In This Episode: You want to know what TRUE is really about? Then listen to this one — don’t read the transcript. You’ll hear the true passion of one of my rants, because it’s in my voice. Seriously: if you don’t have a podcast player, stream it from the Show Page.
- The Austin Powers text rant and letters, as originally presented in 1999, is here. See the doll below.
- Wikipedia has a nice article about Las Vegas’s Paradise Palms development, but unfortunately not many photos. My photo of a representative house is below.
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Welcome to Uncommon Sense, the Podcast companion to the ThisIsTrue.com newsletter with the mission to promote more thinking in the world.
I’m Randy Cassingham, and this week I’m recording in Las Vegas, where I’ll be attending a conference. Since I spend as little time as possible in hotel casinos, I’m staying with friends in the first planned community in the county, called Paradise Palms. I recognize the 1950s-1960s architecture from growing up in California: a really distinctive style that attracted a lot of stars who needed homes here when they did shows at the casinos. People who lived in the neighborhood included Johnny Carson, Rip Taylor, Bobby Darin, Phyllis Diller, and many more. I popped out and took a photo of one of the houses in the neighborhood that caught my eye, and I’ll put that on the show page.
And that’s not the only change in speed here. When I started up this podcast, I promised that once in awhile, I’d record an audio version of one of my famous rants, so you could hear it in my own voice, and hear the inflections and emphasis and passion behind it. And maybe a little bit of the exasperation and derision I felt when writing it!
Well, it’s episode #25, so isn’t it time I made good on that threat? I— I mean promise?
At first, This is True was only the stories, with virtually no commentary outside the taglines. But after awhile, I found that I still had more to say, especially when readers pushed back and proved they didn’t understand the point that most other readers did, from one of my stories.
The hard part for me now is deciding on which rant to start with: there’s a lot of good ones. I decided to go back to the beginning, to the one that really started it all, back before I ever called them rants. In fact, I actually applied that label to the angry letters I received over a story from way back in the 18 July 1999 issue. It was about an action figure doll from the Austin Powers movies, a parody of 1960s spy dramas starring Mike Myers in the title role who was put into suspended animation for a few decades so he could be available to fight off his nemesis, Dr. Evil. I called the story, “Hey, Doll! Push My Button!” I’ll read it verbatim:
When Tamantha Brannon was shopping at an Atlanta, Ga., Toys ’R’ Us store, her 11-year-old son Marvin picked up an “Austin Powers” doll and pushed its talk button. “Do I make you horny, baby? Do I?” the doll demanded. When Marvin asked her what “horny” meant, Brannon was so angry that she has filed a criminal obscenity complaint with county prosecutors. “This is not acceptable,” Brannon said. “My son is not old enough to be talking about sex.” Clayton County Solicitor Keith Martin is looking into the complaint, but isn’t rushing to press any charges. “I don’t know who we would even prosecute,” he said.
And in my tagline to the story, I suggested, “Start with Ms Brannon.”
That tagline led to three kinds of responses:
First were the vile, obscene, hate-laden vitriol from, I said in the follow-up the week after, “morons who seem incapable of understanding the irony of using ‘obscenities’ in complaints about ‘crude’ language.”
Second were those with gentle, intelligent, thought-provoking debate, complaints, or even praise.
And third was the silly ranting.
Let me give you just a few examples; I’ll let you decide which category each comes from.
Randi (with an I) in Virginia said: “I was a little surprised at your take on the Austin Powers doll story. Also saddened at the legal reaction about not knowing who to prosecute. If the phrase quoted is actually part of the doll’s repetoire [sic], I would think the maker of the doll should be prosecuted, or at least legally ‘asked’ (is there such a thing?) to remove sex related phrases from the taped (uh programmed) vocabulary.” Well whatever.
Carlston, who didn’t note a location, wrote perhaps my favorite letter of the bunch. He says, “There is nothing humorous in this situation, even if an issue of morality was not involved. Your comment is not humorous at any level. It makes neither sense nor nonsense.” I’m still astounded by Carlston’s complaint. I’ve never had anyone complain before or since complain that a comment “didn’t make nonsense.” Does he want me to try harder next time?
And then there was Chad from Georgia, who said: “I don’t pay for your column, so my comments will be limited.” [And in this space you can be very thankful that I’ve clipped out five hundred words of ranting, but you’ll get the gist of it from his last sentence, and I quote—] “Let your account be covered in the blood of Jesus Christ and your soul be saved, that you may withstand the fiery hell that will beset the world for the age-old wickedness that the media spit-shines and sells as new.”
I’ll pause to add to the record that I never use spit to shine up old stories: each issue of the newsletter has new stories because I’ve never had a shortage of material. As you can hear in this podcast every week, there’s no shortage of obliviots doing stupid things for me to talk about.
And sometimes those obliviots are readers. Let me give you an example of that.
In the following week’s issue, I concluded my follow-up with these words: “Of course ‘Toys ’R’ Us’ was stupid to sell such a doll! If they didn’t know about the thing’s ‘vocabulary,’ they should have: and some of the more intelligent, thoughtful responses noted that the vocabulary was clearly spelled out on the package. Toys ’R’ Us deserve to lose significant business over this. The distributor was certainly negligent for shipping it to a children’s toy store chain; how nice that I was able to add to the wave of bad publicity. True, I think the mother is keeping her kid unnaturally shielded from sexual matters — but if that’s her wish, it should be her right. But to abuse the legal system by filing criminal charges because a doll said ‘horny’ is wrong, stupid, and obviously took the prosecutor’s time away from real crimes. That, dear readers, is what the comment was about. Shame on the sickos who read more into it than that! I haven’t lost all hope: even some of the complaints were truly very thoughtful. I also got plenty of mail from people who ‘got it’ — and there was a huge upswing in paid subscriptions. I thank the latter groups for reassuring me that most of my readers are indeed intelligent people!”
Well, wouldn’t you know it? Several people wrote to complain that I called them “sicko morons.”
It’s amazing to me how many people want to be offended, since they clearly choose to take offense by assuming I’m talking about them when I say “sicko moron” — but not when I say “thoughtful and intelligent”!
I take heart, however. For all the so-called “rants” I received, there were significantly more “raves,” and I’ll give you just a few.
“D” in West Virginia wrote, “I am truly saddened to think that people in general did not get the point you were trying to make with the story of the doll having crude vocabulary. As I am also a mother, I want my children to have some understanding of the world at large, but with supervision, hopefully they will grow to become productive individuals.”
I mean TRUE to be thought-provoking and there it is, right up front: thoughtful realization of the point of the story, and then applying it to the real world to help her kids become more mature adults. That’s what it’s about!
Tom in Texas agrees, “Every now and then I get complacent and think that in my 66 years that I will not be surprised by much that happens in this world, especially people’s stupidity. But once again I’m jerked back to reality, this time by you having to explain to your readers your comment about prosecuting the mother.”
And then Bret, who didn’t say where he was located, really analyzed it. It’s lengthy, but worth it. He says, “I’ll begin by telling you how much I enjoy TRUE — it sometimes seems like a lone voice of sanity in the cacophony of meaningless and treacherous babble that the media can be counted on to spew forth. I have come to appreciate your intelligent blend of humor and insightful commentary. However, my faith was shaken when I read, in your most recent issue, ‘I think the mother is keeping her kid unnaturally shielded from sexual matters — but if that’s her wish, it should be her right.’ Personally, I think the child’s right to know about sexual matters overrides the mother’s desire to ‘shield’ him, which probably stems from her own outdated beliefs or personal insecurities. I have seen first hand the trauma that a young person who has been ‘shielded’ from sexual matters will experience — inevitably — when he or she is exposed to others their own age who discuss sexual topics. While the discussion is usually crude, the ignorant child will experience humiliation in front of his or her peers, and probably extended taunting and mocking that, at a young age (in some cases, at any age) will be torturous and scarring. Perhaps more insidious is the long-term, internal damage such an upbringing will do. The child will grow up with misguided notions about sex, and will probably have no one to turn to when in need of open, frank information about sex. The child will probably never experience sex for what it really is, one of God’s greatest gifts to human beings. Yes, Randy, I’m a Christian, and I have been deeply disturbed by the attempts by such evil groups as the Christian Coalition to push damaging ‘information’ on impressionable young people. The sad irony is that they typically try to use schools for their agenda, institutions which should be devoted to the dissemination of facts, not appropriated by self-righteous fearmongers. Please pardon the digression; I get carried away on issues like this. Randy, I urge you to support the rights of the last group in our society to remain powerless — children. Please take a stand against the dangerous people who seek to harm them in the name of protecting them.”
God what a letter! That is thinking! That is an example of somebody using the stories to understand the world better, and to protect what he sees as the powerless in society. Man, what an honor to give him some ammunition.
A couple more. Robert in Missouri writes, “You might want to consider the following about Dr. Samuel Johnson, the man who published the first dictionary of the English language back in 1755. Shortly after it was published, a lady approached him and congratulated him on omitting obscenities from his dictionary. His reply upon hearing that remark was ‘Ah, so you have been looking for them, Madam?’ In my opinion, most, if not all people who look for obscenity in things such as children’s TV shows (remember the incident with Jerry Falwell and the Teletubbies?) have far dirtier minds than [pornographers like] Al Goldstein or Larry Flynt.
And then, J.A. in Nebraska: “I learned many things while in the Air Force; one of those is the military does a pretty good job at communicating what needs to be done in their regulations… because the technical writers had to write and compose all regulations under a very strict criteria: don’t use vocabulary over a sixth grade level. I understand what you were trying to accomplish with your comments. However, most people are not very good at reading the text ‘between the lines’ [because it] is not a prerequisite of sixth grade.”
Heh heh! Love it. And last…
“Here’s a word of advice, just do the stories. That’s the only reason ANYBODY is reading this page. Its [sic] because we’re interested in the stories. Not your editorials or your self-important opinions.” —said Wendy of KSJY (“American Family Radio”) in Louisiana
I see: only proselytizing radio stations have opinions? Guess what, cupcake: all of This is True is commentary! I write every word myself, as it clearly says in the copyright notice each week, so my opinion runs rampant through it. It must be difficult to talk on the radio with your foot in your mouth.
It was the fun of replying to readers who really get it that made me realize how much the readers really loved This is True. And what they loved the most was when I didn’t kow-tow to the morons, and rather said what I really thought to the obliviots who didn’t get it, and insisted that I instead dumb down the commentary and buy in to their twisted and self-righteous paternalism. Because I said the things that the thoughtful readers would say if they had the chance, even if they don’t quite have the writing skills to say it quite as succinctly as I might.
And that is the trouble I see with “the media” in general: they provide “equal time” to different sides of issues as if every point of view is valid. They’re not. While I do err on the side of parental rights, even that has pitfalls, as Bret and Robert pointed out so, so well. That’s why I love reader letters so, so much: they add their own thought, insight, and even entertainment to the newsletter. And really, who can’t be entertained by the obliviots, too? Seriously, I’m to waste thoughts like, “Let your account be covered in the blood of Jesus Christ and your soul be saved, that you may withstand the fiery hell that will beset the world for the age-old wickedness that the media spit-shines and sells as new.”?
Hah hahh! NO WAY! Because all of this gets right back to TRUE’s mission: to provoke thought, with the idea that we need to teach our kids how to think, not what to think, as the ranters would have it.
So what do you think? Comments are open on the Show Page at thisistrue.com/podcast25. That’s it for this week. From Las Vegas I’m Randy Cassingham …and I’ll talk at you later!