Misspent hours late at night

It’s almost 3 am. I have to finish My Man Godfrey tonight (at least, for my cinematic conscience’s sake). I am fucked. Bed, sleep – I’ve complained about this bullshit before. For us poor people who happen to find it most convenient and natural to stay up really late, wake up at midday, and start our day then, the world basically has a message: “Fuck you.” Because it sadly doesn’t work that way, at least if we want to interact with others (that’s okay, I’ll pass) or visit businesses or take classes. It’s the last one that does it for me. Sure, some places have “night classes,” but Carleton doesn’t offer a 16a where I can head on over to Scoville at 2 am for a lecture. Although that’d be awesome. They really should start offering extra sections where they append “noctural” to the class names. If only. I guess it’d be problematic for some of the professors who live outside of Northfield. But it’s even more problematic for me! Me!!!!

There’s another topic to discuss: self-obsession. I must’ve been in, oh, 6th or 7th grade, when one of my classmates made an observation: Isn’t it natural to be self-centered to some degree? Sure, it’s good to think of others, but in the end, whose well-being determines how we feel or how our lives go or whether we live or die? Ours. Mine. At a certain point, with apologies to Spock, the needs of the one must outweight the needs of the few… or the many. (I have been, and always will be, your friend. Live long and prosper… Kirk! God, it’s been too since I’ve seen Star Trek II.) I don’t really believe in selfishness as a virtue, as every single oversimplification I’ve read of Ayn Rand’s philosophy has said she does. I’m just saying that at some level, it’s plausible and understandable to be selfish. It comes very, very naturally to us. And nature, as K-Hep says in The African Queen, “is what we were put on this earth to rise above.” Of course, she gets attacked by leeches and later tries to blow up a U-Boat, so you decide. (Another movie I haven’t seen in way too long. Aww, Robert Morley dies at the beginning! That’s so sad.) And after all, doesn’t murder come naturally, as a natural extension of selfishness? Exaggerated caveman example: “Ug want rock. You take rock. Ug strangle you and take back rock.” I wonder if any cavemen really were named Ug. And if so, did they speak in stilted English? That’d be hilarious if it was true. At least we know one caveman was named Thag. Thag Simmons, to be precise.

I’ve never read any of Jean Auel’s books. (She wrote Clan of the Cave Bear, set in caveman times, in case you’re wondering where this digression came from.) I wonder if they’re any good? I think I remember seeing them at book sales being sold as cheap paperbacks – the kind that don’t look like they’ll be good. See, I do judge a book by its cover. Because if it’s got a tacky, unoriginal, stupid-looking cover, I’ve never heard of it, and if we combine that information with the title, well, that can help determine whether or not I want to buy it. This is at book sales (or thrift stores, or other situations that contain large amounts of cheap books) I’ve talking about. In book stores, we use a whole different set of rationales. But when it comes down to it, looking for good books when you’ve got hundreds to choose from is like finding a diamond in a trash pile. Except unlike diamonds, books are worth something. (Whole ‘nother blog right there.) You have to sift through legions of shit: romance novels, cookie-cutter crime novels, bad ’80s sci-fi books, most spy novels, recent best-sellers, books that look like recent best-sellers (they suck too)… but every so often, you’ll find it. It requires a trained eye, but gaze at enough book covers and you’ll know. It has a certain aura to it that screams out, “I’m not shit!” It’s often well-designed. Sometimes it’s not. But it’ll either have some word that sticks out, or an author you know, or a picture that even by itself is really damn good, or maybe it’ll have those glorious telltale signs of age. You know, a layer of dust, yellowed pages, pages sticking out or torn, and if the front page is there, you can check the copyright date. 1930, 1920, 1895, and on backwards through printing history – you can find real treasures just by sharpening your eyes (potentially on some kind of eye grindstone?). And that’s how to build a library. Though if you don’t have book sales to go to, you’re just fucked. Just like a guy who’s not in bed yet and has class in 7 hours. Same type of fucked. Except yours is way more severe.

Speaking of poor transitions, I could not resist posting this to the blog:

This is one of the trailers for David Cronenberg’s 1983 maybe-masterpiece Videodrome, a film much-beloved of Internet morons who love seeing brain tumors spitting blood, but which is nonetheless very interesting to watch. And it’s a movie that makes the viewer think about the idea of watching, too (unless said viewer is the same 16-year-old gore-fixated would-be cineaste). Since watching Videodrome, I’ve embarked on a wacky trip up Toronto way [NOTE: I have never actually been to Toronto] trying to figure out Cronenberg’s role in the history of horror and film. He’s a master of something; whether or not that “something” should make him proud is anyone’s guess. His films aren’t always brimming with intelligence, but they do often have the same kind of curiosity expressed by the young twins at the beginning of Dead Ringers. You can visualize Cronenberg as a little kid trying to decipher what genitals are for.

I once wrote out a sentence that more or less summed up the themes of his career; I think it had words like these: venereal scientist psychic experiment sexual fluids explosion vagina. Despite adapting William S. Burroughs, Stephen King, J.G. Ballard, and others at times, he’s remarkably consistent both in theme and form. The Howard Shore scores help, too. All of his movies, I think, seem to take place in or around this quasi-mythical vision of Toronto he has (a city I’ve never been to, though I think I’d like to, and I’ve lived only a few hundred miles south of it for most of my life). It’s a city where things tend to go wrong – like the world of the Marvel alternate continuity Ruins? Except it’s that on a daily basis. The city itself contains mostly lots of dim, bland apartments and for-rent warehouses; a short drive out of town you get to the deserted rural areas containing a few farmhouses and potential hide-outs (especially when on the run from the forces of God knows what). One message Cronenberg seems to be getting across is this: Watch out for what human beings can and will do if you give them the slightest power. Especially if genitals are involved. And so, Videodrome fits pretty well along these schematics, and adds some interesting twists.

We’ve got the pathetic, ugly loner, Max Renn, who makes a deal with the devil that allows him to watch lots of kinky snuff porn. Except it’s mutating his brain (or something?), there’s virtual reality involved, a character based on Marshall McLuhan – and with that, also lots of media studies wanking material. Man, I should watch that again. Especially in the early ’80s, with the Internet just a chronological hop, skip, and jump away, that’s an interesting cultural moment in which to be pondering the evolution of media beyond TV and video. Brian O’Blivion is just a great name; what can I say? Funny names really float my boat. Or whatever phrase is appropriate. It’s 3:30 am. I need sleep. Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh. Oh, and Debbie Harry’s in it, too. Is she really blond? Oh, I guess she is. Toward the end, the movie kind of devolves into not-making-sense territory – maybe it’s been too long, but I still have no idea who made Videodrome radiation, why, or what they were trying to do with it. But I guess for me, the movie’s ultimate draw is its appeal to me as a connoisseur of culture that’s underground and keeps on digging. Whatever’s on broadcast TV at 3:30 am on a random weekday. Holy shit, I could totally go to the lounge right now and find out. Hold that thought. Sleep can wait; this is a fucking media experiment!

Well, the results of that experiment were a lot less interesting than they used to be back when I was 14 or so. Basically, flipping down through the channels, I saw infomercial, infomercial, stupid late-night talk show, infomercial, ad, news, news, PBS special on eastern European genocide. Maybe I didn’t check through as closely as I might have if I’d had a remote and there hadn’t been that girl from my one class sitting on the couch. Maybe I’ll try it again more rigorously on another date. But that doesn’t take away from my point: stranger things make it to the airwaves after the watershed (i.e., that time when kids are supposed to go to bed and almost anything goes). I’ve found this is true for radio, too. Back in the day, I got such a thrill out of sneaking over to the TV at 3-4 am, making sure to mute it the second the light switched on, and seeing just what I could find. Usually it was anime I was looking for. But sometimes there could be odd western cartoons nobody cared to publicize, or shows about the paranormal. Every Saturday night at midnight, I would watch Horror Incorporated, a local show run by first Jacob Esau (as Count Dracula) and then Thom Lange (as Uncle Ghoulie) and his compatriots. I should look them up and see what they’re all up to now. Try to make some connections? It’s never too early/late. Except at 3:45 am. It’s too late then. Sad.

My point is, I can totally sympathize with Max Renn’s fascination when he sees the bootlegged TV signal that for all he knows could be broadcasting from anywhere – and really, anytime, too. Not that I’m all for authentic violence as entertainment – what I’m talking about is the sensation of perceiving something that very, very few other people are perceiving. Watching a broadcast and saying to yourself, How many other people could possibly be watching this right now? (Or for that matter, what percentage are stoned?) Like it or not, television has warped my mind, much like Videodrome radiation. Starting when I was little, I always felt a pang of regret and loss, for example, whenever the timeslot shifted over and instead of being some entertaining, meaningful program, instead there was an infomercial, or a sports show. And you know, when I watch or listen to some broadcast that could be from anywhere or anytime, that doesn’t seem tethered down by the constraints of, oh, ratings or immediacy or topicality – that’s when I feel a sensation even akin to love. I used to listen to Imagination Theater, this radio show that broadcast on some random AM station on, hmm, every Friday or Saturday night? They’d play radio dramas, and sometimes it’d be Sherlock Holmes, other times it’d be various random mysteries or tales of the supernatural, and sometimes paranormal investigation dramas. And – well, looking it up, apparently it was broadcast on 830 AM, WCCO, a frequency I already associated with my grandparents’ house, because when I woke up after sleeping over there and walked downstairs, I would be greeted by a radio blaring their jingle: “People you know, WCC – O.” These are 4 letters likely familiar to many suburban Minnesotans. God, it’s almost 4 am, and now I’m thinking notalgically back to my childhood? I’m just screwed. Maybe I’ll spend the next 6 hours until class starts writing the blog to end all blogs.

Or maybe I’ll end this blog now. That sounds beneficial to my health and sanity (but who cares about those?). Perhaps I’ll resume writing about my emotional experiences with media in the near future. Because these issues are important to me. These are parts of the reasons I want to get involved in studying and producing media, communicating with other human beings, exchanging messages – I want to learn about exploitation films, Tijuana Bibles, border blasters, and tightening media regulations. I want to learn about the men and women who undermined the government’s authority to tell them what they could say and how they had to say it – and God willing, I want to join their ranks someday. You are what you’re told. So listen carefully.

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Filed under Cinema, Media, Personal

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