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The total-control regime in Washington DC, and its egomaniacal central figure, are existentially frightening in their threat to every aspect of the American Republic and its people (and, by extension, all the peoples of the globe).
I’ve been thinking of how to portray this character in the context of the great villains of fiction and lore.
I’ve compared certain past politicians to everyone from Lord Farquahr in the original Shrek to a one-shot Get Smart! villain, Simon the Likeable.
This past summer, I began to call the then GOP presidential nominee “He Who Cannot Be Named” (from Harry Potter). But that became cumbersome.
So I went in search of the perfect pre-existing fictionalization for this man-child, a figure with an insatiable lust for attention and a craving to cause suffering just to maniacally laugh at his victims.
A villain this insanely sure of his own omnipotence would never show panic, so that leaves out the Master from Doctor Who.
The pantheon of Disney villains (even if you only count the studio’s “core universe” of animated features and shorts) is vast. But even these characters usually have a relatable core motivation for their various crimes (greed, power, vanity, revenge, even fashion). They largely don’t encompass the pure “evil just for the sake of ego” that I’m talking about here.
With one recent exception.
It’s a character described in a fan-written “wiki” as: “Insane, twisted, crass, mischievous, deceptive, manipulative, sly, vague, witty, lively, whimsical, hammy, confident, spiteful, temperamental, choleric, evil, chaotic, greedy, sadomasochistic.”
The character’s “likes,” as described on the same web page, include: “Chaos, the suffering of others, destroying things, partying, manipulation.”
I’m talking about Bill Cipher.
He’s the main antagonist on Gravity Falls, a Disney Channel cartoon show that ended last February, after airing 41 half-hours over three and a half years (the last two as a one-hour finale).
The show’s set in Central Oregon, in one of those fictional towns where assorted weird things show up every day. In various episodes, the show’s brother-and-sister heroes encounter such anomalies as gnomes, unicorns, ghosts, zombies, dinosaurs, a crashed UFO, and video-game characters come to life.
And, like several other sagas of its type (Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Lost, et al.), there’s a “meta-mystery” on Gravity Falls.
It involves Bill, who’s initially introduced as a “dream demon” from another dimension. He sees all, knows all, and can invade people’s minds, especially as they sleep.
Bill can take any visual form, but his default appearance is as a triangle with a single eye near its center. But even though he resembles the “eye in the pyramid” on the $1 bill, Bill’s motive is not material wealth.
Rather, he wants to “cross over” from the “nightmare realm” and become a physical presence in our world—not to merely rule it but to destroy it, just for kicks.
Bill Cipher’s depicted as both a homicidal maniac and as a brilliant schemer; a good of chaos and and a master manipulator.
In the series’ climactic story arc, Bill successfully cons two characters and obtains the materials to make a “dimensional rift” between his world and ours. He summons a hooligan gang of monsters to ransack the town, turn people into statues, and otherwise spread “weirdness” (pure destructive chaos).
From there, he aims to expand the “weirdness” across the Earth: “Anything will be possible! I’ll remake a fun world, a better world! A party that never ends with a host that never dies. No more restrictions, no more laws!” As he says this, the screen shows images of a giant-sized Bill in a potential future, etching a “smiley face” on the North American continent (destroying whole cities in the process), then taking a bite out of the Earth as if it were an apple.
I believe this sadistic madness, not any mere material avarice, is the type of villainy that fits our age.
You can hear Bill Cipher’s sneering laugh among goons who laugh too hard at their own racist/sexist “jokes.”
You can see his smug taunting among the online “trolls” who belittle and insult everyone deemed different from them.
You can hear Bill’s line about how “there’s no room for heroes in MY world” echoed in the voices of conservatives who want the rest of us to shut up and fall into line.
You can sense Bill’s lust for destruction among certain “religious right” figures who not only oppose all efforts to save the environment, but who sometimes vocally wish for the “End Times” of Fundamentalist prophecy.
To prevent Bill from spreading his “weirdness” to the rest of the Earth, the surviving townspeople have to hold hands in a rite that will send Bill away. They include characters that had been mortal enemies in previous episodes, but who now must work together against a common foe.
It doesn’t work at first, because two of them refuse to cooperate with one another. In the final episode (titled “Take Back the Falls”), those two have to finally cooperate (and one of them risks losing his mind) to trap and remove Bill, revive the frozen townspeople, and bring the town back to a semblance of “normal.”
Similarly, to stop the threats to America’s civil society, we’ve got to forge alliances across lines of race, gender, region, religion, and social class.
(As an aside, someone put up a “Bill Cipher for President” Facebook page late last summer. One smarky commenter wrote: “You’re seriously making me choose between a horrible demon bent on destroying everything he touches, and Bill Cipher?”)
If Eastern Washington ever does become a separate state, as some Republican politicians want, it would help the national Republican Party but hurt the people living there. (But then again, what political trends in America these days wouldn’t do that?) And we also discuss the attempt to rehabilitate the image of Pepe the comics frog; still more Seattle Times layoffs; an ex-Seahawk’s gender talk and its discontents; and whether or not Snowmaggedon ’16 will finally occur.
Snow in Seattle is rarely forecast. Those forecasts, in turn, often don’t come true. What will happen this time? Further topics today include a victory (for now) at Standing Rock; a big “March Against Hate;” Airbnb working with the Urban League; another longtime local biz asking for your help; and Husky and Seahawk football blowout wins (albeit the latter with a price).
There’s a baseball stadium that’s been in use for 103 years, none of which featured a championship home team. But it might soon. Closer to home, we mention attempts to heal the state’s political divisions (or at least understand them); a bus-shelter removal plan put on hold; a search for an alert system for sexual-assault attackees; and a guy turning unwanted LPs into visual art. Plus: the death of America’s most hate-filled cartoonist.
The Wacky Weather Weekend® is well upon us. Be safe; if you’re supposed to go anywhere, make sure what you’re going to is still going on. Otherwise, you can always stick around and read about dueling encampment proposals; an affordable-housing project that’ll also be a center for the Black community; an idea to hip-ify Bremerton (could it ever happen really?); and the centennial of one of the region’s ugliest events.
Today, we attempt to understand why some GOP women are acting so sexist; follow the Legislature’s halting steps toward school reform; hail an “analog gaming” initiative; and witness the second (or is it third?) coming of “mom punk.”
Would you believe, this is the thirtieth MISCmedia In/Out List? Well, it is.
As we prepare to begin the pearl-anniversary year of this adventure in punditry, we present yet another edition of the most trusted (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known media.
As always, this list compiles what will become sizzling and soggy in the coming year, not necessarily what’s sizzling and soggy now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some Sears stock to sell you.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss some of the things I’ve been doing this past 10 months when I mostly haven’t been blogging.
They include what one might call Internet research rabbit holes, obsessions with obscure corners of pop-culture arcana.
One of these obsessions is a “rabbit hole” in more ways than one.
It starts with something everybody knows, even if it hasn’t been at the pop-cult forefront in recent years.
Warner Bros.’ classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons haven’t been on broadcast TV in years. The one basic cable channel they’ve been on, Cartoon Network, had lately only shown them on weekday mornings, and only when that time slot wasn’t being used to rerun some Tom & Jerry or Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movie. CN’s not showing them at all now. You have to pay extra for CN’s premium-tier channel Boomerang to see these timeless classics.
Even worse for longtime fans, no LT/MM shorts have been issued on DVD (aside from reissues) since late last year. With the industry-wide collapse of disc sales, Warner Home Video has put any future digital remasters of old cartoons on hold.
The prolific WB cartoon studio made some 1,005 “classic” theatrical shorts over 40 years. Approximately 450 of them have yet to be digitally restored. A lot of those look really dingy in the old TV prints seen online.
Oh yeah: Almost all the LT/MM shorts can be found in unofficial online uploads. WB has gotten some of them removed from YouTube, but they just pop up on more obscure sites. (WB could put them up officially, and get whatever ad revenue there is to get, but mostly hasn’t.)
While I was on my last extended “blog vacation” earlier this year, I set out to watch every darned one of the not-on-DVD Warner cartoons. About half of them feature the studio’s “A list” characters (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, etc.). Some of them (in the uploaded versions from old TV prints) look good enough to go on disc as is. Others look dingy, faded, and lo-res.
To keep the LT/MM “franchise” (and its lucrative merchandising) alive, WB needs to (at least) make new digital transfers of these not-on-DVD shorts, from the best existing film materials. This would make the films more viable in today’s hi-def era, for release on broadcast, cable, on-demand, streaming, and download “platforms,” as well as on disc. Perhaps some of the less “commercial” entries (the ones with minor or one-shot characters) could receive less of the labor-intensive digital retouching that was used for the DVD releases.
At the same time as I was re-viewing all those films, I also started to research the music used in them.
The studio’s great music directors, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, incorporated more than 500 pre-existing compositions into their cartoon scores. They ranged from classical and folk pieces, to contemporary hits and songs from Warner feature films, to obscurities that had originally been published as sheet music for silent-music accompanists.
With the aid of several existing online lists of the “sampled” compositions, I put together a YouTube playlist of most of them. It’s currently up to 434 entries. They’re all records or film clips of the original tunes—not the cartoon excerpts of them.
If you know them only from the cartoon versions (and you probably do), you’re in for a few surprises:
Warner might be mismanaging one of its most valuable assets; but other parties remain determined to keep the cartoons in the public eye.
They include the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, founded by the Spokane boy who became the most famous of the studio’s several cartoon directors.
The Jones Center and the Jones heirs, along with the Smithsonian’s “touring exhibits” division, created What’s Up, Doc?: The Animated Art of Chuck Jones. It’s now at the EMP Museum in Seattle.
It’s got dozens of original art pieces and artifacts from Jones’s Warner, MGM, and indie films.
It’s got one of his most famous works, What’s Opera, Doc?, playing continuously (it never gets tiresome); plus a mysterious minute and a half of music recorded for “unproduced scenes” in that classic. (Wonder what they would have been?)
It’s got excerpts from several other Jones films (and one Tex Avery WB short, the defining Bugs Bunny film A Wild Hare), on flat-screen monitors around the exhibit space.
It’s got a few spots where you can take photos of one another alongside life-size cartoon props, such as under a “precariously” suspended prop anvil. (Photography’s forbidden in the rest of the exhibit.)
It’s got meticulous explanations and documentation about the now-threatened art of 2D animation.
And it’s got plenty of words, pictures, and video footage about Jones (1912-2002).
Besides hundreds of one-reel films for theaters, Jones also worked on TV specials, instructional films, and a couple of animated features (Gay Purr-ee and The Phantom Tollbooth).
At Warner he created his own characters (the Road Runner and Coyote, Pepe le Pew) and developed characters created by or with other directors (Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester).
Later, he adapted works by Dr. Seuss, Walt (Pogo) Kelly, Rudyard Kipling, and his former Warner colleague Frank Tashlin, adjusting all of their individual artistic visions to his own.
Thematically, Jones’ films ranged from Disney-esque sentiment to violent slapstick and back again. Stylistically, they ranged from slick “realism” to almost pure abstraction (and, in his version of Norman Juster’s story The Dot and the Line, total abstraction).
And while many animators were/are soft spoken and shy creatures, Jones was an inveterate and articulate self-promoter. He made books and documentaries about his works. He gave many interviews to animation historians, sometimes embellished for entertainment’s sake.
And with the exhibit, his take on “the art of animation” has an immersible, walk-through incarnation. Viewers get to enjoy the finished films, and to learn in grit-detail about each of the many components that went into them.
Can this help revive interest in “analog” animation?
And, just as importantly, can it help rescue the classic WB shorts from extra-tier-cable-channel purgatory?
…Especially if it’s this cartoon map of Washington from the 1930s.
It’s part of an every-state series made by Berta and Elmer Hader. It depicts the histories, industries, topographies, and agricultural products of each part of this Land-O-Contrasts place.
(Found via Vox.com.)
Two Breaths To…
As Sears’ Seattle store dies (see this blog’s previous entry), another company here in town has led a revival of shopping from home, with a “catalog” running to millions of auto-customized web pages.
But Amazon’s original business, and its most controversial presence, remains in books.
As George Packer recently noted in the New Yorker, Amazon has disrupted, and often infuriated, the champions of traditional publishing, also known as “Book Culture.”
Some of these folks gathered in Seattle in late February/early March for the annual convention of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).
AWP’s main public event was a giant book fair on the convention’s final day, featuring hundreds of publishers big and small, for- and non-profit. It’s the one time a year, in a different city each year, when poetry is a business!
And Amazon was there, as a convention co-sponsor and as a vendor, with a book fair table advertising its self-publishing services.
One of the small literary publishers at the fair had a raffle for one of Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader devices. They promoted the raffle with a punching-bag toy, festooned with a photo of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ face.
More recently, Mayor Murray sent a formal proposal to UNESCO’s “Creative Cities” program, to become an officially, internationally recognized “City of Literature.”
The city’s formal application included a long original essay by Blueprints of the Afterlife novelist Ryan Boudinot.
The essay lists programs (to be supported partly by local public and private funding) Seattle would implement should it get the UNESCO nod. One of these programs would involve the city buying Hugo House’s building on Capitol Hill as a permanent “literary arts center” (that would also continue to house Hugo House’s programs).
Boudinot’s essay also gushes, in adoring detail, about Seattle and the Northwest’s cultural heritage(s) and its contributions in literature and publishing (especially Fantagraphics’ graphic novels) as well as in music and the visual arts.
And nowhere in the essay’s 7,000-plus words are the words “Amazon” or “Bezos” ever mentioned.
He is angry because Salman Rushdie uses Twitter, and nowadays people can buy books on the Internet, and the Home Depot, and he had to go to Germany one time, and also some women exist who have not had sex with him.
During our three-week-plus blogging absence, one of the events we failed to note was the demise of one of the unsung pop-culture greats, Samuel W. Petrucci. A logo and packaging designer, he worked on everything from the Charleston Chew candy wrapper to a Lassie lunch box. But he’s best known for the logo and box art on the original G.I. Joe dolls, often using himself as a model for Joe’s face. His daughter Lisa Petrucci is a prominent local “pop surrealist” painter and co-owner of Something Weird Video.
charter construction via ronald holden, cornichon.org
Gosh, has it really been more than three weeks since I’ve done this? Time flies when you’re desperately looking for paying work (i.e., absolutely not “for the exposure”).
We have forgotten what this country once understood, that a society based on nothing but selfishness and greed is not a society at all, but a state of war of the strong against the weak.