Category Archives: POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE

POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: GEORGE

My Correspondence with George

George R.R. Martin

by Dennis Greene

In 2004, during the long wait for the publication of A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in his  A Song of Ice and Fire saga, I sent George R. R. Martin the following email:

“I don’t mean to press you, but I am now over 60 years old, and if you take as long as Tolkien did, I am afraid I will not be here to read the end of your epic. Then I will die unfulfilled. I intend to be more disciplined in my efforts to write my first novel this year. Please make an old guy happy and try to do the same. If you can wrap things up by September 15, you won’t have to experience any guilt while watching the 2004-2005 NFL season.”

 Much to my surprise, George responded promptly as follows:

“Ah, sixty isn’t that old anymore. Why don’t you just live to be a hundred? Then you can not only finish Ice and Fire but read all the books I’m planning to write afterward.  Me, I’m a Giants and Jets fan, and I refuse to die until I’ve seen a subway Super Bowl.  Many thanks for the email, and your kind and encouraging words.”

 I read A Game of Thrones, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, when it was published in 1996. Martin intended for the saga to consist of six books which would tell a sweeping tale of the political and military contest for the control of Westros followed by the final confrontation between the human armies of Westros and the inhuman hordes from the north. The story is told in the third person, alternating among the limited points of view of numerous major characters. The scene and point of view change with each chapter. The first book has eight major characters and 674 pages. The second book, A Clash of Kings, published in 1999, has two more major characters and 728 pages. The third book, A Storm of Swords, followed quickly in 2000; this one has another two characters and 924 pages.  At this point, though, progress seemed to stall.  By 2004, when I sent my email, it was rumored that the draft of the fourth book, A Feast for Crows, contained eighteen major characters and an additional twenty chapters involving minor characters or single events. The draft exceeded twelve hundred pages, was still growing, and was nowhere near completion.

Succumbing to the pressure of my email, as well as pressure from other fans as well as his publisher, Martin decided to release his planned fourth book in two parts, each containing a separate set of story lines taking place simultaneously. This enabled Martin to publish A Feast for Crows in 2005. It contains sixteen major story lines, seven minor character chapters, and 684 pages.

I waited patiently for another two years for the second half of the fourth book,  A Dance for Dragons, and in August 2007, I sent another email:

 “The last time I dropped you a note, I was 60 years old and worried that I wouldn’t live to read the end of the saga. Now I am almost 64. So, nu?”

This time George’s response was less chatty:

You really need to stop all this aging.  Hey, I’m not that far behind you—58, going on 59.”

Shortly after this response, George made it clear on his website that further inquiries from fans about his writing progress would go straight to trash. He would notify the world when the book was actually released for sale.  So, I quit asking.

His fifth volume, A Dance with Dragons, finally appeared in 2011.  The book has more than twenty major characters, another twenty minor character chapters, and 959 pages.

George originally contemplated six books. But as the number of characters and stories expanded, each book did also. With the publication of A Dance with Dragons in 2011, he has completed four of the originally contemplated six books. That would mean at least two more books will be necessary. But at the rate each sequential volume expands, it is not unreasonable to expect that it may take three or four more volumes to finish the tale.  We have been waiting eight years to read Winds of Winter, with no publication date yet announced.

Meanwhile, the HBO adaption of the saga has moved way past that of the completed books and is about to begin its final season.  The HBO story differs significantly from that contained in the completed books, and unless George is planning to conform his remaining books to the TV series, which is unlikely, we can expect the divergence to increase. With the tremendous TV audience and publicity, the HBO version of Game of Thrones has effectively replaced George Martin’s original vision with the great majority of his fans. The HBO series is an epic undertaking in its own right, visually impressive and powerful, but it is, nevertheless, an abridged, altered, and diluted version of the story he provides in the books. At the current rate of progress, I will be nearing the century mark before the literary saga is complete.

And now, George has betrayed my trust. Instead of making progress on the long overdue A Song of Ice and Fire saga, he has recently been devoting his time to writing a 600-page first volume of Fire and Blood, a two part “prequel” describing the history of the Targaryan kings of Westeros. His unfinished 23-year-old epic seems to have been cast aside.  If Tolkien had abandoned Lord of the Rings after The Two Towers, two thirds of the way through his story, he would have been vilified instead of revered.

Is this how George R. R. Martin wants to be remembered by his oldest and most ardent fans?

P.S. Incidentally, I feel obligated to disclose that I have not yet written the memoir that I mentioned to George in my 2004 email. I’m still working on it. If George is correct, I still have plenty of time.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OOPS…

Measure Thrice. Cut Once

Professor Horace Slughorn

by Dennis Greene

I’m very new to this writing business and still experience a thrill upon seeing my own words in print. This past year or so, I have had over a dozen short articles published in the highly regarded BOLLI Journal and in the BOLLI Matters blog. I now sometimes dare to refer to myself half seriously as a “writer” instead of a “story teller,” and I confess that, deep down, I feel smugly pleased with the idea. But “pride often goes before the fall.”

In the interludes between the important activities that occupy my time, like watching tv series, doing BOLLI homework, reading my ever-growing pile of recommended books, and watching the stock market, I occasionally take a beak to reread and admire my published work. Today, I was happily perusing my recent piece on Harry Potter when I came upon a paragraph that didn’t sound correct. I realized I had violated one of the cardinal rules of non-fiction writing. I had relied on my memory (which has lately become less and less reliable) to recall some facts which led me reach an unjustified conclusion. I didn’t check the facts. While fact checking does not seem currently in vogue, I highly recommend it for those with integrity.

Here is what happened.  I had recalled that Professor Slughorn, a character first appearing in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, had formed a “club” to which he invited only students who were either from very noteworthy wizarding families or students from less notable wizarding families who themselves possessed extraordinary talents and were likely to become noteworthy. The Professor sought to elevate himself by cultivating contacts with rich and famous wizards. Based on this recollection. I speculated that the Slughorn character might have been based on Professor Harold Bloom, the Yale literary critic.  I suggested the possibility that Professor Slughorn, and by implication, Professor Bloom, was an insufferable snob, a social climber and a bigot.

When I checked the source, I confirmed that Professor Slughorn did select his invitees based on  family prominence or extraordinary talents. Those receiving invitations included Neville (famous Auror parents), Harry (the Chosen one) and Ginny (because of her amazing hexing powers). All three were “purebloods.”  But Professor Slughorn’s favorite student had been Harry’s mother Lily, who was not a pureblood but, rather, a “Muggle.”  Furthermore, when the Professor became aware of Hermione’s extraordinary talents, she was invited to join without regard to her Muggle antecedents.

So I owe Professor Slughorn, and, by implication, Professor Bloom an apology and a retraction. Professor Slughorn is an insufferable snob and a social climber, but he is not a bigot. I should have checked my facts before I rushed to print.  Mea Culpa.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  

                

 

 

POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: HARRY POTTER

                          J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter:                                Serious Literature or Adolescent “Slop”

By Dennis Greene

     “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at age fifty.”  –C. S. Lewis

Unless you have been living under a stone for the past twenty years, you have certainly heard of British author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Ms. Rowling has sold over 500 million copies of this seven-volume “young adult” series published from 1997 through 2007. The series has spawned ten extremely successful films and is frequently credited with encouraging the millennial generation to enjoy reading thick, complex books. This literary phenomenon has made the author a billionaire, and the Harry Potter franchise is now valued at over $25 billion dollars.

The Potter fan base is not limited to young adults. Millions of mature readers have come to know and love the Potter books by sharing them with their children or grandchildren. Others have sampled The Sorcerer’s Stone to see what the fuss was about and discovered, in one reviewer’s words, “the liveliest, funniest, scariest, and most moving children’s stories ever written. The praise from many well-respected reviewers has been effusive. A. N. Wilson in The (London) Times referred to Rowling’s narrative skills as Dickensian while Stephen King predicted that Harry Potter deserved his place on the shelf with Alice, Huck, Frodo and Dorothy. The Mail on Sunday rated The Philosopher’s Stone as “the most imaginative debut since Roald Dahl,” and the Guardian called it “a richly textured novel given lift-off by an inventive wit.”

The skyrocketing commercial success of the Potter books, along with the literary awards and critical acclaim they have received, eventually attracted the attention of the elite literary establishment. Leading the attack on the popular books was Yale Professor and well-known ;iterary critic Harold Bloom. In a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Can 35 Million Book Buyers be Wrong?  Yes.” Professor Bloom observed that Rowling’s writing was “dreadful” and the book was “terrible” (note Professor Bloom’s magnificent use of richly descriptive adjectives) and then went on to disparage her readers.

“Why read it?” Bloom said.  ” Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. At least her fans are momentarily emancipated from their screens and so may not forget wholly the sensation of turning the pages of a book, any book. And yet, I feel discontent with the Harry Potter mania, and I hope my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery or nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent children of all ages.”

 The disparaging comments of this prominent critic, cloaked in the prestige of both Yale University and the Wall Street Journal, was an unwarranted attack on a young novelist whose first published work had achieved startling commercial success. In Rowling’s wizarding world, Professor Bloom would be easily recognized for what he is—a highbrow snob and a bully. If Professor Bloom were rewriting his article today, it would have to be titled “Can 500 Million Buyers Be Wrong? Maybe not.” I have no idea if it was a conscious decision, but in a later Harry Potter book, Ms. Rowling introduces Professor Slughorn, a mercurial, pompous, social-climbing Hogwart’s teacher who hosts dinner parties for “pureblood” students from famous wizarding families while excluding Hermione, the smartest student at Hogwart’s, because she is a “mudblood.” Professor Slughorn might easily have been patterned after a certain Yale literary critic.

Once Professor Bloom opened the floodgates, the deluge from other critics began. One of the first to pile on was Dame A.S. Byatt, an English author with an honorary title and an aristocratic aura, who opined that the Potter books were “written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, reality TV, and celebrity gossip.” Another British newspaper critic predicted that “in years to come, people will make a link between our plump, comfortable, infantilizing society and the popularity of Potter.” Other more measured critics did fairly identify a number of flaws in the Potter books, including tired writing, overuse of clichés, and being too complex for children and young adults to sort out. I don’t know exactly where Harry Potter should rate on the spectrum of young adult books of “literary merit,” but I believe it would be much closer to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Grahame’s Wind in the Willows than to Twilight or The Hunger Games.

 After 20 years, the commercial success of the Potter series has assured Rowling and Harry Potter an honored place in popular culture. Whether the Harry Potter books are to stand as one of the great classics of English literature or are ultimately judged to be unremarkable adolescent “slop” as Professor Bloom contends, only time will tell.

I enjoyed spending time in Ms. Rowling’s imaginary wizarding world and coming to know all her unique and definitively drawn characters. But what made these books special tp me was Ms. Rowling’s extraordinary ability to make me care about each character and emotionally participate in their interactions. The seven-year transformation of each of these characters about whom I cared deeply was a poignant coming of age story. Ms. Rowling really “gets” the adolescent experience and makes the reader see it. I still have an emotional reaction when I think of Dobby’s death or Dolorous Umbridge’s tyranny. Along the way there are also trolls to kill, mysteries to solve, backstories to discover, unspeakable evil to oppose, and a series of wonderful friendships to admire. In addition, the books incorporate many of the traditional elements of classical English literature.

The most comprehensive discourse on the literary merits of the Potter books is John Granger’s Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. He describes the way the author meticulously planned and structured the entire narrative before completing the first book. Ms. Rowling was familiar with many of the fundamental patterns of great English literary tradition and seamlessly wove them into her tale. Among the patterns evident in the narrative are:

The traditional Hero’s Journey.

  1. The patterns of Literary Alchemy, a tradition dating back to the middle ages and evident in works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jonson, Blake, and Joyce. The mythical philosopher’s stone, which is the title of the first Potter book published in England, was the key to medieval alchemy.
  2. Well devised narrative misdirection drives the reader to keep active and on edge through the 4100+ page journey and allows numerous plot twists and surprises.
  3. All the trappings of the English schoolboy novel as established by Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays published in 1857.
  4. Incorporation of numerous postmodern issues and concerns, including class prejudice, slavery, friendship, race, xenophobia, intermarriage, loyalty, family, bureaucratic ineptitude, credibility of the press, gender, individual transformation, tyranny, and, of course, love and death.

If you are a sophisticated reader who enjoys exploring the text to discover literary antecedents and subtext, as some scholars do with Tolkien’s works, there is much in Rowling’s Harry Potter books to examine.      

 There are many adult readers who haven’t read a Harry Potter book, either because they instinctively dismiss books designated “young adult” or because Professor Bloom and his ilk have driven them away. William Safire, in a New York Times article, argued that “children’s books like Harry Potter are responsible for the infantilization of adult culture,” and Ruth Graham in Slate argued that “adults should be embarrassed to read literature aimed at teenagers.” Faced with such highbrow snobbery, some potential readers may give in to the shaming. But those who do succumb will be doomed to reading only books like Portrait of a Lady, Anna Karenina, and “The Sun Also Rises” and existing in a continual state of depression. Instead, I suggest you look to the wisdom of C. S. Lewis who observed that “on becoming a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

If you are willing to risk being thought childish by literary highbrows, try reading Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone.  You may enjoy it and discover for yourself the literary merit encased in Ms. Rowling’s magnum opus.    

“BOLLI Matters” pop culture writer Dennis Greene.

While Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer,  he’s been a pop culture geek and junkiey for sixt.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  

POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: A TASTE FOR BORSCHT

A Taste for Borscht

by Dennis Greene 

It took me over a year to discover Amazon Prime’s charming TV series The Magnificent Mrs. Maisel but only two weeks to binge-watch the first two seasons. If you have not done so already, I’d recommend that you add this to your watchlist and catch up before the third season airs in 2019.  Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of The Gilmore Girls, is adept at showcasing strong female characters. This time, she switches  from  Rory and Lorelai’s contemporary life in the storybook Connecticut town of Stars Hollow to focus on the tumultuous lives of a well-to-do Jewish family living on New York City’s upper West Side in the late 1950’s. Rachel Brosnahan, as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, the protagonist and eponymous character, is brilliant as she transitions from a married, seven sisters educated housewife with two kids to a struggling, foul-mouthed stand-up comic whose marriage has ended.  Alex Bornstein is a scene stealer as her unlikely manager, and the rest of the large supporting cast–including Marin Hinkle ( Alan’s ex-wife on Two-and-a-Half Men) and Tony Shalhoub (the star of Monk)–are superbly skilled and energetic.  The sharp contrast between the Weissmans, Midge’s sophisticated, highly educated and emotionally repressed parents and the Maisels, Midge’s volatile and demonstrative garment industry in-laws, provides an ongoing source of humor and tension. The story is fast paced and the 50’s background music and dress sets the scene perfectly. The emotional twists and turns, punctuated by crisp, humorous dialogue and Midge’s biting stand-up routines make each hour fly by.  But these are not the only reasons that 16 episodes left me wanting more.

While anyone may enjoy this series, Jews of “a certain age” with New York City roots may find that the world of Midge Maisel particularly resonates.  I left Queens in 1952, when I was seven, and yet, many aspects of Midge’s world evoked strong responses in me.  Midge’s parents and her in-laws remind me of people I have known.  And we have all seen the conflicts that arise when offspring deviate from their controlling parents’ expected paths. Plus, the scenic background of the show reflects an era I remember fondly. When Midge’s four-year old son was sitting in front of a small black and white TV in his grandparents’ apartment, I caught a glimpse of Froggy the Gremlin, and then Howdy Doody on the screen which transported me back 60 years.

The most poignant images for me, though, were those during Midge and her family’s summer vacation at Steiner’s Mountain Resort, and that surprised me.  I had never visited the Catskills with my family.  My few visits to the Borscht Belt were after college and had been to chase girls. And yet,  I knew just what it would feel like to be a guest at a place like Steiner’s.  This could be the result of watching Dirty Dancing too many times, but I believe I have a more real connection. The Weissmans’ stay at Steiner’s made me recall my own family vacations at Camp Winadu when I was a kid.

The name “Winadu” sounds more Native American than Borscht Belt because of a compromise.  This boy’s camp in the Berkshires could have been named “Camp Winnick, Nadleson and Dube,” but the three founding friends from Brooklyn shortened  that by using the first two letters of each of their surnames.  They established a kosher Jewish boy’s camp near Pittsfield, Mass. around 1918. During the 1920s,  my rich grandparents sent my Dad from Brooklyn to Camp Winadu to rough it for the summer in cloth tents with rustic “outhouses.”  By 1950, the rustic camp had grown to include a  comfortable mountain resort with 32 guest rooms and separate guest quarters with a pool and tennis court.  There was also a guest dining hall with excellent cuisine.

Following World War II, Winadu alumni like my Dad began getting together at Winadu with their families the week after camp ended. My recollections of those family vacations in the Berkshires don’t seem any different from the Weissman’s annual vacations at Steiner’s.

My more direct experience with the Borscht Belt involved several stays at the famous Concord Hotel.  Ken Winnarick, a close college friend, was the grandson of the owner of the Concord, and he occasionally invited a few of us up for a free weekend.  Ken’s grandfather Arthur Winnarick, along with many other Borscht Belt resort owners, gave hundreds of aspiring performers their start in show business.  I recall once getting stoned in the Concord penthouse and then going down to the bar to see Woody Allen, a new stand-up comedian getting his start. He was pretty good.  I think we spoke to him after the show, but I doubt he remembers me.

You don’t need first-hand experience with either the Borscht Belt or stand-up comedy to appreciate Midge’s travails.  Almost anyone who has had some exposure to the extended New York Jewish Community will find things which stimulate memories or just make you smile.

If a displaced and out of touch Jew like me, who hasn’t lived in The City for 67 years and never knew a word of Yiddish, can get so immersed in Midge Maisel’s world, I’m sure many of you–especially “real” New Yorkers who remember the golden age of Broadway,  waiters at the Carnegie Deli who actually knew what a knish was, or ever purchased lipstick at the cosmetic counter at B. Altman–will enjoy reliving those days with Midge Maisel and her lunatic friends and family.  I can’t wait for Season 3 to begin.

Our BOLLI “Matters” pop culture guru Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  Most recently, he has  led BOLLI study groups in science fiction reading.

 

 

POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: THE KOMINSKY METHOD

A Cure for the “End of Golf Season” Blues

By Dennis Greene 

It is that time of year.  The colorful leaves are falling from the trees, the sun is setting early, there is a raw, chilly wind, and the golf course is closing.  I have ceased my exercise routine, begun overeating, rapidly put on 15 pounds, and have a constant desire to nap. Either I am suffering a bout of fall melancholy or a long dormant urge to hibernate is about to erupt.

While recently lounging on my living room couch, trying to decide whether to make a black and white frappe or take a nap, I clicked on Netflix and was confronted with a promo for The Kominsky Method, a new sit-com created by Chuck Lorre.  Now Mr. Lorre’s creations have  been serving as my antidepressant  ever since 1997 when I discovered Dharma and Greg, his fourth TV series. That was followed by Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon, and Mom. I also feel Chuck and I have a special connection through a mutual friend, though that connection is somewhat attenuated. In 1986, during Lorre’s guitar playing and songwriting phase, he wrote Deborah Harry’s hit single “French Kissin” for her Rockbird album. By an unbelievable coincidence, twenty years earlier, when I was a student at Lafayette College and Debbie was at nearby Centenary Junior College, she dated one of my fraternity brothers and we hung out together.  That means there is only one degree of separation between Chuck Lorre and me. He is almost a friend of mine.

The Kominsky Method started streaming on Netflix on Nov. 16. The series co-stars Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin as two aging friends in their “later years,” dealing with the rapidly changing world of Los Angeles while their own respective lives, bodies, and minds are deteriorating.  Douglas plays Sandy Kominsky, a washed-up actor but skilled acting teacher, and Arkin plays Norman Neulander, a successful talent agent and Kominsky’s long-time friend. Surprisingly, Douglas and Arkin had never met or worked together before, but Lorre brought them together, and the two Oscar-winning actors, proven masters of their craft, fit together perfectly. They are a pair of “buddies” to rival Newman and Redford, Lemmon and Matthau or the more recent Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin of Frankie and Grace.

The Kominsky supporting cast is also superb. Nancy Travis, whom I have admired since Three Men and a Baby,  is Douglas’s slightly younger (but, at 57, still “mature” ) love interest; Susan Sullivan, the veteran star of Falcon Crest, plays the ghost of Norman’s deceased wife; Lisa Edelstein, recently a regular on House, plays Norman’s drug addicted daughter; and Ann-Margret is cast as a lonely widow with her eye on Norman.  For me, the high point of the first season was Danny DeVito’s brilliant portrayal of Sandy and Norman’s effervescent urologist.

Many of the subjects dealt with in Kominsky are dark or sad, which is not unexpected in a show about the “twilight years,” but the humor and honesty pervading the writing and the acting enable the viewer to easily get through the tough spots without trivializing the real issues.

I binge watched all eight episodes in one weekend and was again left with a void in my life, but one that was easily filled. There have been several successful Lorre series I had missed completely, so I used the power of Xfinity’s “on demand” function and found all 87 episodes of Cybill,  Lorre’s third series creation which aired during the four years preceding Dharma and Greg. The show starred Cybill Shephard, who I remembered only as the stunning, naked teenager who dived into the swimming pool in The Last Picture Show. In the Cybill series she plays a struggling 40ish actress with two likeable but contrasting ex-husbands, two daughters and an acerbic best friend, played by the brilliant Christine Baranski, who earned an Emmy for her Cybill role. Baranski more recently starred as Diane Lockhart in The Good Wife, and currently appears as Leonard Hofsteder’s mother on the Big Bang Theory.

Last night, as I watched the first two episodes of Cybill, I realized why I so enjoy Chuck Lorre creations. Though he got his start writing for Roseanne, he left quickly, citing “creative differences,” and from then on, all of his characters (except maybe Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men) have been fundamentally nice, decent people. Lorre understands flawed characters involved in complex human interactions and enables us to see the humor in it all.

But most importantly, Lorre “gets” friendship. The relationships portrayed by Douglas and Arkin in Kominsky, Shepherd and Baranski in Cybill, the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory, and Allison Janney,  Anna Faris and the support group on Mom all are uplifting and just make the viewer feel good. This isn’t a brilliant insight on my part. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld clearly showcased the appeal and entertainment value of friendship in their hugely successful sit-com, and to make sure none of us missed the point, they named it Friends.

Not only does Lorre create wonderful friendships on screen, but he also seems adept at forming them in real life. The number of actors who seem to reappear in his work suggests that  he forms lasting relationships with the talented people he encounters. Actors he met on Roseanne decades ago, like John Galecki, Sara Gilbert and Laurie Metcalf, as well as more recent discoveries like Christine Baranski, appear in his projects today. I suspect Chuck Lorre would be a good guy to hang out with.        

My depression is over, and I’m again ready to face the trials of late middle age. Cheer yourself up and binge watch The Kominsky Method, or watch the series more patiently if you are so inclined, and extend the enjoyment. It’s “Friends” for our generation.

“BOLLI MATTERS” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  More recently, he’s been exercising his writing muscles–in the Writers Guild and as a member of the “BOLLI Journal” staff.

 

POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: IT’S TIME…

It’s Time They Were Recognized

By Dennis Greene

            I am guilty of putting up a variety of false fronts. I spend lots of time with my golf buddies talking Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins. I know the scores and the stats, and after a round, I usually join them in a beer, even though I would prefer to go to J.P. Licks and have a chocolate ice cream soda with vanilla ice cream. I try to act like a guy’s guy.

Each week, I attend the New Yorker magazine discussion group. I read the chosen item carefully and attempt to make insightful comments. I try to appear as an erudite student of literature, but I know my unfamiliarity with authors like Alice Munro or Richard Ford gives me away. My literary false front isn’t very convincing.

This term, I am enrolled in a class about the incomprehensible workings of our universe. We are learning about Einstein’s General and Special Theories of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and the relationship of time, space, mass, light, and energy. I try to act as if I am interested in understanding these mind stretching subjects, but it is another pose. I just want to understand what Sheldon Cooper is talking about on The Big Bang Theory.

I am a closet TV sit-com nerd, and after 10 years, I feel compelled to speak out. The “Me Too” movement focused my attention on our society’s treatment of women, and I have long been aware of yet another area where they are treated unjustly. For the past decade, I have noted the accolades heaped on Jim Parsons for his role of Sheldon Cooper, while Kaley Cuoco, who, as Penny, carried the show from the start, has received little professional recognition. Until two other female actors joined the cast, Penny was on screen almost full time with one or the other of the three male leads, and she carried them all. Sure, she earns lots of money but no individual Emmy nominations. To add insult to injury, since Mayim Bialik joined the cast, she has been nominated for the Emmy almost every year. Not to say Mayim doesn’t do an excellent job, but she joined an established hit and already had celebrity from her prior success as Blossom, while Kaley made The Big Bang Theory a hit. The lack of recognition received by extraordinary women actors in successful sit-coms (ok, Tina Fey, Julia Louis Dreyfus, and Chloris Leachman aside) is inexcusable.  And this trend seems to be continuing.

Recently, I saw an episode of Young Sheldon, a prequel showcasing Dr. Sheldon Cooper in his youth.  Ian Armitage, the young actor playing the nine -year-old Sheldon, is masterful in capturing Sheldon’s mannerisms, quirks, and idiosyncrasies and is already a frequent guest on TV talk shows and late night TV.  It is likely that he will be as celebrated as Jim Parsons was in the role. But, in this pop culture geek’s humble opinion, the best characters on the show are Sheldon’s Meemaw, played by Annie Potts, and Sheldon’s twin sister Missy.  Annie Potts dominates every scene she is in.  She did the same thing in the movie Ghost Busters 34 years ago. While Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase went on to become household names, Annie Potts–despite her success on Designing Women–remains relatively unknown. And I have noticed little fanfare for Raegan Revard, the spunky and talented young actor who, as Missy, is the perfect foil for young Sheldon.

As a recently motivated, male geek feminist, I would like to call for an end to this injustice to women in TV sit-coms by showing some love and an Emmy nomination groundswell for Young Sheldon’s Meemaw, Annie Potts.

BOLLI MATTERS Feature Writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.