Tag Archives: Freelance Writers Boston

Booty Call: Butt Sketch artists shake up corporate trade shows

Original Butt Sketch charcoal artists are shaking up the world of trade show entertainment

Original Butt Sketch charcoal artists are shaking up the world of trade show entertainment

THE WORKING STIFF – By Darren Garnick
” BOOTY CALL: ‘Butt Sketch’ artists shake up corporate trade shows”

Originally Published: February 22, 2006 (Boston Herald)
It’s called the “Butt Sketch.” And it’s probably the only time co-workers can blatantly ogle their office crush without being accused of sexual harassment.

It’s also the great equalizer between bosses and employees. Fashion doesn’t care what your business card says.

“If there was any tension before in the office, it’s gone when I get through with them,” grins Butt Sketch artist Pjae Adams, who captures “posteriors for posterity” in up to 10 cities per month. “Hopefully, they’ll go back to work with a new sense of comraderie.”

Adams was sketching butt this past weekend at the Hynes Convention Center, where thousands of college students gathered to scout entertainment acts at the National Association for Campus Activities Conference. Her act seems gimmicky at first – Project Runway meets amusement park caricature – but those who walk away with the charcoal picture may momentarily fantasize about posing for the next Macy’s newspaper ad.

Revere’s Jeff Smith, a student affairs administrator at Salem State College, plans to hang his likeness in his office. “It’s a different perspective of you,” he says. “You never see what you look like from the back. There’s no mirror to do that.”

“Some people are shy at first, but there’s a little bit of exhibitionist in everyone,” adds the 29-year-old Adams, who used to design boutique shop windows in Atlanta and Dallas.

The artist’s outgoing personality must have been wasted on the mannequins. Adams begins her two-and-a-half minute sessions with friendly banter urging her models to relax. Usually, the Butt Sketch becomes a group experience with co-workers smirking and laughing in the background.

Original Butt Sketch artist Pjae Adams

Original Butt Sketch artist Pjae Adams

“I think this is great for guys and girls,” says Butt Sketch devotee Krystal Johnson, a student at the University of North Carolina. “But you can’t take it too seriously.”

Sage advice.

My turn on the Butt Sketch runway was enlightening. At the risk of sounding trite, I have gained new respect for fashion models. I had trouble standing frozen yet “relaxed” for more than two minutes. And I still can’t pull off a pouty expression.

Nonetheless, my butt does look fantastic. In fact, everyone’s butts look fantastic off the charcoal pencil of Adams, who admits using a flattering touch.

“Whether people believe me or not, that’s what I see. Every butt is different. Every butt has its own personality,” she says.

Just as fascinating as the psychology of the Butt Sketch experience is the backstory. Dallas sidewalk artist Krandel Lee Newton first set up his easel in 1987 at the West End Marketplace, a tourist spot similar to Faneuil Hall. The popularity of his “Original Butt Sketch” appearances at trade shows, conventions and private parties eventually encouraged him to build a Butt Sketch empire.

Today, a dozen artists travel the country to immortalize the tushes of people who’ll likely never have the opportunity to model again. Newton’s company, which charges between $1,700 and $3,000 for a four-hour session, boasts more than 250,000 Butt Sketches in its portfolio — including the famous rear ends of Alex Trebek, Donnie & Marie Osmond, Ted Danson and Queen Latifah.

Butt Sketch artist Pjae Adams

Butt Sketch artist Pjae Adams

“I never imagined I’d be sketching people’s butts for a living,” says Adams, who hopes the gig will advance her art career. “But I always hoped to use my gifts to support myself.”

Specializing in acrylic paintings of the human form, Adams sometimes finds that her rapid fashion drawings of accountants and dental hygienists subconsciously influence her future work.

“The more butts I sketch,” she says, “the more inspired I become.”

Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the Boston Herald. Story tips from the workplace are welcomed via email at heraldstiff @ gmail.com.


ALSO SEE: Every tush is beautiful – in its own way!

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Middle East Surprise: “Austin Powers” Fembot Fashions Thrive in Syria

"The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie" -- Images courtesy of Chronicle Books

"The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie" -- Images courtesy of Chronicle Books

What’s really underneath those burkas?

If you’re a Syrian bride on her wedding night — or even a bridesmaid at the bachelorette party — chances are there could be a Tweety Bird thong that plays the soothing tunes of Kajagoogoo. Anyone who grew up in the MTV age is intimately familiar with that British pop band for their 1983 anthem, “Too Shy.”

Or perhaps you might see this the next time you are underwear shopping in the outdoor Damascus shuk. There’s no way this is more comfortable than 100 percent organic Syrian cotton:

"The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie" -- Image courtesy of Chronicle Books

"The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie" -- Image courtesy of Chronicle Books

These fashion gems were culled from a kitschy new coffee table book by Syrian lingerie experts Malu Halassa and Rana Salam. Despite the bondage theme above, most lingerie drawers north of the Golan Heights are filled with cutesy feathers, fake flowers and fur. Liberace meets the Fembots from Austin Powers. Without the nipple guns.

The authors joke that they sometimes felt trapped in a “1970s transvestite disco.”

Think a plastic cell phone would ever make it into a Victoria’s Secret thong?

Cell phone thong courtesy of Chronicle Books

Cell phone thong courtesy of Chronicle Books

“Doesn’t matter whether you wear a miniskirt or a hijab, it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to put on some of those outfits,” Halasa says. “Rana and I ended up admiring those women, and we thought some women in the developed world could use a little joy like that in their lives.”

So what does this have to do with the prospects of Middle East peace?

As U.S. Sen. John Kerry raves about the potential of an Israeli-Syrian thaw, the authors have their theories. Check out my full book review, “Damascus After Dark,” in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

You’ll learn….

… Which Israeli leader the authors would like to dress up in these outfits, and it is not Bibi Netanyahu.

… The previously undiscovered link between the 1973 Yom Kippur War and meteoric rise of the Syrian bra industry; and

… Regardless of the cultural context, can Tweety Bird possibly considered a sexual turn-on?

If you prefer the old-fashioned print layout, which includes more fascinating fashion pictures, the PDF download is available here:

“DAMASCUS AFTER DARK: How the kitschy Syrian approach to underwear cuts through the image of the all-concealing burka” (Page One) (Page Two)

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Filed under Asinine Mideast Analogies, Austin Powers Fembots, Foreign Affairs, Middle East, Syrian Lingerie

The Manny Ramirez Salary Comparison Calculator: How poor of a schmuck are you?

Recession-Proof Man: How long does it take Manny Ramirez to earn what you do?

Recession-Proof Man: How long does it take Manny Ramirez to earn what you do?

Want to get depressed?

You already know that the backup shortstop on the Kansas City Royals makes more in a season than you will in your entire life.

But check out ESPN’s new salary comparison calculator to really put things in perspective.

Let’s say you make $60K in a year, certainly a respectable salary if you don’t have an MBA or a decent curveball.

After his first two at bats of the season, Los Angeles Dodger Manny Ramirez is already ahead of you.

Why $60,000 will barely buy you one-third of an RBI or one-tenth of a homer.

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Yanking Yasser: Evicting wax terrorists is a slippery museum slope

Reality Check: Most visitors to New York's Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum would rather fondle Jessica Simpson's tush than caress Yasser Arafat's beard.

Reality Check: Most visitors to New York's Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum would rather fondle Jessica Simpson's tush than caress Yasser Arafat's beard.

CULTURE SCHLOCK — By Darren Garnick
The Telegraph

Originally published: June 1, 2001
In perhaps the most ludicrous government act since the Nashua City Council outlawed back-to-back yard sales a few years ago, the New York state legislature is exploring the possible eviction of a wax Yasser Arafat from the new Madame Tussaud’s museum in Times Square.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) and 50 of his fellow lawmakers called on the museum to give Yasser the boot solely because of his career choice: terrorism. The demands are largely symbolic because Madame Tussaud’s is a private business and could, if they wanted to, replace Tony Bennett with Ayatollah Khomeini as their official greeter.

Nonetheless, smelling good copy from the New York Post, Hikind and his supporters recently picketed the museum to pressure Gov. George Pataki to cancel a June 14th Republican Party fundraiser scheduled there. Pataki won’t give up his opportunity to charge $100,000 for stuffed mushrooms and cocktail franks. But the governor did say that he would party with non-terrorist wax figures to prove his opposition to evil and his support for goodness.

Here’s what apparently only Madame Tussaud’s understands: wax museums need villains to counterbalance the heroes. Including unsavory characters in these kinds of exhibits is vital. O.J. Simpson belongs in the mix. So does Tonya Harding. And Ivan Boesky. And every Russian leader (who died every two weeks) when Reagan was in power. Toss in the CEOs of tobacco companies.

I visited Madame Tussaud’s the weekend after Assemblyman Hikind’s protest. Well before I got to the world leaders room, I was offended. I was first outraged by the disproportionate representation of New York Yankees. Mickey Mantle… Joe DiMaggio… George Steinbrenner… disgusting. Not a Red Sox cap in the building. Then, there’s Woody Allen, a “comic genius” who gets away with sleeping with his stepdaughter because he made a few good flicks in the 60s and 70s. And perhaps the most offensive of all, Larry King, proof that the devil is swinging deals for journalist souls.

It’s instantly apparent that this wax museum, which attracts far more foreign tourists than Americans, has no interest in making political statements. Why bother rooting for one side, when you can herd bitter rival factions into the same gift shop? If there is any conspiracy, it was forged between the museum and Kodak. This is a Disneyland where the costumed characters don’t take lunch breaks or strike for health benefits.

Madame Tussaud’s is all about pictures.

Scene 1: An Italian visitor instructs his young son how to pose with supermodel Elle McPherson. The boy, whose height placed him at eye level with the wax figure’s chest, instinctively stretches his arm around Ms. McPherson’s shoulders. No good, says the father, shaking his head. He redirects his son’s hand, firmly pressing it on her behind and smiles. Perfect picture. A father-and-son bonding moment.

Scene 2: Indian man eyeing John Travolta. The tourist hands me his digital video camera, a model which no doubt is the most expensive on the market, and inexplicably asks me to record him for “six seconds.” Like Stallone in both the Rocky and Rambo movies, Mr. DigiCamera writes, directs and stars in his own films. “Hi there!” he says, waving at the camera. “I am here with my friend, John Travolta.” Cut. End of shot. No exploration of his fictitious relationship with Mr. Travolta. No references to Olivia Newton-John, Vinny Barbarino or the Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Imagination, unfortunately, does not come with the camera.

Scene 3: Museum visitor getting a little too intimate with jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Oblivious to everyone around him, the man is caressing Armstrong’s teeth. He does so for at least 15 seconds, an amount of time bordering on obsessive (disclaimer: I am not a licensed psychologist). The guards are looking the other way at Princess Diana, the only wax figure in the museum to be surrounded by fancy velvet ropes.

Yasser Arafat needs no bodyguards at Madame Tussaud’s. Most visitors walk right by him, preferring to be photographed with Pope John Paul II or Lady Di. The anti-Arafat crowd has nothing to fear and nothing to gain by his eviction. The wax Yasser is unloved. Nobody wants to fondle his scraggly beard or pinch his terrorist tush.

Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column appears every Friday in The Telegraph’s “Encore” magazine. Feedback and ideas are welcome via e-mail at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.

Yasser Arafat's wax alter-ego is socially shunned by Fidel Castro's wax alter-ego at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in New York

Yasser Arafat's wax alter-ego is socially shunned by Fidel Castro's wax alter-ego at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in New York

Culture Schlock Story: “Threatened by Wax?: Arafat deserves museum spot as much as the Penguin or the Riddler.”

BostonHerald.com“Shedding no tears over the wax Hitler beheading.”

Schlock Blog: “The Hezbollah Children’s Museum: A Cross-Cultural Study”

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Yasser Arafat deserves wax museum spot as much as the Penguin or the Riddler

Does Yasser Arafat deserve to be evicted from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum?

Does Yasser Arafat deserve to be evicted from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum?

By Darren Garnick
The Jerusalem Report

Originally published: May 26, 2001

Does Yasser Arafat make good company for Barbra Streisand, John Travolta and the Dalai Lama? The new Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Times Square says he does, and it is not melting under pressure to remove the Palestinian figure from their world leaders room.

Remarkably, a wax statue eviction notice is being backed by 50 members of the New York state legislature. Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), an Orthodox Jew, shockingly asserts that Arafat’s image does not evoke pro-Jewish sentiments – and thus, does not belong in the most Jewish city (population wise) on earth. Furthermore, reveals Hikind, Arafat is a “terrorist,” an occupation that makes him a very bad man.

I went to go visit Yasser the weekend after Hikind and his supporters picketed Madame Tussaud’s, urging Gov. George Pataki to cancel a $100,000-a-plate Republican Party fundraiser scheduled for June 14. Pataki also branded Arafat a “killer,” and a “terrorist,” promising he’d raise the money with non-terrorist wax figures instead.

Before I got to the world leaders room, I tried to put myself in Assemblyman Hikind’s shoes. Who else should be yanked from this museum for dissing the Jews? Richard Nixon would never have worn a kippah and spun a dreidel in the White House like Bill Clinton did. Listen to his tapes, Dov, he used the word “Jew” like the “F-word.” (Ironically, the wax Nixon has to stare at Jew Mark Spitz and his seven gold medals).

Henry Ford wasn’t a great guy either, practically having offered complimentary copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” with every purchase of a Model-T. Give Elton John the boot, too. Remember his 1993 hissy fit when he canceled (and later rescheduled) a Tel Aviv concert because he didn’t like the security goons at Ben Gurion Airport?

Personally, I’ve never been a big Arafat fan. I think Benny Begin got it right when he said, “A snake in a coat and tie is still just a well dressed snake.” Arafat never wears Armani, however. He is like Charlie Brown, wearing the same clothes every day. Olive green shirt. Olive green pants. Khaffia folded in the shape of Palestine. Trusty gun in his holster. Arafat’s career goals may be a mystery, but his wardrobe is not.

Encountering Arafat “in person” is empowering to any pro-Zionist museum visitor. Most striking is how tiny and frail this scraggly weasel really is. Forget Ariel the Bulldozer, even skinny Shimon Peres could make some convincing points with his fists. But alas, the Middle East conflict cannot be resolved like the Cold War was in “Rocky IV.”

In the world leaders room, Arafat is surrounded by Gandhi, Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, Mikhail Gorbachev and Golda Meir. It’s a good mix. For pure historical drama, Madame Tussaud’s needs good guys and bad guys. Featuring Golda without her old PLO nemesis is like watching Batman without the Penguin or the Riddler. In my world view, Israel is Batman, and Arafat’s been the bad guy for way too many episodes.

As for “glorifying” Arafat, pro-Israel forces need not worry. He’s generating far less camera flashes than supermodel Elle McPherson or transvestite RuPaul. Then again, not too many tourists want their pictures taken with Golda Meir, either.

Culture Schlock Story: “Yanking Yasser: Evicting wax Arafat is a slippery museum slope.”

BostonHerald.com“Shedding no tears over the wax Hitler beheading.”

Schlock Blog: “The Hezbollah Children’s Museum: A Cross-Cultural Study”

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Saddam Yard Sale: Hussein secretary stole more than paper clips

The Once-in-a-Lifetime Saddam Yard Sale

The Once-in-a-Lifetime Saddam Yard Sale

CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
The Telegraph
October 11, 2007

Saddam Hussein is now having a yard sale.

Yes, he’s thankfully dead so he can’t profit from any of the memorabilia from his tyrannical glory days.

And technically, the latest batch of Saddam stuff to hit the market is up for auction. But at the end of the day, there will be plenty of unsold trinkets that will be begging for a best offer.

Get a load of these prices:

— $150,000 – Saddam’s favorite diamond-encrusted Rolex watch that he wore to banquets, Arab summits and other social events.

— $12,000 – Fancy sliver cigarette box allegedly given to a teenage Saddam by his stepfather as a reward for killing his first human being.

— $12,000 – Saddam’s favorite pair of Christian Dior sunglasses, which shielded his eyes from the glare of the Iran-Iraq desert battlegrounds in the 1980s.

— $5,000 – Designer Cartier pen used by Saddam to sign the execution orders for 66 condemned members of his Ba’ath Party.

— $4,000 – Christian Dior necktie taken straight from Saddam’s tie rack (several available).

A bunch of miscellaneous items bound for the “Everything for $5” table include a Thai paperweight given to Saddam by an ambassador, a piece of granite from the original London Bridge, and a ceramic leopard that used to decorate the dictator’s “private recreation room.”

The sale is being conducted on-line by Haitham Rashid Wihaib, Saddam’s chief of protocol (essentially a glorified personal secretary) from 1980 to 1993. Wihaib, who defected to England a decade before Saddam’s capture in the spider hole, does not explain how he got his hands on his former boss’s personal stuff.

As he was fleeing Iraq, did he stick all those Christian Dior accessories under his shirt? How did he cram that ceramic wildcat into a suitcase – or was it an airline carry-on?

The auctioneer’s Web site bio claims his father was an “Iraqi general who was killed in a car accident orchestrated by Saddam.” If that was the case, why would the Iraqi dictator ever want to hire a traitor’s kid as a trusted aide?

Whatever the true origins of this Saddam memorabilia are, there are indications that the items are genuine. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark demanded that Wihaib return a royal Danish medal from Saddam’s collection to her country. The Knight’s Cross of the Order of Dannebrog is awarded for special service to Denmark, and is customarily returned upon the death of the recipient.

Wihaib, who has reportedly agreed to give the medal back, promises to donate 20 percent of his profits to needy Iraqi children, new hospital buildings and various other Iraqi war victim charities.

The other 80 percent goes to a charity named Haitham Rashid Wihaib.

If you’re upset about Wihaib getting rich off genocidal souvenirs, you may take modest comfort in the fact that his marketing timing stinks.

Quite frankly, Saddam Hussein is so 2006.

The buzz has migrated east to his nefarious archrival, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I wonder if he’s been keeping an eye on his personal secretary lately.

Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs every Thursday in
Encore. Feedback is welcomed at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.

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Exercise caution before badmouthing a ‘rotten’ neighbor

CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
The Telegraph
October 18, 2007

Anyone who has ever worked as a police officer, newspaper reporter or has served in local government knows this universal truth about human relations: Animal disputes bring out the worst in people.  A typical small town dog hearing packs in more hate and resentment than the United Nations General Assembly.

Of course, neighborhood grudges simmer for many reasons beyond killer pit bulls and toxic doggie doo-doo. Touted as a breakthrough consumer real estate tool, a new Web site chronicles the myriad of causes for shattered communal harmony.

RottenNeighbor.com was launched this summer by Brant Walker, a 27-year-old computer programmer from San Diego. The site is a geographical hate forum for bitter neighbors to “warn” newcomers against buying a home in their area. Maybe it’s because there’s someone on the street who doesn’t mow their lawn, or there are teenage vandals or druggies in the next apartment.  Or maybe the freak-next-door raises alligators in his bathtub or is stockpiling anti-aircraft weapons in the shed for the “next revolution.”

In any case, the altruistic motivation to keep prospective homeowners out of your neighborhood – regardless of how utopian or dysfunctional it might be – seems like a self-destructive exercise to me.  If no one wants to live on your street, real estate values will plummet and your chance of escape dwindles.

On his site, Walker brags that he’s offering the “the first real estate search engine of its kind that helps you find bad neighbors before you move so you don’t regret the purchase of your new house, home, condo or apartment.”

“Real estate agents will never tell you about bad neighbors,” he writes. “If a bad neighbor exists, this information should be made freely and easily available to everyone.”

Before purchasing my current home, I did the traditional background check for area child molesters, domestic abusers and assorted malfeasants. I wish I had access to the secret police database that documents exactly where the “bad people” live.  But I have no privileged access to the cops or Santa Claus.  I just did a simple newspaper archive search and turned up only a couple of kids who liked to play with matches.

I figured as long as I didn’t give out Bic lighters or blowtorches on Halloween, I would be all set.

Although RottenNeighbor.com has already enjoyed massive success in generating grass-roots buzz, the Web site itself so far is not living up to its promises.

I plugged in the “03060” zip code for Nashua and the Google map was directed to upstate New York.  I did this multiple times to check if I was typing in the wrong information.  Using the navigation arrows, I eventually was able to migrate from Albany to Milford.  Many of the neighborhood complaints do not even include a street – so libel or not, what’s the point?

Here’s a gem RottenNeighbor “report” from Greater Nashua:

“WORST NEIGHBORS EVER!!!! Where in the world do I begin? Liars, liars, liars. 3 boys and a dog. Husband tells me “Oh the wife is a notorious liar.” The sad part is, he is an even BIGGER one. Now that the boys are growing up, guess what they are turning out to be –liars also.

They have zero respect for anyone else, their yard, house anything. They are huge slobs. Cause all sorts of problems in the neighborhood with their lies. Had to have our yard surveyed because they said that part of our property was theirs. Surveyor says “Nope, here’s the proof.” Kids knock down our marked survey sticks sledding–what does Dad say? “Oh well, boys will be boys.” The next time they do it, he blames the other neighbor who is nice enough to plow his driveway. Complete buttholes.”

And some more insightful testimony from The Telegraph’s circulation area:

“Recently separated from husband and left alone with 3 kids, this woman is out of control! … Summer was a living nightmare—every day 7 to 9 kids here in blow up pool all day long yelling screaming crying and left unattended because she spends her entire life ON HER PHONE.

“Her children made 2 huge holes in my brand new fence so that they could watch us swim in our pool in my backyard… My favorite is when her kids hang out the upstairs windows yelling to us asking if they can swim here with us… I did not save my money for years to buy a home in this wonderful affluent community… only to end up next to a RENTER!!!!!”

As it’s structured now, RottenNeighbor.com only exists to confirm the obvious. Southern New Hampshire is teeming with potential guests for Jerry Springer or Judge Judy.  Although I confess that I did not know that owning an inflatable pool is a character flaw or even a crime.

Walker would be better off requiring that the complainers on RottenNeighbor.com provide their full names and addresses.  Those are the people I’d really like to avoid.

Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs every Thursday in
Encore magazine. Feedback is welcomed at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.

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Revenge of the Wimp: Jeff Kinney dares to revisit middle school demons

Jeff Kinney is the most humble best-selling author you will ever meet.

Jeff Kinney is the most humble best-selling author you will ever meet.

CULTURE SCHLOCK — By Darren Garnick
The Telegraph
February 14, 2008

Before I saw an in-store advertisement for his recent Barnes & Noble book signing, I was not familiar with Jeff Kinney’s work. That’s probably because I’m almost four times his typical reader’s age.

Kinney is the cartoonist who morphs himself into the brain of the average middle school boy, and through handwritten angst and crude doodles, chronicles a life of bully avoidance and the heartache of being grounded from video games.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” his first “novel in cartoons,” soared to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List last year. As of Feb. 3, his freshly published sequel, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules” was Number 8 on the USA TODAY Bestseller List – only four notches behind Stephen King, but 12 spots ahead of Danielle Steel.

His cartoons belong much more in the horror genre than romance. The world of skinny protagonist Greg Heffley, who goes to school “where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner and already shaving,” doesn’t involve any puppy love.

In fact, Kinney deliberately draws all his girl characters with the same shaped heads (only the hairstyle changes) and bodies, while the boys come in all shapes and sizes. The reason: the befuddled Greg sees all girls as equally mysterious creatures and he doesn’t pay much attention to any of them.

At his Nashua book signing, however, the cartoonist’s throng of pre-teen groupies included a smattering of girls. And these are girls who actually have different sized heads and bodies.

Kinney says he’d guess his readership is about 40 percent female.

“Girls are bigger readers than boys, so there might be a law of averages at work here,” he explains. “But Greg is also not overly masculine, not overly sporty. Perhaps they think they can relate to him.”

When the 36-year-old Kinney was a kid, he was a huge fan of Judy Blume’s “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.” He didn’t keep a diary or classroom journal, but he now wishes he did and encourages boys to write down their feelings — but not in a touchy-feely kind of way.

Part of the ‘Wimp’ character’s appeal is that he’s far from being an angel. In his school election for class treasurer, for example, Greg makes posters falsely accusing his opponent of having head lice. “Do you really want him touching YOUR money?” the campaign ads ask.

Kinney’s alter-ego also ridicules self-esteem videos and the anti-smoking coloring contests they have in his health education class. Because of the heavy cynicism content, the author says he wants his sons, ages 2 and 5, to wait at least until they turn 13 before reading his books.

At the book signing, a reading specialist at Nashua’s Broad Street School told me that the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series is a huge hit with third and fourth graders and has provided an incentive for less advanced readers to try harder.

Of course, wimps can’t exist in a vacuum. In a twist on Eleanor Roosevelt’s declaration that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” wimpy kids can’t exist without the fear of being bullied. Kinney vividly recalls sitting in the top row of the gymnasium bleachers and watching his class bully methodically punch each kid down the line. When it was his turn to be pummeled, he was mercifully rescued by teacher intervention.

“I definitely felt terrorized in middle school, but I emerged relatively unscathed,” the author reveals, adding that he does not advocate fighting back. “I get lots of letters asking for advice about bullying. There’s no easy way out. I suggest that kids tell every adult they know about their situation.”

Kinney’s position totally contradicts The Brady Bunch Doctrine on bullying. If you recall, the lisping Cindy Brady was only rescued from the taunts of thuggish Buddy Hinton after her brother Peter courageously punched (the much larger) Hinton in the mouth. The lesson is a universal one and applies to both the school yard and the Middle East.

Then again, Kinney’s pacifism is about story preservation. If Greg Heffley strikes back and convinces the bullies to turn their swords into plowshares, the most dramatic source of tension would be gone. And Kinney’s headed into Harry Potter territory. He’s signed on with his publisher for a total of five “Wimpy Kid” books and there is even talk of a “Wimpy Kid” movie.

But beyond the huge financial windfall for this once struggling cartoonist (the book was a 10 year project), Kinney’s lasting legacy might be his influence on young boys to become writers.

“Start a journal,” he tells his fans. “It will give you a window into your own childhood when you become an adult — and will be one of your most valuable possessions.”

Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs Thursdays in Encore magazine. Feedback is welcomed at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.

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Hurricane Katrina aftermath includes urban myths, tacky souvenirs

Hard to imagine, but you can buy a Hurricane Katrina souvenir program at newsstands.

Hard to imagine, but you can buy a Hurricane Katrina souvenir program at newsstands.

CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
The Telegraph
October 6, 2005

In case you were under the delusion that our tacky culture couldn’t possibly get any tackier, check out your local supermarket newsstand this week. Shelved next to the latest dieting magazines and word search puzzles, you’ll find copies of “Remembering Katrina,” the official Hurricane Katrina souvenir program.

The glossy 64-page “pictorial record,” suitable for coffee table display for those of us whose coffee tables are not under water, is stuffed with color photos of victims clamoring for food and helplessly staring at their destroyed homes. The $6 souvenir program also includes a scorecard of the “most intense” U.S. hurricanes since 1851, with an apologetic disclaimer that Katrina’s ranking could not be determined at press time.

“However, residents who experienced the fury of this powerful hurricane know that no big storm can be taken lightly,” the magazine condescendingly adds.

“Remembering Katrina” includes no bylines, masthead or information on how to contact the publisher, MMI Publications. The reason for their low-key demeanor is obvious. The editors couldn’t possibly purchase enough dental insurance to cover the amount of facial punches they deserve.

A Google search on MMI Publications only turns up a French-language Web site mentioning “Celebrity Style Hairstyle Specials Presents… Desperate Housewives and Other Prime-Time Vixens.” At least they had the class not to critique the hairstyles of hurricane victims.

It turns out that the legitimate media — the magazines and newspapers that do take credit for their work – doesn’t score much higher on the integrity scale when it comes to natural disaster coverage. An investigation by the Times-Picayune of New Orleans determined that reports of widespread assaults, rapes and murders – especially at the Superdome refugee center — were wildly exaggerated rumors “treated as fact by evacuees, the media and some of New Orleans’ top officials.”

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had declared on Oprah that Superdome refugees were trapped for days “watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people.” According to the Baltimore Sun, other phony reports included an infant’s corpse being found in a trash can, sharks swimming through the flooded city and hundreds of dead bodies piling up in the convention center basement.

The latest official casualty numbers are 885 dead, with less than 10 believed to be the victims of homicide.

Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss inexplicably pulled out the race card in an interview with the Sun, claiming that if “the dome and convention center had harbored large numbers of middle-class white people, it would not have been a fertile ground for this kind of rumor-mongering.”

Big disconnect for me there. Are blacks more afraid of sharks than whites? Did any journalists, black or white, track down a marine biologist to verify the likelihood of sharks surviving in extremely polluted river water?

So, the news media does a collective confession that serious journalism mistakes were made, but what about the veracity of the investigation of these rumors? Here’s a peek at next week’s headline: “REPORTS OF MEDIA EXAGGERATION WERE GROSSLY EXAGGERATED.”

Meanwhile, much closer to home, a Massachusetts woman told the Metrowest Daily News that the brutal stabbing she witnessed at the Superdome was no exaggeration. Adrienne Long, of Holliston, was stranded in New Orleans after bringing her son to Tulane University. She said she saw two men fighting over a bottle of Jack Daniels. One man repeatedly beat and stabbed theother with a wooden stick.

“I saw the guy with all the holes in him and his head,” she said, adding that “nobody helped him because nobody wanted to get involved.”

Just a guess, but I assume Ms. Long won’t be rushing out to the supermarket to buy a souvenir program.

Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs every Thursday in Encore. Reader comments are welcomed via email at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.

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Coming to a gumball machine near you — Classism!


CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
“Coming to a gumball machine near you: Classism”

The Telegraph — June 15, 2006
It’s not often you have the opportunity to purchase a gumball
and make fun of poor people at the same time.

This one-stop shopping for elitist snots is now at your local
supermarket, right next to the bottle recycling machines and brochures
about how to get your kid to stop wetting the bed.

For 50 cents, you have a 1 in 12 chance of scoring your favorite
buck-toothed “Trailer Park” figurine
– ready for display right next to
your Franklin Mint dolls of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana.

To insulate themselves from charges of insensitivity, the coin-op
vendors who service my favorite market also include a machine that
dispenses charity rubber band bracelets that say “Faith” and “Hope”
and “Love” and “Dream.” But back to the poor suckers who live in a
tin box.

The toy tribute to mobile home residents includes characters like
Betty Lou, a scantily clad gas station attendant who can “pump you up
real good,” and Kegger Ken, the guy in charge of “gittin the kegs
ready for the weekely (sic) barbeques they have at the Trailer Park.”

Ha, Ha! Aside from not having any money, those stupid poor people
can’t spell either.

Trailer park culture – or the more commonly used impolite synonym
“white trash” – is white hot at the moment. NBC’s hit “My Name is
Earl” feeds off the stereotypes, as does MTV’s “Trailer Fabulous,” a
mobile home makeover show.

The gumball machine’s marketing card boasts that “Trailer Park”
figurines are “from the creator of the Homies,” a wildly popular
figurine set that celebrates the personalities of urban gang members.
Fantastic selling point. I almost expected to hear these words come
out of the machine in a baritone movie trailer voice.

Toy designer Dave Gonzales insists on his Homies Web site, which also
includes biographies for all his Trailer Park characters, that he is
not glorifying street thugs. Rather, “in an inner-city world plagued
by poverty, oppression, violence and drugs, the Homies have formed a
strong and binding cultural support system that enables them to
overcome the surrounding negativity and allows for laughter and good
times as an antidote for reality.”

Being gullible, I clicked on a random Homie bio to get a sense of this
“cultural support system.” I met “Mad Bomber,” a “famous tagger” who
has been chased by pit bulls and police during his noble quest to
display spraypainted art on previously blank city canvases.

Gonzales has already made a career out of exploiting low-income black
and Hispanic people. He certainly has a right to equally exploit
low-income white people. Especially the fat and sedentary ones like
“Flea Market Fred” and “Lazy Roy,” a guy glued to his recliner faking
injuries to collect welfare.

Then there’s “Doo-Doo-Dan,” a surly figurine wearing soiled overalls.
Dan operates the “Honey Truck,” which suctions all the sewage out of
the trailer bathrooms.

Ha, Ha! A guy who cleans up after other people. What a

The Washington Post, which recently analyzed the trend of “trailer
park chic,” quoted a marketing consultant claiming that rural poverty
is now cool because it represents a “simpler life and more comforting

“Terrorists,” the Post notes, “don’t attack trailer parks.”

Maybe not, but natural disasters do. Imagine how well these figures
would sell if they came with their own trailers to flood and submerge

Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs every Thursday in The Telegraph’s Encore entertainment magazine.

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