Hello and Happy Sunday from the blisteringly hot August weeks of Maryland.
Apologies for not gracing your inbox last week. My intent was to write and produce an issue during my downtime yesterday while my Super Art Fight cohorts and I played our first real show in 517 days, DC’s legendary anime convention, Otakon.
Unfortunately for me, a poorly wired wi-fi setup in our hotel (what a first world problem) meant I could not produce an issue for y’all, nor that I could knock off my other plan for my COVID-dodging downtime between shows, watching James Gunn’s latest, The Suicide Squad. No spoilers for that one in my inbox please, I still intend to watch it this weekend.
That said, as much as I could complain about being unable to use the internets while I was away, it was a truly great weekend. If you’ve never undertaken any creative pursuit — first, why the heck not?, but second — you know that being unable to do so leaves you wanting out of life. Suffice to say, I’ve spent the last year plus with a very very tough itch to scratch, and I’m pleased that we were able to scratch it in front of capacity crowds in the safest manner possible. I felt truly honored to do so, just as I feel honored to have you let me drop a line into your inbox.
And with that in mind, I should probably stop rambling. Unless you like these little updates. Let me know your thoughts.
Now, onto the things…
A common thread among many on this newsletter is not just my love of the writing of the sports and pop culture site The Ringer, but also an adoration for their seemingly random selection of themed weeks.
This week brought about the celebration of a key element of my childhood, the first “cable network for kids”, Nickelodeon.
While they’re still doing their thing, as can be attested any time I see my niece, they were in the prime of their power thirty years ago this week, as in August 1991, their first original cartoons — dubbed Nicktoons — hit the airwaves, with the trio of toons, Doug, Rugrats, and Ren and Stimpy.
Suffice to say, I was there every Sunday during these formative years, and honestly most other days.
There’s a load of great articles to dig into, from their Best Nickelodeon Character bracket to a discussion with Pete and his brother Pete, and even a look at the visual language of the network, but my personal favorite is the oral history of Guts, the finest bungie-based competition show ever aired.
Hecht: I had just come back from Australia and saw crazy people bungeeing.
Greiff: It was probably popular before that, but it seemed like there were more people that were bungeeing off bridges.
Hecht: We could use bungees to dunk, right?
Taylor: We knew it worked for American Gladiators, but could kids do it? And of course they could. It became a huge part of it. We must have had at least a dozen different games over the years of GUTS that involved the bungee, whether it’s the basketball thing or one where they shot Nerf arrows at a Velcro target.
Greiff: We often said, “This is kind of American Gladiators for kids.” But American Gladiators certainly had that big, ominous superathlete feel to it. We wanted kid athletes, but we wanted accessibility as well. Many of the people who watched this show as kids were like, “Give me a chance. You give me a bungee cord, I can do that.”
If you’re a movie buff, chances are, because of the way outlets write about movies, you’re used to the chain of events for all major movies. A deal is announced. Then casting. Then teaser photos on social media. Then a teaser trailer. Then a proper trailer which shows a little too much. Then clips and stills and interviews. Then a final trailer which gives away the entire movie. Then press screenings occur, and the press gets to weigh-in in two ways…
It’s that first step which is always the strangest, a bit of navel gazing where otherwise quality writers are forced to deliver breathless snackable soundbites and start The Discourse™ over the quality of a movie which 99% of humanity hasn’t even had the chance to see yet.
It’s tiresome, frankly, and I say this as a very big fan of the movies!
But for some, it’s an opportunity to turn the marketing process on its head.
That’s where Ben Mekler comes in. And Tim Grierson decided to profile him — and his hilarious work — for the finally revived MEL Magazine.
For movie fans who can’t wait to read early reactions to the latest Marvel blockbuster, Twitter has become convenient one-stop shopping to see what critics think. When a film’s review embargo breaks, the social media platform is flooded with bite-sized reviews from critics, junket journalists and entertainment reporters all weighing in. And alongside them, there’s usually one from Ben Mekler. He is not a critic or a journalist. He hasn’t even seen the movie. That does not stop him from tweeting about it, like in the case of Ant-Man and the Wasp…
“#AntManAndTheWasp has everything Marvel fans are hoping for. Amazing tech, hilarious quips, Ant-Man enters the Quantum Realm and eats Bucky’s ass, and some twists and turns that’ll leave those left heartbroken by the events of INFINITY WAR with something to look forward to”
On its face, Mekler’s tweet seems patently absurd. There’s no way that happens in a big studio tentpole meant to make hundreds of millions of dollars. And yet, a lot of people always assume what he’s writing is true. In fact, when websites — whether major publications or fan sites — compile a list of tweet reactions to films, it’s shocking how often Mekler’s will appear alongside reputable reviewers’. Even more shocking, if you’re not looking that closely, the tone and style of his tweets are often indistinguishable from those of actual critics.
Over the years, you’d think sites would eventually wise up to Mekler’s prank. But they never do: In fact, he’s put together a Twitter moment, called “Film Journalism is Alive,” that documents all the times respected news sources have included his ridiculous tweets in their coverage, including The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and People. And it’s still happening: Journalists have been duped by his “takes” on recent fan-boy entertainment like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the Mortal Kombat reboot. His tweets are funny twice over: First, because of the initial tweet and, then later, because of the fact that he keeps fooling people into thinking they’re real.
For many, the whole COVID vaccine process is an absolute stunner of humanity at its finest. When the chips were down and times were tough, we worked hard and moved quickly to take out a common enemy.
However, one damn part of it didn’t get quite as finessed. And Amanda Mull at The Atlantic wanted to know why. The answer…probably won’t surprise you.
When I got my first shot, in late February, I sat in the mandatory waiting area, holding my new card in one hand and my wallet in the other, trying to understand why the two objects weren’t compatible. I contemplated where I should put this brand-new golden ticket, ultimately sliding the thin piece of too-large card stock into an envelope I found in my tote. I’m going to either lose this or destroy it, I thought to myself.
Indeed, I lost it—at least for a little while. Despite dutifully sliding the card into its new protective pocket after lunch with my friend, I eventually found myself tearing my apartment apart searching for it, for exactly the reasons I had feared: It was the wrong size for the one place where most people keep all their important everyday documents, and of too nebulous a purpose to sit safely in a drawer with my birth certificate and passport. Could it unlock some sort of privileges at the airport? Were restaurants going to check it? Did I need to take it to medical appointments? My card had gotten shuffled into a sandwich baggie filled with extra masks, not to be rediscovered for six weeks.
With all due respect to our country’s overworked and undersupported public-health apparatus: This is dumb. The card is dumb, and it’s difficult to imagine a series of intentional decisions that could have reasonably led to it as the consensus best pick. Its strangeness had been a bit less important in the past seven months, when evidence of immunity was rarely necessary to do things within America. Now, as Delta-variant cases surge and more municipalities and private businesses begin to require proof of vaccination to patronize places such as restaurants and gyms, the rubber has met the road on this flimsy de facto verification apparatus. It’s not the highest-stakes question of this stage of the pandemic, but it’s one that’s become quite common: How did we end up with these cards?
Hopefully I got something for everyone in there. Love to hear your thoughts on any of them. In the meantime, I’m going to be struggling to fit my vaccine card in a stupid plastic holder.
Take care of yourselves, and your friends. We’re all we’ve got, after all.
See you next week.