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Pop 20: Big News for Old — Really Old — Names

July 1, 2008

So, Will Smith’s new super anti-hero movie “Hancock” is probably going to make a bazillion bucks in its opening weekend, and Heath Ledger’s Joker will launch talk of a posthumous Oscar in the next few weeks. Bill Clinton reportedly wants Barack to kiss his hindquarters, Britney Spears will most likely open the MTV’s Video Music Awards, again, and Amy Winehouse is still stubbornly marching toward a premature grave.

Yawn.

Sometimes, I find the goings-on of the pop-culture realm a little ho-hum. It seems like the names rotate in and out, but the news doesn’t change all that much. An A-lister is always making money, a B-lister is always making a sex tape and a C-lister is always appearing on some reality TV program with either Mario Lopez or Joey Fatone. So to keep things fresh, every so often I like to re-align my focus and write about some of popular culture’s lesser-covered characters.

For instance, as I write this, the day appears to belong to Charles Darwin. It’s not often that one can say that, but with July 1 marking 150 years to the day since Darwin debuted his theory of evolution by natural selection, all the news outlets should be a-twitter about the anniversary (Well, most news outlets. It would be understandable if TMZ and “Us Weekly” kept mum…) _ but he’s not getting near the coverage being adorned on “Wall-E.”

After having such a big opening weekend on that Thursday in the summer of 1858, Darwin has come back with a great revival, and the next year will also commemorate the publication of the corresponding book, “On the Origin of the Species” and his 200th birthday. Sure, there were some scandals with Darwin and he really did steal the spotlight from his contemporary, Alfred Russel Wallace, but the beginning of July marks a big return for the naturalist, the likes of which haven’t been seen since John Travolta’s second career comeback.

Speaking of career revivals, composer Johann Sebastian Bach just experienced his own comeback (or is that come-Bach?). A 300-year-old organ composition, which was lost in the late 1800s, was re-discovered in Germany in March. The piece was just performed for the first time ever in North America at Montreal’s St. James United Church. But instead of hearing about that, the media decided instead to talk about Bon Jovi’s free concert in Central Park.

And what of Darwin’s most famous frenemy from history, Jesus? Put down your pen and special hate-mail stationary, and don’t click “send” on the papal appeal to get me excommunicated, because I’m a big fan of Christ’s work. He clearly has a huge following and he’s still going strong after a few millennia. And by the very term “popular culture,” you can’t do much better than Jesus. But if Jesus was like most celebrities and Googled his name to see where he’s popping up, he’d see that he’s mentioned a lot in the news, but the coverage is never really about him. Sadly, he is so often treated as merely a supporting character in stories that should focus on him. It is Jesus’ policy not to talk to the press, but if he would, he could respond to a lot of the inaccuracies and reports out there about him.

In the last few days alone, an evangelical Christian group in Pennsylvania nominated Jesus as a third-party candidate for president, Heidi Montag from “The Hills” compared herself to him, he was spotted on a palm tree in South Florida, and an athlete in Olympic trials in Oregon threatened him.

I don’t know if Jesus was in South Florida last week, but it was a cameo appearance at best on that palm tree. And I’m fairly certain that Jesus has no interest in politics, especially since not even he could avoid getting tarnished by Moveon.org or other Swift Boat-esque campaigns.

As far as Khadevis Robinson, who was vying for a place on the men’s 800 meters Olympic team, he came in fourth after falling down, and said he would have grabbed Jesus and taken him down too if he could have. Even though Jesus could definitely take Robinson, I’m sure he’d ignore the bait and ensuing feud, and just forgive the runner. Although I think he’d probably draw the line at Heidi Montag claiming to be B.F.F.s with him. Recently Montag said she planned on making a Christian album because of her “crazy connection” to J.C., and she went on to say she’s being persecuted just like him.

What would Jesus do? Probably tell Heidi to shut her trap and stop trying to elevate herself to his status. Then again, the press never asked him for his response _ which might be for the best since Jesus is perhaps the most misquoted pop-culture figure out there.

I suppose news about Will Smith’s blockbuster weekend, Barack and Bill’s relationship or Britney’s re-re-return is probably sexier than anything dealing with Jesus, Darwin or Bach, but at least these guys are less predictable and way more interesting _ even after being dead for a long, long time.

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“BURN NOTICE, SEASON ONE”:

Mix a little “Miami Vice” in with James Bond and even a dash of “Magnum, P.I.” and you have this USA Network show. The first season, out on DVD _ with Season Two beginning on July 10 _ jumps right into the story of Michael Westen, a spy who has been mysteriously blacklisted and targeted for a take-down, yet has to pay the bills as a private dick in Miami. The show keeps it really cool with clever dialogue and actor Jeffrey Donovan’s crime-noirish narration. It also helps that there’s no shortage of explosions, sexy bods, smooth talkers and character actor extraordinaire Bruce Campbell.

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Entertainment columnist Aaron Sagers writes weekly about all things pop-culture. He can be reached at sagers.aaron@gmail.com.

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(c) 2008, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

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