Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Sordid Tale of Action Figures

--Editor's Note: A big welcome to Luke Jones, the newest author for Hobson's Buffet! *applause* Luke is a fellow Harding-ite and an English major, so maybe he'll help our post average a bit. I know he'll at least have some interesting things to say.--

I'm going to be honest. I was asked to make this post over a month ago. My excuses are: Flying South for the Winter; Using an Off-Brand Controller; the Tunguska Event.

Now that that's out of the way, let's cut to the chase. I'm here to talk about action figures. Specifically, the best action figures, the ones that came out of the '80s. More specifically, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and The Transformers. I grew up with these guys. By the time I was coherent, though, it was already the '90s, which were not kind to these humble toy lines. Eventually, they crumbled, bowing to the more visceral forces of Nikelodeon, TMNT, and other slime and mucus-charged properties. Later they returned triumphantly, but that's another tale.

Before this defeat, GI Joe and Transformers languished in the hard-rocking '80s, often meeting each other halfway in both comics and cartoons. Poor Bumblebee was actually mistakenly blowed up by the Joes at least once. Cobra helped rebuild Megatron once, and much later on, the two groups actually met in the middle of WWII.

But did you know that these iconic '80s toy lines are tied up in each others' origins?

Get this. So my Dad grew up playing with the original '60s GI Joes, the ones that were 12-inch military replicas. Back in those days, mothers were still calling action figures "dolls." But Japan, because they can be awesome, knew they were more than just dolls. So in the '70s, they licensed the basic body of old Joe, and turned him into an awesome robot dude! Like I said, Japan can be awesome.

But Japan is only like 12 feet long, so that space didn't allow for too many 12-inch robot dudes for kids to play with. This necessitated the downsizing of big 'ol Henshin Cyborg to the 10cm short "Microman." His small size allowed for extra extravagance in the realm of vehicles and whatnot. Microman flourished! His line was successfully brought to the US in the '70s by Mego under the name of "Micronauts."

As the '70s came to a close, Microman started to wane in popularity. Takara's goal of a unified sci-toy line (including both "real" and "giant" transforming robots) of magnificence was becoming more and more difficult. Around 1981, they introduced a line called "Microchange," featuring household objects which transformed into vehicles and robots that Microman could interact with. Near-simultaneously, Takara also rolled out Diaclone, a toy line consisting of transforming vehicles, robots, and bases. They scaled Microman down to a minute 1-inch figure with magnetic feet for this line.

Meanwhile, across, the pond, Hasbro relaunched the dead 12-inch GI Joe line as "A Real American Hero" in 1982. They downsized the figures to 3 3/4", based on the popularity of Star Wars and--you guessed it--Micronauts.

By 1984 or so, Takara had manufactured a small army of transforming robots of various sizes and scales. But the '80s were already in full steam, and where were the transforming robots in the US of A? Not to be outdone, Hasbro scanned the wide world and found Takara's army of robots, bought the molds to many of them (and a few other assorted robots from more obscure places), and did their own thing with them. They removed the 10cm Microman and 1-inch Diaclone figures, focused solely on the transforming robots, and Transformers was born.

Ironically enough, Hasbro accomplished what Takara itself was trying to: create a unified sci-fi line. For that reason, Takara simply called it quits on Diaclone and Microchange, purchased the rights to sell Transformers in Japan, and did that. It was awesome. There was dancing.

These days, Hasbro owns the rights to dang near everything. I hope you know that there are Star Wars Transformers. Will there be GI Joe Transformers? Only time will tell.

I want to leave you with a vintage commercial for Battle Convoy, the Diaclone toy which would later become Optimus Prime. You will find that commercials for Japanese toys beat American ones by about 6000%.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Artistic License?

Some of you may have seen an interesting story from Yale on some online news services or blogs recently. Thursday, the Yale Daily News published a story about one of their art majors, Aliza Shvarts, and her, well, unique senior art project. Shvarts project was going to be documentation of a series of abortions she had had over the past nine months. She supposedly artificially inseminated herself as many times as possible and took abortifacient drugs to cause miscarriages. She was going to hang from the ceiling cubes of layers of plastic sheeting filled with a mix of Vaseline and blood from her miscarriages and then project videos of her having her miscarriages in her bathtub onto the side.

As can be expected, the outrage was great and immediate. For most of Thursday, this story swept through blogs and news services, with people on both sides of the issue decrying what she was doing. I felt pretty disgusted myself. While I think abortion is wrong, I normally don't have some huge emotional response to hearing about it, but this ... what she did was something way more, and much, much sicker.

This, however, was exactly what she wanted to happen. Later on Thursday, it was revealed that the entire thing, from the story getting into the student newspaper to it spreading and everyone's reactions, was her art project. She never had a miscarriage; she was never pregnant. It was a performance art project to "draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman's body."

Frankly, I'm pretty impressed. It did exactly what she wanted: it got everyone talking about the issue. Some people, once again from both pro-choice and pro-life groups, have said they are still outraged and angered by Shvarts' actions, even though she didn't really have the abortions. I, however, think it was fairly brilliant. Not only did she get people to talk about it, she got people on both sides of an incredibly volatile issue to agree on something.

So what do you think? I imagine there would be virtually unanimous agreement that her proposed art project would be reprehensible, but what about the "real" one? Do you think it was worth it to draw attention to the issue, or is abortion too serious to even use in that way? Let us know in the comments.

AP Article

Monday, April 14, 2008

The 96th Anniversary of the Drowning of the Titanic

Today/tomorrow is the 96th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. As most people know, the Titanic set out on its maiden voyage amidst claims of it being unsinkable, and promptly hit an iceberg and sank.

At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, four days after departing New York, the ship hit an iceberg, and sank over the next two and a half hours (which is why some consider the sinking date to be the 14th, and some the 15th: it hit the iceberg on the 14th and finished sinking the 15th). While many theories have been put forth as to why it sank like it did, a recent one has come to the fore-front after the publication of the book "What Really Sank the Titanic."

As the New York Times reports, the book claims weak rivets were what did the ship in. While some ships used all steel rivets, the Titanic used a mix of steel and weaker iron rivets. The fact that two smaller-but-still-huge sister ships to the Titanic, the Olympic and the Britannic, were being built at the same time caused a shortage in iron, and, according to the book, led to the use of iron weaker than what was normally used on ships like the Titanic. Some of the "weaker" iron rivets were used in the area where the Titanic was hit by the iceberg on its bow.

Obviously, there were numerous factors that went into making this tragedy, but many are now claiming that the iron rivets were a major cause in both the ship sinking and the speed at which it sank. Even more factors went into the amount of lives lost, like there being too few lifeboats, men not being allowed onto some under the "women and children first" rule leading to some of the lifeboats being let down half-full, and nearby ships mistaking the red emergency flares for celebratory fireworks.

The article is an interesting read. I would recommend it if you are interested in the Titanic at all. There is also a photo slide show to accompany the article.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday's Food For Thought - 4/11/08

Welcome to another Friday! and another Friday's Food for Thought! Where we give you a brief examination of what is interesting and unusual about the world for your mental stimulation. We hope you enjoy another thought-filled Friday!

From the BBC NEWS: Animal dung coffee at £50 a cup.

"A gourmet coffee blended from animal droppings is being sold at a London department store for £50 per cup." To benefit cancer research.

They're not completely crazy, just mostly crazy.

Now then, a team quote! This quote supposedly originated with British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, but gained great popularity in the States thanks to the one and only Mark Twain. It is dedicated to all of the scientists, politicians, and statisticians who help make the world go round:

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

And finally, a video dedicated to tv news reporters. What wonderful moments of humor you bring us daily:

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

In Apology

I wanted to make a quick update apologizing for the lack of content in the past week. Three of our authors have been busy rehearsing for plays: myself for "The Bald Soprano," which opens tomorrow night (er, this evening), and Alex and Michael in "12 Angry Men," which will be showing next week. And Drew has been almost as busy as we have with just his normal engineering madness.

Hopefully, we'll have a few posts over the next few weeks, and then get back on a more regular schedule once our non-Internet lives calm down a bit (although it is getting near the end of the semester and term paper/finals time). I have a couple of posts in the works, which I will try to get up sometime in the near future, and we have a guest writer working something up as well. Hobson's's faithful, hopefully we shall not disappoint much longer.

Until then, thank you for your patience, and I will leave you with a random picture for your general amusement.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

[Insert Obligatory 'We're not in Kansas anymore' Joke Here]

Currently, I sitting at my computer (obviously), but with something slightly different about the situation: I am in a 30-minute all-clear before another tornado hits Searcy. After sitting in the first floor hallway of my dorm for about 10 minutes a little while ago while there was a tornado warning, they said we could go back to our rooms for a while until the sirens go off again.

This isn't a huge deal (well, depends on how you rank being crammed into a hall full of loud, sweaty, and, er, fragrant guys, but I'll deal), but it is pretty annoying to have to keep being shuffled around at this hour. Last time Searcy had tornadoes, at least while I was here, was a couple years ago, but it was during the day so we didn't get forced anywhere since we weren't in the dorms, and I actually went and looked at the tornado, along with several other Harding students. I find myself fascinated by tornadoes, though not having been directly affected by one, I'm sure my outlook in this area is a bit naive. However, there is no denying they are amazing things, at least from a scientific or meteorological perspective.

Anyways, I thought I would make a quick update and ask for storm stories. What's the worst situation you've ever been in concerning severe weather, from storms to tornadoes to hail or whatever. Go ahead and throw in earthquake stories or meteor strikes as well. Any close calls? Like I said earlier, the most a tornado's ever done to me is cause me to spend a few hours in the part of my house that is built sort of into a hill, which was a minor inconvenience. It seems that those of us here at Harding and in the surrounding areas may be in for a fairly long night, if the alerts keep happening, but as far as I know, nothing's happened yet. I'm sure there are plenty of other stories out there.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Randy Newman's Faust

Following a recent performance of Little Shop of Horrors, I decided to investigate the story further via The Fountain of All Knowledge. According to Wikipedia, Little Shop of Horrors is a modern retelling of Goethe's Faust. Upon perusing other interpretations of the story of the man who sold his soul to the Devil, I found a musical by Randy Newman.

Yes, as in "You've Got a Friend In Me" Randy Newman.

Apparently, two years before Newman became our friend through Toy Story, he created a musical very aptly titled
Randy Newman's Faust. It is a modern rendering of the tragic tale, with a few noteworthy elements:

First, Faust is a student at the University of Notre Dame, not an alchemistic doctor. In this musical, a spiritual battle for his soul takes place between God and the Devil.

However, the most wondrous element of this musical is the cast:

The Devil is played by none other than Randy Newman himself. God is voiced by James Taylor. The student Faust is played by Don Henley of
The Eagles. Other members of the cast include Sir Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, and Bonnie Raitt.

No, this is not an April Fool's joke. It's much too amazing for that.

However, I thought as much when I wandered upon this information on Wikipedia last week. Apparently, it was not a huge success despite its star-studded cast ["no more than a noble failure," one review called it]. Very little information on the show exists on Wikipedia or elsewhere. [As a side note, Citizendium had no article for
Faust whatsoever. Just in case you were wondering.] No one I have spoken to has ever heard of this musical.

But now I have. I plan on investigating further.

And so it got me thinking: what classic tale could we retell and with what outrageous cast? Any suggestions?