Naming and Branding Agency

Grim Reaper-cussions in Fernwood 2-Nite

A couple of Saturdays ago, the NY Times ran this story:

MILL VALLEY, Calif. – Tommy Odom’s remains lie on a steep wind-swept hill at Forever Fernwood, beneath an oak sapling, a piece of petrified wood and a bundle of dried sage tied with a lavender ribbon. When he died in a traffic accident last year, Mr. Odom, 41, became the first of 40 people at Fernwood cemetery to move on to greener pastures – literally. He was buried un-embalmed in a biodegradable pine coffin painted with daisies and rainbows, his soul marked by prairie grasses instead of a granite colossus.

Here, where redwood forests and quivering wildflower meadows replace fountains and manicured lawns, graves are not merely graves. They are ecosystems in which “each person is replanted, becoming a little seed bank,” said Tyler Cassity, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who reopened the long-moldering cemetery last fall.

Finally, a chance for you to do at least one good thing before you die, almost. And most convenient for this blogger, as Forever Ferwood sits atop a hill not 300 yards from my new home. This development does, however, put a stall in my plans to have a well dug in the backyard.

The name “Forever Fernwood” is compelling, and prods us to dig into the forensic etymology of the name of pop culture blip “Fernwood 2-Night”, a television show which starred Martin Mull way back in 1978. Mr. Mull spent a good amount of time in Mill Valley and its surrounding county of Marin, in fact he starred in the film “Serial”, an adaptation of the book “The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County” As described by Wikipedia:

The Serial is divided into 52 short chapters and it chronicles the lives, loves, and relationships of a number of residents, mostly in their mid-to-late 30s and their 40s, of Marin County, a suburban, generally very affluent county directly across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. The plot revolves around Harvey and Kate Holroyd, a couple in the midst of the mid-1970s Marin lifestyle who are undergoing marital problems, although there are many other characters introduced and described throughout the novel.

There are elements of soap opera in the book, although the tone is comedic (specifically, satirical) rather than tragic. The novel describes its characters’ lifestyles, including their interest in various New Age beliefs and human potential movement groups (including est, transcendental meditation, consciousness-raising, and rebirthing); their unconventional and arguably lax child-rearing techniques; and their embrace of a number of then-current fads, such as fern bars, jogging, and organic food. The book satirizes many of the elements of a particular mid-to-late 1970s subculture, also described to some degree by author Tom Wolfe in his 1976 non-fiction essay “The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening”, particularly as manifested in the lives of people then between the ages of about 30 and 45 in affluent parts of California.

Many of the characters in The Serial also speak using a particular jargon or lexicon, saying words and phrases like “flash on” (a phrasal verb meaning to “have a sudden insight about”), “Really” (to signify assent), and others.

The Serial contains a great number of specific references to actual locations (restaurants, stores, streets) in 1970s Marin County. In the original edition of the book, and in most if not all later editions, black-and-white illustrations of scenes from the novel accompany the text in many of the chapters.

So was Fernwood 2-Night named after the cemetery Forever Fernwood? You might think it too big a stretch, until deeper digging reveals this bone chip about t.v. show “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”:

…a few of the supporting cast who appeared in the series
included Martin Mull, Orson Bean, Dabney Coleman, Shelley
Berman, Shelley Fabares, Richard Hatch and Tab Hunter;
the series was first run as a syndicated series, and then
was picked up for late-night broadcast on the “CBS Late Movie”
when they ran out of movies; after Louise Lasser left the
series, the title was changed to reflect the name of the
fictional town…

aka: “Forever Fernwood”

Later, after “Forever Fernwood” ran out of steam, producer
Norman Lear extended the franchise even further by creating
creating a fictional local talk show as fodder for even more
satire, called “Fernwood 2-Night”

So there you have it. And no, we don’t have anything better to do.

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