A) Why I Could Never Be a Cartoon Character, and B) Who I Would Be If I Was an Action Figure

Granted, most cartoon characters only have four fingers on each hand and wear the same outfit everyday.  So in that case, none of us (assuming…) could be a cartoon character, accordingly.  But with action figures, it’s a whole different story.

Since the 7th grade, I haven’t been able to commit to a haircut.  I am constantly growing my hair out to a new hairstyle until it eventually gets too long and I start back over again with a buzz cut.  There is a progressive series of hairstyles I go by that has been subconsciously modeled after Jewish actors (I have an Asperger-like obsession with all things Jewish; most people have learned to overlook it by now).  I start with the David Schwimmer, then Zack Effron, next Joseph Gordon-Levitt, then David Arquette/Bronson Pinchot, and lastly, the Zack Braff.  But it’s not just the lack of a consistent hairstyle that prevents me from being a cartoon character who looks the same day after day, throughout the years.  I’ve got three different pairs of glasses, though often I don’t wear them at all.  Plus an enviable collection of hats, from ball caps to fedoras to “old man caps”.  Sometimes I grow a beard for a week or two.  I’m just not a physically consistent kind of guy.

Last week, I went back to the Nashville Chocolate Kitchen after having visited there for the first time a week ago, and when I walked in, the staff remembered me by name (which in addition to their unimaginably awesome gourmet sweet treats, is one of the things they are known for).  I was impressed that they recognized me since the first time was I there, they met the “glasses off, hair pushed-to-the-side” version of me and this time it was the “glasses on, hair pushed back” version.  I felt compelled to explain my change in appearance to them, but I refrained since they obviously could handle it.

I just think that I particularly don’t have what it takes to be comfortable in being physically consistent regarding my appearance.  Like The Boss says in his 1984 hit “Dancing in the Dark”, “Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself… I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face.”

But my realization is ultimately that I am not an easily recognizable person, in general. My hair, clothes, and accessories just simply help distract fro my indistinguishableness.  I am a default-looking man of classic proportions; like the host of a show on The Food Network or HGTV.  Since being featured in American Baby magazine this month, I’ve had more than one person tell me they didn’t realize that was me until they saw my name- the picture didn’t clue them in at all.

I try to imagine if I was an action figure based on a fictional character, who I would be.  Throughout the past decade, countless people have told me I look like Clark Kent.  And I see that, but the problem is that Clark Kent was already a large muscular man in a business suit, before turning into Superman.  At 5’ 9” and weighing in the low 150’s, I have a frame similar to Bruce Springsteen or Greg Kinnear.

So maybe Peter Parker (Spiderman) is the best option.  Though I could be Dexter (played by Michael C. Hall).  Or Bruce Banner on The Incredible Hulk TV series (played by Bill Bixby).  Or Maxwell Smart of Get Smart and/or Inspector Gadget (both played/voiced by Jewish actor Don Adams- surprisingly, I have also been told many times I look like both).  I would totally make a better action figure than I would a cartoon character because action figures typically have several different versions of themselves: There’s He-Man in his robe (Adam), He-Man with the revolving chest as it gets damaged (Battle Armor), “Flying Fists” He-Man…  But cartoons typically never change.  (Maggie Simpson is like 21 years old in human years, “but in Simpson years”, she’s still a baby.)

I am easily disguisable.  Coincidently, it’s in my nature to be a chameleon; not only in appearance but also in personality.  I would make a great spy.  If nothing else, I can very easily get away with going back every five minutes to get more free samples at grocery stores.

Unsurprisingly, I enlisted the help of facebook friends by asking them this question: “If I was an action figure based on a fictional character, who would I be? In other words, which action figure would you choose to best represent me?”  Interestingly, they mostly named powerful intellectual mutants.  I’ll take that as a compliment.  But it’s funny to see how their perception differs from mine.  My choices were pretty much normal men without superpowers or super strength.

Who others said should represent me as an action figure:

Clark Kent

The Beast from X-Men

Leonardo, the leader of the Ninja Turtles

Captain Planet (nice underwear!)

My Buddy

Stretch Armstrong

 

Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic of The Fantastic Four)

Maxwell Smart, the only fully human action figure any other person said I reminded them of

Who I said should represent me:

Peter Parker (before he turns into Spiderman)

Sam Witwicky (played by Jewish actor Shia LaBeouf in the Transformers movies)

Dexter Morgan

Bruce Banner (before he gets P.O.'d about Nancy Pelosi and turns into The Incredible Hulk)

But really… I’m just glad no one said Pee Wee Herman!

 

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How “Farmers’ Marketing” Leads to the Microtrend of “Hometown Migration”

It’s never been cooler to live a simple yet authentic life.  Let me introduce you to the new American Dream.

*New words I made up for this post, which you will want to become familiar with:

Farmers’ Marketing noun: Not the actual gathering of a community in a central location in order to buy, sell, and trade their local produce and goods, but instead a subculture or lifestyle which reflects a mindset of minimal personal possessions, busyness, and stress; therefore rejecting the traditional mainstream idea of the American Dream.

Hometown Migration noun: A movement of late twentysomethings and early thirtysomethings actually moving back their own hometown several years after establishing a career and beginning a family in a big city; therefore refreshing the town they grew up in with new ideas and in essence, “new blood”.

There was a time when bigger and flashier was better.  And while there are still people out there driving Hummers (though it’s common knowledge that people who drive them tend to be obnoxious, unlike people who drive Jeeps) and who still refuse to buy store brand products, even down to their hand soap and kitchen table condiments (like it matters that your bottle of mustard says “Kroger” instead of “Hunt’s”), I think it’s safe to say that the modern cultural movement is towards simplicity.  We as a nation are learning the meaning of “living within our means” and not consuming more than we actually need; that credit cards are the devil and that food buffets are Diabetes factories.  We get it now that money isn’t everything- and more importantly, that it in theory it’s a waste of time to chase more money our whole lives only to find by the time we retire there may be nothing left for our own social security.  Money is simply a necessary evil, as far as I’m concerned.

This shift towards simplicity also translates to the people we allow to become celebrities through our favorite reality shows.  Celebrating mediocrity mixed with absurdity has obviously become a successful formula.  We no longer need to see beautiful people living in melodramatic plotlines.  Okay, so maybe The Bachelor is an exception. But it’s pretty refreshing to see normal people any hour of the day on HGTV.

Even though it’s not actually a reality show (but instead a fake reality show), I don’t see The Office being as good if everyone in the cast were exceptionally good-looking like the cast of Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy, or any other “provocative” show that repulses me equally.  Interestingly, The Office is more believable as a mockumentary because the plain-looking actors seem more like people we actually know in real life, instead of stereotypical stock characters we’ve already seen before in every other TV show.

It’s no coincidence that the Age of the Reality TV Show we are currently living in kicked into gear around the same time that the Internet became a standard for most middle class households (around the year 2000).  The Internet allows unqualified and unspectacular people to be seen and heard by anyone else in the world who is willing to look and listen.  We are able to, in a sense, peer into the lives of other regular people just like us.  And it’s evidently fascinating.  Simplicity translates as authenticity; and the idea of authenticity sells.

By far, the most popular and most recognizable thing I write here on Scenic Route Snapshots is my <a href="dad from day one series.  Noted, I am not the least bit famous (that means I don’t have a Wikipedia entry).  And while having a baby is absolutely a miracle, I can’t say that my story is drastically unique compared to most people who have gone through the experience of having their first child.  So why do people love to read about the pregnancy experience, being that it’s so common and familiar? Good narration from a male perspective is a part of it, which I can thank The Wonder Years, Scrubs, and Dexter for help with that. But really, there’s a certain comfort in feeling like you’re listening to someone you personally know, even if you don’t actually personally know them.

Though I would consider myself to be a “real writer”, being that my college degree is in English and that I have been writing original web content for over 5 years now, I can’t consider myself to be a “professional writer” because writing is not literally my profession- I have yet to make one penny off of anything I’ve written here on Scenic Route Snapshots.  As a recent commenter cleverly worded it after reading “healthnutshell: What Exactly is Food These Days?”, he labeled what I do as “guerilla-style publishing”.  I am clearly not doing this for money- I am doing it for art, for entertainment, for social commentary, for experience, and for my own sanity’s sake.  And therefore what I do is “organic”.  In other words, I haven’t “sold out”.

I was talking to one of my brothers-in-law today (my wife has 7 brothers) about the farmers’ market-minded, used-car-driving, old-school-is-king culture of hipster cities like Portland, Oregon where he lived for several years.  It appears that there is a Farmers’ Marketing of current American society, especially from those in my generation.  Inevitably mimicking the frugalness of those who grew up during The Great Depression, we are finding ourselves repeating history.  We no longer impress each other with classic status symbols like expensive cars: I always think it’s hilarious when someone I know gets a brand new car (as opposed to a dependable used one) and everyone says to them: “Oh, congratulations!  I like your new ride!”

Humorously, the brand new car owner is being congratulated on incurring a huge new debt.  Dave Ramsey explains that a paid off mortgage is the new financial status symbol. As much as I have a hard time admitting it, the Eighties are over.  Just like a familiar voice is welcomed or a worn-in pair of sneakers are so comfortable, allowing myself to become Farmers’ Marketed feels, so natural, so organic, so average, yet so right.

So it only makes sense why I’ve noticed the migration of so many of my high school and college friends back to their hometown, now that they’ve had several years to establish some career experience in a large city, get married, and possibly start a family.  Instead of climbing the corporate ladder, they’re taking their big city experience back to a town with a much lower cost of living; where the word traffic is simply defined by when the train comes through twice a day, barricading cars from crossing over to the other side of town for ten minutes.  It’s not simply that these people are moving back because they are now ready to settle down; it’s also has a lot to do with Farmers’ Marketing.  In order to truly simplify one’s life, it makes more sense to strive for peace-and-quiet than hustle-and-bustle.

Can you put a price tag on “peace of mind”?  I say you can.  The cost is giving up a higher salary, but adopting a lower overhead.  And people are doing this: Renting out their town houses in the big city and moving back to their hometown.  They realize that true retirement may not be a viable option and that if they can find a less stressful job they enjoy, it’s not really “work”.  From Farmers’ Marketing to Hometown Migration, there is an undeniable movement towards simplicity that will ultimately become a common characteristic of those of us who grew up watching Transformers… back when they were simply a cartoon show and had nothing to do with Shia LaBeouf.

Here’s to authenticity.

“There’s a message in the skies and in the streets: ‘Opportunity, the American Dream’.  It’s in the radio; it’s superstars- the veins and arteries that feed your heart.  From the Dairy Queen to the head of the parade, in a blink your life could change.”

-Guster, “This Could All Be Yours”



The Hipness of Jesus Christ: Why the God of Christianity is Cool in Modern Culture

Jesus is not my “homeboy”, but He is pretty cool.

It seems that while growing up in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, the name of Jesus wasn’t really common (or acceptable) in mainstream entertainment.  Maybe it’s the fact that we as a nation are more aware now of the infiltration of different religions such as Islam in recent years, so we’re becoming more outspoken about Jesus than we used to be.  Because if we still are indeed a “Christian nation”, it’s Jesus we would need to be down with.

I do believe that the name of Jesus will always be offensive in the sense that He is the main factor that separates Christians (Protestants, Catholics, Messianic Jews, etc.) from other religions, including Judaism, as well as distinguishing those who simply “believe in God or a higher power” (theists).  However, I believe we are at a point in history and culture where “Jesus awareness” is at an all time high.

From Carrie Underwood’s 2005 number one hit, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, to Kanye West’s 2004 hit “Jesus Walks”, which only peaked at #11, but saw great commercial and critical success, to Mel Gibson’s (yes, he has gone crazy since then) 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, which become the 8th highest grossing movie of all time (at the time), the highest grossing R-rated movie ever, and the highest grossing non-English movie ever, America continues to prove that even in our desired choices of entertainment, Jesus is in demand.

Whether or not the average American truly believes and trusts that Jesus is the Son of God, it’s safe to say that the average American has at least a basic understanding that Jesus was put to death on a cross to redeem the sins of mankind, past and present.  And that He came back to life three days later.  And that during his lifetime, He performed all kinds of miracles, like walking on water, healing blind men, speaking dead people into existence, and feeding thousands of people from just a couple fish and loaves of bread.  Whether or not the average American believes all this to literally be true, they at least are familiar with these basic concepts.

Even if to the average skeptic, Jesus is nothing more than a respectable movie character played by forgettable non-Jewish actors with blue eyes, this black sheep of the Jews ultimately puts us all in a position to whether we have to either recognize Him as the savior of mankind, or dismiss Him as either a good intention or completely irrelevant to life.  Either Jesus is who He said He is (God), or He’s not.  Either we associate Him with the meaning of life and the afterlife, or we don’t.  And especially in modern America, we have so been made aware of who He is at this point; it’s just a matter of what we do with that knowledge.

I’ve thought about it, and honestly, even apart from the fact I truly believe Christianity is the answer to all our “meaning of life questions”, and that out of all the religions, it’s Christianity that is the “right one” for me (because let’s face it, out of all the religions in the world, only one can be right in the end when we die, so it’s important to pick one and stick with it while we’re still alive), apart from all that, even if I wasn’t a Christian, I still would vote Jesus as the “coolest god”.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (not a man) and a virgin.  Right off, that’s so scientifically impossible.  So I like it.  He never sinned; which is spiritually impossible.  I like that too.  His first miracle was turning water into wine at a really nice wedding. Cool.  He instantly stopped a really bad storm out at sea by saying, “peace, be still”.  The fact that Jesus went against the rules of nature is a major selling point for me.

Jesus came in the form of a Jewish man, who pretty much was a hippie type, who rebelled against the established religious culture of His day, challenging them to show their love for God to be authentic by taking care of the poor, the widowed, the unloved, and the sinners.

And based on the unproportionally high number of popular American Jewish actors and writers who we make rich in the name of entertainment, and based on the fact that just as many Jews who actually live in Israel who live in America (both Israel and America each contain about 40% of the world’s Jewish population), I’d say we Americans are known for embracing the Jews, whereas so many nations throughout history have rejected (understatement) them instead.

According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth to set up His millennial kingdom, in which all of us who believed in Him get to be a part of.  The way I see it, Jesus is not only the real deal; He just happens to be pretty cool too. But at the end of the day (and our lives), we will have made it clear through our words and actions just how relevant Jesus is to us personally.  And no matter how hip or popular (or uncool or unpopular) He may seem, we still choose in this life how important He is to us, for eternity.

“1985 I missed a plane, which then disappeared, never seen again.  You came to me Jesus, stood right in my way. You flew down from Heaven to save me again. Hallelujah, hallelujah.” -excerpt from “Stay with Me, Jesus” by Guster


Unnecessary Bonus…

Classic Books that Americans Love which were Written by Jewish Authors:




dad from day one: Actor Turned Director

Twenty-nine weeks.

It took me 12 straight days to teach myself to solve the Rubik’s Cube; it was during this time that my wife and I found out we were going to have a baby.  Of course, we didn’t tell anyone until over a month later, but during my “learn to solve a Rubik’s Cube” phase, I had several people crack themselves up with this joke: “If you’ve got the time and patience to solve that thing, it’s time for you to have a kid!”  And they were right.  My instincts were making it obvious that like so many actors, the time eventually arrives when it’s time to dabble with directing.

(Cue the song “In My Life” by The Beatles as the proper soundtrack as you read the rest of this post.  It’s officially my favorite song ever.)

I can look back on my life with satisfaction, knowing that my accomplishments have outweighed my failures and regrets.  I have met all kinds of interesting people from all over the world (most of whom are facebook friends).  I understand the meaning of life.  I am solid in my beliefs on the afterlife.  I have married the woman I am meant to be with.  I can now solve the Rubik’s Cube in two minutes and twenty-five seconds.  And though this paragraph may resemble a goodbye letter to the world as I prepare for my life to come to an end like I’m 90 years old, I recognize that in some ways life as I know it will end, as it transforms into a new one.  A more meaningful one.  From “me” to “dad”.

On top of all this, I’m about a half a year away from turning 30, so yeah, I’d say it’s time for things to stop being about me so much and more about someone else.  I have been the protagonist, but soon I will become a full-time director.  All of life has prepared me to this new role.  The cynic could see it as circular reasoning- that you spend your youth learning how to become a responsible adult, and then once you do, you just do it all over again with modified little reruns of yourself running around.

But I would say the cynic is still under the assumption that life is all about him- that life either simply ends when he dies or that hopefully when he dies, he’s been “good enough to get to Heaven” or that at least Hell won’t be that bad, but instead just a big party where the temperature is slightly hotter than desired while Jimmy Buffett plays an eternal concert and the margaritas are never-ending.

If anything, I could see how raising a kid will be a redeeming and cleansing process, helping me to see how little I truly know, helping me to appreciate my family and childhood teachers more, helping me to straighten out my priorities even more, helping me to ultimately give more than I take.  I could see how this baby will ironically make me a better adult.  And how the humility of changing diapers is only a small part of this evolution of my life.

And yes, Baby Jack will probably already know how to solve a Rubik’s Cube before he gets to Kindergarten.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com