Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Dear Journal": Doug, Pop Culture and the Movies

WRITER'S NOTE: This post should belong in my movie blog "Film FreeQ," due to its various pop culture and film references. But for the sake of the anthology I've written on this series on this particular blog ("Write Here, Write Now"), I'm including it here.

Pop Culture References and Parodies
Looking back, Doug did a brilliant job of illustrating the thrills and pains of growing up as kids. In terms of the former, it does an equally fun job of referencing (sometimes subtly) various celebrities, films, and trends of the early Nineties and prior. From superheroes to action heroes to video games to music artists, viewers and fans who grew up in the early Nineties will easily recognize these nods. Here's a look back at some of them.

Superheroes, Action Heroes, and Video Games 
Although Doug Funnie does create his own imaginative alter egos, such as the Zorro/Errol Flynn-type Jack Bandit and the private eye Chameleon, several others are clearly nods to other iconic characters. Quailman, comic-book hero Man O Steel Man, and even Skeeter Valentine's creation Silver Skeeter, are parodies and homages to Superman ("the Man of Steel") and the Silver Surfer, respectfully. Secret Agent Smash Adams is an obvious nod to James Bond, while adventurer-explorer Race Canyon is an obvious nod to Indiana Jones. 

Smash Adams, Quailman, and Race Canyon
Quailman and Silver Skeeter
Super Pretendo Game System
The "Space Munks" adventure game, along with the game system Super Pretendo (a nod to Super Nintendo), illustrates popular games and consoles at the time, while mini-mall arcades include games involving dino racing and "Bagging the Neemotoad”. 

Restaurants, Stores, Malls, Products
Some of these other mini-mall stores include shoes based off of Air Jordans, instead titled "Sky Davis Air Jets," which, while cool-looking, prove to big for Doug to walk around in (Season 1). Even fast food mascots take a goofy turn in the form of the Honker Burger chain's own "Hamburger Boy" (Season 3).

Sky Davis Air Jets
The Hamburger Boy

Music Rocks! 
Doug and Skeeter's favorite band, from the beginning, is clearly The Beets, who are obviously a nod the Beatles, as well as to mock-rock band Spinal Tap from the popular 1984 film. The two friends even create their own garage band (Season 3), with a daydream segment that features Doug and Skeeter dressed as rock stars from the Seventies and Eighties, possibly a combination of Blue Oyster Cult, Steve Miller Band, and Guns 'N Roses. Even Michael Jackson's famous "Black and White" music video from 1991, as well as the oversized suits worn by the band the Talking Heads, gets parodied in the same episode, when Doug daydreams the concept of “Thinking Big."

The Beets
Rock star daydreams
"Think Big"

T.V. shows and stars 
T.V. shows appear in the form of soap operas, such as in the "Kite" episode in Season 3 (along with different translations), and in Season 4 for the "90210"-style teen series "Teenheart Street," featuring a Luke Perry-type lead. There are also crime or courtroom dramas (“Bluffington’s Most Troublesome” from Season 3, "Top Prison Guards" from Season 4) in the style of "The People's Court," as well as infomercials a la QVC, to name a few. 

Bluffington's version of "90210"
Possible parody of "The People's Court"
Doug showcases an "astounding product"

References to real-life famous people, songs, places, etc. 
What's even more interesting than these subtle or obvious references are the rare few that are made to real life figures, songs, or places. For instance, Doug's sister, Judy, mentions and quotes Shakespeare almost religiously. And on two separate occasions, she sings "Beautiful Dreamer" when Doug daydreams that Judy will drive him and Patty to a bumper-car park (Season 3), and even sings part of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture during protests against "fascism" regarding Doug's "magic meat" cartoon (Season 3). Doug creates a sculpture titled, "Dog Crossing the Deleware" (Season 4). And when a famous Hollywood producer arrives in Bluffington (Season 2), one character clarifies "it's not Elvis". 

"Shakespeare would never do that."

Impersonating Elvis

Celebrities/movie stars 
Speaking of Hollywood, famous movie stars get their own parodies and nods. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance, shows up in the form of exercise instructor/action star Ronald Wisenheimer. Steven Seagal shows up in the form of action hero "Waffle Stomper". Sylvester Stallone's Rambo gets parodied during a "Great Beet War” between Doug's and Judy's schools (Season 3). Even the late film critics (Gene) Siskel & (Roger) Ebert get parodied, in the “Monster Movie” episode (Season 3), which also plays with the notion of hand-held super-8 B-rated films made by modern-day kids. 

Ronald Weisemheimer: "Prepare to suffer."
Steven Seagal type Waffle Stomper
Siskel & Ebert types

Films and characters 
With that in mind, several movies sneak their way into a few episodes. The aforementioned “Space Munks," for instance, could be an homage to Star Wars and Star Trek. Going back to Season One, Doug and neighbor Mr. Dink set out to find and catch the biggest fish in Lucky Duck Lake, displaying a famous shark fin from Jaws. The same Spielberg notion goes for the Season Three premiere episode where Doug and Skeeter take Roger's sick cat, Stinky, to the vet a la E.T. A famous shot from that same film shows up later in the season, when Doug tries to "fix" his dad's kite and his dog Porkchop (against the moonlight) holds the kite on the roof. Moments before, Doug fixes the kite in the style of Dr. Frankenstein, with Porkchop imitating the doctor's assistant, Igor. And Doug and his friends initially preconceive the "weird" Sleetch twins, Al and Moo, to have a mad-scientist father. 

Getting a "Big Catch" a la Jaws
Stinky Phone Home
Porkchop makes an iconic shot for it
Mad Scientists?

For concluding fun, here are some instances when Doug and friends actually went to the movies.

Season 2
In the “Dental Disaster” episode, Doug and Skeeter go see the latest Smash Adams movie. 

In the “Hollywood” episode, Doug daydreams that he and his movie-star posse walk into a movie theater, and pass Judy and her dancing cats on the street corner. 

Season 3: 
In the “Kite” episode, Doug and friends go see the latest space adventure (“Space Munks”), which Doug can't "concentrate on," since he can't stop thinking about his dad's kite-flying (and rhyming) obsession. 

In the “Monster Movie” episode, Doug daydreams of the "disastrous" premiere of his potential “Sharkdog” movie (notice the change from wide frame to full frame on the movie screen), as well as during the aforementioned Siskel & Ebert parody.

In the “Little Liar” episode, new student Loretta invites Skeeter and Doug to a movie starring her “aunt”.

In the “Nightmare on Jumbo Street” episode, Doug and friends go to the latest horror movie, which Doug has recurring nightmares about—at least until he actually sees the movie’s ending.

Season 4: 
In the “Sittin’ in a Tree” episode, Patti asks Doug to the movies, leaving Doug to constantly wonder if it’s a date or not. (The movie they go see is a sci-fi romance involving a high-society girl and a space lizard man.) 

In the “Fan Club” episode, Doug and Skeeter save two seats for Patti and Beebe at the movies, only to see them taken by Doug’s new friend Todd and his brother Wesley. 

In the “Babysitter” episode, Judy sneaks out of the house to go to a foreign film with her friends.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Relentless": Coolers, Closers, and Cleaners

I recently started reading Tim Grover's 2013 book "Relentless". Grover is highly-regarded for his work with Championship and Hall of Fame athletes, including but not limited to Michael Jordan, Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant. In his book, Grover talks about three different kinds of people who pursue excellence and commitment.

First, there's the kind that are called "Coolers." These are the people who consider themselves and the work that they do as good. They feel content with what they believe they can accomplish, yet they don't look beyond what they believe they're capable of doing. For example, think about people you may have worked with who did their jobs decently. This can include people who may have started a new job and were very ambitious, but only just. Most of the time, they rely on other people to help them out, to tell them what to do, and to give them the direction they need rather than giving themselves direction.

A typical employee-employer relationship
Then there are the kind of people that are called "Closers." These are the people who get the job done, who work hard to reach a certain point (or goal) they thought they couldn't reach. As a result, their work is considered great. Yet, when they get to that point, they feel they've reached the summit of Mount Everest and don't see the need to climb higher. There are those who work on commission, for instance, who say they're going to make $1,000 in one week, for example. So they work hard to carry out the actions they need to to reach that goal, they take into account what they've learned from experience and from others so far, and they persevere through and reach that goal, even exceed it. There is no doubt a sense of pride and gratefulness that goes along with such accomplishment. But here's where they trip up, as I mentioned a moment ago. Once they've reached the "summit," as they believe this "goal" has been, they slide back down the hill, and can even get back into the same routine they started out in before they became so ambitious.

A peak, but not the peak, according to Cleaners
This is where the third kind of people, called "Cleaners," come in. Instead of looking at the aforementioned "peak" of Everest as the mere high point, these are the people that instead look at this point as a stepping stone and don't tell themselves, "Okay, done," but instead ask themselves, "What's next?" These are the people who don't make these stepping stones a one time thing (one-hit wonders do that), but consistently carry out the actions needed to get the job done. Thereby, they are considered to have an unstoppable drive.

If you look at any truly successful businesses or any truly successful person in any field, whether basketball superstar Jordan or the late boxer Muhammad Ali or the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs or the Pixar Animation Studios, these are people and companies that are (or were) consistently at the top of their game.

The late Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs, despite his complex and unorthodox personality as many have reportedly stated of him, was known for always pushing the envelop of what technology could do, from computers like the iMac to music players like the iPod to home tablets like the iPad and so many other revolutionary products and franchises. He even went so far as using what he termed a "reality distortion field," challenging his employees to accomplish what seemed like impossible tasks to make them possible. This same motivation would even translate, to a degree, to what would become Pixar Animation Studios, which holds an unprecedented financial as well as critical streak for each of their feature films released since 1995. Co-founder and current CEO Ed Catmull chronicles the studio's story, as well as its identity, in his 2014 book, "Creativity, Inc."

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is considered by many, including Tim Grover, to be the greatest basketball player in sports history. And deservedly so. Obviously, the man had an incredible skill set and a highly engaging and appealing personality. (Just look at the diverse ads and companies he was a spokesperson, for one, from Hanes to Gatorade to Nikes.) But more importantly, Jordan was an example of somebody who consistently put more than 100 percent of himself into everything he did on the court (and in preparation for it) and didn't let anybody or anything get to him while he was doing so. Grover shares a story in "Relentless" about how Jordan handled himself in such situations. Say Grover,

"Of course, Cleaners are still human, and like everyone else they feel the same excitement and anxiety and nerves before a big event. But the difference between Cleaners and everyone else is their ability to control those feelings, instead of allowing those feelings to control them. Even [Jordan] used to say he had butterflies before a big game. 'Get 'em all going in the same direction,' I'd tell him. They're not going away, but now you're controlling how you feel about them, instead of allowing them to make you feel nervous. Energy instead of emotion. Big difference."

In other words, energy-driven instead of emotion-driven. A big difference indeed.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Acknowledging Teachers and Students, and "Getting Things Done"

This past week, two milestones happened in the U.S. regarding schools across America. First, at Oak Park High School in Kansas City, Missouri, various teachers pulled selected students aside to record and personally share their thoughts about said students and how each teacher felt motivated by them to come to work everyday. This challenge came from the head of a program for at-risk sophomore and juniors at the high school, as a response to a similar challenge last spring, in which she had students write letters of gratitude to their teachers.

(Read the following article with the accompanied video here.)

Reading this news the other day, I was reminded of how valuable and meaningful it is in having various mentors and teachers growing up in school. To hear how these teachers acknowledged each of their respective students is a great way of showing that there are a lot of people in the education system who really care about the students they teach. It further shows that such is necessary when not only building relationships with others, but those that will endure.

With that in mind, AmeriCorps celebrated its 22nd anniversary at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN, on Friday by acknowledging the various programs, non-profits and organizations that have provided state and national service since 1994. The pledge reads,

I will get things done for America - to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.

I've had the privilege of serving as a literacy tutor for one of these programs, Minnesota Reading Corps, for three years. And I can tell you, firsthand, that its mission statement of bridging the gap between students' education and their future endeavors (in the case of the Reading Corps, the reading gap) really makes a difference. Not to mention all the wonderful relationships you get to build and see progress as the years go along.

To any and every teacher and educator, give your students the respect they deserve, and be the example they not only can look up and have make a difference in their lives, but the one that can make a difference in your own as well.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The 8 Great Work Habits--and Quotes to Go With Them

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about the “8 Great Work Habits” we talk about everyday at my job. They not only apply to the work my colleagues and I do on a day-to-day basis, but also to any position or role in life. I decided to do some research and look up quotes that are related to each of these “great work habits”. (Each quote that follows also illustrates that anybody can use any or all of these "habits.")

1. Have and maintain a positive attitude

A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes. It is a catalyst and it sparks extraordinary results.
~Wade Boggs, former Boston Red Sox baseball player

Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is going to determine how you're going to live your life.
~Joel Osteen, preacher

You make the world a better place by making yourself a better person.
~Scott Sorrell, motivational speaker, author, and Fortune 500 Corporate Trainer (Universal Seminars)

2. Be on time

Arriving late is a way of saying that your own time is more valuable than the time of the person who waited for you.
~Karen Joy Fawler, author

Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it, you can never get it back.
~Harvey Mackay, businessman

Being on time is an indicator of the value you put on that relationship whether it is for work or family.
~John Reddoch, attorney

Never regret. If it's good, it's wonderful. If it's bad, it's experience.
~Victoria Holt, author

3. Be prepared

There's no harm in hoping for the best as long as you've prepared for the worst.
~Stephen King, author

The will to succeed means nothing without the will to prepare.
~Juda Ikangaa, Tanzanian marathon runner

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
~Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father of the United States

Ask yourself if what you're doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.

4. Work a full day

When you like your work, everyday is a holiday.
~Frank Tyger, Trenton Times cartoonist, columnist, and humorist

Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.
~Dr. Seuss a.k.a. Theodore Seuss Geisel, author

Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of those ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.
~Epictetus, philosopher

Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall. Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day. Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, till the sun goes down. And this is all life really means.
~Robert Louis Stevenson, author

5. Work territory correctly

You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently.
~Steve Jobs, entrepreneur

An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.

6. Respect the customer and client

If you want respect, you have to learn to give it too.

Respect other people’s feelings. Even if it does not mean anything to you, it could mean everything to them.

Respect is for those who deserve it, not for those who demand it.

7. Understand your opportunity

The secret of success is to be ready when your opportunity comes.
~Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister

The bigger your challenges, the bigger your opportunity for growth.
~Karen Salmansohn, author

Understand the opportunity you’ve been granted, take charge of your situation, and be thankful you are here.

You create your opportunities by asking for them.
~Shakti Gawain, author

Strength comes from struggle. When you learn to see your struggles as opportunities to become stronger, better, wiser, then your thinking shifts from "I can’t do this" to "I must do this.”
~Toni Sorenson, author

8. Take control

Effective leaders lead by example . . . with honesty . . . confidence and compassion . . . intelligence and humor! Ineffective leaders merely mislead themselves . . .
~Sharon Rhea Ford, artist

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
~Socrates, philosopher

A moment of patience in a moment of anger saves you a hundred moments of regret.

There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
~C.S. Lewis, author

To summarize, Paul J. Fleyer (vocalist, beat boxer, and motivational speaker) once said,

Good work habits help develop an internal toughness and a self-confident attitude that will sustain you through every adversity and temporary discouragement.