Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

In Sickness and In Toys, Plus The Invasion Of The Data Snatchers

The PopCulteer
March 23, 2018

Quite A Week

It’s time for this week’s PopCulteer, and since I haven’t done it for a while, this one’s going to be a stream-of-consciousness, multi-topic ramble.

Your PopCulteer has been under the weather for a few weeks now. Right before I left for my annual trek to Senoia, Georgia and then on to ToyLanta, I realized that my Myasthenia Gravis was flaring up for the first time since I’d been diagnosed and began treatment. I still have a ridiculously mild case, and for that I am eternally grateful, but I had a few days where my hands did not want to work as well as they have been, and a more severe side effect was my double vision worsening.

Still, this all really minor compared to people I know who struggle with severe Myasthenia Gravis, and I have to admit that I haven’t been more vocal about having this disease because I don’t feel like it’s hit me hard enough for me to complain about it.

However, being down a bit from the MG and venturing into a land where the Pear Trees decided to bloom early and fill the air with pollen meant that by the time we returned from the South (where we managed to have a wonderful time despite the various challenges), I was primed for any kind of seasonal allergic/sinus affliction, and have basically been coughing my head off for the past two weeks.

If you’ve been wondering why my shows on The AIR are still in reruns, that’s why. I have no voice at the moment.

Anyway, I do appear to be on the mend. I’m really hoping to get this cough tamed so that I can make it out to see Wolf’s Head: A Tale of Robin Hood and The Sheriff this weekend. I really want to see this show, but I also don’t relish the idea of disrupting a performance with my barking pumpkin impression.

In the meantime, I am still able to write, and there’s plenty of stuff going on at the moment.

The Toys R Us Mess

Compounding the sadness and confusion of yesterday, I had to re-write this post eight times in three hours as new information came to light, Charles Lazarus (right), the 94-year-old founder of Toys R Us, passed away. It was sad, and touching, and totally unrelated in any way to the fate of the company he founded 70 years ago. He cashed out and retired in 1994, and had nothing to do with the current management of the company.

As I write this (early Friday morning) the Toys R Us liquidation sales are supposed to start today. That may change, but it appears that the hold up may not have been the potential rescue of some of the stores, as I theorized yesterday, but instead may be related to the bankruptcy filing on Wednesday of the Toys R Us real estate arm, which carries nearly $900 million in debt, and which will likely be combined with the Toys R Us bankruptcy and cause a shuffling of prioritized creditors.

Since the court is not exactly making all such decisions public yet, this is all supposition.

Isaac Larian, the founder of MGA who is trying to raise enough money to save approximately half of the US stores from going under, has turned to crowdfunding in an attempt to raise an additional $800 million, in addition to the $200 million of his own money that he’s put up.

Call me cynical, but this has all the earmarks of a publicity stunt that isn’t really expected to succeed. I can’t see somebody financing a billion-dollar business takeover via GoFundMe.

Meanwhile it’s looking like the pending revival of the KB Toys brand might turn out to just be a case of slapping the KB Toys name on one of those seasonal stores that sells calendars, games and toys, like we’ve had in the Charleston Town Center for the last few years at Christmas time.

While this isn’t as exciting or exotic as return to the KayBee Toys of the past, it’s at least a viable proposition, if underwhelming in the grand scheme of things.

What Happened to Stuff To Do

I’ve had a few (very few) readers notice that I am not cranking out a weekly run down of everything happening in Charleston any longer. It’s true. I’ve pushed “Stuff To Do” into semi-retirement. It had reached a point of diminishing returns.

I realized a couple of years ago that, while many people have tried to create comprehensive arts calendars and entertainment guides for Charleston as a response to complaints that there’s nothing to do in town, or at least any way to find out about it, the harsh reality is that there aren’t enough people who care what’s going on to make such an endeavor worth the effort.

Back in the early days of The AIR, I hosted a weekly audio show with my wife, Mel Larch, called “Stuff To Do,” named after the regular column here in PopCult. After ten weeks of putting a lot of work into the show so that we could have a fresh episode not only on The AIR, but also available for download on Wednesday mornings, we discovered that nobody was listening–not to the station when it aired, and not a single download. And that show took about twenty hours of research, writing and recording each week.

Likewise, I was spending a tremendous amount of time each week compiling Stuff To Do for PopCult.
Several hours would go into looking up schedules and searching Facebook for events to which I had not yet been invited, and in many cases creating graphics for concerts–and hardly anybody read those posts.

Of late I have found that I attract more readers by focussing on a single event than I do by attempting to tell everybody about every single thing happening in Charleston. So I’ve become more selective about what I plug here in the blog.

For instance, in the last two weeks I’ve written posts about two local events, Wolf’s Head: A Tale of Robin Hood and The Sheriff, and the Cabernet and Clay sculpting event at Rad FX Atelier. Those posts have been read hundreds of times. To contrast that, the last time I did a comprehensive “Stuff To Do” post, it was read twelve times. That post took over five hours to compile.

To contrast it even further, when I write about toys, comics, movies or music, many thousands of people read those posts.

So I’ve made the decision that, to get more bang for my buck, in terms of where I focus my energies, I can do more good for the local scene by plugging one or two events per week, instead of trying to be all things to all people. The readers have spoken with their eyes, and there doesn’t seem to be any interest in me writing an aggregate guide to weekend events.

Facebook Follies

There has been much ado about Facebook’s data breach this week, and it’s resulted in a lot of folks deciding to give up using the service, or to at least take a day to protest it.

This is all rather silly. From day one I knew what Facebook was–a massive data-mining operation, and I decided to use it and to protect myself as much as possible, since there are many benefits to using the service.

I have never volunteered my information to Facebook. I’ve never completely filled out my profile or given them my phone number. I’m sure they have all this information already by aggregating it with my personal profiles with other businesses, but I’ve never confirmed it with them.

I’ve also never used Facebook to sign into another service, and I’ve never taken a quiz that requires you to sign in to Facebook, or done any of those silly, innocuous things that require you to allow them access to your Facebook account. All of that is done so that they can create a profile of you that can be sold to other companies to target advertising to you, or as we saw last year, to influence your political views.

I also never allow myself to be tagged in a location. While I was on vacation Facebook somehow determined where I was using my laptop on the way down and tagged me automatically, and I had to manually remove all those tags.

I’m not shocked or surprised that the data has been misappropriated and used for evil purposes. That’s really the only logical endgame of such an enterprise that trades in YOUR preferences and personal details. The fact is, Facebook is Big Brother, and anyone who uses the service is working for the surveillance team.

Speaking of Personal Data

Yesterday afternoon I had some free time, was filled to the brim with cold medicine, and got aggravated by junk mail. Specifically, I was aggravated by junk mail from AARP.

AARP started sending me junk mail before I turned 40. It’s elaborate junk mail, sometimes with fake membership cards printed on thick plastic, usually with no visible signs on the outside of the envelope, so that you don’t just toss it straight into the trash, and it’s also voluminous. I usually get three to six pieces of junk mail from AARP each week. This is paid for by the membership fees of people who haved joined AARP thinking that they would actually do some good with their money.

It was yesterday, after being tricked once again into opening an envelope with no return address and a huge warning “CARDS ENCLOSED: DO NOT BEND,” that I remembered back to over a year ago when I called to complain and was told that I would be removed from their mailing list, but that it would take up to three months for the mailings to stop.

Let me interject here that there is no valid reason for this type of delay, and the people who came up with this policy are forcing their telephone representatives to lie to people every day about it.

Of course, since I was then expecting the junk mail to continue for three months, I didn’t really notice that it hadn’t stopped until more than a year had passed. So I dug out my email exchanges from last year and called again.

Keep in mind that I have NEVER been a customer of AARP.

When I called I got the same run-around about how it would take three months for the junk mail to stop. I pressed further, and the nice young lady informed me that she was surprised that I was still getting junk mail because on my profile, all the boxes were marked to “suppress” all contact.

She then read her script to me to tell me that the junk mail must be coming from third parties.

After explaining that there was nothing on the mail to indicate that it was from a third party–that it included their return address and urged me to send them money for a membership and a free backpack or something, it hit me.

Insert the sound of a record scratching here.

“My profile?” What profile? I’m not, nor have I ever been a member, customer or whatever of AARP. I started asking her questions about it. They have a profile on me? How can I get them to delete it? Would she delete it for me right now? She even put me on hold to ask her supervisor if such a thing were possible. Apparently it isn’t.

I even got a bit of shocked laughter from her when I asked if she could just mark me “deceased,” but then I remembered that my parents both got mail from AARP for years after they’d passed away.

In case you didn’t know, AARP keeps profiles on everyone they consider to be a potential member. Keep in mind that this is a political lobbying organization, and what they’re doing is at least as nefarious as what Cambridge Analytica did with the stolen Facebook data.

If you call AARP and ask them to delete your profile, they will refuse. Nobody you can reach on the phone even has the ability to respect your marketing preference.

All you can do is blog about it.

And that is this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for our regular features, cover your mouths when you cough or sneeze and remember to stay hydrated.

1 Comment

  1. Thomas Wheeler

    I can CERTAINLY sympathize with that AARP mess. It took me quite some time to get them to stop sending me mail, and I finally had to call them and get rather rude about it. I didn’t even ask about a profile, and personally, couldn’t care less, as long as their crap stopped showing up in the mailbox. Fortunately, it finally did.

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