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The palimpsest of popular culture

This is Bill Whittle, some weirdo far right nutbag I never heard of before. He is spinning out some metaphor about America and popular TV.

You see, once upon a time, we all loved Superman, and America was super-powerful. And then there was a transitional period when Gilligan’s Island was popular, and we didn’t learn the lesson that Gilligan ought to have been executed. And now we’re living in a Family Guy world, which is all “anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Christian, anti-morality”.

I think it’s actually a pretty good metaphor, he’s just reading it wrong. Conservatives think the ideal is to be an invulnerable, superpowerful brute who can solve all of his problems by punching them out; they don’t seem to be aware that the Almighty Superman was boring and a dead end, and everyone who wrote for the comic struggled to make the story interesting, and usually failed. The message of Gilligan’s Island was always…listen to the Professor. He can make anything given enough coconuts.

I don’t know about Family Guy. I’ve seen bits of a few episodes and didn’t like it much at all. I’m afraid you’ll have to fill in the proper interpretation of that part of his metaphor for me.

But ultimately, the most important message from Mr Whittle is that the proper place for right wingers is sitting in their E-Z Boy recliner, shouting at the TV.

Comments

  1. Larry says

    listen to the Professor

    Well, there was that one episode where the Professor told Gilligan to kill the Skipper (using some cocoanut-based explosive power or something. I forget) and then murder the Howells in their sleep (again, cocoanuts) and steal all their money. The two of them would breed with Ginger and Mary Ann and form a master race that would enslave the world. Weird. Not one of the usual episodes.

    I think the writers were just having a bad week that time. Mostly, the Professor was right on.

  2. rodw says

    I suppose the metaphor for Family Guy is that its better to put our plans for murder and world domination on hold….and that there’s no problem that cant be solved if you have a time machine and/or a sufficient number of Reece’s Pieces.

  3. says

    we didn’t learn the lesson that Gilligan ought to have been executed.

    Huh? Pardon, I haven’t watched the video, I’m on overload right now. Anyway, I’m with you, the takeaway was listen to the Professor. I’ve never seen Family Guy. I recently informed our satTV company that their services were no longer required. Perhaps Mr. Whittle should learn where the off button is, too.

  4. says

    Conservatives think the ideal is to be an invulnerable, superpowerful brute who can solve all of his problems by punching them out; they don’t seem to be aware that the Almighty Superman was boring and a dead end, and everyone who wrote for the comic struggled to make the story interesting, and usually failed.

    FYI: That’s being pretty unfair to Superman. At least initially, he was far from a conservative. He was originally sort of a progressive fantasy figure. In the 30s and 40s enemies were things like corrupt industrialists, greedy tenement owners who gouged their renters, wife-beaters, and even the KKK. He only morphed into a conservative power fantasy in the 50s after the Macarthy era Congress cracked down on comic books, and they instituted the censorious Comics Code Authority which basically forced comic book writers to make all their characters utterly dull and inoffensive. After that, Superman stopped being the Champion of the Oppressed, as he was called when introduced in Action Comics #1, and began fighting for Truth, Justice and the “American Way,” whatever that is.

  5. unbound says

    I don’t know about Family Guy. I’ve seen bits of a few episodes and didn’t like it much at all. I’m afraid you’ll have to fill in the proper interpretation of that part of his metaphor for me.

    It’s a Seth MacFarlane cartoon about a dysfunctional family. The dog (sentient and talking) is an atheist, so many preachers like to push against the cartoon, and the infant is an evil genius to boot. There are a lot of scenes of fights and being bad parents. Although it is humorous at times, I’m not a fan of Seth’s work…one episode of Family Guy is the most I can take. I had to watch Ted over 4 or so sittings…there is only so much juvenile humor that should be allowed at one time.

  6. Ray, rude-ass yankee says

    One can only hope that he is right with his last comment that the re-pugs will never win another election, because they are the villains of every story.

  7. Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe says

    Can you imagine an America where the Democrats are the right-wing party? Like they’d be in every other nation in the developed world?

  8. Rey Fox says

    which is all “anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Christian, anti-morality”.

    There’s not one value in that list that doesn’t deserve a good skewering.

  9. says

    Yeah, I think the Crash Test Dummies made the point about Superman that I’ve always liked the best:

    Superman never made any money
    For saving the world from Solomon Grundy
    And sometimes I despair the world will never see
    Another man like him

    Hey Bob, Supe had a straight job
    Even though he could have smashed through any bank
    In the United States, he had the strength, but he would not
    Folks said his family were all dead
    Their planet crumbled but Superman, he forced himself
    To carry on, forget Krypton, and keep going

    Tarzan was king of the jungle and Lord over all the apes
    But he could hardly string together four words: “I Tarzan, You Jane.”

    Sometimes when Supe was stopping crimes
    I’ll bet that he was tempted to just quit and turn his back
    On man, join Tarzan in the forest
    But he stayed in the city, and kept on changing clothes
    In dirty old phonebooths till his work was through
    And nothing to do but go on home

    The video is of the funeral of Superman, with various old crime-fighting buddies showing up, old men and women in their baggy old uniforms out of respect. I’ve always liked its positioning of Kent as just a basically “stand-up guy”, as they used to call it; a guy who did his job, looked after people, didn’t use his powers to take over the world – even though he had the power to stand above it all, to avoid having to work, he felt it was an important part of his responsibility to be able to understand humanity.

    In the earliest version, before the Silver Age McCarthyesque-reboot into junior G-man, Wes is quite right: Supes was the hero of the working stiff, or the people who would have been working if not for the crash of the world’s economy brought on by rampant unregulated financialism.

    Which is why I was so disappointed to find that the latest movie positioned him as someone who couldn’t be bothered to notice that his fight with someone who was specifically trying to kill him – that is, who would follow him if he left – was destroying hundreds of people, and billions in property. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it for that, and for the big spoilery thing that he did near the end that I won’t spoil for those who’ve not yet seen it. They just didn’t work with the history of the character.

    The trick with the super-powerful character is to find ways to push them up against the limits and see what they do – do they unleash their terrible might, uncaring of the damage, or do they always try to act within self-imposed moral constraint? That’s a question that, I think, can be rewardingly examined an amazing number of times and ways.

    Of course, most of the Silver Age and later writers didn’t bother, they just progressively added a) more powers and b) more weaknesses, rather than just engaging with what they had.

  10. Bicarbonate says

    Well, I agree with this guy about one thing. That “story” is very important. Stories don’t have to be true to have an effect on us and shape our thinking about things. In fact, when people know a story is fictional, they let their guard down. Take Robinson Crusoe, for example, the idea that man survives through ingenuity rather than community.

  11. says

    McFarlane may be an atheist, but I get the impression he’s a Penn Jillette type libertarian as well. And a lot of the humour in his stuff would appeal to the Rush Limbaugh types who think laughing at “political correctness,” like thinking rape jokes aren’t funny, is funny.

    The Comics Code Authority, now defunct, was set up the comics industry itself. It was the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, not McCarthy and HUAC, that was investigating comic books, in part due to the public concern generated by Frederic Wertham’s anti comic book screed Seduction of the Innocent. The industry decided to sanitise the content of comics to avoid government action and came up with the CCA.

  12. machintelligence says

    The industry decided to sanitise the content of comics to avoid government action and came up with the CCA.

    The one thing for which we can thank the CCA is the success of Mad magazine. When Bill Gaines found that all of his comic titles were refused by news stands because they were not CCA approved, he put all of his efforts into Mad (which wasn’t really a comic book) and the rest is history. Sadly, it hasn’t been the same since he died.

  13. robro says

    Ah ha, he’s apparently speaking at Americans for Prosperity event. David Koch is the chairman of AFP Foundation, which he and his brother, Charles, founded. In other words, he’s working for the Koch Brothers.

  14. jakc says

    I’m not going to watch the video, but if his take is that Gilligan needed to be killed in order for the castaways to get off the island, sheesh, why would anyone really want to escape a tropical paradise?

    As for superman – isn’t he an illegal alien taking jobs away from American super heroes (and as Clark Kent, taking jobs away from American reporters).

  15. Ingdigo Jump says

    If we’re killing Gilligan do we want to point out the rich fucks who just ate the supplies and treated people like servants?

  16. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    “anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Christian, anti-morality”.

    Huh. I have no problem with any of those, as things stand, historically through today. (Given the status quo forms of those things.)

  17. Akira MacKenzie says

    But ultimately, the most important message from Mr Whittle is that the proper place for right wingers is sitting in their E-Z Boy recliner, shouting at the TV.

    You just described my father. He can’t get through any modern TV program without speculating if that actor/actress is gay. He can’t even see a tampon ad on television without loudly pining for the good old days when you didn’t mention feminine hygiene products on the air.

    unbound @ 5

    Although it is humorous at times, I’m not a fan of Seth’s work…

    You do know MacFarlane is one of the executive producers of the upcoming Cosmos reboot with Neil deGrasse Tyson?

  18. abelundercity says

    “What’s so funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?”

    If Superman were real, FOX News would rail against him every day:

    “He saves people’s lives? For FREE? What’s he REALLY after? C’mon, people, nobody does ANYTHING for FREE!”

    And Lex Luthor would be one of the biggest bankrollers for Americans For Prosperity.

  19. PDX_Greg says

    Okay, any serious Gilligan’s Island viewing alumnus knows that the professor was manipulating the rest of the people on the island to keep them there indefinitely. I mean, the guy could design and build ANYTHING from coconuts and palm fronds and dirt and the remains of the ship radio, excepting a simple raft to help them off of the island. My guess is that he was planning to use the others as guinea pigs in his evil scientific experiments but the show was cancelled while he was still basking in their admiration for his unique mental abilities.

  20. Holms says

    Gilligan’s Island ran from 1964-1967. Superman’s popularity peaked in maybe the early 80′s, before this travesty nearly buried it.

    So, nice timeline fail, Mr. Rightwing Nutjob Guy.

  21. pacal says

    I like some Family Guy, although it has stretches of totally lame and also quite pointless gross out `humour`. Sadly American Dad is almost always unfunny and The Cleveland Show is has close to totally lame and unfunny has a show can get.

    Frankly when someone creates `new` material by ripping off himself shamelessly there is a problem, which is what Seth has done twice.

  22. Thumper; Immorally Inferior Sergeant Major in the Grand Gynarchy Mangina Corps (GGMC) says

    Shorter version:

    “Today, youth watch things like Family Guy, which make them [insert lots of scary-sounding words that, translated from Wingnut to English, roughly mean "Liberal"]. They are programmed by pop culture. This is bad.

    In my day, we were also programmed by pop culture, but our pop culture was Superman. This was good”.

  23. frankb says

    Doesn’t Mr. Whittle sell toilet paper or something?

    I would like to point out that Gilligan’s Island was the most visited island that’s less than one square mile in the world. Yet no one helped the stranded party. That was the deciding factor. Gilligan’s clumsiness and bad luck merely balanced out the Professor’s ingenuity and magic with coconuts. Mr, Whiffle would have come to the Island, killed Gilligan, tell the others they can now get off the island, and then leave them there.

  24. ck says

    It seems to me that they hate Family Guy for the same reason they hate The Simpsons: The father figure in the family is a blundering idiot who is regularly ignored by the rest of the family. Since they worship the unearned authority of the family patriarch, this is simply unforgivable and gets all the anti- prefixed words they love to hit their enemies with.

  25. Stardrake says

    Holms@23–His Douchebagness is referring to the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV series, which ran on network from 1952-1958. George Reeves as Superman. He must not have seen it recently, though–that show wore its liberal heart on its sleeve! (Okay, liberal by early-50′s standards, but that’s still KAwmewnist but His Douchebagness’ standards….)

  26. w00dview says

    The Superman this wingnut must be referring to has to be the sanitised version of the CCA era. I have just recently gotten into Superman and he has got to be the most bleeding heart of all the superheroes out there! He cares deeply about reducing the suffering of people’s lives, never kills (this also makes Batman soft on crime by the way according to wingnut standards) and weren’t some of his story lines explicitly anti-war as well? If Superman was real, Rush Limbaugh would be launching spittle flecked diatribes against this illegal alien coming over here and giving the people handouts by rescuing them for free.

    Abelundercity is correct. Lex Luthor would be a demigod to the Republicans. The finest Job Creator there is! It is of utmost importance that he gets a tax break!

  27. says

    His one brilliant insight is that, as long as they are the villains, they will not win another election. Let us sincerely hope the voters are smart enough to make that happen. But they don’t get to be the villains because cartoons say they are villains, they get to be the villains by their all-pervasive tactics of voter disenfranchisement, minority sequestration, obstructive and childish behavior from so-called lawmakers, and continued pimping for the military-industrial-pharmaceutical-insurance complex and the corporate welfare they enjoy. What he has not yet figured out, or is too much into the doublespeak to acknowledge, is that his masters own the villainy business, lock stock and Wall Street, as well as having the monopoly on mind control and propaganda. If calling someone a villain was enough to make them a villain, the President would make Lex Luthor and Doctor Doom look like heroes after the conservative media get through with him every day.

  28. AsqJames says

    The influence goes both ways though obviously, so we should also be thinking about why the creators of Superman (and Spiderman for that matter) chose to make journalism his “real” job. What was society, and its opinion of the media, like in the formative years of Superman’s inventor(s)? What gave anyone the idea that a crime-fighting superhero, who only wanted to do good and protect the little people, would choose to be a journalist the rest of the time?

    What does the depiction of journalists in modern popular culture tell us about their standing today?

  29. johnmarley says

    I vaguely remember seeing some right-wing douche making a “the castaways should have killed Gilligan” argument. Although, I seem to remember it as “the castaways should have eaten Gilligan”. It was a long time ago.

  30. Thumper; Immorally Inferior Sergeant Major in the Grand Gynarchy Mangina Corps (GGMC) says

    @ck #28

    You know, I think you may have something there. They also hate the bad laguage, mockery of stereotypes, often tasteless subject matter and, most importantly, its blatantly liberal bias; but I think the portrayal of the Great American Patriarch as a fat, drunken, irresponsible, ignominious idiot probably offends them more than any of that.

  31. Ingdigo Jump says

    he influence goes both ways though obviously, so we should also be thinking about why the creators of Superman (and Spiderman for that matter) chose to make journalism his “real” job. What was society, and its opinion of the media, like in the formative years of Superman’s inventor(s)? What gave anyone the idea that a crime-fighting superhero, who only wanted to do good and protect the little people, would choose to be a journalist the rest of the time?

    Original answer was that he wanted a plausible reason for his alter ego to be near disaster zones or crime scenes, also to get an early scoop on stories so he could investigate as Superman.

    later writers elaborated on the motives like you sugest

  32. tfkreference says

    I’ll give him the Superman TV series. Much like the republicans, when imaginary objects (bullets from a prop revolver or voter fraud), Reeve’s Superman stood strong. When a real object came at him ( the crook throwing the spent pistol at him or rational arguments against their position), they both duck.

  33. Ingdigo Jump says

    Throwing trivia out there

    DC Has a villian named G Gordon Godfrey: basically a minor god of propaganda and the PR head of a satan figure (notably voiced by Tim Curry doing a Bill O Reilly impression)

    A comic recently reintroduced him as G Glen Godfrey