Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday Thirteen #68: Pop Culture Myths Debunked

While listening to the radio on the way to work I learned that Wednesday is "Debunking Day", the day to disprove rumors and myths. As a result, I decided to finish up a T13 I started last year. Over the years, myths and untruths in the world of pop culture have been repeated so much that people start to accept them as fact. This week, I've taken my debunking ax to 13 of them.

If you agree/disagree or have a pop culture myth of your own that you want to shoot to hell, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Thirteen Pop Culture Myths, Debunked

1. The Best New Artist Grammy is the career "Kiss of Death"- Although there have been artists who saw their careers nosedive shortly after winning the award (The Starland Vocal Band, Rickie Lee Jones, and Marc Cohn to name a few), several honorees have had long and successful careers. Bobby Darin, The Beatles, The Carpenters, Natalie Cole, Mariah Carey, and Sheryl Crow are just some of the Best New Artist Grammy winners who avoided the so-called "kiss of death".

2. Diana Ross discovered The Jackson Five- In 1969, in order to increase public curiosity, Motown's marketing team decided to attach the Jackson Five to a name star. As a result, label superstar Diana Ross was chosen as the one who "discovered" the brothers from Gary, IN. However, several artists had caught the Jackson Five's act long before Diana knew about them. Back in 1967, Gladys Knight recommended the group to Motown chief Berry Gordy. However, Gordy was reluctant to take on another child act at the time (the then teenage Stevie Wonder was already on the roster). Also preceding Diana's "discovery" was Bobby Taylor (leader of the Motown group Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers). He brought the Jackson Five to Detroit for an audition with Berry in 1968.

3. Elvis Presley was a lousy actor- Sure, many of Elvis' films required him to do little more than ogle the ladies and sing a handful of non-descript tunes. If Elvis were alive today, he'd probably admit that Harum Scarum was no Citizen Kane. However, on those rare occasions when Elvis was given decent material, he acquitted himself rather nicely. For those who doubt the thespian abilities of The Pelvis, check him out in Jailhouse Rock, Loving You, King Creole, Wild In the Country, Flaming Star, and Roustabout.

4. The Monkees couldn't play instruments- Because of music supervisor Don Kirschner's iron-fisted control, most of the instrumental work on the Monkees' first two albums was done by session players. This led people to believe that The Monkees couldn't play. However, as Micky Dolenz has pointed out, it wasn't that they couldn't play... they weren't allowed to play. Although they always played their own instruments in concert, it wasn't until the ousting of Kirschner that The Monkees were given artistic control in the studio. On their 3rd and 4th albums (esp. the 3rd), it's mainly Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter that you hear playing. For whatever reason (possibly expediency or maybe waning interest within the group), the band reverted to the "Kirschner model" and mainly employed studio musicians on their LPs starting with their 5th album (The Birds, the Bees, and The Monkees).

5. Most child stars have tragic lives as adults- Because former child stars such as Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Adam Rich and the kids from Diff'rent Strokes had trouble adjusting once the limelight faded, it can be easy to forget that many others have had successful careers once they reached the age of 18. Jodie Foster, Ron Howard, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Janet Jackson, and Neil Patrick Harris are just a few who have debunked the "tragic former child star" myth. Not only that, but several former child stars have successful careers outside of show business once they grow up. For example, Danielle Spencer (Dee from What's Happening) is a veterinarian and Missy Gold (Gov. Gatling's daughter Katie on Benson) is a psychologist in Maine.

6. MTV used to be great- Because the cable channel has devolved into "reality crap central", people refer to the early days of MTV as great. It was better than it is now, but let's not get carried away. During MTV's "glory days", viewers were given a whole lotta repetition with little variety. While Michael Jackson, Madonna, and pretty boy new wave and hair metal bands were in constant rotation, quality (but less photogenic) artists like The Smithereens received scant airtime. Furthermore, for a channel that claimed to be on the cutting edge, MTV didn't fully embrace rap music until late 80s; nearly 10 years after the genre entered the mainstream. Oh... and don't get me started on the fact that even though black artists were making music videos, you scarcely saw them on MTV until Michael Jackson's Billie Jean revolutionized the genre.

7. Old=classic- Sorry, but just because a show was made over 30 years ago does not make it a classic.

8. Rock and roll "died" between 1959 and 1964- Many have thrown dirt on this period of rock and roll (roughly between Buddy Holly's plane crash and The Beatles' landing in America). Other losses include Elvis' Army induction, Chuck Berry going to jail, the banning of Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard leaving rock 'n' roll in favor of religion. Although these were terrible blows, several artists were around to pick up the slack. Chubby Checker, Del Shannon, Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon, and The Beach Boys all made some rockin' tunes during this period. Not only that, but Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" was in full bloom and a little label called Motown was turning into a hit-making machine.

9. Seinfeld is a "show about nothing"- This myth probably began with early episodes such as "The Chinese Restaurant" and "The Parking Garage" that focused on the little things in everyday life. However, Seinfeld was also capable of intricately plotted episodes such as "The Betrayal" (where the scenes are shown in reverse chronological order), "The Rye", "The Opposite", and "The Fusilli Jerry" (aka the "ASSMAN" episode).

10. The "SNL curse"- Due to the early deaths of John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Phil Hartman, and Chris Farley, it's been said that the award-winning sketch series is cursed. However, when one considers that SNL has been on since 1975 and has had over 100 former and current cast members, the "curse" theory goes out the window.

11. Soap operas consist of nothing but outlandish plots- Because the crazy storylines get the most ink (for example, Timmy the doll being brought to life on Passions and Marlena being possessed by The Devil on DOOL), it's often forgotten that daytime dramas have often been more progressive than their primetime counterparts when it comes to tackling serious issues. Early episodes of All My Children delved into the Vietnam War debate, One Life To Live had a black character (Carla Gray) who passed for white, and As the World Turns made history by featuring the first gay male "supercouple" on daytime TV.

12. Ted McGinley is the "patron saint of jumping the shark"- Because Ted had the misfortune of joining long-running shows on their last legs (Happy Days and The Love Boat), some feel that his becoming a series cast member means that it's time to sound the death knell. Let's be honest though, Happy Days had turned to shit long before Ted came on the scene. After all, the episode that gave birth to the term "jump the shark" was three years before he joined the show. Not only that, but Married... with Children lasted for 6 years after Ted became a regular.

13. They don't make 'em like they used to- This is along the lines of #s 6 and 7 on the list. Often, I hear people lamenting that movies, TV and music aren't as good as they used to be. The thing is, there was plenty of crap that came out in the so-called "good old days". However, much of it is rarely shown or played anymore so it's often forgotten. Although present day pop culture has its share of garbage, there is plenty of quality to be found. It just may take some of us a little time to appreciate it. Mark my words, in about 20 years, you'll hear people waxing nostalgically about how great entertainment was in the early part of the 21st century.

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Jay said...

This was one of the best Thursday Thirteens I've seen. Really great stuff.

I especially love #13 when it comes to TV. I agree that a lot of the old shows, especially sitcoms were great, but if you watch a lot of the shows on basic cable like "The Shield" "Monk" "The Closer" and some of the stuff on premium cable like HBO and Showtime, then you will see some great shows. They are brilliantly written, acted and produced program.

You could make the argument that anything "creative" or "edgy" has been pushed to cable because of the reality shows on the networks, and that might be true. But, there really is some great stuff being produced.

Jen said...

Number 7 is so true!! I love the list!!

Janet said...

I heard Chuck E's in Love today...always liked Rikki Lee Jones :-)

Anonymous said...

Great list! Especially because I agree with so much of it, from the Monkees to #s 7 & 8 (I understand what you mean by #6, but if you go waaayy back to 1981 & '82 MTV did play a lot of less polished, more random bands. They got slick quick though.)
And I agree with you on #13 too. There is quality tv out there, you just have to look closely & have a DVR (my own personal helpmate in these matters).

Pop Art Diva! said...

This was a good one, Malcolm - and I laughed every time you used the word "crap"!!

Take a break and stop by my PopArtDiva HOOTENANNY - I went all folk festival and beatnik this week, Daddi-o.

Hootin' Anni said...

I'm one who thought Elvis could NOT act. I didnt' care much for his singing either...well, some, but

My thirteen is now posted...come join me? Happy Thursday.

Lori said...

Hey Malcolm,
You made a lot of great points on this list. I do have a question about the J5 though. Recently, I was watching Black List II (HBO series) and Suzanne de Passe appeared to be taking credit for discovering the Jackson 5. Where, if it all, does she fit in on your list of J5 founders?

Sheri/Cookingmom said...

Aw, don't rag on Little Buddy.

Did you read Mickey Dolenz's autobiography? Very interesting. I always thought his voice was so much better than Davy's; although Davy's worked for me on Valleri.

What do you think about the Superman curse?

JohnH985 said...

Very good thirteen. It's funny how these myths get started and seem to get a life of their own. I would just add to your Seinfield one, it may have been about something but I still think it was one of the worst televsion shows every produced. Sorry, I know I'm in the minority on that one.

Malcolm said...

Jay: Thanks man! One could argue that the last 10 years to the present has been the "golden age of the TV drama". Esp. on cable like you mentioned. Because cable shows generally do shorter seasons than series on broadcast TV, I think that the quality is higher. They can concentrate on making 10-15 outstanding shows instead of churning out 20-25 episodes a season (some of which may be subpar).

Jen: Thanks! Some of the stuff that was crap back when it was new is now old crap.

Janet: "Chuck E.'s In Love" is an excellent tune. I may have to play that on this week's show.

Becky68: True, the bands in the early days of MTV weren't as slick. However, the network's playlist was still exclusionary in my opinion. I've often been surprised when going to You Tube and finding early videos by artists like The Cure and New Edition because I didn't know the the videos existed.

Because there are so many shows worth watching, the DVR does come in handy.

Pop Art Diva: Before I wrote this post, I checked Blogger's policy page to make sure I didn't exceed the maximum number of times one can use the word "crap" in one post.

Hootin' Anni: I guess you didn't check out Elvis in "G.I. Blues" on Saturday on TCM. :-)

Lori: From what I've read, Suzanne is stretching things if she's taking credit for discovering the J5. According to the J5's Wiki page, Bobby Taylor brought them to Detroit. Joseph and The J5 stayed on the floor of Bobby's apartment the night of July 22, while Taylor and Suzanne arranged for the group to audition for Motown. She may have convinced Berry Gordy to take a look at the group, but she only knew about them via Bobby Taylor.

Sheri: Yes, I did read Micky's bio. He's my favorite Monkee (vocally and comedically on the TV show).

I think the so-called Superman curse is another fabrication by members of the media in order to boost ratings, sell magazines, etc. When one looks at a franchise that has been around as long as Superman has (over 70 years), they are bound to find some tragedy among the people connected to it. Here is a link that talks about the "curse":

John: Thanks! Your "Seinfeld" comments cracked me up. Props for being in the minority and having the conviction to say so.

Anonymous said...

Ummm just tomake it know. It was never stated that Diana Ross discovered the J5. Nor did she EVER take credit for doing so. What WAS done however is that she PRESENTED them to the world as she had the star power to do so at the time. She was doing very well then and was used a vehicle through which to bring attention to and present them to the world at large. It was never claimed by Motown that she DISCOVERED THEM.

Malcolm said...

Anonymous: It's been well-documented that not only did early Motown press releases state that Diana Ross discovered The Jackson Five, but that she also took credit for doing so. As you alluded to, she was Motown's biggest star at the time. This is exactly why the powers that be attached the Jackson Five to her name and made the claim that she "discovered" them.

Anonymous said...

Just a note to let everyone know that Dick's Diana Ross Website has a new host. The new web address is

The old site will be closed down soon. Please spread the word of the new address.

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

I daily watch mtv. this is good channel. I also like tv downloads. I have downloaded so many tv downloads from the internet.

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