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6 Great Marching Bands That Never Were

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Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back our Marching Band Correspondent, Auburn University's Steven Clontz! You may remember him from his first post, Marching to the Beat of a Different Slide Instrument, which explored variations on the trombone. Or his second, When Good Bands Go Bad. He's back today with the third in a series of four band-centric entries.

Marching band kind of gets the shaft in pop culture, with band geeks serving more often as the nerdy comic relief than leading roles. But in rare cases, someone will weave a story that can only be told by those who hold an instrument in their hand, and wear a shako on their head. So, I respectfully submit to the mental_floss community, the greatest marching bands in fiction. (As a courtesy, I'm excluding any bands that make an appearance on this page, which I wish I never stumbled upon.)

1. The East Great Falls High School Marching Band

american-pie.jpg"This one time, at band camp"¦" was the bane of my existence as a freshman in my high school marching band. Y'see, a little movie called American Pie was released in 1999, and barely a year later, I had the experience of going through my own first band camp ever. As soon as classes began, only a mere mention of my involvement in my school's marching band would be necessary to receive a chorus of "This one time, at band camp"¦" from anyone within earshot.

When I first saw American Pie, I was surprised that the marching band and Michelle, the character who coined that phrase, don't play a huge part in most of the first movie. But since then, American Pie has spawned two sequels, a slew of spin-off movies (including a whole movie about band camp), and an entire generation who associates band camp with the creepiest use for a flute I can think of. So I guess it rightfully deserves its place at the beginning of my list.

Incidentally, American Pie takes place in an alternate universe where people actually go away to a real backwoods summer camp for band. The name of this magical place is called Michigan, which may explain why an Alabama boy such as myself knows nothing of making s'mores in between music rehearsals. In my experience, band camp is nothing more than back-to-back rehearsals, all day, for seven or eight days in a row, followed by a few hours of sleep in my own bed. But perhaps some of you have had the pleasure of a more clichéd band camp experience?

2. The Bikini Bottom Marching Band

Maybe I was a little old to be watching cartoons starring a yellow filter-feeder on the bottom of the sea, even in 2001. But what I could not ignore was that Nickelodeon had just released an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants entitled simply, "Band Geeks".

The plot was your typical Spongebob fare. Squarepants' clarinet-toting, fun-squashing neighbor Squidward Tentacles had to pull a marching band together to perform in the annual Bubble Bowl in just a few days, because he could not bear to admit to his childhood rival Squilliam that he did not really have a band of his own to direct. And while the band performed pitifully at first, in the end they pulled together to support Squidward. The result of which, I am happy to say, can be viewed right now thanks to the wonderful World Wide Intertubes.

And it seems my love for this episode is not alone. According to my cousins Matt and Josh, "Band Geeks" was awarded the honor of being the number one "Nicktoon" ever, just recently. Also neat, their mother tells me that the singer of "Sweet Victory" is actually David Glen Eisley. After chiding me for my lack of Hair Band knowledge, she pointed me to another song he's done, Giuffria's Call To the Heart.

3. Atlanta A&T State University's Blue and Gold Marching Machine

Performing in a historically black college's marching band is a little different from my own band career. But thankfully, I can at least know sort of what it's like to be in a real Battle of the Bands, without fearing I might actually be attacked by one. And it's all thanks to the movie Drumline.

Drumline performed well at the box office, and critically too, with a score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes. My friends in the band service fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi love it because it KKY is featured prominently. Also, of all the works featured in this article, it's the only one that actually presents marching band like it were just another sport. But I'm actually not a huge fan. Why, you ask? Not enough trombones. I can only pay attention to people banging on some overrated pots and pans for so long before I get bored. I'm still waiting for my coming-of-age story of a high school trumpet player with a heart of gold. But since Drumline is pretty much the only movie in that vein released"¦ ever?"¦ I may be waiting for a while.

4. The Wellsville High School Marching Squids

petepete.jpgI complete my Nickelodeon triumvirate (SpongeBob, Drumline star Nick Cannon of All-That fame, and this) with one of my all-time favorite shows, Pete & Pete. And of course, my favorite episode from the series, "Day of the Dot," would have to be dedicated to their high school marching band. Big Pete (as opposed to his younger brother, Little Pete) grows jealous when his best-friend-slash-obvious-romantic-interest Ellen is given the honor of dotting the "i" in Squid on the marching field. (This tradition is most likely borrowed from The Ohio State University Marching Band.)

At first, Big Pete is happy for Ellen. But things turn foul when she begins to spend more time with her marching partner, James Markle, Jr., than with him. In the end, Big Pete takes things into his own hands, and hijacks the halftime show to prove that there is one force even stronger than even that of a musical marching ensemble "“ the power of love. And while I normally wouldn't even condone breaking rank during a marching band performance, to this day I still have a crush on Alison Fanelli (the actress who played Ellen), so I'll let it all slide.

5. The Westview High School Scapegoat Marching Band

dinkle.gifMy first pair of marching shoes when I got to college were Dinkles. However, I'm sure the World's Greatest Band Director Dr. Harry L. Dinkle was vastly disappointed when my university band of choice decided to switch over to MTXs (Mark Time to the X-treme, dudes).

Okay okay, so I'm probably getting ahead of myself. For the uninitiated, Funky Winkerbean is the quintessential example of marching band in the funny pages. This was true particularly when the strip was first started back in 1972, and the story revolved around several students at Westview High. Notable band characters included Holly Budd, who could always be found walking around school in her majorette uniform, and the aforementioned Dr. Dinkle, the self-proclaimed best band director ever. Fellow band-ites like myself can relate to a fear consistently replicated in a running gag from Funky Winkerbean - every band competition (except for the first one) occurs during a raging monsoon.

In 1992, cartoonist Batuik decided to relaunch the comic, moving it forward four years in time, so all the high school students had now graduated and were living the lives of grown-ups. At the same time, the strip began to take a more serious tone, tackling many serious issues, such as suicide, dyslexia, and most notably, cancer. However, this final point has brought me some hope. As I understand it, Funky relaunched again only a few weeks ago after Lisa died of breast cancer. The story now follows the next generation as they go through high school. So maybe, just maybe, next time I pick up the funnies I'll be greeted by the World's Greatest Band Director once again.

6. The River City Boys Band

musicman.jpgOur list concludes with the most eminent marching band in all of cinema, Professor Harold Hill's boys band. The boys of River City, enraptured by the opening of a new pool hall, needed something to keep them from turning down the steep slippery path of billards-induced temptation.

Or so Dr. Hill would have had them believe. In reality he was just a con artist who"¦ why am I even explaining this? The Music Man is by many counts, one of the greatest musicals of all time, receiving six Tonies, an Oscar, and a slew of other nominations. I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who doesn't know one of the show's most memorable songs, "Seventy-Six Trombones (in the Big Parade)." If you're one such poor soul, please, go out and rent the 1962 movie adaption now. Then you'll understand why I'm having so much trouble mastering my Elementary Spanish class since our instructor seems to insist on using Professor Hill's "Think Method."

That's all for this time. Have a bwayno day, guys!

Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.


In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.


An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.


A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.


Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.


Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.


Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."


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