Thursday, December 26, 2013

Something like a phenomenon

'Tis the end of another year. With this magical time comes the traditional onslaught of lists and awards people find it necessary to concoct, collect and distribute. Top Tens, Top Fives, Top 100s, Man of the Year, Woman of the Year, Manly Woman of the Year, Cuddly Internet Animal of the Year, etc. Time magazine has their Person of the Year (I mean, he is totally nailing this whole Pope thing). I figured I might get in on the action as well. Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Spartacus' Person of the Year:
Michael Bolton.

Now, to the casual observer, Michael Bolton isn't the obvious choice. The fact is, Michael Bolton has been subtly creeping into my consciousness all year. I am impressed that he has re-established his pop culture presence as a guy that can play himself in ironic cameo appearances. What started the year off as a seemingly random casting in the Optimum commercial, in which his phone number was hilariously confused with theirs, led to a borderline humiliating turn serenading cartoon fruit in a Starburst ad. He finished out the year singing to potential Honda customers and I, for one, am proud of the man. I'm happy that he's still working and I'm happy he can laugh at himself and allow us to laugh along. It's impressive. It's amusing. It's a treat. Dare I say it's a phenomenon?

The thing is, I love a good phenomenon. My favorite phenomenon, to date, was the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. This is when some abstract name or thing enters your world for the first time and then repeatedly, immediately following that first time. Alan Bellows gives a nice summary: "Anytime the phrase "that's so weird, I just heard about that the other day" would be appropriate, the utterer is hip-deep in Baader-Meinhof." For the rest of his explanation, see his damn interesting  post on the topic.

The name Baader-Meinhof refers to a very specific example of what is actually a very general, common thing... hearing about something you’ve just heard about.  In the case of Baader-Meinhof, it is not the actual phenomenon that I am so taken with, although for anyone to hear about that specific left-wing German activist gang multiple times in a short span of time does seem worthy of the title: phenomenon. The part I find most fascinating is the name... It was the simple act of a St. Paul Pioneer Press reader in 1986 mentioning the recurrence of hearing about the Baader-Meinhof gang that gave the entire phenomenon its name. If that guy can use his random example as a name inspiration, maybe I can too.

Using celebrities who are years, even decades, past their prime in advertisements and comedy sketches is a fairly common thing these days. Old Navy has been doing it for years (Mr. T, Boys II Men and Julie Haggerty-the stewardess from the movie Airplane, just to name a few). And who hasn’t enjoyed the series of Snickers ads with the likes of Kenny G and Abe Vigoda? As common as it seems, it is a thing that doesn't really have a name... until now. 

May I present to you: the Boltonomenon. Of course Michael Bolton isn’t the only washed up celebrity to play himself in an ad. Shoot, he isn't even the only washed up 80‘s pop singer to play himself in an ad this year. Anyone who saw Eddie Money as a travel agent in a Geico ad knows that. But he is a good recurring example of the phenomenon I am defining here: reviving a former star's popularity and presence in a somewhat hokey yet humorous way and the positive reaction we, the viewing public, have to seeing them in these "ironic" scenarios.

Our reaction is a combination of surprise: having not seen them in a while; nostalgia: thinking back fondly to when they were a big deal; and sentimentality: feeling bad because they are not really that big of a deal anymore. When we see the cast of 90210 or the Audrey's and Rusty's from three different National Lampoon's Vacation movies reuniting in an Old Navy ad we are mildly amused and a little excited. This is the sentiment of the Boltonomenon: “Oh look, it's them... I remember them... I didn’t expect to see them here today, but I’m glad they are all still alive and camera ready.”

When Michael Bolton started appearing again after all these years, he was greeted with a mix of mild amusement, moderate enthusiasm and an essence of pity. It is a much softer version of laughing at someone else's expense since these washed up celebrities are clearly in on the joke, assuming they are being paid for the ads. And given the lapse in time since we've seen them active in the entertainment world, I do truly hope they are being paid. 

I think he got paid in tickets to paradise, a pretty sweet deal for him these days.
We need to believe that these celebrities are in on the joke, otherwise it feels like we’re laughing AT them. So I will continue to assume that Michael Bolton, Kenny G, Eddie Money and anyone else they can dig up are wicked funny for being able to laugh at themselves, partially because it makes me feel better about them, but mainly because it makes me feel better about myself.

The Boltonomenon provides a way for familiar personalities of previous glory to rise again. It's like a phoenix rising if you replaced the majestic nature of the mythical bird with the majestic nature of a former heartthrob. Whatever it is, I am here to name it, embrace it, and thank it for making those moments when you forget to fast forward the DVR enjoyable.

As for Mr. Bolton, congratulations on what will potentially be your only Person of the Year award. It is no less deserved in its isolation and no less intended as a massive compliment. You might not be the Pope, but you certainly bring a little light to some people, which is more than many can say. Congratulations on this tremendous honor. 

Michael Bolton rocking out with his urns
...singing to cartoon fruit
... and singing with kids in the snow. Is there nothing he can't do?

MB clearly knows how to laugh at himself.... Check him out with the Lonely Planet guys a few years back...

Sunday, December 15, 2013


I have a fairly unhealthy relationship with food. Don't get me wrong, I love food. I eat it all the time... seriously, all the time. Sometimes it's good food. Sometimes it's bad food. Sometimes it's my personal favorite, good bad food. The unhealthy part is the fact that I cannot and will not allow food to go to waste. At the expense of my own well being, I will make sure that food is never thrown away. 

The issues with my eating habits haven't been properly diagnosed, but hey, I'm pretty sure that's why the internet exists... for me to put this out there and find other people like me. My sister also suffers from this eating thing. I know that because we have discussed it ad nauseum - pun intended. 

My sister and I were raised to finish what is on our plate and to not let food go to waste. This seems like a pretty innocent, worthy lesson to teach your children. However, there is something wrong with the severity with which we adhere to this rule and the guilt associated with breaking it. Frankly, we take the whole thing a bit too seriously. The guilt we have from wasting food leaves us both with refrigerators and pantries which are constantly full of leftovers. Has it been one day or one week? You'll just have to be brave enough to pop the lid and find out. But in fear (yes, actual fear) of throwing food out, we will consume vile combinations and quantities of food. 

It is definitely some sort of condition, although I have not yet discovered any information on this particular issue. I'm not sure if it has been named yet, but if not, maybe I can get in there with a proper name recommendation, like Miss Spartacus Behavior, or Spartacusemia.

If you can't leave food on your plate because the guilt is just too much to bear; if you would make yourself sick from fullness rather than throw food away; if you smell food because you're never quite sure how old it is, yet that fact alone doesn't make you throw it out: you make have the condition commonly known as Spartacusemia. 

Do you ever cook or order too much food and then make up multiple packages to take to work, put in the freezer and eat the next two nights for dinner? Do you find yourself regularly making banana bread or fruit crumbles due to an excess of fruit that is about to go (or maybe just went) bad? Do you fear hurting the chef's feelings if you were to leave any food on your plate? Do you find it impossible to leave even a small bite behind if you are enjoying the food? Then you too may have Spartecusemia.

Spartecusemics have trouble with lots of holidays, but certainly Halloween is a demonstration of our disorder in all its glory. I acted like it was my motherly duty to get rid of the candy so that my daughter didn't have to eat all that junk. To be honest, she didn't even seem to care about most of it. Partially because I ate the good stuff before she even had a chance to sample it and partially because she just seems to be more of a lollipop afficionado. Weird, I know. And before you go suggesting that we donate our candy to the troops, you should know that we don't trick or treat that much, so we only had a small bowl full at the end of it all... and once we got through the few good items, we were left with some packs of Smartees and a handful of dum-dums and frankly, I believe it is a bit of an insult to the troops to send them Smartees. I am certainly not going to thank them for putting their lives on the line for me by sending them Smartees. What kind of a person do you think I am?
Yes, this was my dinner on November 1.
As of now, there is no cure for Spartecusemia. But if you know someone with Spartacusemia, there are a few things you can do to help. 
*When they are not looking, go through their fridge and throw away the food you know is well past a healthy consumption date. 
*Do not let them over-order. 
*Mock them for strange meal combinations. An example of one such combination may include, but is not limited to: a mound of shrimp fried rice, one sparerib, a half a piece of pepperoni pizza and a half a bagel with lox and cream cheese. It is OK to point out that this is not an OK combination, and they will thank you for it.
*Ask the waiter to take their plate away from them when they have complained about being too full three times yet continue to plow through it. Sure, they will complain about how rude the waiter is for a little while, but that is better than them complaining all night about how sick they feel.

It is important that you do not confuse a Splitzer (an expert sharer) with a sufferer of Spartecusemia. A Splitzer is someone who doesn't need a buffet to negotiate a little bit of each of the different things they want to eat onto their plate. A Splitzer can proudly manage a three-way split with two willing friends of say: an individual pizza, cheeseburger and ceasar salad** and be satisfied having gotten to eat everything they wanted. But a Splitzer will only eat until they are full. Someone with Spartecusemia can't and won't leave any of that expert split on the plate, even if they are full. A Spartecusemic can be a Splitzer, but a Splitzer is not necessarily a Spartecusemic. I am a Splitzer who also suffers from Spartecusemia.

Hopefully one day there will be a fancy drug advertised on tv for Spartacusemia. I hope it shows a plethora of otherwise normal looking adults partaking in a multitude of activities that have nothing to do with eating: cross country skiing on roller skates; playing carnival games like the one where you shoot water into a clown's mouth to blow up a balloon until it pops; alpine sliding with funny hats, etc. Hey, if erectile dysfunction ads can use a couple in individual bathtubs in the woods or on the beach (a scenario where the benefits of the drug being advertised would be logistically impossible), then I think we can use these random activities. At the end of the ad it should list all the different possible side effects, which don't actually totally suck. "Warning: this medicine may cause goofy dizziness, an irrepressible urge and newfound ability to do the worm, light buzzing in your ears, that feeling on your tongue you get in the morning when you're hungover that goes away as soon as you drink some water, a flushed face or a really bad hangnail."

Somebody thought this imagery worked so well that they used it

... again

... and again

--- and again.

Anyone else out there suffer from Spartecusemia? Hit me with your strangest splitsy combo...

** - based on a real-life splitsy which delighted the two ladies I was sharing with and appalled the rest of our dining companions.