Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Commodore 64s, Mustangs, and Norman Rockwell

No, I'm not going to start waxing poetic about the ancient computers rotting away in my closet. It's odd that I should even have them. I mean, there's not much I can do with them. I have one power supply that barely works, no monitor that will work except the TV in the living room, and the disk drive loads up disks in about an hour. Plus the fact that I have all the games I love to play on the emulator programs on my ultra-fast PC computer that cost about half what my parents bought the C64 at Service Merchandise 25 years ago.

So why do I have the things? Come to think of it, why does my mom still have her 76 Mustang rotting away at the bottom of the driveway, even though some people have offered good money to take it away to restore it to its former sexy beauty (how I used to lay in the back seat while going to the doctor, throwing up, or on hot days coloring in books, only to have the crayons melt all over the back of the fold down back seats. Or looking up at the stars in the back, without seat belts, seeing stars that most people nowadays will never see because the lights are too bright and they're all inside twittering anyway.

Obviously, these material things are tied to past memories. Ones that, yeah, we could get rid of the actual things and still have those memories, but human nature just doesn't work like that. Sure, I could be Thoreau, living at his log cabin at Walden Pound, imagining the people walking around with their stuff stacked on their backs like Indian merchants who used elephants to sell their wares. There's so much stuff that we keep because there's memories that are tied to those things. Memories just aren't permanent. We need photos or movie ticket stubs, or old computers and rusty cars, or the wedding ring stuffed inside the sock drawer to remind us of those memories, both good and bad, of older times.

And while I've talked about Nostalgia many times before, there are things that I have experienced recently that show how much we try to keep the past with us. To recollect in times of peaceful contemplation. The idea of a memory restored, in the notes of a song, in the paint strokes of a master, in the rusty carcass of some old, beloved machine, now long ceasing.

Shana, one of my Facebook friends, posted a link to a Youtube video, one that has a portion of a Sesame Street song from long ago. It's easy to find, just go to Youtube and look up Vintage Sesame Street. Any one will do. Where did those old TV shows go, anyway? Now, with these days of "Reality" TV shows and endless, nauseating examples of the back-stabbing, base, immoral ways that humans treat each other. That 3 year olds probably could tell you more about MTV than PBS. Then you go on the Internet and there are, amongst the porn sites and videos of girls beating each other senseless, videos on Youtube that bring back the joy of the TV. Sesame Street, Pinwheel, the list is endless, of shows that we watched as children. And now we can enjoy them all again from Youtube or from DVDs or, or whereever. But what is that we would watch these silly cartoons when reality is so complex? It doesn't make any sense. Except it does, as we're not watching the shows for themselves, but as a way of remembering times when those shows were new. To experience again the quiet Saturday mornings when the TV would be on, showing cartoons, and the sunshine would come through the blinds and show up as rays bouncing off of dust. It's not the TV shows themselves, but rather the memories stored with them.

People have been doing this for centuries, even before television. In the 1800's, Britian enjoyed the landscape paintings of Mallord William
Turner, who, along with Wordsworth and Colridge and others ushered in the Romantic age. The ironic thing is that, while aristocrats and art lovers gazed on at the forests and idyllic glades of Turner, the Industrial Revolution had just chopped down all of England's forests, leaving the landscape empty and barren. We only appreciate that which is being destroyed. Else, we take it for granted.

But back to TV. Recently I procured a copy of the movie Maya(1966), staring Jay North (Dennis the Menace), in an effort to get movies and shows that I had watched as a kid (and, okay, as an adult, too. :) ) I just got through watching it, and I did some research on it, as I remember seeing the TV series by the same name on TNT in the early 90's. Turns out, there were 18 episodes made of the show, filmed all in India. It enjoyed good ratings, but was canceled after only one season, because filming entirely in India was too expensive. This last chance for Jay North to continue his career was evaporated by budgeting. But anyway.... the movie is very good, one that brings out the Romance of a foreign country, wild surroundings, rogues, ruffians, snakes, tigers, elephants. It very much reminded me of the recent Secondhand Lions which was, ironically, the last movie made by Haley Joel Osment before he did his little car/pot accident thing, and succumbed to Child Actor Syndrome. Action, moral lessons, in the vein of Tom Sawyer or other adventures. But these adventures are things that children aren't experiencing anymore, since they are all inside playing their Guitar Hero, or on the Soccer field playing organized games from age 4 on up.

In this instance, childhood is very much like the landscapes that Turner made. We are destroying childhood, and so we create works of art that remind us of those days. Take the art of Norman Rockwell, or the recent flood of books, like The Dangerous Book for Boys, which teaches boys how to be boys again (there are books for girls, too, which brings up the argument of if this is all being destroyed by sexism, but that's for later). Kids are being felled by real life just as the British trees were cut down and used for mass production.

So we keep our old stuff, and watch our Youtube videos, and dream of days when things weren't so complicated, and then we go about our new-fangled lives. I guess, if keeping those old things around might get us to slow down a little, take a break, maybe it's a good thing.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sometimes you wanna go...

Pulling up a chair beside Norm is so much simpler now, except it wouldn't be in a bar in Boston. I see so many people now glued to their screens, playing computer games of every sort. And I'll be the first to admit, I do it too, just not as much. But trying to get my brother off of WoW or LOTR Online and actually do a chore or two is like pulling dragon's teeth. I have a bunch of friends (and you know who you are!! :) ) who basically live in Azeroth or in Evercrack or whereever. Heck, I'd live in Midgaard easily as long as I had a Materia or two. :)

I find it all psychologically interesting, that people have to live in more than one world. Escapism seems to be an epidemic of the modern age. And it's understandable, given the luxuries we all have now. In the past, before Bordeom even became a word, people had to work all day long just to make a penny or two to buy food, clothing, shelter. Maslow's lowest rung. But now, since we (mostly) don't need to worry about that, we can ascend Maslow's heirarchy and arrive at the top... but instead of finding self-actualization, we find self-distraction. We find other worlds to challenge us, dragons to fight, since we don't have to worry about tigers and lions in this one.

But we can leave WoW for another time. I want to look at more subtle ways that we can escape for a time. I want to look at the ways people escaped before WoW and MeatMud and all the computerized worlds that are digitized above us.

Of course, there are books. Entire worlds and stories and lives that we can lead through pages of a book. That's why I enjoy reading Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels so much. Pern is the most liveable fantasy world created. No fantastically evil doomsday people waiting to take over the world. Just the annoying political villans that populate our own world. Oh, yeah, and Thread. But one could just as easily live in Paolini's world from Eragon or Tolkien's Middle Earth. And the more books that can keep us in those worlds, the better.

But the main place for liveable worlds has to come from Television. There is no better place to live than on Earth in Roddenberry's Star Trek world. And this, I would argue, is what makes any fictional show worth watching. The stage has to be set to be just far enough removed to make it engaging. Different. We don't actually live in the world of Desperate Housewives because, normally, our upper middle class neighbors aren't very attractive and go around killing dates and stuff. So it's intriguing. Same thing with House. Princeton General is someplace we can identify with, even feel at home in, but House jars it away from reality enough to make us want to come back again and again.

In the sit-com realm, things are even more apparent. Escapism is what drives the most successful comedies year after year. Take three shows: Wings, Night Court, and Cheers. Each takes place in a different place: an airport, a courtroom, and a bar. But each are places we can close our eyes and know exactly what it all looks like. We can pretend to talk to any one of the characters, and know how they'll respond. It's like living with a whole other family. And in some cases, those actors are with us for years, so they become like families to us.

I've been watching recently the Disney Channel, more specifically, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and have found a guilty pleasure in it. It makes me happy, makes me laugh. Makes me envious of the brothers and their relationship, and of the interaction between everyone in the hotel. Makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Even if the acting and the plot lines are bad, even if London gets on people's nerves. Even if Kim Rhodes' character sometimes blurrs the lines between being a mother and being wishy-washy victim for her sons' one liners. It can be all overlooked because it makes you feel like you're at home. You can be there, and it'll be all right in the end. I mean, that's what Full House was all about, and it went on forever.

So while we are enjoying the passage of time (James Taylor), let us escape into which ever world we wish to, be it Star Trek, or WoW, or Pern, or the Tipton Hotel. If we emmerge from our little suare into fantasy land, and are happier because of it, isn't it worth it? Make the rest of the world a better place to live by leaving it for a while each day. And go where everyone knows your name.