Sharp suit, gray hair, crooked smile: one of the first character-types I became aware was this lying authority figure. I didn’t know it when I was a child, but each of these minor villains are stand-ins for Richard Nixon. See here:
Mayor Larry Vaughn from JAWS(1975)
The Mayor makes his position clear: I’m not closing the beaches. We never learn Vaughn’s political affiliations, but he’s a classic portrait of an empty suit (scripted by counter-culture comedian Carl Gottlieb), spouting platitudes like “Amity, as you know, means friendship.” His greed and denial are a deadly combination. He’s an archetypical Nixon figure, knowingly lying to the public about a real danger.
Mr. Lewis Teague from POLTERGEIST (1982)
There’s a lot of scary stuff in POLTERGEIST: creepy clowns, carnivorous trees, a flying Hulk action figure. But none of these would be possible without Teague. He’s the one who built the the Cuesta Verde houses on top of a cemetery — and he only moved the headstones (not the bodies.) Teague is to the ghosts what Mayor Vaughn is to the shark; the enabler of evil. Again, I didn’t realize it at the time, but he embodies the public’s distrust of leaders after Watergate and Vietnam.
Dr. James Kelloway in CAPRICORN ONE (1978)
Years of playing Mark Twain prepared Hal Holbrook for one of my favorite film monologues: his deliberately slowly paced speech perfectly sets up the story of CAPRICORN ONE. Holbrook actually allows us to sympathize with the devious NASA scientist. True to the post-Vietnam era: He’s not a bad man, but he does questionable things.
D.A. Thomas Pain in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)
Revisiting this cult favorite I figured the District Attorney fit the bill: He’s threatens the freedom of the press and works with the police force to withhold information and cover up the murders of a Las Vegas vampire. And he’s a silver-haired suit. The first Kolchak movie aired 5 months before the Watergate break-in, but he still counts!
Dean Vernon Wormer in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)
In his 2006 memoir The Real Animal House author Chris Miller identifies the real-life inspirations for his stories of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. At the end of the book he defends Dartmoth College Dean Seymore, noting that the real-life Dean was not the source material for Wormer: “Nixon was Dean Wormer. Dean Seymore was always a great guy. And his wife is not Marion Wormer!” Thanks for clearing that up, Chris. [This seems like as good a place as any to mention that John Landis’ first choice for the evil college dean was DRAGNET’s Jack Webb. Mr. Webb turned it down because he thought the script poked fun at authority. Yeesh!]
Occasionally someone I’ve never met asks me to contribute writing work as a “pop culture expert.” That’s because I wrote a (mostly) satirical essay about being a “pop culture expert” and my name comes up when you google the damn phrase. (Read it here)
One of the most recent requests came from a flask website looking for short entries about flasks in pop culture. Here’s what I wrote.
Edwin Porter’s 1903 western THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY is best known for a gimmicky closing shot: a bandit aims his pistol at the camera and fires. This trope gets used in dozens of movies, here Martin Scorcese explains why he used the outlaw shot as the coda in GOODFELLAS.
The outlaw shot is also seen in television — especially in shows by Vince Gilligan. Here are all the times someone points a gun at the camera in BREAKING BAD and BETTER CALL SAUL.
Noah Tarnow (The Big Quiz Thing), Kevin Maher (Kevin Geeks Out) and Matt Wasowski (Nerd Nite) introduce the show and get the audience to say the Brain Jam Pledge.
M. Sweeney Lawless’ Star Trek supercut: PAPERWORK IN SPACE.
The first buzzertastic round of THE BIG QUIZ THING.
Nick and Joe from The Found Footage Festival share a variety of videos about KNOWLEDGE.
Special appearance by Bob Odernkirk in a Found Footage Festival segment.
Book table from Brooklyn’s only Sci-Fi/Fantasy bookstore, SINGULARITY & CO.
Cici James (from SINGULARITY & CO.) sporting her Buckaroo Banzai shirt for the dry T-shirt contest.
Calvin & Hobbes Star Wars tee wins the Dry T-shirt contest.
My Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure shirt did not win the dry t-shirt contest. Not dry enough.