May 9 is Vast Wasteland Day

vast wasteland dayToday is Vast Wasteland Day. On May 9, 1961, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Newton Norman Minow gave a speech at the National Association of Broadcasters convention, chastising television programmers for their failure to serve the public interest.

First, a little backstory on Mr. Minow is in order. He was born in Milwaukee, WI, on January 17, 1926. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, earned a law degree in 1950, then spent a year as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson.

The following year, he was hired by Adlai Stevenson, worked on the Illinois governor’s two presidential campaigns and became a partner in his law firm. He campaigned for John F. Kennedy before the 1960 election. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed Minow as the chair of the FCC.

Now we’re caught up to May 9, 1961, when he said this:

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.

The dated reference to stations signing off will be familiar to anyone old enough to remember the image of an American flag billowing to the strains of the national anthem, followed by a test pattern or color bars. Or to those who woke up on the couch to the sound of static, bathed in the glow of the spooky, Poltergeist-y snow that instantly made you feel there was someone waiting in the shadows, brandishing an axe.

Other than that, the speech could be given today. It would probably be met with a resounding, “So what?” rather than the ire that occurred in 1961. It was considered by many to be an elitist attack on programmers and viewers who enjoyed lowbrow or escapist fare.

Fun Fact: The writers of the 1964-1967 TV series Gilligan’s Island named the tour boat that ran aground the S.S. Minnow as a sarcastic reference to his name.

Minow doesn’t seem to mind. When asked what he considers his most valuable contribution, he mentions convincing Congress to pass laws that paved the way for communications satellites. He recalls telling President Kennedy, “Communications satellites will be much more important than sending man into space, because they will send ideas into space. Ideas last longer than men.”

Minow still influences communications-related law as senior counsel at Chicago-based law firm Sidley Austin LLP.  In 1988, he recruited Barack Obama to work there as a summer associate where he met his future wife, Michelle Robinson. He supported Obama’s campaign for presidency and reelection.

He’s received 12 honorary degrees, sat on too many boards to mention, written four books, funded Sesame Street, and co-sponsored the Digital Promise Project, which uses the Internet to further education. He also serves as Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Singapore.

If given the chance to meet Mr. Minow, we would ask him a question that might show our own lowbrow tendencies. But, admit it: Don’t you want to know what he thinks of the Kardashians?

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays


April 30 is Bugs Bunny Day

Today is Bugs Bunny Day. On April 30, 1938, Bugs made his debut in a cartoon called “Porky’s Hare Hunt,” entertaining movie theater audiences awaiting the feature presentation.

As a young performer wet behind the floppy ears, much of his film work was uncredited. He sometimes appeared under the stage name “Happy Rabbit.”

Bugs finally shared his true identity in the credits of January 1941’s tour de force, “Elmer’s Pet Rabbit,” perhaps at the urging of his costar, Elmer Fudd.

While his appearance has “evolved” over the years, Bugs has always denied the rumors of plastic surgery, Botox and fillers. He attributes his agelessness to a healthy diet, long hops on the beach and his judicious use of lighthearted ridicule.

bugs bunny day

You go, Bugs! We love you! Happy Bugs Bunny Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

March 22 is International Talk Like William Shatner Day

international talk like william shatner day

Can’t talk…Spanx…too tight.

Today is International Talk Like William Shatner Day (ITLWSD). In 2009, Maurice LaMarche and Doug VanHorn bumped into each other on Facebook while each was attempting to have March 22nd–Shatner’s birthday—designated as ITLWSD. Though initially sworn enemies locked in a Lazarus-like battle over who’d thought of it first, the men eventually joined forces to promote the brash, percussive vocal stylings of Shatner.

If smooth jazz and slam poetry had a baby, then gave him up to be raised in a nunnery next door to the Playboy mansion, the conditions might be right to forge another Shatner-class individual. But in our opinion, it can’t be done. Shatner didn’t just break the mold: he smashed his way out and pulverized it with his pudgy newborn fists. Does any of this describe the man? Is the real Shatner somewhere in that bouquet of imagery? Who knows? That’s the mystery of Shatner. He runs too deep to plumb.

Maurice LaMarche is a voice actor known for his work on Futurama, The Simpsons, Pinky and the Brain, Team America: World Police and Frozen, among many others. If you play Six Degrees of Separation with him, you’ll be done after one. We’ve all heard his voice in something. (Take that, Kevin Bacon.) Mr. VanHorn’s personal Facebook page points out that Donald Trump looks alarmingly similar to an Oompa-Loompa. Look it up; the resemblance is astonishing.

In this inaugural video from 2009, LaMarche sets the stage with a lesson on the basics of talking like Shatner. A few days before the second annual ITLWSD, he and Kevin Pollak impersonate Shatner with lines from Sh*t My Dad Says, a short-lived sitcom.

Leonard Nimoy impersonated Shatner and his Star Trek 2 eulogy: “Of all the souls I have met in my travels, his was the most human.”

Here’s a fantastic standup Shatner bit by Pollak.  Seth MacFarlane does Shatner on Bill Maher’s show.  Watch  John Belushi as Shatner in this classic Saturday Night Live sketch.

Of course, it is his day, too, so we’ll let the birthday boy have the last word.

international talk like william shatner day

Happy birthday, William Shatner! Happy International Talk Like William Shatner Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

December 23 is Festivus

Happy Festivus!

Today is Festivus. What is it? Where did it come from? Per Wikipedia:

Festivus is bfestivusoth a parody and a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 that serves as an alternative to participating in the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas season. It has been described as “the perfect secular theme for an all-inclusive December gathering.”

The holiday’s celebration, as it was shown on Seinfeld, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, practices such as the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength,” and the labeling of easily explainable events as “Festivus miracles.”

In recent years, the Festivus pole has been appropriated as a symbol of protest against local governments that place nativity scenes in public areas. In Florida, a variation made of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans sparked outrage at its proximity to the baby Jesus. Poles wrapped in rainbow colors representing LGBTQ rights have been erected in Georgia, Oklahoma and Washington State.

The “Real” Festivus

Festivus existed long before Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe was pressured into sharing it with the world. (More on that later.) His father Daniel O’Keefe Sr. created it in 1966 as a secular celebration, unburdened by the religious zeal and consumerism of the holiday season. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Festivus was an annual tradition in the O’Keefe household.

Festivus had no set date. It could fall on any day of the year although usually not on Christmas Day. Inspired by the protagonist of Samuel Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape, who recorded himself once a year, O’Keefe Sr. used a tape recorder to capture the proceedings.

The family still has some Festivus audiotapes dating back to the 1970s which include participants speaking out about what was bothering them in what could be termed a proto-Airing of the Grievances without the fancy name.

In 2013, Dan O’Keefe spoke on CNN about the real-life practice of Festivus. He revealed that the aluminum pole was a Seinfeldian invention; his father used a clock.

“The real symbol of the holiday was a clock that my dad put in a bag and nailed to the wall every year … I don’t know why, I don’t know what it means, he would never tell me. He would always say, ‘That’s not for you to know.'”

The following is an excerpt from a 2004 New York Times interview with Dan:

Festivus“It was entirely more peculiar than on the show,” the younger Mr. O’Keefe said from the set of the sitcom “Listen Up,” where he is now a writer. There was never a pole, but there were airings of grievances into a tape recorder and wrestling matches between Daniel and his two brothers, among other rites.

“There was a clock in a bag,” said Mr. O’Keefe, 36, adding that he does not know what it symbolized.

“Most of the Festivi had a theme,” he said. “One was, `Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?’ Another was, `Too easily made glad?’ ”

His father, a former editor at Reader’s Digest, said the first Festivus took place in February 1966, before any of his children were born, as a celebration of the anniversary of his first date with his wife, Deborah. The word “Festivus” just popped into his head, he said from his home in Chappaqua, N.Y.

For more information about the O’Keefe family Festivus, get a copy of The Real Festivus (2005) by Dan O’Keefe. He has managed to capture his family’s holiday in all its strangeness. Additionally, Festivus! The Book devotes an entire chapter to the O’Keefe brand of Festivus.

Festivus, Televised

How did Festivus make it into an episode of Seinfeld? According to a 2013 story in Mother Jones Magazine, it wasn’t Dan’s idea.

One day in 1997, one of O’Keefe’s brothers let it slip to a member of the Seinfeld staff that this family holiday existed, and the crew thought thought was funny enough to write into the series. “I didn’t pitch it. I fought against it,” O’Keefe says. “I thought it would be embarrassing and drag the show down, but…Jerry liked it.”

If Dan’s brothers hadn’t blabbed about it, the world would have one less holiday to celebrate. We’re against that.

Festivus, Costanza Edition

The Festivus most people know is the version depicted in the Seinfeld Season 9 episode entitled The Strike. In it, Frank Costanza explains the incident that inspired him to invent Festivus.

FrankFestivus Costanza: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way!
Cosmo Kramer: What happened to the doll?
Frank Costanza: It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born—a Festivus for the rest of us!
Cosmo Kramer: That must’ve been some kind of doll.
Frank Costanza: She was.

Frank revives the holiday, much to the chagrin of son George, still traumatized by childhood memories of having to fight his father and lose the Festivus Feats of Strength year after year. As Frank plays back a recording of one such humiliation for his friends to hear, George bolts for the door. (Like many holidays, Festivus can sometimes take a dark turn.)

If you’d like to celebrate but need a little guidance, check out these Festivus Rules. Or make up your own tradition following the one directive used for all Seinfeld episodes: No hugs, no learning. We think the O’Keefes would approve.

Happy Festivus!

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays