McDonald’s Minions: A Trick of the Ear

Sometimes we hear what we want to.

Recently McDonald’s came out with a line of toys for their Happy Meals based on the upcoming movie MINIONS.

You know the minions, right? Those little yellow capsule shaped critters that speak a nonsense language that has been dubbed “minionese” Well, the little toy in the Happy Meal speaks some of these nonsense phrases when you tap it on the butt and a lot of people think that one of the phrases sounds an awful lot like the little critter is saying “what the fuck?” Videos are being posted on youtube with parents tapping the little toys’ butts and making it say phrases until it gets to the one that sounds offensive. “That’s not a phrase that kids should be hearing from a toy,” they intone reproachfully. “Seriously, McDonald’s?” they scold.

What the fuck?

Seriously, parents? Do you honestly think that a huge mega-corporation like McDonald’s would do that? Deliberately distribute a toy that utters profane phrases in an attempt to corrupt the youth of America?

Seriously, people?

McDonald’s is a corporation whose dominance of the fast food market is not the sure thing it once was. They have been scrambling in the past few years to combat their image as a major contributor to the nation’s obesity and heart disease problems. They have enough trouble trying to justify the huge amounts of crappy food they sell to impressionable youths around the world.

The last thing they need is a scandal involving a cursing toy.

But people hear what they want to hear. Or, more accurately, people hear what they are used to hearing. If a minion toy says a phrase with an inflection that sounds like another sentence with the same inflection we hear the sentence we are most used to hearing. Recently Taylor Swift released a song called Blank Space. In it she had a lyric about having a long list of ex-lovers.

Well, most people don’t have a long list of ex-lovers, so they tried to interpret the lyrics based on their day-to-day experiences. Thus “I’ve got a long list of ex-lovers” in their minds was transmuted to “Gotta love those Starbuck’s lovers”

What the fuck?

Like a trick of the eye, this is a trick of the ear. We hear what makes most sense to us. After all, who doesn’t love a Starbuck’s lover?

When my kids were young my daughter had a toy bat from the animated movie Anastasia. The bat spoke with a Peter Lorre type accent and it said a handful of different phrases from the film including one that we couldn’t quite make out. It sounded like the Peter Lorre bat was telling us to “…buy some tequila.”

Once we saw the film we realized that what it was actually saying was: “Stress… it’s a killer!”. Which doesn’t make much sense on its own but in the context of the film made some sort of sense (kind of). It’s funny what a bad recording can turn itself into in the fertile mind.

It’s like that classic song from the early sixties by the Kingsmen. Louie, Louie, the song made famous by the movie Animal House, had lyrics that were barely intelligible. The Kingsmen’s lead singer, Jack Ely, slurred his way through the infamous rhythm and blues song in one take.. The unintelligible lyrics l;ed to speculation that it was done intentionally to cover up the profanity laden lyrics that graphically described the sexual congress of a sailor and his lady. The song became so notorious even the FBI had some agents investigating it to see if it was, in fact, lewd and depraved.

Even J. Edgar’s finest had to finally admit that the lyrics were unintelligible gibberish.

But people heard what they wanted to hear. Kids wanted to believe that these raucous singers were singing about things that were forbidden, playing into their narratives of raging hormones. For their parents it played into their narrative of the rock and roll music phenomenon being a danger to their pure and chaste children. They found it easy to believe that it was a menace, deliberately corrupting America’s youth.

That’s probably why today’s parents believe that McDonald’s minion toys are teaching their kids to speak profanity. It’s happening, after all. Children all over North America are offering up expletives that would make sailors blush. Parents have to blame somebody (not themselves, of course, they are blameless victims!) so why not an evil corporate giant who is easily made the villain because of the way that their fast food outlets made them and their kids fat.

Never mind about personal choice. Never mind about taking responsibility for one’s own actions or eating habits, or, now, their lack of vigilance when it comes to uttering profanity in front of their darling offspring. No! Blame the villain! Blame corporate culture for filling our kids ears with hateful profanity!

Yeah, that’s the ticket!

What the fuck?

Wonder Woman: Relevant or Ridiculous?

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In the world of comic book superheroes, there is the trinity: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

2160789-sensation1_coverBatman and Superman are iconic characters and have changed and morphed over the decades since their first appearances. They have changed to stay relevant to comic book fans in a changing world.

But how successful has that transformation been? The male heroes have become darker, grittier and grimmer, but what about Wonder Woman? How has she been able to stay relevant?

Has she been able to stay relevant?

Wonder Woman has had an interesting history that few comic book readers are familiar with.

In the early 1940’s the DC comics line was dominated by super powered male characters. Psychologist William Moulton Marston, the inventor of the polygraph, or lie-detector test, struck upon the idea for a new kind of superhero, one who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love. After introducing the idea to comic publisher Max Gaines, Marston, along with his wife Elizabeth, began to develop the hero who would eventually become Wonder Woman

All-Star-Comics-8-december-1941-featuring-wonder-womanMarston was an unconventional figure in the 1940’s as was his wife, Elizabeth, whom he considered a model of the unconventional liberated woman. He was also inspired by a former student of his, Olive Byrne, who lived with the couple in a polygamous/poly-amorous relationship.

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.” Marston wrote in 1943. “Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

Marston used a pen name that combined his middle name with that of Gaines to create Charles Moulton. Marston intended his character, which he called “Suprema”, to be “tender, submissive, peace loving as good women are,” combining “all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” His character was a native of an all-female utopia who became a crime-fighting U.S. government agent, using her superhuman strength and agility, and her ability to force villains to tell the truth by binding them with her magic lasso. Her appearance, including her heavy silver bracelets (which she used to deflect bullets), was based somewhat on Olive Byrne.

In 2002, Heritage Auctions listed an original Illustration by Harry G. Peter, the first sketches of Wonder Woman, with notes from Marston on the look.

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Editor Sheldon Mayer replaced the name “Suprema” with “Wonder Woman”, and the character made her debut in All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941).

sensation-comics_05It was never smooth sailing with Marston who wrote the comics under the pseudonym Charles Moulton. Complaints began coming in almost immediately with one prominent bishop complaining that Wonder Woman was “not fully dressed”. Marston also had, it seemed, an obsession with bondage. He was extremely specific as to what kind of chains Wonder Woman should be bound with. A lot of Marston’s storylines involve Wonder Woman being tied up. “The secret of woman’s allure,” he once told Gaines, is that “Women enjoy submission—being bound.”

Wonder Woman was never allowed to be just a comic book like the other heroes. Gaines was in constant consultation with psychologists regarding Wonder Woman’s storylines. Great scrutiny was brought to her every action and to her wardrobe.

Wonder_WomanThat was, sadly, not to change over the seventy year history of the character. Her origins have been revised many times throughout the decades, as has her outfit. With the television series from the 1970’s starring Lynda Carter, a good deal of campiness was introduced to the character. Carter was a voluptuous woman. In the Wonder Woman outfit, her assets were on prominent display, often overshadowing the character’s other virtues.

And that, I think, is part of the problem for Wonder Woman. She is a strong and potent ideal for feminism, but in a bathing suit. The cognitive dissonance of Wonder Woman almost rivals that of the Miss America Pageant where spin doctors try to portray it as a “scholarship program” but one where the contestants are required to participate in swimwear.

WonderWoman_by_els3basWomen scholars are not to be judged based on how they look in a bathing suit. Neither should a superhero, but there’s the rub. Wonder Woman represents the pinnacle of heroic behavior but also of athleticism and beauty. In that respect she is representative of modern women in the pursuit of that balance. Still, not even her steel bracelets can protect her from society’s judgment and, often, scorn.

Changing her costume to something a little less sexist is fraught with controversy. Old school fans rail against the change and still others accuse the comic creators of pandering to feminists. Some readers want Wonder Woman to live up to feminist ideals. Others just want her looking hot in her costume.

2903163-01So what’s a Wonder Woman to do? Her latest incarnation (and, it seems, her upcoming appearance in the Superman vs. Batman film) has her more closely resembling Xena the Warrior Princess.

Greek Goddess… Miss America… Xena… which role does she play in order to make others happy. Isn’t that the dilemma of a woman today? She finds herself having to behave and dress in certain ways to make others (mostly men) happy. That’s the irony of Wonder Woman. For a character who is portrayed as being true to herself and to her heroic ideals, she has to, it seems, do an awful lot of pandering to her audience.

Along the way I have to wonder (pardon the pun) is she the representative of a feminine ideal or just a boob show? Is she a positive role model for women and girls or is she just a bit of cheesecake for male comic book readers?

I’d like to think it was the former, but after all this time I still don’t think the answer is entirely clear.

What do you think?