Toward the end of 1990, you couldn’t get away from Simpsons merchandise- from posters, to pajama sets, to pencil toppers- mostly featuring Generation-X’s very first mainstream media icon, Bart Simpson. You see, before “The Simpsons” became obsessed with Homer’s gradual decline into retardation, the show’s initial protagonist was skateboarding prankster Bart- the country’s first take on their next generation.
And those savvy Simpsons writers seemed to have nailed it. While Bart’s driving characteristic was apathy, it was a kind of self-aware apathy. Bart wasn’t stupid, he was an “underachiever”- he was capable of more but consciously chose less. This hyper-aware apathy would become the generation’s defining trait.
Taking Wally World hostage after an mangled cross-country road trip in “Vacation” (1983) was emblematic of the dawning Reagan 80s. Clark wasn’t going to be denied, and if life didn’t deal him the hand he wanted, he’d take what he felt entitled to- this was his moment.
Reagan’s landslide victory in 1980 coincided with the Boomer’s coming of age and taking over the cultural reigns of the West, and Reagan played to their newfound feeling of social control. Like a college freshman overwhelmed with the trivialities of burgeoning freedom, Boomers were getting high on their own supply and quickly gaining weight. They were mad with control and looking to carve-out a society in their own image- and Ronald Reagan was the man to get them there.
Oh, poor Tim the ostler! The humble stable buck hopelessly in love with his boss’s gorgeous, red lipped daughter. Like that was ever gonna happen, and she’s in love with the bad boy Highwayman anyway, a dapper thief with a taste for the high-life; the ostler never had a chance. So, what does our scorned, low-born, beta-male do? The only thing he can- Tim calls the police, another group of men more masculine than he, to properly dispose of the Highwayman.
Thus is the premise of Alfred Noyes’s narrative poem “The Highwayman” (1906). You may have guessed that our poor, law-abiding ostler isn’t quite the hero of the story- that role is more closely filled by the titular scoundrel, with the lesson being that we don’t judge the morality of actions as much as we judge the value of those committing them.
And Tim, as a poor stable-hand, doesn’t have much in the way of value- he’s disposable and invisible. In modern terminology, which is ironically also Old English terminology, Tim is a cuck– and if you want any chance at sexual success, you can’t be a cuck.
“When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed”- The Man That You Fear
Marilyn Manson cucked after Columbine, although I can hardly blame him. If a kid went out and shot-up a Chuck-E-Cheese after reading “From the Arcade to the Girlfriend Experience,” I’d probably end up cucking too. It’s a heavy toll to pay for a guy who was just having a good bit of fun trolling.
Yes, that’s right- if you weren’t in on the joke, or actually took the old bastard seriously- Marilyn Manson started his career as a pre-internet, proto-troll. A tremendous practical joke, a long-con, being played on the very people paying to see him. And, yeah, two kids took it too seriously, played some Doom, and fucked the whole thing up.
“I found out long ago, it’s a long way down the holiday road”
Believe it or not, Clark W. Griswold was pretty fucking masculine. Sure, “Vacation” (1983) featured a kind of proto-idiot Dad, a trope that would become the standard by 1990- but Clark was a different kind of idiot Dad.
Clark was a masculine idiot Dad.
“Vacation” relied on one-joke with Clark, but luckily it was a good one. When Clark would do something stupid, royally screwing things up or putting his family in danger, he would say “I meant to do that” and move on.
This took many different forms. When Clark goes to trade in his car for a new station wagon before the trip- one he surely researched meticulously (my own Dad has a “Consumer Reports” subscription to this day)- he gets the old “bait and switch,” being forced into buying an ugly clunker after his own car is traded in destroyed. To dispute this by waiting for the car he ordered to come in would ruin his family’s vacation- so what does Clark do?
He sells his wife on the ugly clunker by using the same line that the scam-artist car salesman used on him: “Youmay think you hate it now, honey, but wait until you drive it.” Or, in other words, “I meant to do that.” He isn’t apologetic, he doesn’t admit defeat- he takes inventory of the situation and moves forward. This is the masculine approach- yes, even if you’re an idiot.
Re-watching “Return of the Jedi” (1983) as an adult makes the scene where Luke burns the body of his father stand out as the true climax of the original trilogy- the culmination of Luke’s journey. While it may seem tragic that sister Leia wasn’t there beside him, this was something Luke had to do alone. After all, it was only Luke who saw the human face of his father and felt his humanity- and aside from the situational limitations of the movie’s plot, only Luke would have ever been able to understand his father on that level. Luke delivering his father’s funeral was his final rite of passage into manhood, and the true return of the Jedi.
Every man will have to bury his father, but will every man have understood his father when the time comes? The evolution of a man’s relationship with his father mirrors Luke’s struggle with Vader throughout the course of Star Wars- from not truly knowing him through the inevitable conflict of a young man’s teenage years. If you’re lucky you’ll have a moment where the pieces come together and you see your father as a part of yourself- but not everyone gets there… and, unlike a Hollywood movie, the story may end first.
I’ll go full red pill on the first date. To her credit, she listened carefully to what I had to say. When it came time for her response, she answered with the kind of pride one would have in beating Ganon at the end of “Legend of Zelda”- accomplishment and triumph; her victory moment. You see, everything I said was “just my narrative,” and it was as if these words unified the triforce and slayed the dragon- my argument lay defeated.
“Narrative” has become a pseudo-intellectual weasel word. If you don’t like the slant someone puts on something, it’s “just narrative.” If the narrative sounds appealing, it’s only due to the carefully constructed internal logic; a well-made narrative will closely adhere to this logic. At its core a narrative is constructed upon assumptions, which makes it narrative rather than reality- a good narrative will carefully hide these assumptions.
In a world increasingly torn apart by the oppositional forces of the political left and right, the term “narrative” has become a jab to the other side’s version of things; an attack on the strength of their reality.
If the months between high school and college represent a budding sunrise of emerging freedom, the summer between graduate school and real life becomes your last chance at tasting it; time to get sick on Halloween candy because tomorrow is the start of winter. I spent these months on a friend’s couch playing “Mario Baseball” (2005)- I regret nothing.
Video games are meant to be played socially. The long extinct shopping mall arcades of the 1980s were social hotspots buzzing with life as teenagers would crowd around machines watching the cool kids do their thing amongst the flashing lights and buzzing sounds of games like Q*Bert and Centipede, telling their own kind big fish tales of forgotten high scores; “…if only they’d left the Frogger machine plugged in, then you’d see…”
Consoles were originally packaged with two controllers for this very reason- video games were meant to be played together. In fact, a two-player mode was so important to the programmer who ported “Pac-Man” (1982) to the Atari 2600 that he mistakenly sacrificed game quality and playability to accommodate the game’s social aspect, producing an atrocious home-version and ultimately killing the market until the rise of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985- a console which also came packed with two controllers.
“If you take a thing apart or modify it, there are certain aspects which must remain intact for it to retain its identity. Without certain parts, it becomes something else.”- Jack Donovan, The Way of Men
So it’s a lazy Sunday evening, I did my dishes and tidied up for a bit, and I must admit: I don’t feel like being productive. I feel like hunkering down in front of my big silly TV to let the clown and puppet show melt my brain just a little bit more when it occurred to me- it’s a pay-per-view Sunday, brother!
The pro-wrestling pay-per-view Sunday was a highlight of my childhood. Months of intricate story lines, peppered with plot twists, met with my own, personal, mental preparation for the big day which would ultimately culminate in…. nothing. My parents weren’t going pay for a play-fighting television show (“pay for TV??”).
But those times when I carefully wore away their resolve with begging and pleading- usually with highly detailed explanations of all the moments that led to this happening, where on this particular Sunday evening everything would be coming to a head, and nothing would ever be the same in the entire world (wrestling federation). I needed to be in front of my aging 27″ to take it all in… and those times where they yielded to my lust for staged grappling were fucking beautiful.
The summer between high school and college presents a beautiful, uniquely modern, netherworld- the intersection of hope and accomplishment. A short pause between childhood and everything else, like the blank space between comic book panels, where reflection meets expectation.
I had a conversation with friend at the time about our idea of what college would be like. We had both felt severely burned by our Catholic high school education- that the limitations of Catholic doctrine had somehow obscured Truth. The Truth, we had both agreed, was the ultimate end-game of any education; the absolute highest priority.
And not that we were necessarily wrong on either account, however this belief in “Truth as God” without the components of wisdom and social acuity will only lead to misery and self-destruction.
This is where, if this were a perfect story, future-me would appear in the back lot of Donny’s Adventure Kingdom- behind the pirate ship- and tell past-me how Truth must be tempered with rhetoric. People aren’t looking for Truth; people are looking for identity.
And the clove cigarettes have got to go too, for fuck’s sake.