September 6, 2018

The Future Is ... Personal Ads?

In 1979, a song called "Escape" written and recorded by British-born American singer Rupert Holmes for his album Partners in Crime was released.  Mr. Holmes later agreed to rename the song "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" when record company executives convinced him that the public recognized the title by the name of the popular cocktail.  As the lead single for the album, the pop song was recommended by Billboard for radio broadcasters on September 29, 1979, then added to prominent U.S. radio playlists starting in October–November. The song peaked at the end of December to become the last U.S. number one song of the 1970's.

That song, which authors Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont who wrote the book "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?: The Lost Toys, Tastes, and Trends of the 70's and 80's" wrote in their entry entitled "Story Songs" (which as the authors note, are still going strong noting that as long as country music lives, the story song will never die)!  Escape (The Piña Colada Song) was actually about cheating on your woman, with your woman (whoops).  That classic track can be listened to below, or by visiting the Internet Archive page at https://archive.org/details/RupertHolmesEscapeThePiaColadaSong:



Central to The Piña Colada Song was a personal ad the singer responded to because he was getting bored with his girlfriend, so he responds to a personal ad he read in the newspaper, and to his surprise, the person who wrote the ad was his own girlfriend whom he hoped to cheat on.  Irony?  Perhaps.  But the central role of personals will likely be with us for a long time to come, even if they are no longer printed in the back pages of the newspaper, but move online, or to the mobile environment.

Classified ads are a form of very brief advertising which was very common in newspapers and other periodicals, and more recently, it has migrated online (e.g. driven by free ads) and even to mobile applications, dealing with offers of or requests for jobs, houses, apartments, cars, personals, etc.  The ads may be charged or distributed free of charge.  Typically, classified ads in newspapers were very short as they were charged per letter, line or column.  As the name suggests, classified ads are classified into different classes or categories.

The original U.S. newspaper ad was published in 1704 in the old Boston News-Letter. The ad was an announcement seeking a buyer for an Oyster Bay (on Long Island, New York) property. That ad reportedly marked the birth of newspaper classifieds in the United States.

Personals

The classified ad used in one of the few hit Madonna
movies "Desperately Seeking Susan" from 1985
One form of classified ads that has long been treated with suspicion are the personal ads (or personals).  Indeed, because abbreviations have long ruled in classifieds (real estate ads, for example, have many acronyms, as do employment ads), learning the appropriate lingo meant the difference between understanding and being clueless about what the ads said.

For example, an ad for a used car might read: 2010 Blu (for blue color) Toyota Camry, <50K mi (under 50,000 miles on the vehicle), 4D (4 doors) HB (hatchback), 4CY (4 cylinder engine), 4WD (for a 4 wheel drive auto), ALUM/W (meaning the car has aluminum wheels), 4 new tires, $17K OBO ($17,000 or best offer).

That would read as:

2010 Blu Toyota Camry <50K mi 4D HB 4CY 4WD ALUM/W w 4 new tires $17K OBO eves 555-555-5555/email@email.com

That ad contains just 19 words, which is useful when you pay for an ad based on number of words and/or ad length.

Similarly, personals ads have their own unique lingo, usually something like this: 32 YO NM NS SWF (32 year old, never married, non-smoking single white female) ISO (in search of) SWM (single white male) HWP (height weight proportional) for a LTR (long term relationship).  Likes: music, fine dining and BWAY (Broadway) shows.  Call eves (evenings) at 555-555-5555 or email at email@email.com.

So the personal ad above would read:

32YO NM NS SWF ISO NS SWM HWP 4 LTR. Like music dining & BWAY. Contact eves 555-555-5555/email@email.com

All told, its exactly 19 words, and would be quite inexpensive (if the venue even charges for the ad) to run, and could potentially run for an entire week, possibly longer.

Of course, traditionally, personal ads have been viewed with a degree of skepticism, as there's really no screening involved so the risk is that a person will look absolutely nothing like their personal ad suggests.  Terms like "average" (or AVG) are seen by skeptics as fat since most Americans are fat, and other terms like disease and drug free (DD FREE) used for ads seeking sex are perceived as something everyone writes, even if there's no basis in reality for the assertion.

Initially, classified ads dominated local newspapers (either dailies, or weekly alternative papers), but at the beginning of the new millennium, most of that activity shifted to online sites including craigslist.org or online dating or hookup sites (and their relevant mobile applications) including match.com, Tinder, OKCupid, or the site for married people seeking extramarital sex with others known as AshleyMadison or for gay male sex hookups grindr.  As noted, increasingly, most also have apps which enable access from smartphones, although the allure of dedicated dating apps is seen as drawing the younger population more so than older people.

That said, in early 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill known as FOSTA (allowing states and victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017), which placed legal responsibility for sex-work interactions on the platform holders, rather than on individual users.  It was a dramatic shift, since platform holders had, for years, been immune to legal responsibility for what their users do on their platforms, provided that they responded to inappropriate behavior effectively.  The new law shifted the responsibility to companies like Craigslist, which concluded it was easier to simply abandon personals rather than face any legal problems or fines by puritanical lawmakers looking to stop supposed sex trafficking online.

Unlike companies including Facebook or Google, Craigslist has always been stubbornly simple, by design. It doesn't use advanced artificial intelligence (AI) or whatever to root out bad posts. Because of that, the site announced that it was taking down the popular Personals section entirely.

In its posting (see https://www.craigslist.org/about/FOSTA for the posting) about the legal development, Craigslist wrote:'

"Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day."

They closed by noting:

"To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!"

It certainly doesn't mean personal ads are dead, rather just as they migrated from print to online, they are continuing to emerge elsewhere, and likely will continue doing so as long as people are seeking companionship, sex and more from other people.

Like the proverbial whack-a-mole arcade game, where one hits moles that pop up with a mallet only to have another pop up elsewhere else.  We also saw that in the early 1970's when theaters showing pornography would routinely open, be shut down, and then open up someplace else a few miles away.

The Future Is ... Personal Ads?

Still, the old-fashioned personal ad has some virtues, among them being that it enables people to be a bit more specific about what they're seeking in a partner.  Women, in particular, find male-focused dating and sex hookup apps like grindr tend to overlook content other than photos, with the ability to swipe left on a listing to skip over it in seconds, hence it tends to be extremely superficial.   By comparison, someone seeking something a bit more informative is out of luck.

That's why a lesbian developed what she calls a queer online dating community formed around an old-school format for hookups: old-school styled personal ads.  The New York Times reported (see https://nyti.ms/2wNrMXW for the article) that the outcome of that is an Instagram dating community called Personals or Personals on Instagram (linked to an Instagram account) that developer Kelly Rakowski built for lesbians; bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual women; and gender-nonconforming and nonbinary people. (Basically, anyone who isn't a cisgender and/or straight man.)  Personals is not for straight couples or cis men.
The term cisgender (also referred to as simply cis) is still not universally understood, but it basically means that one's gender identity exclusively identifies with their sex assigned at birth, but has nothing to do with sexual orientation.  Both straight and gay men are cisgender since both identify as men, even if they are gay and have sex with other men.  Likewise, heterosexual women and lesbians are also both cisgender.  Because the term cisgender is still relatively new, even many gays and lesbians respond to the term with confusion.

Terminology aside, the idea that old school classified personal ads delivered via Facebook's Instagram social media network (although its designed to work WITH Instagram, even if its not a requirement) still generally presumes the use of a smartphone to generate photos for postings (although one can instead use a regular computer at http://www.personalspersonals.us/ without a smartphone, and it also excludes most men other than those who were previously female.  Then again, given that gay men already have the Chinese-owned app Grindr for gay male sex hookups, and straight men can rely on many others including match.com, Tinder, OKCupid or ashleymadison (the latter one being for married people to have affairs) for similar purposes, the female angle of Personals for women is indeed unique.

Still, the idea of enabling old-school personal ads in a more modern environment is akin to many other things that have since become commonplace.  Think about online video streaming services including Netflix, Amazon Prime video, Hulu, Kanopy as well as iTunes and Google Play, while music also includes the two just noted, as well as Spotify and possibly others which have yet to emerge -- all of which enable both streaming of video content or music online.  Previously, one relied on broadcast radio and television, and later cable TV and video rental shops including Blockbuster Video to deliver those things, and today they are available on-demand with a broadband internet connection.

Whether the new women's version of Personals is widely adopted depends upon building awareness.  Building awareness will also enable it to build a user base, which is really the key to a successful dating and/or hookup platform.

August 23, 2018

Dr. Ruth Westheimer Paved the Way to American Sexual Knowledge

As of 2018, sex is fairly ubiquitous in the U.S. media, but for decades, the environment was much more of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" when it came to any form of sex in the United States.  In spite of humanity's continued perpetuation in the U.S. (proof that people were, in fact, having sex), open discussion of sex was still considered evil, at least when it came to conversations, or even having knowledge of sex.

But before 1980, open discussion of human sexuality or anything related to it, were seldom if ever done in public in the U.S., except perhaps for when discussing zoning requirements (usually restrictions) for pornographic movie theaters, or maybe a debate about public school funding for sex education.  That was at least part of the reason that the incidence of teenage pregnancies, subsequently abortions, and later HIV/AIDS infections were all so prevalent in the U.S. at the time, because too many people really did not know any better.  Ignorance was NOT bliss.

The late 1960's brought with it the era of Baby Boomer-led feminism (aided by the introduction of the first female birth control pill).  Although the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment had stalled by the mid-to-late-1970's (and failed to secure the necessary state votes to amend the U.S. Constitution), there was nevertheless a newfound awareness of female sexuality in U.S. society.  A vibrant publishing industry led the way with books including "Our Bodies, Ourselves" and "The Joy of Sex" (catch my post on that at http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2017/02/joy-of-sex-our-bodies-ourselves-became.html for more) as well as various magazines, including Playboy whose nude centerfolds first premiered in 1952, but were aided by the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. California that dramatically narrowed and simplified the definition of obscenity, which resulted in a new, nationwide subscriber base for the publication and dramatically fewer obscenity prosecutions nationwide.  Beyond that, events such as the Stonewall riots also happened in 1969, ushering in a new era of LGBT visibility and demands for Constitutionally-protected legal rights which gained steam in the 1970's which were non-existent when the group remained closeted and invisible.

But times were rapidly changing; with new attitudes and perspectives upending decades of religious dogma that had infiltrated U.S. laws from communities to the country as a whole.  We can attribute at least some of it to the massive Baby Boomer demographic cohort.  Along with them, Boomers helped introduce the U.S. to women's liberation, widespread birth control, gay rights and a host of other issues that were previously never even acknowledged.  The stage was set for more a honest dialogue about human sexuality.

In 1980, WYNY (a now-defunct radio station) was a struggling New York City Adult Contemporary station which had recently gone through a makeover in an attempt to build an audience.  Part of this rebuild was adding specialized talk shows to the evening and weekend hours.  In September of 1980, WYNY launched a 15-minute pre-recorded segment that aired on Sunday nights after midnight.  The segment was called "Sexually Speaking" and it featured a unique host who was a German immigrant who had lived in Switzerland, Israel, and France before immigrating to the U.S. in 1956.  One year later, it became a live show, and it was so successful that the station expanded it to a one-hour show airing at 10:00 PM on which Dr. Ruth Westheimer (or Dr. Ruth, as she became known) answered call-in questions from listeners.

Below is a recording of Dr. Ruth Westheimer's original New York radio broadcast from 97.1 FM on WYNY recorded in June 1982.  The recording is below, or you can listen by visiting https://youtu.be/Oy3-WNv3AI0:



Dr. Ruth, who is a psychosexual therapist who helped to pioneer the field of media psychology with her original radio program, "Sexually Speaking".  As noted, she was born in Germany in 1928, but she was sent to a children’s home in Switzerland at the age of ten which became an orphanage for most of the German Jewish students who had been sent there to escape the Holocaust.  At age 17, she went to Israel where she fought for that country's independence as a member of the Haganah, the Jewish freedom fighters.  She then moved to Paris where she studied at the Sorbonne and taught kindergarten.  She immigrated to the U.S. in 1956 where she obtained her Masters Degree in Sociology from the Graduate Faculty of the New School of Social Research.  In 1970, she received a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in the Interdisciplinary Study of the Family from Columbia University Teacher's College.

Although Dr. Ruth did not have a classic radio voice, she certainly had the expertise, the candor, and a disarming personality that made her an overnight radio star (she was already a medical doctor, so she really did not need radio as many other radio hosts do).  In a truthful, direct, and entertaining way, she truthfully answered blunt and honest questions about sex and sexuality that WYNY listeners called in (see some of the New York Times archived coverage from the mid-1980's at https://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/04/style/a-voice-of-sexual-literacy.html and https://www.nytimes.com/1985/12/01/magazine/merchandising-dr-ruth.html for more).

Within a year after the fifteen-minute midnight program began in New York, "Sexually Speaking" had become so popular that it was expanded into a daily, one-hour live call-in show.  National syndication followed soon thereafter, and then the U.S. was introduced to the charming, irrepressible, and transparent Dr. Ruth.  A very nice article can be found at Interview magazine at https://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/dr-ruth-westheimer-westheimer-cecile-richards-april-issue-2018-interview which covers her evolution as one of the country's (and indeed, the world's) foremost sex therapists from her early work in the U.S. working at Planned Parenthood, to her latter day celebrity.

Dr. Ruth's celebrity status eventually landed her a national TV show (some archives of her old TV show can be found at ShoutFactoryTV http://www.shoutfactorytv.com/series/dr-ruth in which she speaks with Burt Reynolds, Joan Rivers, Richard Simmons to name a few of Hollywood's celebrities the diminutive celebrity sex therapist has gotten to know over the years.

Dr. Ruth also helped pave the way for a somewhat similar program that originally ran on Canadian television known as the Sunday Night Sex Show (which was branded as Talk Sex with Sue Johanson in the U.S.) with host Sue Johanson, who was also an older talk show host who was a Registered Nurse (rather than an MD, as was the case with Dr. Ruth).  The latter show lasted until 2008, but it was carried on U.S. cable television.  On May 11, 2008, the last live episode of Talk Sex was broadcast. After 174 episodes of the phenomenally successful show host, then at the age of 76, decided to hang up her dildos and depart from television.  But she still maintains a website at http://www.talksexwithsue.com/ even though she is now retired.

Regardless of their similarities. the original Dr. Ruth herself has never disappeared.

Far from it.

But perhaps Dr. Ruth has established older women as experts in the field, whereas men dominate in most other areas.  Indeed, she seems to revel in her role as celebrity sex therapist to the masses.

Today, Dr. Ruth still maintains a very active presence as a frequent guest on daytime television in traditional media, and in the online world, with a YouTube show at https://www.youtube.com/user/drruth and she also maintains a very active presence on Twitter as well at @AskDrRuth on Twitter.  Her goal was always to educate Americans about sex, because she believes that education can solve many issues that can become problems without an open dialogue.  Her early years on the radio revealed that many women and men alike had questions about sex, sometimes easy-to-answer, but often lacked a viable outlet to address those very basic questions.

An introduction to Dr. Ruth's YouTube Channel can be found at https://youtu.be/holCQf1GxZU or seen below.


Below are several links, both historical and current, giving a sampling of the tiny woman's huge presence on the topic of American sexual literacy over the years.  At age 89, Dr. Ruth shows no signs of slowing down.  Many Americans remain eternally grateful this height-challenged (indeed, Dr. Ruth Westheimer's height is just 4'7") fan favorite has left an indelible mark not only on sexual literacy, but popular culture as well.

https://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/04/style/a-voice-of-sexual-literacy.html

http://www.shoutfactorytv.com/series/dr-ruth

https://www.npr.org/2013/04/05/168488453/dr-ruth-lets-talk-about-sex

https://www.wnyc.org/people/ruth-westheimer/

July 23, 2018

Free to Be ... You and Me



It started with a book, or at least an idea for a book.  On March 11, 1974, on the ABC television network, a television special entitled "Free to Be ... You and Me" aired on U.S. broadcast television.  Produced by 1960's "That Girl" star Marlo Thomas (Marlo was the daughter of 1950's TV legend Danny Thomas, although her own TV show had gained her fame and popularity for being one of the first TV shows that did not feature a working woman who was actively seeking out a husband so she could stop working, along with "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" which ran a few years later).  Incidentally, Marlo's brother Tony Thomas was co-owner of Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions, which is the company that produced such hit sitcoms as The Golden Girls (very recently, his partner Paul Junger Witt died of cancer, see https://usat.ly/2KnztsL for that news).

At the time, because Ms. Thomas was already a celebrity in her own right, she was able to assemble an all-star cast for this particular special, among them: Marlo Thomas herself, along with actors/actresses Alan Alda, Dustin Hoffman, Kris Kristofferson, Shirley Jones, Jack Cassidy, Carol Channing, talk show host Dick Cavett, comedy producer Carl Reiner, NFL football star Rosey Grier, singers Diana Ross, Rita Coolidge, Dionne Warwick, Harry Belafonte, singer/songwriter Roberta Flack and a very young Michael Jackson (then of the hit Motown singing group known as the Jackson 5).


The idea began with Ms. Thomas herself, who as noted, was already a star of the late 1960's TV sitcom "That Girl", and in 1971, she also became a new aunt.  (This was prior to Ms. Thomas marrying daytime television talk show host Phil Donahue in 1980, whom she remains married to as of 2018).  Ms. Thomas felt that her young niece's storybooks were the same old ones that she had read as a child, and she felt that the then-recent entries to the bedtime canon only reinforced the idea that boys were supposed to grow up to become pilots and doctors while girls were supposed to become lesser stewardesses (the feminine form of a term that has since been replaced with the gender-neutral term flight attendant) and nurses.

Marlo Thomas conceived a children's book that, instead of telling boys and girls who they should be, instead hopefully opened them to the possibilities of who they COULD be.  She gathered many of her talented friends and acquaintances from various worlds of the arts (TV, music and even professional sports) and the result was highly-regarded as a modern classic of children's literature.  Life-enhancing themes were imaginatively blended with music and humor to expand children's personal horizons, enabling them to invent their own futures without limitation, while dispelling some old constraints and worn-out conventions in the process.

Among her collaborators was Shel Silverstein and co-producer Carole Hart, and the project created a gold record album and a best-selling book.  Then, in 1972, it was then turned into an Emmy-and Peabody-winning TV special.  The effort was feminist and multicultural; an early childhood education in empathy; multimedia before anybody even used the word.  It was also promoted by Gloria Steinem's Ms. magazine (I touched on Ms. magazine in my Lynda Carter post at https://goo.gl/c25V1y) which was very big at the time.

Ms. Thomas admitted that her inspiration was that she had just became an aunt (her sister Terre recently had a daughter she named Dionne Gordon in 1969 -- the very same year I was born).  Thomas wrote in the prologue to the book 'When We Were Free to Be' edited by Lori Rotskoff and Laura L. Lovett:

"Honestly I was just trying to do something for one little girl." That it would grow to become a cultural phenomenon was never a part of the plan."


But the basic themes in the book, album and TV special were mean to inspire girls and boys to challenge gender and racial stereotypes, value cooperation, and respect diversity became very much part of the feminist movement of those days.  Remember, back in those days, there were only 3 broadcast television networks (plus government-sponsored PBS if you count that, along with some independent stations in select markets).  Cable TV was largely non-existent at the time, and VCR's, DVR's, videocassettes, DVD's and streaming video hadn't been invented yet.  That basically guaranteed a large audience for a TV special that aired just once.

Marlo Thomas' own YouTube channel (which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/user/marlothomas) and The Free To Be Foundation's YouTube channels (which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/user/ftbfoundation) both have clips from different segments of the original ABC special.  I've pieced them together in a playlist (which may or may not be in the original sequence) below, along with clips prior to and at the end of the "Free to Be ... You and Me" television special with commentary from Marlo Thomas and several of the other collaborators on the project.



Yet this particular TV special, the book and especially the soundtrack that was created for it, were fondly remembered by thousands of kids who tuned in to watch the show when it aired on TV.  Today, those kids now are in their late 40's or early 50's, and stepping into leadership roles in society.  The lessons taught in the special remained in the minds of many of those who watched.

The result of "Free to Be ... You and Me" effort created a very large population that largely wants to put racial issues, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny behind it.

As one original review for the book 'When We Were Free to Be' eloquently observed:

"A moving reminder that the women's movement was and is ardently pro-child. These fascinating reminiscences and timely essays about what still needs doing to make our children truly 'free to be' will have you singing the songs again—or discovering the joy of learning them."

Some of the most popular tracks from the original soundtrack can be listened to at  The Free To Be Foundation's website at at http://www.freetobefoundation.com/.  I have included four of the main songs which are found on its website below.

Free To Be You And Me
http://www.freetobefoundation.com/audio/free_to_be.mp3



It's All Right To Cry
http://www.freetobefoundation.com/audio/its_all_right_to_cry.MP3



Sisters And Brothers
http://www.freetobefoundation.com/audio/sisters_and_bros.mp3



When We Grow Up
http://www.freetobefoundation.com/audio/when_we_grow_up.mp3



The book that inspired this blog "Whatever Happened To Pudding Pops?" has an entry about the "Free to Be ... You and Me" initiative which was as follows:


Free to Be ... You and Me

A BOY who loved his doll, a girl getting chomped by tigers, and a dog fixing a sink? Where do we sign up?

A record album, illustrated songbook, and 1974 TV special, triple-threat media powerhouse Free to Be ... You and Me was created when That Girl star Marlo Thomas wanted to teach her young niece that it was OK to break gender roles, in careers and life. And looking at today’s world, with its stay-at-home dads and doctor moms, there's little doubt that she helped make that happen.

Kids who got this book or album had probably never heard of women's lib except as a punch line on Maude. Many of the major points sailed over our heads; other parts seemed “no-DOY” obvious. No one likes housework. It's all right to cry. Boys can bake cakes, girls can bait hooks, and whatever gender you dreamy pencil sketches, snappy cartoons, and one story told in handwritten notes on torn notebook paper. Its most memorable song? "William Wants a Doll," sung by Alan "Hawkeye Pierce" Alda. Its best story? Shel Silverstein's hilarious “Ladies First,” in which a demanding little girl is eaten up by tigers. The book even addressed issues kids didn't know were issues, such as how you shouldn't dress your cat in an apron but should, if he so desires, let your dog be a plumber.  Heather Has Two Mommies gots nothing on this.

X-Tinction Rating: Revised and revived

Replaced By: A thirty-fifth anniversary addition of the book came out in 2008.  And in fall 2010, Target released a back-to-school ad prominently featuring the "Free to Be..." song.


The effort was not without criticism, even in the early 1970's.  As CNN reported, for every "Free to Be" class play, another school wouldn't acknowledge it. TV producers initially balked at a song that seemed to show Thomas and Belafonte as an interracial couple. At least one TV critic warned parents to keep kids away from the television when "Free to Be" was on.  James Dobson (who helped create several known anti-Semetic and anti-LGBT hate-groups, while avoiding anything that might imperil his own organization's tax-free status) Focus on the Family criticized it and advocated for rigid traditional gender roles in child-rearing. Even "Free to Be" supporters argued that some of the skits were classist, and noted its bent toward traditional families with mommies, daddies and children.

Still, with this kind of feminist-inspired teaching of children of that era, no one should be surprised that today, a majority of younger people are far less interested in reigniting old race or gender role tensions of the past (no matter what Donald Trump and his white supremacist supporters may believe, and a President who just barely won the electoral college while losing the popular vote by more than 3 million votes cannot presume he is guaranteed unwavering public support for his racial perspective).

Aside from the 2016 election results and the subsequent national embarrassment of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the country stands at a precipice right now.

Baby Boomer voters are finally outnumbered by the number registered voters, although voting patterns have enabled them to claim a majority for at least the 2016 election and possibly the next one or two elections, mathematically, their days are numbered.  Given the societal cues, the racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic views embodied by the Alt-Right (which is basically white supremacy re-branded with a new name), the very people who so fervently supported Mr. Trump will be increasingly difficult to maintain much beyond 2020.  Indeed, while he has solidified support among right-wing voters, polling shows that he has lost support among independent voters, and more generally, female voters overall.

On October 21, 2015, Marlo Thomas Tweeted this picture of herself,
her sister Terre and her niece Dionne (the little girl that inspired Free To Be)
who had both come to see her in the show Clever Little Lies.
While the original "Free to Be ... You and Me" television special had a very limited broadcast, The Free To Be Foundation was incorporated in 1973 to develop and market educational products that challenge stereotypes, fight discrimination, and encourage individuality and the freedom to pursue one's talents and dreams.  The foundation continues to maintain a website which can be visited at http://www.freetobefoundation.com/.  The Free To Be Foundation's website has links to where the 2008 thirty-fifth anniversary edition of the book (a link to the publisher is listed below) is still sold, along CD's with the soundtrack and even a DVD release of the original ABC television special.  In addition, a stage play with a script and accompanying music can be licensed from the foundation.

Several Links About the "Free to Be ... You and Me" initiative can be seen below:

http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/11/living/free-to-be-you-and-me-40-years/

https://www.uncpress.org/book/9781469619057/when-we-were-free-to-be/

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/doublex/features/2012/free_to_be_you_and_me_40th_anniversary_how_did_a_kids_album_about_gender/free_to_be_you_and_me_40th_anniversary_how_did_a_kids_album_by_a_bunch_of.html

July 17, 2018

Digital Natives Are Now A Half-Century+ Old


I received my very first computer 45 years ago -- back in 1973.  Admittedly, it was merely a toy, but it was long before the iPhone's introduction more than thirty years later in 2007.  In fact, not a single Millennial was even alive in 1973 when I got my first computer.  I would argue that proves I've been a "digital native" a whole lot longer than they are.

I'm also a true "digital native" who will be age 50 next year.  (Catch a relevant article on Gen Xers turning age 50 at https://www.theepochtimes.com/gen-x-turns-50-were-doing-well-thanks-for-asking_1925959.html for more detail).

Millennials can only wait enviously behind Gen Xers on the distinction as "digital native", even if marketers or dumb employment recruiters think it means them.  Genuine digital natives precede Millennials by at least two decades, probably even more than that.  After all, it was Gen X kids like Matthew Broderick who saved the world from a computer-initiated nuclear armageddon a decade later in the 1983 movie "War Games," so Gen Xers have an indisputable claim that the kids who once camped out in front of Apple Stores are no more digital native than we are, because we've been natives longer than they have by decades.

Early mobile phones (which were the size, shape and weight of bricks ... and had power that only lasted for 30 minutes), for example, were portable, but were analog and could only make audio telephone calls.  Today, smartphones are pocket-sized computer devices that are perennially running out of power, memory capacity, and arguably don't work very well if you want to preserve your eyesight beyond age 35.

As one Gizmodo article (see HERE for detail) eloquently put it:

"You'd think that toy computers would have reached their height in the last decade. This Playskool Play and Learn Computer is from 1972 and is a spectacular reminder that a) everything is toyable and b) computers have always been our future."


My own experience with computers actually began around 1973 when I was around four years old with the very Playskool Play 'n Learn Computer depicted in the Gizmodo article above.  Note that in the early 1970's, Playskool was still an independent toy company based in Wisconsin (it wouldn't be acquired by toy-giant Hasbro until 1984).  From the company's earliest days in the 1930's or so, its niche was always making toys for preschool aged children centered around the idea that its products could help develop coordination and stimulate the minds of small children.   As a precocious child, I was always troubled (and a bit insulted) by the fact that in the company name, "school" was incorrectly spelled "skool".  I was too young to understand that corporate names could be completely made-up.

The absolute top of my gift list for 1973 was the Playskool Play 'n Learn Computer.  I really loved this toy, and it was all I talked about in anticipation of that holiday.  On Christmas morning that year, I literally asked which wrapped gift was the computer, but my parents forced me to calm down, so I zeroed in on the box that looked like it might be the same size and opened that one first.  My family bought me plenty of other things that year, including clothes which I don't think any child has ever really wanted for the holiday, but usually got anyway.  I don't recall what any of the other gifts I got that year were because that computer was the only thing I really wanted.

I wanted that toy more than anything until Atari 2600 (it was called the Atari Video Computer System or VCS at the time, and it wouldn't be renamed Atari 2600 until a few years later) came about a decade later.  Kids like me instantly recognized the potential of computers, and many would go on to make that a reality.  For example, Gen Xers are behind things we take for granted today, such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and even online banking.  Realize that in 1972, I was only three years old, but I still saw computers featured on television programs my parents watched, and even on TV shows including Captain Kangaroo.  At the time, those were all big mainframe computers, rather than personal computers (the ones I saw were of the sort featured on the popular 2016 film "Hidden Figures" which supposedly took place in the late 1960's, see below for more detail).

Most of the depictions of computers in those days were big, bulky things (with reel-to-reel storage tapes that stored many programs and most data) that was also the era where computers kind of f'd things up.  Computer screw-ups were frequently shown in late sixties and early seventies TV shows.  Whether it was turning someone's electricity off because the computer mistakenly credited their payment to another customer's account, or in the case of "War Games" mistakenly initiating Global Thermonuclear War with Russia because the computer mistakenly believes it's just another computer game, or when ATM's withdraw thousands of dollars from someone's account but only giving them a twenty dollar bill.  Occasionally, there were humorous takes on "computer dating" which began in the 1960's but was a recurring theme into the 1970's.  For example, I remember seeing a rerun of the TV show "Love, American Style" about the humorous results of computer dating gone wrong.  People submitted their vital stats to a computer dating service along with lengthy questionnaires (usually on a paper form where the respondent colored in a particular circle to answer a certain way not too dissimilar to the way SAT's used to be handled).


The New Yorker reports (see HERE for a Business Insider article with a link to that original article in New Yorker plus some relevant other information) that one early computer dating service made people answer some 1,400 multiple-choice questions, and then charged them $5.00 to have a computer find their match (which was equivalent of about $30.00 in 2018), though an advertisement from a rival in Look magazine also dated 1966 showed its price at $3.00.  In those days, computers were routinely depicted with suspicion and disruptive.  But they were mainly disruptive to older people who grew up in the days when computers were simply not around and they did not see much need for them.  Truth be told, computers did automate many processes that often took more human effort in the old analog world, and also rendered some jobs people used to do as obsolete.  It's a similar dialogue now going on about so-called AI (the acronym for artificial intelligence, see a ZDNet article HERE for more).


The Playskool Play 'n Learn Computer was designed to look like a mainframe computer, only it was a mechanical toy that used no batteries or external power source to compute if child had correctly found the right answer.  Instead, it had five double-sided cards included. Rhyming words, similar pictures, beginning sounds, telling time, colors, adding facts and related objects, identifying parts of a whole, matching words to objects, and a blank card for child to fill out.  As a toy, I eventually mastered the handful of questions, and the company failed by not selling any additional cards for this computer, so I eventually lost interest.  But for a brief time in the early seventies, I thought it was about the greatest toy a child could have.


Around the same time, Playskool also sold what could best be described as dolls and stuffed animals made from cotton fabric and polyester fiberfill (petroleum-sourced polyester was all the rage those days).  Perhaps the most famous of those "dolls" was known as "Dressy Bessy" and her male counterpart was "Dapper Dan", both of which aimed to help teach small children to learn how to dress themselves, with common parts of clothing including zippers, snaps, buckles, buttons, and shoelaces.  At the time, Playskool even licensed the product to the pattern company that sold Simplicity patterns which sold in fabric and sewing shops so homemakers could make these toys by themselves (presumably to give as gifts to children).  Whether they were any cheaper (if a pattern sold for $3.50 but the toy itself sold for $5.85 as it was priced in the Sears annual Wishbook in 1973 or so, one need not be a math genius to determine that the patterns plus the cost of fabric and time to make the Dressy Bessy meant it wasn't necessarily a great economy bargain).


Hasbro brought this particular toy back to market in 2001, but the market was less receptive at the time, perhaps due to a shortage of children of the right age to buy for and a glut of toys to choose from.  The toys were bright and colorful, although they were hardly fashionable even during the years preceding disco, polyester leisure suits, and platform shoes.  Indeed, some writers have jokingly stated: "Dapper?  Not so much."  Nevertheless, Bessy and Dan have remained a perpetually popular product line for Hasbro, even if not perennially available.


Using the same basic designs, the following year, the company expanded to offer what it called Hug-a-Book dolls, which featured the same garish colors (at least it did on the Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood toys) in all of the Hug-a-Book line.  By that time, I was about 4 and already starting to read (at least I knew the stories by heart, so the words on the page looked familiar enough).  The company took several favorite fairy tales and downsized the stories to fit on tiny, 12-page (made of silk-screened cotton) story books which were fastened to the stomach of these dolls.  Initially, it focused on just a few such stories, including Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs and The Three Bears.

At the time, I was a four year-old child who was already very familiar with those stories, and I wanted one a lot like Ralphie wanted a "Red Rider" for Christmas (that's a reference to the 1983 movie "A Christmas Story").  I received the Hug-a-Book Jack and the Beanstalk for Christmas, and in the following April for my birthday, I received The Three Bears.  Eventually, the cover to Jack and the Beanstalk tore off, but my mother was a sewer, and she was able to fix it for me.

I grew older in the years that followed, so I outgrew all of Playskool's offerings, and would be mesmerized by things like The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (having aluminum lunchboxes with Steve Austin's image on it), as well as standard fare like Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Tomy Pocket cars.

I would later get handheld electronic games including Mattel's Electronic Basketball and Football, and rival Parker Brother's Merlin (catch my post on that by visiting http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2012/09/preservation-and-resurrection-of.html for more).  By the end of the decade, Atari's Video Computer System as it was originally called (later renamed Atari 2600, catch my post on that at http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2012/07/atari-celebrates-40th-anniversary.html for more) and the endless pursuit of new home video games for that would capture my attention until my interest shifted to real, personal computers which in hindsight, were incredibly overpriced and underpowered, but were never Apple anything as the company nearly went bankrupt and was more famous for selling vaporware than good design or true technical expertise.

It was Lotus Development Corp. and a company known as WordPerfect that preceded even Microsoft as far as computer software that actually made computers run (Microsoft only for the operating system known as DOS or disk operating system).  As much as hipsters like to believe that Steve Jobs was the true computer visionary, he really wasn't, and his company got off to a very rocky start.
As a side-note, in 1978, Playskool itself would introduce a real (non-mechanical) computer toy called Alphie and a decade later in 1983, and pretend, musical mobile phone, but the original Playskool Play 'n Learn Computer will always remain as one of my all-time favorite holiday gifts.

But anyone under the age of 40 in 2018 who thinks they are a "digital native" is more of a liar than a "digital native".  Gen Xers gave the world Google and Twitter, and Baby Boomers like Bill Gates were pivotal in making those things happen.  But toys like Playskool Play-n-Learn Computer were the first introduction to the digital world for a generation of people who continue to define the term digital natives.  Sorry hipsters, you were about two decades late to the game.

See also:

https://www.commodorecomputerclub.com/1972-playskool-play-and-learn-computer/

https://katrina9799.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/playskool-dapper-dan-dressy-bessy-plush-dolls/

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/02/old-weird-tech-computer-dating-of-the-1960s/71217/

http://thecomputerboys.com/?p=654

July 8, 2018

Baby on Board: Blame Boomer Parents for Millennial Entitlement

Don't get me wrong: I like nearly all of the Millennials I've met, but I do think they exhibit a lot of the same self-absorbed behavior as the other massive demographic cohort which preceded their Gen X predecessors: specifically the Baby Boomers.  They can't help it; there are so damn many of them, it's easy to forget the world has perspectives beyond theirs.

Having lived with both groups through various life stages, I have first-hand experience of the commonalities both generations share.  Without even recognizing it, both demographic groups display episodes of outright narcissism, sociopathy and even occasional stupidity (all generations have, Gen Xers, too), all while telling the world how great they are and how no group before or after them will ever share their unique perspective.  Indeed, I generally like Millennials more than I like most Baby Boomers, perhaps because Gen Xers share more in common with them than we do with Boomers (not all, but SOME things).

For me, my Millennial irritation began decades ago when the Millennial generation was still tiny babies.  In 1984, a man named Michael Lerner founded Safety 1st for the purpose of manufacturing signs to be hung in the back windows of cars that looked much like a "caution" street sign you might find on a street someplace, only it read: "Baby on Board".  At the time, the roads of North America had become the showcase for what had then become America's latest pet rock (another Baby Boomer fad; don't ask), the "Baby on Board" sign.  The five-inch, black-on-yellow diamond-shaped signs had become an overnight sensation and were placed in corners of vehicles' rear windshields with suction cups.
Michael Lerner sold his company, Safety 1st, to Canadian company Dorel Industries in 2000 in a deal reportedly worth about $195 million.  Anyway, I turned 16 the year after the signs were introduced, and got my driver's license, and I felt that was overkill.  Not only did I, as a brand new driver, have to contend with processing all the genuine street signs, but now @$$#0l3 parents felt it was acceptable to remind the world that their precious Millennial babies were somehow 'special' and worthy of more automotive caution than usual.  In fact, all drivers must be careful, so the fact that a Millennial baby was on board was completely irrelevant and not deserving of any special attention.

From my perspective, it was fortunate that Mr. Lerner's vision was pretty quickly corrupted.  (see HERE for a 1986 New York Times article on the topic).  Within months after "Baby on Board" sign emerged, dozens of parodies emerged with messages as ''Nobody on Board!'' ''Baby Driving!'' and ''Baby Carries No Cash'' and others soon outsold the original by a factor of millions, and legislative efforts to try and ban the parodies largely failed.

Some of my feelings on the matter stem from the contempt that so many Baby Boomers had a decade earlier had for their children, as if they were a huge nuisance on their own personal vision quests.  The data backs me up.  Many researchers consider members of Gen X to have been among the least-nurtured children in American history with half coming from split families, and more than 40% raised as latchkey kids — literally, left home alone.  Baby Boomer parents divorced in unprecedented numbers when Xers were still children, and mothers (by virtue of economic necessity) entered the workforce en masse, leaving Gen Xers as un-nurtured latch-key kids.

I certainly did not give a $#!t about the baby in the car ahead of me any more or less than the other drivers and car passengers on the road.  But that was the environment that Millennials grew up in -- being coddled and pampered while Xers got the shaft.  Heck, when we were the same age, car seats were still optional, and my siblings and I routinely fought over who got to "ride shotgun" in the seat right next to the driver of a vehicle, and certainly without wearing a seatbelt, and it was all perfectly legal.  Today, that would be considered criminal.  My parents also had an original 1973 VW Beetle and my baby brother regularly rode in the cubby hole behind the back seat, which I think would be pretty deadly if we were ever rear-ended, but that was the lack of child safety environment of the era Gen Xers were raised.  Kids were an afterthought.

A bit more than decade after the introduction of the annoying "Baby on Board" window sign, as a young executive, I then saw dozens of news stories about young pre-teens and teenagers camping out in front of Apple Stores to buy the latest, overpriced iPhone model.  Again, I felt that Millennial ridiculousness had reached new heights.  In reality, it wasn't all that newsworthy except for the fact that Steve Jobs had managed to resurrect a moribund company known as Apple Computer which was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy a decade earlier.  But the fact that there are so many Millennials made it newsworthy for no other reason than there were so many people doing the exact same thing nationwide.

So whether its "Baby on Board" signs, lines for new iPhones or anything else, I feel more indifference to the vicissitudes of Millennial (or Baby Boomer) fads.  iPhones are not fads, but they also aren't a technology that truly changed the world (catch my previous post at https://goo.gl/uq7Fdn for more) since everything they do already existed.  They are an addiction among a demographic  more comfortable texting than having a conversation on the telephone.

I think Millennials have matured a great deal since their parents coddled them as kids, whereas Gen Xers' parents treated them as an interruption on their own personal vision quests and therefore Gen Xers had to grow up as children largely in the absence of parents.  But the real test of Millennial maturity will be whether they finally bury the "Baby on Board" window signs when they have children of their own.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-gregory-thomas/all-apologies-thank-you-f_b_931718.html

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/09/16/baby-on-board-sign-turns-30/15686777/

https://www.snopes.com/horrors/parental/babysign.asp


June 15, 2018

The Magic Garden Continues

In 1972, the number of options for children on television were still limited. It's worth noting that this was definitely not the 1950's in which most Baby Boomers grew up; Howdy Doody, bobby socks, poodle skirts and greasers were assuredly not part of Generation X youth. Instead, 1972 was still in the crosshairs of the Vietnam war (which did not officially end until 1975), civil rights protests by Americans of African origin as well as LGBT Americans, women's liberation and much more all helped shape the environment in which Gen Xers were raised as children.

Hippy fashion was still very much in vogue at the time, including women's go go boots and bell bottom pants, often in autumn hues made from new synthetic fabrics like polyester. But it's also worth acknowledging that the seventies also ushered in an era of great social unrest caused by all of those seminal events. Politically, Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace following the Watergate break-in and his administration's subsequent attempt to cover up its involvement. When the burglars were caught and the conspiracy was discovered, Watergate was investigated by the United States Congress. But Richard Nixon's administration resisted its probes, which led to a constitutional crisis (not unlike the events going on in 2018 with the treasonous Trump Administration). Coinciding with all of that, U.S. imperialism along with its near-complete dependence on foreign oil would rear its ugly head with the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, which also introduced the U.S. to tremendous economic insecurity and economic stagflation which was unknown before that time.

Still, children were largely insulated from all of the chaos going on in the world outside, and broadcast television presented a picture of the world that looked different from reality. That was the lilly-white world that Donald Trump was referring to when he made the bogus promise to make America great again.

This was before cable television existed in a vast majority of American homes, and broadcast TV was limited to the three major American networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) plus PBS which was (at the time) still a quasi-government run television entity. Bigger markets may also have had one or two so-called "independent" broadcast stations that were best known for their local news coverage (often an hour earlier than their network peers), and filling the rest of their broadcast day with syndicated reruns (again, this was in the days before cable networks like TV Land or more recently, Antenna TV, Me-TV and Cozi TV came to dominate the market for reruns of old, network television programs).


In the New York City area, the nation's largest media market, there were three "independent" broadcast television stations, including WPIX (channel 11), WNET (channel 5, it would become a part of the Fox television network in 1986 becoming one of the then-new network's 5 flagship stations, although that particular station was actually part of the defunct DuMont television network from 1944-1956, and those years became part of what was known as the Metromedia era) and WNEW (Channel 9) which broadcast from Newark, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River.

In 1968, Congress passed into law called the Children's Television Act, which established an FCC requirement that a specific amount of programming had to be dedicated to children's content which was either educational and/or non-violent. To comply, all stations had to offer compliant programming; every station had to comply with the law, or risk having their broadcast license revoked.

Perhaps the biggest children's TV show at the time was "Captain Kangaroo" starring the legendary Bob Keeshan, which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1984. Another show which ran in syndication was known as the "New Zoo Revue" which ran from 1972 to 1977. I watched that show a great deal as a pre-school child. "New Zoo Review" is worthy of its own post, so I won't elaborate much further than to simply acknowledge it here.  Another syndicated show ran on rival WNEW called "Romper Room" but was actually produced by a station in Boston.  I personally disliked that show.

New York's WPIX-11, which was owned at the time by the city's favorite tabloid newspaper the New York Daily News, opted to produce its own, locally-made show, and a children's show called "The Magic Garden" was the result.  The Magic Garden, which was a highly-acclaimed and popular TV show ran on WPIX-TV (ch. 11) New York, starred Carole Demas and Paula Janis who helped create the show.

Carole Demas is perhaps best known for her critically acclaimed creation of the female lead, "Sandy", in the original Broadway blockbuster, Grease. Her colleague and co-star Paula Janis traveled widely as a musician and lead singer with a folk trio "The Wee'Uns", performing in Greenwich Village cafes, on TV and at Carnegie Hall. She holds an M.A. in Early Childhood Education from New York University. She would later became the director of Head Start programs in New York City.

As characterized by the New York Times, The Magic Garden "was a cheerful, low-budget, inadvertently psychedelic half-hour show in which Ms. Janis and Ms. Demas sat on giant toadstools, spoke to flowers, sang songs and told stories." The show was set in a colorful garden setting, where the duo brought stories, songs, games, lessons and laughter to viewers. The show also featured several puppet characters who were integral to the show, including a pink squirrel named Sherlock and a bird named Flapper. The co-stars were friends since they were students at a Brooklyn high school. During their years as teachers in the New York City School System, both Carole and Paula combined their teaching and performing talents.


The Magic Garden received citations from Action for Children's Television and Children's Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop). Ratings for the show were equal to or exceeded those of Sesame Street and other shows of this genre (including Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo, etc.). Today, WPIX-11 is no longer owned by the same company that owns and operates New York Daily News (it's now operated by Tribune Media -- but it was a different time for the broadcast media in those days -- and the station remains home to archives of its past). Indeed, several years ago, the station revealed it had discovered a long-lost Christmas episode of The Magic Garden, and now reruns that episode on Christmas morning. See the post about the discovery of the lost episode in a basement room of the station at http://pix11.com/2013/12/23/lost-christmas-episode-of-the-magic-garden-found-in-secret-pix11-basement-room/ for background.

The stars Carole Demas and Paula Janis maintain their own website at http://caroleandpaula.com/ and occasionally still tour local NYC-area venues (see https://nyti.ms/2sWdYID for more) and sometimes appear on the original station when it reruns old episodes of The Magic Garden. For example, the station announced that two episodes of the show would air on Saturday, June 16, 2018 from 2:00 to 3:00 PM.

Their own website has information about the show, as well as merchandise (DVD's and CD's from the program). It also has photos, some music and even a video clip. I am including the musical track below, or you can find it on their website (see the bottom of the page) at http://caroleandpaula.com/Ordering/index.html.


For its part, WPIX television also has some relevant video clips from The Magic Garden which can be visited on their Facebook page, and at http://pix11.com/category/11-alive/magic-garden/.

A 2013 clip provides a good overview and description of the show which can be seen below, or by visiting http://pix11.com/2013/12/24/the-story-behind-the-magic-garden/.

June 12, 2018

G&L Pulp Fiction: Effort to Document Obscure Items from U.S. Cultural History

In honor of Pride month, this post is dedicated to something that nearly became lost to history (fortunately, it hasn't been lost).  Although I've addressed the topic of how porn went mainstream (catch a previous post by visiting http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2013/03/documenting-porns-path-to-becoming_11.html), there's a tendency to think of porn mainly as a visual medium, hence literary porn is sometimes overlooked or forgotten.  But stories and novels depicting erotic behavior and intended to cause sexual excitement are very much part of the category.

Indeed, motion picture erotica basically hit the mainstream when "Deep Throat" premiered on June 12, 1972, but unlike a lot of porn today, there was an actual story and a script that existed in porn of that era.  Most had story lines (however weak) intended merely to introduce some sexual activity (for example, "Deep Throat's" premise was that Linda Lovelace's clitoris was located in a place other than the normal, biological location; it was discovered to be deep inside of her throat, hence the story line follows that premise), nevertheless, much of the early genre made a basic effort to have some kind of story, not simply a film of people having sex.

As a result of a series of different court cases, by the mid-1960's the U.S. Postal Service could no longer interdict books that contained homosexuality.  By the early 1970's, another legal challenge emerged to the inconsistently-applied American obscenity laws (notably Miller v. California, which was a 1973 Supreme Court decision which redefined the legal definition of obscenity from being "utterly without socially redeeming value" to that which lacks "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value" which effectively narrowed prior restrictions used to persecute purveyors of "adult" materials not erotic in nature), and that opened the doors to erotica of all types.

Although photo magazines and movies were considered the primary medium for porn, print publishing also had a presence in the form of sexually-explicit fiction novels better known as "pulps".  The term "pulp" originates from the cheap paperback books of the latter half of the 20th century which were printed on cheap "pulp" paper and published as escapist fiction for the general entertainment of mass audiences.


Sex "pulps" took that segment of the publishing industry in a rather different direction, aimed at sexual arousal of the reader.  This was before the internet made it easy for anyone to publish adult stories online.  Paperback pulp porn novels (consisting of both hetero and homo) were often sold side-by-side with porn magazines, although they were also semi-discreetly sold in drugstores and random magazine stands back in the mid-1950's through the late-1970's.  These books were produced quickly and cheaply by sketchy imprints that were often opened just for the purpose of releasing a few titles, then dissolved before authorities could catch up with them.  The gay pulp genre, as it turns out, were dominated by a handful of paperback book publishers, many now known to have been operated by single a Chicago-based publisher which found a very lucrative niche with suggestive titles and covers, even if the published content inside was unrelated to the title or cover.

Author Michael Bronski, who in 2003 published the book "Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps" (see https://www.amazon.com/Pulp-Friction-Uncovering-Golden-Pulps/dp/0312252676 for more) says the first general mass-market paperback book to be published was Pearl S. Buck's "The Good Earth" back in 1939.  He said during World War II, soldiers had access to government-issued paperback books that supplied them with endless hours of topics to read about while waiting for action on the front-line. After the war was over, there was a boom in paperback publishing as a response to the now-growing demand for fiction that was realistic, edgier and more adventurous.

Most of the G&L pulps that have been re-discovered in an effort to catalogue, archive and retain them were found in garage sales, on eBay, a few porn shops' going-out-business liquidation sales, and even old homes that were sold.  The archives that have so far been documented focus mainly on the first 16 years of publishing by the organization that was run by William Hamling known informally as vintage Greenleaf Classics.  We now know that a man named Earl Kemp was editor at Greenleaf Classics Publishing from 1959 through 1973, and a man named Robert Bonfils was a cover artist during that same period.  During that time, thousands of titles were published within multiple series or lines. The term "imprint" is used for those series or lines; the books had miscellaneous publisher names including Beacon, Nightstand, Companion, Corinth, Pleasure Reader, French Line and others.  The number of titles published peaked during 1969 and 1972.

New Digital Archive

A relatively new, digital archive currently now catalogs some 3,500 titles in 25 different imprints.  All told, its known to have identified some 4,300 titles (also, a few titles were re-run under different titles with different cover art).  Evidently, the company had an organized numbering system which has been identified and is now understood, and most titles followed a fairly specific format in terms of book content; typically each chapter contained a vivid sex scene.  The content of each book is being digitized and at least a handful have been re-published in the modern era and can now be purchased on Amazon.com, perhaps the entire library can someday be available as MOD (manufacture on-demand) content, which a I understand it is still relatively new.

Regarding print-on-demand technology, as noted, its fairly new, but its similar to the technology which now also enables DVD's which have been digitized to be produced on-demand.  Amazon's DVD manufacture on-demand (MOD) gets more press coverage, but it relies upon the underlying manufacturing capacity of Warner Home Video manufacture-on-demand which began in 2009 (also behind the large Warner Archive Collection).  In essence, once a book or movie is properly formatted, the digitized computer files can then be printed on-demand in the form of books or DVD's.  However, particularly in the video space, content owners or managers are really marketing streaming since nothing must be manufactured or mailed to a purchaser.

Anyway, the new publisher run by 120 Days Books run by Maitland McDonagh is a small press that has reprinted a few Hamling/Greenleaf titles including "Night of the Sadist" and "Demon's Coronation" and soon "Gay Cruise".  The re-printed titles are sold on Amazon.com.

A handful of the G&L pulp book authors and/or artists who created cover artwork for Greenleaf were also able to be identified and interviewed (before a few, unfortunately, passed away).  But the interviews with those individuals answered some important questions about the underlying business that was done largely on the "down-low" before that term even existed.  In those days, it was a necessity to avoid law-enforcement from dismantling an otherwise law-abiding publishing business serving a neglected "niche" market.

We now know that the publisher, Mr. Hamling, kept First Amendment lawyer Stanley Fleishman, busy defending the right to publish and distribute erotic fiction in the many obscenity prosecutions that were mounted to try and suppress Greenleaf Classics. The winning results in those trials helped establish the case law that Americans enjoy now, and many publishers and movie producers continue to rely on today.  They did not win every trial, but the trial record helped establish an American right to publish (and consume) such materials that many now take for granted.

Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover each had issues with sexuality that was at odds with their public face. They took it personally that Greenleaf Classics sex novels were even being published. They used their position and power to repeatedly go after the Hamling organization.  Eventually the Feds won one.  Hamling and editor Earl Kemp, were however, convicted of "obscenity" in federal court and were forced out of the business in 1974 (their convictions were for mailing a promotional brochure about a book, not for the book itself).

Gay and lesbian sex pulps were cheap, and intended to be read and discarded.  Many people did just that, so there's no telling exactly how many ended up in landfills.  However, traditionally, Greenleaf Classics books were actively suppressed by book collectors. Some thrift stores threw donated copies into the dumpster.  Many used book stores wouldn't buy them for resale.  Estates took them to the landfill before the sale.  This means that searching for these books has been more work and a rather different experience than building a collection of say, the first 500 vintage Bantam paperbacks.  The primary method of acquisition has been active book scouting in every flea market and used book store in every city ever visited.  The tricky moment in searching for vintage Greenleaf books is how to ask about sex novels without appearing too creepy.



To some extent, the assembly of a coherent cataloging of these books has involved a few very dedicated people with an interest in the project.  Many aren't even gay or lesbian, but still found the work very interesting.  Notably, publisher and film scholar, Maitland McDonagh, a straight woman, says these books themselves provide a rare glimpse in to a world that was largely kept secret out of fear and shame.

"They're not poking fun at what they're describing," she explained. "Some of them are funny and humorous but they take their subject as seriously as if they were mainstream books." Given the insight these "stroke books" provide into gay life of another era, she began to view them and their preservation as a way of honoring a past that has long been hidden to all but a select few.  Fortunately, she has found others to work with who are also interested, albeit for different reasons.

Several sites emerged to showcase the vivid artwork that graced the covers of gay pulp books.  While the book content may not have been true gay or lesbian pulp, covers featuring scantily-clad women or semi-nude men on the cover with an identifiable publisher name made them sufficient to appear on the http://www.strangesisters.com or its counterpart http://www.gayontherange.com websites.

The artwork doesn't always mean the content of the classic gay pulp books is online (yet).  But a handful of titles have since been reprinted (see http://greenleaf-classics-books.com/vintage/ for the site that's now seriously archiving these books, and another organization has reprinted a few titles at http://120daysbooks.blogspot.com/2015/.  Others are taking the subject of these books to an audio podcast in which the podcasters read the contents of a gay pulp book aloud to listeners (each podcast reads a chapter from one of the Greeleaf Classics gay pulp fiction novels), visit http://gaypulp.podomatic.com for more on the podcast.

An excerpt from one these podcasts (if you're inclined to listen) can be listened to below, or by visiting Summer in Sodom, Chapter 14, "Gay Whore":



Erotic pulp novels (both straight and gay) were largely a function of the era from the mid-1950's to the early 1980's before cable television, VCR's and subsequently, DVD's and then later, broadband internet became so pervasive.  G&L pulps were part of a larger erotic narrative pulp genre that also proliferated during that era.  But because this sub-genre was very actively suppressed, its since become very lucrative to collectors.  Although no one envisions a return to the day of erotic pulp novels being sold in drugstores, supermarkets and discount stores around the country, for anyone old enough to remember seeing, buying or reading any these books, the emergence of the internet may just restore a hidden part of pop-culture (admittedly, a somewhat sleazier part of pop-culture) that until quite recently, might have been lost forever.

The full list of titles in the collection are based on the fact that most book titles were published at the back of each of these books (with headlines saying something along the lines of: "If you enjoyed reading this, you might also be interested in reading the following").  While most titles have been cataloged, the cover artwork scanned and content in the process of being digitized, the entirety of the collection is still very much a work in-process.  Notably, a few titles are identified but copies of those particular books have yet to be located.

For anyone interested in exploring this topic further, its quite interesting.  Below is a list of some relevant links (including some actual news articles from publications like Rolling Stone) to explore.

http://greenleaf-classics-books.com/

http://www.strangesisters.com

http://www.gayontherange.com

http://gaypulp.podomatic.com

http://gaycitynews.nyc/pulped/

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/one-publisher-looks-to-save-gay-stroke-books-of-the-1970s-w491704

https://www.queerty.com/30-hilarious-gay-pulp-fiction-covers-yesterqueer-2016050

http://www.newnownext.com/scared-stiff-vintage-gay-pulp-novels-come-out-of-the-closet/10/2016/

http://120daysofsodomy-vintagegaypulp.blogspot.com/

http://www.newnownext.com/gay-pulp-novels-podcast/07/2017/

http://bookscans.com/Publishers/sleaze/sleaze25.htm

http://greenleaf-classics-books.com/vintage/

http://120daysbooks.blogspot.com/2015/

http://efanzines.com/EK/eI2/index.htm

June 6, 2018

Mister Rogers: Won't You Be My Neighbor? Opens This Week

On Friday (June 8, 2018), a new movie entitled "Mister Rogers: "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" opens nationwide (although its running mainly in art-house, indie, and/or repertory cinema venues).  This particular movie is a biopic about the late host of the long-running PBS children's show entitled "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood".  The biopic will open around the fiftieth anniversary of his long-running (having run for 33 years) children's show premier in the United States, which only left the airwaves as a first-run show in 2001.

The subject of this biopic first began his television career in 1963 with a children's program that ran on Canada's CBC network.  Three years later, in Pittsburgh, he created a regional show he called "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood".  In 1968, it began its run of more than three decades (33 years' total) on PBS, where it became a gently instructive, supportive safe-harbor for several generations of children.  All told, there were about 900 episodes recorded, which is an impressive track-record.

The official trailer for the "Mister Rogers: Won't You Be My Neighbor?" movie can be viewed below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/FhwktRDG_aQ:


Fred McFeely Rogers was born in Latrobe, PA which is about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh.  Fred Rogers died in 2003 at age 74 from stomach cancer.  During his lifetime, he earned a degree in music, and was preparing to enter seminary school after graduation when he saw a television for the first time at his parents' home.  His reaction to the show was not one of thrill, but of dismay.  The show he saw featured throwing a pie in another person's face, which he saw as unnecessary violence to get a laugh at someone else's expense.  His response was "We can do better".

Fred Rogers' real calling turned out to be a kind-hearted, neighborly, nurturing connection and host to his audiences who symbolized warmth, comfort and reassurance for children on television.  Indeed, during his show's run, he addressed many tough issues including the topic of divorce which would peak in the early 1980's just as Gen X kids were growing up, as well as addressing the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986.  Those were topics that were largely ignored by most other children's shows at the time, even though they were genuine issues kids were confronting.

Mister Rogers: Internet Celebrity

In the 15 years since Fred Rogers died, he's enjoyed something of a second life as an internet celebrity.  More than a few times, usually during yet another federal government debate about budgetary priorities, someone will dig up and pass around the video of Fred Rogers' testimony before Congress about the necessity of funding PBS from May 1, 1969.  Fred Rogers testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications to argue against proposed funding cuts to PBS.  Then-Senator John O. Pastore, who was the subcommittee chairman, had clearly never even heard of the host or seen any of his shows, but after only six minutes of testimony by Fred Rogers (including one song, recited from memory, about anger management), the politician went from a gruff, dismissive foe to a lifelong fan.

The organization that honor's Fred Rogers' memory has also deftly reminded people (again, using the internet) of how Fred Rogers reassured children in the wake of any tragedy or disaster, to the point where people today almost reflexively share his simple advice to children: "look for the helpers."

"Many people would call Fred a wimp, but what you realize in that moment is that Fred was the most iron-willed person out there," Academy award winning film producer Morgan Neville behind the most recent movie about Mister Rogers, saying "It's Mister Rogers goes to Washington. It's the perfect example of somebody speaking truth to power, and winning." (incidentally, I would remind people that Senator Pastore blocked the proposed cut.)



Fred Rogers poses with Daniel Striped Tiger
Of course, these days PBS (much like NPR) receives very little funding from U.S. taxpayers anymore.  It operates largely as a commercial entity with lucrative sponsored programming (except without the regular commerical interruptions), as well as grants from various non-profit foundations.  But in 1969, PBS was still an exception seen as advancing public interests rather than being for unencumbered commerical interests.  But the insignificant amount of remaining public support for PBS and NPR continues to be a source of anger from conservatives who believe public funding has no place in broadcasting, and the resent their more balanced news coverage since conservative media are known to promote outright falsehoods to advance their particular political agenda.

But Fred Rogers enjoyed lasting success educating and entertaining children on television.  Among numerous awards for excellence and public service, Fred Rogers won 4 daytime Emmys between 1979 and 1999, as well as a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1997.

By the time Fred Rogers retired from TV at the age of 73 in 2001 (as noted, he died of stomach cancer less than two years later), the show did kind of feel like a relic, a window onto simpler times in the world of children's entertainment, like the 1950's.

But Fred Rogers didn't behave like a normal guy, either — certainly not the macho ideal that trained boys to bury their emotions deep inside.  He wore pink and lavender and he told everyone — even other grown men — that he loved them.  And he hated superheroes, which he found so phonily inspirational he brought his own show back from hiatus solely to battle the influence of the late "Superman" actor Christopher Reeve. He argued that a true hero wouldn't make a kid throw punches and jump off roofs. They'd bring peace by being peaceful.  Indeed, Fred Rogers had an unshakable sense that he was always right.

While the new biopic and a recent PBS special (see below) commemorating the anniversary of his long-running TV show have been mostly accolades (many well-deserved), its worth noting that the persona known as Mister Rogers, although largely recalled with fond memories, as noted above, was not without critics -- even among the very children whom the show was meant to serve, although memories of him are mostly fond.  

Faux (Fox) News Called Mister Rogers "Evil"

In an early (shortly after the cable network began) Fox News critique of Fred Rogers, he was described as "evil" man who "ruined a generation of children" [meaning Millennials] because his message to young children - that they were special just for being who they were — which Fox News said lead to narcissism and attitudes of entitlement.  The Fox News commentator then asked if kids believe they are special, why should they work hard and try to do better?  That early Fox News commentator no longer works in broadcasting, whereas Fred Rogers worked for more than 40 years in the medium.

In fact, the term "evil" used by Fox News to describe Fred Rogers in its nascent years was an unequivocal falsehood, because Fred Rogers was trained and ordained as a Presbyterian minister, which is the very antithesis of evil.

Mister Rogers Gets a Warm Posthumous Reception Today, But Wasn't Universally Popular

I would remind everyone that even when I was a child in the 1970's, in spite of a more indifferent reception among the kids the show targeted, nearly everyone still saw the show -- at least on occasion.  (For me, it preceded or followed The Electric Company, which I watched for the Joan Rivers' narrated character Captain Letterman, catch my reference to that at http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2013/02/joan-rivers-from-adventures-with.html).  Because of that, I occasionally watched Mister Rogers as I awaited the show I was tuned in for.

Mister Rogers was also described by kids when I was growing up as gay, even though he was recognized as a very devoted family man who was married to his college sweetheart Joanne Rogers for 50 years until his death.  The couple shared two sons.

David Newell, who played Mr. McFeely on the original series, said of the couple "They were perfect together.  They were both musicians, and they had twin pianos in their living room, which they would play together."

But the term gay was never used to describe his sexual orientation, rather it was meant to be a term of derision.  But his tone of voice (calm) and his nerdy-outfits (usually with a cardigan sweater and his un-trendy sneakers) were not considered aspirational by many kids back in the day.

SNL Eddie Murphy Parody: Mister Robinson's Neighborhood

Indeed, in 1981, Eddie Murphy introduced a parody called "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood" which was intended to be a ghetto version of the genuine, lilly-white Mister Rogers, premiered on the TV show "Saturday Night Live" (catch a 1983 clip at https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/mr-robinsons-neighborhood/n9117 for reference). 

As Wikipedia notes (see HERE for detail), in the sketch, Eddie Murphy's character, named "Mister Robinson", speaks and presents the show in a similarly stilted manner, but lives in a considerably grittier venue and engages in a number of illegal and/or unethical activities for money due to his lack of a job, which he educates his young viewers about in each episode while at the same time teaching them cynical views on the government and life in general. 

For the record Fred Rogers actually took no offense to the Eddie Murphy parody (he was acknowledged to have a great sense of humor, as the new biopic movie will show).  On the contrary, he said found it amusing and affectionate.  The parody was also initially broadcast at a time of night when his own child audience was not likely to see it.

Another Movie Starring Tom Hanks, and a Book Coming Soon

I should also acknowledge that next year, another new film about the PBS children's show host starring Academy Award winner Tom Hanks entitled "You Are My Friend" will also open, although that film is focused on a reporter and [Mr. Rogers'] relationship to his life, and how [the reporter's] whole world changes when coming in contact with Fred Rogers.  That film [will be about] "one man who's in a critical point in his life — becoming a new father, having issues with his own father — and meeting Mr. Rogers to write a piece about him, thinking it's going to be a bit of a puff piece, but it ends up changing his entire life."

Separately, a book entitled "The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers" which will be the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers written by Maxwell King is set to be released by Abrams Books on September 4, 2018.

In the end, Fred Rogers' character Mister Rogers is being celebrated for the memorable contribution he made to popular culture, and to adults who tuned into his show as children.  As the recent PBS special "Mister Rogers: It's You I Like" (see https://www.pbs.org/video/mister-rogers-its-you-i-nwxrdh/ for the streaming version of that special) featured numerous celebrities including a few Gen Xers such as Sarah Silverman.  Again, while the retrospective is mostly adoration, Fred Rogers' had occasional critics for various reasons back in the day, but his underlying legacy will be the messages he taught.  His subtle message of acceptance and tolerance made a very lasting impression on children like me who weren't necessarily even watching his show because they were regular viewers.

Author P.S., July 31, 2018: The Associated Press (AP) and other news sources reported that PBS stations plan to air the acclaimed documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" as part of the "Independent Lens" showcase.  An airdate for "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" wasn't announced at that time, so they advise viewers to keep abreast of the schedules for their local PBS station and the "Independent Lens" showcase that airs on the network.  (see https://apnews.com/481f0064a4354f8eb13e1408272a0f7f for the AP news article)

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