Sunday, July 9, 2017

Give Me My Bow of Burning Gold

To paraphrase an old TV ad that was so ridiculous it became a long-lasting cultural joke, “I’m not a courageous, powerful, capable hero, but I play one in The Elder Scrolls Online.”

It’s helped me to realize an important truth about life: most of us really are just pretending to know what in the heck we’re doing.

When we’re children, our parents seem godlike creatures whose power and abilities stop just short of shaping the weather or determining the rising and setting of the sun. Even when we reach our teen years, they have a controlling say in our lives that sometimes causes resentment. That resentment can topple over into something more hurtful if we see our parents behaving in ways that we know they shouldn’t… and if we can see it, we ask ourselves, why can’t they?

Beings that powerful are supposed to be faultless. At the very least, they are supposed to know what they are doing. The realization that my parents were only human just seemed to deepen my anger, especially towards my father, who persisted in behaving in ways that brought damage and hurt to the family, and who seemed to be utterly indifferent to the impact that his actions had on my mother, and on the rest of us.

It wasn’t until I got considerably along into my fifties, and got there knowing that I was still inept, still awkward, still ignorant about such things as how to get along in my own life, that I was able to look back and think, Good God. Mom and Dad were a decade younger than I am now when they were blundering along cluelessly, focussing on their own problems to the detriment of their children’s lives, doing the things that slowly drove the family apart. Here I am, ten years older than they were at the time, and it’s all still a Mystery to me. I’m only (perhaps) just now beginning to grow up. A little. What must it have been like for them, when they were thirty years old with two kids and other stresses that I have never had to face? 

I think: thank goodness I never had kids. I’d have been even more inept at parenting than my own Mom and Dad. My kids would hate me; and like as not I would spend much of my time staring uncomprehendingly at them as if they were Space Aliens.

Somewhere in the realm of adulting, you start to realize that you’re not the only insensible cretin in the world, and that everyone, just like you, is making it up as  they go along. Some more successfully than others, ’tis true, but then all people are not made equal.

Playing games is to some extent a way of reassuring ourselves that we’re not Completely Incompetent under the facade, that we can handle a challenge when it’s thrown down at us. Life does teach us in a roundabout way to expect drama and mystery; but when Drama arrives in real life, it’s never in the way that we’ve been led to imagine. It arrives when we aren’t looking and strikes down the towering pillars of our lives that we always assumed would be immutable and immune. Dragons and Devils, we know how to fight those things. Give us a Quest and we know what to do with it. But what of the losses that leave us standing alone in the night, without a weapon, without a windmill?


Monday, July 3, 2017

The Box

I was recently put off by something I read or saw or heard — nothing new there.

Was it a blog post, a YouTube video? A webmag article? A link sent to me by a friend? It doesn’t matter. The gist of is that some young dunderhead, someone almost literally Born Yesterday, made the declaration, somewhere on the interwebs, that “The Golden Age of Television” is — get this — happening right now. 

Of course everyone living thinks that the Universe revolves around them, and the only time in history that matters is the present, because after all the present is where THEY live. These are the sort of people who go to Paris or London and take pictures of themselves.

So — the person who wrote the article likes the so-called “Television” that they are seeing in the Present Day, and that’s fine. But if you’re going to throw around phrases like “Golden Age,” you’d better have at least a moderate sense of history.

Television’s real Golden Age grew out of and overlapped the Golden Age of Radio. It began somewhere in the mid-fifties, when people like Walt Disney started treating TV as a First-Class medium, and began producing movie-quality programming specifically for television. If you want hard dates, I’ll give ‘em to you: The real “Golden Age of Television” began on December 15, 1954, the night Disney premiered the first episode of Davy Crockett — and it ended on February 26, 1983, with the airing of the final episode of M*A*S*H.

Of course there was good stuff before and after those dates. But to declare boundaries, you need a cultural phenomenon to hang the dates on, and those two series captured the attention of the nation as powerfully as anything ever has. They come as close as any to containing the complete history of TV’s first — and most “golden” — age.

However, I would argue that establishing television’s Golden Age has more to do with the medium than it does with the content, and that its ending has more to do with the death of Popular Culture than anything else. In the almost-thirty years between those dates, America had only three television networks (four, once PBS began gaining ground). 

It was the golden age of television because TV connected us. With just four networks to chose from, if we weren’t all watching the same thing, we at least knew what the neighbors were watching. As a culture, we were on the same page during the ‘60s and ’70s in a way that is no longer possible. 

First the growth of dozens of alternative cable networks, then the expanding number of ways that television could be received, and finally the advent of the internet all gradually pushed us apart. It’s not just that we’re not all watching the same four shows anymore; with hundreds of stations and dozens of delivery systems it’s not even possible for us to be on the same page. If you think that the nation is more politically polarized than ever before, you’re right: and the reason for that is that Popular Culture as we knew it is dead. 

Popular Culture once connected us. We live now in a word of personal culture, a culture not defined by reality or for that matter by anything outside of ourselves and our own preconceptions. We live in tiny personal bubbles of our own creation, bubbles that reflect and reinforce our own cultural preferences and prejudices. 

If you define television as a unifying and connective force, then by definition its golden age CANNOT extend into an era where there are about a million channels to chose from, and no one can agree on anything at any given moment. The three-network system is what created and bounded not just TV’s golden age, but all of popular culture itself. 

We absolutely have more viewing options than ever before (including the ability to re-visit classic TV in ways that were never possible at the time), and more systems to receive those options. I’m not even connected to broadcast TV anymore, because I don’t need it. I haven’t seen any current product of the old three-network system for going on three years, and I don’t miss it. I have plenty of other programming to watch. If you define a golden age by sheer volume and diversity, than I suppose the original writer who so pissed me off had a point. But that’s not how I define it. 

The medium that once drew us all together, now drives us apart. There’s nothing “golden” about that.

— Thorn.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Playing Ketchup

Today and for the next few days — possibly the next few weeks — I get to put my “designer” hat away and once again, after too long a time, pull my “writer” hat out of the closet, dust off the cobwebs, and so set  to work. The main task at hand is to generate enough Text Material to fill the companion book for my upcoming Trick Or Tarot Halloween-themed Tarot Deck; but I also mean to pull out a few blog posts, fill the next issue of my sort-of mystical rag The Sanctum, and perhaps, if I am lucky, plug away at the novel that has been my “main” writing project for considerably more than a decade.

Mind you, today I will not even approach any of those goals. Today I mean to start out easily, beginning here with a sort-of stream of consciousness recap of the various cultural stuffages that have passed before my eyeballs in recent months. Yes, this is the Self-Indulgent post. In fact, it’s so self-indulgent that it will likely get spread out across a number of installments. You have been warned.

“I knew it was you.”

In January, facing a winter that had not yet turned as hard as it ultimately would, I at last finished viewing my DVD set of Mulberry, a lovely English dramady about a fledgling Grim Reaper who is sent to do a job — and finds that he cannot bear to go through with it. It’s one of my favorite series ever, fine and funny and wistful and sad, with a delightful cast of both characters and actors. And yet, much like Mulberry himself, I found that I could not bear to watch it for the longest time. Only 12 episodes were made… and yet it took me considerably longer than seven years to get through this viewing. 

Grief will do this to you when the subject is death. And yet at the end of series 2, Mulberry’s intended “customer,” Miss Farnaby (the late, great Geraldine McEwan) is still very much alive. There was to have been a third series which the BBC never deigned to make; and now it is too late. Nearing at long last the end of the set, I wondered again just exactly how Mulberry would have ended, if the BBC had allowed it to have the planned ending. And so I hopped on the surfboard and did something that wouldn’t have been possible when the show originally aired: I found the answer on the interwebs, in the form an interview with one of the show’s late writers. It dissolved me into tears all over again. May it not have the same effect on you:

After all this time I’m glad to know the ending that the writers intended, but I guess I’m just as glad that it never got made. The story is complete on the etherial level, but in practical terms the folks in the big old Farnaby house still live on. And this way, I don’t have to say goodbye. I’ve said way too many goodbyes in recent years, and must face the prospect of more to come. Knowing that Mullberry and Miss Farnaby are still together, and can still be summoned up at will, is a minor consolation — but consolation all the same.

Since late last year I have been making a real effort, as implied above, to finally get through at least some of the mountainous accumulation of books, comics, movies and television that have piled up on my plate. Part of this effort involves getting a mechanic in place, a system that both allows me to make steady if slow progress, and insures that I will. I won’t bore you with the mechanics of my Reading Sandwich here, but one of the things that it’s helped me accomplish is an “At Long Last” reading of Hergé’s The Black Island.

If you thought seven-plus years was a long time to take watching twelve episodes of a half-hour TV series, go on ahead and try this on your piano: The Black Island is the first-ever Tintin adventure that I’ve read from beginning to end — and it took me more than forty years. 

The copyright page on my copy of the book tells the story: it’s the First American Edition, published in 1975, which is the year I bought it. The ISBN number had not even been invented yet! In the years since I bought it, the book floated at the edges of my attention; once in a while I would pick it up to goggle at the artwork, but I never sat down to read it until it got fed into my Reading Sandwich late last year.

And now I understand why that happened: because these were originally created for serial publication in newspapers, Hergé’s pacing is rigid to the point of being pedantic. Every single half-page ends on a pause, a gag, or a minor cliffhanger, while every full page ends on a full stop, a major plot point, or a major cliffhanger. The adventure moves methodically from point A to to point Z with each page moving us along to another letter. 

I know that Tintin is beloved all over the world… but for me It’s all very charming without ever fully engaging my heart (in the way that, for example, Mulberry absolutely does). Barring only Snowy, the characters are cyphers defined more by what we bring to them than by what Hergé imbued them with (this is a subject I really hope to explore in greater depth over the next few posts).

It’s not the story or the characters that engage us, but the antiseptic charm of the illustrations. Hergé draws like God Himself. Is there anyone else in the business who combines such an eye for detail with such a clean, assured line? It’s that assurance and the rich atmosphere of Herge’s world that carries us along from page to page. Far from being concerned about what might happen to Our Heroes Tintin and Snowy, I found myself constantly thinking, “Ohmigosh, look at that Island! It’s gorgeous! Look at that house! Look at that castle! Look at that airplane! Just freakin’ gorgeous!” The cover is a great example of how the style drives our attraction to the thing. I defy anyone to look at it and not think, “Wow, this looks really promising!” No wonder I bought the damn thing all those years ago! … and really, no wonder it’s taken me this long to read it — but I’m glad that I finally did.

There, you see? Over a thousand words of drivel and I’ve barely begun. Don’t you wish I’d never taken off my designer hat? 

Speaking of which, my Halloween Tarot mentioned above is currently funding at Kickstarter. Why not give it a gander and see if it’s something you’d like? Here’s the link:

— Thorn
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...