Where Kids Go


We were at this event with some friends, one of whom brought kids. That’s all right. The odd thing is the kids vanished now and then, but came back later. Where did they go? I don’t know. I’m inclined to suppose that any kids not being observed are off doing what kids do at that age. I believe this to be “climbing trees” or “having impossibly complicated adventures to explain why they returned from the gumball machine you watched them walk to and from with neither a gumball nor the quarter you gave them to buy one” or maybe “gathering alarmingly huge piles of yellow dandelions to tie into knots and drop on the table. I mean, we’re in the middle of the Tri-County Expo Center. We’re inside Meeting Halls C-through-E. There’s like a twenty-foot patch of lawn outside the far side of the complex, in the middle of forty acres of parking lot. Where are you even finding dandelions? How are you doing this? How?”.

My figuring is the kids eventually come back if you leave them alone, although crying, and passing every cold going around North and South America to you. My love tells me that while kids vanished like that when our, Generation X, cohort was raised parents don’t do things like that anymore. I don’t see why they don’t. It isn’t like before our generation was eight we were all dragged off by binturongs to their bintur-lairs to become the victims of unspeakable acts of giant Southeast-Asian-civet-ness. Or buried under a mountain of pine cones.

Although, come to think of it, our generation cohort is a small one. There’s about 960 people in Generation X. There are more living former members of the United States Congress than there are Generation Xers. This is much smaller than the Baby Boomers, who numbered about 144,823,002,038 million all told. And it’s smaller than the Millennials, whose numbers are large but can’t be counted because the Baby Boomer and Generation X researchers can’t stand to talk to them long enough to count one. There’s got to be as many of them as there were Baby Boomers, though, based on IP address usage. Looking over the numbers now … my generation’s count is pretty low. Maybe most of our cohort was dragged off by binturongs etc etc while out dandelion-gathering. Well, you know whose fault that was? The Baby Boomers’.

We’re happy to blame the Baby Boomers. Everyone is. I’d say the Baby Boomers themselves started that, but their parents were blaming them before even the Baby Boomers were. And it’s a safe bet, too, like blaming something on “historical factors”. As if there were anything that weren’t a “historical factor”. They’re just this big, irresistible demographic target. Some Baby Boomers will defend their generation. They can point out how their generation saw transcendent artists like the Beatles, civil rights greats like Gloria Steinem and Dr Martin Luther King, inspirational heroes like the Apollo astronauts, or transformational political figures like Lyndon Johnson, not a single one of whom was a Baby Boomer. But the Baby Boomers were looking very hard and saw some or all of these figures, so that’s something. But for the most part, if you want to say something bad about a generation, say it about the Baby Boomers, and everybody will go along with you.

It’s hating on the Millennials that takes some explaining. For the most part the only thing they’ve done that’s really awful is not put their cell phones away. I’m not saying that isn’t bad. But when you compare it to, like, the time in 1983 when the Baby Boomers laughed Manimal and Automan off the air despite their being the coolest TV shows ever, the cell phone business is nothing.

My hypothesis is that we Generation Xers hate on Millennials because of water pistols. When we were kids, water pistols were water pistols: small, hand-sized things made of translucent yet kind of pink plastic. You filled them with water, then got ready to shoot someone, and then the stopper in the back fell out and most of the reservoir spilled on your wrist. Then you pulled the trigger and the rest dribbled down your finger. Your target remained the dryest thing to have ever existed, what with being outside the maximum six-inch range anyway. Millennials have real water guns. They’re capable of holding enough water to douse the Great Fire Of New York, 1835, each. And they can spray them far enough to threaten Panama Canal shipping all the way from Grand Rapids, Michigan. And if that weren’t enough some of the soakers are made to look like dinosaurs even though there’s no way they can tastefully shoot a fluid stream like that.

I’m not saying the Generation X/Millennials thing is entirely caused by envy. For one thing, who invented water pistols that actually work? Baby Boomers. For another, my generation can actually afford to buy them. The only Millennials who’ve been hired are there so Baby Boomers would have someone to call the worst. They tried sticking Generation X with that label two decades ago, you know. But there were too few of us, and we were too hard to find, up in the trees, gathering dandelions, and talking over intergenerational politics with the binturongs.

Betty Boop: Musical Justice


Previously entered as the first Betty Boop cartoons:


It’s usually stupid to turn a cartoon character into a live-action one. Most cartoon characters, at least the beloved ones, are things that don’t make sense in live action: wisecracking rabbits and talking mice and brilliantly stupid moose and the occasional giant robot or so. As a moving illustration that works fine. Somehow the unreality of a drawing that changes by itself makes the unreality of a teapot with a personality make sense.

And yet there’s Betty Boop. After a couple of cartoons she settled down to being a stylized but still recognizably human figure. She would get into quite some surreal and bizarre situations. But she could also host quite mundane situations, things as easily photographable as singing until she melts the heart of a skeptical audience. Of the cartoon stars of the early 1930s she’s one of the few who could plausibly be played by a real-live person. And so she was.

So this week’s First Betty Boop entry is her first appearance in live action, in a short released the 26th of December, 1931. Mae Questel, who would voice her most of her animated run, also plays her in real life. Rudy Vallée, whose voice would grace several of her cartoons, appears as the host of the short as well.

The short is a bit of a strange one, and I apologize the best copy I can find of the whole thing is split into two parts. Betty Boop only appears in the second. I also apologize for the ethnic humor of the first musical/comedy act featured. I don’t know who “Henry Whitewash” is supposed to be, and I can’t find much in my meager vaudeville or early-movie references. I don’t know if his was an actual vaudeville or early-movies act or something made up so later generations watching the short could feel uncomfortable. His bit takes to about 5:20 into the video to wrap up, though, and give way to Rudy Vallée singing to a troubled couple.

The short falls into that strange genre of the Abstract Concept Court, in this case the Court of Musical Justice. (Compare it to the Court of Responsible Car Operations in beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000-featured short X Marks The Spot.) I’ve actually seen several shorts along these lines. The strangest was 1943’s Heavenly Music, actually a heavenly court in which a then-modern crooner (Frederick Brady as “Ted Barry”) was tried for his earthly crimes against music. He won an acquittal by insisting that all the major lines of his music could really be traced back to respectable dead white composers who were on his jury, such as Bach and Beethoven and the like. In this case, the judge is Rudy Vallée and the jury his Connecticut Yankees, but the general line is the same. Modern music is accused of wrongness, but that’s all right, because it turns out to be swell stuff.

The short, and its genre partners, seem almost designed to train undergraduates majoring in cultural studies on how to read the motives behind a text. Modern music is openly charged with corrupting the morals of the nation, just as charged by the older folks in the audience. One imagines they came into the theater just to take a break from yelling at clouds. But the young get the satisfaction of their music actually being played and being defended and acquitted. The defense isn’t all that great — it amounts to “aw, c’mon, it’s not that bad, and besides it can be fun” — but it’s enough to get grampa off your back. It’s hard not to notice Paramount Pictures trying very hard to cuddle up close to the music those kids like without seeming to approve so much that their parents and grandparents complain. Only the movie ticket revenue may bridge the generation gap!

This is one of only two live-action appearances Betty Boop made. I don’t know why there aren’t more. The character doesn’t require anything more than a dress and a wig to perform, and is obviously able to carry off “show off a musical number” shorts. Possibly they worried about over-exposing the character, although it’s hard for me to see how a couple of live-action shorts added onto a dozen animated shorts a year would do that. As it stands, it’s the start of a stunted branch in a character’s media presence.