Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Joke

There's a joke circulating right now:

Pinocchio, Snow White, and Superman are out for a stroll in town one day. As they walked, they came across a sign:
Beauty contest for the most beautiful woman in the world. I am entering! said Snow White.
After half an hour she comes out and they ask her, Well, howd ya do?
First Place!, said Snow White.
They continue walking and they see another sign: Contest for the strongest man in the world.
Im entering, says Superman.
After half an hour, he returns and they ask him, How did you make out?
First Place , answers Superman. Did you ever doubt?
They continue walking when they see another sign: Contest! Who is the greatest liar in the world?
Pinocchio enters. After half an hour he returns with tears in his eyes.
What happened? they asked.
Who the hell is Nancy Pelosi? asked Pinocchio

Here's a variation:

Pinocchio, Snow White, and Superman are out for a stroll in town one day. As they walked, they come across a sign: "Beauty contest for the most beautiful woman in the world.""I am entering!" said Snow White. After half an hour she comes out and they ask her, "Well, how'd ya do?""First Place!" said Snow White.They continue walking and they see a sign: "Contest for the strongest man in the world.""I'm entering," says Superman. After half an hour, he returns and they ask him, "How did you make out?""First Place," answers Superman. "Did you ever doubt?"They continue walking when they see a sign: "Contest! Who is the greatest liar in the world?" Pinocchio enters.After half an hour he returns with tears in his eyes."What happened?" they asked.Pinocchio asks, "Who the heck is Nancy Pelosi?"

Here's another variation. No, I have no idea what V Twin Legend is.

Snow White, Superman, Pinocchio, and V_Twin_LegendPinocchio, Snow White, Superman, and V_Twin_Legend are out for a stroll in town one day.As they walk, they come across a sign:"Beauty contest for the most beautiful woman in the world.""I am entering!" said Snow White.After half an hour she comes out and they ask her, "Well, how'd you do?"" First Place !" said Snow White.They continue walking and they see a sign:"Contest for the strongest man in the world.""I'm entering," says Superman.After half an hour, he returns and they ask him, "How did you make out?"" First Place ," answers Superman. "Did you ever doubt?"They continue walking when they see a sign:"Contest! Who is the greatest liar in the world?""I'm entering," says Pinocchio.After half an hour he returns with tears in his eyes."What happened?" they asked."Who the hell is Nancy Pelosi?" asked Pinocchio. They continue walking when they see a sign:"Contest! Who is the greatest moron in the world?""I'm entering," says V_Twin_Legend.After half an hour he returns with anger in his face."What happened?" they asked."Who the hell is ShadowR?" asked V_Twin_Legend.

This is not a brand new joke, since I've been able to find variations from last year:

Pinocchio, Snow White and Superman are walking in the street when they come across a sign 'Beauty contest for the most beautiful woman in the world.' 'I am entering,' said Snow White. After half an hour she comes out and they ask her, 'Well, how was it?' First Place ', said Snow White. They continue walking and they see a sign: 'Contest for the strongest man in the world.' 'I'm entering,' says Superman and after half an hour he returns and they ask him, 'How was it?' First Place,' answers Superman. They continue walking when they see a sign: 'Contest! Who is the greatest liar in the world?' Pinocchio enters. After half an hour he returns with tears in his eyes. 'What happened?' they asked, 'Who is this guy Obama?' asked Pinocchio.

Note the variation at the end. This was October 18, not too long before the election. Right now, the Pelosi variant is the most prominent one, though there are still Obama variants to be found in recent postings. And they're still there in archives.

Then there's a variant with the punchline: "Who the hell is Thaksin?" asked Pinocchio. I'm going to assume that Thaksin here is Thaksin Shinawatra, former prime minister of Thailand, but that not certain.

I think it's really interesting to look at the context for this joke. Contexts, rather. People put this up on blogs, forums, newsgroups, etc. And they provide no context. Despite the fact that the person who came up with this joke could theoretically be identified, no one makes any effort to give credit. Folklore, one of the categories of expression into which this joke falls, is often anonymouse because of the nature of oral tradition. Nobody expects anyone to remember who told a joke to them, but here a link would be very easy. Yet nobody does it. They just copy and post, for the most part. I think it's also important to point out that they're not taking credit for it. A few will reveal that it came to them in e-mail or something like that, but for the most part the posts are nothing more than the joke itself.
Everybody knows that we don't make up the jokes we tell. I remember saying something funny once in response to somebody putting a plastic bag over his head. He asked me where I heard it, and when I said I'd made it up on the spot, he didn't believe me.

Other items of interest in the joke: Superman is a cocky strongman, nothing more.

Why Snow White?

A comic book figure, a character from a children's novel, and a fairy tale princess. There are a lot more versions of this joke out there. Sometimes the variation comes only in a word or two. Sometimes, it's in the punctuation. When people tell a joke out loud, it becomes their own by means of memory, inflection, and taste. When they copy a joke on-line, the variables are different. But variation still happens, despite the potential for verbatim copying. This is fascinating.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


This past weekend, I went to Metropolis, Illinois, for the Superman Celebration. I spent the weekend conducting interviews, recording events, and watching stuff.

The Celebration is organized by a committee of citizens of Metropolis who are devoted to their jobs. They're friendly and amazingly organized. Everything went smoothly, and they answered all my questions. I talked to some of them for half an hour or more, and they were gracious and excited about everything going on, even my book. They're led by Lisa Gower and Karla Ogle, who are sisters.

The events were spread out across the town, but many of the activities happened on Market Stree, which runs northeast from the 15' tall Superman statue, famous most recently for a picture of Barack Obama standing in front of it with arms akimbo. Here's the strip of food and vendors looking northeast toward some ominous clouds. About five minutes after I took this, it poured.

And here we are looking southwest, toward the Statue and the courthouse that sits beyond it.

The local businesses, which are located behind the tents in these pictures, use the occasion to try to sell more stuff. Superman gets an endorsement, whether he likes it or not. Here he is, in a collage that includes Obama and a better picture of the statue, advertising for a store. The Skin Shop has super deals (The Skin Shop is a mini day spa, by the way).

Here you can get an idea of the statue's size. These people are standing on the pedement, which is shaped like the Superman s-shield.

There were many people in costume, but only on officially sanctioned Superman, who's name is Josh Boltinghouse. He won the Search for Superman context and a five year deal to play Superman at the Celebration. Here he is, with my son Jacob.

Jacob, by the way, turned 2 this past Monday.

Inside the chamber of Commerce. There are tons of Superman souvenirs there, in case the vendors outside and the Super Museum shop didn't provide enough. (there's also, incongruously, a poster of the Wesley Snipes/Tommy Lee Jones film US Marshalls--which I came to learn was filmed partly in Metropolis). For some reason, I thought this section of the Commerce gift shop worth photographing.

I got lots of good stuff for a book here. If I was ever in doubt that this book will be about something important to people, that doubt was put to rest by this trip. People really make Superman an importatnt part of their lives, and not always for the same reasons. The Superman Celebration crystallizes that into one weekend. For some, it serves the same function that Halloween costuming serves: a chance to put on another face for a day or two, to let loose. I interviewed a pair of brothers, Alex and John Rinaldi, who do not put on costumes but are devoted Superman fans. They said that to dress up like that is to become interesting to others, like becoming a god for a weekend. An interesting observation.

For the town, it's an economic goldmine. They have other things that help this, a casino, a revolutionary war fort (with its own festival and re-enactment), and a harley davidson ralley. But many of them, while not necessarily fans, really get behind Superman and the Celebration. they love the work and the result. They love meeting the people. Karla, one of the chairs of the committee, compared it to a cross between Disneyland and a small town Festival. I'd replace Disneyland with a comic convention, but that might just be because I haven't been to disneyland. But my reason for the convention is the sense of community, which I doubt exists at Disneyland. Do many of the people who run the theme park know the guests by name? Perhaps, but do they incorporate the guests into the opening ceremony, allow them to run a trivia game? My interview with Karla included several moments when attendees would come up to her to chat for a bit. She knew them all by name.

All told, some 40,000 people attended the four day event. There were costume contests, a soft ball game, a car show, and scores of other events. I can't even list them all here, but they spread all over the town. I'm not that adept at fieldwork, having had little practice but a lot of theoretical instruction. I think I may have to go back next year.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A bit of this, a bit of that.

I suppose that the recent passing of David Carradine makes his speech in Kill Bill a sensible link at the moment. It is a good speech, so good that it was more or less written in 1968 by Jules Pfeiffer in The Great Comic Book Heroes, reissued by Fantagraphics Press not too long ago. Tarrantino often borrows liberally from other movies (so much that it's even commented on in other movies--Swingers, for example [Swingers...haven't thought about that movie in a while]), which makes me wonder if he's read Pfeiffer's book.

I'm not sure what to make of the St. Cloud Superman. Evidently he's all about free speech.

Again with Flickr. The makeup artist says it's inspired by Superman. Red, yellow, blue. Are there flickr people out there who come up with new make up designs (is that the right word) and post them regularly? Interesting. (sorry, the picture won't post.)

This review of Irredeemable is as good a reason as any to bring up the Superman pastiche. It's pretty common in comics to have a character who's not Superman, but is really Superman in all the important ways. This way creators can tell Superman stories that couldn't otherwise be told. It's akin to the Imaginary Stories, which I think have given way to Elseworlds (if those are still around, my comics information isn't the most current), which is similar to the Earth 2 stuff from a while back. In this version, the Plutonian is more or less an evil Superman. I think. Haven't read it yet, but I intend to. It's written by Mark Waid, who claims to be the only person on the planet to have read, watched, or listened to every Superman story ever told (in Superheroes and Philosophy).

Speaking of which, here's a blog entry Waid wrote earlier this year, which cover one of the reasons why he loves the character so much. Here's a passage:

It didn’t matter that he wasn’t real. What mattered was that he cared about everyone in the world, without exception, without judgment.

Waid has become one of the superstar writers in comics, and he's moved from a regular gig writing for DC comics, where he got to retell Superman's origin in a series called Birthright, to Boom! Studios, where he's now the editor in chief.

I’d walked into that theater with a very short future ahead of me, and I’d walked out feeling safe and inspired in Superman’s orbit. Without that, I can promise you I would not be here today.

That's a good note on which to end. Well, not as good as this:

Thursday, June 4, 2009


So a friend, and sort of a collaborator on this Superman project, sent me a link to this site, which delcares 10 Reasons why Superman is better than Jesus. That article links to another, in which a father recounts his daughter's reaction to Superman. According to the daughter, Superman is better than God.

It is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Superman, that he is simultaneously conscripted by Atheists and Christians as an important character, one which points toward all that is good and right about the respective belief system.

Here's another site: "S" for Superman or Savior?

I'll leave you to figure out the specifics of the religions of the two writers above. But in published books, the comparison works out more favorably. Take Greg Garret's Holy Superheroes. Or Steven Skelton's The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero. On the other side of that issue John T. Galloway points out all of the ways in which Superman fails to live up to the ideals of Christ. There are others.

Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the on-line articles are the comments, in which things can get pretty heated. What we learn most of all is that people really think this through. And both sides conclude that Superman is or is not for them. (I think there may be a parallel to this article, in which Superman is cast as a liberal opposed to Batman's conservatism.)

I think the Superman as Christ thing really took off with the Richard Donner film in 78. He and the writers made the parallels (which weren't always in the comics) too obvious to miss--or to ignore. For my own part, I dislike the blatant mapping of one character onto another. But I still loved that movie.

This article shows a bit of how the plot of the Superman story fits in with Otto Rank's Myth of the Birth of the Hero. Rank's is a psychoanalytic sort of study, one which begins with the reduction of the story to a basic structure, but goes on to interpret it in interesting ways that the author of this article never really deals with in his brief analysis. Alan Dundes, freudian folklorist, edited a version of it a while back that is probably the most interesting one to examine.

Rank's study is an interesting one to combine with Lord Raglan's The Hero, which takes the hero's whole life instead of merely the first adventure. He, too, reduces it to a series of episodes and demonstrates that a great deal of heroes will experience many of the 22 episodes he chronicles. I think Oedipus scored the highest. Back to Dundes, I think he determined that Jesus scored 19 of 22. Pretty good score, though not quite up there with Oedipus, if I recall.

So, to sum up...Superman is Jesus to some people, and the anti-Christ to others?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What's that one movie...

You know...where Richard Pryor tries to get a donkey to "sit."

Oh, yeah. It's Superman III.

This is just an awful movie. I hadn't seen it since it came out, with good reason. And yet...

There's the hint of something spectacular here. There's the way it opens, without Superman at all. We watch Richard Pryor get denied unemployment benefits. Magnificent.

Then, there's the city scene. It's not well done, but it could have been the best part of any Superman movie ever. If we had seen Clark Kent subtly saving various Metropolitans from disaster and pies in the face, then this could have been great. There's a scene in issue 5 of All Star Superman, where Kent works to quell a prison riot, save the guards, and keep Lex Luthor alive all while avoiding the Parasite and never changing to Superman. If the scene in Superman III had gone that route, it could have been great. Instead, Superman arrives to rip a sunroof off a car. Couldn't Kent have flicked a beer nut to shatter one of the windows (which he does later in the film under the influence of wacky kryptonite)? And what's with that pie?

The rest of the film is really only notable because of the split between the good and bad Supermans. Exposed to a tainted kryptonite, he becomes evil--which consists largely of leering at Lana Lang, arriving too late to save a truck driver, putting the leaning tower of Pisa upright, and flicking beer nuts. Then he divides in two: Superman (whose red is now marroon) and Kent. They fight, Kent wins. Literally, Kent is the good in Superman, who would run rampant, mildly disturbing tourist attractions and otherwise making a nuisance of himself.