Amazon.com: Saving us from ourselves, one cartoon at a time

tom and jerryMedia outlets are reporting that Amazon Prime Instant Video is warning subscribers who view old Tom and Jerry cartoons that the venerable series may depict scenes of “racial prejudice.”

The cartoons, produced between 1940 and 1957, are being tagged by Amazon for its depiction of a black maid and for the use of blackface in some episodes.

Tom and Jerry: The Complete Second Volume is accompanied by this warning: “Tom and Jerry shorts may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”

Amazon’s warning says such prejudice was once “commonplace” in US society, according to the BBC.

The warning was attacked as “empty-headed” by sociology professor Frank Furedi of the University of Kent, who said it was a form of a “false piousness” and a type of censorship which “seems to be sweeping cultural life.”

“We’re reading history backwards, judging people in the past by our values,” Furedi said.

Tom and Jerry was a longtime mainstay on American and British children’s programming, and can still be seen today.

However, it does seem rather difficult to believe that there’s a need to attach a warning to a children’s cartoon that identifies the stereotyping of blacks as wrong. Blackface is pretty much accepted as verboten in our culture today and has been for several decades.

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Designer dorm rooms: Another trend we can do without

My first reaction when I saw the Washington Post’s story on “designer dorm rooms” was that the piece underscored a trend that did not exist. It’s not unheard of for big-time newspapers such as the Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times to take unusual occurrences and blow them up in to full-fledged trends, in a bid to get ahead of the curve.

Alas, after reading the story, and hearing and seeing repeated examples of increasingly large numbers of materialistic minded high school- and college-age youth, fed by cues from their parents, I have no doubt the story is all too true.

According to the Post, one of the latest (obnoxious) trends is hiring a professional decorator to transform dorm rooms into “cozy retreats.”

“The average dorm room — even at some of the most elite colleges and universities — is not only tiny but also ugly: white paint, standard-issue furniture, fluorescent lighting and nothing that requires nails in the walls,” according to the publication. “It’s a challenge for many millennials who have never shared a bedroom or bath and aren’t accustomed to roommates or going without.

“Helicopter parents are not inclined to drop their darlings at the dorm entrance with two suitcases and cheerfully wave goodbye,” the Post added. “Instead, they’re turning to their own interior designers or professional organizers …”

Two thoughts come to mind: When I left for college, I loaded up my 1963 Chevy pickup, which was 20 years old at the time, and I drove myself to college four hours away. My dad bought me a good set of craftsman tools, my parents wished me good luck and that was it.

When I transferred to a school across the country two years later, I drove the same pickup more than 3,000 miles by myself. After a week on the road, I called them from Kalamazoo, Mich., to let them know I was fine. I contacted them when I made it to my final destination. They couldn’t have been any less “helicopter-ish,” for which I’m eternally grateful.

Point No 2: If my parents had come in and redecorated my room with some outlandishly expensive decor, I would have been the laughingstock of the dorm, and rightfully so.

Of course, I arrived at college with little more than a few beer posters, a couple of baseball pennants and a clock radio. That I, a guy, had a dearth of items to “decorate” my dorm room wasn’t surprising then, nor would it be today, apparently.

According to the Post, the upscale dorm room trend appears to almost entirely a female phenomenon, “fueled by social media and increasingly sophisticated marketing to college students.”

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Austria’s fights to preserve its own form of German

Vienna-Schönbrunn Palace

Pulling a page from French efforts to keep their language “pure,” Austria is undertaking a major new endeavor to preserve its own unique tongue.

The difference is that while the French seek curtail the use of phrases imported from English, Austrians aren’t fighting against a foreign language, but against German, the same tongue spoken in Austrian.

While both Austrians and Germans speak German there are many words and phrases that mark Austrian German as different from standard German.

Austrian German traces its beginning to the mid-18th century, when Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II introduced compulsory schooling and several administrative reforms. They chose to adopt the already standardized language of Saxony, which was based on the standard language used for administrative purposes in cities such as Dresden.

Austrian German is spoken by approximately 8.5 million people and is recognized as an official language not only in Austria, but also in nearby Italy.

Austria’s education minister this week announced plans to preserve the unique Austrian form of German, amid increased intrusion from words and expressions from neighboring Germany, according to The Telegraph.

“What is heard in movies, on TV or the internet, is often produced or dubbed in our neighboring country Germany,” the education minister, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, wrote in a 64-page booklet distributed to schools. “One consequence is that specifically Austrian peculiarities and expressions of our language slowly but surely fall into the background.”

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Museum under scrutiny regarding noted work

Winslow_Homer_-_Milking_Time

Delaware museum officials desperate for cash have removed one of their prized paintings from their walls but remain tight-lipped about the work’s future.

Winslow Homer’s “Milking Time,” among the Delaware Art Museum’s most treasured works, disappeared from its wall and collections database earlier this month, shortly after the museum announced that it would sell as many as four artworks to repay its construction debt and replenish its endowment.

Museum officials have declined to confirm whether the 1875 oil painting of rural Americana is among works to be sold over the next few months, according to the News-Journal of Wilmington, Del.

However, museum and art experts say the change is suspicious and likely indicates the painting will be sold, the publication added.

“Milking Time” is considered a landmark painting by Homer, regarded as one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century.

Homer, the renown landscape painter, created “Milking Time” in 1875 while living on a farm in upstate New York.

“Milking Time” is a “landmark painting for him,” according to Kathleen Foster, who curated an exhibition of Homer’s seascapes for the Philadelphia Museum of Art in late 2012. The Philadelphia museum owns four Homer works, including one of his most famous, “The Life Line.”

“Milking Time” was painted during a formative time in Homer’s career, a period in which he was searching for an identity as an artist, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

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Ronald McDonald: From apathy to loathing

ronald%20mcdonald

The Ronald McDonald makeover would likely have escaped the notice of this blog had it not been for the utterly inane press release that accompanied the restyling.

As a bit of background, even as a kid I saw Ronald McDonald as, at best, a neutral figure. A large red-haired, red-nosed clown in a weird yellow outfit with giant red shoes, he had little positive or negative impact on me or my desire to consume low-grade fast food.

Last week, however, McDonald’s announced that the character was being revamped, and in a most invidious manner.

It’s not irritating enough that the clown will be garbed in a new wardrobe which includes yellow cargo pants, a vest and a red-and-white striped rugby shirt, along with “whimsical new red blazer” and a special bowtie for special events, according to a company press release.

The mindless consumerism really kicks in when one reads the press release:

Ronald McDonald, who represents the magic and happiness of the McDonald’s brand, is setting out on a global mission to rally the public through inspiring events.

For the first time, Ronald McDonald will take an active role on McDonald’s social media channels around the world and engage consumers using the #RonaldMcDonald hashtag. As Ronald begins his journey, he seeks to deliver on the mission: ‘Fun makes great things happen’ – the idea that moments of fun and enjoyment bring out the simple pleasures in life and can lead to acts of goodness.

‘Ronald brings to life the fun of our brand by connecting with customers around the world, whether he’s promoting literacy or spreading cheer at a Ronald McDonald House,’ said Dean Barrett, Senior Vice President, Global Relationship Officer. ‘Customers today want to engage with brands in different ways and Ronald will continue to evolve to be modern and relevant.’

Questions which arise from this bit of tripe: What does “Fun makes great things happen” mean?

If fun really made great things happen, my fraternity would have come up with an inexpensive means to desalinize ocean water, invented cheap, safe, portable nuclear reactors that could have helped reduce dependence on fossil fuels and cured all forms of cancer, likely within a few weekends.

Judging from our collective grade-point averages, fun alone does not make great things happen.

Following that up, the idea “that moments of fun and enjoyment bring out the simple pleasures in life and can lead to acts of goodness,” is utter nonsense that even a child would have trouble stomaching. Too often, people seeking fun and enjoyment do so at the expense of others, which doesn’t exactly lead to acts of goodness. Often, in fact, it leads to acts of utter selfishness.

If you’re going to come up with hokey marketing pabulum to throw at the masses, try not to make it sound like something out of Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984.

And then there’s “Global Relationship Officer” Dean Barrett’s assertion that, “Customers today want to engage with brands in different ways …”

Umm, no, I don’t want to “engage” with brands in different ways. I want to “engage” in the McDonald’s brand in one single, solitary way. That way consists of me forking over currency in exchange for Grade C meat products, wilted lettuce, a slice of unripe tomato and room-temperature American cheese, all slapped between two flattened buns, served by a surly teenager who detests his assistant manager and/or thinks a music company is just moments away from walking in to offer them a recording deal.

If your want to remain “modern and relevant,” stop trying to be cutting edge and concentrate on making the food edible and the hired help civil.

If all that weren’t enough to turn my stomach, McDonald’s ends its press release with this absurd idiocy: “Ronald McDonald can’t wait to connect with people through social media. ‘Selfies …here I come! It’s a big world and now, wherever I go and whatever I do…I’m ready to show how fun can make great things happen,” said Ronald McDonald.’

I’m not a fickle consumer, but I certainly don’t believe in rewarding inanity. Any company that includes the sentence “Selfies … here I come!” in a press release is, in its own way, giving the middle finger to humanity.

Whoever wrote that line ought to be force-fed Big Macs until they slip into a sodium-induced coma, then slathered with gunk from a fast-food grease trap and dropped into a pit of ravenous badgers.

Hot Pockets: Now even worse for you

Pity the poor folk whose job it is to market Hot Pockets, those ubiquitous microwaveable turnovers filled with one or more types of cheese, meat, or vegetables.

For years, Hot Pockets were a staple of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s standup routine (see above), in which he effectively ensured that a generation of consumers would associate the food item with indigestion, diarrhea and a variety of other ailments.

There’s likely no amount of money or promotional effort that Nestle, which produces Hot Pockets, could ever come up with to overcome the effectiveness of Gaffigan’s biting ridicule, and now the company is facing another PR nightmare.

Nestle is voluntarily recalling an unspecified number of “Philly Steak” and “Croissant Crust Philly Steak and Cheese” Hot Pockets because they could contain meat that is unfit for human consumption, according to the USDA.

Gaffigan’s gag, of course, is that they were never fit for human consumption in the first place.

Anyhoo, nearly 9 million pounds of beef products were recalled last week by Rancho Feeding Corp. after regulators said it processed diseased and unsound animals without a full inspection, according to the Associated Press.

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