website, blog and vanity nexus of writer R F Brown

Archive for the ‘I LIKE TO RECOGNIZE THE TUNE – on theatre and the Great American Songbook’ Category

TIME PILOTS – commentary on Ernest Cline’s novel “Ready Player One”

readyoneReady Player One author Ernest Cline probably did not select the 1980s as the nostalgia motif of his novel simply because it happened to be the era of his youth. In current pop culture, Stranger Things, IT, 24K Magic, and plenty of other manifestations keep making the ‘80s the decade that cannot be terminated. Decades foregone, do today’s Gen-Zers ever feel false-nostalgia for Marcus Welby or The Macarena? There is something specifically poignant about the ‘80s that Cline thought would resonate with multi-generational readers.

Teenage Wade spends his days and nights memorizing the dialogue of John Hughes movies, listening to New Wave song files, and, most importantly, mastering classic arcade video games like Pac Man and Tempest. The year is 2044. Teen character obsessions with ’80s pop culture in Ready Player One is more than pacifying entertainment in the age of a catastrophic global energy crisis. Their avatar identities connect to virtual reality through a visor and motion-controlling gloves and hunt for treasure in the vast network called the OASIS, where people can become anybody they want or visit any place in the imaginable universe. Hunters occupationally plunder VR worlds for currency credits, fighting skill points, magic weapons and clues to the location of a trillion dollar prize. Halliday, a genius and recluse who designed the OASIS, has died and willed its ownership to the hunter who first solves a series of puzzles leading to a final figurative Easter Egg hidden in the lore of Halliday’s own ‘80s pop culture obsessions. The contest requires intense familiarity with Halliday’s favorite books, cartoons, and videogames from own teenage years, and has led to a global ‘80s craze fifty years beyond. As Wade, isolated in his personal hideout, describes, “Spiked hair and acid washed jeans are back in style.” He means what is in style amongst his peers inside the idealized and abstract universe of the Oasis.

In the America of 2044, climate change, wars and corporatism have reduced most of the population to depressed scavengers. Teenagers like Wade have been forced to abandon most of what we might consider a normal life of school, friendships, sex, and stepping outside. He lives a lonely existence in a vertical trailer park ghetto. But in the Oasis, Wade’s anonymous avatar, Parzival, is becoming the most famous Gunter [Egg + Hunter] in the world, relying on his mastery of ’80 pop culture to pursue the trail of Halliday’s arcane clues. The bulk of the novel follows Parzival, along with his team of Gunter comrades known popularly as the High Five, solving Halliday’s posthumous challenges left inside elaborate movie and videogame recreations. Their nemesis is IOI, a greedy corporation plotting to control the Oasis with a force of avatar clone armies trained to win the contests through cheating, extortion, and real world murder.

If this plot structure – a gang of troubled but precocious young people combine their expertises to defeat the schemes of an unscrupulous adult enterprise – sounds to you like Goonies, or Whiz Kids or other ‘80s era media artifacts, say Uno!

A recent article in the blog Vulture asked in its title Why Are We Still Obsessed With The ‘80s? Some of their answers were practical, such as what we see on our screens and hear through our earbuds is coming from media creatives in their 40s and 50s who have an affinity for the pop culture of their youth. Also the time traveling powers of YouTube and Facebook have mid-lifers introducing children, younger siblings, or nieces and nephews to the pop culture that populated their childhoods. So maybe the resiliency of the ‘80s is a phenomenon of shared multi-generational touchstones more available through current technology. As Vulture commented, “When one generation influences a second (and a third) generation in this way, there’s a pop cultural ripple effect that keeps on rippling… The pop culture we grew up on? You couldn’t ignore it if you tried.”

On a more theoretical level, Vulture suggested the tendency of media creatives to delve into the ‘80s as a means to connect the “now” to an era taking first steps into a transformative technological age. Nostalgia mining always offers an escape to idealized memories of youth, but the 1980s is the last full decade before the internet became an avatar for human interaction. In other words, maybe the reason why we keep trying to relive the ‘80s is because our computers have disconnected us from an authentic shared culture.

Ab ovo, Halliday’s Easter egg hunt. The futuristic odyssey specifically revisits a past in which technology was capturing young people’s desire for adventure before the internet supplanted real human interaction. We have to remind ourselves in the midst of Cline’s story that the High Five’s swashbuckling teen teamwork is all an illusion. In real life, the High Five buddies reside in remote parts of the world and do not even know what their comrades or competitors look like. Winning inside the Oasis – just as all commerce, politics, and notoriety of the day – is just a fantasy. There are not really trillions of dollars at stake in finding Halliday’s egg, just trillions of zeros and ones. The youths of ’44 have no actual participative culture of their own. It was Halliday’s dying desire to bequeath them his antique pop culture passions in a way that would stimulate actual interaction, something the inventor of the Oasis felt personally responsibility for ruining. Halliday’s contest is his last chance at real human connection, ironically after his death.

We might also say that Halliday is Ernest Cline’s avatar. Both the Easter Egg Hunt and Cline’s dystopian aesthetic are respective expressions of loss over something the ‘80s represented, a lost era of social engagement. Halliday filled his OASIS with references and facsimiles of the ‘80s culture he loved, then willed a contest which could only be won by someone who cared enough to love his same interests. Likewise, Cline, in writing Ready Player One offers readers a chance to connect or reconnect with his ’80s fondnesses. Of science fiction, another author, William Gibson (credited with reviving the SF genre in 1980s), once said, “It doesn’t resonate back from the future, it resonates out of modern history.” Cline’s sci-fi depicts a future that still searches for something we are missing out of our modern history. Both Cline, the creator, and his creator avatar, Halliday, seek to reboot real human-to-human communication.

rp13As for the Ready Player One motion picture adaptation, despite excellent special effects, it misses the chance to visualize the vast possibilities of the Oasis so inventively depicted by Cline. Also, the game of our hero Gunters using their intellectual powers to solve Halliday’s cryptic puzzles is given secondary treatment to fighting and action sequences. Not to say the action sequences are not well executed. In particular, a recreation of the movie The Shining as the setting for one of Halliday’s challenges provides something amazing on film that a novel could never do. Still, a disappointing shortcoming is the movie’s inability to capture the literal aspects of the Oasis as simulacrum, to understand the world’s fixation with videogames in this future as a product of desolation. Overtrying to be hopeful, the movie steps around an important theme in the novel, which explores something dark about our modern society and the mass-loneliness advance technology is creating.

Social commentary in the novel is deftly weaved through exciting action challenges. The book also succeeds in making our protagonist (avatar) Wade/Parzival both socially awkward and cool. The last third of the novel avails too much deus ex machina, and an anticipated final encounter feels rushed and superficial after the novel’s earlier insightfulness (Spoiler Alert: Only reality is real). Overall, Ready Player One is an electric read, the experience of a complete future universe both exciting and tragic.

Blessed Insurance- book review of Norma Zimmer’s unlucky autobiography

Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though some strange thing happened to you. – 1 Peter 4:12

Norma Zimmer was a gifted soprano who performed for decades on television’s ‘LAWRENCE WELK SHOW.’ Welk even gave Zimmer the title of Champagne Lady, the highest honor among other fine women vocalists on the show. Zimmer accepted that appellation graciously in her autobiography,norma although with reservations about sounding like she would be promoting liquor.

She was raised by alcoholic parents in poverty in the Pacific Northwest. Her parents were emotionally abusive, they smoked cigarettes, and they did not yet know God. But Norma grew up to confess Christ on her own. Throughout her story she draws Christian lessons from a life of “tests” and “fiery ordeals.” Her gifted singing, confident will, and the generosity of early supporters enabled Norma to make a great career of radio/recordings, television, and Christian revival concerts. She describes her adult life with financial comforts, devoted family, and spiritual bliss. Yet through bad luck (or influence of her book editor), tests of her and family’s allegiance to God never abate: toxemic pregnancy, auto accident, crooked car salesman, crooked agent, twisted intestines, psoriasis, debilitating arthritis, broken back, brain shunt, family strokes, sister dies of liver disease, father dead in a car two days, family dog burns the house down, near death penicillin reaction, near death choking on beef Stroganoff, stranded on treacherous river rapids, water skiing accident, downhill skiing accident:

“…’one of the [ski-lift] workers climbed up on the tower to repair it and he called for a peen hammer. They threw one up to him but he missed it and it fell and hit your husband.’ I was crying, and praying, O God, help us! Please protect him, Lord!”

A prayer too late, if you ask me. I imagine if Job read Norma’s autobiography he would say, “Wow, this dame can’t catch a break.”

Still, what also never abates is Norma’s optimism about life, people’s good nature, and her faith in God’s long game. Some readers may discover her buoyant attitude and ornamented writing style ironic, others inspirational. If you are a fan of the ‘LAWRENCE WELK SHOW’, like I am, you already have a sensibility for what is over-decorated but enjoyable. If you take your Lawrence Welk more serious, you might also find Zimmer’s book metaphysically uplifting.

Lawrence Welk

Lawrence Welk

However, if you pray to read more detail about what it was really like working under Welk’s baton for twenty years, God’s answer will be No. There is not much behind the scenes here, except some descriptions of how busy Norma was on days driving between the studio and hospitals, and lists acknowledging all the backstage angels who kept Norma looking grand. I hoped for behind the curtain conflict among the performers, rather than hearing more about Norma’s redoubtable faith in Jesus, no matter what terrible shit life threw at her. I wanted to read more shit about Lawrence the hot-headed puritan, or the over-the-hill band member schtuping a teenage Lennon sister, or the on-camera star who had an off-screen champagne problem.

I admit that despite my being atheist, I did find Norma’s take on life encouraging. She was a person who absolutely believed that smiling into the video camera communicated a hopeful message to viewers. At another scene in the book she describes laying awake with her her croup-afflicted toddler Ronnie, worrying if she should take him to the hospital for a tracheotomy:

“He was barely able to breathe… I lay beside Ronnie, watching and praying. ‘God,’ I prayed over and over, ‘please heal our little son.’ Suddenly I noticed a brightness behind me… Standing near the bed was a lovely blonde woman with a white blouse and dark skirt… She just stood there with a radiant smile on her face, looking down at Ron. Then she just faded away. It was a glorious experience. I felt no fear – just awe. I have always believed that I was permitted to see Ron’s guardian angel.”

A blonde in a blouse and skirt? Who was her son’s guardian angel, Donna Reed?

Off screen Norma Zimmer sounds like she was a bit of a kook, but I’m also convinced, beyond a doubt, that she was a wunnerful, wunnerful lady.

HARRY PARTCH’S EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC AT LINCOLN CENTER

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/27/beautiful-dreamer-classical-music-russell-platt

Danny And Dinah – UP IN ARMS

Danny Kaye is reliably irritating in UP IN ARMS, a musical worth one great number. In this case, “Tess’s Torch Song” with Dinah Shore

25 Greatest Film Musicals Of All Time

This guy’s list is unbelievably bad, but it’s list

25 Greatest Film Musicals Of All Time.

NIGHT AND DAY clips

A couple of worthwhile scenes from the 1946 Cole Porter biopic NIGHT AND DAY with Cary Grant.

First, an amazing tap number featuring a specialty named Estelle Sloan. If anybody knows, I’d like to find out if the spinning move is called something other than spinning-around-real-fast:

Then there’s Mary Martin doing her signature song “My Heart Belongs To Daddy.” I think this was what was called “risqué:

Once you’ve seen these, you can probably skip NIGHT AND DAY.

Trivia: Mary Martin was the mother of recently passed actor Larry Hagman, I Dream of Genie and J.R. Ewing

Image

Les Mojis

Les Mojis