Tagged: Popeye

Ed Catto: Is It Geek Culture’s Business?

Sometimes Geek Culture – and comics – serve up social commentaries for the world at large. One end of the spectrum is firmly occupied by O’Neil & Adams’ groundbreaking Green Lantern/Green Arrow series from the 70s. The other end of the spectrum has so many more examples: Eightball, Doonesbury, Love and Rockets, etc. Each employ varying degrees of heavy-handedness.

The past week there were two examples that offered insights and lessons…and the sad part is if you’re not careful you might miss both.

The first was the Guy Ritchie’s recent cinematic King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. This film earned the dubious honor of being the summer’s first big flop. And yet it doesn’t seem like summer’s even started yet.

And, of course, this raises the stakes for Warner’s next big movie, Wonder Woman. “That one better be a hit,” thinks every Warner executive.

I’m a sucker for Arthurian legends. I think it all started for me with that World’s Finest issue where Batman and Superman have an adventure in Camelot. That story offered up the notion, which made total sense to a super-hero obsessed kid like me, that the Knights of the Round Table were essentially a superhero club.

You’re probably slowly nodding your head in mock agreement and thinking: “Riiiight. Sure they were.” Your lack of agreement is appropriate. But hey, I was just a kid and it was the sixties.

But that comic, along with some of dad’s bedtime stories, spurred me onto a life-long interest in Arthurian legends. So it was inevitable that I’d see this movie (with my dad, no less). And I was very open to whatever interpretation the director Guy Ritchie was developing.

During the closing credits, I came to the conclusion that this was a tale all about “bro culture.” You may have been reading this in business magazines, or even in the New York Times a few weeks ago in the article entitled “Jerks and the Start-Ups they Ruin.” The idea is that many up-and-coming entrepreneurial tech companies are run by boorish jerks. I know a few. They eschew the traditions of business and are guided/encouraged/self-vindicated by their own rule-breaking success. They epitomize everything bad from the stereotypical college frat-house.

In that NY Times article, Dan Lyons explained it this way:

What is bro culture? Basically, a world that favors young men at the expense of everyone else. A “bro co.” has a “bro” C.E.O., or C.E.-Bro, usually a young man who has little work experience but is good-looking, cocky and slightly amoral — a hustler. Instead of being forced by investors to surround himself with seasoned executives, he is left to make decisions on his own.

Bro CEOs also possess a sense of destiny and an underlying notion of getting the good things they deserve. And that all fits well with this version King Arthur saga. Hollywood’s most recent King Arthur wasn’t altruistic or a romantic. He was a thug who hustled his whole life and saw Camelot as one more clubhouse where he could hang his “Boys Only” sign.

Are we, as a society, getting tired of bro culture? You may have seen the glee with which the media slammed UBER, perhaps the poster child of BRO Culture, for their miscalculations of millions and a payback promise to drivers.

I like to think that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’s poor performance portends the nation’s growing fatigue with and impatience for bro culture startups. But I also worry we all have a ways to go.

And I have another example. I’m also really enjoying The Art and Inventions of Max Fleischer by Ray Pointer. This book is published by McFarland & Company. You may see their booth every year at San Diego Comic-Con, although I admit I borrowed this copy from the library.

It’s the story of the guy who competed with Walt Disney. Everyone knows Disney today, but few folks know the name Max Fleischer, Oh, they may remember some of his cartoons. Names like Betty Boop, Ko-Ko the Clown, Gulliver and Popeye aren’t really on the bleeding edge of coolness today.

Reading Fleischer’s story made me remember a particular time in my career. It was during the first dot.com bubble. We were a start-up and we were getting ready for the upcoming video streaming revolution. We were all millionaires for about twenty minutes. At that time, the majority of American households still used dial-up modems, so we were a little ahead of the curve. When a guy named Reed and his start-up, called Netflix, burst on the scene, we all laughed at his naive business model. We were so wrong. Such hubris is painful to recall today.

And that kind of happened with Max Fleischer as he dismissed Walt Disney and struggled to keep up with the rapid changes in technology and pop culture. To be fair I think he was much smarter and more creative than we were. It’s hard to really understand that in business, things can change swiftly. And that a pecking order, with winners and losers, can be inverted quickly and often is.

You know, if I was the guy planning the syllabus for an MBA program, I’d definitely slip some Geek Culture books and movies, like these two, into the mix. That’ll learn ‘em!

Martha Thomases: Comic Without Book

Robin WilliamsLast year, I noticed an ad for Apple. I mean, you can’t not notice them, since they air every few minutes. This one was special, though, quoting someone quoting Walt Whitman. I wondered if it was made by the same agency that made the Patti Smith Levi’s commercial. And I wondered why the unseen narrator sounded so familiar.

It was Robin Williams, from The Dead Poets Society.

As I’m sure you know, Robin Williams died Monday. God, I’m going to miss him

Now is the time when I would like to tell you what good friends we were, but that would be a lie. Instead, I have only loved him since the first times I saw him do his stand-up on television shows. I was lucky enough to see him perform, twice.

The first time, back when John and I were publishing Comedy Magazine (and why isn’t there a Wikipedia page, damn it!), was at a benefit for the First Amendment Improv Group. Our pal, Jane Brucker, was the emcee for the show and she had to vamp for 45 minutes because Williams’ plane was late. By the time he arrived, the audience was exhausted, but he put on a full and energetic show. To this day, I don’t know how I had the strength to get home, because I laughed so much my muscles were sore.

The second time was at a fund-raiser for Michael Dukakis. This was in the days before everybody put everything up on YouTube. It was before YouTube. Which is just as well because no politician could get elected after being endorsed by someone whose act was so filthy.

Williams was a brilliant stand-up, and a manic improviser. You can see a bunch of his genius here, but it’s not the same. He was so immediate, so of-the-moment, that seeing old material doesn’t capture the wallop of seeing it as it happened. It would be like watching old episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. One can admire the craft and the wit, but it’s so much less funny when it isn’t happening now.

Robin Williams was, for a time, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) things in comedy. It is to his everlasting credit that he used his celebrity to draw attention to and raise money for Comic Relief <http://comicrelief.org>, which helped the sick, the homeless, and others in need.

His acting work was less well-respected. Many critics didn’t like what they perceived to be a sentimental streak in some of his performances, especially in films like Patch Adams or Hook. I understand what they say, but disagree in some cases. Hook never fails to make me cry like a baby, although as much for Maggie Smith as for Williams.

My favorites of his movies have comics’ connections. I adored Robert Altman’s Popeye, based on everyone’s favorite spinach-eating sailor with a script by Jules Feiffer. Everyone in the cast chews up the scenery with glee, and there is a sweetness with the movie that one does not often associate with Altman.

I equally love Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King. Gilliam, aside from being an integral part of Monty Python, worked with Harvey Kurtzman on Help magazine <http://www.helpmag.com> Williams plays a man driven mad by the murder of his wife, describing himself as “The janitor of god.” Yes, his performance is sentimental. I don’t care.

His television show from last season, The Crazy Ones, wasn’t picked up. He has three movies scheduled to be released in the next year, including a new Night at the Museum.

Sweetness and sentiment are part of the human experience, just like anger and hate. We deny them at our peril. Robin Williams combined them in his work in a way that was cathartic and hilarious.

I only wish it had worked for him.

Editor’s note: Yesterday, Robin Williams’ widow revealed her husband was diagnosed as in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. He was not suffering from substance abuse issues, but he long had been trying to cope with the disease of depression,