PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Rant Week: Day Four/ Vandalism!

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While walking through Davis Square one day avoiding smokers, I happened to glance up at the Equestrian Statue of Henry Gassaway Davis, and noticed an act of shocking, SHOCKING, vandalism. At some point, at least as early as late summer, some hooligan scaled the statue (under cover of darkness in the dead of night, no doubt) and placed a sticker in a delicate place on the statue’s anatomy.

Someone felt the urge to put a sticker on the….bump between the rear legs of the horse. It’s a simple sticker, just a lower-case “h” on a white background. One of those ovals with a “W” would have made more sense, but it’s not the content that’s disturbing. It’s the location.

Startling, I know. I didn’t notice this until a few weeks ago, but when I checked my files, I discovered that you could see blurry evidence of this sticker in photographs I took back in September. I would have taken a better photo, but the thought of standing in Davis Square with my camera carefully focused on the crotch of a statue of a horse was just a little too embarrassing for me to follow through.

And it occurs to me that there are two reasons that this act of blatant equine genital humiliation has not yet been rectified.

First: Who really wants to admit that they just happened to be looking at the doodle of the horse statue. It’s entirely possible that this crime has gone unreported until now. I mean, I’m brave enough to bring this story to light, but I hope my readers don’t think I go around checking out horse statue packages.

Second: If this crime has been reported to the proper authorities at City Hall, it’s quite possible that there are no city employees whose job description encompasses them removing illegally-placed stickers from statues of horse members.

Either way, it’s a small act of humiliation that might explain the forlorn look on old Henry Gassaway Davis’ face. How would you feel if you had to ride around downtown Charleston on a horse with a sticker on his naughty bits?

Rant Week: Tiny Bonus Rant

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This is just a quickie to wrap up Rant Week here at PopCult. And it’s really not a full-tilt rant. It’s more of a rhetorical question.

It’s a fact that many of the people who fully support Charleston’s user fee also fully support the idea of a Metro Government, where Charleston would merge with the surrounding towns, and perhaps even the County government to form one big Metrosexual community, or something. Do these people realize what a strong impediment the user fee will be to convincing other cities to join up with Charleston? Not only will non-Charleston residents balk at the idea of raising their own out-of-pocket expenses, they’ll also enjoy the chance to stick it to city for the user fee if they work in Charleston and have to pay the fee already.

The question is: Are the short-term gains from the user fee more important than the long-term gains from a Metro government?

OK, PopCult now reverts back to talking about animation, comic books, toys and movies, and will leave all this ranty stuff to the adults. My spleen is plenty vented now.

Rant Week: Day Three/ WHCP’s Newscast

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Okay, I’m not going to waste valuable cyberspace going over how bad the WB News program is in great detail. Except for Tom McGee and Scott Roberts, the staff seems like they came straight out of high school. The technical side, while improving, is still a disaster. This is a news show that delivers just enough to keep the die-hard fans of Tom McGee happy, but not enough to attract other viewers. Here’s a list of things that they need to fix if they want to compete with the other area newscasts:

The set is claustrophobic: They were evidently limited by the size of the room, but the cameras are far too close to the on-air talent, and the lighting is atrocious. The newscast looks like it’s being broadcast from somebody’s living room. I think they need to find a new studio with adequate space.

Introductions are in order: The stylistic choice of having the reporters introduce their own stories is a mess. There isn’t enough room in the studio for them, so they have to stand outside, “on location, live in Charleston,” which is obviously just as far as the cables will reach outside of their West Side studio. And there’s no lighting out there. Half the time, the reporters miss their cues. And their microphones pick up other radio frequencies, so we hear police calls in the background. All this does is make the newscast look shoddy and waste air time. We can see the same buildings and roads in the background every day. At least build a newsroom set that you can cut to instead of doing these bad “remote” bits. If you can’t just have the anchors introduce the report, at least let those poor reporters stand inside the building.

If you don’t have teleprompters, buy some: If you do have them, start using them properly. I’ve overheard people in grocery stores commenting on how bad it looks.

For God’s sake get Scott Roberts a desk! The poor guy has no idea what to do with himself as he stands there giving the sports report. He fidgets, keeps glancing down at his notes, and winds up dancing around the set like a lummox. Scott’s a likeable guy, well-known to area fans. Don’t make him look like an idiot.

To whomever is writing the copy for the anchors to read: West Virginia State University offers classes in writing for television. If you’re not willing to take a class, at least take some advice: read your copy aloud to see if it sounds natural coming out of somebody’s mouth. I’ve watched your poor anchors stumble over some of the most poorly-written links and teases that I’ve ever heard. If they’re writing the copy themselves, they have no one to blame, but if somebody else is doing it, they need help, quick.

The McGee Factor: Finally, Tom McGee……he’s actually doing great. Despite all his well-documented off-screen bad behavior, the man can deliver on camera. Even when he’s delivering copy that appears to be written at a fifth-grade level, he does his best to make it work. His other anchor and the rest of the reporters are green as hell, but the only way to overcome that is to go out there every day and do their jobs.

I sort of want to root for this newscast. It doesn’t have the questionable, corporate-ordered ideological bias of WCHS or WOWK, and it’s cool to have a newscast originating from the West Side. But they really need to work on the technical issues, and let their staff grow into their jobs. I just don’t know if they’ve produced a professional enough product to compete with the other stations.

Tomorrow: The Rant that dare not speak its name (that means I haven’t decided which one to do yet).

Rant Week: Day Two/ Smoking

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As mentioned in yesterday’s rant, I’ve been spending a lot of time in downtown Charleston lately, and it’s distressing how much horrid tobacco smoke is spewed into the air by the hapless addicts who wander our streets.

On the one hand, I’ve got slight libertarian leanings, and feel that anyone should be allowed to kill themselves by ingesting poison, if that’s what they really want to do. On the other, I feel my right to breath supersedes their right to smoke. I have severe allergies to tobacco, and if I have to breathe too much of the stuff, it makes me very sick. Unlike smokers, I do not choose to be very sick.

Smokers can commit slow suicide if they want, but they shouldn’t be allowed to take other people with them. Smoking does just that. Smokers are like suicide bombers. Nobody cares if they want to end their own life, but you have to draw the line at the point where they claim innocent victims. I know that a complete ban on smoking won’t work, and I believe in personal freedoms enough that I can’t really endorse total prohibition. However, I do have a question that puts the situation into perspective:

Why should smoking be any more legal than sex?

Think about it. Why should smoking, a vile act known to kill people, be any more legal than sex, a natural act that expresses love, or at least intimate human contact? Consenting adults, in the privacy of their own home, can have just about any kind of sex they want. So why shouldn’t the same rules be applied to smoking?

Consenting adults, in the privacy of their own home should be able to smoke all they want. They can smoke all night, smoke their brains out, smoke like there’s no tomorrow. However, they shouldn’t smoke in public, or in front of the kids, or with animals. And smoking while driving is right out! Why is it that smokers, who are addicted to a carcinogen, aren’t expected to exert the same amount of self-control that horny and/or perverted people do?

Sure, you’ll have thrill seekers
who get off on sneaking a quick puff in a stairwell or in the bushes in the park. But if I can’t smell their smoke, then it isn’t a problem. What bothers me is when I go downtown to meet Melanie for lunch, and I wind up having to move all over Davis Square because the smokers are circling like buzzards. Sometimes, I wind up on the far end of the park, just to get away from the poison.

I don’t have a problem with special clubs or restaurants opening up that allow smoking, just as long as they have a warning sign on the door and don’t allow minors into the establishment. I find it sort of ridiculous that people can’t smoke in a tobacco store. I’m not even suggesting that the tobacco addicts quit cold turkey. All I’m saying is that smoking should be relegated to the privacy of the home. It should be seen as a shameful, dirty act, the same way that Baptists think of sex.

And the next time you see a smoker walking down the street indulging in their habit, imagine that they’re walking around with their hand down their pants, indulging in that other habit. Makes you view them a little differently, doesn’t it?

Tomorrow’s rant: I review the WHCP-TV Newscast with Tom McGee.

Rant Week: Day One/ The Riverfront

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I’m going to kick off PopCult’s RANT WEEK with the big one–the Charleston Riverfront Development plan, and a few things that need to be pointed out about it.

The recent burst of irrational exuberance over the proposed riverfront redevelopment plan put forth by Sasaki Associates seems a bit familiar to me. It reminds me of the classic episode of The Simpsons, where a slick out-of-towner convinces the citizens of Springfield that, in order to revitalize their city, they need a Monorail. I find it hard to believe that, in a city where a “user fee” had to be imposed to meet the basic needs of the police department and do street repair, people can seriously consider pouring millions of dollars into enhancing the riverbank. This riverbank is a place that the people of Charleston have spent decades demonstrating that they are not willing to even cross the street to visit.

This is NOT because the street is too wide. It’s because riverbanks aren’t necessarily nice places to pass the time. You see, they tend to slope sharply, ending up in the water. Flat ground is usually one prerequisite for a pleasant recreational area and the riverbank doesn’t have much of that. In addition, the river is not exactly such a wonderful place. For much of the year, the Kanawha’s appearance and odor can best be summed up using scatalogical terminology.

Riverfront parks are great for people who love the water. That might just be as much as ten percent of the population. Can Charleston really afford to spend millions of dollars so that, on maybe four or five quiet evenings each year, a handul of people will say, “Gee, this is nice”? The whole idea of a Green Ribbon sounds nice, until you realize just how few Charlestonians will actually use it. Is it going to be worth the cost? The quality of life in Charleston could be raised higher if the city would spend some money to lure a large grocery store to the East End. I can’t quite grasp the cost-versus-benefit of the riverfront plan.

I also can’t understand
all the complaints about the mere existence of Kanawha Boulevard. It’s one of the rare city projects that made sense and worked. I lean towards siding with the group that wants to declare it an historical structure. It is a modern wonder and it does its job very well. I’ve heard complaints that it never seems congested. That because it works! Perhaps, between Leon Sullivan Way and Greenbriar Street, it could be safely cut down to three lanes, but any plan to reduce it more than that seems absurd on its face. I’m old enough to remember what it was like before the interstate was built, and I can’t understand why reducing the Boulevard to two lanes is even being seriously considered.

There has been a very sensible proposal that, just to test out the current relevance of the Boulevard, temporary barriers be erected to reduce it to two lanes, to see if that idea is feasible. This should be done during the upcoming Legislative Session. If it doesn’t hurt the traffic flow, then, and only then, should reducing the size of the Boulevard be considered. For some reason, this very, very logical idea has gained no traction with the city planners. I can’t understand why. Everyone involved with this project admits that it will take years, possibly decades, to bring it to fruition. Why rush into the most drastic part of the plan without patiently going to the effort to test the basic premise–that Kanawha Boulevard is unnecessary, and that the citizens of Charleston are going to flock to the riverfront and make it the coolest place on Earth and a viable revenue stream for the city.

There are several other parts of the proposal that strike me as sillier than normal. The scenic overlook that would allow visitors to gaze at the beautiful Tank Farm on the opposite side of the river comes to mind. And the idea of installing fountains on Magic Island, which is prone to frequent flooding, seems misguided. Boat docks (call them “marinas” if you must), no matter how they’re designed, are among the ugliest man-made structures on the planet–if they add them, they should be hidden under the Southside Bridge.

The most delusional idea is that of turning the Union Building into condominiums. It would take so much money to bring that building up to residential code, that the units would wind up being priced out of any sane person’s range. On top of that, they want to eliminate the parking for the Union Building, and there’s no grocery store handy downtown. The building sways in heavy winds and you hear tugboats going by all the time. Who’s going to want to live like that? That idea is a pipe dream of major proportions. There isn’t even that much demand for downtown condos. The ones that we have now are a hard sell.

A Few Suggestions

Just so I don’t come across as totally negative, I have a few suggestions, which I might humbly offer up as being a million times better than the plan currently in place. And I’m not charging six figures for these, either.

First, take that large parcel of land where the Elk River/Town Center Hotel once stood. Dig up the concrete. Plant grass. Build a stage and band shell facing East, but close enough to the southwest corner of the lot so that it can be seen from the Boulevard. This is the new Haddad Riverfront park. It’s a big, gorgeous, green space where all the nice peoples can go recreate without falling into the river.

The old Haddad Riverfront park should be history. Take the Eastbound lanes of Kanawha Boulevard and move them to the other side of the Union Building. Then they can rejoin the original path of the road as soon as possible. This may mean joining up on either side of the South Side Bridge, but it would be worth doing. You’ve solved the problem of access to the Union Building, and gotten rid of that white elephant of a riverfront “park.”

There will be a triangle of land created by this road diversion. That’s where you build the City Of Charleston Welcome Center. A distinctive building with a decent-sized parking lot to help direct visitors around our city–who could disagree with that being a good thing?

Instead of killing Kanawha Boulevard to improve access to the riverbank, how about building a series of pedestrian walkways crossing over the street? They could be incorporated into sculpted arches and become a distinctive feature for the city. One of the archways could incorporate a rising sun motif, and take the name “The Sunrise Arch.” This one could stretch from the new Riverfront park to the actual riverbank, and maybe its riverside disembarking point could take the place of the scenic tank farm overlook.

Lastly, follow the recommendations of the Army Corps Of Engineers to fix the problems associated with erosion, and try to find a way to improve accessiblity to the riverbank at the same time. But do this without eating into the Boulevard or pumping tons of money into a developing an attraction that nobody will want to visit.

So to review my suggestions: Keep Kanawha Boulevard at four lanes. Relocate Haddad Riverfront park to the other side of Kanawha Boulevard, with plenty of flat green space and a stage that can be used during the Regatta. Divert the Eastbound lanes of Kanawha Boulevard around to the river side of the Union Building. Establish a Welcome center in the new area created by this move. Build arches that cross the Boulevard at key points, and incorporate into them pedestrian walkways. This will give the city a distinctive new feature, and solve the problem of access to the river bank.

Oh, the idea about lining the Boulevard with trees….forget it. Trees look great in concept drawings, but in real life, they need expensive regular care and in the fall, they drop leaves everywhere and aren’t so pretty. There are other forms of greenery that won’t look like hell from the other side of the river for most of the year. I just drove down MacCorkle and glanced across the river to the downtown area, and to be honest, it looks pretty damned good. I can’t see the rush to fix what doesn’t appear to be broken. Minor repairs and regular upkeep might be a heck of a lot more affordable than a drastic overhaul.

I have one final request that sort of ties into tomorrow’s rant. Any new green space in Charleston should be SMOKE FREE! I’ve spent a lot of time downtown lately, and it’s disheartening that Davis Square and the Lee Street Triangle seem to exist primarily to act as giant ashtrays for the tobacco addicts. Tomorrow, we look at smoking.

Moral Orel comes to Adult Swim

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Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Moral Orel’s Best Christmas Ever

Adult Swim presented a brand new holiday special last Tuesday and Wednesday night at Midnight, when we were treated to the debut of Moral Orel’s Best Christmas Ever. This stop-motion animated short is the pilot for a Moral Orel series, and is the creation of Dino Stamatopoulos, a producer/writer for Mr. Show. A dark parody of Art Clokey’s Davey and Goliath, Morel Orel is a little boy with very deep religious feelings. His faith is supposed to help him deal with all his travails. This was a very, very dark parody. It starts out so nice and light, then quickly veers into Charles Bukowski territory.

The show has an encore airing very late, just after midnight on Christmas Day. This is one twisted, cynical, blasphemous holiday treat–the perfect antidote for all that holiday joy. A Morel Orel series is expected to follow next year.

More Adult Swim News

Adult Swim just wrapped up the latest mini-season of Aqua Team Hunger Force. Despite promises that these new episodes would be “phoned in,”, they’re as funny as ever. We can’t figure out why they buried brand new episodes of one of their most successful shows after Midnight, following repeats of Robot Chicken, but these are worth seeking out, if they run them again soon. Also on the ATHQ front, Season Four is now out on DVD, and a feature film is in the works.

Good news to report about The Boondocks. After a shaky debut, the show has become a solid, must-see program. The animation is still sub-par, but the writing is top-notch, and the subject matter is just uncomfortable enough to make the show very special.

On Christmas Eve at Midnight, Adult Swim will present a marathon of the nonsensical, bizarre Perfect Hair Forever. This parade of non-sequiters masquerading as Anime is one of shows shows that you either love or hate. We love it. The magical singing hot dog won us over.

We finish up with more good news from Adult Swim. A second season of The Venture Brothers has been penciled in on the schedule for early next year. Originally a parody of Jonny Quest, The Venture Brothers has evolved beyond a one-joke show and became one of the most enjoyable cartoons on the air. It’s got just the right blend of satire, cynicism, and adventure. The first-season episode where they parodied The Fantastic Four was more faithful to the comic book than the FF recent movie. We’re looking forward to the new season.

Next week in Animated Discussions, we look at the upcoming movie, Hoodwinked.

Art Blogging: The Peoples Building

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After taking more than a week off to recover from the epic PopCult Gift Guide and deal with nagging technical issues that waylaid this blog, I’m back, with a new artsy treat snapped and assaulted in Charleston, W.Va.

The Peoples Building
Digitally Assaulted Photograph
November, 2005

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It’s the last day of the continent-spanning, time warping PopCult Gift Guide. In this final installment, we’re going to dig into the neatest gift ideas in Art Books, Movies, and just General Weirdness. We’re all dreaming of a weird Christmas, right?

ART BOOKS

Little Nemo In Slumberland-So Many Splendid Sundays
$120 whereever limited edition books are sold

You may be wondering why a collection of comic strips is listed as an “Art Book” gift. Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo In Slumberland is art. This limited edition book collects 110 digitally-restored Sunday pages from the classic comic strip in their original size: 16″ by 21.” This is a huge, beautiful book. Comics fans today don’t realize that, a hundred years ago, people all over the country would wake up on Sunday morning and rush to the newspaper to see the surreal full-color comic strip adventures of Little Nemo. Set in a little boy’s dream world, this strip is as bizarre and delightful as anything done since. With this limited edition book, you can finally see the strip reprinted close to its original size, and in full color. You can really appreciate McKay’s craftsmanship and innovative use of color. He did things in comics that nobody else even tried to duplicate for 70 years. This book will be equally at home in a comic book collection or on a shelf for fine art books.

Leonardo’s Notebooks
$25 to $40 whereever books are sold

Going back even further than we did with Little Nemo, we find Leonardo Da Vinci, the Renaissance man. This book collects the most profound writing from Da Vinci’s notebooks, compiled and translated by H. Anna Sung and illustrated by Da Vinci’s own sketches. You not only get the incredible art, but you also get a rare insight into one of the most amazing people to ever walk the planet. With all the recent “code” hooplah, you might be able to trick a mystery novel fan into developing an appreciation for fine art. With the perfect mix of writing and illustration, this is more than your typical art book. It’s more of an illustrated philosophical treatise. Since the artwork is so striking, nobody will mind the philosophy.

Shag The Art of Josh Agle
$40 where ever books are sold

Josh Agle, or “Shag,” as he signs his work, has developed his retro-post-war style into a popular look that’s become one of the most imitated graphic design motifs in years. His work can be found on cocktail napkins, lighters, and the redesigned Pink Panther, and imitators are found all over the illustration world. This book is the first collection of Shag’s paintings, wonderful time machine trips back to the days of bachelor pads, the Rat Pack, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and slumming in beatnik bars. A lot of his paintings look like the perfect illustrations for articles from Playboy Magazine, circa 1962. The 200 paintings contained here show just how much work and backstory Shag puts into his work. Many of them capture a moment, and it’s left to the viewer to decide just exactly what’s going on. This is the perfect gift for the retro hipster in your life.

MOVIES

The Fantastic Films Of Ray Harryhausen DVD collections $30 to $45 whereever DVDs are sold

There are two DVD collections of master special effects animator Ray Harryhausen’s films. You have your choice of “Legendary Monster” films, like Jason And The Argonauts and his Sinbad series in one box, or you could go with “Legendary Science Fiction” classics like It Came From Beneath The Sea, Twenty Million Miles To Earth or Earth Versus The Flying Saucers. Each set contains five films that feature Harryhausen’s incredible stop-motion animation. Highlights are the skeleton swordfight in Jason, The Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, and the Ymir from Twenty Million Miles To Earth. These films will make a great gift for the monster movie buff, special effects fan or sci-fi maven on your list.

The Concert for Bangladesh Deluxe Limited Edition
$35 to $50 where ever DVDs are sold

Held in 1971, The Concert for Bangladesh was the first all-star charity benefit of the rock and roll era. Masterminded by former Beatle George Harrison after hearing about the plight of Ravi Shankar’s homeland, this show brought together an amazing line-up of musicians to perform in Madison Square Garden, with the proceeds going to the devastated region. Harrison called in some pretty powerful “friends” like Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston and a then-reclusive Bob Dylan, who hadn’t performed in public since his motorcycle crash in 1966. This was an amazing night, and it was captured in this documentary, which is supplemented in this set with deleted songs, footage from the rehearsals, and a new documentary detailing how the show came together. This deluxe edition also includes a 60-page booklet, a set of ten postcards, a cling sticker, and a reproduction of Harrison’s handwritten lyrics for the song “Bangla Desh.” Without the example of this concert, it’s doubtful that we would have seen such other all-star rock benefits as Live Aid, Farm Aid or Live 8. This is a great gift for the Beatle freak, music lover or philanthropist on your holiday list.

Forbidden Zone
Under $20 where ever strange DVDs are sold

This is one of the greatest movies ever made! Sure, it’s bizarre, obtuse, slightly perverted, and can be used to clear Republicans out of your house, but it’s still one of the greatest movies ever made. Forbidden Zone is a labor of love, directed by Richard Elfman, and featuring his brother Danny Elfman and his band, Oingo Boingo. Danny plays the Devil, and sings a re-written version of “Minnie the Moocher.” There’s lots of nudity and goofiness, but still, this is one of the greatest movies ever made. Marie-Pascale Elfman stars as “Frenchy,” the schoolgirl who gets transported to the “Forbidden Zone,” The Sixth Dimension, through a portal in her basement. There, she is spied by the King, played by Herve Villecheze, and challenges the evil Queen (Susan Tyrell) for his affections. Things you need to know: Although this movie was made around 1980, it was shot in black and white; many nice-looking ladies run around topless for the entire film; it’s a musical, but most of the songs are from the 1930s, or earlier, with some performers lip-synching to Cab Calloway or Josephine Baker. Mixed in among the classic tunes are original songs and the first film score by the Oscar-nominated Danny Elfman. If you have a film buff with a zest for adventure on your shopping list, then this is the gift for them. It is one of the greatest movies ever made. The DVD includes deleted scenes, a short test film, a documentary, and hysterical commentary by Richard Elfman and co-writer, Matthew Bright.

GENERAL WEIRDNESS

Punk Rock Candles
$9.95 each from Wicked Cool Stuff.com

Sure, the idea of candles may seem somewhat at odds with the world of punk rock, but aside from the hippy-dippy connotations, candles are nothing more than tiny fires. And fire can burn and destroy. What could be more punk rock than that! Over at Wicked Cool Stuff.com, you can find these candles in tin boxes that bear the graphics of the Sex Pistols and The Ramones. They’re perfect for that intimate romantic encounter with your spiked and pierced sweetie. If you want you can save the Ramones candle to light in mourning the next time one of them kicks the bucket (there are a couple of drummers left, right? ).

Mexican Wrestling Masks
$9.95 for a set of four from Archie McPhee.com

Not quite apparel, but not purely a wrestling item, these cheap Wrestling Masks are just strange enough to land in the General Weirdness category. For ten bucks, you get four masks that are perfect for wearing to church, school or to dinner with the boss. Or you could just put one on and run up El Drunko’s bar tab at The Tank. This is a must-have item if you plan to call out El Santo for a Tijuana Cage match. And these are a great security item. Nobody will mess with you if they think you might slap the “claw of death” or the Scorpion Leg Lock on them. This is the perfect gift for the delusional psychotic on your holiday list.

Braxton County Monster book, prints, T-shirt
A variety of prices from The West Virginia Book Company

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Braxton County Monster. Our own homegrown General Weirdness has inspired books, fine art prints and a cool T-shirt, all of which can be found at the West Virginia Book Company website. Frank Feschino has a whole cottage industry going based on that night in 1952 when the strange visitor from beyond landed in Flatwoods. Of course, we now know that it was merely a time-traveler who had miscalculated. Seems he wanted to go to the FiestaWare Outlet store, stock up, and make a killing on intergalactic eBay in the year 2985. But that’s all water under the bridge. The legend of the Braxton County Monster is West Virginia’s own little Roswell, and you can delight the conspiracy theorist on your list with the book, prints and T-shirt that feature the most famous vacationer to ever take a wrong turn in the Mountain State.

That wraps up the bloated and inspirational PopCult Gift Guide. I hope you got some workable gift ideas, or at least a chuckle. Remember to keep reading PopCult every day, and check back next year for a Gift Guide that will be much, much shorter.

PopCult Gift Guide/ Day Four: Monkeys, Apparel, and Superman

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Day Four of the infamous PopCult Gift Guide finds us staring in the face of three things we can all use more of in our everyday life: Monkeys, Apparel, and Superman.

MONKEYS

King Kong (Collector’s Edition) DVD
$40 or less, where DVDs are sold

With Peter Jackson’s remake hitting the big screen soon, interest in the story of King Kong is at it’s highest since 1976, the last time someone tried to re-do this classic. To commemorate the release of the new Kong, the folks at Turner have put together an amazing package that includes a restored print of the 1933 film, King Kong, along with two documentaries about the film; “lost” sequences; commentary from legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen; a 20-page reproduction of the original souvenir program; postcards depicting scenes from the movie; and a mail-in offer for a movie poster, all housed in a collectible tin. This is a great gift for the movie buff, monkey aficionado, or big hairy guy on your Christmas shopping list.

You may want to consider a different option, though. If you think your giftee cares more about the movie than the packaging and extras, for the same price, you can get a 4-DVD set that has the same discs as this set, but also throws in the sequel, Son Of Kong, and the related film, Mighty Joe Young, in which master animator Willis O’Brien, who brought Kong to life, was joined by a young Ray Harryhausen, who took the craft of effects animation to new heights. All the films have amazing restoration jobs, with the prints looking better than they have since their original theatrical release. The 4-disc set doesn’t have the extra goodies or tin box, but it does have two more movies. Either way, King Kong is a must-have for the simian cinema fan on your list.

Zippy The Chimp Look-a-like
$19.95 plus shipping from The Vermont Country Store

Zippy the chimp was a beloved fixture on The Howdy Doody Show, and for years after that show went off the air, toy versions of Zippy were a popular toy all over the world. My kid sister had one of these, and she was born long after the Doody gang had shuffled off the airwaves. Millions of kid had this faithful companion, with his monkey grin and ever-present banana. To clarify, this is the Zippy the Chimp from the Howdy Doody Show, the one who wears the yellow shirt with red suspenders. There were other, different Zippy The Chimps, including one who painted abstract art, and another who appeared on many TV shows during the 1950s and 1960s, and may have possibly been a Gabor sister. This is not a licensed copy. His shirt doesn’t say “Zippy” on it, but otherwise, it’s a perfect replica of the classic toy. If you know somebody who grew up with one of these toys, this is the perfect gift to take them back to the days when they liked to monkey around.

Smoking Monkey
$5.95 plus shipping, from Archie McPhee

Smoking is a nasty habit–one of my pet peeves, in fact. So what better way to illustrate how horrible smoking is than to have a monkey–an animal known for throwing and flinging all sorts of nasty things around–demonstrate how silly an addiction tobacco is.

Well, not really. Monkeys are just funny. And a monkey wearing a fez is even funnier (a fact of which Archie McPhee is well aware). So when you have a ceramic monkey in a fez with a butt going, well, it’s pretty funny. The tiny monkey cigs are not real demon tobacco, they’re just incense wrapped in paper, so you don’t have to worry about giving cancer for Christmas. This is a cheap little stocking stuffer that’s guaranteed to put a smile on someone’s face. If you know somebody with a really twisted sense of humor, you might want to try the Smoking Baby!

APPAREL

Indiana Jones Hat
$100 plus shipping from Miller Hats 1-800-789-0839

I started wearing hats this year. After seeing myself in the audience on the IWA East Coast DVDs, I came to grips with the fact that I am fairly, well… bald. Now, it’s not pure vanity, or displeasure over my missing hairline that has me wearing hats. You see, having no hair means that I no longer have to worry about HAT HAIR! I’ve always liked hats, but whenever I wore them, once I removed the hat I looked like that mug shot of Nick Nolte. Not anymore! Now I can wear any kind of hat available, and not worry about mussing up that what ain’t there no more. If you have someone on your shopping list who has been liberated from worry about their hair, you might want to consider giving them a hat. You can’t go wrong with a fedora, and the coolest fedora is the one worn by Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Miller Hats is the world’s largest online hatter, and aside from the Indy hat, they carry tons of headgear, from bowlers to gauchoes. This is the perfect gift for hat-wearer on your holiday list.

Kinky Friedman Campaign T Shirts
$20-$25 plus shipping from Kinky Friedman.com

Kinky Friedman has been a comedy country balladeer, a best-selling mystery novelist, and now, he’s campaigning to become the next Governor of Texas. You can support Kinky’s quest by marching over to his website and snapping up one of his 20 or so campaign T-Shirts. They sport some pretty funny logos and slogans–my favorite is “Why The Hell Not?”–and they’re a great way to interfere in the politics of somebody else’s state. Your support may help Kinky ascend to the top spot in Texas government, and then, maybe he can rinse the horrible taste out of the country’s mouth that was left by a certain other Texas governor. Bop around his website and you can get an idea of Kinky’s platform, and take a look at his other fund-raising merchandise, like the talking Kinky Friedman action figure. Do you have people on your list who have become disillusioned and depressed over the state of politics in this country? Well, you can buy all of them Kinky Friedman T-shirts. I think they give bulk discounts.

Wicked Cool Wristbands
$4 to $10 from Wicked Cool Stuff.com

Do you have a cool, yet sweaty person on your shopping list? If so, you should head on over to the Wicked Cool Stuff.com, and snap up some of these nifty wristbands that feature a variety of pop culture images. My favorite, pictured in the middle of the photo at right, is Meatwad, from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. You can also find wristbands featuring The Muppets, Invader Zim, Family Guy, various superheroes, and other pop icons of the modern age. And they’re really absorbent! Who wouldn’t want to wipe their brow with Davey and Goliath? This is a good, cheap stocking stuffer with a coolness factor that can’t be matched by any other perspiration-inhibiting device.

SUPERMAN

Superman 13 Inch Deluxe Collector’s Figure
$89.99 plus shipping from Entertainment Earth

Ninety bucks may seem like a lot to spend on an action figure, but this is one very cool action figure. This 1/6 scale Man Of Steel has many points of articulation, and sports some incredibly-detailed sculpting. Not only do you get the Last Son Of Krypton, but you can also dress him in his Clark Kent outfit, which is included in the package. The cool thing is, once you dress him as Clark Kent, nobody can tell that he’s also a Superman action figure. He looks totally different! Superman comes with two sets of interchangeable hands, the Kent clothes and glasses, a “steel” girder that he can bend, a copy of the Daily Planet, and breakaway chains. There are plenty of Superman fans out there, and if you have one on your holiday shopping list, this is a great toy for them to put on their shelf. Then when no one’s looking, they can hold it and run around the house making “whoosh” sounds.

Smallville DVD sets
$20 to $55 where ever DVDs are sold

A few weeks ago, I sang the praises of the television show Smallville, and one great way to catch up with this terrific retelling of the Superman legend is with the DVD collections. Each DVD boxed set contains an entire season of the show, and you’ll get to watch them with crystal clear DVD quality, instead of the really crappy local broadcast signal that we get. This is the story of a high-school aged Clark Kent, as he learns of his Kryptonian heritage and great powers. Long time fans of Superman will get a kick out of this fresh re-casting of the legend, and they’ll really enjoy the foreshadowing and in-jokes. You can find these sets at a variety of prices. Season Four has just been released, and will cost the most, but many stores are discounting the earlier boxed sets to as low as twenty dollars each. This is perfect for the Superman fan on your shopping list.

All Star Superman #1
$2.99, where ever comic books are sold

The ideal stocking stuffer for the super-hero fan on your holiday list, All Star Superman is what happens when DC Comics decides to clear away all the convoluted continuity and back story from the current comics, and allow the top creative talents in comics to tackle iconic stories featuring that pre-eminent superhero, Superman. Grant Morrison has been one of the top writers in comics for years. He managed to bridge the gap between Vertigo-style modern Goth, and DC’s standard superheroes. After becoming a sought-after commodity in comics, Morrison was hired away by Marvel, and spent a few years taking The X Men to new heights. Now, he has returned to DC, and brought his X Men artist, Frank Quitely, with him. The result is wonderful. This is the most fun Superman story in ages. Lex Luthor is trying to kill Superman. No pretenses, no convolution. Superman is a good guy with a secret identity, who fights to protect the world. The writing is sharp, the artwork is gorgeous. This is what Superman is supposed to be. At three bucks, it’s a great, inexpensive gift.

On Friday, we wrap up the gift guide with PopCult picks for Movies, Art Books, and General Weirdness.

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Day three of the larger-than-life PopCult Gift Guide brings you gift ideas for three things that will enrich your life: Toys, Chocolate, and Comedy

TOYS

G.I. JOE ADVENTURER Limited Edition Reproduction
$43 or $79 from the G.I. Joe Collectors’ Club
(817) 448- 9863

Full disclosure time: I am a member of the G.I. Joe Collectors’ Club, and I write for their website. The reason is that I’m a die-hard, unrepentant G.I. Joe collector. The club produces some of the best reproductions of classic toys in the world. For the past few years, the club has treated us to top-notch reproductions of the Adventure Team G.I. Joes, complete with accurate packaging, and authentic materials. These toys are near-perfect copies of the toys we had (or wanted) from our childhood.

This year, the club has stepped up a notch and has given us the “Adventurer” (commonly known among collectors as the “Black Adventurer”). This African-American figure was produced in small numbers, and is very hard to find in decent condition today. I don’t remember even seeing them in stores when I was a kid. Examples in mint condition, still with their packaging, can run hundreds of dollars, or more. This club edition features a perfect copy of the original figure, complete with the flocked afro, shoulder holster and pistol, and Adventure Team dog tags. The reproduction box also includes copies of all the original paperwork.

As a bonus, you get an enamel pin depicting the Adventure Team’s trademark Yellow ATV. The reason there are two prices listed is because these are produced for club members only. If you aren’t a club member, then you have to join to get this item, and your membership is included in the price. This is a great gift idea, because, not only do you get a really cool gift to wrap and put under the tree, you also get a monthly reminder of how cool G.I. Joe collecting can be, with the club newsletter and Mastercollector Magazine and other benefits. The G.I. Club figures are a rush of nostalgia for the person who had these guys as a kid, and it’s much more affordable to buy this reproduction than it is to lay out the big money that the vintage figures command on eBay.

EVEL KNIEVEL SUPER STUNT SET
$39.99 plus shipping from Back To Basics Toys

Speaking of cool toy reproductions, Back To Basics Toys has an exclusive set featuring a reproduction of the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, one of the best-selling toys of the 1970s. This set includes a figure of Evel, his famous motorcycle, the crank-operated launcher, and an assortment of ramps and obstacles. Plus you get a ring of “fire” and a brick wall, into which you can propel your miniature daredevil. Each set is individually-numbered, and comes with a booklet explaining the history of the toy. Anyone who had this toy as a kid knows how much fun it can be to make the much-injured Evel jump over the furniture, bounce off walls and crash into the grill on the front of the refrigerator. This could be a great bonding gift for a father and son. Maybe you’d better buy two, though. Some dads aren’t going to want to share.

HOT WHEELS CLASSIC TRACK SETS
$6.99 to $24.99 only at K Mart

You know, maybe I should have called this the “cool retro boy’s toys” category. This recommendation for your Holiday shopping list is yet another blast from my past. Mattel has gone back to the halcyon days of the late 1960s and recreated the original Hot Wheels experience. K Mart is the only place you can find these Hot Wheels Classic race track sets, with the original bright orange track. There are a variety of sets available, including the basic set with five feet of track and clamp to hold it onto a table, and the elaborate Mongoose & Snake Drag Race Set (pictured). You can also find the famous loops and ramp stunt sets. Coolest of all, Mattel recreated the original box graphics, with the then-cool mustard yellow motif, and great paintings of the toys in action. Next March, I’m expecting a new nephew to be bounding about, and it’s great to have an excuse to stock up on cool toys for him. Of course, I’ll have to try them all out, first.

CHOCOLATE

48-PIECE G COLLECTION GIFT BOX
$125 plus shipping from Godiva Chocolatier

Well, the toy category was dominated by gifts for the guys, so to make it up to the ladies, here’s some Godiva Chocolate. A huge, expensive box of Chocolate, to be exact. For this very high price you get 48 assorted pieces of fine Godiva Chocolate, the kind for which women are known to kill. There’s a lovely presentation box with a ribbon, so if you want, you can be a total cheapskate and keep refilling it with Brachs Candies that you bought at Fas Chek. Offer it to your guests and they’ll tell you how much they love Godiva Chocolate, and how this is the best they ever had. You can get smaller assortments, but why be cheap when you’re being so extravagant?

MORITZ GERMAN MILK CHOCOLATE ICE CUBES
$12.95 plus shipping from The Vermont Country Store

You know, some people go nuts over the Godiva stuff, but for my money, the best chocolate in the world is good old ICE CUBES. These used to be found almost anywhere candy was sold, but lately you pretty much have to resort to the Internet to track down these tasty little morsels. You can get a bag of 28 of the double-thick Ice Cubes from The Vermont Country Store, which has a lot of other cool antiquated brands of food, candy and cosmetics. They also carry about 400 things made out of maple syrup. It is Vermont, after all. Ice Cubes are a great little chocolate treat, and if frozen and smashed, they make the best chocolate-chip cookies you”ll ever cram sideways into your mouth.

FOX’S U-BET CHOCOLATE SYRUP
Around $2.50 at many area grocers

So you need a stocking-stuffer for a choco-holic, eh? Well, Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup is just what you’re looking for. I first heard of this on a Food Network show about Egg Creams, and when I found it in a local store, I picked it up to see what all the fuss was about. This is, quite simply, the best chocolate syrup you’ll ever taste. It’s perfect for homemade milkshakes, egg creams, hot chocolate, and particularly creative romantic evenings. This stuff is so good that I want a blender now, just so I can make more milkshakes, and I don’t even like milk! It’s just a U-Bet syrup delivery system for me. It’s cheap. It’s chocolate. What more do you need to know?

COMEDY

THE COMPLETE MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS 16-TON MEGASET
Around $150 where DVDs are sold.

If you don’t like Monty Python, then you don’t like comedy. This gigantic 16 DVD set contains all 45 episodes of the original Monty Python television series, plus 1982’s “Live at the Hollywood Bowl,” 1989’s “Parrot Sketch Not Included,” and 1998’s “Live In Aspen.” You also get all the extras from the original 14 DVD Megaset, interviews, behind the scenes features, and the infamous German-language program. I could start reeling off the classic comedy sketches contained in this set, but I’d be here all day. Suffice to say, this set is the perfect gift for the Python freak in your life. In addition to the pure joy of simply owning this set, you also get to stop watching the show on BBC America, with the 8-minute commercial breaks. This set preserves the shows uncut, and uninterrupted. It’s like the Encylopedia Britannica for anglophile comedy geeks.

FULL BOTTOM NOT ANOTHER HALF-ARSED DVD SET
$26.97 from Amazon.com

Unless you’re an anglophile comedy geek, you may have never heard of BOTTOM. Maybe you’ve heard of The Young Ones, the hit Brit comedy that MTV brought over in the mid-1980s. Well, Rik and Vivian from that show were portrayed by two British mainstays of the Alternative comedy scene, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson. BOTTOM was a series that ran from 1991 to 1995, and basically told what happened when Rik and Vivian grew into middle-aged losers and were forced to live together because nobody else could tolerate them. They have different names in this series, but they’re essentially the same characters. Rik Mayall is Richard Rich, the creepy twit, and Ade Edmonson is Eddie Hitler, the dangerous lunatic. This is crude, outrageous fun, and you’re likely to hurt yourself laughing. Don’t expect anything highbrow here. BOTTOM is like a live-action Ren and Stimpy with every cheap laugh possible wrung out of the material. After the series ended in 1995, Mayall and Edmonson continued playing the characters in a series of live tours (preserved on DVD) and a feature film, none of which have been released legally in this country. If enough people can rush right out and buy this set, maybe we’ll finally be treated to the DVDs that tell the rest of the story, farts and all.

LENNY BRUCE: THANK YOU, MASKED MAN
$11.98 plus shipping, from Concord Music Group

Without Lenny Bruce, comedy today would be vastly different. This guy blazed the trail that made Richard Pryor and George Carlin possible. He was rude, profane, controversial, and brilliant. This collection of routines recorded in clubs from 1958 to 1963 captures this tortured comic genius at his peak, with classic riffs on Tarzan, Jazz musicians, Superheroes, and of course, the Lone Ranger. The real treat of this enhanced CD is that, in addition to the audio content, you can slip this sucker into your computer and watch the classic cartoon, “Thank You, Mask Man,” with Bruce doing all the voices. This cartoon played on the midnight movie circuit for years before disappearing from sight in the mid-1980s. It was last seen intact on USA Network’s “Night Flight” in the early days, before they started censoring their programs. The obscure and soon-to-be-ex network, Trio, made a big deal out of showing this cartoon during their “celebration of free speech” festival last year, but they bleeped the more offensive words, which sort of defeated the purpose. On this enhanced CD, you get the full, uncut cartoon. Any fan of edgy comedy will love this CD.

Tomorrow, Day Four of our epic journey through your wallets continues, with gifts ideas centered on Monkeys, Apparel, and Superman!