Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man 8 (V)

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In the neighborhood...

"Neighbor" is, of course, a Biblical word (standing for the Greek pl─ôsion) meaning "a member of the community". Loving your neighbor as yourself was said by Jesus to be the whole heart of the Torah. The Old Testament arguably taught that "neighbor" meant only other Jewish people; the New Testament arguably teaches that everyone in the world is everyone else neighbor.

The word "neighborhood" originally meant simply neighborliness or the state of being neighborly; but by the middle of 19th century it had acquired the present sense of "locality" "home" or "the part of the world where all your friends live".  It wasn't until the late 20th century that the abbreviation 'hood came to mean a specifically black neighborhood – a ghetto.

In 1964 the phrase "your friendly neighborhood" was already a well-worn cliches. Sam’s Market in Glenfield, Los Angeles was advertising itself as "your friendly neighborhood grocer" in 1958; the National Association of Retail Druggists was talking about "your friendly neighborhood drug store" in 1947. The earliest example I could find was a Methodist Church in Wisconsin which claimed to be "your friendly neighborhood church" as far back as 1935. Ed Wood's infamous movie Glen or Glenda refers ironically to "your friendly neighborhood milkman" (he's actually sleeping with the women of the neighborhood while their husbands are at work.)

Back in issue #4, Spider-Man sucked the Sandman into the vacuum cleaner with the words "Here’s the first part of your education courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man." I suppose the joke is that Spider-Man is unique; every neighborhood doesn’t have one; and that the Bugle still presents him as anything but friendly. Or perhaps "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" just sound a little like "friendly neighborhood milkman". It's funny: but not very funny. 

On page 2 of the Torch story in issue 8. Spider-Man tries to scare the Human Torch’s guests with a giant bat. (Why a bat, for heaven’s sake? Why not a spider?) The Torch says that it’s made of threads, and Spider-Man replies "Not threads, sonny boy!…Webs! Gen-u-wine Spider-Man webs!…The kind your friendly neighborhood grocer doesn’t sell". "The kind your grocer doesn’t sell" sounds as if it ought to be a well-known advertising slogan, but I can’t track down any example of anyone using it.

Spider-Man’s web is, of course, a secret formula known only to himself. He has spent a lot of photo money developing it in his bedroom.  Obviously, they are completely unique. So it's funny, but not very funny, to claim that you couldn't by similar webs in your local supermarket.

But the joke will run and run. Spider-Man will increasingly use it as a catchphrase. It will be referenced in the lyrics of the Spider-Man TV theme song; and decades later it will be the title of a spin-off comic. And it still won't be very funny.