Nerd Factor: Surviving Christmas Music Overload

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

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Music is an important part of the holiday tradition. However, at this time of year, many people find themselves facing increased levels of anxiety and physically debilitating symptoms due to their exposure to these festive songs. Christmas Music Overload, or CMO, is a recently diagnosed condition that was not just made up for the purposes of a comedy column and it strikes millions of Americans every year in late November and all through December. Always concerned for your safety, the Nerd Factor offers these helpful suggestions for living with CMO:

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Nerd Factor: The Three Stan Lees

Dr Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication

There were three Stan Lees: Stan the writer, Stan the promoter, and Stan the icon.

In 1939, a relative got Stanley Lieber what we would call a “gopher job” at Timely, the comic book company that became Marvel. Stan eventually worked his way up as a writer, publishing his first all text story “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” in Captain America Comics #3 (1941). Stan Lee was the pen name he used then so that he could use his real name for the literary career he envisioned.

Even after Stan was drafted into the Army, he moonlighted for the company.

Already a successful writer, Stan’s real contribution came in 1961. The company had changed its name to Marvel by then, but Stan was tired of it all and wanted to move on. Assigned to write a superhero team book to rival DC’s Justice League of America, Stan thought about quitting rather than return to what he saw as very formulaic writing. Luckily, Stan listened to his wife Joan, who explained to him that this was his opportunity to do what he wanted to do. If his bosses didn’t like it, well he was going to quit anyway right?

This is when Marvel Comics became Marvel Comics. The team Stan came up with was the Fantastic Four. Co-created with artist Jack Kirby, the Fantastic Four were different. The FF were a profoundly human team when compared to the boring comradery of the JLA. The FF fought, squabbled, lived, and loved. The melodrama in their lives matched the cosmic worlds they explored.

As good as the FF were, this idea of human characters in superhuman adventures found its perfection in 1962’s Amazing Spider-Man (co-created with artist Steve Ditko). Spider-Man had the best supporting cast in comics ever and a rogue’s gallery of villains that is probably only matched by DC’s Batman. And, of course, Spidey taught us that with great power there must also come great responsibility.

Stan stepped away from writing, showing up more as “Stan the Man,” himself-created nickname. Stan had that knack for promotion. As a writer and later editor, he encouraged characters to move between books, thus cross-promoting the Marvel Universe. On his Stan’s Soapbox page, Stan called fans the “True Believers”. He always pushed the latest work by the company’s line as its greatest. Everything was exciting and new. Marvel felt like a place where one belonged. From time to time, Stan would also write some very progressive pieces about the importance of equality and understanding. And Stan visited many university campuses.

Stan wasn’t always careful in this aspect. This is the time where he sometimes let promotion carry him away. Working together creatively with others is always tricky and Stan did not always show his co-creators their due.

Still, this is how the icon was born. Stan left his traditional Marvel duties and became a kind of walking embodiment of Marvel. Stan had a distinctive voice. I grew up listening to him narrate a host of superhero cartoons. But his cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe made him visually distinctive, someone to watch out the way we used to search for Waldo in puzzles. I just saw him in Ralph Breaks the Internet. My son shouted his name.

Stan Lee died on November 12th . By all reports, he loved what he did in all three of his lives. There was much to learn from him, but I think that enthusiasm is perhaps the best lesson.


Nerd Factor: Its a Bit of a Stretch

Dr Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Stretching is one of the more underrated choices on the superpower options list. The ability to lengthen or widen one’s body, just doesn’t seem too appealing in a fictional world of regenerating mutants with indestructible claws and alien beings with vast arrays of impossible powers. Beware though, for these tensile titans are often the most dangerous of foes. They have to be. When one thinks about it, this power has a high risk of killing those who use it.

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Nerd Factor: Quite an Unquiet Place

Dr Mike Robinson, UL Communication Studies Professor~

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Back in March, A Quiet Place was a surprise hit.  The film all about silence got people talking and that good word of mouth led the movie to much deserved success.  I’ve waited a bit to talk about the movie, but not just because I didn’t see it until it came out on DVD and not just because I wanted to create some spoiler space.  I wanted to hold my comments until this exact time of year to prove that there is simply no way that anyone could have lived for over a year in that scenario.

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You Might Be in Trouble This Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Dr. Mike Robinson, UofL Communication Studies Professor~

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Hey, you made it! You got through all of the horrors of last year. I bet you’re feeling petty secure in your evil events survival skills. However, you must know by now that there is no permanent escape.

Not from this sort of thing. The Nerd Factor is rooting for you and thus another set of tips are offered to help you determine if you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If you’re hearing voices from the storm drain, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If that dogs eyes are glowing, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If people keep asking you how your ancestor stopped the evil the last time it arose, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If you are enrolled in any classes from Miskatonic University. . . even online classes. . . then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If the terrible events that happen are completely different from the events last year but the same theme music keeps playing, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If the scientist in your group says not to worry because it’s physically impossible for an insect to growthat large, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If a puppet offers you a choice, then you might be in trouble this Halloween. If the choice seems pretty grotesque and involves learning a lesson, you are certainly in trouble this Halloween.

If the floor tile in the main hall is unusually pentagram-y, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If you just got some new technology, particularly anything that records or affects memories, and most people around you have English accents, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If it follows you, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If people keep mentioning DNA, then you might be in trouble this Halloween. If people keep mentioning your DNA in particular, then you are in trouble this Halloween. And they might be too if they don’t stop mentioning it. . .

If you keep hearing kids singing nursery rhymes, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If you live in Santa Clara or Santa Mira or really any town named Santa Something-or-Other in California, then you will be in trouble this Halloween.

If you can’t seem to stop trying to solve that weird puzzle box, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If there’s a really good reason that nobody ever told you before that you had a sibling, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If you’re pretty sure that just a moment ago, the wall didn’t have a single face in it let alone that many faces, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If that count with the European accent and who is new in town keeps pausing to stare at that girl you know, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If silver never bothered you before you were bitten, then you might be in trouble this Halloween.

If your cabin is in the woods, then look, how many more times do you have to have this explained to you? You’re in trouble this Halloween.


Down, Down, Down to Your Watery Grave

Dr. Mike Robinson, UofL Communication Studies Professor~

Steeped in nostalgic memories and Halloween imagery on my most recent visit to King’s Dominion, I found myself thinking about one of the park’s more unusual rides. A strange mix of log flume and haunted house, the Haunted River was, to my knowledge, the only water ride explicitly dedicated to frightening guests. In retrospect, I admire the ambition of the project. After all, it’s one thing to attempt to scare people in the waning days of autumn but quite another to try to shock people in the height of the summer.

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Screams and Dreams and a Mountain of Fun

Dr. Mike Robinson, UofL Communication Studies Professor~

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“How many times have you been to King’s Dominion?,” my mother asked me on the phone when I told her we were planning our latest trip.

“I don’t know,” I replied, “Maybe twenty?”

The number of visits is hard to calculate because eventually the trips blur together into the strange time that is nostalgia.  Internet sources say the place opened in the summer of 1975. So that must have been the year of my first visit.

I know my family went very early in the amusement park’s construction. Back then, Lion Country Safari was the main draw. The air conditioned comfort of a monorail ride was still a few years off, so we drove our relatively new Volvo station wagon through that zoo.  I remember a baby rhino gently brushing against the car as it walked by in a way that sounded like the end of the car’s paint job. My father had this kind of resigned look with a faint glimmer that at least this would be one hell of a story to tell later. Dad loved a story.  But amazingly, the car was fine.

Few attractions were open when we went through the zoo.  Jeeps were racing around in the area that would become the lake that took up a place of prominence in the park for many years.  I think there was some kind of petting zoo because I accidently stepped in pig excrement. Pretty awful as experiences go, but the clean-up was so horrible my mother never made me wear those dreaded black sandals again so that was a victory.

I probably went once per year after that.  My mother drove us until my friends and I were old enough to drive ourselves.  And I know that one summer, when Mom was away visiting family; Dad took me there for two days.  He talked me into riding the Rebel Yell, which was then the scariest thing I’d ever seen.

The annual tradition continued until I moved away for graduate school in 1991.  And of course, I’ve taken my own family many times since moving to this part of the world.  My daughter honed her eerie, nigh invulnerability to rides at Kings Dominion.

During this fall break trip we just took, I was keenly aware of the nostalgia factor.  My son is now roughly the age I was on the big two-day visit. And I got my boy to ride the Rebel Yell (now renamed Racer 75).  I think he was braver than I was on my first ride, although he denies it.

But Kings Dominion itself was also responsible for my walking reveries.  Amusement parks have found a way to extend their seasons by transforming into Halloween attractions at night.  The familiar opening area of the park before the Eiffel Tower replica is festooned with scary décor, including fake grave markers for the rides at the park that have since come and gone.

Perhaps it was fitting that I was walking around thinking of rides that no longer were there.  After all, Halloween is a time that marks a blurring between the worlds of the living and the dead, the present and the past.  Apparently, even coasters can have ghosts.