Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Shooting of Pope John Paul II

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

On this day in 1981, in front of thousands of the faithful in St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II was shot and wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish national and Communist with a lengthy criminal record, who was working with another man named Oral Çelik. Çelik later fled the scene without firing a shot or indeed carrying out his part of their plan. Two onlookers - Ann Odre, a retired beautician from Buffalo, and Rose Hill, a 21 year-old Jamaican - were also shot and wounded in the melee. Ağca was later subdued by a nun named Sister Letizia.

The Pope lost nearly three-quarters of his blood following the shooting (despite the bullets having missed any arteries); still, his blood loss nearly killed him. After five hours in surgery at Gemelli Hospital, where he was treated by Dr. Francesco Crucitti, he managed to pull through. He later credited Our Lady of Fatima with helping him to survive.

Two days before Christmas 1983 the pontiff visited Ağca in prison, at which time he declared that he'd forgiven him; even though he'd tried to kill the Pope - who he said was an 'agent of capitalism' - the two forged an unlikely friendship out of the ordeal.

This picture of the assassination attempt was widely transmitted at the time, and is fairly chilling, in that it shows the whole scene: the Pope, the crowd, and at the centre left of the image a hand pointing a gun. Yet it's the angle that's most chilling: How tall was this photographer, and where was he (I assume the photographer was a he) standing when it was taken? There are probably reasonable answers to my questions, but my cynic's eye is often unable to take a coincidence at face value, and finds this all a little stage-managed.

FOOTNOTE: One year less a day later another attempt would be made on the Pope's life, by fanatical nutter named Juan María Fernández y Krohn, who was opposed to the reforms of Vatican II and believed the Pope to be an 'agent of Moscow'. That statement alone ought to have been enough to brand anyone insane; Krohn later tried to kill Albert II of the Belgians and/or Juan Carlos of Spain during the latter's visit to Belgium in 2000.

share on: facebook

"Star Struck": A Dramatic Reading by Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur's final public appearance came in August 2005, when she gave this stirring recitation of select passages from Pamela Anderson's gripping book* Star Struck at that year's Comedy Central Roast...

Featuring - as participant Lisa Lampanelli might say, 'a veritable Who's That of comedy' - including Jimmy Kimmel, who was the roast master, as well as Courtney Love, Adam Carolla, Nick DiPaolo, Greg Giraldo, Elon Gold, Eddie Griffin, Lady Bunny, Tommy Lee, Jeffrey Ross, Sarah Silverman, Andy Dick as her plastic surgeon, and a pre-taped appearance by David Spade it really was a star-dudded - er, star-STUDDED - event.

No one earned her kudos that night, though, like the woman, the legend, Bea Arthur...

*At least I assume that's what you're supposed to be doing to yourself when you read it.
share on: facebook

In Memoriam: Bea Arthur

Except in rare instances, one never knows the true depth of feeling towards a public figure until they've died; so while I'd long suspected I was not alone in my fervent admiration for Bea Arthur, until her passing in April 2009 I had no way of confirming it. The outpouring of love and memories which accompanied the news only hinted at the legacy of laughter that was her career...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHad she just created Maude Findlay (the unapologetically liberal namesake of Norman Lear's classic 1970s sitcom Maude) or Dorothy Zbornak (the smart, sarcastic substitute schoolteacher* in the equally classic 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls) over the course of her career, her enduring fame would have been assured. The fact that she created both, along with dozens of others, is one thing; that they were created by her after an age when most actresses are being sent out to pasture is quite another. Imbuing them with heart as much as outrage, and also warmth and sexuality, is an ability few others possess - and one which Bea Arthur possessed in abundance.

During a recent appearance at the Comedy Central roast of Pamela Anderson, Arthur proved she's still got it; providing the evening with a dramatic reading from one of Anderson's novels - Star Struck - she gave as good as she got. It would be among her last public appearances, and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would have continued getting better and better until such time as her final curtain rang down, which indeed she did...

* I dare you to say that five times fast without needing to squeegee your monitor afterwards!

share on: facebook

Happy Birthday Armistead Maupin

Right after I came out*, and was wondering just how I could be one of these 'writer' things and also be gay, it was Armistead Maupin who showed me the way...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAlthough he lived in San Francisco in the 1970s - which is surely Oz and Atlantis rolled into one as far as gay men are concerned - his gay characters were already living integrated lives. Although I wouldn't call Maupin a preachy writer Tales of the City demonstrated, over the course of 6 books, just how such a thing could be accomplished.

It's a message I carry in my heart today. At times of crisis I've turned to Tales of the City to find some gentlemanly bit of encouragement to help me carry on. I'm grateful for them, and to him for writing them. I'm also grateful that, unlike so many others, it wasn't Gordon Merrick's poisonous writings I encountered first or things might have turned out entirely different for me.

*In the late Cretaceous period.

share on: facebook

POPnews - May 13th

[Of all the things to be thrown onto pyres and consigned to oblivion by Savonarola and his cronies - from simple hair ribbons and cosmetics to priceless and irreplaceable works of art - the first and foremost, namely himself, was not; for daring to act in judgement against men (which by his own admission is ultimately the duty of God) his own bonfire would have to wait, but come it would, and it would make a very pretty flame indeed...]

1497 - Pope Alexander VI excommunicated Girolamo Savonarola; a critic of the decadent papacy, Savonarola's crusade extended to whatever elements of Renaissance culture he considered immoral, leading him to engage in book burnings, undertaking the so-called Bonfire of the Vanities, and the destruction of paintings containing pagan imagery by the likes of Botticelli and Michelangelo. Far be it from me to agree with a Pope - especially such a decadent and corrupt one - but Savonarola was more a tyrant than a culture warrior, and his comeuppance just short of one year later came several years too late to save the numerous treasures he'd destroyed.

1568 - At the Battle of Langside the forces of Mary, Queen of Scots (commanded by the Duke of Chatelherault) were defeated by a confederacy of Scottish Protestants under James Stewart, Earl of Moray, Regent of Scotland on behalf of Mary's infant son James VI and her half-brother.

1619 - Dutch statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was executed in The Hague after having been accused of treason for his support of William the Silent and efforts to liberate Holland from Spanish control.

1787 - Captain Arthur Phillip sailed from Portsmouth in command of the First Fleet, which was charged with establishing a penal colony in Australia with eleven ships full of convicts.

1846 - The Mexican-American War was declared by President James K. Polk with the approval of Congress, which was how they did it in those days.

1848 - Finland's national anthem, Maame - with music by Fredrik Pacius and lyrics by Finn Johan Ludvig Runeberg - was first performed.

1861 - The Great Comet of 1861 was discovered by John Tebbutt in Australia; it came so close to Earth the planet passed through its tail, obscuring the sun even in the daytime. It will next return in 2269.

1888 - With the passage of the Lei Áurea or 'Golden Law' Brazil unconditionally abolished slavery.

1909 - The first Giro d'Italia took place in Milan; Italian cyclist Luigi Ganna was the winner.

1912 - Britain's Royal Flying Corps - the forerunner of the Royal Air Force - was established.

1939 - The first commercial FM radio station in the United States was launched in Bloomfield, Connecticut; the station later became WDRC-FM.

1940 - As the German army crossed the Meuse River and the Battle of France began, Winston Churchill made his 'blood, toil, tears, and sweat' speech to the House of Commons. Meanwhile Queen Wilhelmina fled the Nazi invasion of Holland aboard the HMS Hereward to lead the Dutch government in exile from London while her daughter and heir Princess Juliana took her children (Princesses Beatrix and Irene) to live in Ottawa for their safety.

1948 - The Kfar Etzion massacre was committed by Arab infantry, the day before the state of Israel issued its Declaration of Independence and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War began.

1952 - The Rajya Sabha - the upper house of the Parliament of India - held its first sitting.

1954 - The Anti-National Service Riots in Singapore were led by Chinese students between the ages of 18 and 20 who were unwilling to be drafted into compulsory military service.

1967 - Dr. Zakir Hussain became 3rd President of India, and the first Muslim President of Indian Union.

1969 - A series of race riots broke out in Kuala Lumpur which later came to be known as the May 13 Incident.

1985 - Police in Philadelphia stormed the headquarters of an African-American anti-technology organization called MOVE in order to end a stand-off, killing 11 MOVE members in the process; during the raid police also dropped a bomb from a helicopter, destroying the homes of 250 city residents in the process.

2000 - In the Dutch city of Enschede, a fireworks factory exploded, killing 22 people, wounding 950, and resulting in approximately €450 million in damage.
share on: facebook