Monday, March 31, 2008

What a Bunch of Bull-Shull

At some point during my senior year of high school a bundle of newspapers started showing up on the front steps of school every morning. Students were encouraged to grab a copy of the Indianapolis Star, and the offer turned out to be a popular one because some mornings tardiness mixed with the early-birdiness of peers left only an empty plastic bag in the school lobby, blowing about American Beauty style, with all copies spoken for. Awww. (What the hell just happened?)

Needless to say, I poured over my daily copy during my first period class, Advanced Senior English Level IV-G or some conglomeration of letters and Roman numerals that made it seem like I was smart and this class was dripping with erudition. Bullshit. We did next to nothing in there, and if we weren't reading the City-State section of the paper we were making fun of our teacher. Seated with my back to the windows and flanked by friends, we developed a fondness for the puny column tucked into the Extra section by Mr. R. K. Shull. (1927 - 2007)

"Shull's Mailbag" was an absolute mindtrip in the days before the widespread onslaught of the internet and IMDB. R.K. would field one or two questions from inquisitive readers that went something like this:

I'm trying to come up with the name of a TV special I saw Christmas 1954, maybe '55, that featured a crosseyed watchmaker from a Swiss ski town who comes home to find Santa Claus in his chalet. I think William Shatner was involved. - Rube from Muncie
R.K. would respond:
Hey, Rube. The episode you're looking for is "Yodel If You Love Me" from 1960. The watchmaker with the peg leg was actually played by a young Paul Newman. Shatner wasn't anywhere near this holiday trainwreck. It's available on VHS.

Our boy R. K. was sharp-tongued and evidently privy to a vast library of television and film information that left his loyal readers in awe and continually submitting similar half-recollections. As noted in his obit, "Shull's Mailbag" was featured in 260 newspapers. All of that ended of course, when R.K. ended last spring. So some wag from the Louisville Courier-Journal, David Inman, has stepped into R. K.'s shadow. Inman is featured in a mere 35 papers (probably all owned by Gannett) and I think he's a damn sham and feeding himself false inquiries. Take today's article:

Hi: I remember a short-lived series in the late 1980s or early '90s that was a serious crime show where the characters would burst into song. Could you tell me more about it, including who starred? -- K.B., Louisville

Are you kidding me? Cop Rock! I can honestly say that I've never seen one episode of Cop Rock but I can tell you practically everything you need to know about this ridiculous show, including the ties to Stephen Bochco (was he involved with Hooperman? I wish R. K. were here), and I didn't need David Inman to help in the slightest. What amount of googling doesn't turn up Cop Rock? Is there anyone alive today that was actually sentient during the early 90's that could let Cop Rock just slip their mind? I think K. B. in Louisville is Kinda Bullshit and David Inman is padding his Inbox in a desperate attempt to keep himself employeed although irrelevant.

I heard Garrison Keillor say recently that wikipedia has been a godsend for writers and researchers. That of course assumes that readers will be judicious and not fall prey to the whims and fancy of Stephen Colbert or any other nefarious fact-monger, but the truth is what it is. (Is it?) We have far more information - stupid at that - at our fingertips than when R. K. Shull was riding bareback through the vast information wilderness of the early to mid 1990's.

We definitely don't need some joker like David Inman inventing "questions" to keep folks renewing their newspaper subscriptions. It's not that hard to find the latest entry to your Netflix queue. Live a little. Use the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button.

1 comment:

Dirk Calloway said...

Outstanding. My favorite aspect of every Shull column was that he never personalized the responses. Every answer of his began with "Dear Reader:" because Shull frankly didn't care what your real name was. To him, you're just another anonymous fool looking for some movie where Rod Serling dons a top hat for the majority of the film.