keller the subject of such hatred and disgust from people who won't even take the time to get to know him?

Alas, I'm getting to that.  But first, a little bit of background information.

To get to the story of how Kevin Keller came to be created, we have to go back in time all the way to the first few months of 1989.

1989 was a year of change for Archie Comics.  It was the year that the company released eleven new titles to join the more classic selling 'Archie', 'Jughead', and 'Pep' comic books that kids had bought for decades.  There were plenty of risks that the company took, and many of the new creations that Archie comics had come up with for the 1989/1990 fiscal year were doomed from the start.  Among the list of the titles that failed were;

Archie 3000!
Archie's Explorers Of The Unknown
Archie's R/C Racers
Dilton's Strange Science
Faculty Funnies
Jughead's Diner
Jughead's Pal Hot Dog
Jughead's Time Police

There were some that lasted longer, and only two are still being published.  The Betty and Veronica Annual Digest managed to last until 1997, and Jughead's Double Digest just released its 172nd issue.

And, then there's this other survivor.

In early 1989, the decision was made to give Veronica Lodge her own title.  It was quite a move for Archie comics, as Veronica was the last of the core five to get a solo title of her own (Archie, Jughead, and Betty currently have their own titles, while the last one Reggie had ended in 1995). 

And it has been successful ever since.

The Veronica title has sold steadily since 1989, and more than two hundred issues have been published.  Over the years, the Veronica title has evolved.  The first eighteen issues of the Veronica title showed her gallovanting around the world having exciting adventures in each place.  In the first issue, she visited Paris, France, but she went to other places.  She went to American places such as Texas, Hollywood and New York City.  Sometimes, she visited international cities, like Rome or London.  She even took trips to Canada, Africa, Greece, and the Bahamas.  In fact, if you can find copies of the Veronica's Passport Digest Magazine, you can see some of these adventures in reprint form.

I particularly liked the Veronica series at the beginning of its run, because not only was it fun to see Veronica react to world culture, but it also made lots of historical and cultural references along the way.  Imagine that, a comic book that could be educational.  Go figure.

Beginning with issue #19, Veronica stopped her world travelling excursions, and decided to stick closer to home, having adventures in Riverdale, U.S.A.  She'd occasionally travel in the series, but not as much.  During the next few issues, Veronica continued to have adventures that the rest of the gang wished they could partake in.

She got to finance her adventures with a big bank account...

She got to meet celebrities.

She even met the president.

But, there would be one character that would be introduced to Veronica's world that kickstarted this whole blog post in the first place.

In September 2010, the Veronica title would be the one where Kevin Keller would be introduced.  Veronica #202 was slated to be like any other story you may have come across.  Veronica is walking by Pop's Chocklit Shop, when she is called inside to witness a hot-dog eating competition between Jughead and Kevin.  Veronica is immediately smitten by this new much that she doesn't even care that he has mustard on his face.  She introduces herself to Kevin, and Kevin seemed receptive to it, but every time Veronica tried to impress Kevin, she felt he didn't quite get the hint.

Kevin was popular enough.  Archie and Betty liked him well enough, and after Kevin beat Jughead in the hot-dog eating competition, Jughead had a whole new respect for him.  In fact, Jughead seemed to notice that Kevin wasn't as reciprocating towards Veronica as Veronica was towards him.  To Jughead's surprise, Kevin admitted that he was aware of what Veronica was doing, but he just wasn't interested.

And here's why.

Yep, you saw it right here, folks.  Kevin Keller is gay.

Actually, Kevin Keller is the very first openly gay character to ever appear in Archie comics.  When it was revealled that an openly gay character was being brought to the world of Riverdale, the reactions were quite strong.

Many people welcomed the addition, saying that it was long overdue for a gay person to appear in the comic books, and many praised the company for showing diversity of all kinds in the comic serial.  Here's a little video commemmorating the event.

You might have noticed that in the video that you saw a description of Kevin as one who 'despises musicals, loves comic books, and adores eating challenges.  And really, that's all that we really need to know about him.  I like the idea that Archie Comics isn't making a big deal out of him being gay.  It's just one of the things that makes Kevin who he is, which is a typical teenage boy who hates High School Musical, and loves competing in eating challenges.

I also happened to find this interview with the man behind the creation of the Kevin Keller story, Dan Parent.  I think this will give you more of an idea behind why Kevin was created.  It starts around the 2:50 mark.

Let me tell you some stats about Veronica #202.  The comic completely SOLD OUT.  And, I can attest to this because I myself could not find a copy of Veronica #202 (though I have read the story in online format).  In fact, for the first time in Archie history, Veronica #202 issued a second printing of the comic.  Never before had that happened in its 70-year-history.  It just goes to show you just how much of an impact Kevin Keller had upon his creation.

Kevin Keller reappeared in Veronica #205 to continued critical success.

And beginning with Veronica #207, the title was temporarily changed to Veronica Presents: Kevin Keller, as a four-part miniseries starring Kevin debuted.  It's slated to last until Veronica #210.  Then beginning in 2012, Kevin Keller is slated to get his own solo title.

So I think it's a safe bet to say that Kevin Keller will be staying in Riverdale for a while yet. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has been as receptive to the idea of Kevin Keller being in the town of Riverdale, and it's that dissent that prompted me to write a rebuttal of some form.

If you log on the Facebook page for Archie Comics and click on any link that has to do with Kevin Keller, you'll likely see one of three things.  You'll see a whole bunch of people clicking on the 'Like' button.  You may also see some people praising the story because it promotes diversity, and because having a gay person in the comic book serial was long overdue.

Then you see comments that are attacking both the character and the company.  People saying that the introduction of Kevin is not appropriate for their children to be reading.  People who have sworn never to buy another Archie comic again because they are not as 'innocent and pure' as they once were.  People who have gone on the offensive and called anyone who support this venture sick. 

Things really hit the fan when it was announced that in the Life With Archie Magazine, Kevin Keller would make an appearance by showing him marrying another man (since the issue of gay marriage has been in the media lately, it makes sense that the topic would be covered).  Apparently, it spurned yet another backlash of the character, saying that the company is forcing its beliefs on them unwillingly, and that the idea of promoting gay marriage in Archie comics is disgusting and that the company should be boycotted.

Well, I have my own opinion on the storyline and the character, and I will state my opinion below, as well as some thoughts towards some of the people who have commented on this storyline.

I am a 30 year old, heterosexual white male from Canada, who has been a fan of Archie comics for twenty-five years.  I come from a conservative minded family and live in a very small town filled with like-minded conservative people.

And I'm in agreement with those who want Kevin Keller to stay in Riverdale.

Just based on my own experiences with the world of Archie comics and the world of Riverdale, part of the reason why I was so drawn to Archie comics is because to me it was the ideal place to live.  It was a place where neighbours looked out for neighbours.  Where teachers taught students life lessons in addition to math lessons.  Where kids of various backgrounds, economic status, and ethnicity could hang out together and be friends. 

Where people were judged by how well they treated others.

That to me was what drew me in.  Riverdale was a town that I wanted to live in because it was a place where everyone got along.  I knew that whenever I had my feelings hurt, or that I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere, I could always pick up an Archie comic and temporarily escape to a world where everyone fit in, and everyone was friendly with one another.

Well, provided you didn't hit on Midge, and then you'd have Moose on your tail.

The fact is that I applaud the company for deciding to bring in Kevin Keller, and I applaud Dan Parent especially for creating a character that has blended into the town of Riverdale beautifully.  The whole purpose of introducing Kevin Keller to Archie comics was not to promote a political agenda (a common argument that the anti-Kevin camp like to bring up).  What I find awesome about the way Kevin was introduced was the fact that his being gay seemed to be a secondary character trait.  He was gay.  That's it.  Instead of focusing on that, they developed other aspects of his personality.  And to me, that was exactly the way to go.  I certainly have a couple of gay friends in my inner circle.  I certainly didn't become friends with them because they were gay.  I became friends with them because they had qualities that I liked having in friends.  They were compassionate.  Kind.  Fun to be around.  That should be what matters most in friendship.  In fact, if you look at the conclusion of Veronica #202, everyone was very receptive of Kevin, and Veronica and Kevin ended up forging a great friendship out of the deal.

In all honesty, I think the creation of Kevin Keller is a fantastic addition to the serial.  In recent years, we've seen several teenagers and young adults commiting suicide over being harassed over their sexuality preference, or because they were outed by someone who had no business outing them in the first place.  So to have Kevin Keller appear in a comic book and be accepted by his peers and his may give teenagers who might be confused about their sexuality or who are afraid of admitting that they are gay to their loved ones an idol to look up to. 

I always said that there's some character in Archie comics that anyone can have an idol in.  Certainly, my idol growing up was Jughead because we were both offbeat characters who had way different interests than anyone else we knew.  But I always figured that if Jughead could make his eccentricities work to his advantage, then I could very well do the same.

So, maybe if a gay teenager sees that someone like Kevin can find love and friendship in the town of Riverdale, then maybe s/he can believe that the same thing will happen to them.

Kevin Keller brings people hope that everyone can be accepted for who they are.

It would seem that quite a few people agree with this.  There are small pockets of dissent though, and yes, I plan on dissecting each and every one of them because it is my blog, and I can say whatever I please on my blog.

First off, to the people who say that the introduction of Kevin is inappropriate for children, I ask this.  Why do you feel this way, exactly?  Are you worried that if your kid reads about the adventures of Kevin Keller that s/he will end up gay or lesbian?  Do you just want to keep them in a bubble-like world where everyone acts the same?  Do you not want the responsibility of explaining what being gay is to a child?  Seriously, what is the big deal? 

I would think that you would be thrilled at the idea of Kevin being introduced into the comics.  He's a great character.  He can beat Jughead in eating contests, and he's the only male character who doesn't swoon over the sight of Veronica Lodge.  That alone can make for some funny storylines.  Of course, those are storylines that you'll never enjoy because you've already censored the books he appears in and making judgments about him WITHOUT READING THE STORY FIRST.

I have read the story, and I do not see anything for parents to be worried about.  Nothing.  But, hey, apparently some people see the idea of loving people for who they are and not judging them for what they may be as 'inappropriate' for children, so what do I know, right?
Then there's the argument that the comic series isn't as innocent as it once was.

Innocent?  Really?

Some of those people making those shots really must revisit the world of 1960s and 1970s Archie to fully understand why I find this argument a little lopsided.  Earlier Archie stories were a lot more grittier in nature.  Sure, they had the classic Archie slapstick comedy and Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle.  And, they were still a great read.  However, some of the comics that came out around that time make current Archie stories sound like Sesame Street segments in comparison.  Earlier Archie stories showed more instances of nudity (though it was still slightly covered), more violence, more guns, and there was even one memorable story where Archie and Jughead happen to find a bag of drugs inside a trash can, and they get involved in a police operation.

I'm not making this up.  It really existed.  Of course, reprints of these stories have been altered to make them seem more family friendly (which is another issue altogether), but the point is that at one time, the comics were a bit more risque and got away with things that they couldn't get away with now. 

But, yet, having a gay character in the series is a threat to the innocence of children?

So, lemme get this straight.  You won't allow your children to read a comic book that has a gay person inside of it being treated by his peers with respect and love. Yet, you have no problem with letting your kids read older Archie comics where people pull weapons on people, where women in hysterics get slapped, and where teenage characters go off to war, or find themselves in the middle of a drug operation?

Good to know.

Oh, and all those people who have planned to never buy another Archie comic again because of Kevin?  Good.  Don't buy them.  That leaves more copies for the REAL fans anyways.

The argument that the company is forcing its political beliefs on us is another argument that is absolutely unfounded. 

Above is the cover of Archie #616, showing Barack Obama sharing a soda with...Sarah Palin?!?  Love them or hate them, they do represent both sides of the political spectrum in the United States, and both politicians were fairly portrayed, so nobody can accuse the company of political bias.  This really has nothing to do with the Kevin Keller theme, just wanted to state that there is no bias within the company.

And, even so, the topic of gay marriage and the gay lifestyle has been in the news for quite some time.  It was only inevitable that Archie comics would tackle the subject.  The sad thing is that it would have been a Catch-22 situation for the company anyway.  Had they chosen to ignore it, the company would have been accused of being stodgy, and ignorant to gay rights.  Instead, they're being attacked by conservative groups who claim that the addition of gay people in the comic book is morally wrong.  Damned if they do, damned if they don't. 

I know they made the right decision though.

What I find really telling is that the majority of the ones who are opposed to the storyline and who seem to be using the forum as a way to attack the storyline and those who defend the storyline seem afraid to use their own personal accounts to say it.  They hide behind faux Facebook accounts, or screennames to spew bile, hatred, and vitriol about Kevin Keller.  I mean, if you're going to have a strong opinion, whether or not people agree with you, at least have the cojones to own it. 

What probably angers me more are those people who try to justify their anti-gay stances with assertions that they don't have a problem with gay people, but they don't want to be forced into seeing media 'throwing gay people in their faces'.

News flash.  People who think like that DO have a problem with it.  And no amount of sugarcoating, backtracking, or cries of being misunderstood can change the writing on the wall, really. 

I'm certainly not going to try to change anyone's opinion on how they feel about this storyline.  I could argue with them until I was blue in the face for all the good it would do me.  When someone has a belief in their head, it's nearly impossible to get someone to back down from it.

I certainly don't hate anyone for having the opinion that gay people don't have a place in Archie comics.  I may not like the stance they take (and believe me, I disagree completely with the closed-mindedness that they possess), but there's very little I can do about people having that opinion.  It's when they use that stance to verbally harass others, and to bully people who think differently from them that I do not find okay.  I cannot stand it when people hide behind moral codes and religious beliefs as an excuse to act like a complete jerk to someone else.  I will NOT respect or support that.

In closing, I will say that this blog entry will knowingly have an effect on the readership following this blog through Blogspot or Facebook or wherever else links to this entry are posted.  I imagine that some of you will be okay with the idea of Kevin being in the comic book, and some of you won't be.  I will just state this right now.  Any derogatory comments towards me or anyone else who comments on this entry either on here or my Facebook page will immediately be deleted.  I'm all for healthy debate, but not when people get hurt in the process.

I will also state that Kevin Keller may be one of the most controversial characters in the Archie world, and it's hard to predict just how much staying power this character will have. 

Just personally speaking, Kevin Keller has made an impact in the world of Riverdale, and in the real world as well.  He's showed all of us that anybody can be accepted, and that anyone, whether it be gay, straight, or whatever can find a place in this world.

As long as Kevin can continue to thrive in the series, and be proud of himself for the person that he is, he is welcome to stay in Riverdale for as long as he wants to.

Friday, July 29, 2011

TGIF: Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!!!

Popularity is a funny thing.  Almost everyone has wanted it at some point, but very few seem equipped to handle the pressures and the frustration that can accompany it once they get it.

It is very much true that being popular can bring forth a lot of perks.  You always have people who want to talk to you, your life is never dull and boring, and you can take comfort in the fact that popularity frees you from having to go through hardships.

Or does it?

As much as everyone has claimed that they want popularity at some point in their lives, it really isn't all it is cracked up to be.  Sometimes, the quest for popularity and importance causes people to act in ways that they don't normally act, and can end up alienating those closest to them.  There are cases in which someone who seemingly has everything they could ever want on the outside, is really insecure and worried about what others are thinking on the inside.  Sometimes, they are so stressed out over being popular that they'll go to unscrupulous depths to maintain it, even so much as risking the good stock that had been built over months and years.

Have you ever known anyone like that?  I'm sure that everyone has at some point.

I remember years ago, I used to be really good friends with someone in school.  This would be going back to around the ninth grade or so.  We became friends in a keyboarding classroom, and this person happened to be a good friend to me during the whole ninth grade.  It was great.

Then around tenth grade, I noticed that my friend was hanging less around me and more around a group of people who used to make fun of me.  I didn't think much of it, as my friend was still talking to me, but something was different.

By eleventh grade, I rarely got to talking with my friend because the guy had gotten encircled in the clique that I had no shot of being a part of.  Whenever I did talk to my friend, the response given was kind of smarmy and sarcastic.  I couldn't quite understand why my friend was acting this way, especially since I hadn't done anything to warrant it (and even if I had, nobody was honest with me about it if I did do something that pushed my friend away).

It was almost as if I didn't know who my friend was.  The more time passed, the more my friend turned out not to be a friend at all.

Over the first few months of eleventh grade, I had become the victim of some rather nasty rumours, as well as been the target of some not-so-nice messages sent to my student computer account.  Fortunately, my computer teacher was a guru at tracking messages sent through the school computer network, and managed to trace the messages to a couple of people who were in my grade.

One of them was my former friend.  Encouraged by his new friends to play those not so harmless tricks on me.

I felt humiliated and betrayed.  I felt hurt.  Disgusted.  How could this person have done this to me?  What were their motivations?  What did I do to deserve such cruelty?

Oh sure, the person apologized once they were caught, but by then the damage had been done.  At the time, I thought that I couldn't trust this person again after that.  How could I?  It was like my friendship meant absolutely nothing to this person, and by the end of it all, I was the one who looked like the fool.

It's been several years since that incident happened, and honestly, I don't really know how to feel about this person now.  Now I can look back on it and realize that I really didn't lose that much out of the deal, and since that day, I've become a lot better at figuring out who my real friends are.  Still, it's a bit hard to predict how I would act if ever I happened to run into this person again.  I tell myself that I would be cordial and polite, but at the same time, I honestly don't know if I would respond with anger or with pity.  Or, maybe I would just ignore the person entirely and focus on those who really do matter.  For the record, it's been almost fifteen years since that incident, and in that time frame, I have forgiven this person...but I never forget (good thing too, or else this would have been a bland blog).

All because my former friend had chosen temporary popularity over a friendship that could have lasted for years.  Or, maybe the friendship might not have lasted six months.  The real shame in all that is that we'll never know.

Of course, that's just one example.  In my situation, the quest for popularity soured a friendship, but at least it ties in with the subject of the blog entry, which is that popularity isn't as glamourous or exciting as one would be lead to believe.  It also shows that sometimes, even the popular people can have issues or problems that not even being elected prom queen or student body president can overcome.

This lovely lady, who had two lovely sisters, and who all had hair of gold like their mother, seemed to have it all.  Great looks, great smile, pleasant disposition, and everyone seemed to love her.  It even spurned some hard feelings from her younger sister who constantly complained about...

...Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

That's right boys and girls, today's subject in this blog is all about popularity, and who else could express this subject better than Marcia Brady from The Brady Bunch?

I know what you must be thinking.  The Brady Bunch?  Really?  You're going to do a blog entry on a television show where the family seemed so perfect that it was almost frightening?  Believe me, I know all about it.  If you've ever read the book Justin, Jay-Jay, and the Juvenile Dinkent, there's a section where they're watching the Brady Bunch, and the main character is so disgusted with it that he comes up with a parody of the theme song.  Good book.  I recommend it.  In fact, I may write a future blog entry on that book.

At any rate, the reason I wanted to focus on The Brady Bunch was to show that despite the facade of perfection and happiness, each of the characters had some major flaws to them.  And, we won't even discuss the apparent behind the scenes stories from that set!

(Though, we may talk a little bit about the actress who played Marcia...but that will come later.)

To me, Marcia Brady is one of those characters that seems to have it all, but yet, if you delve into her character a little closer, you'll see that there are pockets of insecurity, jealousy, and even a little bit of damaged self-esteem.  Three traits that one might not really associate with Marcia Brady at first glance.  Certainly, you might see those traits in other Brady kids.  Jan Brady, especially.  But writing this blog about Jan would have been seen as too easy.

The Brady Bunch premiered in September 1969, and the whole premise of the show was to showcase the blending of two families into one.  Mike Brady fell in love with Carol Martin, and in the pilot episode, they get married.  Mike's three sons (Greg, Peter, and Bobby), and Carol's three daughters (Marcia, Jan, and Cindy) become instant step-siblings, and before you knew it, the family was one cohesive unit.

If this at all seems too cookie-cutter perfect to you, it's because it was (I mean, on the couple's honeymoon, they took the kids, the cat, the dog, and their maid Alice for crying out loud).  The ratings for the show never cracked the top ten during its five season run, and got mostly negative critique, but yet the show stayed on the air until 1974. 

When we were first introduced to Marcia Brady, the image we see of her is one of confidence, maturity, and beauty.  By all accounts, it seemed like Marcia Brady was the poster girl of the early 1970s.  Beauty, brains, empathy...she was portrayed to be the girl that every boy wanted and that every girl wanted to be like.

More importantly, she was seen as the popular Brady.  Everyone loved Marcia (though Jan certainly disliked her on occasion).

Sometimes, though, that quest to remain popular, or to maintain the confidence that she was known for could get her into trouble.

Take the episode of the Brady Bunch where Marcia wins the role of Juliet in the school's performance of 'Romeo and Juliet'.  She is determined to put everything she has into the play, not even being aware of the fact that her actions have alienated those close to her.  The episode was called 'Juliet Is The Sun', and originally aired on October 29, 1971.
The reason why I wanted to feature this episode in particular is because it's one that illustrates my point beautifully about how sometimes the so-called popular people don't always have it easy.  Marcia had some misgivings about playing the lead role in the play because she didn't think she was pretty enough to go on stage (a sign of low self-esteem), as well as the fact that she didn't think her acting skills were up to par (her doubting her own abilities).

You see?  Anyone can fall victim to doubting themselves.  Believe me, I have been where Marcia Brady was a number of times in my own lifetime thus far.  I know exactly how she felt.  I mean, Greg even said it best when he said that it was a shame that people couldn't see themselves the way other people did.  I mean, people loved Marcia, and didn't see anything wrong with her.  Marcia didn't see that in herself, and that conflict was the catalyst for what was to come.

I can understand the rest of the Brady family wanting to cheer her up and give her enough self-confidence to believe that she can handle the role of Juliet.  It was a noble gesture on their part, and I'm sure that their intentions were all well and good.  

Alas, we all know by now that the road to hell is paved in good intentions, and Marcia Brady was well on the way down that road as her attitude and ego improved.  Some would say that her head got a little bit too fat.  She started to act snobbish towards those around her, got into fights with the other Brady children, and was incredibly rude to the boy who played Romeo.  She changed the lines around, she hogged the bathroom to brush her hair, and she basically turned into a person that nobody wanted to be around.

You see, once Marcia got into the idea of starring in the play and realizing that it could make her the talk of the school, she let the excitement all go to her head, and her personality was affected negatively as a result.

In short, she was becoming anything but popular.  In fact, it got to the point where her attitude got so terrible that people were getting very frustrated with her.

Marcia was so concerned with trying to control everything and everyone around her that she failed to see how much she herself had lost control.  It ended up costing her the role of Juliet, and that was a really bitter pill for her to swallow.  As Mrs. Brady told her, she had brought it all on herself.

I think there's something we can learn from that.  It's okay to have dreams.  It's okay to be involved in something that will get you noticed.  It's even okay to want to have friendships and connections.  But when that desire causes you to act in such a way that nobody recognizes you, it can be a big problem.  In Marcia's case, it worked out for her, as she saw the error of her ways and took on a smaller role so she could still be in the play.  Sometimes, the damage done can be so great, it's not always that easy to repair.

Certainly, this hasn't been the only brush that Marcia has had with doubting herself, or letting her emotions cloud her judgment.  When she got braces, she thought she was ugly.  When she got a football right in the schnozz, it made her self-conscious about her appearance, especially when she was turned down by a boy (though, Marcia turned down a plain looking boy to go out with the jerk in the first place).  And, just like Jan showed her bright green eyes of envy frequently on the show, Marcia herself could be struck with insecurity and jealousy, especially when it came to someone dating the person she was interested in.

Popularity is something that Marcia Brady seemed to have, but for some reason, Marcia had instances in which she doubted it.  And, when she tried to do something about it, it usually turned for the worse for her.  It almost seemed like she was trying too hard to impress other people.  All she had to do was be herself, and the people who really mattered would like and respect it.  In some ways, I almost feel bad for Marcia Brady, because she sometimes didn't even know just how good a person she could be. 

And, you know, I can identify with her in so many ways.

I guess as we grow older, the impact of popularity is lessened to the point where we don't care what others think of us.  For quite a few of us, popularity isn't even a factor in our day-to-day lives (well, unless you happen to work in the entertainment industry, and even that's a little sketchy).  As long as we love ourselves, then others will grow to love us too.  It's admittedly a lesson that I didn't learn for quite a while, but I'm so glad I did.

Sadly, the actress that played Marcia Brady has had her own rise and fall.  Maureen McCormick, who turns 55 next Friday, was very popular on the show The Brady Bunch, and it made her a star.  After the show ended in 1974, her career and personal life completely took a nosedive.  She had gotten involved with drugs, and because of her addiction, she ended up losing a chance to be in Raiders Of The Lost Ark in 1981.

(Talk about life imitating art, huh?)

Eventually, she managed to settle down.  She got married, had a child, and through the love and support of her husband and former Brady Bunch castmates, she has managed to come back from her addiction.  She has managed to take on bit parts on television shows in recent years, but will her star beam as brightly as it did during her Brady Bunch years?  Who can say, really?

The only conclusion that we can make from looking at Marcia Brady (and Maureen McCormick) is that balancing popularity and fame with reality can be extremely delicate, and that it doesn't take much for your stock to plummet. 

The road to popularity can be filled with smooth sailing, provided that one has the tools equipped with them to handle it.  The downside is that sometimes, you have to gather them up one by one before you can make any effort to repair any damage done along the way.  It can be a lifetime struggle sometimes. As long as you believe in yourself that you can do it, and not let your ego stand in the way of the progression of personal development, I have to think that the end result is that we'll end up okay.

And hopefully you'll soon see that popularity will just be a word found in the dictionary.

And that's perfectly okay with me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thursday Night At The Arcade: Final Fantasy V

Suppose you have four people who have absolutely nothing in common with each other.  They have no ties to each other, or if there are ties, they are so loosely tied that they could come undone at the slightest movement.

I mean, let's take these four character types.  The guy who likes to travel and embark on exciting, and sometimes dangerous adventures.  The pampered woman who appears to live a life of luxury, but deep down inside has strong feelings for how people treat each other.  The tomboyish woman who hangs with all the guys and embarks in a life that most others would never touch.  And there's the man who may appear frail and useless, but instead boasts high intelligence as well as a past that will automatically change your opinion of him.

At first glance, you'd think that these people working together would be an impossibility.  That they would be so different in their thinking and their beliefs, and how they act, and other things that they would end up fighting after ten minutes.

That's part of the reason why I love the game Final Fantasy V so much.  In that game, you had four people (with the same character traits that I discovered up above) coming together for a common goal.  Which if you've ever played a Final Fantasy game before, you'll know that the main one is to save the world from evil forces.  At any rate, the four may be completely and totally different from each other, but they work beautifully as a team unit.

At the head of the pack, you have Bartz Klauser (or Butz, if you've played the original SNES version released only in Japan in 1992).  Bartz grew up in the small village of Lix.  He was the son of one of the famous Light Warriors who sealed away the evil Exdeath inside the world, to keep him from taking over.  His mother passed away when Bartz was small, and when Bartz turned seventeen years old, his father passed away as well.  His father's wish was for Bartz to travel the world, and from that moment on, Bartz travels the globe looking for adventure.  He isn't quite alone, as he is accompanied by his faithful Chocobo, Boko.  However, Bartz isn't exactly a people person, and likes to spend as much time alone as possible.  For the most part, he's content just riding the world on his Chocobo.

Next to Bartz, you have Princess Lenna Charlotte Tycoon.  Lenna is the daughter of King Tycoon, and she has grown up living a life of luxury.  Despite this, she has a kind heart, and cares for other people, even putting herself at risk to save others.  She can be impulsive at times, as her brave nature can get her into trouble, but she is a loyal friend to have.  She loves dragons, especially wind drakes, and during the course of the game, she risks her life twice to save the life of the dragon.  She survives, but not without much scolding from others.  It's later revealled that Lenna's mother died from an illness which could be cured by the tongue of a Wind Drake, but since there was only one left in the world, the queen did not want to kill the dragon so she could live.  This event shaped Lenna's belief of putting others before herself.

Behind Lenna is Faris Scherwiz.  When we're introduced to her at the beginning of the game, we see that she is the leader of a pirate crew, and has a pet sea-dragon named Syldra.  In fact, when we first meet her, we actually don't know that she is a her at all.  Bartz mistakes her for being a man!  In truth, Faris went by another name.  She was born Salisa Scherwil Tycoon, and if that name sounds familiar, it's because she happened to be Lenna's lost sister.  An accident caused Salisa to be lost at sea, and when she was found by the group of pirates she would eventually become the leader of, she was given the nickname of Faris.  Due to the fact that female pirates were not nearly as respected as male pirates, she was raised male.  Eventually, the sisters are reunited with each other, and Faris briefly returns to Tycoon Castle.  In the end, she can't leave the pirate life behind, and it proves to be advantageous to the group's final fight.

Lastly, you have Galuf Halm Baldesion.  An elderly man who Bartz and Lenna happen to stumble upon in the middle of a forest.  When we're first introduced to him, he has absolutely no idea who he may be, as he seems to be suffering from amnesia.  He remembers bits and pieces of his life, but they're all fragmented and lost.  Bartz and Lenna decide to take him on as a companion in the hopes that something he'll see will jar his memory and help him remember who he is.  What they don't find out until later on is that Galuf was in fact one of the Light Warriors that helped seal Exdeath, along with Bartz's father.

There's actually one more character that comes into the fold, and that one character actually replaces one of the above characters who ends up dying midway through the game...but I'm not going to spoil it, should you want to play the game.

So, how does the game start off?  We know who the key players are in this game, but what does this have to do with Exdeath?  Who exactly is Exdeath, and why is he so dangerous?

It all has to do with crystals.  Initially, there were four crystals, each one representing an element.  Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth.

One millennium before the current setting of the game, a mage named Enuo imperiled the world with something called 'The Void'.  It was a vortex that could suck up whole communities.  The people of the world fought back with a set of twelve powerful weapons which effectively dispatched Enuo, but the Void was unable to be destroyed completely.  The decision was made to split up the four crystals into two sets.  As a result of this action, the world was split into two, and Enuo was trapped inside the dimensional vortex between the two worlds.  As long as the crystals remained intact, Enuo remained sealed.

One thousand years later, both worlds continued to flourish, ship building became an effective method of travel, and towns grew.  Unfortunately, in the middle of the second world, in Moore Forest, a tree was being possessed with demons and evil, and created the antagonist of the game, Exdeath.

(You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried, people.)

Anyway, the Four Warriors of Dawn (comprised of Bartz' father, Dorgann, Galuf, Xezat, and Kelger) fought against Exdeath, and used the power of the crystals to seal him up in the first world, and peace briefly returned.

Thirty years later, however, something strange happens, and the winds start to die down, and the air becomes stale.

That was the eighteen minute long introduction to the first part of the game.  If you don't have time to watch the whole thing, basically, what happens is that King Tycoon goes to the Wind Shrine to find out why the wind is dying out, and is witness to the crystal exploding in the shrine, and something happens to the king.  Meanwhile, Bartz is outside camping with Boko when he sees a meteorite come crashing down towards the Earth.

Unlike real life where a meteor hitting a planet would likely be quite apocalyptic and deadly, these ones just leave behind a little crater.  It's inside one of those little craters where you run into Lenna.  Lenna immediately gets abducted by goblins, and you have to kill them to get to know the princess a little bit better.

Because let's face it, failure to rescue a princess from goons makes for one very awkward and disasterous date.

After the fight scene, Bartz and Lenna introduce themselves, and then they hear a faint noise in the distance.  There they meet the amnesiac Galuf (who apparently travelled to the area ON the meteorite, making this storyline even less believable), and it is here where our story really kicks off.

And, by now, you're probably completely lost. 

You'll just have to take my word for it that the game sounds a lot better than I described it. 

In all seriousness, it is.  Although it wasn't released in North America until 1999 (which is when the PlayStation anthology with Final Fantasy V and VI inside of it came out), Final Fantasy was a really great game, and the story makes more sense when you play it.

If you are a fan of role playing games, you'll definitely like this one.

One of the reasons I enjoy this game is the class system.

You can make your characters anything you want to be, because just like Barbie, there's dozens of job classes that you can make your characters be.  They can be Geomancers, Knights, Mages, Timekeepers, even Dancers (and by dancers, I mean tap and ballet...not dances with stripper poles).

And, no there are no job classes for prostitute, drug dealer, or McDonald's fry cook either.

With dozens of combinations to choose from, you could make your characters as powerful as you want them to be.  In fact, there are some secnarios where you have to have a job mastered in order to proceed (such as if you have to cross a pit of spikes, a Geomancer can show you the way to go).

But more importantly, the reason why I have a soft spot for Final Fantasy V is sort of linked to my opening paragraph.  The characterization works and blends in such a way that you find yourselves rooting for each of the characters both individually and as a whole.

Bartz's backstory of losing his parents, and using it as a way to pursue his dream of adventure is poignant, and yet, tragic at the same time.  In many ways, Bartz's parents were all that he had to rely on.  When they were both gone, he had lost any and all ties keeping him in the village of Lix.  It wasn't until late in the game when Lix is attacked by Exdeath that we see all of the emotions bubbling up to the surface, and we see Bartz show any emotion.  Naturally, his friends help him through, and that was the moment they all wanted to fight.

With Lenna, you know about the dragon tongue story where she wanted to kill the dragon to save her mother, but relented when she learned it was not what she wanted.  There's a point in the story where the Wind Drake is sick, and the only way to save it is by feeding it dragon grass.  Earlier in the game, a scary incident involving dragon grass has scared the dragon, and the dragon won't eat it.  Lenna decides to show the dragon that the grass is safe by sampling it herself, full well knowing that it is poisonous to humans.  The dragon sees Lenna eating it, and decides to eat it too.  Lenna risked her life to help the dragon, which the others thought was incredibly stupid (I agree, by the way), but at least it showed that Lenna had compassion for others.  She eventually recovered and continued on with the quest.

Faris also lost someone close to her.  At the beginning, the pirate ship that they are all on gets caught in a storm, and is almost sucked down a whirlpool.  Syldra, Faris's sea-dragon friend pulls them to safety, but ends up dying in the process.  Faris is devastated.  Later on in the story, Faris is reunited with the spirit of Syldra, and learns how to call her as a summon...proving that friendships don't end after death.

As for Galuf, he perhaps makes the biggest sacrifice of all in the quest to save the world from Exdeath...but that's another tale for another day...

Regardless, Final Fantasy V is a great game to play, and for all of you gamers out there, it's worth checking out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Across The Pond And Beyond: The Macarena

I am convinced that the more people who partake in a fad, the more obnoxious it becomes.

We all have been caught up in the idea of the 'next big thing'.  One little craze or object or gimmick that seems so innocent and non-threatening at first, but soon explodes into the newest 'must have' or 'must do'.

Right off the bat, I can name a few examples of this from my childhood.  Remember the Skip-It?  That little plastic thing that you hooked around your leg and swung around so that you could skip over it over and over again?  Everyone at school during third grade seemed to have one, so naturally, I had to get one too.  Mine was blue, and it had a counter to tell you how many times it went around in one full rotation.  It was great for a while, but by fourth grade, it seemed like every family had at least one Skip-It on sale at a garage sale.

Then there was the asinine fad that developed in the 1990's where girls would dye their hair with Kool-Aid packets.  Thankfully as a guy, I never took part in this fad, but I know some girls who walked into school with cherry red, lemon lime, and even Purplesaurus Rex coloured hair.  I think the fad ended when some of these girls were attacked by bees out on the playground.

You see...some fads were sillier than others.

Fads even made appearances on dancefloors, night clubs, and high school proms.  You had the Hustle, Disco, Electric Slide, conga lines, and step-dancing over the years.  It seemed like for a one year cycle, a party just wasn't a party until you danced to the latest dance craze.  Then the next year, it was something completely different.  It was a never ending struggle to keep up.

Fifteen summers ago, one particular dance craze swept the nation and spread like cold germs inside a public school.  Almost everyone I knew of could do this dance back in the day, and the song reached a few milestones of its own.

It was a dance craze based on a song recorded about four years prior to the year it really hit it big on the charts.  What made the song even more unique was that it was a song that was entirely sung in Spanish at first, but after a remix where English lyrics were mixed in with the Spanish ones, the song dominated the 1996 music charts.

(Though, given that 1996 was a very weak year on the Billboard least in my own opinion...I can see why it had such staying power.)

SONG:  Macarena
ARTIST:  Los Del Rio
ALBUM:  Fiesta Macarena
U.S. RELEASE DATE:  August 15, 1995

I imagine that I've probably lost some of you readers along the way for even mentioning the most requested song of 1996.  I can't say I blame you.  At the time of its release, I found Macarena incredibly irritating.  I think part of that reason being that it was played everywhere, all the time.

Macarena was on the Billboard chart for sixty weeks total, fourteen of which were spent at the top position.  That meant that a lot of people were buying the record, listening to the record, dancing to the record, requesting the record.  By 1997, the song itself had sold eleven million copies, and made Los Del Rio incredibly wealthy.

The popularity of the Macarena took over the world in 1996.  It was played at various sporting events, dance clubs, convention halls.  You name it, it was being played.  A reported 50,000 people danced to the song at Yankee stadium in 1996.  The song was played at the 1996 Democratic Convention in an effort to get all of the delegates excited about the election.  Regardless of what your feelings are about the song, you have to admit that for a song to be played during a politcial convention, it had to be huge.

There was even a Christmas themed album that was backed up by the Macarena beat!  And yes, my workplace has played it during the holiday season.  And yes, I find it more irritating to listen to than the original!  And I know it's not Christmas yet, but if I had to suffer through it all holiday season, then all of you will too!  HAHAHAHAHA!!!

Have I scared you all away yet?  I certainly hope not.  This blog entry isn't over yet.

I just wanted to illustrate the scary power this song had.  Taking over the radio airwaves, check.  Keeping songs away from the #1 spot for a quarter of the year, check.  Bastardizing Christmas carols, check.

The power of the Macarena was incredible.  You wanted to look away, but you couldn't.  You wanted to turn the dial to another station, but it was playing on all of them at once.  Like it or not, the year 1996 was not the 'Year of the Rat' was the 'Year of the Macarena!'

Then 1997 came, and the Spice Girls invaded, and the Macarena was flattened by a healthy dose of girl power.

Another fad bit the dust.

Though, it was a nice little distraction while it lasted.

It seems hard to believe then that it took four years for the song to reach the top of the Billboard charts.

Yet it was all because of these two men up above. 

Los Del Rio was comprised of two men.  On the left is Antonio Romero Monge, and on the right is Rafael Ruiz.  Both of them are from the town of Dos Hermanos in the country of Spain. 

In March of 1992, they toured South America, where they invited to a private party thrown by Venezuelan empresario Gustavo Cisneros.  It would be at this party that the conception of Macarena would come to be.

At this party, the entertainment was provided by a flamenco dancer who impressed Los Del Rio immensely.  In fact, Antonio Romero Monge was so inspired by the dancer that he wrote the chorus to the song on the spot.  He decided to make the subject of the song after the flamenco dancer, but chose to use the name of Ma'dalena.  The initial chorus was;

"Dale a tu cuerpo alegría, Ma'dalena, que tu cuerpo e' pa' darle alegría y cosa' güena'"

Which loosely translated means, "Give your body some joy, Magdalene cause your body is for giving joy and good things too".

Either that's really broken English, or the song isn't nearly as innocent as we were all lead to believe.

At some point, Ma'dalena was changed to Macarena, and the song was released in the summer of 1993 in Spain.  I don't know exactly what date it was, but apparently a possible one could be given in this Heineken commercial.

Not quite exactly HOW the Macarena came to be, but a nice little distraction, nonetheless.

In all actuality, when the song was released in 1993, it was nothing like the version that made the song famous three years later.  It was initially a soft rumba like dance song.  Over the next three years, the song would be re-recorded and re-released five additional times.  The song became very popular in Spain and Mexico, as well as Puerto Rico.  The popularity in Puerto Rico was especially evident because a politician used it as an unofficial song during his election campaign.  The song was played all over Puerto Rico as a result of this, and because Puerto Rico was a base for most cruise ships to dock at, thousands of people heard the song as a result.  It might have been the starting point behind the Macarena infusion.

It wasn't until 1995 that the song began to make its way into popular American culture.  That year, it was remixed by the Bayside Boys and produced by Grammy award winning producer Carlos de Yarza, and by the summer of 1996, the song was a powerhouse on the Billboard charts.

So, I guess the lesson that one can learn in all this is not to give up on your dreams.

Granted, I may not have been the biggest Macarena fan out there, but certainly millions of other people really dug it.  It remains a fixture at many wedding receptions and other celebrations, so clearly it has made a mark. 

And, hey, it took four years for Los Del Rio to have the song become a worldwide smash.  But they made it happen.  As someone who has dreams of making it in the world of publishing, it does give me hope that I can achieve success later in life.  I mean, neither Ruiz or Monge were spring chickens when they had their breakthrough song.  If anything, it shows their resiliance, and their fight to keep the dream alive, and that's something that I want to do to.  I won't rest until my name gets out there in the publishing world, and even if I have to wait until I am 65, so be it.  If there's anything the Macarena has helped me understand, it's that success can happen at any age, and that if you're resiliant and strong enough, and have a little bit of luck along the way, you can have success too.

Although I never want to hear the Macarena ever again.  I'm sure after this blog post, none of you would want to either.  Though, if you insist on doing it, or wanting to learn it, here's a guide in pictures.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Defending The Hoff...and Baywatch

A couple of nights ago, I was unwinding from a long work day with a little television. 

Well, okay, I watched Big Brother.  It is my guilty pleasure of the summer (one that I'll likely write about in this blog at some point during these hot and humid weeks).

It was the show that aired afterwards that admittedly inspired the subject for this blog entry.

It was a brand new show that premiered on Sunday night.  The show was called 'Same Name'.  The way I would best describe it is Undercover Boss meets Access Hollywood.  A person who happens to have the same exact name as a well-known celebrity trades lives with the celebrity in question for one whole week.  There, they'll get to experience the trials and the tribulations of their same named counterpart.  In some cases, they seem to fit in well, while in other cases, the culture shock is painfully present.

Why do I bring this show up?

The first episode of the series focused around television and German charts hit-maker David Hasselhoff.  In the show, he traded places with another man named David Hasselhoff Jr.  While the non-famous Hasselhoff lived the life of luxury, the famous Hasselhoff got up at six a.m., mowed dozens of lawns, and learned how hard the other Hasselhoff family worked.

I really liked watching the show, if for no other reason being that it sort of broke stereotypes that most of us may have had regarding the entertainment industry and celebrity world.  As the non-famous David Hasselhoff discovered, he had the idea that the celebrity world was snooty and stuck-up before embarking on this adventure.  What he found was that the celebrity David Hasselhoff's family, friends, fans, and contacts were nothing of the sort.  They treated him with love, respect, and kindness, which impressed him a lot.  At the end of his adventure, he was even allowed to take KITT (the car that he drove on Knight Rider) for a spin.

At the same time, celebrity David Hasselhoff really developed a friendship with the non-famous Hasselhoff family.  He pitched in and helped them out, he attended a family reunion, and he genuinely seemed to enjoy himself in this experience.  At the end of the episode, he even bought them two brand new lawn mowers, a scholarship for the Hasselhoff's young son, and a trip to see him in concert in Germany.  It appeared to me that he got just as much out of the experience as the non-famous Hasselhoff did, and it was really cool to see.

Granted, shows like Same Name are probably edited in such a way that they feature only the best or only the worst of everything, but I really do feel that David Hasselhoff managed to get a lot out of the experience.

Life hasn't always been so good to David Hasselhoff however.  It's hard to overlook the video of a drunk Hasselhoff attempting to scarf down a cheeseburger while his daughter filmed him.  It was almost painful to watch, really.  He has also had to deal with a boatload of personal problems such as the dissolution of two marriages, and a bizarre incident where he slashed his tendon in an accident involving a chandelier breaking above him, as well as alcohol-related problems. 

For now, he seems to be on the straight and narrow, and one thing that I can say about David Hasselhoff is that he does have a great sense of humour.  He played himself on the Spongebob Squarepants movie (and coincidentally has the bust of himself used in the movie prominently displayed inside his home), and he was the subject of a celebrity roast hosted by Seth MacFarlane on Comedy Central.

There's also his singing career, which really never took off in North America.  More often than not, it is mocked in North American culture, such as this literal video version of his cover of 'Hooked On A Feeling'.

And, you know, given his penchant for poking fun at himself, and his reaction to his own roast, I reckon he'd get a kick out of it.  But, in all honesty, his singing career did strike a chord in European fans, in particular, Germany.  Did you know that in 1989, he had two number one hits on the German music charts?  That's quite impressive, especially when you consider that well known artists like James Brown and Bruce Springsteen have never had number one hits of their own in their own country! 

Maybe there's more to the Hoff than we all thought, huh?

Of course, television made him a star in the first place, and his television resume was quite impressive.  One of his first roles on television was on the soap opera 'The Young and the Restless".  He played Snapper Foster for seven years!  Considering that many soap actors are lucky to get a contract for a year or two, that is definitely a good run.  Following his leaving the Y&R in 1982, he starred in 'Knight Rider', where he enjoyed a four season run.  I would love to talk about Knight Rider some more, but I was kind of young when it aired, and honestly, I don't even remember watching one full episode of it.

Though I do know KITT, and I loved that car.

No, instead I'll talk about his third big show.  A show that I myself watched for quite a few years.  A show that much like David Hasselhoff has gotten a bad rap, and is made fun of quite often.  A show that you all probably know.

Baywatch.  A show that found new life in syndication.  A show about lifeguards in California doing what they do best.  Saving lives, cleaning up pollution, managing work and personal relationships.

All in little red swimsuits.

I'll readily admit to watching this show the first few years it was on.  I think I was thirteen when I hit my peak of Baywatch watching.  The storylines were somewhat predictable, but I liked watching it.

Well, okay...I liked watching the female lifeguards.

Okay, okay, I had a Pamela Anderson poster of her in her Baywatch uniform hanging on my bedroom door for three years, are you satisfied now? 

(And, this is coming from someone who actually preferred Alexandra Paul and Yasmine Bleeth...)

Certainly, that was one of the main complaints that I heard about Baywatch when it was in its heyday.  It was too sexist.  Looking back on it now, I can see where they're coming from in some ways.  Did anyone find it a little too convenient that whenever Baywatch aired a classic slow motion sequence, Pamela Anderson featured in well over half of those shots?  I don't see it as much of a coincidence, really.

The show was often made fun of in popular culture.  The storylines were often panned as being everything from incredibly dull, to impossibly farfetched.  A lot of the actors on the show (in particular during its later seasons) were mostly cast for eye candy, and admittedly had about as much acting experience as a ninth grade drama student, and the show even relocated to Hawaii during the latter third of its entire run.

It even inspired a parody of the show called 'Son Of The Beach', which was created by Howard Stern in 2000.  I've seen a few episodes of this show, and well...let's just say that it's pretty raunchy stuff.  I'll leave it at that.

So, you would think that I would have a difficult time with this show.  I may have painted David Hasselhoff in a somewhat decent colour, but can I do the same with Baywatch?

The answer is...I will most certainly try.

First things first, one must realize that Baywatch wasn't just a one season show.  When it premiered on April 23, 1989 on NBC, many people didn't expect it to last one whole season.  As a matter of fact, after the first season, NBC wanted to pull the plug on the show.  It was through the efforts of Hasselhoff and the creators of the show that a new deal was reached to syndicate the show on cable television, because they believed in the show enough to see it last longer than one year.  The show took a break for one season, and debuted in syndication on September 23, 1991.

The decision to kick off the 1991/1992 season on cable television was a risky one, but as we would later see, it was a risk that paid off.  Not only did the show last an additional ten seasons (the show ended in 2001), but it was also the show that David Hasselhoff had the longest run on (he played Mitch Buchannon until the tenth season).  There was even a reunion movie that aired on television in 2003.

The show became a global phonomenon as well.  Not only was the show a hit in America, but at one point, the show was airing in every continent of the world except Antarctica.  The show even got recognized with a Guinness World Record, with a reported 1.1 BILLION people watching Baywatch all over the world.

Not bad for a show that was almost cancelled for good, wouldn't you say?

Now, for the acting.  It wasn't Shakespearian or even Broadway calibre, I must admit.  But, there were some acting diamonds in the rough.  I always thought Alexandra Paul (who played Stephanie) had some acting chops.  Other actors and actresses were either established actors before Baywatch, or had some minor success after the show.  These include Parker Stevenson, David Charvet, Yasmine Bleeth, Kelly Packard, Mitzi Kapture, and of course...Pamela Anderson.

And, say what you want about Pamela Anderson and all of her...assets.  People probably would not have watched the show as much if she hadn't have appeared on the show in the first place.  I get why some might have been annoyed at seeing her in the show, but to be honest with you, I really couldn't imagine the show without her.  Yes, the show premiered without her (Pamela Anderson joined the Baywatch cast in 1992 after leaving her role on the sitcom Home Improvement as the original Tool Time girl), but at the height of Baywatch, she was front and center in a lot of storylines.  I don't know if they necessarily worked in her favour, but I really never complained.  I know she tried her best, and that's all that really counted.

In fact, I'll let you in on a confession.  I actually stopped watching Baywatch the same year Pamela Anderson left.  Though in all fairness, she left in 1997, which is when most of the cast that was on when I began watching Baywatch left.  I kind of grew attached to the cast that was on when I started watching Baywatch in 1994, which is why I chose to post the video of the 1994/1995 season opener.  Mitch, CJ, Stephanie, Caroline, Matt, Logan, Hobie...they were what I remember about Baywatch.  They may not have had the most believable storylines, or even the most believable acting, but it's the cast that I most remember when I remember Baywatch.  It was a cast that really seemed to feed off of each other, and it was a cast that really seemed to have a lot of chemistry with each other.  There was no awkwardness that you might have seen on other shows.  In the reunion movie, most of the 1994 cast agreed to take part, even Alexandra Paul, whose character was killed off in 1997. 

When that 1994 cast was all but gone in 1998 (save for Mitch and Hobie), it just wasn't quite the same show for me, and by then, the plots kept getting recycled, and well, when the show relocated to Hawaii, that was the final nail in the Baywatch coffin.  That was the jump the shark moment for me as far as I was concerned.

It should be also made known that while the show could easily be seen as a live action version of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, it didn't exactly start that way.  During the first part of season one, there were only two female characters credited in the cast.  Shawn Weatherly and Erika Eleniak.

During season one, Weatherly's character of Jill was eaten by a shark, leaving Erika Eleniak as the only female leading character from 1990-1992.  And, rewatching those episodes, I actually find that I liked those shows better because the plots and the stories were more believable...but maybe that's just my opinion.

I guess my final opinion of Baywatch is that it set out to do what it accomplished.  The producers wanted a successful show about lifeguarding, and they got their wish.  But there was far more to it than that.  I thought the show was a bit underrated in a way.  Yeah, it did have some eye candy to gaze upon, I won't deny that...but it was fairly educational.  No, it didn't exactly teach you how to do CPR (or maybe it did and I missed that episode), but it did show a side to lifeguarding that seldom really saw.  Could you imagine being a lifeguard on a crowded California beach?  You would have to be on guard at all times, because on a beach that size, it would be very easy for someone to slip under the water and not be noticed.  In all actuality, I probably gained a whole new respect for the lifeguarding profession by watching Baywatch.  Before when I was kid, I used to not like the lifeguards for being so strict with the rules, but watching people in peril on that show (even though I knew they were actors) helped me understand why those rules were put into place. 

So in that sense, I salute Baywatch.  And, for that matter, I salute the Hoff as well, for showing us that there really is life out there beyond a red swimsuit and a viral video.