The Criminal

Great Pumpkin My Ass… “It’s A Hate Crime, Charlie Brown!”

Nostalgia has a funny way of making us accept things today for what we believed them to be yesterday. And it seems like only yesterday I was wearing footie pajamas, sharing a beanbag with my sister, accepting It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown! as must-see-Halloween TV. It’s a holiday tradition that was born during the time of 13 channels; when prime time was for adults and cartoons were for Saturdays. In other words, when it came to prime time fare, we’d watch Don Knots Has Crotch Rot if it was animated.

My kids, on the other hand, are far more cynical. When it comes to the classics, they believe that some things are better left in the shag-carpeted rooms of dad’s childhood. Perfect example: Years ago I convinced them to give Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas a try. I never tried again. If I had, there’d be a hole in my flat screen to match the one in Mama Otter’s washtub. [Cue the jug band quartet.]

This Halloween, however, we gave It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown! a second try. While my 9 year-old daughter was the target audience, I wanted to believe that my teenage sons (we’ll call them Beavis and Butthead), would give the timeless classic a fresh look. My realistic goal: A review that didn’t include “Dad, this sucks more than anything that has ever sucked before”.

[30 minutes later]

Beavis:
Dad, why did you make us watch that?

Me:
Because “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!” is considered a Halloween–

Butthead:
–Hate crime?!?!

You know what, Butthead had a point. So I decided to re-watch the show from a different point of view. Not as a nostalgic 42 year-old, but as a literal-minded, streetwise detective investigating reports of alleged bullying in Peanuts Land. Using only the 1966 Charles Schulz classic as evidence, I conducted surveillance and filed the following police report with the Peanuts PD:

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Case Number:
ABC 10312014
Reporting Officer: Mr. Vernon
​​​​Date of Report: 31 October 2014

At approximately 4:00 PM:
I began to observe a series of events that, in their totality, suggested a neighborhood-wide pattern of physical and psychological abuse directed at block-headed bald kids. Alleged victim #1: Charlie Brown, a mildly-depressed ne’er do-well with a bumble-bee shirt and a bald head.

NOTE: Despite their similarities, Mr. Brown should not be confused with that whiny little bald prick Caillou. Where Mr. Brown is a sweet, sincere, sensitive boy with a touch of melancholy…Caillou is a colicky, self-centered little brat who will flat out lose his shit if he can’t go to the zoo NOW even though the fuc*ing zoo is closed.

At approximately 4:15 PM:
I observed suspect #1, Lucy van Pelt, yanking away a football just as Mr. Brown was about to kick it. This little prank caused the victim considerable pain. I can only assume that, if not for his obscenely large cranium, Mr. Brown would be concussed at this time. Again, please don’t confuse Mr. Brown’s chrome dome with that of fellow baldy Caillou. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Mr. Brown has only 2 hairs on his huge noggin. As for Caillou, my theory is that he sucks and even his hair follicles recognize that fact.

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At approximately 5:00 PM:
Ms. van Pelt continues her systematic beat down on that “blockhead” Charlie Brown. You know how the Grinch had a heart that was 2 sizes too small? My theory is that Ms. van Pelt has a heart that’s 2 sizes too smaller than that. Oh, and she’s a bitch. I observed Mr. Brown looking happier than Pigpen in shit after receiving an invitation to Violet Gray’s Halloween party. Not so fast with that Lord of the Dance shit, Mr. Brown. Ms. van Pelt swoops in to give Mr. Brown a figurative kick to the peanuts. She informs him that he was invited by mistake. Good grief! Unfortunately, all of my attempts to sic Mr. Brown’s beagle, Snoop Dog, on that punk-ass bitch failed.

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NOTE: Snoop Dog was last seen wearing a World War I aviator uniform and storming into 1940’s France. The f*ck is that sub-plot all about?

At approximately 7:00 PM:
I observed alleged victim #2, Linus van Pelt, rocking his comb-forward while freezing his 12 hairs off in a pumpkin patch. Apparently Mr. van Pelt was waiting for “the Great Pumpkin to rise out of his pumpkin patch and fly through the air with his bag of toys for all the children.” Ho-ho-hold on a second. Either this kid has hypothermia, or he’s crazier than a shit house rat. Crazier yet, he seems to have found a follower in Mr. Brown’s kid sister, Sally. [Psssss…hey Sally…runnnnnn!]

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NOTE: My theory is that Lucy van Pelt fostered this clever Great Pumpkin charade as a form of psychological torture on her brother. Either that, or it’s an attempt to gain favor with Santa Claus. Thus ensuring that her brother endures the torment of watching her play with countless toys on Christmas while he can only start a pet rock collection with Mr. Brown.

At approximately 7:30 PM:
I observed Mr. Brown trick-or-treating with 5 ass holes while wearing a ghost costume with 18 eye holes. I can see adding a third hole to breathe out of…or even a fourth hole to pee out of…but numb nuts cut out enough holes for a PGA tour event. Even so, this does not excuse adults from throwing rocks into Mr. Brown’s bag. I mean, honestly, who gives out rocks for Halloween? At this point, every adult in the neighborhood is suspect #2.

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NOTE:  Every kid in the neighborhood–and I mean EVERY single kid–uses a bed sheet to dress up as a ghost. Ms. Van Pelt wears a witch mask on her face and a traffic cone on her head. I suspect that these bed-sheeted minions help to perpetrate Ms. van Pelt’s hate-filled agenda.

At approximately 8:00 PM:
I follow Mr. Brown to the home of Violet Gray for the party he was invited to by mistake. Mr. Brown really should have stayed home with Stephen King’s Carrie White. If he did, Mr. Brown wouldn’t have eyes in the back of his head. Yep, Ms. van Pelt and Ms. Gray (suspect #3) use the back of Mr. Brown’s head for jack-o-lantern carving practice. I stuck around and waited for this whole Carrie-esque subplot where Ms. White and Mr. Brown exact revenge (not with pig’s blood) with the innards from the Great Pumpkin. That revenge sub-plot never materialized so I’m left to conclude that this is a simple case of mistaken identity. Maybe everyone in this town thinks Mr. Brown is Caillou–The Fresh Prince of No Hair.

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NOTE: Upon further investigation, I confirmed that Ms.Gray used a Sharpie pen on the poor bastard’s melon. That shit ain’t washing off ’til Thanksgiving. And why is there no adult supervision at this party? When I reached Mr. and Mrs. Gray via telephone, they informed me that they were in “MWAH MWAH MWAH.” I think that’s in Hawaii.

At approximately 10:00 PM:
I observe Sally Brown storming off after demanding “restitution” from Linus for making her miss out on “tricks and treats.” I still can’t figure out why she didn’t storm off hours ago when he delivered this creepy-even-by-1966-standards quip: “I thought little girls always believed everything that was told to them. I thought little girls were innocent and trusting.” I thought I just barfed up a cruller.

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NOTE: I obtained a statement from Schroeder, the local lounge pianist who’s all smug because he’s the only boy in town with a full head of hair. When asked why Sally would have agreed to stay in the pumpkin patch with Linus in the first place, he replied: “Bitches do be trippin’.”

At approximately 4:00 AM:
My worst fears never materialized. I observed Lucy heading out to the pumpkin patch and I assumed that we’d see a pumpkin patch death scene to rival the Shining’s hedge-maze standoff. But to my surprise, Ms. van Pelt fetched her “blockhead” brother from the pumpkin patch, walked him home, and tucked him into bed. I stuck around just to make sure she didn’t grab a sledgehammer and go to town on his legs like Annie Wilkes. She didn’t, so I called it a night.

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NOTE: Before turning in, I made 2 phone calls:

1) I called Mr. and Mrs. van Pelt to inform them that they’re shitty parents. I also let them know that their son froze his baguettes off while sleeping in a pumpkin patch with only his blankie and his blind faith in produce to comfort him. They nonchalantly replied, “MWAH MWAH MWAH.”

2) I left a message for the local psychiatrist, hoping to schedule a much-needed psychological evaluation for both Charlie Brown and Linus van Pelt. To my utter amazement, I learned that there was only one psychiatrist in town. She works cheap, she has a monopoly on the whole town, and she’s the biggest bitch in cartoon history.

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P.S. If my case load permits, I plan to return to Peanuts during their Thanksgiving and Christmas specials…to determine if any further surveillance or criminal charges are warranted.

Until then, Happy Halloween!

Except for you, Caillou!

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Searching for “The Real World” in Reality Television

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Truman Burbank:
“Was nothing real?”

Christof:
“You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch.”

Ever marvel at how far reality television has come since Peter Weir’s groundbreaking 1998 film, The Truman Show?

“Strike that. Reverse it.”

CriminalEver dry heave at how low reality television has sunk since the promising days of a little MTV experiment called The Real World? Before reality stars knew they were stars, the whole concept felt as groundbreaking as The Truman Show. The tragic beauty of Truman’s world is that he was unaware of the cameras that fed his celebrity. Today’s reality stars, on the other hand, aren’t only aware of the cameras…they’d dry-hump the lens if they thought it would give birth to a new lease on celebrity life. A life that’s now fueled by 140-character tweets that attempt to extend their 15-minutes of shame.

Case in point: If a Jersey Bore half-wit like “The Situation” can ride the reality rainbow all the way to the pot of gold toner at the end, how low can the genre ultimately go? I mean, can it possibly get any worse than the Cracker Barrel dedicating an entire wing to The Duck Dynasty clan of back-assward millionaires? Yes it can. How about a local liquor store selling The Sitch’s “Devotion”, a brand of protein vodka? Where’s a real Italian like Vinnie Barbarino and his rubber hose when you need one?

DEVOTION_SITCHThe Situation’s Devotion. Tastes like
vodka, reeks of desperation. 
 

What makes the show within The Truman Show so popular is the simple fact that Truman Burbank thinks he’s an ordinary man living an ordinary existence. In Christof’s words: “While the world he inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit….there’s nothing fake about Truman himself.” Bingo! For as cleverly disguised and criminally contrived as his world is, Truman’s actions in this world are real. Which is more than I can say for today’s half-baked and mostly-faked reality offerings.

“My name is Rick Harrison…and THIS is my pawn shop!”
A few years ago, I visited the site of my then-favorite reality show…Rick Harrison’s Vegas pawn shop. Let’s just say that if all the world is a stage for Truman, then all the world is staged in Rick Harrison’s Little Pawn Shop of Hoarders. Pawn Stars didn’t just jump the shark, it humped it, harpooned it, stuffed it, and pawned it off on millions.

IMG_2596My father and brother at Rick Harrison’s Pawn Shop.

But Rick Harrison isn’t alone, and the demise of reality TV started long before he made “so you wanna pawn it or sell it” a catch-phrase. To understand when reality TV stopped being real (that means you Ozzy), you have to go back to when it first started getting real.

“This is the true story… of seven strangers… picked to live in a house…work together and have their lives taped… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real…”

When it debuted in 1992, The Real World captivated viewers like me. Partly because it looked and felt real, but mostly because its “stars” hadn’t even considered a world of reality stardom yet. Eric “The Grind” Nies wasn’t acting like a douche-bag to score a big douche-bag endorsement deal. Eric Niese was, in fact, a douche-bag.

1EricNiesAprEric “The Grind” Nies. Reality
television’s first douche bag. 

And The Real World was still very real in 1994 when many Americans, like me, first got to know someone living with AIDS. Everything about Pedro Zamora’s life felt real to me. So at the risk of melodramaticizing (if that’s not a real word…it should be), maybe the “reality” in reality TV has been dying a slow death ever since Pedro lost his public and courageous battle with AIDS in 1994.

Twenty years later, the whole genre is out of control. When the Duck Dynasty patriarch, Phil Robertson, spewed his anti-gay venom at GQ magazine, he was crucified by the mainstream media and suspended by his own network. Even if you don’t agree with Robertson’s views, he was being REAL. Call him a real hick, a real hillbilly, or a real hater…no matter…GQ managed to capture what countless hours of highly-rated, and meticulously-edited footage had never offered: The Real World–Duck Dynasty.

The Real Housewives of [insert zip code here]? Please! The real housewives I know work their asses off in the most thankless, grossly underpaid and under-appreciated job in America. You want reality? Strap a GoPro camera on my wife’s head in the morning and stick with her on the rare night when she actually has 5 minutes to herself to read 5 pages of romantic western porn. Sorry, wrong post. Where was I? Oh yeah…

…Here Comes Honey Boo Boo!
But reality television’s most colossal boo boo arrived in 2011, when The Learning (about what exactly?) Channel introduced  us to Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson. I’ll confess that I was charmed by Here Comes Honey Boo Boo during its first season on TLC. It was funny, fresh, and the family’s love felt real. Then it happened. Back in October of 2012, I watched a barefoot and visibly irritated Alana Thompson fake sleep in an attempt to avoid being questioned by Dr. Drew on TV. That’s when it hit me! Maybe this was her Truman Burbank moment? Confronted with the harsh realities of the spotlight surrounding her life, maybe this was America’s most overexposed and exploited young reality star crying out for help.

article-0-15A171BA000005DC-637_634x378Honey Boo Boo fakes sleep as Dr. Drew fakes caring.

Now some might argue that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was real. But it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t misguided and irresponsible. Am I the only TV viewer who weeps for Alana Thompson’s future? Haven’t we all heard the oft-repeated cautionary tale about the “former child star”? Is a Playboy cover story 10 years from now boasting the headline “Honey Bares Her Boo Boobs” really such a stretch? Heck, that might be a best-case scenario.

There Goes Honey Boo Boo!
Late last week, TLC finally and mercifully cancelled Here Comes Honey Boo Boo after reports linked “Mama June” Shannon romantically to Dr. Drew. I’m kidding. Reports linked her to a registered sex offender. I argue that TLC should have pulled the plug sooner.

What scares me is that we have no test-subject for what becomes of the broken reality TV child star. If countless child stars who played fictional TV characters struggle to grow up normally, what becomes of a child star famous for playing herself when she discovers how fleeting a friend fame really is? In Christof’s words:

“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.”

At 9 years-old, Alana Thompson is already a “former reality TV child star”.

I just hope she’s able to accept the reality of the world with which she’s now presented.

You Can’t Judge a Facebooker By Its Cover

CriminalIn one of the world’s most widely anticipated—and reported—IPOs in history, Facebook is poised to raise at least $5 billion and begin selling its stock this spring. Perhaps more impressive than the expected $5 billion windfall are the 800 million active users who are still wild about a “fad” that I once called “the pet rock of the digital age.”

Okay, I admit it. I was way off about Facebook…and I have been almost off Facebook more times than the seven stranded castaways on the Isle of Gilligan. Why? To quote the Gospel According to John Hughes, “in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions”…Facebook still feels like high school to me. In high school, we all fit neatly into one of five social categories, right? So I must steal a page from the Hughes script and apply this same “five social categories” principle to all 800 million of you Facebookers out there. I like to call it “The Five MEs of Facebook.” So which Facebook ME are YOU?

Are you a “Hey, remember ME”?
These aren’t actual Facebookers…they’re YearBookers. They’re the first to scan and post pics from old yearbooks and photo albums from the good ol’ days. If it were up to them, we’d celebrate reunions like birthdays and we wouldn’t need Netflix…because we’d just stream old home movies from each other during homeroom. And we’d buy the lie that we look as good in bathing suits today as we did in all those spring break pics we “just happened to find” while visiting mom’s attic. Shame on ME!

Are you a “Hey, look at ME”?
These are the FaceHookers. The ones voted most likely to turn their cell phone cameras around and pimp themselves out…daily. If they have children, they’ll occasionally exploit them too…but their children are more like trophies that help shine the spotlight onto “look at ME”. Or better yet, garnishes that attempt to enhance the presentation of cheap meat. And for many a FaceHooker, real tricks are being turned. Ever notice how it’s always summer in their world, their clothing stores ran out of sleeves, and their cell phone cameras are Velcroed to their bathroom mirrors?

Are you a “Hey, Facebook’s not really for ME”?
These are the FakeBookers and FaceLookers. They sign up for Facebook, go on a 24-hour friending spree, only to Faceplant themselves in the Facebook protection program behind the same years-old profile pic/smug shot. They know who they are, and we’re not fooled by their ambivalence toward social networking. They secretly monitor our every post, pic, and nip slip. They’re not quite voyeurs, stalkers, or gawkers…they’re more like the hall monitors of middle school, the narcs of high school, and the nosy old neighbor who peeks through her blinds every G-damn time my kids so much as breathe within 300 feet of her house. Sorry, where was I?    

Are you a “Hey, help ME”?
These are the FaceHaters and FaceBaiters who routinely bitch and cry for help from the BFFs they should text in private in the event of a real emergency. For every blunt “I’m not happy with my life” or whiny “I can’t fall asleep” there’s a vague, almost redemption-fueled cry like “You know who you are” or “I know what you did last summer!” And we’re all stupid enough to take the bait because “the boy who cried wolf” is the only parable that made any sense to us growing up. Note to the “Help MES” of Facebook: In the event of an actual emergency, you can just dial 1-800-GET-OFF-THE-F**KING-COMPUTER!

Are you a “Hey, nothing…just hey from ME”?
These are the FaceInvaders who abduct our news feeds with hackneyed links and mindless musings about the contents of their refrigerators, closets, and shitters. They’re narcissistic enough to believe their midnight jaunts to 7-Eleven for Big Gulps are as newsworthy as dancing the jig with the bulls in Pamplona. Every crap they take is 60 Minutes-worthy. Maybe they share the mundane so we can feel their pain? Or maybe they fancy themselves as the Dos Equis man of Facebook…when, in fact, they are the least interesting men and women in the world.

OR…and God bless you if you are…
Are you one of the rare, relevant, and refreshing Facebookers who we all aspire to be? Sure you may be guilty of the occasional nostalgic, vane, or mundane post…but you never lose sight of what’s witty and post-worthy. Simply put, you make the Facebook world go ‘round and this world would be flat, square, shameless, and (perhaps) IPO-less without you.

Now does being one of Facebook’s finest give you a golden ticket to the IPO?  Heck no! Like me, you may have to settle for a far less lucrative stock…or the next pet rock.

Oscar Mail Bag: Dear Oscar Winners, Whiners, Weiners & Wannabes

CriminalWhile it’s an honor just to be nominated, only a chosen few take home hardware on Oscar Sunday. Those poor A-listers who don’t win—or don’t even get nominated—have to settle for parting gifts. More specifically, gift bags worth tens-of-thousands-of dollars.

This year, stars checking into the Four Seasons Hotel found Traveler’s Choice luggage bags filled with gifts valued at $7,000. Nauseous yet? How about a KitchenAid mixer set with 22-karat-gold paint and Swarovski crystal? Yep, this is the ugly side of Oscar.

Uglier still, my own Oscar gift bag. Actually, it’s a mail bag…filled with letters I’ve written to former Oscar winners, whiners, weiners, and wannabes.

Dear Oscar Glutton,
You’re the greatest living actress. You’ve won two Best Actress awards and been nominated an astounding 17 times. Please don’t win tonight. I understand you haven’t won since Sophie’s Choice, but enough is enough! You’re enjoying a career re-birth, backed by a string of box-office hits, at an age where most actresses get scripts for Driving Miss Daisy sequels. But it’s not your time for number three. It’s time for you to do a Margaret Thatcher Streep-tease. Take off the silicone mask, ditch the wig, and lose the fake teeth [or give them to Johnny Depp…see letter 4 below]. Forget the fact that you’ve been winless since 1982′s Sophie’s Choice. Just watch The Help. And then tell me Viola Davis isn’t Meryl’s Choice for Best Actress.

Dear Recent Oscar Winner,
You won our hearts in The Man In the Moon. You made it impossible for us to vote against you in Election. You were criminally hilarious in Legally Blonde. And when you Walk[ed] the Line to Oscar gold seven years ago, I had greater expectations than Just Like [Hell], Four Christmases[Like] Water for [Chocolate] Elephants, How Do You Know,  and This Means [Bore]! Ms. Witherspoon, we’ve grown tired of your Reese’s Pieces of crap movies. Go find your inner Roseanne Cash. Toss Penelope into a burning ring of fire and get your shit together. Now somebody gag me Wither-spoon. Sorry, that was corny.

Dear Oscar Sore Loser,
You’re one of my all-time favorites and nobody wants your latest comeback to actually stay back more than I do. But your half-ass commitment to hosting the Oscars this year reaked of Tower Heist promotion. And storming out of the Kodak Theater after losing to Alan Arkin in 2007 didn’t win you many future Oscar voters. Especially when you had the lady-in-fat-suit Norbit opening the following week. Sure, you sort of returned to form in Tower Heist, but when I closed my eyes…you sounded an awful lot like a street thief imitating Donkey from Shrek. My Oscar tip for you: Rent Eddie Murphy Delirious, then hit the comedy clubs and reclaim your comedic genius. Rent Dreamgirls, then seek out an A-list director with a script that’s not written in crayon, Yes, that means pass on the next Dr. DooLittle for your career family script…and give us Eddie. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Buckwheat.

Dear 3-Time Oscar-Nominated Actor,
Want an Oscar? Prove that you can once again embody a character whose not hiding behind Keith Richards’ accent, Phyllis Diller’s make-up, or a Cher wig. The Pirate drag queen franchise is more played-out than Police Academy movies. Pirate Academy? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Johnny, take it down a notch. Trade in loud for quiet…3D for 2D. Remember your Oscar-worthy quiet performances? Did Gilbert Grape need grape lipstick? Did Donnie Brasco need eyeliner to go deep undercover? What chance do you have of Finding Oscar’s Neverland if you continue to mistake stretching for merely saying yes to Tim Burton. And for the love of Edward Scissorhands,  please stop raiding Helena Bonham-Carter’s wardrobe. [Note: For readers who don’t know she’s married to Tim Burton, that joke just bombed worse than Rum Diary].

Dear Leaving Las Vegas Oscar Winner,
When do you plan on Leaving Los Angeles? Just STOP making movies Mr. Cage.

Sincerely Yours,

Dear Mr Vernon