Wednesday, June 27, 2012

10 FAVORITES (60): Children of the World

Today's post is very special.  Not only is this the 60th 10 FAVORITES, but it falls on the 2nd Anniversary of this whole blog.  It feels like only yesterday that I began this endeavor with my 100 Favorite Movies of All-Time.  So to honor this special day, I wanted the subject of today's list to be something really special.  And when I think special, I feel it needs to be inspirational, poignant and (if its not asking too much!) moving.  That's when I came up with the idea to talk about some of the most moving stories in our culture: The Children that have made history and inspired millions.  Now, what do I mean when I say "The Children."  The criteria I used in compiling this list was very simple, but also very difficult to find.  I wanted the stories of Children (people under the age of 18) who changed the world and the culture.  I wanted stories of true courage and love from those so innocent and young in the face of overwhelming hardship.  With that said, I want to get on with the inspirational stories.  This week's 10 FAVORITES are:


The Last Emperor
When most people of this generation think of child Kings, they remember the scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's Oscar-winning epic The Last Emperor in which the title character (a little boy) runs through banners to the balcony of his palace.  Bertolucci's classic was based on the true life story of Puyi, who became Emperor of China at the age of 2.  He was forced to abdicate almost a decade later due to uprisings and rebellions within the country that eventually led to the Communist system that still currently runs China.

The Labor Advocate
At the age of 4, this young Pakistani boy was forced into slave labor in a carpet factory.  He eventually escaped and became the poster child and advocate against forced child labor.  Sadly in 1995, at the age of 12, Iqbal was murdered in a senseless act that some believe was orchestrated by pro-slave labor businessmen in Pakistan.

The Young Educator
Yet another young boy who became a poster child for activism; Ryan White, a teenager from a small town in Indiana, became the first notable AIDS victim.  The extraordinary thing about his story at the time (the 1980s) was that Ryan did not fit the stereotypical profile of someone with AIDS.  He spent the rest of his short lifetime educating the public about HIV and AIDS in a time when people needed educating.

The Little Ambassador
We've all heard the story about the little girl so frightened by the tensions of the Cold War that she wrote a letter to the head of the Soviet Union.  Some people think its a joke, but Samantha Smith made history in 1982 when she (at the age of 10) contacted Yuri Andropov and received a reply which included an invitation to Soviet Union.  She became America's "Goodwill Ambassador" and participated in peacemaking activities and meetings.  Tragically, she was killed in 1985 in a plane crash in New England.

The Angel
Mattie is known to most of the world as Oprah's special Angel.  He was a best-selling author, poet and philosopher who made friends with the likes of former President Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and Ms. Winfrey herself.  He had been interviewed by everyone from Larry King to Barbara Walters.  He suffered from a rare from of Muscular Dystrophy that led to his death at the age of 14 in 2004.

The Little Equalizer
"Care for us and accept us — we are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk, we can talk, we have needs just like everyone else — don't be afraid of us — we are all the same!" - Nkosi Johnson, at the 13th International AIDS Conference
Nkosi was born with HIV/AIDS and he became an activist for the fair treatment of those with the disease when he was refused entry into a school outside Johannesburg.  He, with the help of his foster mother, founded Nkosi's Haven, a foundation that cared for HIV positive mothers and their children.  Nelson Mandela praised the child as "an icon of the struggle for life."

America's Original Peacekeeper
Despite what Disney would have you believe, Pocahontas was only about 12 when she saved the life of English settler John Smith.  Her actions led to a period in which she attempted to keep the peace between her Native tribe and the Virginia settlers.  She would later make her way to England and appear before King James I as a representative of the Natives encountered in America.  She married John Rolfe and had a son only to die before she was 30 in England where she is buried to this day.

The Brave Students
After the historic Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education where segregation in schools was deemed unconstitutional, Nine African-American students in Little Rock were brave enough to test that decision.  On September 4, 1957, protected by the National Guard, these Nine students made their way into Little Rock's Central High despite threats from many segregationist councils.  Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo Beals and the late Jefferson Thomas should forever be commended and remembered for their staunch courage in the face of hatred.

The Young Militant
The French peasant girl who became a heroine during the Hundred Years' War has a story more famous than most other soldiers.  A devout Roman Catholic (like most French peasants), she believed that divine guidance led her join the French in fighting the English.  After a huge victory at Orleans, the teenager was later captured and sold to English where she was put on trial and martyred (burned at the stake) for her (supposed) "heresy."

Just a Girl and Her Diary
No child's story is more dramatic or more moving than that of Anne Frank.  This is the Holocaust story that has gone on into legend.  No one has not heard the name Anne Frank.  And no Diary has become more famous.  What moves most people about this young girl's life is that in a time where her world knew true evil (the Nazis), Anne still believed in the goodness in people.  Her quote will forever live in the hearts of those who were moved by her life: "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."

Monday, June 18, 2012


We've heard them all.  People use them all the time.  In fact, the advent of new kinds of media has been accused (accurately or inaccurately) of increasing the volume of them.  I'm talking about the art of telling lies. It goes back as far as Adam and Eve (you know when Eve asked Adam if her fig leaf made her look fat and he told her "No.").  Entertainers, Celebrities, Athletes and (duh!) Politicians have lied to us so many times that it's become "old hat" in our culture.  They've even told lies upon lies.  Some of them have become very inventive and creative in their lying that you just have to marvel at their dishonest artistry.  In my years as a so-called "Pop Culture Critic," I have deciphered that there are 7 types of lies that are the most common.   They also get used so often that they have become the hardest types to tell if they are in fact lies.  And for a Special Note, just to show that there is no form of political bias: ALL Politicians on both sides of the aisle have used EVERY one of these types of lies making neither side superior to the other.

The Flat-Out Denial - This is the obvious one.  It's like when the kid breaks his mother's vase and says: "I didn't do it."  Or when a notable criminal, who they have clear evidence of committing the crime, pleads "Not Guilty" in court.  It is fairly straightforward, but it is a type of lie nonetheless.

The Lie by Omission - Another really common one.  It's when a person withholds certain (most likely pertinent) information that is often in some shady gray area on the moral compass.  It probably stems from the hostile and antagonistic relationship between interrogators and suspects (you know: Anything you say can be used against you... or Just state your Name, Rank and Serial Number... and the like).

The Lie of Definitions - This is a term I coined myself when I was in High School.  Another term for it could be "Mincing Words."  And those who know me, know that I love a good "Word Mince."  Two of the best examples of it that I can think of are both political and were both in the 1990s (and were the impetus for the coining of the term!).  President George H. W. Bush infamously said in a speech that there would be "No New Taxes."  The important word in that statement being "New."  He didn't create new taxes, he just raised a lot of the older, already established taxes...for the middle and lower classes.  Later that same decade, President Bill Clinton sparked a national debate on the definition of "Sex" when he was asked if he had sex with intern Monica Lewinsky and said "No," meaning that he did not have sexual intercourse with her which (technically) was true.  He had, however, engaged in oral sex with the woman in the confines of the Oval Office.  In both cases, the Former Presidents weren't (technically) lying based on what they said, but the spirit of their statements were torpedoed by the actual truth.

The Little White Lie - This one is probably the most common as we all have done it.  And usually, it is not done with malicious intent.  More often it is done to spare someone's feelings or keep the peace between certain people (like families, friends or co-workers!).  The best example is when you go to see a friend's concert or stage performance and it is not very good, but you tell them they did a "Good Job!" just so they don't feel bad.  Its also often called "the tiny little fib."  It is not to be confused with...

The Snowball Lie - Also known as "The House that Jenga Built."  This is when you tell what you think is a little fib, but then you have to tell another lie to keep up with the original.  And then another.  And another.  And another until it becomes a lie to big to handle.  Conspiracies tend to fall in this category as, in most cases, they are made up of small (and sometimes NOT so small) lies to cover up one huge and usually illegal truth.  Sorry to say kiddies, but the whole "Santa Claus" myth tends to fall under this category.  Rather fitting when Santa and Snowballs come together!

The Inference Allowance - This one is often a combination of some of the types I've already mentioned.  And its such a gray area that it needs its own special category.  Its basically when you allow somebody to think something you know for a fact is not true, but you just don't correct them.  It can happen through omission, denial or pure semantics (re: mincing words!), but it does happen.  In popular culture, it often happens when a famed celebrity couple divorces.  Our media is so hungry for there to be a "bad guy" in the situation that one of the couple (most often the guy) allows the media to paint them as say a cheater or a deadbeat or an emotionally distant jerk.  Therefore, the public infers what they think is the truth (or more precisely what they've been told is the truth) and it is just never corrected.

The Lie to the Telemarketer - I do this one all the time...and I don't feel one twinge of remorse about it.  This is the most acceptable of all types of lies!  Who cares if one lies to a Telemarketer?  Its not like they're gonna come after you.  And even if they did, you could probably gather a whole group of people who would be on your side and they'd lie to protect you!

Now, you may be wondering: "What the hell does all this mean anyway?"  You're thinking that a lie is a lie and it doesn't matter whether its by omission or mincing words or a tiny fib, its still wrong.  And on some level, you're right.  But the purpose of all this is that in this day and age where everyone tends to lie (and even lie about lying!), dissecting the different types of lies might bring us all to a better understanding and weed out those who lie for their own gain (cause lying to a Telemarketer will always be acceptable!).  Now, for your listening and viewing entertainment, watch Fleetwood Mac's 1980s hit "Little Lies" because...well I need to finish this article with something!

Friday, June 8, 2012

10 FAVORITES (59): An Opening to Remember

It is the first week of June and that means that Broadway's annual Tony Awards are just a few days away (airing this Sunday, June 10 on CBS at 8PM hosted by the incredibly talented Neil Patrick Harris).  As my nickname claims, I love this time of year.  Not only do I catch up on the many musicals and plays that have charmed audiences and critics alike on the Great White Way over the season, but I also think back on the many shows I have loved throughout my lifetime and the landmarks that have made a cultural impact (think hits like My Fair Lady or A Streetcar Named Desire).  And, of course, it is always the musicals that tend to get the most attention from everyone at this time (myself included!).  There is one extremely important element to musicals that have made most of them the successes they have been: The Opening Number.  A lot of shows get defined by how they begin.  If an Opening Number is spectacular enough, you could read the phone book afterwards and audiences would still think it was worth the price of admission.  So for this week's 10 FAVORITES, I am going to countdown some of the greatest Broadway Opening Numbers in some of the most popular Tony Award-winning musicals.  And just to give you all a clue as to how difficult this list was to devise, here are some of the famed musicals that didn't quite make the list: West Side Story, The Music Man, The Phantom of the Opera and even Wicked!  Now, let's see which ones did make the list...


"The Sound of Music," The Sound of Music
Music by Richard Rodgers and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Some may be surprised that this is just an "Honorable Mention," but there is a reason.  Though original star Mary Martin sang this opening song beautifully on Broadway in 1959, the song's (and the musical's) popularity truly stems from the treatment it got in the mega-successful 1965 film starring the luminous Julie Andrews (and her mountain-spinning ways!).

"Another Openin', Another Show," Kiss Me, Kate
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Cole Porter's backstage musicalization of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew was the first musical to win the Tony Award for Best Musical back in 1949.  With this Opening Number, the title itself became a standard phrase within the Broadway lexicon.

"Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'," Oklahoma!
Music by Richard Rodgers and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Out of all the Opening Numbers on this list, this is the oldest and the most understated.  When Rodgers and Hammerstein's first collaboration opened back in 1943, the Opening scene threw most people for a loop.  The style was very different from any other musical before and its brilliance lies in its simplicity.

"I Hope I Get It," A Chorus Line
Music by Marvin Hamlisch and Lyrics by Edward Kleban
My Fair Lady opened with a sumptuous Overture.  West Side Story opened with dancing, but no dialogue or singing.  But in A Chorus Line, Director-Choreographer Michael Bennett got straight to the point of the show: Dancers auditioning (and praying!) for a spot in a musical.

"Aquarius," Hair
Music by Galt McDermott and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado
Hair was a landmark musical back in 1968 in many different ways.  Its Opening Number, which became a huge pop hit for The 5th Dimension, set the tone of love, peace and community shared by all the characters on the stage.

"Magic to Do," Pippin
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Several Broadway Directors could be called innovative and Bob Fosse is certainly one of them.  In Stephen Schwartz' Pippin, Fosse used lighting tricks, dancers' bodies and the smooth tones of Tony-winner Ben Vereen to lure the audience into the "Magic" that was about to unfold before them.

"Circle of Life," The Lion King
Music by Elton John and Lyrics by Tim Rice
How do you live up to one of the most popular Opening scenes in Disney Animation?  Director Julie Taymor wowed audiences and critics alike with the answer to that question.  Using a mix of puppetry, masks and colorful costumes, the Disney hit has become one of the biggest moneymakers in Broadway history and has proven its stamina over and over thanks in large part to its thrilling Opening Number.

"All That Jazz," Chicago
Music by John Kander and Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Who knew murder could look so good?  Kander and Ebb's delightful killer-diller musical has become synonymous with a "Razzle Dazzle" Broadway show.  From its opening line of "Come On Babe" to its high-strutting final notes, the number wows everyone (whether its sung by the likes of Chita Rivera, Bebe Neuwirth or even Oscar-winner Catherine Zeta-Jones!).

"Tradition," Fiddler On the Roof
Music by Jerry Bock and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
When it comes to defining what a musical's story is about, this is one of the few Opening Numbers that lays it all out there for you.  And it is a combination of all facets of musical creation: direction, choreography, libretto and score.  Director Jerome Robbins stylized a perfect Opening for Tevye and his fellow villagers from Anatevka where they basically tell the audience what their lives are like and what is important to them: Tradition!

"Wilkommen," Cabaret
Music by John Kander and Lyrics by Fred Ebb
The title is German for "Welcome" and when you think about it, an Opening Number is basically a kind of a "Welcome."  And what a "Welcome" audiences get when they see this show (or even the Oscar-winning 1972 film version).  Mix in scantily clad women, a rousing "Oom-Pah-Pah" styled song and a dynamic performance from the actor cast as the Master of Ceremonies (The role won both a Tony and an Oscar for Joel Grey!) and you have one of the most in-your-face Opening Numbers in Broadway history.

"Comedy Tonight," A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
But when it comes to in-your-face or laying it all on the line, Fiddler and Cabaret were just following in the footsteps of Forum (which is not surprising as they were all originally produced by the legendary Harold Prince!).  This Opening Number doesn't only delight in its performance, but it surprises many to know that it almost never existed!  When Forum was first in out-of-town tryouts, it was getting hammered by the critics and walked out on by audiences.  Enter Jerome Robbins to serve as "show doctor" (basically, a production supervisor).  He told George Abbott (director), Harold Prince (producer) and Stephen Sondheim (composer-lyricist) that the Opening Number they had in place was killing the show (it was an unheard-of Sondheim song called "Love Is In the Air").  He asked Sondheim to write a new song that basically said "baggy-pants farce" and also told him "Don't worry about writing jokes! I'll handle the jokes."  What Robbins came up with the second Sondheim wrote "Comedy Tonight" has gone down in Broadway lore as the most hilarious and most entertaining ten minutes ever to be put on a stage.  I think that serves as qualification enough to top this list.