Werner Herzog Reads Your Favorite Children’s Books

Truly there is no one better to explain the cold, harsh reality of our favorite children’s classics than Werner Herzog. The famed German director is the ideal candidate to narrate George’s lesson in the nature of desire, plucked from the sprawling jungle that was his home. Who better to chronicle the affection Mike Mulligan has for his steam-shovel, an affection “out of proportion with social norms”? The director of Nosferatu the Vampyre and Fitzcarraldo that’s who. He possesses the cool, calculating eye required to look through the whimsical veneer of these tales and gaze upon the cruel truths within; to drag you kicking and screaming from the safety of childish innocence and in his melodious Deutsche tones, birth you anew.

Welfare, HIV and Palestine on Sesame Street

With Sesame Street celebrating its 40th birthday this week, many blogs are reflecting on the show’s greatest moments. While most of these lists celebrate the show’s charm and humor, Sesame Street should also be honored for its commitment to social issues. Last week, SocImages uncovered this touching clip from the 1970s:


Gwen puts the above segment with Jesse Jackson, titled “I Am Somebody,” in the following context:

In the early 1980s the Reagan Administration engaged in an active campaign to demonize welfare and welfare recipients. Those who received public assistance were depicted as lazy free-loaders who burdened good, hard-working taxpayers. Race and gender played major parts in this framing of public assistance: the image of the “welfare queen” depicted those on welfare as lazy, promiscuous women who used their reproductive ability to have more children and thus get more welfare. This woman was implicitly African American, such as the woman in an anecdote Reagan told during his 1976 campaign (and repeated frequently) of a “welfare queen” on the South Side of Chicago who supposedly drove to the welfare office to get her check in an expensive Cadillac (whether he had actually encountered any such woman, as he claimed, was of course irrelevant).

The campaign was incredibly successful: once welfare recipients were depicted as lazy, promiscuous Black women sponging off of (White) taxpayers, public support for welfare programs declined. Abby K. recently found an old Sesame Street segment called “I Am Somebody.” Jesse Jackson leads a group of children in an affirmation that they are “somebody,” and specifically includes the lines “I may be poor” and “I may be on welfare” … I realized just how effective the demonization of welfare has been when I was actually shocked to hear kids, in a show targeted at other kids, being led in a chant that said being poor or on welfare shouldn’t be shameful and did not reduce their worth as human beings. Can you imagine a TV show, even on PBS, putting something like this on the air today?

In response to Gwen’s post, SocImages reader Ben Spigel agues that Sesame Street would not shy away from doing something like this even today. He writes, “the Children’s Workshop, which produces all the Sesame Streets, has been very proactive in dealing with contemporary social issues. For example, they produce an Israeli-Palestinian version of Sesame Street, and their HIV-positive muppet for the South African version. In the American version, there was the very public change in Cookie Monster’s eating habits.”

The Palestinian version of Sesame Street, titled Shara’a Simsim, dates back to 1996 – an archived NYT article from that time chronicles the show’s tense beginnings. Since the show’s initial concepting phase, there existed a debate among the producers as to what kind of approach to take. Would it be unrealistic to show a world in which Israeli and Palestinian children played together? Yes, they decided – for the time being.  In 2002, the show producers’ complex quandaries were revisited by the New York Times in the wake of 9/11. Now in its fourth season, Shara’a Simsim is a popular show for children that places an emphasis on giving children positive role models. On the Sesame Street Workshop site devoted to Shara’a Simsim, executive producer Daoud Kuttab (who you’ll remember from both the 1996 and 2002 NYT articles!) says, “giving children hope would be a major accomplishment.” And here’s a clip:

Prince Odoevski’s Town in a Snuffbox

My childhood edition of Town in a Snuffbox was published in 1981 and, as you can see by the cover alone, it’s Steampunk as f**k. It’s a tale of a boy who travels inside a wind-up musical snuffbox to find a town called “Din-Din” and anthropomorphic bells, hammers, springs and cogs inhabiting it. The bells tell young protagonist Misha about their life of forced music-making and daily beatings from the dreaded hammer-men. The hammer-men explain that they’re just following orders from their superior, who in turn takes his orders from Queen Spring. Displeased by all the violence an bureaucracy, Misha confronts Queen Spring and brings down the system by uncoiling her.


Here’s a book that probably wouldn’t get published today, at least not in the US, for the mere fact that its premise involves tobacco paraphernalia. But Prince Vladimir Odoevski didn’t write Town in a Snuffbox in modern times. Yep, the author was a prince. He was also a music critic, philanthropist, philosopher, senator and an enthusiastic fan of phantasmagoric storytelling. Oh, and a magazine editor, working on the socio-political Sovremennik with such literary greats as Pushkin and Gogol.


1800s Moscow was brimming with radical-thinking upper-crust entrepreneurs – Odoevski was doing all he could to keep up. Looks like he did a decent job of it, too. He’s recently been credited with predicting blogging in his unfinished utopian novel, Year 4338. From Wikipedia:

Finally, today we received a household journal from the prime minister, where we, among others, were invited to a soiree. You need to know that in many houses, especially those well connected, such journals are published, having replaced regular correspondence. <…> The journals usually provide information about the hosts’ good or bad health, family news, various thoughts and comments, small inventions, as well as invitations; in case of a dinner invitation, also the menu. Besides, for communicating in emergency, friends’ houses are connected by means of magnetic telegraphs that allow people who live far from each other to talk to each other.



The illustrator, Alexander Koshkin, is a contemporary artist, whose vision and watercolor technique make the dreamy tone of the book come alive. I love that though this is a children’s book, the art  doesn’t feel dumbed down – sparse backgrounds balance against super-detailed characters so there’s enough room for the imagination. Everything seems to be veiled in warm glowing fog and you can almost hear the music.

Koshkin was one of the first illustrators in the former USSR to branch out internationally. The English-laguage books he’s illustrated can be found here. Check out his version of Alice in Wonderland and click the jump to see more of his art from Town in a Snuffbox. Large scans of all the illustrations are here and definitely worth a look – so much detail!

Friday Afternoon Movie: Jesus Camp

It’s been a long, long day. When you haven’t been in meetings you’ve been at your desk alt-tabbing between solitaire and Excel, rearranging your budget so that you’ll be able to afford those sweet zebra-print seat covers you saw on Jalopnik the other day. Well, just stop it. You’ll never be able to afford them and Jalopnik was being ironic anyway. Also, anyone can win at solitaire if they pull one card at a time. Yeesh, have some self-respect. Close Excel and prepare for Friday filmage.

Today: Jesus Camp, a documentary about the now defunct “Kids On Fire School of Ministry”, a Pentecostal summer camp in North Dakota. It follows three children who attended the camp in 2005 where they are taught how to become part of God’s army. A lighthearted tale of willful ignorance and homeschooling, this is the film to show your atheist friends if you wish to see them become apoplectic and jittery with spittle-flecked rage. Or to pass the time while avoiding the siren call of compulsive spending.

Seriously, zebra-print isn’t going to make that ’89 Camry any cooler.

Mary Poppins Is My Co-Pilot


Inspiration is where you find it, and everyone’s gotta start somewhere. Before Enki Bilal’s blue-haired future-hotties and Peter Chung’s Aeon Flux, I had Gennady Kalinovsky and his black-bobbed, fishnet-stockinged, high-heeled no-nonsense powerhouse, Mary Poppins. From the moment I opened the book in 1988 I perceived Miss Poppins as a polished badass, with a collection of dubious acquaintances and a seedy past. Her lipstick was always perfect, she wore well-fitting suits and kept many secrets. Sure, she was sardonic and vain, but she was the best.


The original Mary Poppins stories are kid brain-candy, with magic, adventures, talking animals and going behind parents’ backs, but what really made me love the now-tattered book I’ve kept my whole life is the artwork. One might call Gennady Kalinovsky a Russian Edward Gorey, but I’d rather not. His line-art universe is looser and more psychedelic, with warped perspective and spindly figures you’d sooner expect in an eerie Jean-Pierre Jeunet flick than on the pages of kids’ classic. The twins drawing below the cut gave me nightmares and I’m forever grateful – I only wish more illustrators exercised this kind of freedom in children’s books.

After a bit of research I found that Gennady actually had quite a penchant for the surreal – check out the art he created for Alice in Wonderland , Behind the Looking Glass, and Master and Margarita – my top all-time favorites.


I remember the first and only time I watched the 1964 film about the character I grew up loving, and how disturbed I was by my Mary parading about in ugly pseudo-Edwardian garb, dancing, and, perhaps worst of all, singing. It’s not the first terrible thing Disney has done to a childhood favorite, but for me it was certainly the most jarring.

Looking over the Mary Poppins books’ Wikipedia page it becomes even more apparent just how much my view of the stories and the character has been colored by a Russian translation and the accompanying illustrations. I almost want to give Disney credit for matching their Poppins costumes to the original Mary Sheppard illustrations! Instead, I wish I could shake late Kalinovskiy’s hand and thank him for the introduction to my very first female ideal. Short dark hair, perfect makeup, stockinged legs and an arsenal of experience is how I pictured every modern fictional heroine for years after reading Mary Poppins. I remember when Margarita looked just like her.

A few more of Kalinovsky’s Mary Poppins illustrations after the jump, and the rest of them here on Flickr just for you!

Carboard Dueling: Through A Series of Tubes


A week ago, in a fighting rink hidden behind trees in the middle of San Francisco, I witnessed a grand melee. As dust rose and danced in the July light, a tournament of warriors fought each other for honor and glory. It was an epic battle of worthy and agile opponents: children, grown men and women, and elderly paladins alike. The game stretched on for several hours. Competitors were eliminated after rounds of bludgeoning each other with swords, their broken weapons littering the ground.

If you’re a little bit worried about casualties – don’t bother. The key element to this glorious battle was its weapon of choice – a cardboard tube. “Tube Fighting” is all the rage right now, even though the concept is only two years old, officially. While living in Seattle, a fellow named Robert Easley pondered ways to encourage friends and strangers to go out into the summer sunshine and do something playful, interactive and free. Eventually, he brainstormed the idea of hosting a melee with cardboard swords.


Since its inception, the game has grown into a large-scale network, with official chapters in cities like San Francisco and Sydney, as well as scores of unaffiliated gatherings taking place globally every summer. The rules of the game are simple –show up to the meeting spot and sign up on the list to be matched with a friend, or stranger, in battle. Regulation cardboard tubes are available for free if you are participating in one of the events organized by an official chapter. Otherwise, bring your own. The objective is to so thoroughly batter your opponent’s cardboard tube that it will break, thus disqualifying your competitor from advancing into the next round. Nobody actually hits each other – it’s their tubes that take all the beating.

Besides being a fun and cathartic form of stress release –drawing a large audience cheering from the sidelines– the tournament also encourages creativity, as many people make elaborate armor and helmets out of cardboard. Nothing is quite like the sight of a trio of Vikings in a cardboard ship being chased by a cardboard-headed robot, or a 5 year old girl pumping her fists in the air victoriously after winning yet another round of the tournament.

Tube Vikings Kristin, Layla and Jinny.

For official rules, check out tubeduel.com. If a League game isn’t officially scheduled in your home city, why not start your own? Just get some cardboard tubes, invite some friends and head out to a park or city square. (Make sure to double check regulations about large gatherings, before arranging a melee, of course). These photos from a week ago may prove inspirational.

More photos from Tanya’s outing after the jump. Not to be missed!

Ghost Busters (1954)

Like any good, nerdly child of my era I was enamored with the Ghostbusters. The original film is a hallmark of my early years, though I will admit that the cartoon, which would eventually be called The Real Ghostbusters, probably exerted a greater pull on my psyche. It was these representations of the quartet of spirit exterminators whose merchandise adorned my room. These were the faces on the action figures and posters. They were the ones whose proton-packs were emulated by hollow plastic, complete with child-safe foam beam. Wherever I went, a cartoon-themed trail of plastic detritus followed.

The brand has its hooks embedded deep in me, then, so one may understand why I would be so bewitched by this alternate past version of Ghost Busters from Columbia Pictures starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, and Fred MacMurray. A Frankenstein’s monster of various films and television shows expertly edited and stitched together to form a pitch-perfect trailer for this horror/sci-fi/comedy from an other-dimensional 1954, featuring a number of subtle references and skillfully hidden nods to a much loved, childhood touchstone. It’s almost enough to make me dig out the old charged particle accelerator.

Terrible Yellow Eyes, With Apologies For Vitriol

Later this year Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers will unleash upon the unsuspecting public a vicious betrayal of my childhood in the form of Where the Wild Things Are or: Max and the Island of Misfit Baseball Mascots, the trailer for which features a child dressed like Max cavorting to the strains of Arcade Fire, making it appear to be squarely aimed at the trilby-wearing, fixie-riding crowd. Eggers is also set to release a novel based on his script based on the children’s book, no doubt filled with long, rambling passages detailing how Max was eating peanut butter with a spoon when his cat was diagnosed with feline AIDS and pockmarked with self-aware, ironic footnotes detailing how you should read the book.*

Either way people are planning on making a significant amount of lucre by tricking us all into putting down our hard earned cash to watch Max Just Wants A Hug by appealing to our powerful sense of nostalgia. In this regard they shall no doubt succeed. As depressing as this fate is to me at the very least there is some small ray of sunshine to be found in the sense that there seems to be a resurgence of interest in the book and its creator. Case in point, Terrible Yellow Eyes, a blog dedicated to artist’s interpretations of Maurice Sendak’s timeless art. Content to be homages and not reimaginings, these appeal to me in all the ways that the upcoming film does not.

[via Bibi’s Box]

*I used to eat peanut butter using a spoon which is why it is included in that joke. Also, I actually know someone whose cats have feline AIDS, although I cannot confirm or deny any occasions on which they ate peanut butter with a spoon. You’ll also notice that I poke fun at people who wear trilby hats. This is because I am unable to wear hats due the massive and irregular circumference of my skull. Lastly, you should probably just skip to the link at this point as I am probably just going to continue to make fun of post-modernist literature and complain about how Mssrs. Jonze and Eggers are raping my childhood.**

**At least, that’s the plan. It may all go horribly awry and I may just completely blow my load writing footnotes, which seems to be happening. Fuck. Seriously, get out now because it’s all downhill from here.

Are You Somebody’s Daughter?

Somebody’s Daughter is the title anthem for a Christian-funded DVD/CD set, detailing the trials of five individuals attempting to escape the sweaty clutches of pornography. It’s a sweeping ode to innocence, childhood, and the endurance of the human spirit. It is also unaware that the thought of the young, nude, nubile nymphet fellating a dozen men simultaneously being somebody’s daughter is a turn on for some.

Watching this video one is immediately struck by the simplicity of the views expressed here. Certainly this is no surprise, after all one of the main draws of religion is the distinct separation of right and wrong. There is no room for a gray area where porn may not be manufactured using women enslaved by drugs or, perhaps, actual chains.

What’s more prevalent, however, is the 50s-era sensibilities on display. Maybe it’s the way the vocalist enunciates the word “flesh”, drawing out the first three letters before biting down on the last two, but one gets the sense that these people’s daughters don’t enjoy their sexuality and, if they do, then the least you and your filthy, filthy penis could do is refrain from encouraging them. And it certainly leaves no room for the existence of women who enjoy pornography, perhaps even pornography featuring somebody’s daughter.

More than that, though, I must return to the central premise; the idea that the object of one’s lustful desires is “somebody’s daughter” being a functional deterrent for men wishing to sit down with some porn and massage their genitals. The thinking here is presumably, “You have a daughter of your own, how does the thought of some other man massaging his genitals while viewing video of little Sally fisting a man in a rubber suit strike you?” Really, what is this video talking about here? Is it a serenade to the sanctity of our children’s innocence; the preciousness of their safety or merely the thinking that, if someone masturbates to images of my daughter, she has embarrassed me. If this was your daughter, what shame would it bring down upon you, her father? Wouldn’t it be terrible for you and your family if it was discovered that your daughter was a pornstar or a stripper?

Wouldn’t that just be awful for you?

May You All Go Insane: It’s A Small World After All

It should be pointed out that I never claimed any great love for humanity. Cloistered as I am deep in the warrens of the Catacombs I do not profess to be my brother’s keeper. Here, shuttered in nigh total darkness, chained to the floor in front of a rickety desk and computer, no human contact save for when my editors send down one of their smooth, mahogany-skinned eunuchs to push a bowl of thin, watery gruel through the slot in my door, I have nothing but the internet and my own disdain for the outside world to warm me. I can replay the events leading up to my current imprisonment a hundred times over and I will never fully understand just how I came to be here. All I know is that I am here and you, you dear readers are up there. Up there, free and traipsing in the sun and eating anything but thin, watery gruel and I loathe you.

Oh you vicious creatures and your traipsing! How many nights have I tortured myself with these thoughts? No matter, for today I have my revenge. Today I have been given the power to break minds and make men weep like children, to make women crush their babes to their breasts in lamentation. Today I have been given a clip of a tour of the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland, circa 1964, narrated by hell’s own ringleader Walt Disney. May the endless, infectious repetition of the Sherman Brothers’s insipid song burrow deep into your minds! May the wooden shoe children of Holland crush your souls and may the wee bagpiper of Scotland haunt your dreams!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go. It is coming on midnight and that’s when the…ah, it doesn’t matter. It’s just time to go.

[via Carrie White Burns In Hell]