Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bionic Slumber

If The Six Million Dollar Man is an action/adventure show, how is it that these reruns on DVD have the unfailing power to put me right to sleep?

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing. It’s just that I know I can depend on this program to be a reliable narcotic, so I pop the discs into the player when I know it’s about naptime. I’ve run the episode with the bionic Oscar Goldman clone several times, but always manage to miss the dramatic showdown where Steve Austin knocks his head off.  I snore right through it, that kinetic sound effects of Steve’s bionic limbs singing me to sleep.

I don’t think this is specific to The Six Million Dollar Man, of course. Pretty much all TV is “snugglevision,” formulated to keep us drowsy and susceptible to the advertising that controls it. But I think these older TV shows seemed a little more honest in their predictability. Today, popular TV dramas work to maintain the illusion of advancing plot (Don Draper divorces Betty) while carefully serving up precisely what keeps the viewers coming back (everyone hated Betty). It seems like a tricky balancing act, but it’s just another TV formula as reliable as Fred Rogers feeding his fish.

As you fellow elders may recall, The Six Million Dollar Man had a spinoff series in The Bionic Woman. Considering that television only had three major networks back then, this seems like a high percentage of bionic content in one’s weekly TV diet. But all the better to set patterns of predictability and run the resulting product down the conveyor belt into our gaping gullets. Bionic superspies were the Westerns of Seventies television.

Does that seem too cynical? Listen, I admire the clockwork efficiency of TV productions like this. To me, the appeal of a careful viewing of The Six Million Dollar Man (the parts I see before I pass out, anyway) is marveling at how much money they saved (this show did NOT cost six million dollars). Richard Anderson (not to be confused with Richard Dean Anderson, he of the MacGuyver duct tape skills), who portrayed Oscar Goldman, could present the illusion of a sprawling government agency by virtue of a few phone calls to unseen bureaucrats. Steve Austin kept the scripts and budgets uncomplicated by having no home or personal life. And for a show with such an advanced sci-fi premise, it kept viewers content with a bionic man who showed off his super powers only by running a bit and kicking down the occasional door. The gimmick of demonstrating his super speed by running the film in slow motion was pure, penny-pinching genius.

In the end, TV shows like this seem to float on a shared delusion that the initial pitch for the show – in this case, presented in the opening montage of guys in hospital gowns fondling robot limbs – was exciting enough to excuse the lack of action-packed payoff in any given episode. Watch any TV drama from the Seventies, from Kojak to Kung Fu, and it’s pretty astounding how little actually happens in each installment. But that’s the point: it’s satisfying enough that the basic premise is likable. The act of sitting through the program is an exercise in comfortable familiarity.

And so I settle on the couch, secure that nothing very engaging or interesting will threaten my relaxation as I slumber through The Six Million Dollar Man’s low-key adventures. It’s better than counting bionic sheep.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Will Post Will Work for Fools

To quote the opening line of Col. Harland Sanders autobiography, "Dadgummit!"

With this newfangled website, what I was supposed to do was post the new page's link on the Communique blog like so:

...and THEN link to the blog post on the Facebook-type places so that any and all exclamations of praise and worship could then be collected as comments here.

So, just pretend that's what I did, okay?

Monday, August 5, 2013

All Stripped Down and Nowhere to Go

It was about twelve years ago that I, the man who had insisted vehemently that he would never have a computer in his home, much less create a website, created a website. Having drunk the digital Kool-Aid (which takes up far less space than traditional Kool-Aid, but with questionable fidelity), I also fondled the shiny gizmos of our new computer, purchased at Melissa’s insistence, until something colorful and art-like began to emerge – something that turned out to be somewhat desirable in the illustration field in which I was still occasionally toiling. The results of having “gone digital” in my visual art were vibrant and attractive, and brought new attention from art directors and other admirers like nothing I’d ever drawn in the past. Everyone seemed to love this new work, and prospering in my career as an illustrator was looking like a viable reality.

Naturally, this was making me very uncomfortable.Something had to change.

What seems quite handy about having one’s own website is the illusion of public appearance it creates. I’ve always held that redesigning your site can feel like a major step in redesigning your life. This is a bunch of crap, of course. The debut of a new series of web pages is no more a reinvention of the self than a bar mitzvah instantly turns a squeaky-voiced, pre-teen masturbator into a man. But as an exercise in personal transformation, let’s say it’s at least as effective as trading in your Nascar t-shirt for a power suit with intimidating shoulder pads. Buddha says change starts from within. I say it doesn’t hurt to have your teeth whitened while you’re at it.

And so, having woken up one morning not long ago - mysteriously sore and without my wallet – to the suddenly realization that I was now operating more as a man of letters (I’ve memorized the alphabet through Q) than a maker of visual art, I decided a new website was in order. This Potemkin reinvention isn’t whiter teeth, but a whiter web design: A pure, white web space not unlike the purity of a relaxing isolation room in the psyche ward. This is about The Word, after all, not to mention a rejection of the candy-colored, digital realm of which my visual art was once a perpetrator. Back to the Gutenbergian foundations of text columns and the manly craftsmanship of cartoon art in ink, by God!. True to my impulsively rebellious pose, mine was to be the anti-site, scrubbed clean of the neon colors and distracting sidebar ads that actually earn money for the savvier internet entrepreneur. I will reduce everything down to the essential lines and words, and like the pretentious indie filmmaker looking for the quickest route to Bergmanville, I’ll make everything in black and white.

So, here I am, another digital debutante, coming out to the movers and shakers of internet society in my new, sophisticated finery.

How do I look?