Old Ladies in Red Hats

Have you heard of the Red Hat Society? I’ve been aware of them for a long time, and it finally became clear to me why I don’t like them. Or more accurately, why I don’t like their organization. The Red Hat Society is a towering monument to Missing The Point.

What am I talking about? Well, see, back in 1967 or so, this lady named Jenny Joseph wrote a poem called “Warning” in which she explained that when she became an old woman, she was going to wear purple “and a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me,” and generally behave badly in a lot of different ways, thumb her nose at polite society and celebrate her independence and joi d’vivre. It’s really a wonderful poem, which copyright laws (and Ms. Joseph’s diligent enforcement of them) prevent me from reproducing here. Others, less easily cowed, have posted it in varying forms all over the place under a bunch of different titles, including “When I Am an Old Woman,” “Purple,” “I Shall Wear Purple,” and the actual title, “Warning.” Go google it if you must; I can’t do everything for you.

So anyway, I happened to be out at a theremin concert (oh, go look it up) with some friends, whom I shall here refer to by the names “John” and “Mary” because that is what everybody else calls them, even though those are obviously pseudonyms; I suspect that “John” and “Mary” are actually unrepentant soviet spies waiting for the eventual collapse of capitalism and resumption of the Cold War so they can get back to their life’s work. But I digress. After the concert, we were wandering the streets of Sierra Madre (site of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but again I digress), and we passed a shop with a front window full of tea acoutrements, along with an assortment of red hats adorned with purple.

“Mary” made mention of having seen gaggles of old women in red hats and purple dresses at various events and destinations, and I then remembered having read about them. The Red Hat Society is a bunch of women over 50 (if you’re under 50 you have to wear a pink hat, since you’re not ready for red, but we’ll get to that), who follow the famous poem’s instructions as far as wardrobe and not one step further. A quick look at their official website reveals the flaw in their whole setup…..

A quote from Sue Ellen Cooper, the “Queen Mother” (gag ack barf, as Bill the Cat would say):
“The Red Hat Society began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor and elan. We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together. Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection, forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us next.”

Isn’t that nice?

The problem is, that’s all it is. Nice. Go read the poem. It’s not nice. There’s nothing in there about being silly, nothing about verve, humor or elan, not a word about joining hands (red-gloved or otherwise), and not even the slightest hint of comedy relief. “Warning” is one lady’s version of the howling protest poems of the day, a tribute to individuality and defiance of societal expectations. There is nothing defiant or individual about dressing in purple with a red hat if you’re in a mob of identically-clad compadres. These ladies, who I am quite sure are delightful people in all the ways that matter, have completely missed the point. They have raised point-missing to the level of an Olympic event. They are the Grand Masters of Point-Missing. They have taken a poem that challenged them to defy the rules, and turned it into a codified society of conformity. They have rules! Women under 50 are forbidden to wear the red hats, they have to wear pink until they reach the magic number. If that isn’t a screaming rebuke to Ms. Joseph, I don’t know what is.

If they want to celebrate the life that Ms. Joseph spoke of, they wouldn’t be wearing purple dresses and red hats. They would be wearing whatever the hell they felt like putting on, whether that be a leopard-print jumpsuit, English riding pants, a pink feather boa or a Boy Scout uniform, if that’s what floats their boat.

And what do they DO while wearing their official Red Hat Lady uniforms and marching in lockstep? They drink tea. In TV terms, they took Lorelei Gilmore’s philosophy of life and neutered it, making it safe for Emily. It’s a paint-by-number copy of a Picasso. They are pretending to be bold individualists while behaving like fad-following sheep. Go read the poem. There’s no mention of tea. Here’s what it says to do:

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

A true follower of Ms. Joseph’s philosophy would be appalled at the notion of joining the Red Hat Society. She would be too busy doing what she wanted to do, in her own way, with her own style, and I’ll bet good money she’d be wearing anything but purple, and her hat is quite likely to be a sequined lime green baseball cap, or maybe a raspberry beret or a fluorescent yellow fez. Or maybe bunny ears. Anything but red, because red has been ruined by posers.

Listen up, ladies. If you want to go out with a group of ladies and drink tea, that’s great. Enjoy. If you want to be distinctive about it and all wear purple with red hats, go for it, rock on. Just please don’t delude yourself that you are in any way shape, or form living up to the life of self-expression that Ms. Joseph wrote about. You’re not. Not even close. Sorry.

Totally Obsessed, or Why I Hate the Internet

A while back, we created a fake web page called Get Happy! It’s a parody of a “tribute” band site; if you’ve never heard of a tribute band, that’s the nice name for one of those bands that pretends to be a famous one, like all those “tributes” to the Beatles or Led Zepplin or the Doors or whoever. Ours is a tribute to the Partridge Family. We thought it was so over-the-top that nobody could ever believe it was real.

Boy, were we wrong. About a year or so back, I got an e-mail from VH-1. They’re doing a new show about pop culture fans, and they want to come out and take pictures of our van. Being an honest guy, I e-mail them back and tell them that the page is a gag, even quoting the lengthy (and mildly witty) disclaimer at the bottom (go on back and read it, I’ll wait). I forwarded the e-mail to my friend Scott Shaw!, owner of the most mind-boggling collection of Flintstones memorabilia I’ve ever seen, in case he wants to show it off to VH-1.

They turned him down. Apparently he wasn’t obsessed enough for them.

Well, now I know why they turned him down. Have you seen “Totally Obsessed”? The name is wildly inaccurate; it should be called “Let’s Drag the Freakin’ Loons out into the Daylight So We Can Mock Them.” These people are nuts, okay? Barking, howling mad, the lot of them. The guy who is having himself surgically altered into a tiger? Nuts. The woman who takes her cardboard cutouts of “Lord of the Rings” characters out to dinner, and makes the waitress stand there for ten minutes while Gollum and Smeagol argue over whether to have chicken or fish? A full-goose lunatic. The lady who eats 17,000 calories of the most disgusting junk-food on earth in a determined effort to get her weight up over 600 pounds? Mad as a hatter. They’re all nuts, okay? Nutty as the floor of the Snickers factory.

Here’s why I hate the internet: The headcases can find each other and feed their lunacy.

In the olden days, when VCRs were the size of card-tables, nutbars had to be nutbars in isolation. If you had, say, an unhealthy fixation on Erik Estrada or Erin Gray or the Lost in Space robot, you were the town weirdo, and you were all alone. As a result, the town weirdo usually tried to keep a lid on it, at least a little bit. Nowadays, all they have to do is put up a website and the e-mails roll in, and before you know it a whole bunch of them have banded together to encourage each other in their monomania. They create names for themselves (Clay Aiken’s stalkers call themselves “Claymates;” Michael Flatley’s are called “Flatheads”), and hold conventions to celebrate their lack of anything resembling a life.

And believe it or not, any celebrity you can name has a group of followers who blast e-mails back and forth to keep each other up-to-date on the minutia of their hero’s life. Don’t believe me? The little girl who played Vicki on “Small Wonder” has no less than three fansites out there. We put up a fake page devoted to Felix Silla (the actor who played Cousin Itt on “The Addams Family” and Twiki on “Buck Rogers”), and people thought it was real. At least once a month I get e-mail from people who have found our “Have You Seen Me?” page, helpfully informing me as to the current whereabouts of Tina Yothers, Gil Gerard and MC Hammer. They know because they are intensely interested in these faded stars. No matter how nutso we try to be with our prank pages, people believe them, because we can’t be as nutso as the actual nuts out there.

Okay, fine. You win.

Look, I’m as much a fan as the next guy. I love cartoons, movies, genre fiction, toys, all of it. Maybe it’s because I love all of it; if I only loved one thing, I could be as obsessive as these people, but I can’t. I can’t limit myself to just “Legion of Super-Heroes” OR the Muppets OR Pinky & The Brain OR Simonson & Goodwin’s Manhunter OR Marvin the Martian OR Harry Chapin; I gotta have ’em all. Having them all keeps me from being nuts. These people need to get out more.

So I’m watching this exercise in schadenfreude (oh, look it up already) with my kids, and we’re all horrified by the couple raising geese as their family, by the girl who wants to be a ninja turtle, by the lot of them. We’re amused by the spouses (THESE PEOPLE ARE MARRIED!??!!) and their varying degrees of annoyance and/or tolerance for their pet wacko’s compulsions. And finally I lay down the law to the kids….

1) No body modification. If you get a tattoo before age 18, I’ll kick you out of the house; get one after that, and I’ll kick you out of the will. I hate tattoos, and piercings, and plastic surgery. They give me the heebie-jeebies. Be who you are, not who you think you need to be. Okay, I’ve loosened up on this one over the last 10 years or so. I think a tattoo ought to be meaningful to the wearer, or at least not something one is going to deeply regret in later years. I follow Penn & Teller’s NPD Rule: No Permanent Damage. Choose wisely. In any case, having plastic surgery to turn yourself into a tiger, lizard, human Barbie doll or whatever is just plain stupid.  

2) If you ever refer to any animal or inanimate object as your “child” I will disown you. This is not negotiable. Your dog is your dog, not your child. Your child is your child, and your child comes before your geese, bunnies, Cabbage Patch Kids, and whatever random detritus of television you decide to build your life around. Suck it up and deal with it.

To my friends who may be reading this: if you secretly dress up as Gilligan (or worse) in your spare time, do me a favor…. keep it to yourself, okay? For God’s sake, don’t go on TV and show off your dementia to the whole wide world. Nobody’s impressed that you’re on TV; we’re horrified at what you’re willing to admit to God and everybody. Stop it. Just stop it.