Monday, May 9, 2016

Pheaturing Todd James Pierce

Hey there, welcome to the Phile for a Monday. How are you? Let's start off with the weird story of a girl that brought a Bernie Sanders cutout to prom. He was total gentleman. When your dream date isn't available for a special occasion, sometimes you've got to improvise like high school senior Chloe Raynaud. “I hadn't gotten asked yet and prom was approaching quickly, so I was thinking about who would make a good prom date," Raynaud told Revelist. She landed on Bernie Sanders, who honestly seems like he'd make a chill prom date. Raynaud​ wasn't after the real Sanders, though: she ordered a cardboard version of the politician online to serve as her date. Raynaud took the traditional prom photos with Sanders, whose political standpoints she "really identifies with" and whose cardboard self knows how to do the classic prom pose. Cute couple that they are, Raynaud dressed in homage to Sanders.

Sanders also accompanied Raynaud on the dance floor. "During the slow dance I brought him out to dance with him and everyone started laughing," she said. "Then my friends made him crowd surf." Yeah, Bernie knows how to party.
Bath & Body Works, that mall store known for assaulting you with scents, has discovered something totally novel and shocking: that people like remembering things from the 90s. That's why, starting May 27th, they're re-releasing some of their classic 90s scents as part of their #FlashbackFragrance campaign. (Because these days, you haven't really launched a campaign unless it has a hashtag.) This is actually the second time Bath & Body Works has done Flashback Fragrances; last June and July they re-released an initial batch of 90s scents including Plumeria, Cucumber Melon, and Juniper Breeze. (These are all still available on Bath & Body Works website, in fact, with the label "retired scent." If you're back at work for almost a year, though, can you still really consider yourself retired?) The store hasn't announced what the new round of scent re-releases will be yet. But this is great news for anyone who wants to sniff a classic fragrance and be transported back to the magical time when they were constantly paralyzed by adolescent fear.
Unless you're one of those women who just doesn't feel her period, at least one day a month you're showing up to work glaring at every man who never has to work through cramps. A U.K.-based company serendipitously named Coexist is sick of coexisting at work with tired and crampy women, so they are giving them paid time off to let their bloated bodies rest at home. This is how it would have been for centuries if men got their periods. Bex Baxter, one of the directors at Coexist, said, "I have managed many female members of staff over the years and I have seen women at work who are bent over double because of the pain caused by their periods. Despite this, they feel they cannot go home because they do not class themselves as unwell. And this is unfair. At Coexist we are very understanding. If someone is in pain... no matter what kind... they are encouraged to go home." Hell yeah. Plus, Bex claims that women are three times more productive directly after their cycles. So, like, maybe women should get three days off? Just spit-ballling here.
China has outlawed online videos of women eating bananas. Apparently, this was a problem, because the women, usually in their early 20s and occasionally in their teens, were eating them in a sexy way. Even worse, these young women would sometimes sing while consuming the fruit. Sexy banana vids have very popular on live-streaming sites, so the Ministry of Culture is stepping in as part of a larger campaign against online smut. The BBC reports that Chinese authorities say "26% of live-streaming viewers are under 18, while 60% of those creating the content are under 22 years old. Three quarters of those watching are male." It doesn't really seem like anyone had to report that, because that's just what you would guess. The move has sparked an online backlash... to the extent that backlashes are allowed in China... with social media users asking how censors decide when a banana becomes provocative, if men are still allowed to eat bananas on screen, and suggesting that cucumbers or yams will be the hot new fruit. So what's really happening here? Well, live streaming has become hugely popular in China... instead of Snapchatting, the kids are just broadcasting themselves. Like all things the kids do, this has scared the adults, especially when sexy bananas are involved. Unlike in America, the Chinese actually have the power to outlaw what the kids are doing. So they are.
On April 25th, the University of Washington in Seattle posted a flyer for its upcoming cheerleader tryouts on Facebook, listing some "do's" and "dont's" for potential new Huskies cheerleaders. The post featured a thin, white, blond woman wearing very little clothing, and gave a few helpful tips on how to dress and look, like "no ponytails," "no nude lips," "no nail polish," and "no visible tattoos." And, apparently, "be a thin, white woman wearing very little clothing." Here's the flyer...

What exactly is "girl about town lipstick"? "The Seattle Times" spoke with UW senior Signe Burchim, who said, “I think it’s really upsetting and kind of disheartening the way it’s basically asking these women who want to try out to perform their femininity... but not too much.” She added that a message like this would never go out to men trying out for a sport. The newspaper also emailed with UW student Jazmine Perez, the director of programming for student government, who wrote, "I can’t believe this is real. One of the first things that comes mind is objectification and idealization of Western beauty, which are values I would like to believe the University doesn’t want to perpetuate. As a student of color who looks nothing like the student in the poster, this feels very exclusive." Sure, every team has a uniform, and team players are expected to adhere to some standards of appearance. But the actual football players would never be given rules about visible tattoos (it's Seattle, for god's sake), or be required to wear fake eyelashes or blow out their hair. That "bronze, beachy glow" would be awfully hard for anyone not white to pull off. And vague stipulations like a "physically fit, athletic physique" can mean a lot of different thing to a lot of different people. The post started receiving backlash online immediately and was removed the next morning, after university officials “determined that some of the details and descriptions provided were inconsistent with the values of the UW spirit program and department of athletics.” After all, cheerleading is supposed to be a sport, not a modeling competition.
Good news, everybody, the Phile has a new sponsor!

I think they are gonna be very popular. Haha. So, as you know, Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential race... but for some reason he is still coming out with slogans. Check it out.

Ummm... yep. So, have you kids heard of the company Ubisoft? I think they make video games or something. Well, they have a slogan which I thought was kinda odd.

That sounds like my life... one step forward, eight steps back. Ever see that Disney movie Princess and the Frog? Well, I just found out that the original name of it was supposed to be...

I am so confused. Moving on... So, they are coming out with another Planet of the Apes movie... I don't wanna spoil the ending, but I was excited when I saw what it was...

Hahahahaha. I'm crying because I'm laughing so much. So, you know I live in Florida, right? Well, there's something's that happen in Florida that happen nowhere else in the Universe. So, once again, here is the pheature called...

A woman named Candice Spivey recently turned the cameras around on a voyeur who allegedly tries to secretly video tape women and minors. On April 27th, Spivey captured herself calling the pervert out and chasing him away on video, then posted it to her Facebook page where it went completely viral. According to Spivey's Facebook post, the incident went down in the bikini section of a Target in Yulee, Florida. When the man approached her to try to ask her about a dress he bought for his wife, Spivey recognized him as the same person who had an identical conversation with her two years ago in a Publix supermarket. Back then, he had two young children with him and although the interaction started off innocently, Spivey recalls it turning "wildly inappropriate." This time, she would not let the conversation escalate to that point. Because the man, identified as Jeffrey Polizzi, was only charged with reckless driving after trying to run from police, Spivey made it her personal mission to get the man's name and face out there so other women could protect themselves against him. As Spivey notes, this is not the first time that Polizzi was accused of voyeurism. In 2009, Polizzi pleaded no contest to video voyeurism charges and was sentenced to four months in jail after police found videos of women getting changed in dressing rooms. According to "The Daily Mail," he was arrested after using a shoe-mounted digital camera to photograph women while they changed bathing suits inside a surf shop dressing room. Now Nassau officials are asking women who have had their own experiences or any additional information about Polizzi to come forward. So far, lots of women have, with many of them noting that he used the exact same story.

If you can spot the Mindphuck, and I am sure you can, let me know. Alright, so, on May 1st the elephants at Ringling Bros. performed for the last time and were retired to Florida for cancer research. Luckily though, I was able to get one of the elephants here on the Phile to tell us how it's going. So, please welcome to the Phile...

Me: Hello, Elvis, welcome to the Phile for the first time. How's retirement going?

Elvis: Retirement is good, Jason. I like living in Florida.

Me: That's so good, so, what else have you been doing?

Elvis: Well, I went to the beach and saw a naked man.

Me: Ummm, you did?

Elvis: Yeah, I said to him, "Hey, that's cute but can you breath through it?"

Me: Haha. No, Elvis, I don't think he could.

Elvis: Yeah, that's what he said.

Me: What else happened?

Elvis: Well, it rained the other day when I went to the river and I didn't get wet.

Me: You didn't? Why?

Elvis: I had an umbrella. Duh.

Me: Ha. Very funny. Anything else before I let you go?

Elvis: Yeah, sometimes I wear sneakers now.

Me: You do? Why?

Elvis: So, I can sneak up on mice of course.

Me: You're nuts, Elvis. Thanks for coming here. Come back and keep us updated what you are up too, okay?

Elvis: Sure. Now to pack my trunk. Bye, everybody. Cancer research here I come.

Me: Elvis the Retired Circus Elephant everyone. That was so stupid.

Emoji are small icons used to express the emotional spectrum of feeling too lazy to think of something to say.

Today's guest is the author of "Three Years in Wonderland: The Disney Brothers, C. V. Wood, and the Making of the Great American Theme Park," which is he 47th book to be pheatured in the Phile's Book Club. Please welcome to the Phile... Todd James Pierce.

Me: Hello, Todd, welcome to the Phile. How are you?

Todd: Doing well. Just got back from a four-day conference for work. So a little tired, a little too caffeinated.

Me: Alright, so, Jim Korkis... who I have interviewed quite a few times here on the Phile and who I know from when he worked at Disney suggested I interview you. Jim, as you know, is a Disney historian and said your book "Three Years in Wonderland" told him stories he didn't even know. How is that possible?

Todd: Jim knows many stories I don’t as well. Jim probably knows more stories than I do, as a matter of fact. But I’ve been working on the interviews that were the basis for this book for years and years and years. I focused on a very small part of the Disney story so that the narrative could play out moment-by-moment, decision-by-decision. I also wanted to understand why the C.V. Wood story had been quietly removed from the official history of the park.

Me: So, where did you first meet Jim and get to know him, Todd?

Todd: I could be wrong here... but in my memory, I first met Jim (in person) at a wings restaurant in Orlando, when I went to Florida, about ten years ago, to interview some people who had worked for the company in the 1950s. Jim and I had previously corresponded by email, swapping information and some documents. Jim was very helpful in pointing my research in interesting directions early on. 

Me: I take it you're a big Disney fan as well. Are you as big a fan as Jim is?

Jim: I defer to Jim. I think he has me beat. But yes, I’m a big fan.

Me: What other parts of pop culture are you in to?

Jim: I like early movies, maybe up through 1960. When I pull a movie out to watch with my kids, they have two questions: (1) is it in color? (2) does it have sound? Often the answers are “no” and “no.”

Me: Todd, where are you from originally?

Todd: I grew up in Goleta, California (which is part of Santa Barbara County).

Me: Where do you live now?

Todd: I live in Orcutt, California (which is another part of Santa Barbara County).

Me: You have done a lot of writing in your life. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Todd: Probably since I was a freshman or sophomore in college. I’m not particularly good at multitasking. But I’m good at taking on a large, complex project (like a book) and staying with it for years and years until it’s finished and has depth.

Me: I went to school for one year to be a journalist and all I do is write this stupid little blog. Haha. What kinda stuff do you normally write about, Todd?

Todd: My day job: I direct the creative writing program at Cal Poly University (in San Luis Obispo, California). So far this has been a good year for me, writing-wise: I’ve had two textbooks that I’ve written come out with Oxford University Press. I just published an essay on Disney animator, Ward Kimball. I wrote part of a new textbook on creative writing, due out next year. I had a short story win a very nice award. I keep the DHI blog and podcast (the podcasts, for the most part, are scripted out before recording). And "Three Years in Wonderland" came out. So 2016 has been fabulous so far. For me, it’s unusual for this much work to come out at once.

Me: Alright, let's talk about this book... how long did it take you to write?

Todd: Over ten years to research. About eight years actively writing... with a lot of the time spent on the road, interviewing people who designed and developed Disneyland, also at various archives and special collections departments.

Me: Did you ever think of quitting or that you'll never finish it?

Todd: I never thought of quitting. But also, when I started, I thought it’d take me a couple of years, at most. When I started I believed that I would mainly synthesize material that already existed into a unified narrative. Here’s what I didn’t understand: much of what we know about the history of Disneyland comes from those individuals who stayed with the company for decades (brilliant individuals like Bob Gurr, Don Edgren, Bill Martin, etc.), but that there was another very large group of designers and managers whose job, essentially, was to built Disneyland and then move on to other projects, often outside the Disney company. Almost all of those individuals had never been interviewed about their experience with Disney. Once you look at those interviews, a very different picture of the development of Disneyland begins to emerge, one that widens out the “traditional” narrative in interesting and surprising ways. So I interviewed both traditional Disney sources (like Don Edgren and Bill Martin) as well as dozens and dozens who had never been interviewed before. 

Me: Are you happy the way it came out?

Todd: Actually, I’m very pleased. It’s the type of book that I would love to read myself. But of course I’m biased.

Me: What was the hardest part of researching for it, or writing it?

Todd: Locating the remaining members of C.V. Wood’s crew took some work. About ten or eleven years ago, I made a few trips to Texas, picked up a rental car and literally started looking for his childhood friends by following utility records, political contributions, university records and pretty much any other information I could find.

Me: I have worked for Disney for just over 28 years, Todd. I have not heard of C.V. Wood until your book. Should I have?

Todd: Yes and no. He’s extremely important to the development of Disneyland and the outdoor amusements industry. But his story has also been scrubbed clean from the official Disney record. Walt’s son-in-law, Ron Miller told me that... and I’m paragraphing here by memory... that Woody had played an important role in developing Disneyland, particularly with the financial aspects of the park, but didn’t have the right personality to stay with the company long term.

Me: What can you tell us about him? He wasn't really a nice guy, right?

Todd: That depends on who you ask. I spent time in the town where he was born, with his childhood friends and with individuals who knew him much later in life... years after his Disneyland experience. Most of these people loved and revered Woody, even when they talked about some of his antics that were put forward with questionable ethics. He was, by many accounts, extremely charming. Woody... and many of his “Bomber” friends... came out of the depression, from what I think we would now recognize as near-poverty. Woody often attached himself to men of means, like Walt Disney, probably as a way to protect himself and his friends from the type of hardships they’d experienced as children. I’d say that Woody functioned outside traditional morality. Though I don’t agree with some of his choices, I find his actions extremely understandable, especially in light of his background. He was extremely loyal to his friends... far less so to employers, like Disney. So in some ways he had a very high allegiance to the values of friendship, brotherhood and mutual support, even if this sense of traditional morality didn’t move out into all areas of his life. The people who knew him in later projects... such as with Lake Havasu... mostly adored him. The people who knew him through Disneyland... when he was still young, ambitious and struggling... less so.

Me: Do you think C.V. would survive working in the company in the present day?

Todd: Interesting question. Most all large American companies have shifted into systems of fiefdoms, which is essentially what Woody wanted to create for himself at Disney. So in that aspect he would have. But in terms of his design ethics, he was more Paul Pressler than Matt Ouimet. So in that regard I’m hoping that he would not have fit in well with the current resort management.

Me: How did Roy and Walt first meet C.V.?

Todd: By chance, when Disney hired Stanford Research Institute (SRI) to complete a site study for Disneyland... that is, a study to determine where to best build the park. Woody was extremely bright. Despite (literally) inventing his college degree, he was the head of SRI in Southern California. As a boy Woody had also been enamored with the movies and entertainment. So, at first, Woody was interested in the possibilities with the studio, pretty much from the start.

Me: Do you think if they didn't meet him there would be no Disney parks?

Todd: I think that there is a reasonable possibility that if Disney had not engaged Woody’s plan to generate money through lessees and sponsorships Disneyland Incorporated (which was technically separate from Walt Disney Productions in the 1950s) might have entered a type of bankruptcy during construction. Jack Lindquist, a later president of Disneyland, believed that if Disneyland folded it would likely take down the studio with it.

Me: So, I have to ask you, what do you prefer... Disneyland or Walt Disney World? What's your favorite park?

Todd: My grandmother worked for the company, out here in California, until she was 80. So I spent an ungodly amount of time at Disneyland when I was a kid. Through her I first met some of the people I write about in the book. In Florida, I adore EPCOT... particularly the version of EPCOT that existed in 1986 or 1987, after the Living Seas opened, when Horizons, Journey into Imagination and all of the other original showcase pavilion attractions were still at the park.

Me: So, what do you think about Disney opening parks all around the world?

Todd: I’m a fan, particularly when they particularize the experience for the region. So Tokyo Seas (which I’ve never visited) looks amazing to me. I’d love to go there someday.

Me: I said that Jim learnt stuff from this book he didn't know before. Was there anything you were surprised to learn about writing the book?

Jim: There were endless things I learned from writing this book... not just about Disneyland but how the studios worked during the first decade of large-scale TV production, how America moved to a culture that valued environments that looked like film, and how Disney’s idea of a themed park influenced not just outdoor amusements but malls, restaurants, hotels, parks and even planned communities throughout the country. I also have a tremendous respect for Disney’s vision and determination in building this park, a respect that for me deepened while researching this book.

Me: I think this story could easily be made into a movie, Todd, with Tom Hanks playing Disney again. What do you think?

Todd: I don’t know. Tom Hanks? Tom Hanks is the softer version of Walt from the 1960s. What about that actor from The Artist? Jean Dujardin. Dust his hair with a little gray. I think he would also do a fabulous job at portraying a historic Walt from the 1950s, when Walt was a little more expansive, still looking for some professional ballast. I’m guessing, with a little work, Dujardin could nail the accent and the 1950s idiom. But yes, the book has a unified, linear story, with surprising details and escalating tension. It’s the type of story that would translate easily to a visual medium, like film.

Me: That's what I loved about it. You also write short stories like I used to do when I was a kid. Do you like writing fiction or non-fiction the best?

Todd: I flip back and forth. I just turned in a book of short stories to my agent. Presently I’m working on a nonfiction manuscript. In ways, I use nonfiction as a way to explore topics that interest me... topics that often show up in novels and stories I later write.

Me: How much writing do you do a day, Todd?

Todd: I write about five days a week, usually in six-hour blocks, sometimes more. It depends on what’s due and how inspired I am.

Me: So, now this book is out, are you working on any other books?

Todd: I’m working on a Disney-related nonfiction project about animation in the 1930s and 1940s. I’ve also been revising a novel that I think is very close to its final form.

Me: You teach creative writing at Cal Poly... how log have you been doing that?

Todd: I’ve been a professor at Cal Poly for eleven years. Before that, I was a professor at Clemson University.

Me: Is there anything that your students wrote that blew you away, Todd?

Todd: Always. There’s always interesting students in the workshops. Creative writing (mostly) isn’t taught as its own class in high school. So in college students explore the tools of formal narrative for the first time. It’s exciting to watch and to see their growth.

Me: I first got into creative writing when I went to a private school and there was a lesson called Create where we had to write short stories. I never had anything published though as I ever thought my stuff was that good. Did you ever go through that?

Todd: When I was young I wrote for years and years and accumulated a huge stack of rejection slips before my work was published. One year I covered most of a wall with rejection slips. Of course, this was back when rejection came by way of U.S. mail, not email.

Me: Okay, so, I got to ask, has anybody from the Disney family or company that you know read the book? Any feedback from them?

Todd: I’ve not received any official feedback from the Disney Company. I’ve tried my best to present a fair and complete history of the development of Disneyland, with hundreds of endnote citations to support the material in the book. What I wanted to present was a realistic portrayal of the struggles that Walt Disney faced en route to his success... the type of book that would allow readers to understand the emotional experience of building the world’s first amusement park arranged around cinematic principles of design. I’d like to think that book achieves this. I should also point out that the book is part of a two-book project. From the start, I’ve had another 300-page volume that continues the story of Disney’s success as he faced challenges from other “knockoff” Disneylands that were built across the country in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It’s that part of the story that solidifies Disney’s larger cultural success which didn’t really congeal until the late 1950s. So though this book does present the realistic struggles that Walt faced, it also presents a real and human vision of Walt as a man who worked with single-minded determination toward an enormous project in which he believed.

Me: I can't wait to read the sequel. Todd, I know you're a busy man. So thanks so much for being here on the Phile. Please come back again when your next book comes out. Take care, sir.

Todd: Thanks so much for your thoughtful questions. I appreciate it.

That about does it for this entry of the Phile. Thanks to Todd for a great interview. That book is so good, by the way. The Phile will be back next Sunday with actor Robbie Rist. You know, Cousin Oliver from "The Brady Bunch." Yeah, that kid. So, spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.

Not if it pleases me. No, you can't stop me, not if it pleases me. - Graham Parker

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