Sunday, September 22, 2013

Media Trip

There are many of you out there who have never had a hallucinogenic drug, and never intend to.

Which is fine: it’s not every person’s cup of tea.  It probably involves dealing with unsavory characters, and who wants that?  It definitely involves lack of control—if you’re the sort of person who can’t stand being a passenger in a car, you must never drop a tab of acid.  It involves a certain amount of risk as well ... probably not as much risk as you take when you get into your car every day to drive to work, but different people evaluate risk differently, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, if you’ve ever wanted to feel like you were have a drug-fueled hallucination without all the bother of having to consume potentially dangerous chemicals, that too can be arranged.  There are many things you could watch and get the exact same feelings of disorientation, paranoia, and a conviction that the world is not what it seems.  I would start with Naked Lunch—really, just about anything in the Cronenberg ouevre will do: eXistenZ is good, and Videodrome or even Dead Ringers will do in a pinch.

In fact, certain directors just have a flair for this.  Peter Greenaway is good (I would go with Drowing by Numbers or 8½ Women, even though The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is more famous), as is Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man probably most of all, but Mystery Train and Broken Flowers have leanings as well), or even the Coen Brothers—Barton Fink is a full-on trip, and The Hudsucker Proxy a lesser one, whereas Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski are just a minor marijuana high.  And dare we forget David Lynch?  Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart are twisted journeys, and Lost Highway is just a bad trip.  Honorable mention to Spike Jonze (for Being John Malkovich) and Tarsem Singh (for The Fall).

What really disturbs me though (even more so than the insectile typewriter in Naked Lunch) is that many of these experiences can be gotten from watching television with your children.  If there is an adult anywhere in the world who has ever watched their first episode of Teletubbies and not said to themselves “dude, whoever came up with this idea was tripping balls!”, I can only assume that they simply don’t know the meaning of the phrase.  And don’t even get me started on Yo Gabba Gabba!, where even the name of the show must have required a serious LSD hangover.

I was sitting around watching television with my middle child (current age: 7) and my youngest (current age: 1) and we were searching for something colorful and distracting to keep the smaller one from destroying the house.  (And if any of you fellow parents out there are looking down on my use of television as a babysitter, I can only assume you have nothing breakable in your house.)  I was hoping for something educational, like Sesame Street, but I was willing to settle.  Cruising through the cable listings, what to my wondering eyes should appear but H.R. Pufnstuf, which I remembered very fondly from my own childhood.  I quickly switched over to it.  The baby didn’t seem to care much for it, but the middle child was fascinated.  Then my oldest (current age: 14) came in, stared at the screen for a few minutes, and then looked at me with wide eyes.  “What the hell are you watching?” he asked.  I couldn’t really explain.  Seen through adult eyes, it was just as insane as any Yo Gabba Gabba episode, even down to the bizarre outbursts of singing, although H.R. didn’t seem to have as many morals prepared as DJ Lance Rock typically does.

(After Pufnstuf was over, whatever channel we had stumbled onto immediately launched into The Land of the Lost.  It was like the Sid & Marty Kroft all-the-time channel or something.  I fully expected to see Sigmund and the Sea Monsters next.  Unfortunately we had chores to get to, so I never found out.)

I wonder how many more of my treasured childhood memories of televsion shows would play like bad acid trips to my adult brain?  Man, I’d love to find some old Electric Company reruns: Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader and Rita Moreno yelling “Hey You Guys!” at Bill Cosby.  You can’t get more trippy than that, right?  Or Captain Kangaroo ... dropping thousands of ping-pong balls on somebody’s head because a talking moose tricked you into saying the magic words is not something you come up with without some sort of chemical stimulation.  And those Hanna Barbera guys were certianly on something ... Hair Bears? a talking air-breathing mystery-solving drummer shark? Captain Caveman? really?  And as much as I loved shows like Blackstar or Thundarr, I’m not sure they make any more rational sense than my little brother’s He-Man or the slightly-before-my-time Herculoids.

So, today, I’m watching Ruby Gloom.  For some insane reason, my middle child really loves this show, which he discovered through the magic combination of Netflix and Roku.  Ruby Gloom has been described as a goth version of Strawberry Shortcake, which I suppose is not too far off (although I have to say that, for me, mainly what it triggered was vague memories of the Groovy Ghoulies).  So I have no idea why he likes it, being neither a fan of Strawberry Shortcake nor goth, as near as I can tell.  But he’s really into it.  I think he’s watched every episode at least once and is on his second tour through.  In Ruby Gloom, there is a character called “Scaredy Bat” (get it? oh ho ho!), who is a talking bat with an Indian accent.  Why does he have an Indian accent?  I mean, I know why Baljeet on Phineas and Ferb has an Indian accent: he’s actually from India.  And I sort of get why Raj on Camp Lazlo has an Indian accent, being an elephant and all.  But the talking bat?  That I don’t get.

Drugs.  I’m telling you: we have drugs to thank for all this.  Yes, like Bill Hicks, I’m positing that chemically-induced hallucinatory experiences may have had some positive impacts on our lives.  I just don’t see any other way to explain something like Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Squidbillies.  In fact, I think the very existence of Adult Swim owes quite a lot to narcotics of questionable medical value.  And then there’s the Japanese, who apparently are getting high off all the squid ink and crab brains they consume (I’m going by Iron Chef on this point).  There’s Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, which has a character who uses the martial arts style “True Fart Fist,” and then there’s Fighting Foodons, with its Pokemon-like food, including an anthropomorphic plate of fried rice.

Right now, in fact, my children are watching Cartoon Planet, as hosted by Brak and Zorak—whose journey from cartoon supervillains to talk show co-hosts to surrealist children’s show presenters is a strange trip itself—with numerous commercials thrown in for Thomas the Tank Engine, who carries “hallucinatory” well into the territory of “creepy,” heading hard into “terrifying.”  It’s all around us.  There are screens everywhere these days: the gas station, the doctor’s office, the breakroom at work, restaurants, bars, hospitals, gyms, family rooms, bedrooms, our children’s rooms ... everywhere we turn.  And, on many of those screens, we’re caught up in somebody else’s freaky acid dreams.

It’s something to ponder, anyhow.

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