Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Online Friends Are Real Friends

I have had internet access since 1995. In that time I have made many friends online, most of whom I have never met in person. Many of these friends number among my very closest friends, among them the dearest friend I have ever had. Many of my friends, both those I have met in person and those I have met online, have had similar experiences. Despite this, there are those who will insist that online friends are not "real friends." Indeed, there is even the phrase "real life friends," which seems to say that what occurs online somehow is not real.

Given the World Wide Web has existed for nearly 28 years, I am not sure why some people have this attitude that online friends are not real friends or, at the very least, are somehow lesser in quality than people one meets in person. Making friends online can go well beyond simply chatting with people on Facebook or Twitter. Today there is no shortage of video chat software, from Skype to Zoom. Some of my online friends have my phone number and we have texted and talked on the phone. There are several different ways one can bond with friends one has made online. And often this bonding can be every bit as strong as the bonding one has with those friends they have met in person.

Now I do realize it is fully possible for someone online to pretend to be someone or something they are not. There is the phenomenon of catfishing, whereby someone creates a fake persona online, whether for attention or some more nefarious ends. And I have had the sad experience of befriending people online, only to learn later they are not what they initially appeared to be. In one case I knew someone for a year before they turned on me, something that took me by surprise. That having been said, I have had this happen offline with people I have met in person as well. In fact, I daresay it has happened many more times to me with people I have met in person than it has people I have met online. There are always going to be those insincere or unscrupulous people who will behave nicely when they want something from an individual and then turn on that individual when they are through with them.

Fortunately, in my experience, such people are the exception to the rule. It seems to me that most people behave the same online as they do offline. I think most people online are honest about who and what they are. Over the years I have gotten to meet friends I have made online and in each case they behave the same offline as they do online. What is more, we did not suddenly become friends because we met in person. Quite simply, we were already friends and behaved as such.

For those not willing to take my word for it, a study conducted by the University of California Irvine in 2017 revealed that online friendships are just as meaningful as face-to-face friendships for teens.  There is no reason to assume that the same is not true for many adults. Ultimately I don't think the means through which people connect (online vs. in person) is nearly is as important is as how strong that connection is.

As I said earlier, I won't pretend to understand why some people think online friends are not real friends or think that online friends are somehow lesser in quality than those one has met in person. Maybe they haven't spent that much time online or maybe they just never "clicked" with someone online. That having been said, for many of us our online friendships are every bit as real and every bit as meaningful as our face-to-face friendships. To say, "Too bad you never met so-and-so in person" of someone's online friend is then not only rude, but wholly unwarranted and can be downright cruel. For years now people have connected through multiple platforms beyond in person, through the telephone, through ham radio, and now through the internet. It is not the means through which two people connect that is important. It is the fact that they connected at all and how strong that connection is that is important.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Actress and Singer Martha Stewart Passes On

Martha Stewart, the actress and singer who appeared in such films as Daisy Kenyon (1947) and In a Lonely Place (1950), died on February 17 2021 at the age of 98.

Martha Stewart was born Martha Haworth on October 7 1922 in Bardwell, Kentucky. She was very young when her family moved to Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from New Utrecht High School there. After graduating from high school, she entered a singing contest which led to a career as a professional singer. During World War II she sang on NBC radio shows Glenn Miller, Harry James and Claude Thornhill. It was at an engagement at the Stork Club that she was spotted by Hollywood talent scout.

Martha Stewart made her film debut in Doll Face in 1945. She appeared in the films Johnny Comes Flying Home (1946) and I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now (1947). In Daisy Kenyon (1947) she played a friend of the title character (played by Joan Crawford). She appeared in Are You With It? (1948) with Donald O'Connor before playing hat-check girl and murder victim Mildred Atkinson in In a Lonely Place (1950). She appeared in only a few movies following In a Lonely Place, those being Convicted (1950), Aaron Slick from Punkin Creek (1952), and Surf Party (1964).

Miss Stewart appeared on Broadway in Park Avenue in the late Forties and Guys and Dolls in the early Fifties. Martha Stewart made her television debut on Texaco Star Theatre Starring Milton Berle in 1950. She was a co-host of the variety show Those Two. In the Fifties she guest starred on Footlights and Klieglights, Cavalcade of Stars, Songs for Sale, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Arthur Murray Party, The Red Skelton Show, The Stork Club, and Musical Chairs. In the Sixties she guest starred on Our Man Higgins, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and My Three Sons

Martha Stewart was a talented singer with a lovely voice, as anyone who has seen her musicals knows. She also displayed a good deal of talent as an actress. She played a variety of roles, from singer Frankie Porter in Doll Face to an older rich woman in Surf Party. She was equally at home in musicals and in dramas, and she always gave good performances.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Comic Book Legend Dwayne McDuffie

It was ten years ago that comic book and animated TV series writer Dwayne McDuffie died at age 49 following complications of emergency heart surgery. Mr. McDuffie was born during the Silver Age and his career in comic books would not begin until the Modern Age of Comic Books, yet he had an impact on the medium as few other writers have. Quite simply, if comic books today include more diversity than they once did, Dwayne McDuffie deserves much of the credit.

Dwayne McDuffie was born on February 20 1962 in Detroit. It was following Mr. McDuffie's death that Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele fame learned he was his half-brother through their father. Like many young boys in the Seventies, Dwayne McDuffie read comic books. He attended the Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He later attended the University of Michigan, where he received a degree in English, and then a master's degree in physics at the same school. He moved to New York City where he attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He was a copy editor at Investment Dealers Digest when a friend recommended him for a job as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics.

At Marvel Dwayne McDuffie wrote the limited series Damage Control, the limited series Deathlok, and specials and one-shots related to such characters as She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Man. He later wrote a few issues of The Demon for DC Comics and a few issues of Back to the Future: Forward to the Future for Harvey Comics. It would be in 1993 that Dwayne McDuffie would make his mark in comic book history with the founding of Milestone Media.

Milestone Media was founded in 1993 by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle, with the goal of addressing the lack of diversity in American comic books at that time. Dwayne McDuffie served as the editor-in-chief at Milestone and also created several of its characters. Milestone Media's titles were published through DC Comics, although Milestone retained full ownership of their characters. Dwayne McDuffie co-created several of Milestone's most popular characters, including Hardware, Blood Syndicate, Icon, Static, and The Shadow Cabinet. Dwayne McDuffie also wrote the Milestone's titles Hardware and Icon.

Milestone Media was a major break from previous comic book companies in that they had people of colour had much greater representation there than any other comic book company at the time. Hardware, Icon, and Static were all Black. Xombi was Korean American. Kobalt was of Cuban descent. Both Blood Syndicate and The Shadow Cabinet featured characters of various ethnicities and sexual orientations. What is more, the various Milestone titles, particularly Icon, often addressed real world issues. Icon presented a conflict before the more economically and socially conservative Icon and his more progressive sidekick Rocket. In the pages of Icon, Rocket became the first unwed mother in the history of comic books. Other topics covered by Milestone Media's title included drug addiction, alcoholism,  gang warfare, sexuality, and, as might be expected racism.

Sadly, Milestone Media was founded at a time when there was a boom in new comic book publishers. Between the late Eighties and the early Nineties such companies as Malibu Comics, Valiant Comics, Image, and yet others were founded. Most of these publishers introduced their own lines of superheroes. As a result, there was a glut on the market of new superhero titles. Milestone's chances may have also been hurt by the speculator boom of the Nineties, whereby speculators would buy various titles in hopes that they would be valuable later. The speculator boom peaked just as Milestone was founded and then ended only a few years later. As a result, comic book sales dropped dramatically. With sales of its titles in decline, Milestone Media ceased publishing comic books in 1997, although the company still exists today as a licensing company for its characters.

It would be Milestone Media that would lead Dwayne McDuffie into animation. Even though Static had ended its run in 1997, the character of Static was licensed for the animation Static Shock in 2000. Michael McDuffie would go onto write episodes not only of Static Shock, but Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, various Ben 10 series, and Young Justice. He served as a producer on Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Ben 10: Alien Force, and Ben 1: Ultimate Alien. He also wrote direct-to-video features for DC comics, including Justice League: Starcrossed, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, All-Star Superman, and Justice League: Doom. He would return to comic books, writing the mini-series Beyond for Marvel, as well as Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Fantastic Four, and Justice League of America.

During his lifetime Dwayne McDuffie received nominations for the Eisner Award for Best Writer, Best Editor, and Best Continuing Series. He won the Golden Apple Award from the Roeper School (his alma mater) for "use of popular art to promote and advance human worth and dignity." He won the Humanitas Award for in Children's Animation for the Static Shock episode "Jimmy." Two awards are named for him, the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics and the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Kids' Comics.

Both as a founder of Milestone Media and as a writer, Dwayne McDuffie did much to advance diversity in comic books. Even after the introduction of several important African American characters in the Seventies (The Falcon and Luke Cage at Marvel, John Stewart and Black Lightning at DC), there were still few Black superheroes to be found in comic books in the early Nineties. There were also few Asian, Latino, or Native American superheroes. In co-founding Milestone Media, Dwayne McDuffie did much to change that. He wrote Black characters and characters of other ethnicities as human beings, not caricatures or stereotypes. What is more, Dwayne McDuffie's characters were ones that anyone could identify with, regardless of ethnicity. Hardware is an inventor who found he was being used by his criminal patron. Static is an intelligent teenager and pop culture geek who just happened to get superpowers. Rocket is a teenage aspiring writer who fell in with the wrong crowd until she met Icon. In writing characters that were wholly relatable, often dealing with issues that the average person might face in their everyday life, Dwayne McDuffie helped advance diversity in comic books in a way that few writers before him had.