Category Archives: television

‘The Grand Tour’ Watching Party

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All images by Lisa Kay Tate

There’s no turning back now. The Grand Tour is on its way this week, and is in full promotion mode.

Not to mention the show’s opening scene is being called the “most expensive TV opening scene ever” with 150 cars, 2,000 acrobats, jets, and no telling what else coming in at £2.5 million (around $3 million).

 With the debut just a month away, the only thing left for viewers needing their latest fix of the antics of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond isto wait.

Well, that and start the preparations for a weekly watching party. One of the reasons the enthusiasm for this show has been so high, in addition to people missing the hilarious magnetism between these three unlikely friends, is the anticipation of being an armchair passenger on this wild journey.

For those planning on tuning in with this well-traveled threesome, here are some tips in putting together the ultimate watch party for The Grand Tour:gtmapsGet Out The Map. These boys have a pretty extreme international journey ahead of them, so chart a course along with them. From what has been revealed so far, some of the countries covered include South Africa, the United States, Holland, Finland, Yorkshire, Barbados, Germany, France, and more. That’s a good amount of ground to cover.

Find a nice poster-size wall map of the world from a travel, craft, or teacher supply store. The vintage one shown above came from a craft store for around $12. Use stickers, tacks, or markers to keep track of their journey.

This is also a good opportunity to learn some facts about each place, like capitals, flags, food, and culture, or what (if any) makes of vehicles are made in the region. Even though not everyone will get a chance to travel the world, they can still learn about it, even in unlikely ways.gtretro-pmGo Retro. The “tent tour” set the show has planned is no mere camping trip. Their traveling studio is more posh (and larger) than many stationary homes. In addition to its vast picture window and studio space for a sizeable live audience, the sneak peeks at this massive mobile village have revealed vintage suitcases, bits and piece of safari-like travel fodder, and, most appropriate, retro racing posters.

Similar posters can be found and printed out online to adorn one’s own party “tent” or table, and small travel cases can be used to hold food and drink. Decorate these with some vintage labels from some of the countries featured on the series. Vintage and nostalgia sites like Retro Planet also have a large selection of vintage posters, metal signs, and vinyl stickers for travel buffs and racing fans.

Add some binoculars, old cameras, model cars, planes, motorcycles, and other travel trinkets to round out the look.

gtdrinksPack Some Road Snacks. What’s a road trip without some grub?

There are two directions to go here. One option is to hit the travel centers and pick up some of the snacks, like individual bags of trail mix, jerky, Cracker Jacks, fruit, or other forms of “eat and drive” items. Shops like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and World Market also have some more natural snack items, as well as snack items from around the world. Half the fun here is seeing what there is to find.

For the second option, try something a little more substantial. Allrecipes.com always has some cool “road trip” food. Serious Eats has some make-ahead ideas as well such as homemade energy bars, Pork and Guinness Hand Pies, and fruit leather.

Some gourmet shops and marketplaces may sell different soft drinks or beers from around the world, depending on age groups and preferences of the viewing parties, of course.

Some energy drinks also have some great motoring names like “Full Throttle” or “Kick Start,” but go easy on those, okay?

gtmusicMake A Playlist. One of the standouts of the most recent trailer was the inclusion of the band Kongos’ motivating hit, “Come With Me Now,” which helps make the series look like a feature movie in the works.

All road trips need a personalized, energizing mixtape, a sort of soundtrack to the trek, as it were. It would be impossible to speculate what is going to be featured on The Grand Tour, which might even sport original music. Names like Roger Daltrey, Wilko Johnson, and Hothouse Flowers have been tossed around online as possible theme song contenders.

Instead, find some favorite traveling or road trip or party songs, and put together a custom pre-show mix. Here are some suggestions:

  • “The Boys Are Back” (Dropkick Murphys)
  • “Party Hard” (Andrew W.K.)
  • “Highway to Hell” (AC/DC)
  • “Move” (Saint Motel)
  • “Life in the Fast Lane” (Eagles)
  • “The Distance” (Cake)
  • “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (The Clash)
  • “Roam” (B-52s)
  • “Route 66” (Depeche Mode)
  • “I Can’t Drive 55” (Sammy Hagar)
  • “Life is a Highway” (Tom Cochrane)
  • “New Four Seasons” (Nigel Kennedy)

Once all these travel essentials are in order, it will soon be time to sit back with friends and family and enjoy the scenic ride.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Grand Tour stops in California for their series premiere this Friday, Nov. 18 on Amazon Prime.

Originally published in GeekMom on Oct. 14, 2016. All images by Lisa Kay Tate

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DIY: Great Gatsby Era Dalek Dress

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Image: Lisa Tate

Here’s a little Dalek dress costume that might fit in just as well as at an art deco Great Gatsby-esque Roarin’ Twenties party as it would at any Doctor Who fan event or comic con.

The Headpiece:

1. Find a dark brown or black knit cap at any accessory, clothes or craft store.

2. Sew on one large blue jewel button in front for the Dalek’s eye and tear-shaped clear baubles for the lights.

The Dress:

3. Find a simple, plain cotton tank dress in tan or light brown. Can’t find the right color, “tea dye” a white dress by letting is soak one or two nights in a container of tea (use a black tea, not green).

4. Sew 32 bronze, gold or copper-colored buttons evenly over the lower half of the dress for the Dalek’s globes. Space them evenly, four across and four high (16 each on front and back).

5. For the top half, (or Dalek’s “main chamber”), securely sew three ¾ inch black satin ribbons, parallel from each other, around the dress.  To get the look of a Dalek, gently cut two sets of slits the width of the ribbon on both the front and the back of the dress. Lace the ribbon through and make sure to sew these slits securely to prevent the ribbon from catching or the dress to tear more.

6. Add a ruffle around the skirt’s hem with a large satin or mesh ribbon (about four inches in width) for the Dalek’s bumper or “motive power system.”

The “Arm” Wands:

7. For a basic “sucker arm” make a cone out of black felt with a small hole in the center and place it at the end of a chopstick or dowel. Cover the chopstick with black ribbon or electric tape. Make it fancy or “wand-like” by adding ribbon, mesh or glitter.

8. For a basic “gun arm,” cover a dowel or chopstick with silver ribbon, and cut eight to 10 pieces of sturdy silver craft or floral wire about ¾ the length of the arm. Carefully use a glue gun to secure the ends around the chopstick, and carefully bend the wire out so it resembles a whisk or mixer beater (for a lazy method, either of these kitchen items can be used in lieu of making a gun). Secure the bottom ends of the wire around the dowel with glue gun, and cover both the top and bottom ends of the wires with more ribbon. Like the sucker arm, these can be embellished with ribbon, silver pipe cleaners, cheap rhinestone costume buttons or other items.

Now, wear it with pride. Extermination never looked so stylish and cute.

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A Family ‘Breaking Bad’ Adventure

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Breaking Bad may not be a family-friendly show by any means, but it made for some goofy family adventures around Albuquerque. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

It all started quite innocently enough.

We had no intentions of taking it any further than just the one picture, you know, for recreational purposes.

 But, somewhere along the way, we begin following the icy blue trail of the do-it-yourself Breaking Bad tour of Albuquerque, N.M.

We visit Albuquerque often for short getaways when we haven’t planned a big trip for the summer. This year’s main venture in town was to be a day at the BioPark. Simple enough.

Then, when we checked into our restored Route 66 motor hotel and saw the little lobby brochure:

Breaking Bad RV Tours! Now Touring Better Call Saul Locations!”

Tours depart Thursday through Sunday mornings from Old Town.

“Can you believe this,” I said, holding up the brochure. “People actually pay to drive around in a kitschy RV and look at everyday houses and business, just because they were in a television show.”

“And for 75 bucks a pop, no less,” my husband scoffed, examining the information.

We’re not huge Breaking Bad fans. We’ve seen up to the third season, but had to take a break. Frankly, it makes me sad. Still, the writing, camera angles, and acting are excellent.

We tossed the brochure aside on the table and forgot about it until the following evening. We spent a fun, and hot, day at the BioPark, had an evening swim, ate dinner, and were traveling up and down Central, waiting to see some neon lights flicker on.

On the way, we passed The Dog House Drive In.

“That was in the show,” my husband said. “Remember?”

“It is a cool-looking place,” I said. Without even thinking, I grabbed the camera and did a drive-by picture.

Then we passed the hideously authentic old Crossroads Motel, where we actually thought we saw “something going down.” Turned out to be college kids getting pictures of a Breaking Bad site.

We passed Burt’s Tiki Lounge, seen in the show. We usually get Tiki bar photos, anyways, because we like tiki stuff. Nothing to do with Breaking Bad, we assured ourselves.

It was then we crossed that dreaded line.

“You know,” my husband said, “we at least need to see Walter White’s house. It’s a real home”

This made me a little nervous, since words like “private residence” and so forth, tend to mean, “keep away,” with good reason. What if the owners don’t want people passing by?

As it turns out, we later read the owners of the home are apparently perfectly nice people, but thanks to the idiocy of some fans, they are a bit apprehensive of people on their own property. I read stories of countless morons wanting to relive notable moments from the show by hurling pizzas on their garage roof, among other acts of sheer disrespect for a person’s domain. So, stay off their lawn and driveway, please.

Tour busses—and RVs, as the case may be—pass through all the time, so taking photos from the street is a common occurrence. The house is part of the tours. Still, I was getting increasingly apprehensive, because that’s what I do. This didn’t stop my husband, who got out his smart phone, and logged the street into the GPS. When we approached the neighborhood street, my husband thrust the camera my way and said, “Here, get it!”

I hastily held the camera out the window at elbow level and snapped a pic as we passed, not even looking through the viewer. The next moment played out like a scene from the show–if it were written by drunk cats.

“Okay, go!”

“Did you get it?”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it!”

“No really, let me see.”

I handed him the camera. This was the result of my efforts:

walt's blur

Nothing to see here, carry on.

My husband cocked an eyebrow as my kids peeked over his shoulder and rolled their eyes.

“Really?” he asked.

“I panicked.”

Since the house is at the end of a cross street, my husband took the camera from me, drove around the block, and shot a couple of pictures heading towards the house up the street. All done. Yet, as we turned right to leave the neighborhood, the garage began opening.

Both my daughters screamed.

“Dad! Dad! They’re after us! Drive! Drive,” my oldest demanded.

“Are we going to get shot?” my youngest asked.

I had visions of a bald, intimidating Bryan Cranston walking out of his home to come after the intruders. Nobody followed us because nobody cared we took a generic Google Map style picture of the front of a house.

The questions from the back seat, however, didn’t cease until we were out among the businesses, which included a stop by Saul Goodman’s office.

The sports bar, now called Sinners N’ Saints, still had Saul Goodman’s Office info on the door and window including the bogus phone number and the welcoming “Se Habla Español.” That was pretty cool, so we got some shots of it as well. I got out of the car for this one.

That was it, though. We didn’t care about Jessie Pinkman’s house, and we didn’t know who “this Jimmy guy” was, anyway. We assumed he was one of Jesse’s hooligan pals, so we ignored those sites.

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The domiciles of Breaking Bad (clockwise from top left) Walter White’s home, Jesse Pinkman’s home, Jesse and Jane’s duplex and the official Breaking Bad tour RV. Images: Rick and Lisa Tate.

That night, we wandered around the peaceful Old Town Plaza. Most businesses were closed, but we enjoy sites more than souvenirs. We passed the little shop of The Candy Lady of Old Town, the sweet shop that produced the official prop blue meth seen in the television show.

It was probably upwards on $10 a bag, my husband estimated. I argued they probably had smaller bags for a couple of bucks, but it didn’t matter. We weren’t buying.

So we thought.

The next morning, my husband began looking over his phone at breakfast.

“Jesse’s house is actually pretty close,” he said, “and it’s really pretty.” We found the plush little neighborhood where Jesse’s house was, as well as the corner where he shared a duplex with his ill-fated landlord-cum-girlfriend, Jane.

We stopped by Old Town one last time to get a photo of the girls at the beautiful blue mosaic at the entrances. There, behind the girls, at the entrance, was the tour RV, getting ready to take a group past several of the sites we had toured and more, including lunch at a restaurant called Twisters (the stand-in for Los Pollo Hermanos).

The crowd was diverse, from a couple of college-aged boys to several “Grandma Big-purse,” tourist types. We were able to peek in the RV and noticed it was modified with some nice motor coach style seats. I had to admit, these RV guys had a good thing going.

Right around the corner from the departing tour was the now-open Candy Lady. Next door was the Routes Bicycle Tours of ABQ, who offer a Biking Bad Tour. For those interested, by the way, the Albuquerque Tourism & Sightseeing Factory also gives tours (and has a great online site map), Red Door Brewing Company hosts weekly Better Call Saul watching parties on Mondays, and the iconic purveyors of geeky donuts, Rebel Donuts, makes some nifty “Blue Sky” Breaking Bad inspired donuts. There is also craft beer, cocktails, t-shirts, fine art, and more offered at various local businesses.

“We might as well take a look at what the candy people have,” I said.

The Candy Lady’s Shop was filled with everything from trays of fudge to licorice from all over the world, but the aura of its part in the Breaking Bad legacy was prevalent. The back room held a large tray of the blue rock candy and some prop “Heisenberg” (Walter White’s street name) hats and glasses, I assume were for those wishing to do a little cosplay. We didn’t ask.

The friendly couple behind the counter was happy to show us the goods. It turned out we were both right on the cost. The big bag, identical to the prop meth used in the show, was $10, but it, of course, included a few little dime bags for distribution to friends. There were also a few little $1 cotton candy-flavored bags available, as well. Yes, all these things are available from them online.

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A trip down Central had several Breaking Bad sites including Burt’s Tiki Lounge, The Dog House and the oh, so luxurious Crossroads Motel. Images: Rick Tate and Lisa Tate

Thus, we finished our Breaking Bad adventure purchasing blue meth. The blue meth, to be exact. We got one $10 bag and a Los Pollos Hermanos shot glass filled with little bags, along with some little sugar skulls, a bag of German licorice for our teen, and a little VW bug filled with candy for our six-year-old.

I was happy just getting the little packs, but my husband noted, as the candy shop people explained, the $10 bag actually had, and I quote, “the Heisenberg clarity.”

As we headed back home via I-25, I got to thinking about why the heck we decided to spiral into this world of deviancy?

I’ve had relatives who have struggled horribly with drug addiction, and I know the pain it causes a family. I don’t even support recreational marijuana; that’s how extreme I’ve gotten from the experience.

So, why the heck did we spend a good evening and the following morning with our kids collecting photos and trinkets from a show about pair of meth dealers and their unscrupulous lawyer?

That’s just bad parenting. Right?

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The law office of Saul Goodman is actually a pretty nice sports bar. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

First of all, despite the meth-intensive show, neither the tours or the show itself advocate drug use. As a matter of fact, a good binge watch of Breaking Bad should do more than scare a person away from this lifestyle. Ironically, I would never let my kids, even my teenager, actually watch this show from which we traveled around seeing sites. One of the RV tour brochures even lists numbers for regional Narcotics Anonymous or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services hotlines for those who might struggle with or know someone with a drug problem.

Still, we dropped some green on a baggie of candy meth. Why?

I realized the reason when we got home and picked up where we left off on the show. We also started Better Call Saul, which I’m already enjoying way more than it’s predecessor.

“Oooh, so that’s Jimmy,” I overheard myself saying at the beginning. “We need to get his nail salon next time we’re up there. Bob Odenkirk’s the man.”

The main reason we temporarily fell in with this unsavory crowd for a day or two could be summed up in one word: Albuquerque.

Those who live in well-represented filming locations like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and even Albuquerque’s movie star neighbor, Santa Fe, are used to seeing their hometown as part of a television series or movies.

Those “badlands” from Albuquerque to El Paso are often relegated to a few westerns, a romp through Old Town, and a look at the borderlands from a wide-angle lens. There have been other movies and shows filmed in the area, but none that really show off the retro, quirkiness of making the Southwest your home.

It’s the murals on Central, the pottery light fixtures in the Route 66 diners, and the low camera angles that give you a sense of baking in the cloudless, yet amazingly, blue New Mexico and West Texas skies. It’s the neighborhoods, which vary from modern upscale to mid-century quaintness.

It’s the dilapidated strip malls mixed with the recently restored historic sites. It’s Blake’s Lotaburger. It’s the neon and Native American-inspired overpass art.

It was the references to the show’s “rival” DEA department, and my hometown, El Paso, and the gorgeous Sandia Mountains. More than anything, it’s getting beyond the tourist draws, and seeing the community off the main drag, good or bad, classy or trashy.

If we hadn’t ventured off the beaten path to see a few, non-descript homes or businesses, we never would have seen some beautiful gardens, creative public parks, front yard sculptures, and other hidden odds and ends that give any town its character.

It was also getting to see how a map and an RV can become a lucrative little business. It’s giving people, in search of a show about a very ugly side of reality, another reason to visit a very beautiful region of the country.

The main star of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul isn’t some actor. It’s Albuquerque, and she’s giving an Emmy-worthy performance.

In that sense, “breaking bad” can be a very good thing.

Originally ran July 14, 2016 in GeekMom.com.

 

The Social Media Fan Frenzy: Case in Point “The Grand Tour”

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When the show formerly known as the Amazon Prime Motoring Show is officially became The Grand Tour, the hosts’ legions of social media fans are made sure everyone knew it.

Part one in my two-part series on Social Media in my life, which originally ran in GeekMom on May 12 2016.

After months of speculation, my boys of W. Chump & Sons, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, have finally settled on a real bonafide, official name for their new Amazon Prime Motoring Show, The Grand Tour.

But what I was most interested in as a result was this question: this trio knows how to amass fans on social media, but how much access to our favorite celebrities to we really need?

To provide the background:

Clarkson, May and Hammond’s announcement came at a good time, with BBC’s new Chris Evans-led Top Gear cranking up the trailers for their premiere on May 29.

Their simple name, Grand Tour, (which is perfect for their new “no studio tent tour format”) has been met with, as expected, a flood of social media hits, especially they are looking for more stops on their “grand tour,” an announcement made via their individual twitter accounts and the newly-created show’s Facebook page.

“So, the Grand Tour (GT for short) will come from a tent, which we will put up in a different location every week,” Clarkson announced on his Twitter page. “Your town?”

Within three hours of posting this, Clarkson got more than two thousand “likes,” and nearly 500 responses from “please come see us,” fans worldwide. Both May and Hammond had similar responses. Yes, I told them to come to Texas, but hey, I always need story material, and I’ll let them drive my dad’s Mustang GT, a family heirloom of 50 years.

Of course, they’ve also been staking their social media deck in other ways. All three individual hosts announced their own official Facebook pages within the past month and those now join several already-popular “former Top Gear hosts” fan sites.

My muse James May’s official page is listed as a “Health and Beauty” site, and has already gained more than 1.5 million followers, including many of the more than 2 million followers he pulled from Twitter.  Clarkson, listed under “scientist” and Hammond, listed as ‘Pet,” have amassed several thousand on their sites (although Clarkson leads the trio’s Twitter following with more than 6 million followers). Hammond, however, added an Instagram page recently and he’s moving up in followers.
Jeremy Clarkson got 12,000 hits, just for saying the name of the new show will be announced, but James May can get 8.8 thousand likes for a picture of Richard Hammond in an office plant and babushka. Really? Images: James May and Jeremy Clarkson official Twitter pages.

Jeremy Clarkson got 12,000 hits, just for saying the name of the new show will be announced, but James May can get 8.8 thousand likes for a picture of Richard Hammond in an office plant and babushka. Really? Images: James May and Jeremy Clarkson official Twitter pages.

But wait, there’s more. On almost the same day this trioannounced their Facebook pages, they announced their longtime collaborator, television Executive Director Andy Wilman, first official partnership with the “ambitious new digital media platform that will connect global audiences with motoring content,” DriveTribe.

The concept of the site is to structure car enthusiasts into “tribes,” depending on their own unique personalities and characteristics.

“Gamers have got Twitch, travelers have got TripAdvisor and fashion fans have got, oh, something or other too. But people who are into cars have got nowhere,” Hammond said in the site’s official press release. “There’s no grand-scale online motoring community where people can meet and share video, comments, information and opinion. DriveTribe will change that. And then some.”

They won’t be running the site themselves, as it will be under the leadership of tech savvy mavericks Ernesto Schmitt (founder and CEO of Beamly), and Jonathan Morris (previous CTO of Financial Times online). This news didn’t matter to fans. They are already vigorously glomming onto the site, which officially launches this fall, just like the newly christened Grand Tour.

Whether you love or hate these three, you have to admit, they are covering a lot of social media ground. Having followed this saga, I’ve begun to realize how much social media has become the quickest, most efficient, and sometimes most disturbing way of celebrities connecting with the public.

When I was a young teen, the information about a favorite actor or musician was limited to whatever read in magazines, saw on the television or movie screen, or heard on the radio. I kept my favorite station on all afternoon to hear the news of the latest single coming out. We didn’t have cable, so I found my music video fix weekly via Friday Night Videos, or when I visited friend’s house who had MTV. MTV, when you think of it, was kind a precursor to Twitter. We really didn’t want to watch anything, but that awesome video might come up next. Better keep tuned in just in case.

Today, with YouTube, we can see our favorite video anytime (and again and again, if we wish), be it music video, movie trailer or clip, or recent interview. This, in addition to a celebrity idol’s (or their “personal assistantsP) “insta-posts” on social media, make it way, way too easy to keep up with those famous folk who at one time in our world seemed so much further away.

This is the type of easy-access information current I like to refer to as the “big bowl of M&Ms” communication method (no product endorsement intended). These fingertip means of finding about — and reacting to another person — are just so tempting. You’re not really hungry, and these little tidbits of fun aren’t particularly good for you in large doses, but what’s one little handful here and there? We just want to see what our favorite celeb is up to. We’re not obsessed. Right?

We just check a Twitter feed in the morning, a Facebook exchange a little later on. Have they posted anything on Instagram? We take one “small handful” after another, and next thing we know the bowl is near empty, (along with the time we’ve had allotted for actually productivity), and we’ve successfully (albeit unintentionally) cyber-stalked a few high-profile strangers.

Now, before I sound like I’m wagging a judgmental finger at fellow computer-users, I need to point out I dip into that bowl often, as well. I’m an avid follower of this threesome. I’m also a writer and editor working from my home in my “day job,” which means that big, nummy colorful bowl of chocolatey candy-coated information is constantly right in front of me…and it is near impossible to ignore. I’ve had plenty of handfuls, believe me.

I follow all three of these men, and respond often, but I don’t expect a response. I do however, expect something else: I want people to read my work and make my little projects. I do this by constantly reposting my favorite posts. I don’t feel bad about doing this, since I’ve seen fellow writers and artists do similar. As a writer for GeekMom, I especially like to write about my geeky passions that I hope resonate with others of similar fandoms.

There are some great things about being able to connect with celebrities via social media:

• It is easier to get updates on the someone’s latest project, for example, we all now know about Grand Tour. Celebrities pushing a project don’t have to rely on the network or movie company to get the word out anymore. Sometimes, a simple “Watch for me tonight on BBC-Four” is all they need, and fans tune in. Often times, the fanbase becomes the best form as information sharing, since one good comment or interview will get retweeted, and shared countless times. Heck, I know what’s going on with people I don’t follow, because so many others retweet something. Twitter is the world’s largest informational ripple effect.

• It creates a “community” in a seemingly more isolated society. We read again and again about how people are plunging more into their own little isolated, narcissistic online worlds while becoming detached to those around them. I often worry about this. However, I’ve noticed a flip side to this issue. People who might otherwise have nothing in common are connecting via a similar “fandom” (often a person) via social media. I’ve made some “acquaintances” from all over the world, just because clicked “follow” on @MrJamesMay. Some people consider social media friends as one step away from “imaginary friends,” but really I’ve discovered it’s like having pen pals (which I did have as a kid, and no one said I was delusional). One “Twitter friend” direct messaged me about writing tips, and another read a Tweet about an online course I was taking, and offered to send me a book that might help. I will never meet these people in person, but it certainly is a treat to have them in my life. That’s pretty cool.

• It makes celebrities seem more like the humans they are. My mother used to lament that celebrities used to be “larger than life,” and had a mystique to them. I’ll admit some celebrities should take a lesson in decorum and poise from the past, but I do like the fact we can catch them “off the red carpet” sans make up and glamour. This is by their own accord, too, not through the lens of some paparazzi. They tweet pictures of their food, pets and family gatherings, which in reality are no more interesting then those of non-celebrities. Of course, like other human beings, people tweet or share Facebook posts to brag about something, and their “hey look where I am” tweets can be a little annoying to those of us with little disposable income. I’ve written before how I refuse to call myself a “fan” of any one person (I still do), because I don’t think people who opted to work in a pharmaceutical lab or run a family restaurant should ever consider themselves of lesser valuable than those who chose a career in front of a camera. Social media sites are pretty good levelers. A celebrity might photograph their feet overlooking the edge of their yacht, but their nappy toes are as ugly as everyone else’s.

However, there are also many problems with this quick-and-easy celebrity access as well:

• It’s a bit voyeuristic. There’s no “out of sight, out of mind” element, anymore. If a benefit of Twitter and Facebook feeds is making celebrities seem more, “human,” the dark side is they are inviting people too much into their lives. Is this a bad thing? Well, it is a little in the realm of “too much information.” Do I really need to see a crumb-covered lap, or every single view from a jet plane (often clouds)? No, but many of us feel we need to, and comment away. I even used Twitter to voice this concern in regards to one celebrity (okay, James May, dammit) who got more than three thousand likes for showing a picture of a half-eaten boxed dessert, and inquiring who took the other half.

“I can’t get enough people to read my stories, and this guy gets thousands of responses for bitching about a @#% pastry,” I wrote. I got a few likes, while that half-eaten pastry gained several more comments, not to mention a few invites from people willing to bring him a new one. Awww.

Also, it’s always nice to see people’s friends and families online, but I worry about too many people see what someone’s kids look like. This is the protective parent in me. I do include photos of my own children in my work, but they don’t get nearly the views a celebrity gets. I think if I were pretty well known, I would lay off the online reality show, and just post my silly projects for a while. I don’t always trust the cyber world.

• It creates a pied piper effect. Some celebrities are pounced on anything and everything they tweet or post. Sometimes, they even pose a question to their followers, and “Ping!” “Plunck!” “Tweet!” the responses pop up like magic. They dangle those quips, and the followers are there and ready.

I really don’t like it when celebrities use their fan influence to promote a political candidate or stance, but I won’t get into that issue, especially in this weird year in both the United States and United Kingdom.

I will include the names of bands, actors, artists, authors and more in my own posts, mostly in regards to something I’ve written or to promote something creative I think others would love to learn about.  I usually hashtag things with #MakeThings and #Draw for visual arts, #Write to help introduce people to my favorite writers, including comic book authors, and #WeAreTheMusicMakers for all things music related. I’m not afraid to admit James May has influenced my #MakeThings hashtag, but some people base their entire twitter names on the fact they are someone’s fan.

I’ll post about someone, but not directly to them, if it isn’t an actual reply. At least I try not to.

This leads to my final thought:

• Social Media can lead to a fandom run amok, and create obsessive addiction. This is something I’ve noticed following my former Top Gear hosts and other celebrity types that is kind of scary. There are fans who wake up every morning, and immediately direct a “good morning” post to their celebrity idol. I’ve also seen a few who do what I like to call “Twitter-baiting,” not just on occasion, but several times a day. I have to add, I do genuinely like many of these people, so I’m not giving any specifics or real tweets. These are typical of the comments:

“Hey @celebrityperson, what do you think of this picture?”

“I had a bacon sandwich today, I bet you would love this @favoriteactor. What do you have to say about that?”

“You’ve talked to me before, @personIlove, why won’t you respond again? Don’t you care anymore?”

Many people do this, and I’m not saying those who do are lesser people. Some of them are pretty funny and intelligent, but honestly too much of this practice creeps me out a little. I’ve seen one person whose happiness was based on the fact one celebrity responded to his Tweet. He spent a considerable amount of time trying to get him to do this again, with increasingly depressing and self-deprecating comments.

Please people, we’re better than this.

FillionPrattHammill

Questions, photos and snarky comments: what else could a fan want? I bet Rainn Wilson has sold a few more books, thanks to his buddy Nathan Fillion. Images via Nathan Fillion official Facebook and Twitter, Mark Hamill official Twitter and Chris Pratt official Instagram.

Send  amusing anecdotes to celebrities sparingly. I’ve done this just for chuckles. Don’t, however, hang all your hopes upon hearing from them. I can’t stress this enough: celebrities don’t know us. We know who they are, quite a bit about them thanks to their own over-sharing, but we don’t know them, either.

I love James May’s style, on air persona and writings, but I don’t love him. This is because I don’t know him. Haven’t and never will meet him. I do, however, truly adore my husband and kids with all my heart. I love my pets and my friends and family, not always in that order. They are my reality.

When it all comes down to it, the responsibility of controlling our online relationship with celebrities lies with us, the information consumer.

I really can’t blame the “celebrities,” as much as I’d like to bust their egos at times, but their image is their product. Even on social media, I think they are in some way sharing an amplified version of themselves to help gain followers and fans, and, in the long run, sell records, movie tickets, books or whatever they’re pushing. In short, their outreach to their public is nothing personal. It’s business, and I don’t blame them. I would do it, too.

Sure, we could argue there have always been obsessive fans who buy every album, watch (and now purchase or download) every movie or show, and fill their shelves with every book, but it used to be our fandoms were limited to the stage, screen and red carpet. Now, we have access that goes far beyond this, awaiting every breath a celebrity takes, waiting for them to mention their breakfast so we can pounce upon his or her tweet with our own replies.

If we “respond” just as a way to be part of a silly chain of people creating a progressing story started by a celebrity comment, or mention that celebrity as a way to share our interests with others, that’s fine.

Just as long as our lives don’t hang in the balance of hoping that stranger on the other end of the cyber connection gives that all-important “like,” or moreover an actual comment.

Yes, I’ll be taking The Grand Tour along with Clarkson, Hammond and May, but if it doesn’t stop my way, I won’t be lying in a fetal position devastated that three strangers who make me laugh aren’t looking in my direction. I worry many other followers of celebrities (any celebrity) do invest too much in the approval of those in the public eye.

What we need to realize more than anything, is even when we do take part in this social media celebrity watching, it should be for one reason and one reason only: to have fun.

One of the best and cutest examples of this was a Tweet I saw from a dad with a young son a few months ago concerning another well-followed celebrity, actor Chris Pratt.

“My 5-year-old son just informed me he will direct the next Jurassic World film. How’s your schedule looking next month @prattprattpratt?”

I don’t know if Chris Pratt ever responded to this, but in this case, I sure hope he did.

Find That Prop!: Janye’s Cunning (and Controversial) Hat

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A four part-look at the props of Firefly.

janeshatJayne Cobb, portrayed by Adam Baldwin, is one complicated guy. A tough-talking mercenary with a sensitive side, he has plenty of humor where he (seemingly) lacks in compassion.

Although he has little tolerance for those can’t or won’t keep step up the fight, it has also been indicated in the show he is man of quiet faith and love of family. This is where his assumed lack of compassion is a front, as his mercenary funds go home to help his mother care for a little sick girl named Mattie.

It is Cobb’s mother who made the infamous yellow and orange knit tuque complete with those attractive ear flaps and pom pom. Cobb loves not only the hat’s practicality, but the fact his mother made it for him. In his own words, this head topper is “pretty cunning, don’t you think.”

However, for the rest of the Serenity crew it is a source of friendly ridicule. The most famous line comes from Wash, who told Cobb: “A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.”

Cobb, of course, replied:
“Damn straight.”

Every Browncoat seems to want to be seen sporting this hat, or be seen with someone in it, including fans of all shapes, jaynesotherstuffsizes, ages and species, as well as a few celebrity fans. And why not? It really is an awesome hat.

This hat is the center of controversy, because after Fox released an “official” version of the hat a couple of years ago, created by Ripple Junction, they claimed intellectual rights on the hat stifled the creative efforts of many Firefly-loving crafters who had already been selling their own version of the item. This included hats from many popular artisan sites like Etsy.

On a good note, Baldwin, a strong supporter of the military, auctioned the original hat from the show. It sold for more than $4,700 to raise money for the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, making Jayne a real-life “big damn hero.”

Where to find or (shhhh) even make one: FOX’s claim on the hat may rankle a few feathers, and for good reason, but at least they make it easy to find. The “officially licensed” hat, by Ripple Junction, is available through several dealers of pop culture related items including, ThinkGeek, and Entertainment Earth will be selling the hat as well starting this summer.

The ThinkGeek price for this cunning piece is around $25, but thanks to holiday and summer sales, it can be found cheaper on sale sometimes, and Amazon had the hat for $19.48, as well as a limited amount of cute little Christmas ornament versions for around $11. The forthcoming Entertainment Earth version will also be around $20.

othershatsThere are still “unofficial” out there, but not marked as actual Jayne’s hats. The sellers keep it legal by giving it other distinctions unofficial indicators including “Firefly-inspired” hats or “cunning” hats.

This ban on sales hasn’t also stopped Browncoat fiber artists from making their own hats for personal use, and when all that is needed is light orange, dark orange and yellow wool yarn, plus the ability to knit or crochet, there’s nothing stopping them. And knit they have, everything from Firefly-inspired hats, to scarves, cup cozies, cupcakes, jewelry and gloves, not to mention some very uncomfortable-looking bras.

What did this “outlaw” cast say about this hat ban? Well, they wanted to remain diplomatic to their bosses business decisions, while celebrating the freedom of expression and enterprise of the independent artist.

Captain Mal, Nathan Fillion, tweet to fans, was “I like to think there’s a little bit of Malcolm Reynolds in all of us…But especially me.”

And there certainly is could be a little Jayne on all of us in the form of a very bright hat.

Except for Baldwin, who tweeted to his fans on the importance of free enterprise said: “I don’t have a ‘Jayne’ hat. I have an Adam Baldwin hat.”