It’s been nearly two months since I last posted the scribblings from my former college roommate, David. Here is the first part of his fifth chapter. It was semi-large, so I thought I would break it up.
As before, here’s my disclaimer regarding David: He wrote in somewhat haphazardly and often left parts of the manuscript incomplete or with notes to himself on how to possibly improve his choice of words. I will try to recreate this mode of his by using brackets and the bold font [Like this]. I have also attempted to correct some of his spelling errors, but not all.
Form Your Troika – CHAPTER 05
(Part 1 of 2)
LET ME TAKE YOUR PICTURE
When I was a kid, there was a television program that aired on Sundays called Big Blue Marble.
Kids nowadays have no idea what it was like in those caveman-like days of the mid-1970s. Yes, they may have heard the horror stories of an existence where people had only three national television networks to choose from (and were damn happy to have them) but do they actually believe the DVD-less (nay, VCR-less) tales of the days of their elders? No, kids today have cable and with cable comes channels catering exclusively to children. With Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon on all the time, youngsters today have no concept of what it is like to wait for the weekends because that’s when the cartoons and other kid shows came on the tube.
My harangue is not with the current violent state of cartoons because most of today’s animated television shows aimed at young children are less violent than when I grew up. Match up The Wild Thornberrys with the Roadrunner-Coyote cartoons or pit Dexter’s Laboratory against Tom and Jerry and you’ll see that the cartoons of yesteryear portray much more violence than those of today.
“But wait,” I hear you interject, “what about shows like Dragon Ball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Teen Titans?”
It’s a fair question and let’s take it in reverse order. Teen Titans, and by extension Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and System Shock fit into the genre of superhero cartoons where fisticuffs save the day and the world. In my day, we had Super Friends, Spider-Man (the one with the great theme song), and the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Violence in those cartoons was also used to show that good triumphs over evil. Remember that my main point is not that today’s cartoons are free of violence. The point I’m trying to convey is that cartoons of yore were more, or at least just as, violent as the current fare.
The violence shown in Yu-Gi-Oh! is all based in fantasy. It is not the main characters of Yugi, Tristan, and Joey who smash each other around. It is their cards and the monsters portrayed on those dueling artifacts that do all the battles. The duels are not real as they all take place in a holographic setting. Children [can and] do understand the difference between reality and fantasy.
Don’t believe me? I will offer only one example as proof. For this experiment, you will need a child between the ages of two and four. The first time a child of that age hears about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, their instinct is to not believe in the reality of such creatures. They will begin to ask questions that attempt to poke holes in these legends. Who, as a parent, hasn’t heard the following questions?
“How does Santa get down the chimney?”
“What about houses that have no chimney?”
“How does Santa know which houses are Jewish?”
“How does the Tooth Fairy carry all that change?”
“How does she know when I lose a tooth?”
“What does she do with all those teeth?”
Children only begin to truly believe in these characters because adults keep drumming it into their heads that these people do indeed exist. Parents go to extreme lengths to answer such reasonable questions with preposterous responses such as “It’s magic” or “Just because”.
Have you ever seen a child really deeply distraught when they discover Santa Claus is not real? No, you haven’t, because they, deep down, knew it was a fantasy all the time. They were probably curious why the adults couldn’t see that.
Plus, they kept receiving presents, so why should they kill that imaginary golden goose?
So far I’m two for two in showing you that superhero cartoons are no more violent than they were thirty years ago and what does qualify as violent today is pure fantasy. That leaves Dragon Ball Z. Yes, I concede that the battles that occur are graphic and violent. I could fall back on my previous contention that children understand that this violence is fantasy, but I won’t because there is a larger point to make. Dragon Ball Z is for older children. Plus, it has a rating of [what is the rating?] and is therefore not meant for the younger crowd.
If you disagree with my contention that cartoons today are less violent that those of days gone by, that’s fine by me. Simply remember that as a parent you have final control over what your child sees. If you are upset that your kid saw some violent cartoon, the responsibility, and the remote, is ultimately yours.
Pardon me while I retain my bearings. I was driving down the road of weekend cartoons and seemed to have gone down a path of cartoon violence. Let me just back the car up and return to the highway of my main thought. Thanks for your patronage.
My original point was about the loss of the uniqueness of cartoons on the weekends. When I was growing up, the weekends were special because those were the only days when I could watch Super Chicken (“Fred, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it.”), Popeye, The Herculoids, and a string of others. However, I have now come to realize that my moping to the youth of today about what has been lost is pointless. I’m sure my parents bemoaned what I would never experience (e.g., malt shops) as their own parents were wistful over what they would miss (e.g., flappers, Lindy Hop). Keying in on what kids today are missing misses what children do have today that we didn’t. I may lament the specialness [is there a better word for this?] of the weekend, but I didn’t have a computer when I was ten. My parents may have pined for the malt shop, but I went to an integrated school. My grandparents might have regretted the fact that their kids would never dance the Lindy Hop, but their children never had to go through the privations of the Great Depression. I am powerless to stop this trend as I’m sure the kids of today will look back and wax nostalgic for the good old days when there were actual sitcoms on television, but will probably not give a second thought to the fact that their kids insert your own optimistic vision of the future that could include space travel, a triumph over hunger, nanomedicine, or even an end to television sitcoms.
Rounding back to where I started, I was speaking of the extinct television show Big Blue Marble. This show offered its viewers the opportunity to connect with a pen pal from around the world. For my younger readers, “pen pal” was the chat buddy of an earlier era. I was intrigued by this chance to make a new friend, but since I was only six, I was not yet proficient at writing. So, I asked my mother for help. At the start of 1975, my mother dashed off a note to the television show and a month later, I had received the instructions on how to contact my new pen pal, a boy named Xanana who lived in the extremely far off land of East Timor.
I wrote my first letter immediately. Actually, I dictated as my mother wrote the letter. I don’t remember exactly what was in that missive, but I do remember I asked many questions about where he lived including where West Timor was.
That summer, I received my first response. The first clue that there was something different about this envelope was the number of exotic-looking air mail stamps on it. It is much to my discredit that I did not save this letter. While the correspondence undoubtedly has personal value, the writings of an East Timorese child from the mid-1970s would also be of great value from a cultural and historical perspective. Sadly, those are not the thoughts of a six-year-old so this letter is lost.
I recall that I did reply in late 1975 and I do remember asking my mom early the next year why Xanana hadn’t written back. Her reply, to my young mind, was odd. She said that courtesy of Henry Kissinger, my pen pal probably wouldn’t be writing back.
Thus ended my first endeavor into the world of pen pals.
While my third and last foray into the realm of long-distance correspondence does not end with the Indonesian annexation of a sovereign country glossed over by a wink and a nod from the Nixon Administration, it did teach me Lesson Five.
In March of 1991, I was on-line. I am in no way trying to claim that I was in the forefront of Internet usage. No, when I say I was on-line, I mean that I was a subscriber to Prodigy. Being on Prodigy back then is to the Internet today as a paper airplane is to a Saturn V rocket. Prodigy was simply a souped-up computer bulletin board system. This on-line service provided e-mail and moderated forums for participants to spew forth on any subject. This was different from the Internet of the really early 1990s because Prodigy was somewhat user-friendly. The Internet, before it became mega-popular [add the comment that current scholarly research puts that date of mega-popularity as October 27, 1994], was accessible only to those savvy enough to navigate a tangle of cryptic command-line prompts.
I would like to take this moment and offer my praise to Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the World Wide Web and then, in an incredible display of altruism, gave it away. I can’t imagine how difficult the on-line experience would be today if Tim had followed the path of greed, patented his creation, and forced everyone to pay him royalties.
Thank you, Tim.
So I was on-line, using Prodigy, with the oh-so-easy-to-remember screen name of MHXLYZ10. Do you know how America Online (AOL) beat the pants off Prodigy? It’s because AOL allowed users to create their own screen names like SexyChick and DodgersFan instead of Prodigy’s style of assigning random numbers and letters. I’m not a marketing genius, but I would say that’s one reason why AOL is still up and running and Prodigy is mentioned in the same breath as Elias Howe and the Betamax.
Logged on as MHK…etc., I point-and-clicked my way to the science fiction/fantasy (SFF) forum to see what people were posting. My purpose in trawling [do I use “trolling” or is that word too negative?] these virtual 3×5 cards was because I was curious to see what authors and books other people were reading and talking about. I had already passed through my Piers Anthony phase and I was coming out of my Robert Heinlein period so I was trying to see where I should go next.
Those phases that I mentioned above are not hard-and-fast names. They are unique to me, but in general, I believe every person who develops a lifelong fascination with SFF literature goes through three phases.
The early phase is when a youngster becomes hooked on SFF. My entry into this world was Piers Anthony. I had started off with his fantasy Xanth series in high school and moved on to his Bio of a Space Tyrant quintet. The authors of early phase SFF write easy to read novels that hooks the young adult.
If enough interest is kindled and if the early phase books were well written, the reader may move on to the next phase, which I call the historical phase. This is where the reader learns that there exists a whole pantheon of SFF classics. From Bradbury to Niven to Zelazny, the reader in the historical phase of their education is flooded with the giants of the genre.
For me, that giant was Robert Heinlein.
A friend from high school, Erin, had given me a five-book set of Heinlein’s works [tomes?] for my birthday. One of those books was Stranger in a Strange Land. I will say nothing more about this book and let you discover [use “grok”? Or is that too inside?] it for yourself (if you so wish).
A person may end their reading career in this phase because the library is so vast and so satisfying. Years can be spent reading about Asimov’s robots, Herbert’s worlds, and Verne’s explorers. This may be satisfying to some, but there is another phase for those who wish to dare.
This third phase is the exploratory phase and it involves reading the latest offerings in the genre. The downside is that there is a good deal of contemporary drivel out there. The upside is that for every five warmed-over, boilerplate, one-man-against-the-empire ore samples, there is a true gem unearthed like William Gibson’s Neuromancer. [Not that he needs my glowing praise]
Back to Prodigy and I scrolled through the posts trying to see what was out there when I saw “Ursula K. Le Guin” in the subject header of a random post. Her name caught my eye as I had just completed her book, The Left Hand of Darkness. Writing that previous sentence these many years later, I must admit that I remember little about that story. However, I do recall being extremely moved by the issues and themes portrayed in her novel. I do apologize for not having more to say about this book in my writing because she is a fine writer [duplicate the comment a la Gibson that she doesn’t need my praise?]. I would suggest purchasing a copy of A Wizard of Earthsea and you’ll see what I mean. Of course, if you’ve already read Wizard, I would suggest Changing Planes. If you’ve already read Planes, then might I suggest The Lathe of Heaven. Of course, if you’ve already read Lathe, then you need no words from me to say what a fantastic weaver of words she is.
So there was this message on my screen with the statement [statement? there must be a better word] that the writer had recently finished Wizard and wondered if there any other books by Le Guin. I was feeling rather magnanimous and, I can be frank enough to admit this, I wanted to show off. What’s the use of knowing something if you can’t take it out of your head and share it with someone else. The proverb “You can’t take it with you” often refers to material goods (which is also why coffins don’t come equipped with baggage compartments), but I believe the adage is equally valid for ideas and thoughts. One of my favorite Latin sayings (okay, I only have two Latin sayings that I am fond of) is Cum ingens labor, tu cognitionem et moriamini which translates loosely as “With immense labor, you obtain knowledge and then you die.” To me, the point of acquiring knowledge and experience is to share it. Hence my raison d’etre for this book.
Also, hence my response to AIG16OEG.
Part B of this chapter will show the consequences of his response.