25 September 2007
Authors: Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Illustrator: Henry Cole
In this charming book, two penguins at the New York Central Park Zoo fall in love and start a family. The twist? The two penguins are both dudes! And Tango Makes Three is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins who become inseparable and, with the help of a progressive zookeeper, become the first same-sex couple at the zoo. This unique relationship soon makes them a featured attraction as they challenge the American public's perceptions of gender relations.
So what's next for this celebrity family? Well, having captured the imagination of animal lovers everywhere, Roy and Silo decide to leverage their newfound fame and request a transfer to the world-renowned San Diego Zoo. Not only will they get greater exposure at their posh new digs, but they will be able to live in a city that has unexpectedly found itself on cutting edge of gay rights. Last week Jerry Sanders, mayor of the overwhelmingly conservative San Diego, came out in support of gay marriage in a surprising and heartfelt announcement (see below).
Mayor Sanders is sure to encounter some backlash, but hopefully his gutsy announcement will set the example for other politicians. And who knows? If he can effectively utilize the adorable And Tango Makes Three crew to provide some much-needed P.R. support, he might even make it to the next election.
Library Controversy Note: Of course a children's book about a same-sex couple will stir some controversy. When it first came out, many concerned parents took issue with the penguins' rainbow connection and tried to shield their children from its unconventional portrayal of love. Most offended localities tried to ban the book, but in Missouri, parents had the bright idea to have the book moved to the school library's non-fiction section.
Politically savvy? Most definitely.
Whereas other parents went through official channels to get rid of the book and ran into legal difficulties, Missouri circumvented the system by burying it in the non-fiction section of the library... which is like hiding candy in the vegetable drawer. What kid is ever going to look for it there? Whether or not you agree with their stance on homosexuality, you have to give them some props for their kooky ingenuity.
Though this plan may backfire... now that And Tango Makes Three is in the non-fiction section, penguin homosexuality is officially a fact and will be used as a reference book for elementary school research projects on penguins all over Missouri. The Show Me State will never look at penguins the same again.
24 September 2007
6 April 2007
Author/Illustrator: Wanda Gag
A lonely couple decides that they want to get a cat. The husband heads off into the countryside and comes upon a hill that is covered with millions, Trillions, BILLIONS of cats! Unable to pick a favorite among the throng of adorable kitties, the couple asks them, "Who is the prettiest?" Bad idea. In a storm of unspeakable violence, the cats proceed to kill eachother off as they attempt to prove their superiority. After the fight, there is only one lone unassuming kitten left. This particular little kitten survived because she was too modest to promote herself, thereby managing to stay above (or below) the fray and escaping the deadly competition.
This story sheds light on a particularly relevant problem in today's information saturated world--the rise of the internet has created a million cat conundrum for every citizen with access to a computer. As we set off on our search for information, how are we to choose between the infinite sources of data? With so many options at our disposal, how can we possibly know who's voice deserves our attention? Are the overwhelming number of alternatives dooming us to a life of paralysis through indecision? Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Is there anything we can do?!
The answer is simple: Advertising. That is where Gag's book gets it wrong... marketing and self-promotion are actually the simplest way to make sense of this crazy world. In a world of infinite choices, it is up to marketing to manufacture a hierarchy and tell us who to pay attention to. Who has the best commercials? Who has the catchiest jingle? Who's video travels the information superhighway the fastest? We don't have to find the best option, the best option will find us! In today's world, that quiet little kitty wouldn't have stood a chance. She would never get noticed--for all intents and purposes, she would not exist. Sure, this system isn't exactly fair, and it does makes your soul cry just a little... but we might as well face the facts: Advertising is the new religion, self-promotion our saving grace.
For those of you who are skeptical about the connection between advertising and religion, I present you with Exhibit A: Jesus. Regardless of your religious affiliation, there is no denying that Jesus is, by far, the most successful spokesperson in history--followed at a safe distance by Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald, and the late Anna Nicole Smith (the former spokeswoman for both TrimSpa and Giant Boobs... may they rest in peace).
Not only that, but (from a purely marketing standpoint) the image of Jesus on the Cross is easily the most powerful and successful example of "image branding" that the world has ever seen. As the first truly transcendent logo, this image virtually gave birth to modern advertising. Without Jesus on the Cross, there would be no Nike Swoosh, no Macintosh Apple, no IKEA Furgenzihooven. The Christian God is the Michael Jordan of advertising. And Christianity is the Nike of religions.
As a point of contrast, consider Buddhism. The name brand recognition of Buddhism is so tenuous that lightweights such as Cypress Hill and legions of Phish fans were able to use the Buddha as a symbol for marijuana. Have you ever seen a religion so brazenly disrespected? Do you think Jesus would tolerate being the spokesperson for heroin? Can you imagine Mohammed on a trippy dorm poster celebrating crystal meth? Or a Vishnu shaped hooka*? No, Buddhism desperately needs to work on its marketing strategy. In the hallowed halls of divine advertising, if Christianity is Nike... then Buddhism is the New Balance of religions.
*I actually can see this happening. If someone does make a Vishnu shaped hooka, I want my cut of the blasphemous profits.
19 September 2007
From the flowerpatch to the Guinness Book of World Records, Ferdinand is about to hit it big! Our favorite bull and the revered symbol of pacifism is now also a champion for early education. Jumpstart, an organization whose goal is to goal is to "build literacy, language, social, and initiative skills in young children", has called upon Ferdinand to rally people all over the world to raise money for their cause.
Tomorrow (September 20th) is the Jumpstart's Read for the Record Campaign where "hundreds of thousands of children and adults will read the same book [The Story of Ferdinand] on the same day, as part of this record-breaking campaign, and aim to raise more than $1 million for early education programs in low-income communities. "
Hundreds of thousands?! Talk about a load of bull! (pun unfortunately intended) To read more about this, go to Jumpstart's website. And since you want to re-read Ferdinand anyways, you might as well register and be a part of a world record while you're at it! It's much easier than eating 37 cockroaches in a minute or sitting in a bathtub with 76 snakes.
17 September 2007
Author: Ann McGovern
Illustrator: Simms Taback
Peter thinks his house is too noisy, so he goes to the local wise man to complain. The wise man suggests that he get a cow. Predictably, the cow makes things even noisier. Peter continues to go back to the wise man, who continues to suggest that he get yet another animal. Soon Peter's house is filled with noisy beasts and is louder than ever.
Peter makes one final visit to this so-called wise man. This time, the wise man suggests that Peter get rid of all the animals. Peters does so and suddenly his house seems peaceful and quiet.
Aha! The wise man's tactic is revealed: Instead of decreasing the noise level, he recommended a temporary sonic escalation so that when the house is returned to its original noise level, it will seem quiet... and Peter will quit his whining and be content with the status quo.
Does this sound at all familiar?
It should, because the Bush administration employed the exact same strategy in an attempt to quiet a disgruntled Congress.
Last November, a newly elected Democratic Congress was clamoring for troop withdrawals in Iraq. How did the President respond? Instead of reducing troops, he called for a surge in troops. Wha?!
Then just last week, following the highly-anticipated testimony of General David Patraeus, Bush made an announcement to the county. He was finally going to begin withdrawing troops in Iraq. This would restore troop numbers to (you guessed it) pre-surge levels.
Tricky bastard! Not only that, but he was bold enough to add that "the way forward I have described tonight makes it possible for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together."
Nice try, but it will take a lot more than this political sleight-of-hand to fool anyone. Congress saw right through this ploy. Senator Carl Levin immediately made a statement saying that "[President Bush's Plan] creates and provides an illusion of change in an effort to take the wind out of the sails of those of us who want to truly change course in Iraq."
Bush's Too Much Noise strategy isn't going to work because unlike him, we are not idiots. Also, Washington D.C. is gearing up for a presidential election. Which means Karl Rove will win Miss Teen USA before Bush gets members of Congress to stop talking.
If there's one lesson we can all take with us to the grave, it's that in our nation's capital there there will always be too Much NOISE!
13 September 2007
Author/Illustrator Adam Rex has a feature on his blog called Characters in Search of a Story. Below is my favorite.
"MR. BABY, The Boy With No Birthday"
The rules of the contest are simple. People submit names of characters in search of stories and then people vote for their favorite. Rex will then make an illustration based on the winning entry. Predictably, there is a lot of ultra-goofiness there (including my last minute entry, Gravy Boat Charlie: 364 Days A Year With Nothing To Do).
It's funny stuff and worth checking out. So get out and vote! (Polls are open until midnight EST Friday.) Be a part of the democratic process! It'll be a good practice for 2008... especially since those candidates will be just as goofy. Who would you rather get your vote, Mike Huckabee or Captain Hyde N. Seik?
12 September 2007
Illustrator: Jeffrey Fulvimari
4 snooty fashionista teens shun a young classmate because she is too pretty. They make wild assumptions about her based on her looks but (with the help of a particularly bitchy fairy) the 4 girls soon come to see the error of their ways. They learn that pretty girls can have it hard too. (Roll credits and cue the uplifting Kelly Clarkson song!)
The lesson here is an old one: Do not judge a book by its cover. The fact that parents would even consider buying a children's book from an author who once dressed like this:
shows that people are capable of looking past a book's cover... unless, of course, the book is Madonna's Sex which cost a gazillion dollars and came wrapped in a cellophane package. That made it significantly harder to look past the cover, especially if you were under 18 and broke when it came out.
Forward Progress? Note: It is interesting that that book caused such a firestorm of controversy when it first came out in 1994... because by today's standards, the images are actually rather quaint. You'll see more sex in any mainstream grocery store magazine and even today's Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues are more provocative and show more skin.
And the Abercrombie & Fitch website is downright dirty. Seriously, do not click on the site's A&F New Faces link unless you are over 18. (Here is the link. Warning: Kids, Look away. Adults, Do not watch while at work. I didn't want to link to it, but had to because it is so completely ridiculous. When did pornography become mainstream?)
10 September 2007
25 February 2007
Author/Illustrator: Jean de Brunhoff
This story starts out with a bang. Literally. Babar's mother is shot dead by a hunter. Luckily, Babar finds solace in the comforting arms of french aristocracy and drowns his sorrows in designer clothing. Having learned big-city ways, Babar returns to the jungle to introduce his fellow elephants to the benefits of civilization... particularly the wearing of funny hats. As a result, he is named king and has to exchange his funny hats for the burdens of the crown. The story ends with one lingering question: Can Babar handle the moral complexities of transforming a jungle-based economy without becoming a puppet of French colonial rule?
Story Idea: A grown-up Babar teams up with a disillusioned Bambi and other bitter children's literature characters to avenge the untimely deaths of their parents. They soon discover that "the hunter" that killed each of their parents is in fact the same person... looks like we have a serial killer on our hands, boys. Two homicide detectives, the uber-cautious Piglet and the borderline insane William Wonka, follow a twisted trail of clues to find the murderer (while trying not to kill eachother). Meanwhile, Babar and Bambi take to the streets to extract their own brand of vigilante justice. The Hunter has become The Hunted.
From the DVD Special Features-Alternate Ending: The elusive hunter turns out to be Vice President Dick Cheney. This was changed before the final version because focus groups thought it was too predictable.
07 September 2007
Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrator: David Wojtowycz
I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed when I read this book. Not for what the book is (a fun and colorful collection of jungle poetry), but for what the book is not. Because of the title, I was hoping that it was an illustrated account of THE Rumble in the Jungle, the epic 1974 boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman that took place in Zaire.
Alas, it was not to be. Which is a shame, because with his unique lyrical stylings and cocky sense of humor, Ali would be the perfect candidate to author a children's book. Unfortunately, since Ali hasn't picked up the pen, we'll have to settle for George Foreman's silly book: Let George Do It!
Author: George Foreman and Fran Manushkin
Illustrator: Whitney Martin
George Foreman has five sons and they are all named George. Not George Junior, George III, or even Curious George... just George. The story follows the crazy mishaps that result from the logistical nightmare of having an entire house of Georges. (Apparently, the original George was so blinded by his crippling megalomania that didn't foresee this being a problem.)
With this picture book, George Foreman's transformation is complete. If you remember him from his boxing days (or if you watch the documentary When We Were Kings), George Foreman was quite possibly the scariest man alive. His sheer size and grizzly scowl were enough to give me the willies even though 3 decades and a television screen separate me from his devastating ham-sized fists.
And now? He is the grinning goofball of George Foreman Grills and a children's book author. Talk about reinventing yourself. Ali may have won the fight on that balmy night in 1974, but give Foreman credit for picking himself up off the mat and infomercialing his way back into our hearts.
Conspiracy Theory Note: Have you ever noticed the eerie similarity between the design aesthetic of the George Foreman Grill...
...and Apple laptops?
Apple's departure from the standard small black laptop design to the refreshingly sleek look launched sales into the stratosphere as they became the hip choice for a generation that defines themselves by their computer use. It is now impossible to go into any coffeeshop or college campus without the ubiquitous glare of the glowing Apple logo. I had always assumed that the aesthetic similarity to the simple and clean design of the Foreman grill was just a coincidence... until I stumbled upon this:
The George Foreman iGrill
"The iGrill is an indoor/outdoor electric grill/roaster with a built-in dock to play your favorite grillin' tunes from your iPod or other MP3 player."
There is only one possible explanation for the release of this absurdity: Foreman was threatening to sue Apple CEO Steve Jobs for stealing his design and they agreed upon an out-of-court settlement. In exchange for dropping the lawsuit, Apple would outfit the Foreman grill for iPod compatibility... despite the fact that no one in their right minds would buy this ridiculous contraption. (Even Sharper Image, the Mecca of Craptastically Useless Gadgets, doesn't carry it.)
Now if they really wanted to make it a worthwhile product and take it to the next level, they could rig the iGrill so that the grease pan (a.k.a. reservoir of fat drippings) connects directly to some kind of biodiesel conversion devise so that you could charge your iPod using the discarded fat from your porkchops.
Now that, my friends, is a tangible step towards a better tomorrow. Who's going to fix the environment? Let George Do It!
04 September 2007
Author: Jeanne Willis
Illustrator: Adrian Reynolds
This otherwise playful book about pee-pee dances and the tortures of waiting in line for the bathroom took an unexpected shot up the charts of the NYT bestseller list last week. This is because an elephant caught in a compromising position while in the bathroom was suddenly front page news with last week's media storm surrounding the Senator Craig sting operation.
Most of you probably heard about the Republican Senator from Idaho, Larry Craig, who was caught in a Minneapolis airport restroom allegedly trying to initiate a sexual encounter. I'm not going to go into the details because there has been enough coverage over the whole affair already. Plus, what I found more interesting than the act itself is what the political reaction reveals about us as a country, especially heading into the election year.
Following the incident, the Republican Guard quickly came out in full force to denounce their former colleague. Craig instantly became a political pariah as everyone within his party tried to distance themselves from his public indiscretion. Compare this to Senator Paul Vitter from Florida who was caught in the phone records of the DC Madam a few months ago. He got a standing ovation.
I'm not saying Craig should have gotten a standing ovation for his bathroom misadventure, but this double standard and all the big talk that came out reinforced what has become a disturbing conventional wisdom: Homophobia is politically advantageous.
You'll have noticed this if you've listened to any of the Republican candidates on their respective soapboxes. Watching the Republicans debate is like watching a race down the bottomless pit of ignorance as they battle for position, desperate to prove that they are the "family values" candidate that opposes gay marriage the most. (Though, to be fair, the Democratic party isn't exactly blazing a trail of enlightened thought. Democratic candidates handle the issue of civil unions and gay marriage like hot potatoes filled with razor blades.)
Is it true that you have to be (or at least pretend to be) homophobic to be elected president of the United States? If so, what kind of a country are we, that we as a collective unit value and demand such intolerance?
Can anything be done?!
Maybe. Given that there have been a slew of homoerotic scandals within the Conservative movement as of late (including Rep. Mark Foley, Rev. Ted "It Was Just A Massage" Haggard, and this poor guy...) the Republican Party is hypersensitive at the moment.
This may just be the opening we've been waiting for, because many of those who are embroiled in the controversy have also been the most outspoken critics of gay rights. Larry Craig himself was a very vocal opponent of gay marriage. So... if politicians become afraid that spouting homophobic vitriol will arouse suspicion that they are actually gay themselves... then the best way to prove that they are not gay is to speak well of homosexuality. By reversing the rhetoric in DC, we could eventually affect policy changes and maybe even change the attitudes in the halls of Congress and beyond! Voila!
Okay, so it's not exactly the greatest plan... but desperate times call for desperate measures. It's either this, or we call Bravo and ask them to reunite the cast of Queer Eye For the Straight Guy for a special Making Over Congress episode. They probably wouldn't fix anything, but it'd still be worth it just to see the Carson Kressley go to town on Dennis Hastert's wardrobe. It may not be progress, but at least it'd be entertaining.
Note: When looking at the cover of Who's In The Bathroom?, try not to think about the implications of an elephant wiping using its trunk to wipe its butt. Let's just not go down that road... ever.