‘Tis the season to be snarky

Public-service announcement: Given that you’re all probably writhing in disappointment that I didn’t catalogue Little House’s hilariously blatant anachronisms in full below, I point out that others have gotten there first, and funnie. Here’s the most excellently ranty essay I’ve read on the subject yet.

Albeit it leaves out the one I especially liked: at the blind school, Mary presents her visiting parents with a (quite obviously modern) layer cake she made all by her little self — "I know it’s lopsided, but then my cakes were always lopsided!" D’awwwwww… um, wait. Just how much sugar, butter and white flour was available to a dirt-poor family on the 1880’s prairie, anyhow? Mary was sixteen when she went to the blind school.
I always figured that for what it cost to subsidise his daughter’s baking career Pa could easily have afforded that addition he never put on his two-room shanty. Carrie & Grace probably cursed those cakes with their dying breaths.


Otherwise, it’s Sunday, kinda cloudy, and I got nothin’. Except maybe relief that Hallowe’en is over for another year… another sweet, blissful year of not having to watch the neighborhood struggle with fake cobwebs.
Seriously. We are unclear on exactly why this particular decor choice bugs us more than, say, the plastic skeletons with cheery-boutonniere-wearing-tarantulas in their eye sockets; we only know that it does. It may be the sheer laziness of the thing. "Hey, Bob, we just string this-here stuff onto the hedge and whoooo! Looks spooky!"

No. No it does NOT. It looks like you voluntarily decorated your house in huge wads of dryer lint. Dryer lint is not spooky. STOP DOING THAT.

We also feel the need to point out the seasonal nastiness over on ‘realistic’ comic strip For Better or For Worse. We do not currently celebrate the holiday chez Shoe, of course, but this particular strip we see more as perpetrating crimes against childhood generally. Also we just like ragging on FBoFW whenever possible.

Honestly. ‘Honey, I’d like to throw the rest of that candy away now’? On the morning after Hallowe’en? The hell? Not only is Elly confiscating the candy pile before the poor kid’s even got through the good stuff (which, to a kid being confronted with that choice, is all of it, homemade popcorn included), she’s forcing him to admit it’s ‘the right thing to do’?!

Pre-enrollment as Witnesses, great ceremony attended the post-Hallowe’en candy sort chez Shoe — Shoemom even gave us tips on how to rank the pieces, albeit not necessarily helpful ones. ("You’re not gonna eat those brown molasses kisses? We had those when I was a kid! Those are the best ones!")
At any rate, once sorting and trading was over, the brown kisses were handed over to Shoemom en masse after one sample — leading to Dark Suspicions of her motives — and the rest was left to us. If we gorged ourselves right away, we only had ourselves to blame for the consequences; but interestingly enough, we more often saved them. I think we were overwhelmed by the responsibility of it all. Having all the candy you want, to a little kid, is Serious Business.

As is nicely illustrated by little Mikey’s content in the last panel, having learned that in order to keep his goodies he must not only whoof them down like hyenas on the veldt, but lie, cheat and steal to and from trusting family members. "Survival of the fittest… and besides, it’s fun!"

All of which is the longform version of: Elly may have taken off her pointy hat and nose warts, but she’s still in costume.

Twilight of the Foobs

–I couldn’t let the grand (sort-of) finale go unsnarked, could I now? The below originated @ the   group:

Well, hey…at least April got away clean. Of course, in Lynn’s mind she never really mattered much anyway, not being ‘a real person’, so why not?

John and Elly’s last recorded communication to each other, after thirty years of being the featured characters in a real-time comic strip, is a generic cliche. Not, mind, the one in the title; that was covered yesterday, by a recently-introduced minor character who barely rates a mention in today’s wrapup. How, uh, sweet. Or something. More

Lavender Foobs, dilly dilly, lavender green…

–So the Settling of the Century is here, and it is indeed a dilly; rivalling in scope and pomp only the last doomed fairytale re-enactment within memory, that of of Charles and Diana Windsor.

So much so, that I’m rather inclined to give FBOFW creator Lynn Johnston the benefit of the doubt for once. On the off chance it all isn’t being delivered with what the ever-hopeful Bertie Wooster liked to call ‘a twinkle in his eye’, however…


Lynn, the whole ruddy point of your strip to begin with was that these are real people, real problems, real flaws. You know, the whole ‘camera in my house’ thing.

OK. So real people, sometimes they do nice things for people, sometimes they don’t realise how much it meant until later. Fine. That much of this wedding debacle works. In fact, handled properly, it could be a really nice way to wrap up the strip. Had the Pattersons not devolved into Pattersaints, had the denouement involved a real crisis…well, it occurs to me I’m describing the plot of It’s a Wonderful Life. Sappy, but it works.

Thing is, Lynn, this isn’t a meaningful Life Situation; it’s a wedding. More

The importance of not being a Foob

So Lynn Johnston has finally decided to respond to her critics, in a lengthy post to her website. It’s a curious document; half-condescending, half-defensive, all self-serving justification.

Much as I’d love to tear into it line by wretchedly spurious line…well, there is that whole ‘getting too worked up over a comic strip’ thingy. Also, I’m secure in the knowledge that the crews at

[info]binky_betsy and the CC have already thoroughly covered anything I might miss.
There are just a few things remaining that my brain stubbornly refuses to let past, in re: the creative process generally. More

More Foob follies

As I, ah, may have just mentioned in a previous post, comic strip For Better or For Worse and this formerly devoted fan have long since divorced due to irreconcilable differences. With the coming of the Settleocalypse, aka the engagement of Liz and Anthony, it has become difficult even to muster up much interest in the doings of characters whose lives are so determinedly irrelevant to mine.

Or for that matter anyone born after 1950…check that. Anyone who isn’t Lynn Johnston, or who hasn’t had the misfortune to get tangled up in her hell-or-high-water scramble for the Perfect Family She Never Had. Really, you can’t blame one poor innocent decade for the mess this woman’s psyche is in at the moment. Even if it did contain Queen For a Day.

Today, however, the temptation to mark what will surely go down in history as a milestone of Foob snark is too great to resist.

We will pass over lightly the overarching obsession with engagement rings, as embodied in the astonishingly awful bon mot ‘the token that says I’m taken!’. We will skip quickly past the icky psycho-social implications inherent in that being your uppermost idea (as indicated by Liz’ thought bubbles) while embracing your beloved mere hours after the proposal. OK, mere hours after he conceded that he couldn’t see any real objection to you sharing his living space at an opportune time in the near future…but still.

No, it has become clear with the publication of today’s strip that snarking on any of the above, however tempting, is really irrelevant; what Johnston has been trying to get across all along is that the ring itself has magic powers. Yep…barring Warren having had an unfortunate encounter with a pale guy in a sweeping cape last week, there’s no getting around it: a half-carat token on the hand of an engaged woman quite literally emits powerful Pushy Ex-Lover Repellent Rays, guaranteed to reduce him to a quivering mess more generally seen when the Dragonball Z gang finally goes nuclear on some alien butt.

Somehow, I’m not totally shocked by this development. (I am kind of bemused when I think of the amount of comic-book angst this revelation could’ve avoided, but that’s another essay altogether.)
Given that an entire week past the procuring of this amazing device was devoted to strip matriarch Elly and her buddy Connie revelling in their self-authored legends as Strong, Noble, Self-Sacrificing, Long-Suffering Women who…well, did pretty much the same stuff as millions of other Boomer moms who didn’t happen to be avatars for a comic strip creator who has decided that the world owes her some credit, damnit!…anyway, it about figures that this same creator would consider engagement a superpower.

And clearly, given the epic (also insanely detailed) LOTR-style saga that is wife- and motherhood in this context, it only escalates from there, as the rings become heavier and heavier until finally simply existing in female form is an act worthy of earth-shattering heroism. One shudders to imagine the devices used to enhance for instance toilet training, in the Patterverse; and woe betide the husband who lets his dinner grow cold. I’m thinking that’s the point at which she gains the ability to grow an impenetrable metal skin on contact.

Yes, it’s funny, but it’s the kind of nervous laughter you hear after a crisis, when you’re trying to lighten the mood but just as aware it isn’t working. The dichotomy between the real world and the facsimile Lynn’s trying to create is becoming downright disturbing. Even – especially – if, as is probably the case, she believes that she’s merely written a harmlessly zany, over-the-top Standard Male Reaction gag.

Foob Friday

I figure I’ll shamelessly milk for all the column ideas I can give everybody a chance to respond to the meme below this weekend. Meanwhile, the big engagement announcement over on the comics pages has inspired the rant below. Apologies for the length; it’s been coming on for awhile…

Dearly beloved,
We are gathered here today to witness the final nail being pounded into the coffin containing the remains of the once-beloved For Better or for Worse. The comic strip that once helped thousands, including yours truly, understand that there was real humor and pathos and sometimes even joy to be found in the hum and drum of daily life…until realization set in that it was the daily life itself the author was actually celebrating, not the release. Not the flight of imagination and adventure, but the comfort in suppressing it.
The whole thing becomes a rather sad testament to the pitfalls of artists allowing too much of themselves into their work. The occasional transcendent genius – or pathetic monster – aside, most of us really aren’t all that interesting.
Certainly FBoFW creator Lynn Johnston isn’t, very much anyway. She might have been, had she had the vision and courage artistically to rise above what’s been an admittedly fairly tough real life. Her first husband was a dashing biker dude who left her alone with small children to raise; her second (the model for John Patterson, the strip’s paterfamilias) just recently walked out after apparently carrying on behind her back for quite awhile. Her relationship with her grown children, the models for the fictional ditto, is strained at best.
So it’s possible to be sympathetic to her clear desire to find safety and security for her creations, probably more so than if she’d decided to pull a Funky Winkerbean and have them all become bitter recluses who read the obituaries for fun. On the other hand…for awhile there things just looked really promising, y’know?
For the past five years or so, Johnston has been systematically pruning back every interesting facet of the Patterson clan’s lives….well, the kids’ lives anyway, since they were the only ones who had them in the first place. The parents, Elly and John, were always semi-annoyingly saintly, so didn’t have as far to devolve. They just sit round and discuss their saintliness a lot more, these days, occasionally breaking off for a ‘comically’ sloppy supper or drippy dinner (seriously, these people’s eating habits would make a preschool janitor cry).

Naturally, having been raised in the suburbs by these paragons of middle-class virtue, their children Michael and Elizabeth – with an occasional nod to April the Perpetual Afterthought – were the brightest, most promising offspring going. This is where the problems began in earnest, since kids like these no longer daydream of settling down to be just like their parents. They almost literally can’t, anymore, given the sheer ubiquitousness of portals to the global village (which portals are interestingly absent in Patterworld, where even the teen characters are never seen wearing an iPod or using a computer for anything other than email. That Johnston is still going on in interviews about The Time I Introduced a Gay Character a Couple Decades Ago says volumes she never intended.)

So anyway, up to a point, they didn’t conform. Michael, for instance, apparently turned out a Sensitive Artiste, though all the samples we get read like Serious Novel parodies he might in real life have written in HS. Going with it for the sake of residual affection, however, readers were rewarded with a kinda charming take on a young journalism major facing reality. He wrote some stuff, he got it published random places, he became a grunt at a magazine. Meanwhile Elizabeth had become a teacher, and headed out to a remote First Nations community to Make a Difference. As I say, promising stuff. The legions – self included – who had grown up with these characters now eagerly awaited their adventures as they followed us out into the wider world.
Then…they didn’t. Michael re-encountered and married his grade-school(!) steady, a pharmacist (pay attention, this’ll be on the test) who promptly gave up her own plans and dreams in lieu of blatantly trapping him into fatherhood…she got the pills mixed up, she said. Even the other characters didn’t buy that one – but the readers clearly were supposed to cheer for child production, no matter how screwed-up the circs. This is about where I realized this strip beloved for honesty had done the dirty on me finally and irrevocably. That it should feel like a real friend’s betrayal is foolish I admit, but there you are.
Still, there was Elizabeth, who was always more interesting anyway, fulfilling her dreams out in a remote First Nations community, teaching and learning and even falling in love with a handsome Mountie. We knew they were meant for each other, because Elly herself had introduced them after noticing his door read ‘Constable Wright’. ‘Wright = Right”, get it? No? Yeah, sometimes I have trouble remembering why I loved this strip so much, myself.
As it turned out, though, that was the apex of a very looooong arc. From there the downhill slide has resembled the first snowmobile ride I took as a kid, only with less (if any) exhilaration and more in-your-face bland, cold whiteness. Nobody in Patterworld, it became clear, was going to be allowed to have adult relationships, much less lives, outside their circle of constant content. One by one the girlfriends and boyfriends fell by the wayside, shallow cheaters all – quite literally; either Johnston has no idea of the complexities of a real YA relationship or she’s just a lazy storyteller, both work OK. At any rate, in this universe you better have picked out a winner in kindergarten, because you’re stuck with ‘em for, well, better or worse.
That was the thing, though – it was all for the better. They were all winners, because they had remained in the ‘burbs and espoused their virtues. This is not a strip that was ever particularly subtle in re: character development, and lately the lack has become almost, well, comic. Everyone who isn’t a Patterson or doesn’t share their virtues is a harridan, visually and audibly…unless they’re an adult male, in which case they’re just a despicable cad whose only redeeming virtue is that they love Elizabeth.
Enter Anthony Caine. Elizabeth’s HS steady. Who always gave the impression he was one of those [Insert More Interesting Character Here] placeholders who accidentally made it to print. As more and more of Johnston’s Grand Design was revealed, however, it became clear that he was, in fact, the Ultimate. The guy, his creator herself shamelessly insisted, who was overlooked now, but boy, would he make a splash on your arm at your 20-year reunion. Did I mention his creator has also shamelessly admitted to being “a child of the 50’s”?
So…exeunt handsome Mountie, dashing chopper pilot, charming college rogue. None of them – as Elizabeth’s parents made clear to her in a strip that changed my hurt to active hatred – would be ‘there for her’ the way they should be. This was illustrated for the really slow readers in a further series of strips wherein Elizabeth
1) Gets word of Anthony’s divorce back in the ‘burb;
2) Abruptly develops a crushing case of homesickness almost literally out of the blue;
3) Makes plans to hightail it back to Casa de Patterson ASAP; and
4) Becomes furious when Constable Right points out that just possibly she might have discussed their future with him beyond a blithe ‘Oh, I kinda figured you’d wanna move 600+ miles south to be there for me!’ as she was packing.
It was her intent all along, Johnston later explained, to use Elizabeth’s story to illustrate the reality of young people who think they want adventure, only to discover when the crunch comes and they have to commit that they can’t handle the stress of leaving the nest for good. That this was by no means the only reality available, that she had it in her power to help inspire a generation to think and plan and dream on a scale they – certainly she – had heretofore never been able to conceive…well, yeah, not so much with that. Safety first, kids! If you never light a fire, you never have to deal with putting it out!
No worries about fire re: Anthony, that’s for bloody well sure. In his strenuous efforts to seem as safe and non-threatening as possible he comes off as a horrific caricature of the Modern Sensitive Male, for all the world as if he were the mascot for a seriously unimaginative anti-feminist lobby. If this is truly Johnston’s take on her dream man, I feel sorry for the woman. Clearly she’s been messed up even beyond what she’s shown the world. Which is a lot.
In a nutshell: Anthony married another despite making it very clear to her and everyone else that he was still attracted to Elizabeth. Then he couldn’t think of anything better to do with his beautiful, sophisticated French wife than dump her into a split-level while he went off to be an accountant at the local used-car lot. Then he got upset when she didn’t seem thrilled with the prospect of the kid he whined her into having. (Later, after she’s run off – all but wearing a big red arrow reading ‘Scheming Bitch Right Here, Readers!’ – we learn that brave strong Anthony has coped with single fatherhood by building a literal pen for his daughter in the basement.) Oh, and she thought he’d look better with facial hair, so he grew a grotesque moustache that actually makes him look 75.
We know all this, because upon making his dashing re-entrance into Elizabeth’s life by literally saving her from the Cad du Jour, he sat her down under a tree…and promptly started whining “Wait for me! I have no home!” Verbatim, very-pre-divorce quotes. Just to recap: this is his reaction seconds after the woman he loves has almost been raped. Our Hero, ladies and gentlemen. Always there for her, yes indeedy.
Thus began the long, stately Bataan Death March towards the Lizardbreath/Granthony axis. See, despite being destined and all, they can’t do anything as foolish as actually have chemistry together; maybe take a little delight in exploration and discovery. No, both have been Hurt and must needs Take it Slowly, which would still be OK, except by this point in her imaginative journey Johnston has been reduced to borrowing the concept of ‘caution’ from State Farm Insurance. Throw in a precocious two-year-old to ‘comically’ interrupt the merger negotiations with ‘needs’ (most of which brilliant educator Elizabeth solves by handing her ice cream), and you have some idea why the entire Comics Curmudgeon community has been reveling in this relationship for years now.
When, that is, they’re not exulting re: Michael’s deathless prose. See, somewhere in here he’s written a book called Stone Season – no, I am not making this up – and it’s apparently a masterpiece of CanLit (you can tell, because it’s set in post-WWI Saskatchewan). Sure, you scoff now, but just wait till it runs all the major prizes. Just as soon as Johnston gets around to arranging that little ‘accident’ at the Convenient Gathering of Every Other Literary Talent in Canada.
Meanwhile, of course, he’s been neglecting his wife and kids to serve his ‘muse’ – oh yes, Johnston’s idea of the writer’s life leaves no cobblestone unturned on that dark and stormy night. Speaking of which, fleeing their burning apartment during one, our Sensitive Genius here went back for his laptop rather than help his family down a rickety fire escape. I forget whether the strip where he called his stroke-ridden old grandpa ‘crazy’ (to his face) when he didn’t react appropriately to the news of publication came before or after this sequence, but you get the idea. (And no, Johnston has never said any of this was intended to show Mikey as simply young and foolish.)
Yes, kids, Men are Scum. Except Anthony, he is Kind and Good and will Never Let You Down. Primarily because he, uh, can’t get it up to begin with, but that is Not the Point! The point is that you should be happy to be stuck right where you are, waiting patiently for that one little frisson of excitement at your twenty-years’ reunion, because there is joy and pathos and humour to be found in everyday life, damnit! Haven’t you been paying attention? Well, if not, I’m gonna keep mentioning Charles Schulz and churning out the reruns until you do!
…God help us all, I think she means it.