Living Long Enough Produces Strange Outcomes

Sadly, my uncle lost his wife to cancer a few years ago, after something like 45 years of marriage. Since then, he’s had the good fortune to meet a new woman who now seems to be a permanent and supportive fixture in his life. But, what’s weird is that this new girlfriend was also once my father’s girlfriend… roughly 60 years ago. Yes, my dad’s very first girlfriend, at overnight camp in the early 1950s. They took canoe rides together and stuff like this. (Note: this is my uncle on my mom’s side— not my dad’s brother). Is a person really the same person they are involved in experiences that are separated by this much time?

Sometimes, I get the feeling that there were only about 20,000 people in the US when my parents were growing up. It just seems that everybody who belongs to a certain segment— say, grew up liberal and educated with some at-least-tenuous connection the East Coast— knows everybody else. I don’t get it.

Rebranding Efforts At Work

In the old days, the Earl would have gotten a floral script treatment at the very least. Nowadays, utilitarian Helvetica is all he can hope for.

Mangrove lobbying dollars at work. These are not your father’s mangroves, no sir. These are altogether more dynamic mangroves, living on the edge.

When I originally read this and thought it said ‘bowling’, I was even more excited.

I didn’t have a chance to stop and take my own photo of this in the airport. But there is marketing language for Camel Cigarettes on the window that says, “Inspiring creative thinking since 1913.” Move over, Montmarte!

See also: Recent Airport Sightings

Bit Part

There’s nothing quite like the ringing sense of disorientation and excitement experienced the first time you’re boarding a flight with your own child in tow and you hear the ‘Now boarding families with small children announcement’ and realize that this entitlement now applies to you.

Yesterday, we returned home from our third transatlantic trip in Felix’s short life, arriving back in Berlin in a twisted heap. Our son managed to wait until a few moments after getting off the final plane to start vomiting copiously; then we arrived home to find that our car had been towed due to street work while we’d been gone. These all seem such stereotypical ‘thwarted Dad’ moments that I can hardly recognize myself as an actor in them. I feel like I ought to be practicing saying God damn it! in my best authoritarian-1950s-Dad voice, just to fit in.

It turns out that, when your car is towed in Berlin, they simply take it to the nearest parking space they can find and leave it there. Only, they won’t tell you where it is until you pay them some money. Ostensibly, if you were desperate, you could ride your bike around the neighborhood to locate it. In any case: no Gulag-like apparatus of the impound lot, etc. Très gentil!

Something About The Simpsons

The recent post about Microserfs and the early days of the internet got me thinking about another back-in-the-day cultural turning-point: the dawning of the Simpsons. The Simpsons era, of course, predates the internet. The show has been going on for so long that the original Christmas pilot episode aired when Ronald Reagan (!) was still in office. It’s been going on for so long that an episode from the show’s second season revolved around the premise that Homer is the only person in Springfield who has cable TV (at the time, yes, this required some suspension of disbelief… but still). The show has been going on for so long that I watched the early episodes on a black-and-white TV in the basement of our technologically-challenged home (perhaps this requires an even bigger suspension of disbelief).

Today, there are 486 episodes of the show, spanning 22 seasons… and probably three quarters of these I have yet to see. But, for the first few seasons, it was difficult to overstate the significance of Sunday night, 8 o’clock— you could actually feel the cultural ground shifting under your feet. The thing is that TV and pop culture had landed in an all-time rut by the late 80s: there was just nothing subversive at all in mainstream entertainment that echoed the kind of cynical humor deployed by my circle of teenage friends. Even Letterman and Moonlighting (which were not all that incendiary to begin with) had become (respectively) routine and defunct by that point. And so C&C Music Factory had come to rule the planet. It had gotten so bad that, as a 15 year-old, I had actually stopped watching TV entirely, an unexpected reduction from the approximate six hours per day I had been taking in just a few years earlier.

Coming from this position of total disinterest, I can still remember the peculiar thrill of watching an early Simpsons and noticing that, among a lynchmob of townspeople assembled to attack Bart, there was inexplicably a debauched clown in the group (Krusty, of course). This was exactly the sort of random, irreverent non sequitur that had been so conspicuously absent in the existing paradigm where every joke on every show presented itself with a deadening whiff of familiarity: “have no fear, this joke derives an established tradition of humor and thereby resembles a joke you’ve seen on some other show before.” In this sense, the Simpsons really did feel like a weird harbinger of the internet and its democratizing effect: it was the first instance I could remember of the type of disaffected, Gen-X humor used by people around me bubbling up into mass entertainment and suddenly appearing onscreen. Nowadays, this phenomenon is routine: the ‘humor landscape’ is dominated by memes that start with one or two people, go viral, and eventually become ubiquitous. But, at the time, it felt like some cosmic fissure had must have appeared in order to allow something other than Archie Bunker-style joke sensibility to appear on TV.

I remember reading something about National Lampoon a while aback that claimed that the Lampoon ushered in a new era of American humor. Previously (the article postulated), humor had been based on the Jewish tradition of oy, what a fool am I!. The Lampoon, it went on to argue, moved American humor to a more acerbic, cutting kind of humor descended from English and especially Irish tradition: what a fool are you. I guess that, by the late 80s, this vein failed to reflect the emerging theme of Gen-X humor: what a fool everything is. Maybe the Simpsons signaled a shift to this new mode. Or maybe it just signaled a shift towards humor becoming more responsive to the sensibilities of the society at large.