This is kind of tagged to yesterday’s post. I’ve been reading a number of old Playboy interviews with the American icons of my youth. These longform in-depth articles can be fascinating.
From the 1992 interview with Robin Williams:
PLAYBOY: Before children start seeing you as Peter Pan, do a lot of them still recognize you as Mork: Do you still get a lot of “Nano nano” when you walk down the street?
WILLIAMS: Some of that still goes on, but that’s in their brains in the memory bank of a country because it comes from TV. Watch the way people watch TV, it’s hypnotic. Just sit back and you’ve got cable and ninety-five choices and you don’t really care much about anything else. Eventually, you don’t know about history, you can’t remember if there really was a Civil War, and eventually people get slaves again. You can have a President that basically reads cue cards and it seems OK, because he’s just the guy on the series with the family with the little black child and seems all right, because he’s kind, and when he’s angry, it’s TV angry, where you get kind of angry but you don’t go, “Fuck off!” You basically get where you eyes dim and world seems all right and you kind of tighten up so much that your sphincter doesn’t open. Then people at home can be TV pissed and they can go to a TV war and watch it. We basically fought a war, watched in on the TV set, and you buy the tapes, sucking on the glass teat.
Note: of course Playboy in 1992 did not hyperlink to the Wikipedia article about Ellison’s collection of essays. However, if time travel becomes a reality, they might.
There are number of reasons I like this quote. One, it brings to mind the Grebulons from “Mostly Harmless” (the fifth book of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy) who were studying Earth through the stray TV transmissions that echo across the vastness of space. As you might imagine, the Grebulon’s developed a somewhat less than ideal understanding of Earth’s people. Second, it reinforces the role played by popular art and media in our understanding of the world around us. And our language.
When one considers the hundreds of channels available, desperate for content, it does not take much effort to think about how often movies are broadcast on traditional networks and cable networks. With little effort, one can click over to IMDB.com and get a list of references in other media to a given film. For example, there are over 400 references to Silence of the Lambs. Does it take much effort to think that 20 years later the line, “It puts the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose again,” is not alive in the ether? The fact that I heard this quote used in completely unrelated casual conversation the other day just reinforces the fact it is alive.
In the mid- to late-80s, during the phase of my undergraduate career that followed my three-year sabbatical in the Army, one of my classmates in the art department confessed to an ongoing fascination with Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” He and some of his friends had memorized the dialog for the entire movie and would re-enact scenes. They were particularly fascinated with the milk bar concept. If, in an age when cable channels were relatively few and VHS rentals were still the big thing, such absorption was possible, is it any real stretch to understand how films or song can infiltrate the consciousness of a group?
It is an amazing time we live in today. Yesterday I sat in the waiting room of my wife’s rheumatologist and watched an episode of Last Week Tonight on my ever-present-personal-infotainment-device, also known as a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. I can Google the phrase “Paper Chase script” and get the movie script (I did this for another blog).
As a SiriusXM subscriber for the last decade I listen predominantly to a handful of channels, one of which is Outlaw Country. Talk about a wide-ranging format to fill commercial-free airtime! Decades of music from big names to names so little you wonder how their music ever got heard. And it is often good enough to make you wonder why it took so long to hear it. Genre and the preconceptions of others defining country music, outlaw or otherwise, are little more than a fiction for this channel. Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, Johnnie Cash, Waylon Jennings, David Allen Coe, are all heard alongside Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Pandora, Spotify and other services, not to mention all the fileshare (media theft) sites make connections in music that cut across multiple subcultures and boundaries.
To think that people are not affected by these things is absurd. To not realize or be aware of the constant now-ness of the availability of media to young people (or old people) is just an insane level of cluelessness.
It is all available. Now. (Kind of like the end of Highlander, where there can be only one, but we’ll make it two if it justifies a sickening sequel.)
The possible influences on culture and language are beyond myriad. Who knows what will resonate? Movies that were critical failures, or even box office failures, have found new life as cult classics or simply appealed more to another group at slightly different time. Mel Brooks one time defined comedy as taking reality and moving it two inches to the left or right. I suspect that sometimes two inches is not enough and new appreciation is found a year or so down the road when the two inches seems more like four or five.
To say that people don’t talk a certain way and use that as justification for a desired disbelief in an event is just nuts. I don’t have a clue how people talk until I sit and listen to all of them. Even then, I have to understand that my presence my influence how they speak. The language of youth has always been filtered around the old.
Deal with it.