Tag: technology

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This

crooked
See? Because the framing device is crooked. That’s the joke.

“You’re back in the story’s framing device,” the radiologist said, poking his head out from behind the monitor. “What happened this time?”

I sighed.

“And stop sighing,” he chided. “It messes with the image.”

I waited until I heard the telltale whir and several almost eerie moaning sounds from the large radioactive camera above me to indicate the technician had a picture of my insides he was happy with. As he approached the table I explained, “It’s not my fault this time.” I hedged slightly. “It’s not entirely my fault this time.”

The other man helped me sit up on the scanning table. “So who else was at fault?”

“It was my computer.”

He blinked at me. “I’m…not sure I follow.” Then, considering, he nodded. “Actually, I’m entirely sure I don’t follow. What does your computer have to do with the long gap between you telling the whole college story thing?”

After rearranging my hospital gown to about half of my satisfaction – in that it only showed about half of my rear end to anyone standing behind me – I faced him. “My computer sort of…exploded.”

The radiologist went through a series of expressions that, despite their nuanced differences, all seem confused to one degree or another. “Let me be entirely clear here. You’re literally writing my character’s responses right now, and I have no idea what that’s got to do with any of this,” he admitted.

For that matter, I realized, anyone who just started reading right here would have no idea why this college story has a portion happening in the hospital a decade in the future. I cleared my throat again to cover the sound of me breaking the fourth wall.

“Okay,” I said. “It didn’t actually explode.”

“Then why say it did?”

“It sounds a lot more interesting than saying my operating system disappeared and all I could do was stare at a black screen,” I offered. I was well aware of what a computer looked like when it actually exploded, given what was about to happen in the main story. “Suffice to say, it stopped working as anything other than a very large, very hot paperweight.”

Despite my explanation, the technician looked just as confused. “So…what’s that got to do with telling me a story? And how do you know your computer at home…exploded?”

“No, no, no,” I waved it away. “I mean, my computer exploded in the future, preventing me from typing new segments of the story and publishing them.” It was only after I’d said the words that I realized how ridiculous they sounded.

“I think what I like most about your story is how easy it is to follow,” the other man said, mockingly sincere.

“Shut it.”

“Okay. So let me try to summarize here,” the radiologist said, tapping his fingers on his clipboard thoughtfully. “You’re here now, telling me a story. The story is about your college days ten years or so ago. And it’s being written down as a blog sometime…after this doctor’s visit?”

I nodded slowly. “Actually, that’s a pretty good summary.”

The man gave me a weighing look, as if he wanted to say something more, but he just nodded as well. “Well, in that case, in that very oversimplified form, it’s not as complicated as I thought it was.”

I hopped off the table. “For a story with multiple timelines running in unison at different rates of speed with only one character in common, it’s actually fairly straightforward…” I hesitated. Then, being a realist, I added, “Straightforward…ish.”

“In any case,” the technician said, looking at the chart disinterestedly, “Something something doctor babble. You can go sit in the waiting room for another fifteen minutes.” His brow suddenly furrowed. “Did you actually write ‘something something doctor babble’ as my dialogue?”

“Sorry. I wasn’t really listening to what you were saying when it happened. So I’m losing some details as I’m writing it down later,” I admitted sheepishly. “I probably could have taken a more dignified guess than that, though.”

“Probably,” the man said, and led me back to the tiny third world country just outside the radiology department that had been very generously labeled as a “waiting room.” He watched me sit down and readjust my nudity to my liking before asking, “So refresh my memory. Where were you in the college story?”

I opened my mouth and then snapped it shut. “Honestly, I think it was my first job hunt, but I don’t really remember. But then I remembered something else happened before I went out looking for work anyway.”

“Which was?”

“My computer exploded.”

The radiologist gave me an uneven look. “I feel like we’ve covered that bit.”

“No,” I said with a sigh. “In the past. That computer exploded.”

He gave the television a wary look. “That wasn’t working when you came in, right? Because if you somehow destroy technology just by being around it there are actually some expensive imaging machines you should stay away from…”

“Shut it.”

Children’s Shows are Weird (Part IV)

Writer’s Note: You get a previous part! And you get a previous part! Everyone check under your chairs. You all get a previous part!

creative-galaxy

“Creative Galaxy.” There are few children’s shows my wife and I enjoy watching more than this one. And by the fourth part of a multi-column series you’re wondering if the reason why is something completely unironic, then you really haven’t been paying attention.

If you haven’t seen it, the premise is fairly simple. Arty is the green-skinned eldest son of an architect mother and a…dad. Together with his reality-changing friend Epiphany, he explores the Creative Galaxy and solves every problem life could possibly throw at him with nothing more than a can-do attitude and art.

Okay. Quick poll. When did that get weird for everyone? Third sentence? Yeah. That’s about what I thought.

I think what struck me first about this show was how little it took to get Arty rushing off into space. Last-minute school project? “I’m going into space.” Eye-catching letter to a pen pal? “Off to space!” Hang nail? “Space!”

When they’re aware of his whereabouts at all, his parents are always just sort of smiling as they say, “Be safe in the cold, unfeeling vacuum of the void!” If they’ve ever expressed hesitation at letting their eight-year-old child traipse about in the infinite blackness of space, I must’ve missed that episode. And it wasn’t even halfway through the first season before they started suggesting it. Some small problem would arise and the dad would just say, “Oops. My guitar string broke. Why don’t you go hang out in that place where gamma ray bursts are?”

I’ve been quick to note the absence of parents in other series. In this case, though, I’m not sure Arty wouldn’t be better off without their advice.

But Arty’s just fine, of course, because he’s got Epiphany. Epiphany is a soft, huggable pink…well, I don’t really know what Epiphany is. Or what gender. Or really, anything about Epiphany at all, except that they’re capable of changing shape at will, creating objects out of nothing and otherwise just generally raising a giant middle finger to physics as a whole.

Oh. And did I mention that this whimsical reality-changing being is prone to temper tantrums? So…you know, maybe stay on Epiphany’s good side?

Even if Epiphany doesn’t stub his or her toe and then turn Arty into a collection of argon gas in a fit of rage, Epiphany doesn’t really have to. Because without them, Arty would have no way to move from one planet to another in the Creative Galaxy. So if Epiphany decides to cut and run, he’s stuck on whatever arts and crafts-themed world he happens to be on at the time. Hopefully, it’s Cooktopia, because I’ve never seen food on any other planet.

And no, he can’t just hitch a ride on another ship. Because that’s the horrible little secret about the Creative Galaxy. There are no other spaceships.

Not surprisingly for an entire Galaxy so focused on art that each planet has a theme, no one in the Creative Galaxy bothered developing space travel. The only ship we ever see in the entire series is the one drawn by Arty and willed into existence by Epiphany. The entirety of spacial commerce is just one kid flitting from one planet to another trying to finish his art homework and needs to borrow some glitter.

Which makes it all the stranger that the random denizens of these planets – who, remember, have no concept of interstellar travel – never seem all that surprised to see a random kid show up out of the blue.

Now, it’s hard to be too negative about a show like this. Because like all children’s show protagonists, Arty is a good kid. He’s so earnest and helpful it’s impossible not to find him kind of endearing, even for someone as cynical as me. And that’s why it’s especially hard to have to admit that he has zero chance of turning out as a well-adjusted adult.

Assuming he lives that long, I mean.

His problems here are twofold and, like the Creative Galaxy itself, heavily art-related. The first of these is that, well, not all problems can be solved with art. Most problems, in fact, are so far based in science or math that unless you happen to have a friend who can bypass the hardwired laws of reality…oh. I guess we’ll give him a pass there, then.

But it doesn’t do much to help with the issue of his parents. Aside from being so uncaring that they regularly suggest their son leave the planet to give them a break, it doesn’t take long for them to start putting a lot of pressure on their child to solve things like fixing his mother’s poorly designed library or getting his crying infant sister to calm down. You may recognize these problems as belonging 100% to his parents to address.

Okay. So they’re becoming a bit dependent on him to solve the family’s problems. In addition to bumming rides around on his one-of-a-kind spaceship like it’s not a big deal, any issue that arises is up to him to put right. But surely that was just something that happened as the show progressed, right? Nope. Those were the first two episodes.

His mother builds a children’s library, but she’s so bad at her job that she forgot to make it look visually interesting. So she sends her grade school son into space for ideas on how to paint something on the wall…or something? I don’t know. I’m not exactly sure how it ended up that he had to leave the planet to paint a wall there.

Later, when the baby has been crying all night and won’t stop, the parents don’t know what to do. Naturally, they call up the doctor and ask if anything might be amiss when…no, I’m just kidding. They send Arty into space again.

Now, I’ll make it clear that Arty isn’t in the wrong here. He’s being a good bigger brother and that’s admirable. But his parents are so incapable of functioning either as parents or members of the workforce that they regularly rely on an eight-year-old to fix their sloppy mistakes for them. They’re nice enough, sure. They’re kind and seem to…want to care for their children. With these two at the helm of the S.S. Parenthood, though, I think it’s safe to say there’s no happy ending in sight for poor Arty.

Their dependence on him to solve everything probably ends one of two ways.

One, Arty’s parents send him off to single-handedly combat an invading race of interstellar insects that move from world to world devouring their resources. (Not surprisingly, a Galaxy that never stopped painting to learn science doesn’t have much in terms of practical defenses.) This ends predictably when their hard, chitinous outer shells prove resistant to acrylic paint.

Or two, the Season 5 finale has Arty blasting off into space on another adventure. “I need to fix my parents’ failing marriage…with art!” And Epiphany just pats him on the shoulder, shaking its head.

And says, “You’re a good kid, Arty. I just wanted you to know that.”

Children’s Shows are Weird (Part I)

Writer’s Note: Sorry if this column is out a little later than usual. It took me a while to come up with such a thoroughly imaginative title.

bluesclues

I haven’t actively set out to watch children’s shows for a while now. Some have good enough writing to entertain adults, but the good parts are usually few and far between. And in almost any situation you’re better off just watching watching television made expressly for adults.

You know, unless you’ve got a kid. Then your hands are sort of tied.

I won’t waste time on a column about how children shows are stupid or boring. That’s like watching an untranslated South Korean sitcom and saying that it wasn’t all that funny. In either case, I’m clearly not the intended audience.

Keep in mind, too. When I say children’s shows are weird, I mean it in a very specific way. “The Teletubbies” was generically weird. Giant monsters with televisions in their bellies talked in some demon language while a Sun that was also a baby watched over them and giggled. Any show indistinguishable from chasing six Red Bulls with a Snickers bar-sized chunk of LSD falls neatly into the “generically weird” category and doesn’t need my exhaustive analysis.

But what’s strange is that, after watching every episode of these shows ten or eleven times (and spoiler alert, expectant parents, you will), the “fridge logic” starts to set in. It’s what happens when you don’t immediately notice something odd is going on. Then, after a show, you’ll go to the refrigerator and open it to get some milk when it hits you. “Oh, my God!” you’ll exclaim. “All the parents in these shows are dead or missing!”

And yeah, I’ll be coming back to that specific point a number of times in almost every show.

Let me run you through a few examples.

“Blue’s Clues.” Okay. So we’ve got Steve living in a house with his dog and various talking objects. There’s a few ways I could run with this, but they all involve him being one of the last survivors of nuclear fallout.

If you were looking for something happy and uplifting, keep that in mind before reading on.

Steve has no parents. I mean, he obviously has parents. They’re just happen to be dead. At no point in the series does he visit or speak with them. And I’m willing to write off the single visit by his grandmother as his imagination (remember all the talking objects?) or a kindly old survivor who checks in on him from time to time. You know, until she also dies, because that visit was in Season 1 and she never shows up again. Ever.

In version one of the story, Steve is just imaginative. And sure. It makes sense. Given that he’s one of the last living humans, he’d make his own friends. It’s a solid theory that fills in all the gaps but is about as satisfying as any “it was all a dream” theory – not very.

Version two is better (as an explanation if not in terms of happiness). In that version, the nuclear war happens far enough in the future that technology is the answer to why everything is moving and talking. And if that sounds farfetched, think it over. How far off do you think we are from salt and pepper shakers that tell you when your food is properly seasoned? Shovels that make conversation with you while they dig holes? A blue children’s toy in the shape of a dog that plays simple games with children to occupy their time?

If you think I’m grasping at straws, there’s actually a flashback episode where a young Steve, no older than six years old is alone in the house taking care of his infant brother Joe. There are no parents to be seen at any point, suggesting that they were out of the picture so early that Steve can’t even remember them. So who’s raising him? Why, the sentient salt and pepper shakers, of course.

(That isn’t an exaggeration, by the way. In the flashback they’re literally taking care of the two abandoned children and other household items like doting foster parents.)

From there, the rest falls rather eerily into place. Despite being a young adult, Steve has the mental capacity of a grade school child. But don’t blame him for asking you to find an object in plain sight over and over for him. Like any survivor of a catastrophe that wiped out all the experts, he just doesn’t know any better. He’s just piecing it all together from what he’s got sitting around the house. The only other human he regularly interacts with, the owner of Magenta, seems to be in the same boat.

Sure. There are robots all over, but they only know how to dig holes or be doctors. Even the more advanced artificial intelligence in the salt and pepper shakers can only go as far as taking care of basic household duties – not, say, teaching math and science.

In short, what little was left of the world (after we started letting celebrities be President, no doubt) is doomed.

“But wait,” you say, somehow communicating with me by speaking at your computer screen, “maybe they’ll figure it all out eventually. Surely there’s a book out there they can read. Or some sassy hologram archive Orlando Jones like in the remake of ‘The Time Machine’ to teach them, right?” First off, wow. That was a super-obscure reference.

Second, and more importantly, not likely. And even if they happened across such a find, well, it wouldn’t really matter. Why? Unfortunately, just before going off to college (likely to scavenge it for supplies), Steve is already showing signs of hair loss and acute radiation poisoning. How long does he have left? Hard to say. I’m betting that’s going to be a very depressing game of Blue’s Clues down the road.

“Gee, Blue. What does thinning hair, a cough I’ve had for a month and nausea have in common?” Steve will say, wiping sweat off his brow. Then he slumps down in his Thinking Chair, his breaths coming slower and slower until the credits abruptly roll.

Yeah…maybe I’ll give it some time before I let my son read my blog.

Anyway, since this is starting to get pretty lengthy, I think I’ll end the first part here for now. I plan to go into a number of other popular shows and if I tried to fit it all in one column, you’d be here for hours. I plan to run it all week while I’m getting ready for vacation, so this is a nice way to not have to think very hard about what I’ll be writing for the next two installments.