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Category: Culture

Catching the Wave
There was a great action movie on TV last night, perhaps the best ever. I’m sorry if you missed it, because I’m pretty sure it will never be on again. It featured scene after scene of tense battles, sharp dialogue, and strong characters pitted against one another. I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen, lest I miss something. I had seen all of these scenes before, many times, but never like this.

It begins with Kirstie Alley (as the fetching Vulcan, Lt. Saavik) ordering her ship into the Neutral Zone. Bad idea, as usual. The Klingons pounce, laying down a withering barrage of phaser fire. Work stations explode, Starfleet officers hurtle through the air, the end is near! Saavik’s misguided decision has destroyed her crew, her ship, her mission.

Suddenly, a viewscreen slides sideways, revealing …William Shatner, in full Admiral Kirk regalia, complete with luxurious toupee! It was all just a training exercise! Kirk, Spock, and McCoy launch into an extended dialogue designed to lay down a foundation for the plot, but I don’t have time for that.

So the scene changes. We’re on a bus filled with convicts, including Harrison Ford as the bearded (do they let you have a beard in prison?) and wrongly convicted Dr. Richard Kimble. Their guards end up falling for the old oh-help-I’m-really-really-sick trick. One bad thing leads to another, and in the end the doc manages to outrun a freight train and make his escape. Love that scene!

I wait long enough to hear Tommy Lee Jones’ order to search every “warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse” to find Harrison Ford. Then, the scene changes again…

Jason Bourne (our own Matt Damon) barely eludes his pursuers by ducking into the U.S. consulate in Zurich. After punching out everybody in the building, he escapes by doing his human fly routine down an outside wall. Great scene! He runs into his love interest in the street, and… sorry, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Select four and nine, and I’m …

On a roll! Detective John McClane of the NYPD, better known as Bruce Willis, is in a bit of a fix down at the Nakatomi Plaza. Like Harrison and Matt, he’s got people chasing him, and they’re not looking for an autograph. He kills them, of course, then stuffs one in a Santa suit, sticks him in the elevator, and sends him down to tick off the head terrorist. Bruce, you irrepressible devil! But now it’s time to move on…

Back to the Syfy Network, where the Enterprise is suffering a serious whupping at the hands of Khan Noonien Singh (played with manly cleavage by Ricardo Montalban). Just when things look bleakest, Kirk pulls a fast one on Khan, wrecking his ship (exploding work stations, genetically-engineered supermen hurtling through the air). The Enterprise escapes, and so do I…

Back to SpikeTV, where Harrison Ford has dared to sneak back into his old hospital to do some research on The One-armed Man. But not before he saves the life of a young boy on a gurney (how did such a nice guy ever get convicted of murder?). The plot slows down here, but I’m in a surfing zone now!

Switching to Bravo, as it’s Bourne again, dispatching a trained hitman with a ballpoint while Franka Potente looks on, appalled (that was my pen, you know!)…

Then it’s a barefoot Bruce, escaping a gaggle of vicious terrorists on the roof of a skyscraper by swinging out on a fire hose and crashing through a window below (like he could actually do that — but I don’t care)…

I can’t believe my timing! I return to Syfy just in time to catch Ricardo Montalban leaving William Shatner stranded on an asteroid. Kirk bellows into his communicator as his tormentor flees, “KHA-A-A-N-N-N!” The cry echoes out into space (an impossibility, it should be noted). Truly one of the great moments in cinematic history…

And here’s Richard Kimble, middle-aged physician, leaping to certain death off a mile-high dam (except he lives!)…

Matt Damon deftly killing another trained assassin (Clive Owen, with a 12-guage)…

Bruce, still shoeless, still deadly, strangling Alexander Godunov with a chain…

Shatner floating around in the Mutara Nebula, tricking the superhuman (yet perpetually frustrated) Khan one last time. More exploding work stations, plus a dead Khan Jr.…

Harrison stealing into The One-armed Man’s house and calling Tommy Lee…

Matt/Jason plummeting down a stairwell astride a dead, fat assassin. Wham! And he just walks away…

Willis/McClane sending the evil Hans Gruber (played by the evil Alan Rickman) twenty stories to his (thuck!) death…

And finally, back on the Enterprise, where a dying Spock spiels out his “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” conundrum as Shatner wonders why, if he’s such a great actor, he can’t shed one tear for his so-called best friend.

Fade to black.

Exhausted, I put down the remote. No need to finish any of these plotlines; they were never the point of this exercise anyway. I leave plot, character development, and dramatic arcs to others. I had just had the greatest night of my channel-surfing career — squeezing the very best sequences from four movies into one, super action movie that was shorter than any of them. And better, if you don’t mind me saying so.
The X in Xmas
I am not a Scrooge. I like Christmas well enough as a part of the end-of-year holiday season of feasting and thanking and getting crazy paralytic drunk. I like the presents thing (to a point), and I have nothing but empathy for the people who bite, bludgeon, and tase their fellow shoppers on Black Friday. Plus, Jesus seems to have been a very nice guy. That’s all good.

What I don’t like are my Christmas tree lights. I plug them in, anticipating my own little Festival of Lights, but no. There is always one string that fails. I just bought that string last year, yet it will not illuminate no matter how imaginative my curses are. Those lights were supposed to be there for me at this time of year, along with comfort and joy, but all I get is another last minute trip to Kmart.

Hold on now, you may interject, are you going to let a silly little thing like malfunctioning mini-lights spoil the whole season? My answer is yes — but not just because I got ripped off. Those defective holiday bulb systems are a symptom of a much larger problem, one that undermines not just Christmas, but our entire retail-based civilization.

Allow me to illustrate. I also own a set of Christmas tree lights that were passed on to me by my parents. After seventy years, the color has worn off some of the bulbs, and the ratty wiring threatens to burn down my house every December. Even so, they work. When one does fail, it can be unscrewed, tossed, and replaced with a new bulb. If a socket is so corroded that it can no longer accept a new bulb, the rest of the string goes on shining in spite of it. I won’t call it an elegant design, but it has lasted.

Lasted without, it should be noted, any teeny, tiny fuses in the plug itself. Fuses! My failed string of mini-lights comes with fuses! They are included to keep the system from failing, I guess, but it seems the fuses have also failed. The mini-lights even come with a pair of back-up fuses. Do I really need to tell you that they, too, have failed? Layer upon layer of failure, violation upon violation of the implied warranty of merchantability. I’d sue, but I only paid $4.39 for that string of tree lights (on sale, which only heightens my anguish).

This is what’s wrong with Christmas; this is what’s wrong with the world. My ant poison doesn’t kill ants. My fluorescent lights don’t last a year, much less ten. My collapsible umbrellas disintegrate after one usage. Yet I (and lots of other people, it appears) continue to buy these cheap-ass products. I fear that the engine of our great economy will soon be fueled only by the continued re-purchase of products that don’t work.

As I have said, Christ was a nice feller. He never bought a Christmas present for anyone, but if he had, it probably would have been something of the loaves and fishes variety rather than a useless piece of crap. The holiday that was named for him, however, has taken a different path. For whatever reason, its success has come to depend on the purchase of large quantities of crap. The American economy, in turn, relies on Christmas to stay afloat, and the rest of the world relies on America.

This is the dangerous state of affairs that has soured my enjoyment of the holiday season (not my own Scroogic —or Grinchly— nature). I sense that we, and the entire world, are living in a fool’s paradise. One day, the crappiness quotient of manufactured goods will become so low that our entire retail network will crumble, and civilization will be left holding the empty gift bag that Christmas came in.

What’s worse, we’ll have only ourselves to blame for our own humbuggering.
Retail Retold
I am not a member of the merchant class, so I am no expert on the intricate mysteries of the retail marketplace. It doesn’t take a genius, however, to see that this whole elaborate system cannot possibly work.

When I walk into a Macy’s, for instance, I can’t for the life of me see how they keep such an expensive operation afloat. I see all the clothes and appliances and home décor, and all I can think of is what a huge pile of money it represents. And then there’s the payroll: salespeople, maintenance personnel, rent-a-cops, bosses, and mid-level management, whatever that is. When you add to that the rent (or mortgage payments, or however they handle that stuff), the light bill, the advertising, and the shipping, the numbers must be astronomical. To me, the whole mess just doesn’t add up.

Admittedly, I haven’t gone to the trouble of actually adding it up, but I don’t have to. Selling the occasional sleeveless cardigan or Proctor Silex Waffle Baker cannot possibly be paying for all this. I go into these stores, take a quick look to see if the boxers are on sale, then I walk out empty-handed. I assume that the handful of other people in the store with me do pretty much the same thing. So who is buying this stuff? Something is definitely fishy here. There has to be some inexhaustible fund of support for this complex, yet utterly transparent fraud.

I am not prepared, however, to say that all efforts at free enterprise are a complete hoax. When I see some dude selling oranges out of a paper bag by the side of the road, I have no trouble grasping the economics of his situation. He could have picked them, or grown them, or stolen them, and now he is trying to turn his labor into a profit. That makes sense. Restaurants and bars make sense, too, since everyone has to eat and everyone needs to get hammered. But old-fashioned retail? I don’t think so. In fact, the booming success of internet sales has now clearly exposed these sham “businesses.” Everything is cheaper now, and it’s delivered directly to your home, and you don’t even have to get dressed.

And yet the fiction is maintained. You would think that retail operations, now that the absurdity of their existence has been stripped naked by the very free markets they pretend to thrive in, would have the grace and good sense to fold up and quietly disappear. But no; they persist and even expand!

I do not know what forces are behind this, but it is clear that they have very deep pockets indeed. For them to have continued funding these losing ventures down through the centuries only proves that the process of losing money is somehow immensely profitable to them. As I have said, I am not an expert. I don’t know what economic advantage there might be to erecting huge buildings and employing millions while not taking in enough to pay the Muzak bill. What I do know is that it smells like a global conspiracy of some kind. The fact that I can’t put my finger on the exact nature of this monstrous scheme only makes it that much more frightening.

Normally, I would suspect the Bilderburg Group or the Free Masons or the Illuminati, but there is only one major conspiracy that matches up with the size and scope of this massive charade: the Lizard People. I figure they will let it go on until we reach a tipping point, then pull the plug on the whole thing and watch human civilization go down the drain like a giant dead spider in a sink of its own making. If you follow me.

If that doesn’t frighten you, then we are truly lost. The only way to battle this implacable foe and turn back their plan to take over Earth is to attack their plan at its heart — the bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. If you want to save the human race, go there now and shop until the money runs out, then keep shopping. With any luck, our efforts will send their finances into the black … and undermine the Lizard Peoples’ plan to destroy us all. And remember, no sale items. Only paying full price will do the job.
Walk On By
I see this total stranger walking directly toward me. He’s looking me straight in the eye and all the while he’s talking in this creepily calm voice. I feel unnerved and threatened. Who wouldn’t be?

I suppose the fact that the stranger is on TV and is not actually singling me out of a crowd should make a difference, but it doesn’t. When I am in the sanctum of my own living room, I want to be free from such affronts. I don’t care that the person is my favorite politician or a friendly salesman or a journalist trying to fill in the blanks of my massive ignorance. They do not need to be walking toward me, and they should stop it immediately.

I don’t know how this style of message delivery came to be. I imagine some producer someplace got the bright idea that walking straight at your audience is visually interesting or is a way of commanding attention. Well, it isn’t, and it doesn’t, and it’s pissing me off.

You might suggest that I simply turn off my television, and that idea does appeal to the libertarian in me. But you’re forgetting one very simple fact: we can’t live without television. And since I have to watch it, I don’t want to spend my precious time bobbing and weaving among my 600+ channels just to dodge these overly aggressive talkers. I want to be left in peace and free to absorb my usual assortment of non-threatening pap.

Or am I being too inflexible? I guess if that old dude from eHarmony kind of sidled toward me, sideways-like, I wouldn’t mind it so much. If Michelle Kosinski wants to give me the latest poop from the streets of Zagreb while hopping forward on one foot, I could live with that, too. And if Elizabeth Warren wants to talk to me while walking on her hands, well, that would be perfectly okay.

You see? I can be reasonable. I’m willing to meet people halfway… as long as they’re on all fours.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee