Please welcome the latest class of this blog’s Pop Culture Hall of Fame.
Membership in the Hall is an exclusive club and a tribute to those who have made contributions in music, the movies, athletics, television, politics and culture in general. To be eligible, these subjects have do more than simply be among in the most recognizable in their particular category. They must have transcended generations and made a distinct impact on society in general.
The envelopes, please:
Music: Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley — or rather, his estate — earned $49 million last year, and he’s been dead for 32 years. That’s the power he still commands over his fans. Can you imagine the impact of The King’s death if he had come along a couple of decades later, or had lived a few years longer? Elvis died before the advent of cable and satellite television, the Internet and proliferation of other media we now take for granted. I remember vividly the day Elvis died in August 1977. While it made the front pages of newspapers, it was not the lead story. Move ahead more than 30 years to the death of Michael Jackson, whose passing became a global event. There are Elvis fans today whose only connection to the aura that is The King’s is the music they hear on their iPods. That truly amazes me, but it also makes me realize how much of a once-in-a-lifetime figure Elvis truly was/is. I often wonder if he had lived longer than 42 years what the overall impact of Elvis Aron Presley might have been on music — and culture. In some ways, it’s almost inconceivable. Seriously.
Athletics: Chris Berman
It’s hard to imagine the day “The Boomer” will not be a part of ESPN. With the network since its beginning 30 years ago, he first developed a legion of followers for his baseball nicknames, of which Bert “Be Home” Blyleven, Roberto “Remember the” Alomar and Jim “Two Silhouettes on the” DeShaies being his favorites. He later branched out into football, where Andre “Bad Moon” Rison and Curtis “My Favorite” Martin were two of the best. Berman first rose to fame as an anchor on SportsCenter, then became the face of ESPN baseball, NFL and even hockey coverage. Nowadays, he concentrates most of his efforts on the NFL. His enthusiasm — and propensity for sweating on camera — have long been his trademarks. Berman has always come across as the “common man,” which has been one huge reason for his ongoing popularity.
Politics: Bill O’Reilly
The host of Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” is idolized by his fans — and loathed by his detractors. Love him or hate him, O’Reilly remains the most-watched political news figure on cable television. His conservative (or, as he prefers, “traditionalist”) influence became so strong that cable rival MSNBC countered with liberal hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow to combat Fox’s night-time viewing dominance. O’Reilly, who also is a best-selling author, has been criticized of distorting facts and using misleading or erroneous statistics. But so have his rivals. Apparently, the “all’s fair in love, war and politics” makes for good TV ratings.
John F. Kennedy
Movies: John Wayne
“The Duke” is to movies what Elvis is to music. A January 2009 nationwide Harris poll placed John Wayne third among America’s favorite film stars, and he was the only deceased star on the list. “The Searchers” (1956) is widely regarded as his finest overall performance, but for true fans of The Duke, it would be difficult to narrow his long list of achievements down to a single entry. His breakthrough film was “Stagecoach” in 1939, a western that debuted 70 years ago but one that critics still consider one of the genre’s finest ever. Not bad for a guy who started in the film industry making $75 a week. Wayne, who was born Marion Morrison, was also active in politics and respected for his patriotism. After being a highly visible supporter for Richard Nixon during the 1960 campaign, he said following John F. Kennedy’s victory, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.” John Wayne, a true American.
Television: Vince McMahon
Pro wrestling’s Vince McMahon gets the same kind of credit the France family does with NASCAR. Both took what was a regional phenomenon and marketed into a worldwide success story. In the 1980s, McMahon assumed control of what was the World Wrestling Federation, which later became World Wrestling Entertainment. He oversaw a change in storylines designed to attract mainstream audiences, ushered in a marketing concept that made American heroes out of such figures as Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin and presided over the rise of Wrestlemania, which each year is one of the nation’s most anticipated sports entertainment events. He also oversaw the rise of Monday Night Raw and other midweek national telecasts that continue to rank among cable’s most-watched programs.
On Aug. 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m., MTV (Music Television) launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song, featuring a guitar riff playing over a montage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The world, as they say, has never been the same since. I was one, who back in 1981, who said MTV would never last. Obviously, I was one of many who was wrong. MTV went on to change how we not only view and listen to music, but in many ways how we look at ourselves with its transformation into more of a pop culture outlet than a video library. MTV has come under fire for more than 10 years for discontinuing what made it famous — the music video, instead farming those out to sister networks. Most baby boomers remember MTV for what it was, while the current generation looks to it for cutting-edge reality TV. Either way, it continues to leave an impression on our society.
The first 10 videos played on MTV on Aug. 1, 1981:
1. “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles
2. “You Better Run” by Pat Benatar
3. “She Won’t Dance With Me” by Rod Stewart
4. “You Better You Bet” by The Who
5. “Little Suzi’s on the Up” by Ph.D.
6. “We Don’t Talk Anymore” by Cliff Richard
7. “Brass in Pocket” by The Pretenders
8. “Time Heals” by Todd Rundgren
9. “Take It On the Run” by REO Speedwagon
10. “Rockin’ the Paradise” by Styx
Bill Rasmussen (ESPN founder)
The Rev. Rick Warren