I can't be sure, but it seems to me I first heard the words "Nelson Mandela" when I was in college, way back in the '70s. There was a lot of anti-apartheid activity, lots of demonstrations to encourage several universities to pull their investments out of South Africa. Somewhere in there came the story of a freedom fighter who'd been jailed on a barren island, in solitary confinement, for longer than I'd been alive.
A few years later, an infectious tune started seeping onto dance floors, the product of an integrated band that mixed politics with their pop:
Free Nelson Mandela!
Free, free, free Nelson Mandela!
Written by Jerry Dammers and performed by The Special AKA, the song told about Mandela's imprisonment in an infectiously catchy Afro-pop/ska beat, and educated a lot of people who wanted to know more about who this Nelson Mandela was.
21 years in captivity
Shoes too small to fit his feet
His body abused, but his mind is still free
Are you so blind that you cannot see, I said ...
Free Nelson Mandela ...
And, several years and a lot of international intercession after that, he was.
Feb. 11, 1990.
You remember the pictures: Nelson Mandela, walking, erect, out of Victor Verster, his last prison, flanked by his African National Congress colleagues and his then-wife, Winnie, as shutters clicked, cameras rolled, and his countrymen joyously did the toi-toi to celebrate his liberation. You could hear his Xhosa clan name being chanted: Ma-di-ba! Ma-di-ba!
He toured the world shortly after that, raising money for ANC programs. His last stop in the U.S. was Los Angeles. It had been a grueling trip — 27 years in some of the world's most infamous prisons had to have taken its toll. But everywhere he went, Madiba smiled, waved and urged people to look forward, not back, and to work together to achieve a common goal.
We black Americans, who had seen so many of our own heroes in the struggle cut down, were especially touched: Here was a man who had lived to reach his goal — or at least the beginnings of it. Unlike the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers (and Bobby Kennedy, whose portrait hung with his big brother's and Dr. King's in many a black household), here was a hero who'd survived.
Morgan Freeman, who usually played God, was chosen to portray him in Invictus. It seemed appropriate.
The sad stuff would come later — tales of corruption among ANC leaders, the distance and eventual divorce from Winnie, the eventual return of violence to too many parts of South Africa. He became the subject of a tug of war among feuding political heirs, and even real family, who fussed over the intentions of his philanthropic largesse.
Of course there will be a huge state ceremony and memorial services around the globe. The hymn-like beauty of "God Bless Africa," the South African national anthem, will float up, up, slow and graceful, toward the arches of grand cathedrals, from inside small whitewashed churches in the countryside. On playing fields after a moment of silence.
But I'll be thinking of another song, and remembering the generosity of the man who inspired it: Free Nelson Mandela ...
Freed now. Godspeed.
Way back in March, actor Will Ferrell took the stage on Conan O'Brien's talk show in full character as Ron Burgundy, the '70s-vintage, dopily misogynistic hero of the 2004 movie Anchorman. Lapels flaring, jazz flute in hand, he announced that the world would have to wait another nine months for the sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
The marketing blitz has only intensified since then. A Ben & Jerry's ice-cream tie-in. An Anchorman exhibit at Washington, D.C.'s Newseum. Seventy car commercials starring Ron Burgundy. (Chrysler reported record sales after they went viral on YouTube.) An event at Emerson College in Boston naming their communications department after him, if only for a day. A Ron Burgundy "autobiography" — excerpted in the New Yorker. Appearances on ESPN, MTV, even a Canadian curling competition.
The scorched-earth media strategy is designed to work in a world of millions of screens, says Ben Carlson of the social-media tracking company, Fizziology.
"You might miss the TV spot, but you'll catch him on SportsCenter," Carlson explains. "You might miss him on SportsCenter, but you'll catch the viral video of him hosting the news show."
That would be the real-life North Dakota evening news show that "Ron Burgundy" co-anchored over the weekend. In his wig and fake mustache, Farrell chatted genially about Christmas shopping, hockey and the weather with obviously star-struck local news personalities for 30 minutes.
"It's a fairly serious violation of news ethics," says Robin Abcarian, who observed in a recent Los Angeles Times column that a news program should perhaps refrain from getting turned into a giant promotion for a movie. Plus, she added, the program wasn't even that funny.
But Carlson says Abcarian's position puts her in a tiny minority.
"So far the conversation around this film this past week has been only 2 percent negative," he notes, allowing that "some of that negativity is related to people already being a little sick of the Ron Burgundy character."
"That would be my feeling," says NPR film critic Bob Mondello, who recently saw the movie. Frankly, he didn't feel it was worth a review. But for the sake of this story, he consented. Here it is:
"It's kind of lame."
But Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues has already racked up about 50 million mentions on social media — more than 50,000 this week alone. That's more than all of the other movies opening Dec. 18 combined. As Ron Burgundy might say, "Don't act like you're not impressed."
Vice President Biden hasn't announced his 2016 presidential plans. It's far too early for that; we haven't even hit the first anniversary of President Obama's second inaugural, after all.
But as Biden traveled this week to Japan, China and South Korea where he met top leaders, he certainly gave the impression of a man doing a full dress rehearsal for the presidency.
Of course, if Hillary Clinton decides to run for president, rehearsing for the presidency may be as close as Biden gets to the Democratic nomination.
Still, the Asia trip is certainly generating the kind of moments, video and headlines that could prove useful to his image makers if Biden decides to run for president.
On Tuesday, Biden was in Tokyo commiserating with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the regional tensions caused by China's assertion of a new air defense zone. Then there was the separate meeting with Japanese women workers, in which Biden was accompanied by Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.
The next day he was with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who called Biden "my old friend" — the two men having spent time together in recent years. And Biden talked up the importance of a U.S.-Chinese relationship built on "candor" and "trust."
But in a moment that may have made Xi feel somewhat less cordial, Biden seemed to tell Chinese citizens waiting in the U.S. embassy visa line in Beijing to challenge state authority.
"Children in America are rewarded, not punished, for challenging the status quo," he told the visa applicants. Dubious as that message was (plenty of U.S. children aren't rewarded for challenging conventions) Biden's ideal vision of America would certainly play well back home, if not with the Chinese politburo.
In any event, the trip has been a chance for Biden to be seen on the world stage in his own right, as Biden might say "literally and figuratively." It reinforced his strong foreign policy chops, earned from years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the panel he chaired before entering the White House with Obama.
It was also a reminder that if both Biden and Clinton were to vie for the Democratic nomination Biden would, more than any other Democrat mentioned as a 2016 possibility, match the former secretary of state's foreign policy gravitas.
"I've had dinner with Biden and the list of people he says he's met and has decent relationships with, in terms of other countries' leaders, is quite impressive," said Jody Baumgartner, an associate professor of political philosophy at East Carolina University who has written a book on the vice presidency and is presently at work on a second.
Baumgartner has twice met with Biden at the vice president's Naval Observatory home, part of a small group of scholars Biden invited to visit him in 2009 and 2011 because they had written books on the vice presidency, not the hottest topic in presidential scholarship.
Impressed by Biden's global network, Baumgartner sees it as part of the former Delaware senator's approach to government service. "It's very clear that he's been doing this job, let's call it government, for 30 plus years and that he's worked hard and paid attention. He knows a lot. And he loves it. He believes in it. And there's a passion there."
Combine that with Biden being a natural glad-hander who's willing to chat up just about anyone and you get a politician who treats the world stage like a visit to his old Scranton neighborhood, a quality well captured in Jeanne Marie Laskas' GQ profile of Biden.
It's also captured in reports written by journalists accompanying Biden in Asia as part of the traveling press pool. When Biden met Chinese leader Li, for instance, he joked as he introduced members of the Obama administration who accompanied him. He mirthfully introduced one U.S. official as being from Hollywood because he wore sunglasses indoors. An official on the White House National Security Council or NSC, he playfully introduced as being from the ever-much-in-the-news NSA. Li smiled.
The world is mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, a figure who became a global icon of the struggle for racial equality as he successfully fought against an apartheid system that made black South Africans second-class citizens.
Mandela died at age 95 after a prolonged lung infection attributed to his 27 years as a prisoner of conscience on South Africa's Robben Island.
"He is now resting. He is now at peace," South African President Jacob Zuma in an said in an address to the nation.
President Obama Mandela "achieved more than can be expected of any man. Today he has gone home."
"He no longer belongs to us, he now belongs to the ages," Obama said.
"Through his fierce urgency and unbending will, Madiba transformed South Africa and all of us," he said, referring to Mandela by his clan name. "His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better."
The first black president of the United States said of South Africa's first black president, "I can't imagine my life without the example Mandela set."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Mandela "a giant of justice" who "touched our lives in a deeply personal way."
Former President George W. Bush said that he and former First Lady Laura Bush "join the people of South Africa and the world in celebrating the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela."
"President Mandela was one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time. He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example," Bush said.
House Speaker John Boehner called Mandela "an unrelenting voice for democracy" and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the world had "lost a leader who advanced the cause of equality and human rights."
Earlier on Thursday, Mandela's family told SABC television that the ailing former president was putting up a courageous fight from his "deathbed."
After being admitted to a Pretoria hospital in June, Mandela spent almost three months there before being discharged in September. Since then, he'd been receiving in-home care. Throughout, his condition has been described as "critical but stable."
We'll continue to update this post as reaction to Mandela's death comes in.