Heather Watches Wrestlemania

Growing up, my brother and I did not get along. Like at all. Being six years apart in age was a pretty big gap to traverse, made even more complicated by the fact that we were different genders. There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot that we had in common other than DNA and sharing a bathroom. A 12 year old girl and a 6 year old boy wouldn’t likely hang out in the wild, so putting them in captivity together did not foster strong bonds. I resented him for being born and he wasn’t too thrilled with me either. There was a lot of arguing in our house – as the older sibling, I played mind games to drive my brother crazy and as the younger child, he responded with brute force. We drove our parents insane.

However, at one point we did coalesce around on thing that we could enjoy together – professional wrestling. We both found that entertaining and could be in the same room together and not try to kill each other while it was on. Saturday mornings there would be glorious peace in the house as we watched the double header of WWF Superstars of Wrestling and roller derby. It was the first common ground that the two of us found, even if I was old enough to know that it was all fake. Hulk Hogan, it turned out, was a big enough personality to appeal to both of us. While my brother was probably far more invested in the pretend violence, I was always more interested in the crazy storylines and the fact that some of these wrestlers were pretty attractive (not all, mind you. Some.) Even if we were getting different things out of it, it was still something that brought us together. Our parents weren’t going to shell out $60 for us to watch Pay Per Views, so we would watch copies that friends would record for us on a VCR.

As we got older and I went off to college we eventually found other things that we both liked – we both are massive Seinfeld fans – but we always would come back to professional wrestling. The 90s were deemed “The attitude area” as rival companies WWF and WCW battled it out for rating and supremacy by trying to outdo each other with outlandish storylines and crazy stunts. Pro wrestling was pretty mainstream at this time and I used to take my brother to a local sports bar to watch the Pay Per Views (he was in high school, I was out of college). This was, of course, the time of the rise of one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, so I come by my affinity for him honestly, having watched his entire career. Over time, we both stopped actively watching wrestling, but it was still part of our relationship as we both became adults. If a wrestler from our youth died (which happened with scary frequency), we’d share the news with each other. We crack jokes based on wrestling catch phrases and I’ve been put in a cross-face chicken wing hold more recently than you’d think. At different points we’ve drifted back into watching it for certain story-lines or simply because nothing else is on. Pro wrestling is a strange creature in and of itself; somehow no matter how much is changes, it also stays the same. There are wrestlers from our childhood who are still active participants in matches and story-lines. It’s not usual to see a guy well into his 50s (or older!) still throwing down. For us, it’s kind of like comfort food. Even when we’re not watching the weekly shows, we both listen to some podcasts about wrestling, which we will also discuss. We get along very well now that we’re both old enough to vote – it’s amazing what not living under the same roof did for our relationship – but for me I always think fondly about wrestling and how it was our only language through which we could communicate with each other when we were kids.

Since the cost of Pay Per Views (PPV) have come way down, my brother and I will still occasionally get together to watch some of them. Earlier this year we watched the Royal Rumble, which was always my favorite. Our viewing parties are kind a combination of us reliving our youth, being impressed with some of the sheer athleticism, and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yesterday, we once again got together to watch the biggest PPV of the year – Wrestlemania. Since this is professional wrestling’s Super Bowl, there are usually some interesting developments, whether it be surprise guests, crazy stunts, or big moments for story-lines/character arcs. This is the event that is designed more for the casual fan, so it wasn’t a big issue that I knew what very few of the matches were or the backstory behind these feuds; it’s all about the spectacle. It was a nice excuse for my brother and I to hang out even if the PPV didn’t necessarily hold our full attention throughout – my brother was busy putting together a baby swing for his child that is on the way, his wife was doing laundry, and I was regularly checking my work email and social media. But it’s hard to hold the focus of part-time (at best) fans for 5+ hours; the show went on WAAAAY too long and some of the matches could have been a hell of a lot shorter.  Still, it was definitely worth watching for the few big moments that did occur: there was a marriage proposal, some impressive “bumps” though announce tables, the surprise return of the Hardy Boyz (who were popular back in the 90s), and what one has to assume was the final match of a legendary wrestler’s career, as the Undertaker shed his trademark costume before walking out of the arena one final time. The last moment was particularly poignant; though he was well past his prime and really should have ended his career several years ago, he has been a mainstay of WWE matches since 1990. Even if it ended with a whimper, that’s a career that needs to be recognized and I’m glad that I stayed up past midnight to see it.

The show wasn’t enough to make me pay anything more than cursory attention to professional wrestling going forward, but it made for an entertaining evening. I don’t know that the family that watches Wrestlemania together stays together (I’m actually pretty sure that’s not even remotely true), but it’s a fun little thing that my brother and I still get to do together. We may not do it every year, but it’s our own little tradition. It’s nice to relive childhood memories – even if ours are of people jumping off steel cages.

Some Thoughts on Super Bowl LI

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I’ll be truthful that this year I wasn’t really feeling the Super Bowl. I just wasn’t that excited for the game and part of me just wanted to stay home and watch a new episode of The Young Pope (I am seriously obsessed with that show). Part of the problem was that I wasn’t feeling all that great and other than going to brunch on Saturday I had spent most of the weekend watching Black-ish on Hulu. I am also most definitely not a Patriots fan; you can put me in the category of “hater.” Now I come by my dislike of the team honestly, as they are in the Bills division and have been beating them on the regular for the last sixteen years, usually in humiliating fashion. So while the fact that they win a lot and the Trump connection didn’t really help matters, I was decidedly anti-Patriots. That made me tentatively pro-Atlanta, but that didn’t really gin up much enthusiasm for the game. But as attractive as the idea was of staying home and going to bed early, I have an image to uphold so I made the trek out to watch the game at my usual football watching spot.

The game itself was pretty exciting, despite it not being the outcome that I was hoping for; I’m pretty happy that I held off on sending some snarky text that would have been appropriate after the first half, but would have come back to bite me. I don’t know what it is about Boston teams that make them love a dramatic comeback. Last night’s Patriots recovery from a 28-3 deficit was historic and I’ve heard something about a Red Sox comeback in 2004, but I’m a little fuzzy on those details. But football is really only a portion of what makes the Super Bowl exciting. Even not-sports fans tune in for the Super Bowl to see the spectacle. Between the halftime show, the commercials, and the tacit agreement that calories don’t count during the Super Bowl, there’s a lot to enjoy even in years when the game is kind of a snoozefest. And since this is a pop culture blog and not a sports blog, I thought I’d weigh in on some of the non-football related highlights of the night:

  • I really enjoyed Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones, aka the original Schuyler sisters from the Broadway show Hamilton, and their rendition of “God Bless America.”

They looked and sounded amazing and I appreciated their addition of “and sisterhood” to the lyrics. And not surprisingly, there is not necessarily a huge overlap between football fans and Hamilton fans, as I had to explain who these women were to a lot of people at the bar (though even the clueless football fans thought they were great).  It also led to one of the first funny moments of the night, as the camera cut from their flawless performance to a stone-faced Bill Belichick, who I don’t think is impressed by anything:

  • I was less impressed with Luke Bryan’s rendition of the National Anthem. It was fine, but it didn’t blow me away, though admittedly every performance of this song at the Super Bowl (and everywhere else, really) will forever live in the shadow of Whitney Houston’s 1991 powerhouse version. That’s pretty much the gold standard; they should just play a recording of that at all events and be done with it (unless Adele wants to take a crack at it).

Lady Gaga’s halftime performance was fantastic. Beyoncé straight up killed it last year (even if it was officially Coldplay’s halftime show) so my expectations were high. I knew Gaga is incredibly talented, but I wasn’t sure if she could make her performance more mainstream for the general Super Bowl audience; one of the things I love about her is her willingness to take artistic chances and push the envelope, which doesn’t always work well with Middle America’s sensibilities. I was also interested to see how political she would get; given a national stage, I was sure that she would make some commentary on the current political climate. How far she’d go with that was a whole other question.

 

What she pulled off was absolutely perfect; it was an energetic and exciting performance that was covertly political without being totally in your face. Her juxtaposition of “God Bless America” with “This Land Is Your Land” might have seemed innocuous unless you know the history and context of the latter. Woody Gutherie’s 1940s tune is a protest song that was actually recorded in response to the omnipresence of “God Bless America.” It was a subtle choice that a lot of people wouldn’t have picked up on, but the message was there. Slightly more obvious was her inclusion of her song “Born This Way,” which celebrates people’s differences and has become something of a LGBT rights anthem.  I knew that her performance was going to feature hundreds of drones, but they wound up being a non-factor in her political statement.

Politics aside, it was a really memorable performance. When she started the set on top of the NRG Stadium with a harness on, I knew that she was going to do something dramatic, but it still was something of a shock when she just casually jumped off the edge to lower herself down to the stage. You’ve got to have some real trust in the stunt coordinators (and the strength of the wires) to pull that off. But Gaga did it like it was no big thing. She was flipping all over the place like she was Pink (spoiler alert – turns out that segment was per-recorded. Everything is a lie). Once she hit the ground, her dancing was on point. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Lady Gaga put on such a physical performance and she nailed it. Even the people at the bar who were pretty meh about Gaga beforehand had to admit that she was really great.  No surprise that she announced a major tour in the wake of this appearance. I’d pretty much decided to take 2017 off from concerts, but I may have to go check her out.

  • The commercials overall were not that impressive this year. Not surprisingly the ads were slightly more political this year than in previous years, if you consider tolerance, immigration, and equal pay to be controversial subjects. While I wholeheartedly appreciate the sentiment, that didn’t result in very many memorable commercials. Usually companies release some banger advertisements during the Super Bowl, but most of the ads this year left my consciousness almost as soon as they ended. The only commercials that received any sort of audible reaction from the crowd were Kia’s ad featuring Melissa McCarthy and the newly sexualized Mr. Clean, which honestly kind of made everyone uncomfortable.

 

I did chuckle at Snoop and Martha’s T-Mobile ad and the 10 Haircare spot, but they didn’t get a huge reaction otherwise. Someone helpfully made a compilation of all the ads that ran during this year’s Super Bowl, in case you missed some during a bathroom break or when you were grabbing some snacks:

 

  • A surprising number of people have no idea what Stranger Things is. When that commercial aired, people were very confused, thinking that there was a new Ghostbusters reboot featuring children. LOL – it’s a good reminder that people aren’t necessarily as obsessed with pop culture as I am.

So another Super Bowl is in the books. For once, the game was actually what most people are talking about, which is a good thing even if, like me, your rooting interests took the L. I’ve only heard universal praise for Lady Gaga’s halftime performance, though my sample size is probably not statistically significant. I weirdly have collected a lot of Pats fans as friends over the years (I need a better screening process), so I am happy for them that they got to see their team win another championship. Sigh – Tom Brady has to retire eventually, right?

 

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Game 7 Edition

Pop-Culture-608x500I’ll admit that this year I kind of checked out on baseball. My Yankees just weren’t very good and I was a little emotionally exhausted from going to so many retirement ceremonies and final games for the players that I had been watching since I got into baseball. I needed a break; I didn’t go to a single Yankee game this year and the two games I did go to (Atlanta and Washington DC) I wasn’t all that engaged in. But I have to say that the playoffs have really drawn me back in, especially the Cubs historic run into the World Series. I love an underdog – I am a Buffalo Bills fan after all – so I’m always rooting for the Cubs to break their curse and finally win the Wold Series again. I don’t know that they’ll actually pull that off tonight as Cleveland has been more than a worthy opponent, but it’s been kind of thrilling to watch. My only complaint is that I am old and these games last too long. I’ve been exhausted for weeks. Whoever walks away the champion tonight, it’s been a fun ride and it has reinvigorated my love of baseball. Now the Yankees just have to be good next year. Hope spring eternal.

But even if you aren’t into baseball, you can still be excited since it’s also pop culture roundup day. And who doesn’t love that? As usual, I’ve scoured high and low to bring you the best that the world of pop culture had to offer in the last week. So get yourself caught up….and Go Cubs go!

Television

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Movies

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Trailers

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk:

 

  • 24: Legacy:

 

  • Life:

 

  • Rules Don’t Apply:

 

  • The Crown:

 

  • Dreamland:

 

  • Split:

 

  • Frank & Lola:

 

  • The Eyes of My Mother:

 

  • xXx: The Return of Xander Cage:

 

  • Gifted:

 

  • David Blaine: Beyond Magic:

 

  • Fuller House, season 2:

 

  • 20th Century Woman:

 

Music

Books

Theater

Halloween Leftovers

Odds and Ends

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Mashups and Supercuts

  • In honor of the World Series, a fictional Cubs/Indians mashup:

 

  • Tina Turner meets Queen:

 

  • Bryan Cranston does a dramatic reading of Little Mix’s song, “Shout Out To My Ex”:

 

  • Quantico’s Jay Armstrong Johnson paid tribute to Hocus Pocus:

 

  • The Ghostbusters theme played on pumpkins:

 

  • David S. Pumpkins makes every movie scarier:

 

  • SPOILERS A LEGO recreation of the deaths in The Walking Dead season premiere:

 

  • The Goonies recut as a thriller:

 

  • A Stranger Things Christmas: