Woke up this morning with a mash-up of the themes to The Munsters and F-Troop on infinite play in my mind. Here’s hoping you find your heads in a better space.
When I started watching this cartoon again I wondered what I was on about, apologizing for the image quality. Then I saw; it’s all badly pixellated. Ah well. I may need to apologize a bit for the cartoon being one long earworm with interruptions for other, smaller earworms. But it is one of the Talkartoons that’s as pleasant just to listen to as to watch for the many visual jokes.
I have to apologize right from the start for this week’s Talkartoon. Not so much about the content. Although I should warn it does use several times the joke that it’s funny if a woman’s clothing should fall off. Men lose their clothes too, but it’s meant to be funny that you can see Betty Boop’s bra. What I have to apologize for is I can’t find a good version of the cartoon online. Archive.org has one with nasty compression artifacts. I don’t see one on YouTube that’s much better. Which figures, since this is a densely packed cartoon with a lot of visual jokes. Sorry; best I can do.
This was originally released the 2nd of January, 1932. It’s the first Talkartoon of that year. And it’s got credited animators: Willard Bowsky and Thomas Bonfiglio, a team that also gave us Twenty Legs Under The Sea.
Can a cartoon be made up entirely of side gags? Sure, especially in the 1930s, and especially from the Fleischer Studios. There is something holding all the jokes together. It’s Thomas S Allen’s ragtime hit of 1902, Any Rags?. It’s a catchy song; here’s a 1904 recording. You maybe haven’t heard of Thomas S Allen but you know at least one of his other songs: 1905’s Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal. Yes, I’m also shocked to learn that song is newer than, like, the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The song, and cartoon, are built on one of those jobs that today seems to come from another dimension, the rag-and-bone man. The job, of gathering up trash that can be put to a new purpose, is still there, of course. It’s just that it, too, has been industrialized, with metals and paper and plastics being gathered by the city every other week (or whatever), and clothing gathered every couple months. Or you see them in the people rooting around trash bins for soda pop cans that can be turned in for the deposits. Still the job as it was sounds daft: gather stuff people were throwing out, and then sell it to other people? Without Craigslist to mediate?
Betty Boop gets top billing, pretty good considering she doesn’t even appear until the cartoon’s halfway over, and is in it about a quarter as long as Bimbo is. Props to whoever her agent was. Koko gets a mention too, and he’s only in for one quick joke. Bimbo is the center of a lot of stray and amusing and often wild little jokes. He doesn’t seem to me to provoke most of them, to be an active participant. But he’s there while they happen, which is worthwhile.
There’s almost nothing but blink-and-you-miss-it jokes this short. I like the string of nonsense items the housewife hangs on the clothesline, starting about 1:30. But there’s plenty of choice. Bimbo swiping the moustache off a lion demanding to know what’s the deal with stealing his pants? Bimbo’s spurned valenteine-heart dropping out of scene on a parachute, about 3:25? The statue of Atlas eagerly showing off his globe to the auction attendees? Take your pick. I don’t spot any real body horror along the jokes. I would have expected, at minimum, the cat that’s put through the clothesline wheel to end up shaved. Maybe everyone at the studio was feeling kindhearted that week.
There’s a fair, not excessive, number of suspiciously Mickey-like mice in the short. A couple turns up about 1:10 in, in the birdcage that Bimbo fishes out of the trash bin. (This short summarizes so weird.) The housewife and her clothespin-attaching assistant at about 1:30 in are also mice.
I like this cartoon throughout. There’s very little story structure. I suppose the auction has to happen near the end, and the garbage turning into a home at the end, but the rest is arbitrary. That’s all right; the progression of music gives enough structure for the short to stay enjoyable and keep feeling like it’s going somewhere. It’s a good example of building a short without any real plot or big jokes. Just lots of little bits of business.
I’d like to share my thoughts with you, but a lot of those thoughts are a continuous-play loop of the theme song to forgotten Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Cattanooga Cats, so you probably don’t want that. I’m sorry.
- (To date none, although I’ll bet Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell has hummed “Cherish” at least once in the shower within the last 45 days.)
Reference: Telephone: The First Hundred Years, John Brooks.
(Has this got it out of my system yet? Oh, wouldn’t we all like to think it has? )
Not that I’ve had “Everyone Knows It’s Windy” caught in my head for a week or anything but good grief but there are more former members of The Association than there were Apollo astronauts. What’s going on here?
So you remember The Association’s great kind of ear-wormy 1967 hit, “Everyone Knows It’s Windy”? It’s a nice bit of sunshine pop, one of those songs that’s doing really well until it runs out of lyrics about one minute in, and then goes on for another minute and forty seconds. Anyway, a bit of conversation this weekend confirmed that the younger folk are not familiar with this song. So I must appeal to whatever members of The Association are still out there to please record an update, “Not Everyone Knows Everyone Knows It’s Windy”. Thank you.
Also I am starting to suspect Mary is never coming along.
Me, interacting with coworkers:
“So even if we were able to use Google Maps in the way we want this will not give us adequate aerial photography metadata. And while none of our clients have — to my knowledge — asked about this metadata that is nothing more than our good luck. When they recognize they need this, we are not going to have answers. We need to improve our geographic information services capacity now, before the storm.”
Me, in my head, in the style of the Ramones, on endless repeat:
o/` Gland gland glandgland
o/` Gland gland gland glandgland
o/` I wanna be sebaceous! o/`
Me, thinking: “You know, there’s stuff in my life I’d change if it were possible, and there’s stuff in my life I probably could change but that I’ve found myself unwilling to make the sustained effort that would require. But on the whole, it’s pretty good, and within the reasonable bounds you might expect for someone of my age and income and happily accepted obligations I’m doing pretty well at being master of my own destiny.”
Also me: has had the incidental background music from the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon series running in his head for 46 hours straight now. Send help. Not from the Q*Bert cartoon.
I think it’s only fair to ask why I’m spending time, in 2018, going about my business while thinking of the background music from the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon that was a thing that existed. And don’t tell me that it’s my own stupid fault for watching the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon that was a thing that existed. What choice did I have at that age, not watching a cartoon? Exactly. In any case there’s no reason for me to be puttering around the house humming it to myself in my melody-less, Morse Code-esque fashion. Not at this date.
And it’s not like I let just any song I was exposed to back then occupy my thoughts for hours on end. Why, it’s been weeks since I had that AT&T commercial for their hardware that repurposed the old “Second-Hand Rose” song as “Second-Class Phones/ they’re making/ second-class phones/ they’re breaking” occupy my every waking thought for three days straight.
OK, so apparently my head is just going to be delivering a medley of the J Geils Band’s Angels In The Centerfold cutting to the Kinks’ Come Dancing and Devo’s Whip It. I can deal with that. I’m happy I can still have earworms, since they take about eight to fifteen seconds. So my attention span is at least eight seconds long still. That’s a source of pride-ish-ness these days. There’s a whole generation coming that won’t be able to get a song caught in their heads because they can’t hear enough of one before moving on to the next thing.
Meanwhile? The history of socks? Yeah, it still implies that socks are no longer simple. Still not up to that.
So, now, some numbers for November. I hadn’t been watching them so obsessively in the middle of the month and obviously that shows, since my total views dropped to 357 (down from 370), when if I’d known this back around the 20th I might have got out back and pushed. On the other hand the number of unique visitors went from 179 up to 188, my third-highest on record, so that’s something. Mostly it’s a decrease in views per visitor, 2.07 down to 1.90.
The countries sending me the most readers the past month were, again, the United States and United Kindgom, but Australia popped in out of nowhere. A single reader each came from Austria, Denmark, Malaysia, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey. This is a pretty impressive increase in single-visitor countries from last time, when France was the sole lone reader.
My most popular bits from the past month were:
- Comic Strips: Math and Michigan, including my discussion of why I thought a Pearls Before Swine didn’t work (and some folks have been following up with their own thoughts).
- Five Astounding Facts About Turbo, That Movie About A Snail In The Indianapolis 500, which is probably going to be the most popular thing I wrote in my life at this rate. (I don’t mind. At least I have a most popular thing)
- Sticking In The Head, about earworms and their endangered future.
- S J Perlman’s Captain Future, Block That Kick! which I can’t begrudge him for because he really wrote an outstanding piece and that’s a forerunner to every blog that makes fun of pop cultural detritus today.
- Dream Job At Kennywood, or at least the dream job my mind worked up. I think it means something, but what?
Not quite making the top five was Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver, but I’m including a gratuitous link to that because I really liked it.
Lastly, since the comic strip Working Daze has been continuing its mock history on Sundays let me link to the November 24th strip, and the first time I think one of their past cartoonists didn’t end up dying and miserable, and the December 1st strip, which has one who did.
At any given moment about two-fifths of all people have their brains under attack by some catchy tune, which gets called an “earworm” because somebody thought that was a catchy term and didn’t think we had enough trouble. Another two-fifths of all people are slapping their hands over their ears and yelling frantically to “shut up shut up shut UP” because some poor child of the 80s was remembering how the thing about a Bon-Bon is it’s almost always gone-gone.
But there’s a deeper question, which is, why should there be earworms at all? What advantage can there possibly be to having your brain occasionally taken over by a melody you like in about the same way you despise it? When did earworms get to be a thing? It seems like they have to have been invented sometime after music was invented, since it’d be kind of funny to have a song caught in your head if you haven’t got songs. It’d also seem like they’d have to come from after heads were invented, for similar reasons.
Maybe they didn’t, though. Maybe people were getting what they thought was music caught in their heads when it turned out it was just the wailing of people bemoaning their horrible, pre-music-based existence. But that seems like it would explain why earworms are popular in this music-enabled era, though, since we surely don’t want to have our existential dread hammering itself into our heads outside of its appropriate designated times, such as birthdays or the anniversaries of when we graduated college or Sunday nights. It’s surely better to be one of the roughly one out of four hundred people who are at any moment kind of remembering commercials from the late 70s are trying to work out whether it was “Nair for short shorts” or “Nair for short skirts” without giving up and just going to YouTube to see it because they can’t face the moment of admitting they were looking for Nair commercials from the 70s on YouTube.
I’m gratified to learn there’s serious study of earworms since it’s got to be a difficult subject to study. I have it hard enough because I can barely finish telling people that I have an advanced degree in mathematics without their telling me that it was their worst subject in school, and they could never understand what it was about, and occasionally their algebra teacher would transform into a 150-foot-tall giant and rampage through the city, requiring the national guard to deploy an security corridor of directrix and latus rectums to subdue. (They’re things used for making parabolas in case you live in an area where parabolas don’t grow naturally.) My spouse, the philosopher, has a similar problem with people describing how their philosophy courses inevitably resulted in their being captured by headless Zombie Jeremy Benthams and locked in a dank warehouse forced to press Joy Buttons all day and night. It’s pretty annoying to get.
So I figure someone studying earworms is probably bombarded day and night by people who think they’re being sociable or even interested but who really just want to know who to hold responsible for “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago”. (It was Doctor West’s Medicine Show And Junk Band.) I’m wrong, of course, because investigation has revealed that I’m the only person born after 1970 who’s even heard of this exemplar of psychedelic jug-band music, and probably Doctor West doesn’t even hear the song haunting his dreams anymore, though he’s probably wondering why if that Purple People-Eater Song can get sucked up into the vortex of Monster Based Songs I Guess Are On Theme For Halloween why his didn’t. Maybe it’s too much eggplant. And anyway the song fails as an earworm because I’ve dug the song up and played it for people and all they have lingering after the experience is a diminished opinion of me.
Here’s something else I wonder: an earworm is based on the idea of something getting stuck in the head and not getting back out again. But thanks to the Internet we can’t pay attention to anything long enough to have it stuck in our heads anymore. Does this mean the earworm is going to vanish as people can’t remember the entire phrase “itsy-bitsy teeny-weenie something or other” before staring at their phones for a status update? Or are we going to have to preserve the earworm by turning it over to technology and leaving our MP3 players to pick some catchy but infuriating snippet of song and play it to itself? I don’t know, but I’m sure the answer will be obvious after I’ve forgotten the question.
I don’t mean to brag, but, I did research for that little thing about Socrates the other day. In particular I cast about for names that maybe plausibly could have been of people Socrates might have known, because it’s fun and research avoids actually having to write, and getting that sort of irrelevant detail right is the sure way to win the lifetime adoration of someone who specializes in whatever it is I’m writing about. So that’s why I picked, particularly, “Euryptolemus” as a name. My spouse wondered how I had, and I had to dig through my notes.
It’s all kind of long, complicated, and confusing, in that way ancient history just is, but he was one of the figures in the controversy over the Battle of Arginusae. This was a battle during the Peloponnesian War where the Athenian navy beat the Spartan one, and then most of the navy was sent to try relieving Sparta’s siege of the city of Conon rather than stick around picking up Athenian survivors. A storm came up, and both the attempt to relieve Conon and the attempt to pick up survivors failed, and the Athenian population naturally put the generals responsible for beating not Sparta enough on trial. This gets back to Socrates because some of the trial was done under his authority as an epistates, possibly the only time in his life that Socrates actually held a political office.
In fact, my spouse, the professional philosopher, didn’t know that Socrates ever held office. Socrates’s role in trying the Eight Generals from the Battle of Arginusae was one of moderation, because he apparently didn’t think there were constitutional grounds for the motion to just have the generals killed right then and there. This reason, if it’s true (and it’s hard to be perfectly sure as ancient historians felt more free than we do to alter facts so to make a better and more instructional story), neatly foreshadows his refusal to take the chance to escape his judicially-sponsored murder two years later, and shows his belief in the social compact binding people in a society to each other, for good or ill. It’s a fascinating peek at the historical Socrates that makes him a more real and more compelling character, and by the time we had read enough ineptly-written Wikipedia pages to we think straighten all this out in our heads, we were captivated. My arbitrary plucking of a name had given us the chance to see how a person who studied so diligently the problem of how we could come by knowledge and how we could be confident we had it dealt with the inherent uncertainties in judging human affairs, particularly in the boiling-over world of ancient Athenian politics.
Two hours later we both realized that while we hadn’t the faintest recollection what the name of the battle was, who any of the generals involved were, or what city the navy was sent to relieve, or what precisely was the name of Euryptolemus, we nevertheless were describing, in precise enough detail for scholars to completely reconstruct it, that Big Red chewing gum commercial with the marching band.