Stupid Tuesday questions, Jellicle edition

Not so long ago, commenter Kazzy shared a story in a comment thread so awesomely hilarious that it’s worth repeating.  (Thanks for letting me share it again, Kazzy.  It was truly one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.)

Prelude: One of my cats is named Bustopher (More specifically, Professor Bustopher Jones IV*. There were no other Bustopher Joneses, professors or otherwise. This is not relevant to the story.)

[Phone Rings]
Vet: Hello. Is this Butt Stuffer’s owner?
Wife: What? No. Who?
Vet: You aren’t the owner of Reese and Butt Stuffer?
Wife: [aside, to me] She thinks Bustopher is named Butt Stuffer.
Me: [to wife] Let me handle this. [Takes phone]
Me: [into phone] Yes. We are Butt Stuffer’s owner. [aside, to wife] Best. Name. Ever.

* Super double bonus points to anyone with any sense of where this name is derived from. NO GOOGLING!

Space awesome.

Now, I knew the answer to his question.  As I mentioned at the time, during junior high I went through a regrettable Andrew Lloyd Webber phase, an end result of which is that I know Bustopher Jones is one of the characters in “CATS.”  (It is also for this reason that I can sing the entire score of both “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita.”)

[First aside — I once dated a guy who had been in the Broadway cast of “CATS.”  Apparently there’s a whole background plot that’s being enacted between musical numbers when all of the various cats are running and frolicking around.  It involves kidnapping and rescue and romance, and all of the different cast members have some part, but none of it is actually communicated to the audience directly.  True fact!]

Anyhow, somewhat randomly the other night I had one of those moments when I was struck by the fundamental weirdness of American culture.  Think about it.  I’m showing my age a bit by musing on the topic, but when it first came out “CATS” was huge.  Huge!  I lived in rural Missouri, and somehow it managed to be a cultural influence even there.  A musical with essentially no plot to speak of, in which grown men and women in leotards dress up as singing, dancing cats.  Kitted out like the folks in the picture up top.

Huge.  In Reagan’s America!

[Second aside — the other cultural phenomenon that struck America during the Reagan ear that I find confounding is the phenomenal popularity of fey, sexually ambiguous performers.  In particular, the popularity of effete British homosexuals.  During the same years that “First Blood” and “Rambo” were hits.  Go figure.]

So that’s this week’s question — which crazes have swept the nation that, when you step back and look at them, seem completely incongruous?  That prompt you to wonder how on earth it caught on, and at that time.  What serves as a handy reminder that our culture can be downright weird when it wants to be?

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Person A: Hey! Are you free tonight? You want to go see that that old hack performer we never really liked? I understand he’s in town, and I think tickets are free!

    Person B: Um… No. Not interested. At all. I wouldn’t allow you to put that CD in the player, why the hell would I want to go see him live?

    Person A: Wait, before you say no – you know that other old hack you never liked? The one that had that one hit song that no one ever listens to anymore? He’s going to be playing too! It’s free!

    Person B: So, noooooo. Really have zero desire to see either one of them.

    Person A: OK, here me out – instead of going into town to see these two guys for free, let’s plan an entire vacation to a town in Missouri that does nothing but have a whole bunch of people like this performing, all of them miserable hacks, each and everyone someone we’d turn the car radio channel on if their songs ever played! And instead of free, let’s pay an $70 a pop for the two of us per show, and see, like, five of these shows a day! And in-between the shoes, let’s eat crappy Applebee’s-like food! We’ll make a week of it!


    I cannot for the life of me figure out the Branson craze. Especially since it started getting big around the time that Napster was big, and the world was suddenly were exposed town unending stream of awesome new music from great new artists.

    • Runner up: Why in the new Golden Age of Television are there so many hit shows with Kardashians?

    • If you drew a Venn diagram and put people who would like to visit Branson in one circle, and people who were both aware and made use of Napster in the other, you could drive a Buick between the two of them.

      The best commentary on Branson (which I visited a few times as a child, before it Got Big) is from “The Simpsons” (natch) — like Vegas if it were run by Ned Flanders.

      However, because of the Branson phenomenon and the fact that my mother is friends with someone who used to be Andy Williams’ personal assistant, I am the proud owner and occasional wearer of a blazer once owned by Andy Williams.

      • I love that Simpsons episode. My parents were big fans of Branson, but I never saw the appeal (admittedly, I never went). Must be a generation thing.

        • That is truly one of their very best episodes. The look on Nelson Muntz’s face as he listens to “Moon River” is priceless.

          • Is it a blazer? What color is it?

            All I can ever remember Andy Williams wearing is turtlenecks. (But it has been many, many years since those Christmas specials were on.)

          • It is a blazer, and is navy blue. It fits me perfectly.

            Certain members of my household were raised listening to the Andy Williams Christmas album, and thus have begun to inflict it on me and my child. It has proved futile to protest.

          • That is space awesome.

            I am quite certain I would never be able to fit into an Andy WIlliams blazer. Someday perhaps I will get a Wilfred Brimley hand-me-down.

      • I have cousins who rave about visiting the Precious Moments museum when they went to Branson. Of all my cousins, they are my least favorite.

        • I was once invited to a wedding held at the Precious Moments chapel, which is at the same location in lovely, lovely Carthage, Missouri.

          Regrettably, I was unable to attend.

          • What, in the name of all that is Good and Holy, could possibly have been in your schedule that was worth missing a wedding at the Precious Moments Chapel?

          • I think needing to wash the dishes would satisfice.

          • No really you got to go. We drive by it frequently on our way to and fro to get my Fiance’s kids so one time I insisted we stop. Creepy yet fascinating.

    • Imagine an opportunity to see The Carpenters live.

      Now imagine someone saying that if Karen hadn’t died and was able to get healthy.

      Imagine an opportunity to see Liberace play the piano.

      Now imagine someone suggesting that if Liberace was still doing the Vegas circuit.

      It’s like that, only everybody never died.


  2. Fashions in the 70’s. ( mile wide lapels, huge ass bell bottoms, enough polyester to cover the moon, etc)

    Speaking of the 70’s- the trucker/cb radio culture fad.

    Twitter and the Rubic’s fishing Cube

  3. In the late 70’s to early 80’s, active tone controls were popular. They’re real common in a lot of places, but not on instruments. The Gibson RD series (the re-designed Firebird series) had active tone controls, and several others.
    The standard tone control is a treble roll-0ff knob, with the affected frequency set by the capacitor hard-wired in. An active tone control gives boost as well as cut. An easy way to sound sh!tty, if that’s what you’re after.

  4. Twin Peaks in an era where artsiness and TV did not go hand in hand.

    These are different, but related:

    I was struck with the rapidity and uniformity with which the American flags came off the cars after 9/11. Usually things like that trickle out more.

    Allow me to say that in TV commercials, two trends are happily leaving – shooting everything with a green filter and an ambient buzzy noise, and where a succession of cuts of ordinary-looking people each start a sentence and then one finishes. “I believe,” “I believe,” “I believe,” “I believe in securing my children’s financial future.”

    • At the same time grunge was becoming mainstream.

  5. When I was in high school everyone wore shirts that “Co-ed Naked [insert sport here, usually lacrosse].” Did those make it to the rest of the country?

    • I was in middle school. They were HUGE! Are you and I closer in age than I tend to think, Rose? I’m 28. You just seems worlds more mature than I am…

      • Rose seems world more mature than I am, too. It’s a different scale.

        • Women simply adore being called mature.

          I’m 38. It was in high school for me. Maybe my town was on the head of the curve?

          • There’s a guy that goes to the Starbucks I used to go to that would never, ever talk about his wife unless she was with him. If she was, he’d refer to her to other people as “mature” and “bi-boned,” and “a little flat up top.”

            Sometimes I read the police blotter to see if his corpse has turned up somewhere.

          • I wondered what “bi-boned” meant for an embarrassingly long time after reading this comment.

          • I’m giving a final right now, and I just snorted and giggled.

          • “Women simply adore being called mature.”
            To a certain point. If someone calls me mature for my age more time I’m going to go off the deep end. I’m sick of mature. Right now I’m feelin’ the “girls just wanna have fun” vibe.

          • I was being sarcastic.

            I was just thinking I’ve been sort of a scold on the blog lately.

          • At what age do women starting reading old when they hear mature?

            BTW, calling yourself a scold does not help your case Rose.

          • The day you realize that your age would not be a factor in what makes it scandalous when you are caught having an affair with a politician.

          • Doesn’t that depend on the politician or they just all considered “mature”? Either way, I think I’ve got a few years.

          • Good Lord, you just made me realize it is possible for me to be part of a cougar scandal for a congressman! Depressing.

          • Oh, I’m sorry. If I was nearby I offer a trip to the bathroom so that I could console you through the stall door while you sob into a handful of toilet paper and cry out “I’m so ooooold!”.

          • I’m giving a final right now, and I just snorted and giggled.

            And the guy who handed his paper in early and was walking to the door is thinking “Maybe my Dad was right and I should just go into the furniture business.”

          • And a promising career in the law was nipped in the bud, because Tod wrote “bi-boned” twice.

            And Mary, I’ll see your bathroom stall, and up you one pint of Ben & Jerry’s watching a Lifetime movie.

      • Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
        Fighting in the captain’s tower
        While calypso singers laugh at them
        And fishermen hold flowers

      • I never saw Cats, and never really got it. Living just outside NYC, I remember constant commercials for it though. There always seemed to be a spaceship in the end. And I still had no desire to see it. If you can’t sell a 7-year-old on giant people-cats from space, you’ve probably done wrong.

        Considering they attempted to take a collection of random poems about anthropomorphized cats and turn it into a play, it makes sense that it doesn’t make sense.

        • There always seemed to be a spaceship in the end.

          Well, technically I believe it is an abandoned tire that mystically elevates a chosen cat to the heaviside layer to be reborn. It kind of makes sense? Sort of? Maybe?

          Look, why don’t I just start singing “Buenos Aires” and we’ll move on?

          • the coolest part of the show is realizing that the Heaviside Layer really exists.

          • “Look, why don’t I just start singing “Buenos Aires” and we’ll move on?”


        • I have never been less motivated to see Cats than I am at this very moment.

          • Reading the “Detailed Synopsis” on Wikipedia feels like they took one of my student’s stories about cats and ran it back and forth through an online translator a few dozen times.

            I do think more people should name their cats after the characters. Or, short of cats, their children. (Odds on my firstborn being Magical Mister Mistoffelees are 3:1)

  6. Gallagher.

    This past weekend, I attended a bachelor party and shaved my beard into a mustache in honor of the groom-to-be. Coupled with my long hair and hat, I was a dead ringer for Gallagher. Thus, I was dubbed Gallagher for the weekend and the running joke for the weekend became my friends met up with Gallagher in the casino but I was never around to meet him. Many of the dealers had no idea who Gallagher was. When we tried to explain to them that he was a comedian who made hay by smashing watermelons and doing little else, they were convinced we were lying. It simply seemed implausible that anyone would find that funny, let alone enough people would find it funny enough to make a career for this man.

    • Years ago, I watched a Gallagher video with some friends. (In our quasi0-defense, we had been tinkering with our neurochemistry earlier in the evening.) Am I wrong, or did he have some kind of hippie spin on his schtick? I seem to recall him smashing a watermelon dressed up as a policeman, which he referred to as a “pig.”

    • He was also a prop comic to some degree.

      On top of that, he had a handful of cute/funny shticks incorporating observational humor.

      The reason everybody went to go to his show, however, was the watermelon smashing. It was like Gwar for vegans.

      • That’s really interesting. I could see if people were like, “Yea, the watermelon is what it is, but there is more going on.” But no. It was really about watching a watermelon get smashed.

        This, by the way, is magical: “It was like Gwar for vegans.”

        I could see a whole meme wherein we determine weird cultural fads to be Gwar for GROUP X.

        • I could see a whole meme wherein we determine weird cultural fads to be Gwar for GROUP X.

          1) For days after Will H. linked to a certain GWAR song over at the main page, it kept popping into my head. It was… mildly off-putting.

          2) That said, I would find the above meme hysterically funny, and invite interested parties to commence.

          • Their whole idea is to be outrageous.
            That one only showed the lyrics.
            The stage show is something else.
            But the movies are fantastic.

            I was thinking about this a day or two ago.
            I don’t think I’m telling anyone any news to say that ‘John 5’ is not John 5’s real name.
            He changed the name to play with Manson.
            Now me, I would have a few qualms about that.
            Not that I’m knocking John 5, mind you.

            But if Gwar came to me and said that I had the gig, but I had to change my name to Balsac or something, I would probably go for it.

            Now for a pick-me-up, the misheard lyrics of Celtic Frost.

          • Ya know, fwiw, I’ve been going through these “misheard lyrics” videos at the rate of about 5 a day for some time now. Some of them are total crap. Others are really funny.
            I see it as a more personalized version of The Gong Show.

            Does karaoke count as a fad that’s laughable on its face?
            When I first came across it, I would stick around just to check it out.
            Then later, I would stick around just so I could laugh about how some people think they can sing after a few drinks.
            Nowadays, I just leave as soon as I see them setting up.
            An instance of wisdom coming through age.

      • “Pete, smash yer watermelon.”

        “His what?”

        “Watermelon. Me mate told me that if enough people yell for it, he’ll smash his watermelon at the end of the set.”

        “Do you see a bleeding watermelon? He’s a guitar player. He smashes his guitar.”

        “Smashes his guitar?”

        “Yes, when he’s done playing, he smashes his guitar.”

        “Well, I don’t see the sense in that.”

  7. Russ-
    Do you think this is unique to American culture? And I don’t mean to the extent that American culture permeates elsewhere (Did CATS go on an international tour?)… I’m sure some things become huge overseas simply because they were/are huge in America. But do other countries have their own local pop culture oddities?

    • I actually had a comment in the OP that I deleted before publishing acknowledging that other cultures out there strike me as much more weird. (I will refrain from naming any, for fear of being accused of cultural chauvinism.) And “CATS” did start out in the UK. But the coincidence of its popularity and Reagan’s just strikes me as deeply, deeply strange.

    • Isn’t everything in Japanese pop culture largely a pop culture oddity?

      • (I say this as a fan of Japanese pop culture. But it’s danged odd.)

        • I had Japan in mind as one of the cultures with perhaps a bit more weirdness. And I, too, say that as a fan. For the most part.

    • deliberately removing censorship because it causes pedophilia?

  8. The second Star Wars trilogy.

    We all knew they were awful. All the word of mouth said they were awful. All the reviews said they were awful. The previous ones had been awful. But they were still immensely successful, because everyone had to see them.

    • Did that many people see them? I think I saw one of them in theaters but fell asleep. I haven’t seen any of them beginning to end. I don’t know if I’ve even seen a minute of the 1st one.

      • The Phantom Menace domestic gross: $474,541,951 , worldwide gross: $1,026,288,951
        Attack of the Clones domestic gross: $310,676,740, worldwide gross: $649,398,328
        Revenge of the Sith domestic gross: $380,270,577, worldwide gross: $848,754,768

        So, someone saw them.

        • Egads! I sort of just assumed they were across the board failures.

          But did people get into them the way they got into other things? Like, at the time, did people think they were awesome, buy all the merchandise, watch them a dozen times, etc. and only in hindsight start to doubt it? My hunch is people primarily saw them because they felt they HAD to as fans of the broader universe and/or out of curiosity. Did anyone ever actually like them (besides small kids)?

          • I know I fend off light saber attacks on a near-daily basis.

          • Kids love it all, though many of them are responding to watered down versions of the real deal. I’m asking if anyone BESIDES kids liked the three prequels?

          • No, I mean the original three, with Luke and Darth, etc. I don’t see a lot of “Phantom Menace” t-shirts or other paraphernalia, but plenty of kids seem to have stuff related to the first three movies.

          • Russ-
            I think that has to do with things like Lego Star Wars video games and such. Lots of my students know the names and some basics but never saw the movies. They just love lazer swords.

        • This is odd because I would have expected Phantom Meanace to have done the most poorly of all three, being the one that was least about anything as well as having the highest JJBQ.

          • There was almost 2 decades of anticipation and goodwill built up for most everyone to at least give it a shot.

          • What K said. And even after the word got round that it sucked, people wanted to see it to be ready for the next one, when Lucas would be back in form.

      • I saw all three of them in theatres. Phantom Menace was the first or second movie I ever saw in theatres (I think second, after Pocahontas) and I found it incredibly exciting. I went to see the second and third ones in the theatre too, though I wasn’t as impressed by them.

  9. As I mentioned at the time, during junior high I went through a regrettable Andrew Lloyd Webber phase…

    So this means you do or don’t want me to line up tickets for Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian next week?

  10. I just checked. There is not going to be a Sound of Music sing-along while we’re in Vegas.

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