Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Signs of the Apocalypse: 7. Sportacus and Lazytown

A few years ago, my son came home his obnoxiously progressive New England preschool and informed me that he was not allowed to talk about Superheroes at school because they solved their problems by fighting and not with their words.

He was right, I suppose. But they’re Superheroes! They’re the fabric of childhood. I could barely imagine my own without Superheroes. Their stories helped me believe I might actually survive the nuclear 80’s. Their problems were not like parking tickets, traffic jams, or sub-prime mortgages that you could just talk about. They were dealing with evil super-villains, rogue mutants, and extra-terrestrial war-mongerers. They had the kind of problems that you might only be able to solve by fighting.

One of my favorites, The Incredible Hulk, couldn’t even use words. He just grunted and bellowed like an animal. But his anger, his insecurity and pain was his superpower. His existential angst made him special and allowed him to help others with his unique physical gifts.

What better role model for a child of the 80’s?

Still I had to admit that Malcolm (or his teachers) had a point. It’s just difficult for me to deal with the idea that he could have a superhero-free childhood or, worse yet, that he would think the model of a Superhero is this guy on TV now named “Sportacus.”

If you haven’t seen an episode of Lazytown, you’re missing one of the most truly bizarre television experiences. Teamed with a spunky little punk rock girl in pink hair and a gang of muppet-esque children, Sportacus speaks with a faux-French accent and wears a creepy handlebar mustache waxed to sharp points. He outfits himself in a tight blue spandex flight-suit and aviator goggles; and he champions things like physical activity and eating fruit. Pretty much any problem in Lazytown can be solved with exercise and an apple. Sportacus is, in real life, an "Icelandic sports star" who wrote, produced, and directed Lazytown in an effort to teach children about good health.

But here’s my main concern: What good would Sportacus be when the apocalypse came? What kind of model hero is this? What dreams of survival would he inspire? His beloved fruit would all be poisoned with radiation. Exercise is difficult when you have another head growing out of your shoulder and sort of pointless if you’ve mutated into some kind of Ninja reptile. Lazytown is yet another reminder that my son lives in a world that is both eerily familiar to my own childhood reality and strikingly different.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Signs of the Apocalypse: 23: Celebrity News

Thanks to a terrible mistake made a couple of years ago, the celebrity "news" rag, US Weekly arrived at our house for what seemed like an eternity, competing for space in the bathroom magazine rack with our more high-browed subscriptions (Harpers, Ranger Rick, etc.). I could typically consume (note, I did not use the word "read") the entire thing in about 3 minutes and could then speak with authority and at length on John and Kate Gosselin's marriage troubles, Lindsay Lohan's latest scrape with the law or fight with her DJ girlfriend, Sam Ronson, or maybe discover something else to hate about Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag and marvel at the phenomena that is Paris Hilton, or Perez Hilton, or mock stars for their red carpet fashion faux paus, or express an opinion on Zack Efron's haircut . . . when I've never actually seen the "art" for which these "stars" are supposedly famous. I've never listened to Fallout Boy. Ever. But I can tell you who attended the wedding between Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson. I've never seen High School Musical or The Hills, or most of the movies and TV that is "discussed" in the magazine, except in clip form on TV clip-shows like The Soup; but I can express an opinion and make an argument, allude to them in lectures or essays, and appear to actually know what I'm talking about. I suppose the equivalent happens in other contexts. I suppose there are people out there who can tell you where Junot Diaz or Joan Didon shop or vacation or groom their dogs, but who haven't read a single word they've written besides the occasional quote . . . are there? Who are you? Part of me loves the whole tragic post-modern folly of it all--the idea that people can be famous for being famous and that fans can love an actor or musician's (or writer's?) fame more than anything they've actually produced or left behind in the world. And another part of me finds it terrifying . . . sort of like that horrible music video Heidi Montag made.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Signs of the Apocalypse: 18. The Kindle

Note: this begins a series of semi-regular posts on "Signs of the Apocalypse," or evidence that the world (or at least parts of my world) is tilting toward self-immolation. Feel free to contribute your own signs or comments. They are in no particular rank or order.

18. The Kindle: I realize this may be a controversial selection. I know a lot of smart, book-loving people who love their Kindles; and this may actually be the real problem here--all those smart people who normally buy books now buying a Kindle and downloading files. Because, sadly publishing is a market driven industry, the more the market demands with their wallets that their "books" be published in electronic format so they can be read on a Kindle, the more the industry will work to end books as we've come to know and love them for centuries. Scary, huh? I think so. Call me anachronistic, but I love books. You can't crack the spine of a Kindle and smell that new-book smell (not yet, at least, though I'm sure that's coming). As a writer (artist?), I'm interested in making objects. Things in the world. Books. Something unique and special and made of paper that people can hold in their hands and share with other people. Can you share a Kindle? As The Day After taught us, the electro-magnetic pulse from the first bombs will disable all electronic devices. But I'll be there with my boxes of books, reading to pass the time and, if you're nice, maybe I'll let you borrow one. Maybe libraries will be the entertainment centers of the post-apocalyptic world . . . now that I think about it, maybe we NEED the bomb to save books from the Kindle.