The Gill-ed Hall

After a long, arduous day working at some thankless, corporate job, throwing chihuahuas at a dart board, or whatever it is you do, it’s nice to head down to “The Gill-ed Hall” and unwind. “The Gill-ed Hall” is a place to briefly reflect on such all-important topics as fast food, old cartoons, various distinct odors, spandex pants, sporks, and all of life’s other intricacies. New musings will be added about once every other day, so check back often.

The Disturbing World of Children’s Cereal Mascots

This post will address a horrendous influence on our children, one potentially more malicious and destructive to the youth than any other form of media, that goes almost completely undetected by parents and society in general. I speak, of course, of cartoon cereal mascots. Think about it. Mascots for children’s cereals don’t just hock sugar-infused corn flakes; they exhibit a disturbing range of mental problems and promote destructive attitudes and behavior.

Do you share my passion for exposing evil and protecting the youth of America? Then join me as we delve into the dark, truly disturbing worlds in which these devilish cartoons live.

Exhibit A–Tony the Tiger
KelloggsFrostedFlakescereal_450
http://www.kelloggs.com/en_US/KelloggrsquosFrostedFlakes.pt-Cereal.pc-null.desc-null.html#prevpoint

It’s been awhile since most adults have seen a Frosted Flakes commercial, but they’re all pretty much the same: a child is bad at a certain sport and, shunned by their athletic peers, sits on the sidelines and sulks. Truly their existence is a dark chasm of despair from which they will never escape.

But then, out of nowhere, a large, animated Tiger appears. From his…um…flesh pockets, he produces a bowl of sugar-coated corn flakes wreathed in a heavenly light. As the child tastes the cereal, a change comes over their demeanor. And then—huzzah!—they become the star of the sports team and win the love and admiration of their peers! Truly their breakfast is now complete.

Though Tony the Tiger’s infamous catch-phrase and commitment to athleticism seem positive, he sends a disturbing message to children: you are worthless without Frosted Flakes. These commercials teach children to depend on sports for their self-esteem and that they will be unable to play sports without Tony’s magical cereal.

I find it pretty troubling to think about what the kids in the commercials would’ve done if Tony hadn’t arrived just in time. I always picture the little boy on the bench growing up to be an out-of-work, hairy man in a wife-beater undershirt gulping down whiskey like it’s Kool Aid and muttering “if only I’d had some Frosted Flakes…”

By the way, I originally wrote this piece as an assignment for a college class. You wouldn’t believe how many people actually thought I was being serious.

Furby: Dark god of the Nineties

Furby

Ancient cultures seemed to have a thing for animal hybrids. Among the gods worshipped by ancient civilizations are such varied deities as Thor, Dagon, and Kali, who was blue, had six arms, and carried severed heads everywhere. But whatever its pantheon, each ancient culture seems to have at least one god that looks like a fusion of two animals. The ancient Indians worshipped Ganesh, the elephant-human god. The Egyptians of ancient times worshipped Ra, who was half-falcon and half-man. And the children of 1990s America worshipped Furby, the grotesque, hairy bird creature.

For those of you lucky souls unfamiliar with it, the Furby was a toy fad during the nineties. It was a robotic, talking bird creature with soft, deceiving fur covering its cold plastic shell and huge eyes that stared deep into your soul. If provoked, it would move its mouth and say cute phrases like “I love you” or “Can I have a hug?”

It sounds innocent enough, I know. But for anyone who housed a furby, the bizarre toy slowly morphed from harmless plaything to feared idol.

The big problem with furbies was that you had no control over them whatsoever. For the most part, you expect toys to respond directly to your input; if you push forward on the remote’s lever, your RC car moves forward. But furbies moved and spoke in response to noise. So whenever it heard any sound, whether it was little Billy playing pretend or mom bumping into the table, the furby would feel the need to chime in by saying “I love sunshine” or “Who dares to profane my holy sanctum?”

Furbies had no off switch. They only “went to sleep” when they detected absolutely no noise. You were never sure whether your furby was watching or listening to you. For all you knew, the Great Furby was all-seeing, all-knowing.

The only reliable way to get a furby to shut off was to lock it inside a dark room. It would shut down and all would be well…until someone decided to enter the room. The first thing you’d see after you opened the door and turned on the light switch was a pair of huge, hellish eyes staring back at you. And then, in a voice that reminded you of Big Bird, the furby would speak. It may have said “good morning,” but you knew it meant “Foolish mortal! You cannot escape my judgment! Now bow before me, lest I consume thee with holy fire!”

And so the people of the ‘90s lived in fear of their dark god, the Furby. I know many who would try in vain to appease their furby by buying more furbies, performing ritualistic Furby dances while wearing their fur-covered robes, and even sacrificing Tickle Me Elmo dolls on altars made of play-doh. As a Furby heretic, I lived in constant fear. I’ll never forget the sting of terror that would run up my spine every time I heard a furby’s evil bellow.

Times have changed and, at long last, the reign of the Furby is over. Gone are the days of the Furby cult, but remnants of its power remain. If you look hard enough, you can still find furbies buried in basements and tucked away in closets, gathering dust and remembering their bygone days of glory. And though their followers now are few, their eyes are no less mesmerizingly-evil.

“Scooby Doo” and Its Bizarre Implications

If I wasn’t clear enough a few weeks ago, let me state it again: cartoons are weird. They live in their own worlds where the physical laws of nature do not apply. But that’s why we love them. The Flintstones wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if it authentically depicted the difficulties of using an elephant as a shower, and if the physics in Loony Tunes were even the least bit realistic, those cartoons would contain more blood and gore than the Saw movies and the Spanish Inquisition combined. But sometimes, even in context, cartoons just make you wonder about their strange little worlds and especially the characters that inhabit them.

Which brings us to today’s topic: Scooby Doo. As is the case with most great cartoons, if you start asking questions about how the Scooby Doo universe works, all you’ll find are more questions. I know I’d just be stating the obvious if I said that Scooby Doo makes no sense, but there’s more to Scooby Doo than meets the eye. There isn’t an episode of Scooby Doo I’ve watched that doesn’t make me wonder about the thought processes of some of the characters.

We could talk at length about the Scooby Doo gang themselves and their bizarre issues—why Shaggy and Scooby are willing to put their lives on the line for dog food, why the characters always run using the same repetitive body movements, or why they never seem to stop and wonder whether, just maybe, the monster could be a guy in a costume just like the last twenty-seven monsters they’ve encountered—but the Scooby Doo universe is home to a much more interesting group of psychotics: the villains. Say what you will about Yogi Bear or the “I Love to Singa” owl from that one Warner Brothers cartoon, but the Scooby Doo villains are, without a doubt, the most bizarre group of cartoon characters around.

Scooby Doo villains generally want to accomplish something fairly simple like smuggling diamonds out of the mountains or obtaining ownership of a hotel to access the precious oil beneath it. But how does every Scooby Doo villain they plan to accomplish their goal? By dressing up in a slightly-above average Halloween costume and running around yelling at random people. Remember, it’s not like they’ve already tried to commit their crimes using more traditional methods. Dressing up in a rubber hunchback costume was Plan A. I really wish we got to see the moments these plans were conceived. I always imagine the villain sitting in his dingy, dimly-lit basement and saying something like, “Okay, Jimmy. We’re going to smuggle these diamonds through the underground caves in the mountains, but we have to keep tourists away from the ski resort so they don’t expose our operation. So I’m going to dress up like a giant ghost lobster.”

But the real question is this: what will these people do with their lives after the cartoon’s over? Sure, they’ll have to spend some time in prison because of those meddling kids, but they’ll eventually be released. None of them are committing really serious crimes; no one in Scooby Doo dies or gets seriously injured. Eventually, these people are going to be back on the outside, trying desperately to fit back into normal society. However, for these scarred individuals, that’s never going to happen. It doesn’t matter how hard a former Scooby Doo villain works to turn his life around. He’ll never shake off the stigma of having dressed up in a rubber monster suit and yelled at passers-by. I mean, how will they ever find a job? “Alright, Mr. Stevenson, let’s have a look at your resume. I see you got your Master’s from Columbia University, spent a few years working for the Harrington Law Firm, and…dressed up as a ghost pirate and chased innocent hikers away from an old mining town in order to perpetrate a real estate scheme. Uh…we’ll be in touch.”

Those meddling kids don’t just solve mysteries. They strip away their nemesis’ dignity and stain their futures. Still, being a former Scooby Doo villain wouldn’t be all bad. I guess it would be kind of cool to tell your grandkids that you spent a summer as the Phantom Walrus of Crystal Cove.

The Skittles Caste System

The first step toward healing is admitting that you have a problem. So here goes: I believe in the Skittles Caste System. I know all you enlightened, forward-thinking, pour-all-the-Skittles-in-your-mouth-at-the-same-time types must think me cruel and uncultured, but I can’t help it. When I open a bag of Skittles, my first reaction is to start judging each little piece of candy, solely by its color. It’s just how I think.

For many people, a bag of Skittles is a collection of delicious candies, which are all of equal value. For me, each bag contains an intricate caste system. Each little piece of candy has its own place in the Skittles social order.
The top caste includes the red and purple skittles. These are the lords of deliciousness whose sugary feet the other Skittles are not worthy to kiss. The Skittles of the top caste have the privilege eaten last, and I savor every moment they dance on my tongue.

The yellow and orange Skittles make up the middle caste. These are the backbone of Skittles society; without them, the Skittles of the top caste would be alone in the bag, having no inferior beings to compare themselves to. Essentially, the middle-caste Skittles are needed to round out the bag and cleanse the palate between the consumption of the lower-class Skittles and those of the upper-class.

Which brings us to the bottom caste, reserved for the shunned and reviled green Skittles. These little vermin are eaten first so as to get them out of the way. I used to think there was no place for green Skittles in polite society, and that they should be cast out like the dogs that they are.

My Skittles habits even compel me to separate my Skittles by color. After all, I can’t have one of the unclean green Skittles touching one of the superior red Skittles. Such an action would be vile and unacceptable. Instead, I separate my skittles into neat, little piles. Then and only then, when the Skittles are racially separated as they should be, are they ready for consumption.

My Skittles Caste System is shameful. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to understand and sympathize with the plight of the green Skittles. And I’ve actually found an organization prepared to help. So please, give generously to the Skittles Relief Fund. For just pennies a day, you can give a green Skittle an education, feed his family, and help him rise above the constraints of his sugary society.

Remember, it’s not easy being green.

The True Meaning Behind “Bob and the Cyber Llama”

Occasionally, one of the pages at josephcaldaraauthor.com receives a comment. Yes, I often inspire the masses to leave feedback in hopes of getting the feeling of elation that comes from being a small part of the gift to mankind that is my website. And though some of there are a bit…irregular…I’m convinced that each and every one of them provides valuable insight into the human condition.

One fine July morning, a gentleman by the name of Shoe Lifts for Men felt the need to reflect on Chapter 7 of Bob and the Cyber Llama. He said the following:

“Virtually all of what you mention happens to be supprisingly appropriate and that makes me ponder the reason why I had not looked at this in this light before. Your article truly did switch the light on for me personally as far as this specific topic goes. But at this time there is one particular position I am not necessarily too cozy with and while I try to reconcile that with the central theme of your position, allow me observe exactly what all the rest of your readers have to say.Very well done.”

Now some would be inclined to write this comment off as spam (especially since it was picked up by the spam filter,) but I dare not. This man clearly has excellent taste in literature and has been deeply touched by the “central theme” of Bob and the Cyber Llama. Whatever that is.

I’m not sure how a story about an amateur treasure hunter and his gentlemanly, cybernetic llama butler could personally “switch the light on” for someone, but perhaps this man has seen something that even I, the author, have overlooked. Clearly, Bob and the Cyber Llama has a poignant message beneath its weird exterior and to find it, I just have to dig deeper. I have three theories:

1. Bob and the Cyber Llama is a metaphor for the downfall of the Soviet Union and the troubling similarities between the Putin regime and the old totalitarian state. In the story’s beginning, Bob is “rescued” from his mundane job at Porkburger (an obvious metaphor for Stalinist statism) by Jeeves, who represents the Gorbachev regime and its quasi-capitalistic ideas. Bob travels to Egypt and enters the pyramid, symbolizing the Berlin Wall, only to be met by the pharaoh (Putin) and his army. Bob’s visit is peaceful at first, but soon turns violent as the pyramid’s inhabitants attempt to impose their will on Bob and Jeeves. Though Bob has escaped Porkburger, he will never truly be free from the greasy grip of authoritarianism.

2. Bob and Jeeves represent the dualistic states of order and entropy. Bob is an orderly, isolated system. Before Jeeves appears, he is able to focus intently on his grandmother’s mole and receive a package without incident. But when Jeeves (entropy) enters the equation, Bob’s world tends toward chaos. Jeeves constantly pushes Bob into risky, dangerous situations. The llama of chaos is determined to bring about thermodynamic equilibrium.

3. The fat, sweaty guy in Chapter 2 is Jesus. It’s there, you just have to look harder.

As you can see, Bob and the Cyber Llama is a work that truly encapsulates the nature of the human spirit. It’s almost as deep as “Go, Dog, Go,” but I don’t have time to get into that masterpiece here.

Why Betty Boop will Dumbfound Historians

I think at some point, we all wonder how America will go down in history. I often ponder whether people thousands of years from now will revere us, laugh at us, or do a little of both. There are many cultural and political forces that, for good or for ill, mold the way we will be remembered. But there is a force far greater than any other that will shape America’s legacy. I speak, of course, of 1930s cartoons.

History has been well-documented for quite a while now, but we actually don’t know much about societies that existed a little over three-thousand years ago. This is because ancient civilizations tended to keep their history not in books, but in myths and stories. A civilization’s tales are usually based on real events, but when historians study a culture’s myths, they can’t be sure which parts of the myth are fact and which are fiction.

Take the ancient Greek story of Theseus, who fought the minotaur inside a massive labyrinth on the island of Crete. We know that King Minos, ruler of Crete in ancient times, did in fact have a huge fortress, but that’s about all we know. Historians can’t be sure if Theseus was a real person, if some sort of creature actually lived in King Minos’ castle, what exactly that creature was, and whether Theseus actually fought it. We continue to study and retell these myths because in many cases, they’re the closest thing to an actual historical record we have.

Which makes me wonder: what kind of mythology will we leave behind? When the people of the future (who, I presume, will live in a society that’s something of a cross between “The Jetsons” and the short-lived series “My Little Pony: After the Bomb”) uncover our remains and study the tales we told, what assumptions will they make about the way we lived? Thoughts like these make me concerned about the art we create; specifically, cartoons.

Cartoons are weird. Really weird. And their weirdness isn’t just a recent phenomenon; they were strange from the get-go. If you think a cartoon like “Adventure Time” or “Ren and Stimpy” is bizarre, just take a look at about 90% of the animation that came out of the 1930s. Apparently, the best way to distract people from the woes of the Depression was to stick faces on a bunch of inanimate objects and have them sing and dance for about five minutes.

The stuff that happens in these cartoons can make you question the nature of reality itself. Humanoid animals whistle at awkward moments, objects you thought were stationary suddenly jump up and start spanking each other, and everything moves to the beat of a repetitive, bouncy song. Before Popeye hit the scene, the average cartoon made a hallucination seem like a bland Monday morning at the office.

I can’t help but speculate on what future civilizations will think after they unearth some of our old cartoons. I mean, pretend you’re an anthropologist living a few hundred years in the future. What would you think of a culture that produced this:

You’d probably come to the conclusion that, throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, North America was populated by a people who revered chickens above all else and believed that, should you disrupt the sacred birds, a gang of singing, jovial demons would inhabit gravestones, haystacks, and even the Earth itself to wreak horrifying judgment upon you while dancing to catchy swing music. You might even write your graduate thesis on the giant chicken god worshiped and feared by the ancient Americans (5:26 into the video.)

We can’t change this. Like it or not, we’re going to go down in the annals of history as the civilization that thought we could fuse our behinds with chickens and in so doing, create chicken babies (1:53 into the video.) I just hope animators will start to realize what they’re doing to our culture’s legacy and start to offset the ‘30’s weirdness with cartoons that are a little more grounded in reality. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write a story about a treasure-hunter and his talking, cybernetic llama butler.

A Moment of Silence for Burger King’s Chicken Fries

Once every few decades, we are faced with a tragedy that defines a generation, a heart-wrenching event that shakes us to our very core. Such events linger ominously over our lives and make us question why God would allow such indecent and inhuman calamities. My generation has already faced such a tragedy: the disappearance of Burger King’s chicken fries.

I eat fast food. A lot. I imagine that, over the years, my arteries have developed a thin coating of crust, making them like little glazed donuts inside by body that pump blood. But future health problems aside, my fascination with the world of fast food has allowed me to become something of a connoisseur. And like any expert in fine wine or 18th Century decor, I would have difficulty describing to a layman which fast food joints I like more than others and why. Ranking fast food restaurants is a delicate and complex process, as each minute detail of the establishment would have to be taken into account, but if I had to make a list of my favorites, Chic-Fil-A would definitely be at the top and Burger King would probably occupy the bottom.

The tale of the chicken fry’s rise and fall begins with a look into Burger King’s history. For years, the folks at Burger King just didn’t have much going for them. Consider the four foremost burgers of the fast food world (the “Four Pillars of Burgerdom,” if you will.) I don’t have anything against the Whopper, but it’s just not as good as the Big Mac, Carl’s Jr.’s Famous Star, or whatever Wendy’s signature burger is called.

The same goes for the fries. McDonald’s has the best fries (This statement is not up for debate. It is fact.) and the Burger King fry, while tasty, will always live in the McDonald’s fry’s salty shadow. From chicken nuggets to fish sandwiches to ice cream-related edibles, Burger King was always a step behind its competitors. It was a dark age for the monarch of burgers and all throughout the drivethru line there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But then came that glorious day. Like a holy cherubim descending from the heavens, the harbingers of deliciousness known as the chicken fries descended upon Burger King. Though they contained chicken, these were no mere nuggets or patties. They were filled with a mysterious, magical blend of spices and fried to cylindrical perfection. Biting into a chicken fry was like eating a unicorn sprinkled with fairy dust and dipped in ranch dressing.

I started going out of my way to visit Burger King, even choosing the king of burgers over its fast food counterparts. And I always ordered the chicken fries. Everything else on the menu just seemed beside the point. It was a happy, innocent time when all seemed right with the world.

And then, just like that, they were gone. I went into Burger King one day, asked for my beloved chicken fries, and was told by an apologetic employee: “Sorry. We don’t have those anymore.” Those words pierced my very soul. The sacred fries of chicken had been snatched from my hands like so many hopes and dreams. And so darkness has come once again to the realm of the Burger King. There is no more laughter or joy, just mediocre hamburgers with too much mayonnaise.

And so, once a year, I pause in a moment of silence for Burger King’s chicken fries. I may never taste them again, but I will always feel them. In my heart. Especially in a few years when I have to go in for a triple bypass.