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11 Visual Clichés You Never See in Real Life

A Christmas tree on the lot with a wooden X-stand affixed to the bottom. Armored car guards loading sacks marked with giant dollar signs. There are some things that, it seems, are stereotypical images constantly used in movies, comic strips, and on TV, but just never happen in real life. For example, have you ever actually seen any of these?

1. A Boy Scout Helping a Little Old Lady Cross the Street

It's the ultimate cliché when describing the friendly and courteous Boy Scout, but have you ever really seen such a youngster in uniform aiding an elderly person at a crosswalk?

It's possible that this association came about as a result of the repeated re-telling of a true story that occurred in 1909. William Boyce, an American businessman, got lost in the foggy London streets during a visit to England, and a Scout approached him and guided him to his destination. When Boyce offered the youth a tip, the Scout declined, stating that he could not accept money for a good deed.

2. A Reporter with a "Press" Card in his Hatband

True, very few reporters wear fedoras these days, but even in the dress-up days of the 1930s and '40s, did real-life newspaper folks ever display a tiny PRESS placard on their hats?

Despite the old movies that show police giving Melvyn Douglas or Clark Gable access to a crime scene by virtue of the card in their hatband, real-life reporters of that era did not flaunt their status. If, for example, their paper had recently been critical of local government then law enforcement officials would not be so eager to give them special treatment.

3. A Person Drinking Liquor from a Jug Marked "XXX"

This cliché most likely developed from an artist's immediate need to emphasize that that's not imported mineral water the "hillbilly" in the scene is swigging. Let's face it, what bootlegger with half a brain is going to mark his jugs with such an open invitation to revenuers?

4. An Angry Wife Chasing Her Husband with a Rolling Pin

Domestic violence is no joke, obviously, but have you ever seen an episode of COPS in which the battered and bleeding husband states, "My wife... she hit me with a rolling pin...!"?

5. Two Men Assuming the "Put Up Your Dukes" Stance Prior to a Fight

We're not talking professional boxing, we mean two guys who start out trading verbal barbs with one another and then let their tempers escalate. As a rule, when men get enraged to the point of fisticuffs, do they actually take the time to crouch down, pose, and circle around or do they just start punching?

6. A Newspaper Boy Yelling "Extra! Extra! Read All About It!"

It was the de facto transitioning device used in hundreds of old movies, but have you really seen a kid in knee breeches hawking papers by yelling "Extra!"?

TV would have us believe that these enterprising newsies spread information as quickly as the Internet does today, seeing as the cry of "Read all about it!" was always heard mere seconds after a major event (like the bombing of Pearl Harbor) occurred.

7. A Classmate Being Punished by Wearing a Dunce Cap

Even back in my elementary school days – when errant students could still get "the paddle" without fear of the teacher being sued – I never saw any miscreant forced to wear a pointy hat.

8. A Police Officer Shouting "Calling All Cars" into His Radio

Many movies and TV shows up until the 1950s have emphasized the urgency of a crime situation by a cop calling "calling all cars, calling all cars..." into his car radio. Did an actual cop on the beat have the ability to make such a call?

Probably not. The very first police car two-way radios were installed in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1933, and relied on a central dispatcher to make district-wide "broadcasts." The 10-code (as in, "10-4" or "We've got a 10-33") originated in 1937, not only to reduce the use of speech on radio and save time, but also as a way to describe a particular situation without alarming those bystanders within earshot.

9. An Organ Grinder with a Monkey

Any time a movie or TV show wants to portray an old-timey ethnic neighborhood, nothing sets the tone better than an organ grinder (preferably a stereotypically Italian man) with a trained monkey collecting coins from bystanders.

Even though celluloid organ grinders are usually shown surrounded by a happy and appreciative audience, in real life hurdy-gurdy men earned money by being annoying, not entertaining. Their music box played the same snog song over and over and the only way to make them move along was by giving them a coin.

10. A Burglar Wearing a Lone Ranger Mask

This type of concealment is technically called a "domino" mask, from the Latin dominus (meaning "lord or "master," but not "Kemo Sabe").

11. A Goat Eating a Tin Can

Forget pigs, when a cartoon or comic strip wants to depict the ultimate omnivore, the goat is their go-to animal. And as a demonstration of their gluttony, they are usually shown munching on an old tin can.

Once upon a time a real-life goat might have occasionally been observed licking a discarded can, but that was because it liked the taste of the paste that was used to affix labels to cans back in the very old days. Goats are actually quite finicky about what they'll consume, though they do "mouth" objects to get a feel for them and to determine whether they are edible.
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What visual clichés would you add to the list?

Note: We're taking a dinner break but will be back starting at 9:11pm with three more 11 lists.

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12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.

1. NO ONE KNOWS WHO CAME UP WITH ALFRED E. NEUMAN.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledging publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: the envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.  

2. THEY HAD TO APOLOGIZE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.  

3. THEY PREDICTED JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ELECTION IN 1960.

But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.

4. ALFRED BRIEFLY HAD A GIRLFRIEND.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.

5. THEY DIDN'T RUN ANY (REAL) ADS FOR 44 YEARS.

From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, Mad finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.

6. "SPY VS. SPY" WAS CREATED BY A SUSPECTED SPY.

Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’ other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by Mad’s New York offices and submitted his work: his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.

7. THERE WAS ONE FOLD-IN THEY WOULDN'T RUN.

Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with Mad almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.  

8. THEIR MOVIE WAS A DISASTER.

With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: a 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; Mad parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)

9. THE APRIL 1974 COVER HAD PEOPLE FLIPPING.


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.

10. THEY INVENTED A SPORT.

MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, Mad also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.  

11. WEIRD AL WAS A GUEST EDITOR.

In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.

12. FRED ASTAIRE ONCE DANCED AS ALFRED E. NEUMAN.

In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

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Can You 'Hear' These Silent GIFs?
iStock
iStock

GIFs are silent—otherwise they wouldn't be GIFs. But some people claim to hear distinct noises accompanying certain clips. Check out the GIF below as an example: Do you hear a boom every time the structure hits the ground? If so, you may belong to the 20 to 30 percent of people who experience "visual-evoked auditory response," also known as vEAR.

Researchers from City University London recently published a paper online on the phenomenon in the journal Cortex, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports. For their study, they recruited more than 4000 volunteers and 126 paid participants and showed them 24 five-second video clips. Each clip lacked audio, but when asked how they rated the auditory sensation for each video on a scale of 0 to 5, 20 percent of the paid participants rated at least half the videos a 3 or more. The percentage was even higher for the volunteer group.

You can try out the researchers' survey yourself. It takes about 10 minutes.

The likelihood of visual-evoked auditory response, according to the researchers, directly relates to what the subject is looking at. "Some people hear what they see: Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," they write in the study.

Images packed with meaning, like two cars colliding, are more likely to trigger the auditory illusion. But even more abstract images can produce the effect if they have high levels of something called "motion energy." Motion energy is what you see in the video above when the structure bounces and the camera shakes. It's why a video of a race car driving straight down a road might have less of an auditory impact than a clip of a flickering abstract pattern.

The researchers categorize vEAR as a type of synesthesia, a brain condition in which people's senses are combined. Those with synesthesia might "see" patterns when music plays or "taste" certain colors. Most synesthesia is rare, affecting just 4 percent of the population, but this new study suggests that "hearing motion synesthesia" is much more prevalent.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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