PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Local TV News Update

WHCP, the plucky little TV station that bravely carries on, despite not having any technical proficiency, has signed on with the new network, The CW. This development thus ensures that area viewers will still get to see their favorite surviving UPN and WB programs — albeit not with a decent broadcast signal.

Despite having plenty of advanced notice, WHCP did not change their schedule to move last Saturday’s airing of “Friday Night Smackdown!” to another time. So, local viewers had to choose whether to watch “Smackdown!” or “Saturday Night Main Event”, a heavily-promoted WWE special that aired locally on WSAZ.

In related news, there are reports that Mark Hunt and the other investors in the failed WHCP newscast are going to try again in establishing a new, Charleston-based newscast, this time with a real TV station. If they can get this project off the ground, it’ll be interesting to see how good a newscast they can put on the air without the technical albatross that was the WHCP Portsmouth crew around their neck.

An Evening of Art and Theater

Last Thursday night, I had the joy of experiencing two fun cultural events in one evening. Melanie appeared in Kanawha Players’ March Briefs and Shorts presentation, “Scenes From An Irish Pub, Part Two” at Capitol Roasters. And before that I briefly popped in to see the “30 Artists Think Yellow” exhibit at the Taylor Books Annex Gallery.

The “30 Artists Think Yellow” exhibit is a great idea. I like thematic art shows that bring a variety of different artists together, but sometimes the themes can be a little contrived. In this case, the simple use of the color yellow, which is perfect for a springtime show, works perfectly to unify the disparate works, rather than act as a straight jacket to force the artists to conform. I hope my fellow Gazz blogger Amy Williams will be able to reinstall her yellow clothesline outside Taylor Books before the exhibit is over. (It’s back up! Ed. note) If you get a chance, you should pop into the Taylor Books Annex Gallery and check out this great cross-section of local artists.

“Scenes From An Irish Pub, Part Two” was another fun entry in Kanawha Player’s “Briefs and Shorts” program. We were treated to three short plays with an Irish theme, in observance of St. Patrick’s Day, with some extra musical performances and lots of audience participation. Since I’m not a coffee drinker, this was my first time in Capitol Roasters on the corner of Quarrier and Summers street. It’s a great little space, and I’m hoping that I get the chance to see more events there. The place was packed, and a grand time was had by all.

Cool Toy Of The Week: Squishy Little Bat Pal

I’m a huge fan of The Aquabats. Everybody ought to be. They have a sound that is pure Rock N Roll fun–part DEVO, part Ska, part Cartoon Network–you get the idea.

Rather than just offer their fans the typical rock band crappy merchandise, the Aquabats have come up with some really cool items that are clever, imaginative, and not too expensive. One of these items is the SQUISHY LITTLE BAT PAL, a stress ball made in the shape of the Aquabats logo mascot.

This cool little guy stands about three and a half inches tall and will protect its owner from any and all forces of evil that can be defeated by a tiny hunk of squishy rubber. The package is as cool as the Bat Pal. It’s covered with hysterical slogans and testimonials. Best of all, this little guy is on sale now for just $4.50, plus postage. While you’re ordering the Bat Pal, you might as well pick up the Aquabats coloring books, too. You can poke around their site to see what else they have to offer here.

South Park vs. Scientology

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

It was the clash that was destined to happen. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the iconoclasts who create Comedy Central’s South Park, finally turned their sights towards Scientology, the controversial and vengeful religion invented by hack sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard. The only surprise was that it took them so long. And that wasn’t really a surprise, since Isaac Hayes, the legendary soul musician who voiced the character “Chef” on the show, is a devout and vocal Scientologist. For the previous eight seasons, Parker and Stone skewered just about every religion on the planet–Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Bush Supporters–they all felt the stinging satirical bite of the South Park crew. Scientology was spared….until last November.

With the episode “Trapped In The Closet,” South Park unleashed eight years of pent up Scientology jokes. From jabs at the “top secret” goofball mythology behind their beliefs, to the Church’s obsession with recruiting celebrities, to the rumors about how they allow those celebrities to cover up certain unpopular orientations, this episode of South Park tore into Scientology with ham-handed fists a blazin’. The next day, newsgroups and message boards were filled with speculation about the reaction from the Church. Would Isaac Hayes quit the show in protest? Would Church of Scientology hit squads take out Parker and Stone? Would lawsuits be filed?

Nothing happened.

At least not until last week. Four months after the episode aired, details started to trickle out. A Rolling Stone article on Scientology said that Comedy Central had agreed not to air the episode at all in the UK, and would not repeat it in America. Then Isaac Hayes announced that he wanted out of his contract to provide the voice of Chef. The timing was a little too perfect. Contrary to what Rolling Stone had reported, the “Trapped In The Closet” episode was scheduled to run again on March 15. And the new season of South Park is scheduled to begin one week later.

Why did Isaac Hayes wait four months after the offending show aired, until right before the start of the new season, to announce that he was quitting? Wouldn’t that just call more attention to the show? And why, after scheduling “Trapped In The Closet” and promoting that it would be aired again, contrary to the Rolling Stone article, did Comedy Central pull it at the last minute and replace it with another episode?

The Isaac Hayes situation is rumored to be a case where he didn’t really want to quit the lucrative show, but was pressured to by officials at the Church of Scientology. It evidently took a few months for them to convince him that it was in his best interests to leave South Park. The fact that the news broke just in time to raise South Park’s profile just in time for their new season appears to be a coincidence.

But the reason that Comedy Central pulled the repeat of “Trapped In The Closet” is more a case of corporate synergy gone horribly wrong. According to the Hollywood Interrupted Blog, Tom Cruise (shown right, as drawn by John K), the world’s most famous Scientologist, and the butt of most of the jokes in the South Park episode, threatened to cancel all his publicity appearances for the upcoming Paramount film Mission Impossible 3 if Comedy Central aired “Trapped In The Closet” again. Comedy Central and Paramount are both subsidiaries of Viacom.

So what does this mean for fans of South Park? The show has several options for dealing with the exit of Isaac Hayes. They could simply not write the character, Chef, into any more episodes. He’s only been in a few shows for the past several seasons. They could also kill the character off, or recast his voice. They even have the option of re-using the voice tracks from previous shows for short appearances.

Is this a one-time occurrence of censorship, or has the show hit a point, in it’s tenth year, that Comedy Central feels they can finally tighten the reigns and make the show conform to their standards and practices? The new season will tell the story. We’re guessing that at least one episode in the batch that starts next week will make light of this situation. However, it’s the next season that begins in August, after the Mission Impossible movie has come and gone in theaters, where we’ll really get to see how Parker and Stone will react to this whole mess.

We can’t wait.

Update: Parker and Stone have refused to comment on Comedy Central pulling the “Trapped In A Closet” Episode last Wednesday, but they did release the following statement to Daily Variety:

“So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!”

The Statement was signed, “Trey Parker and Matt Stone, servants of the dark lord Xenu.”

Monday Morning Notes: Leprechauns, Marxists, Bettie Page

We kick off this week’s Monday Morning Notes with a digitally assaulted photograph called “Shadowplay.” Shot in wild, wonderful Dunbar. (Click the picture to enlarge. ) Now, on to the notes:

Briefs and Shorts-the Leprechaun edition: Thursday night, Kanawha Players presents the latest installment in their “Briefs And Shorts” series at Capitol Roasters, at the corner of Quarrier and Summers Streets in downtown Charleston. This edition of KP’s series of short plays is entitled “Scenes From An Irish Pub Part Two.” The ten-minute plays are “Cinder Reilly,” “Green,” and “Mrs. Harrigan’s Big Mistake.” In addition, there will be fiddle music, dancing, and stereotypical Irish behavior. Admission is only five bucks, and the show starts at 8 PM.

Calling Earl: Big news for fans of NBC’s My Name Is Earl–a DVD collection of the first season will be in stores late this summer, before the start of season two. Aside from all the first-season shows, the set will include commentary, deleted scenes, highlights from the show’s gag reel, and a 15 minute mini-episode that shows what would have happened if, instead of obtaining his life-changing epiphany from Carson Daly, Earl had continued to flip channels while in the hospital, and had obtained his new outlook on life from Stewie Griffin, the murderous evil genius baby from The Family Guy. “Must See TV” indeed!

Postal Irony: Have you ever had a piece of mail that was so badly mangled in transit that it arrived in your mailbox enclosed inside another envelope that bore the following apology?

I got one of these the other day. The funny thing is, the piece of mail that was nearly destroyed by the mail-sorting machines was none other than junk mail. But it wasn’t just any old junk mail. The piece of junk mail mangled by the Post Office was an advertisement for…….the Post Office!

I guess that the mail sorting machines were so offended by the badly drawn “Cathy” comic strip, that they saw fit to rip it to shreds. Who knew postal equipment had taste? And what does it say about the Postal Service when they have to resort to paying to license a comic strip character to promote a service on which they hold a monopoly, and then they can’t even deliver that piece of mail intact?

Song of the week: The Marxist Brothers, by Punk veterans NOFX. In stores tomorrow, this cut from NOFX’s “Never Trust A Hippy” EP, is a clever comment on those folks who go through a Marxist phase, but never really understand what it means.

Paging Bettie: Bettie Page was the glamour queen of the 1940s and 1950s. Then she suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Her absence enhanced her mystique, and she became a pop culture icon, with tributes appearing in comic books, movies, rock songs, and even fine art. After searching for the missing pin-up queen for years, she was finally discovered a few years ago, with a remarkable tale of how she went from being the nation’s top model to working as a missionary for Billy Graham, and hitting rock bottom before finding out that, over the last couple of decades, she had become more famous than ever. Her story is coming to the big screen in April as The Notorious Bettie Page hits theaters, with Gretchen Mol in the title role. You can read more about Ms. Page’s incredible life at her website, here.

Cool Toy Of The Week: Cool Toys On TV

In a departure this week, instead of bringing you a cool toy, we’re going to point you to a TV show about all kinds of cool toys. Cable channel VH1 presents I Love Toys a countdown of the top 100 toys as voted on by the sort of people who go to the VH1 website.

It’s not a bad list. There are a few glaring omissions, and a few questionable picks. The number one toy is remarkably lame, but most of the rest are decent picks. I Love Toys is a fun rundown of cool toys, with just the right mix of nostalgia and hipster cynicism. The commentary ranges from strange to funny, which is perfectly appropriate for this topic.

VH1 has been running this five-episode series in a strange manner all week. On Monday, they showed the first episode, which presented the toys numbered 100 to 81. Tuesday, they re-ran that show, followed by the second episode. Wednesday, the pattern continued as they re-ran both previous episodes before they premiered episode three. So Friday, starting at 5:30 PM, you could watch the entire series, leading up to the premiere of the final show in the series, which told us the top 20 toys.

Of course, with this being VH1, you can be sure that they’ll only show this series five or six hundred more times in the coming months. The entire series will be shown again on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon, this weekend.

Online, you can check out the entire list of 100 toys, and if you have fully functional broadband, you can watch video clips of the toys that didn’t make the list, as well as out-takes and additional smarmy comments. I Love Toys is a fun diversion, and might bring back a lot of memories.

Fun with Video

Now that the Gazz Blogs are adding new video features, I thought I’d share some video of something my brother worked on……

Visit Frank’s site and tell him how much you enjoyed his delightful little children’s cartoon!

Lots of stuff to note this week, but first, have some art:

“The Rails West, Out Of Dunbar”
Digitally Assaulted Photograph

February 2006

Click the picture to enlarge to full size.

A Night At The Vagina: Last night, The Samaritan Players, in conjunction with Kanawha Players, presented a performance of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” with all proceeds going to the Worldwide V-Day Fund to stop violence against women. Competition was fierce, with “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at the Clay Center, and The Third House at the Cultural Center.

I always thought it would be cool to attend a performance of the Vagina Monologues dressed in full Confederate Colonel gear. Then, halfway through the show, I’d stand up, loudly proclaim, “I have been sitting here for this entire show, and I have yet to hear ONE WORD about the great state of Virginia!” And then I’d storm out. I also think it’d be funny to ride a horse into a Bridal shop.

Grace Under Investigation: Nancy Grace, the host of three hours of cable TV each day on Court TV and CNN Headline News , tells a remarkable story about how, after the murder of her fiancee, she became a prosecutor, and eventually a crusading television reporter on the legal beat. According to a report at the New York Observer, the most remarkable thing about her story is that it’s not entirely true.

Background Tune of the week: “The Tide Is Turning” by Roger Waters, from his 1987 album, Radio KAOS. This song, inspired by Live Aid, could be a nice theme song for what seems to be the reawakening of common sense in America.

Just wondering: After the end of King Kong, how long did the street outside the Empire State Building smell like dead monkey?

Bonus cool toy: I’ve mentioned the Official G.I. Joe Collector’s Club before, but something new has been added. If you join up, and are a member of the club in good standing by March 15, you will get a cool one-of-a-kind action figure, the “Foreign Adventurer”(seen at right) .This 12” tall figure is comprised of a reproduction of the Vintage GI Joe body, with the rare “Foreign” head that was only used on a few figures in 1966. For the first time ever, this head will have flocked, “fuzzy,” hair and beard, like the Adventure Team GI Joes of the 1970s had. You can read more about the Foreign Adventurer, and some nifty extras you can order to go along with him here, and you can join the Official G.I. Joe Collector’s Club for the annual fee of $36 by calling 817-448-9863. You have to join up by the 15th in order to get this cool figure.

WWE Programming Conflict: WWE returns to NBC in a big way on March 12, with a prime-time edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event. The problem for local viewers is that WHCP shows the WWE’s Friday Night Smackdown! on Saturday Nights at 8 p.m. That’s the same time that NBC is showing their WWE special. On top of that, events will happen on that week’s episode of Smackdown! that will set up matches on Saturday Night’s Main Event. Maybe, even if it’s just for one week, WHCP could move Smackdown! to a 10 p.m. Friday night timeslot, to avoid putting the shows on opposite each other. It’s not like they have a newscast to worry about anymore.

Speaking of WHCP: The latest rumor, innuendo, and scuttlebutt in the Charleston broadcasting community is that WHCP‘s owner, Charles Harker, played the group of Charleston-based investors in the WB30 Newscast like a cheap violin. He needed their investment to upgrade his transmitter, so this story goes. WHCP’s broadcast signal was so poor that they couldn’t meet the minimum standards to be picked up as a local channel by Direct TV. According to the new local legend, part of the deal that brought the newscast to the airwaves also involved upgrading the WHCP transmitter on the news division’s dime. The old transmitter was apparently powered by rubber bands and old Erector Set motors. Once the new transmitter was installed and the signal was strong enough to be picked up by Direct TV, the news division was essentially kicked to the curb. Promises were broken and everything possible was done to encourage the dissolution of the partnership. This is the story going around the other TV stations in town, but nobody directly involved will comment on it. At least not to me. For some reason they don’t seem to like me much. What’s odd is the way the Portsmouth crowd has taken to using Reader’s Voice, Vent Lines, and goofy names in the comments of this blog to spin their side of the story. A word of advice guys: Mocking people for expecting the health insurance that they were promised in their contracts is not going to be a winning issue.

A Blog for You: Bubblegum Fink is THE blog for people obsessed with both Bubblegum music of the ’60s and ’70s, and Hot Rod icons like Rat Fink and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. If you know who Ron Dante is, then this is the site for you! This frequently-updated page brings forth lots of blasts from the past of the late-period baby boomers and fans of slick pop music and gnarly Car-toons. You’ll find old album covers by The Catanooga Cats and The Partridge Family, vintage artwork from the hot rod/surf rod/Juxtapoz crowd and links to places where you can find CD re-releases of the classic bubblegum music masterpieces. Poke through the archives for more 70’s era coolness like covers of Dynamite Magazine, and Gold Key Star Trek comic books, and strange appearances by the likes of Frankenberry. It’s a little taste of heaven for children of the 70s.

Shameless self-promotion: As I have mentioned in the past, aside from my duties here at PopCult, I also write articles that appear in Non Sport Update, a magazine devoted to non-sport trading cards. In the most recent issue, I wrote a piece on trading cards based on the TV show Veronica Mars. You can read it online, for the next week or so, here.

A Personal Note: Just in case this blog doesn’t get updated as much as usual this week, it’s because I’m helping out with my new nephew. William Franklin Margolis arrived March 4, 2006 at 5:30 a.m.. Baby, Mother, and Father, are all doing fine. Uncle is pretty happy, too.

Cool Toy Of The Week: Darkness Falls On Sevinpold

If you enjoy board games with elements of fantasy and sword and sorcery, but you don’t want to invest half your life into learning the rules and playing them, then Darkness Falls On Sevinpold is the game for you.

This is a great board game that up to six people can play. It depicts a classic battle between good and evil, and a quest to reunite a scepter with the Castle Of The Living Throne. Set in the mystical land of Sevinpold, gameplayers explore 32 castles looking for treasures to help them complete their quest. The good guys are The Valiant. One player in each game represents The Darkness (not to be confused with the band, The Darkness), and commands up to 10 evil game pieces. The Good guys each control one Valiant piece, but they work as a team, so that if six people are playing, it’s possible for five to win. This sort of team play is unique in the board game world.

You get all the trappings of a Dungeons and Dragons-like game, but you can play Darkness Falls On Sevinpold in 30 minutes. It’s got enough variables to make repeated play fun, but you don’t have to hold marathon gaming sessions in order to enjoy it. Plus, it’s great for kids, who can grasp the rules fairly quickly. The Sevinpold website has a short tutorial on the rules that you can watch to get an idea of how the game plays.

You can order Darkness Falls On Sevinpold directly from their website, but it can also be found at Amazon.com and other online board game retailers. It’ll set you back $30 plus shipping, but it could be a great addition to a family game night, and it might keep junior away from the X-Box.

Talking Down (There)

Monday night, for the fourth year in a row, Charleston will be treated to a benefit performance of Eve Ensler’s play, “The Vagina Monologues” at the West Virginia State University Capitol Center Theater. It’s part of the V-Day Worldwide Campaign, which will receive the proceeds from the performance. This performance is sponsored by the Samaritan Players, in conjunction with Kanawha Players.

V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of Playwright/Founder Eve Ensler’s award-winning play. In 2005, more than 2500 V-Day events took place in the U.S. and around the world. To date, V-Day has raised over $30 million and educated millions about the issue of violence against women and the efforts to end it; crafted international educational, media and PSA campaigns; reopened shelters; funded safe houses in Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq and over 5000 community-based anti-violence programs. The ‘V’ in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina. You can read more about it here.

Local performers featured in this year’s production include Aila Accad, Bethany Cline, Penny Fioravante, Debbie Haught, Janet Johnson, Shannon Kessler, Ariana Kincaid, Olubunmi Kusimo, Katie Pleska, Amy Prunest, Kate Rainey, Julie Wirts, Monica Young and others. My Animated Discussions partner, Melanie Larch, will also be performing. It’s her fourth year in the show. In fact, the reason there is no Animated Discussions column today is because she’s been tied up all week with Vagina practice. AD will be back next week.

If you go: The performance starts at 7:30 p.m., March 6 at the West Virginia State University Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summers Street. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students).