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Nolan's Pop Culture Review 2010!
Assistant Editor / Co-moderator: Terence Nuzum

Established A.D. 2000, March 19. Now in our eleventh calendar year!
Number 547  (Vol. 11, No. 38). This edition is for the week of September 13--19, 2010.

All in the Timing

  • Six Florida Stories That Went Global (But Probably Shouldn't Have)
  • R.I.P., Kevin McCarthy


    Crazed Fanboy's Most Memorable Moments, 2000--2009
    As submitted by PCR writers, compiled by Chris Woods
    From 2007, Corey Castellano debuts with his column on his take of the movie business in Hollywood.
    As the latest sensational-but-weird story from Florida fades into oblivion, that is, the case of Pastor Terry Jones and his proposed burning of the Quran (spotlighted in last week's PCR), I am reminded of several Florida stories that started small but grew immensely through...you guessed it...media hype and the resultant runaway publicity. I would also like to make an argument at the outset that the main reason, IMHO, that these stories reached a national stage---or in some cases international stage---was due to timing in that there were no other big stories to compete with at the time.

    What this list is NOT: deservedly well-covered stories of human tragedy or freak occasions (like Space Shuttle explosions or hurricanes). What is IS: stories that were over-hyped to begin with and caught the public's fancy in an otherwise slow news period.

    Over the past 25 years, my Top Six Biggest Florida Sensations, starting with the most recent:

  • The proposed burning of the Quran/Koran by Pastor Terry Jones and the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida on the anniversary of 9/11. As I stated above, this was covered in more depth in last week's PCR, but to recap: Pastor Jones, author of the book Islam is of the Devil, thought it would be fun to burn copies of the Muslim holy book to mark the occasion of the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster. With his tiny church of fifty or so followers on board, press releases were sent out, and I imagine that's as far as it was originally supposed to go. Major media attention created a sensation, however, and the deluge of negative responses by int'l heads of state--including our own--caused the overwhelmed pastor to step back after a maybe-I-will-and-maybe-I-won't game with the press, and an attempted meeting with the Ground Zero Mosque imam. The book-burning was indefinitely postponed, and eventually cancelled.

  • Tampa heavy metal band HELL ON EARTH agrees to an assisted suicide during a live performance in St. Petersburg, Florida. The musicians responsible for such soul-stirring songs as "Toilet Licking Maggot" and "Raped by the Virgin Mary", Hell on Earth, announced via lead singer BillY Tourtelot in September of 2003 that they'd accepted a terminally-ill fan's request to commit suicide on stage during the band's October 4, 2003 concert in St. Petersburg, Florida.

    The resultant publicity and world-wide attention was one of the most rapidly-growing and intense I've ever seen. Within a week, their website crashed due to the number of hits, and responses poured in from all over the world. Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist announced that the band would be prosecuted for assisting with suicide. The band members became harder to locate and interview and as the negative pressure built, they vanished off the radar entirely soon after. The best I remember, the "suicide concert" never went on, and the "terminally-ill fan" never identified.

    In 2004, the Florida Senate, in response to the band's actions, passed a bill barring the "exploitation of self-murder" for "commercial or entertainment purposes," subsequently signed into law by Governor Bush.

    A short web search turned up the band's new website indicating they may be back in business.

  • The Terri Schiavo Case. Although this would normally be filed under "human tragedy", and I am sympathetic to all parties involved, the particular circumstances surrounding this case created a freak show environment not shared by any other right-to-life case in history (with the possible exception of New Jersey's Karen Ann Quinlan). There are families involved in these kinds of decisions every day at every hopsital in the US, but none before or since came close to the scrutiny or magnitude of this one.

    In February 1990, 26-year-old Florida resident Terri Schiavo collapsed at home from full cardiac arrest from which she did not die, but suffered massive brain damage due to lack of oxygen. After two and a half months in a coma, her diagnosis was elevated to vegetative state. For the next few years doctors attempted physical therapy and other experimental therapy, hoping to return Terri to a state of awareness. In 1998, her husband Michael petitoned the court to have her feeding tube removed on the basis that he knew she wouldn't want to continue living in this state. This was opposed by Terri's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, who argued that Terri was conscious and responded to their presence.

    This began a 7-year legal battle of hearings, appeals and public outcry that eventually involved government officials, including the President George W. Bush who, on one occasion, returned to Washington to sign emergency legislation to keep the feeding tube in.

    Fan clubs and support groups formed around the opposing parties and, IMHO, the court battles were prolonged because of this. TV coverage was incessant, and interviews with the families took on a good-guy-bad-guy hysteria, particularly surrounding Michael Schiavo and his motives for tube disconnection. A new emphasis was placed on precise definitions of the "persistent vegetative state".

    After several disconnection-reconnections and all attempts at appeals through the federal court system proved unsuccessful, Terri's feeding tube was permanently disconnected on March 18, 2005. Terri died at a Pinellas Park hospice on March 31.

  • The Miami Circle. Property developer Michael Baumann paid $8.5 million for some Miami beach real estate on which to build a luxury condominium. In July 1998, the standing apartment complex was torn down to make way for it. As part of the legal necessities for construction, he was obliged to commission a routine archaeological survey of the site prior to commencement.

    From Wikipedia: In the course of the exploration, the team discovered a number of holes cut into the Oolitic limestone bedrock. On examining the layout of the holes, the surveyor Ted Riggs postulated that they were part of a circle 38 feet (12 m) in diameter. Having calculated the center, he projected the likely location of the remaining holes. Excavation revealed that there were 24 holes forming a perfect circle in the limestone. Examination of the earth revealed numerous archeological artifacts, ranging from shell-tools and stone axe-heads to human teeth and charcoal from fires.

    The sensation from this discovery resulted in world-wide publicity, and everyone from archeologists to paranormal researchers were doing live broadcasts from the site. Artifacts found were dated to be over 1,000 years old.

    After much legal wrangling and "historic preservation" pressure groups rendered the condos impossible, and despite an alternate explanation that the "stone circle" (as it was ocasionally referred to) was part of a septic system used by the apartment complex that occupied the site previously, Miami bought the site back from Baumann.

    The "Brickell Point Site" was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 5, 2002.

  • The Virgin on the Bank Building. The former bank building at the corner of Drew Street and US 19 in Clearwater was like any other business you see every day and accept as part of the day-to-day background. That is, until near the end of 1996, when a patron of what was now called "The Ugly Ducking Car Rental" building claimed to see an outline of The Virgin Mary spread across a two-story window consisting of nine panes of glass in sets of three. A reporter picked up on the story, and one of the wildest publicity-run-wild episodes in Florida history sprang forth.

    People from far and wide took this to be a "sign" and made a pilgimage to the area to see the Virgin. Within weeks, an entire traffic management department had to be created in Clearwater to handle to demands and extra police drafted to monitor the huge public turnout.

    Since it was near to Christmas (this happened sometime after Thanksgiving in the first weeks of December) many tourists flocked to the intersection to get pictures of the building and of the image.

    By the end of the year, visitor counts were in the millions(!) and included the faithful from as far away as China(!!). After a while, the business closed and the building was bought by the Shepherd's of Christ Ministry to become a permanent shrine.

    When I visited the site myself about 1998 or so, a large crucifix prop had been added to the front, there were elaborate decorations and flowers, fold-out chairs chairs were available, and a recording would play music and sermons 24/7. I was (and still am) tremendously amused by the attention brought by what experts would call a giant water stain (palm trees, which had been removed in the mid-90's, exposed warpage caused by the sprinkler system in the sun-screen film used in the bank's windows. The "silhouette" left by the trees, together with a bit of a rainbow effect, is what caused the image to appear.)

    Though a skeptic regarding the supernatural explanation, I did not, and would not ever, begrudge the faithful from believing what they wanted to about the Madonna on the glass. And that's how it stood for many years.

    That is, until early in 2004 when the top three windows were shot out by an 18-year-old vandal using a slingshot and ball bearing. He was later arrested and convicted of criminal mischief. A pretty light sentence considering it left a whole lot of people without their shrine; and that's just sad even if it is just warped glass. It meant something to them.

    To see pictures of the intact building and the vandalized version, please visit PCR #206.

  • Switched at Birth. Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg were born within a few days of each other in a Wauchula, Florida hospital in 1978. For whatever reason, the two babies went home with the wrong parents. (A doctor is suspected to have intervened when one of the babies indicated health problems, but this is speculation.)

    When Arlena developed heart problems at age nine necessitating an operation she did not survive, the Twiggs learned that Arlena had the wrong blood type to be their biological daughter. Embarking on a fact-finding mission, they discovered that Arlena and Kimberly has been switched at the hospital in 1978. Contacting the Mays, they found Kimberly. Bob Mays agreed in 1989 to grant the Twiggs visitation rights to Kimberly, but later cut off the visits. The Twiggs sued for increased visitation or custody of Kimberly.

    The media's attention to every developing detail would eventually create a sensation that became historic in magnitude.

    A Wauchula, Florida circuit court ruled in 1993 that Kimberly would be allowed to cut off all contacts with her biological family and that Bob Mays was her "psychological father".

    It is a terrible thing to have happen and I wouldn't wish this on anybody. I am citing it here because the confused Kimberly, a teenager at the point of peak publicity, went back and forth between the two sets of parents for several years, in my opinion, just as much because of the intense media coverage than any attachment to any set of parents. Just as she would drop out of the news, Kimberly would jump ship and go back to the opposing side and create headlines. To be fair, her trauma, or whatever, resulted in emotional problems throughout her life.

    The Switched at Birth story resulted in at least one book and a 1991 TV movie.



    Fan favorite genre star Kevin McCarthy, star of the 1950's sci-fi hit Invasion of the Body Snatchers has died at the age of 96 from complications from pneumonia.

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers deals with an alien invasion by way of a spore that consumes a host into a cocoon and leaves a convincing, but inhuman, imitation behind. McCarthy's character discovers these "pod people". His running out into traffic to warn the remaining humans of the danger is nightmarish. His screaming, "You're Next!" near the end of Body Snatchers, a film that could be perceived as a cautionary tale, would be spoofed and imitated for decades.

    He reprised his role (in a matter of speaking) in the 1970's remake of the film where he again ran out into traffic screaming warnings that "they're here!" and "you're next!".

    Kevin McCarthy will be sorely missed.


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