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.

Vector Memory Lane

A friend recently exposed me to Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs— my first taste of this author:

I enjoyed this in part because it so clearly evokes a peculiar moment in technological history— 1994— when computer culture both was computer culture and also wasn’t. The narrator comments on the rise of the geek class, rails against the feeling that his work is subjugating him to his computer… in general, all the familiar trappings of high-tech culture are recognizably there. And yet, it’s (essentially) pre-interent. The characters in the book send email to each other… and yet, they remark irritably about the ubiquity of this so-called Information Superhighway that’s supposedly about-to-be-everywhere and yet nowhere.

All this brought back a dim personal memory of being summoned to a semi-mandatory training session in my last year of college (yup, 1994) where we were given an extensive tutorial on how to use Gopher, the pre-www internet protocol developed the University of Minnesota. (I went to Macalester, also located in Minnesota… so it was almost like Gopher was being touted as the regional internet protocol of choice.) I have a vivid memory of paying keen attention for the first few minutes and then lapsing into disinterest and thinking, “Man, I’ve never going to use this thing…”

Another passing reference made in this book that really got my nostalgia-wheels turning, though, was to the North American video game collapse of 1983. This calamity totally marred by childhood, so I was fascinated to read that it is an actual observed, documented part of cultural history— when you’re ten years old, you don’t think in these terms; you just lament the fact that suddenly there are no good new Atari titles.

The wikipedia entry for the North American video game collapse cites several causes, a key one being over-saturation of the market. Check out the rogue’s gallery of consoles on the market by the eve of the crash:

At the time of the U.S crash, there were numerous consoles on the market, including the Atari 2600, the Atari 5200, the Bally Astrocade, the ColecoVision, the Coleco Gemini (a 2600 clone), the Emerson Arcadia 2001, the Fairchild Channel F System II, the Magnavox Odyssey2, the MattelIntellivision (and its just-released update with several peripherals, the Intellivision II), the Sears Tele-Games systems (which included both 2600 and Intellivision clones), the TandyvisioN (an Intellivision clone for Radio Shack), and the Vectrex.

Sad to say, the very last entry in this list— the Vectrex— was the console that graced the Dan household in 1983:

No, that’s not me with my family. Nonwithstanding this cheeseball ad, the Vectrex had some interesting and distinctive qualities. First, it was a standalone console that didn’t need to be plugged into a TV (‘Take it anywhere!’). Second, and most significant, it was the only all-vector console on the market. Sometimes the lines didn’t really meet up exactly, and the efforts to portray humans and other sentient characters were always a real stretch… but still, it gave the console a certain stylish edginess that made me the envy of my block for about 15 minutes. In an attempt to compensate for the lack of color, each game arrived with a translucent plastic screen that you were supposed to snap in place over the screen. Finally, in its dying days, the Vectrex offered 3D goggles (???!!!!) that I never managed to get my hands on but that my ten year-old brain lustfully tried to apprehend the user experience of:

So, in a more meritocratic world, the Vectrex might have made a big splash— it did have some real objective advantages over the competition, after all— but had the bad luck to hit the market during an industry-wide death swoon. In this sense, the Vectrex was like a disco ingenue who had this misfortunate to release his first album in 1981. Or a really good high-top fade with a word shaved into the back circa 1994. You get the idea.

Sad to say, the Vectrex was only the second-most dated technological device in my uncool household during these years. Around the same time that the Vectrex entered the picture, my father purchased our first home computer… but passed on the newly-released Apple II in favor of something called a Kay-Pro that folded up into a suitcase and whose only claim to fame is that it was used by Arthur C. Clarke for the writing of 2010:

There was even a plastic handle fixed to the back of the far side, so you could cart it around with you. Lame as it was, it did have a semi-cool logo:

A casual visitor to our household in the mid-80s might have thought that we travelled a lot, or were planning to make a run from the law, given the proliferation of all-in-one, transportable gadgets in our house, but this was not the case.

Addendum: literally as I was writing this post, a friend passed along this timely link to a blog of Croatian video game graphics from the mid-80s. Thanks, Ivan!

Has The Uncanny Valley Jumped The Shark?

Longtime readers may recall a post that the since-deceased Krafty wrote on the topic of the Uncanny Valley:

Perhaps, at the time, you marveled at the splendid oddness of this shiny new meme. Maybe you studied the graph carefully enough to realize the ‘prosthetic hand’ is cleverly mapped to TWO data points, one on the ‘moving’ path and one on the ‘still’ path. Or perhaps you just moved on to the next post, which was probably something about robots.

Nowadays, you can’t swing a dead cat without it slipping from your grip and landing in the Uncanny Valley— what was once a private conceit has grown into an inescapable meme. Last week, a friend forwarded me two links to read… and it turned out that BOTH articles included off-hand references to the Uncanny Valley:

First, it cropped up in an investigative article by Willy Staley entitled, ‘A Conspiracy of Hogs: The McRib as Arbitrage‘. Staley invokes it to describe the disturbing physical form of the McDonalds McRib sandwich, in this compelling rant about the cloaked and sinister market forces that account for the otherwise-unexplainable appearances and disappearances of this perennial big ribby thing: “Each time it rolls out nationwide, people must again consider this strange and elusive product, whose unique form sets it deep in the Uncanny Valley—and exactly why its existence is so fleeting.”

I enjoyed Staley’s short history of the product, and shared in his puzzlement about why the thing looks so grotesque when McDonalds has clearly harnessed the ability to mold food into whatever kind of non-offensive spheres they want (see McNuggets). Also, a weird ancestral memory stirred in me while reading this. A memory of a book called Encyclopedia Brown’s Book Of Weird And Wonderful Facts that an aunt gave me for one of the birthdays in my nerdsome younger years. The book was only loosely affiliated with the crime-solving boy sleuth and basically just contained a long list of odd-ball factoids.

One such factoid that stuck in my memory was a tidbit about a local Burger King franchise somewhere in Massachusetts who got in trouble for putting a promotional display outside his restaurant that showed Ronald McDonald in a coffin with a tagline: They got me in the McRibs. The point was that children were distressed by the dead clown. Just as seems to happen to the local Republican Committee every time around Halloween leading up to an election year, a co-mingled spirit of partisanship and gore got the better of the Burger King franchisee’s common sense.

The second link my friend sent me is called The Social Graph Is Neither, and the author’s voice seemed oddly familiar from the outset… sure enough, by the end, I realized that it’s written by the irritatingly talented Idlewords guy, Maciej Ceglowski. Ceglowski evokes our friend, The Uncanny Valley, in a somewhat more trenchant way to describe creepiness of social networks and their efforts to map and mimic social convention. “Asking computer nerds to design social software,” he writes a little later, “is a little bit like hiring a Mormon bartender.” Then, he actually manages to work the Mormon bartender joke back into the article a bit later— that was good.

Anyway, I suppose you could tabulate all the Uncanny Valley references made since this blog started and plot them according to an X and Y criteria in order to make a Meta/Uber Valley of Uncanny Valleys, and the result would probably be something nerdy that would allow you to make the Mormon bartender joke yet one more time.

The Faery Of Electricity

With the end of the world seemingly at hand, I’m taking a small amount of comfort in the fact that the best day of the year is right around the corner. Granted, that isn’t much to hang one’s hat on– the rate of natural disasters and toppled dictators has been so alarmingly accelerated as of late that I’m half expecting this laptop to blow up in my face as I type. Also– strangely– I’ve been so overwhelmed with work this year and preoccupied with a prospective move to a new city that my usual seasonal affective disorder hasn’t fully had a chance to kick in, if that makes sense. Paradoxically, I’ve more or less breezed through the winter  in a cocoon of my own little micro-anxieties and fixations. So, in a sense, I’m anticipating clocks-go-forward-day with a little less eagerness than in years past. But still…

As an homage to clocks-go-forward day, here are a few other fun facts I’ve learned about man’s attempts to conquer darkness:

1. The Herring Angle

Lately, I’ve been trying to read The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald, on the RABID recommendation of a few friends. So far, it’s kind of falling into the Gram Parsons Zone for me– I appreciate it, but it’s not really taking.

One detail that I loved, though, is the mention of attempts in 1870 by two British scientists named (this is the best part:) Herrington and Lightbrown to use the glowing oil excreted by dead herrings to light the world. Their idea was that, since herrings mysteriously light up as they die, maybe a self-regenerating source of luminescence could be produced from tiny thirst-inducing fish. I love the idea of herrings becoming a key commodity in the modern world. This would be convenient because, as Sebald mentions, every herring lays enough eggs to produce a volume of herrings 70 times the size of the earth.

Also, imagine having a business card that states your name as ‘Herrington’ and underneath in smaller letters says ‘Herring Expert’. Outstanding.

2. The Two Sleeps Angle

If you wake up in the middle of the night after a couple hours of sleep (something that’s been happening to me a lot lately– see above micro-anxieties), it turns out this is what people routinely did for thousands of years, up until the industrial revolution. People would sleep a few hours, then get up, smoke a pipe, hangout, whatever, for a bit before going back to bed for a ‘second sleep’. Makes sense when there was no way for most people to afford artificial light, and so nighttime was about a billion hours long in winter. I guess this is when all the brooding got done in plays like Hamlet– he was up pacing around between sleeps.

3. Chicken-Or-Egg Electricity Thing

The whole two-sleeps thing had been buried for good by the time that Edison invented the electric lightbulb and (as an art history documentary I show my designs students puts it) ‘the faery of electricity was loosed on the world’. It’s sort of weird to imagine society suddenly ‘launching’ the lightbulb as a product and–  for that matter– electricity in general. I mean, I assume that lightbulbs were first introduced at a municipal level in the form of street lamps– you didn’t just go out and buy a lightbulb in the early days. But how, then, did the whole thing eventually spread to rural American homes? You need an electricity-powered lamp if you’re going to buy a lightbulb… but you also need a proliferation of lamps before the local store is going to start carrying lightbulbs. So how did it start?

The same conundrum sort of applies to electricity in general: how did they convince a ignoramousy public to allow electricity to be installed into their homes if there was nothing to use this mysterious force for?

I do vaguely remember learning that in the early days, a pointless little rubber mat was sold to a fearful Americans that you were supposed to place on your floor underneath the electrical socket, to ‘soak up’ any stray electricity that might happen to leak out of the wall socket and dribble down the wall. Such was their understanding of the whole phenomenon. Unfortunately, the internet is letting me down in terms of turning up a photo to confirm this, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

(Top image: Peter Behrens’ fantastic AEG ad from 1907, promoting a new lightbulb. Pretty early instance of the basic visual vocabulary of abstraction finding its way into mass commercial media).

Recent Music Reviews – or – A Brief Fictional History Of Bad Schandau

Last Thursday I went to see the Norwegian singer-songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg play. I’d never heard of her before Wednesday, but she was recommended by someone, so I took a listen to her Bjorkian dirging on youtube and decided it was worth a go. She sounds a little bit like – to paraphrase my favorite throwaway line from Henry Miller – ‘a thousand heads of cauliflower wailing away in the dark’, but in a cool way. Her alliterative Nordic name reminded me momentarily of this fascinatingly lame concert poster I once spotted in Berlin for somebody called Konrad Kuechenmeister…

… but that’s not her fault.

So, anyway, we filed in at about 7:30 to see her play. Something I like about this venue, Akropolis, nearby where I live: the set times are always really, really early, so you’re often back out on the street by 10. I like this (a) because I’m old, and (b) because if the show is bad, you can still go to dinner or a bar and salvage the evening. In this case, the Norwegian Hukkelberg girl wasn’t bad… but it suffered from the overriding wimpiness– both sonic and dramatic– that mars a lot of the electronically-augmented-singer-songwriter genre. If you listen to her clips, her (impressive) voice is just a part of an engrossing landscape of whirs, clicks, beats and orchestral noises… but onstage, it’s just a woman singing along with some sequencers. When I saw my friend who recommended the gig, she hissed ‘Where is the band?‘ with great contempt. The worst part of it is that Hukkelberg would make a show of playing some instrument in every song, but it was always the most ineffectual instrument most buried in the mix. I tried to suspend judgement for the first twenty minutes, but later felt myself wearying a bit as I watched her singing away while rhythmically manipulating something that I could swear was a plain old mortar and pestle.

When I mentioned the ‘Where is the band?’ sentiment to my buddy I’d come with, he speculated, ‘Maybe the only way to make money playing in Prague is to leave your band behind.’ For the remainder of the set, I was completely distracted by imagining a custom– both financially-driven, yet also ritualistic– where the backing band is left to wait in Bad Schandau (this being German border town you go through on the train before entering the Czech Republic) while their leader travels on alone eastwards to make korunnas and roubles. Dressed identically in black suits and thin ties– like the Pretenders sans Chrissie Hynde– they idle around, kicking bottlecaps in the dusty streets and drinking Becks. One can even imagine a historical accident where Bad Schandau becomes renown for its local music thanks to all the skilled backing bands that have left there: the News mingling with the Mechanics jamming with the Waves, all while their singers are off somewhere else… sort of like the famed Army all-star band during World War Two that could boast some of the best jazz players in the country at that time.

Next, on Saturday, we went to a very different kind of musical venue– a ‘wine tasting festival’ in a small town west of Prague that combined elements of Dork Season with your average redneck American country fair. There were lots of haircuts like this:

The headlining act for this festival was none other than Michal David, legendary king of Czech 80s cheese. In the pantheon of Czech 80s pop culture, David is Corey Hart, Bruce Springsteen and Phil Collins all rolled into one hideous cultural zeitgeist/abortion. Here he is in his prime (1983), performing his breakout hit ‘Nonstop’:

This is bad enough without any context, but I feel obligated to add that ‘Nonstop’ is the Czech term for a store that’s open 24 hours. And that David released an autobiography two years ago titled ‘Život Nonstop’ (Nonstop Life). And that he’s become an apparatchik for various unsavory politicians in recent years.

More David-meets-teen-angst here…

(Note the super cool metro station walls at 0:54)

… and, of course, in the classic Disco Přiběh, discussed here.

Anyway, in the end, I guess neither performance was all that memorable. If I had to pick one, though, I would say I probably enjoyed Michal David slightly more, which just goes to show once again the tyranny of low expectations and unfair advantage that irony and schmaltz enjoy over things that are trying to be serious and good.

Concrete Serengeti

A few nights ago, something inspired me to google the name of a sorely-missed friend of mine who’s been dead for 10 years, a guy named Joe Schactman. Joe was a serious artist and a big influence on my decision to get into graphic design– hell, when we first met, he was about the only person who could tell me anything about graphic design. The nascent internet sure didn’t have much to say, and you couldn’t find anything of note at the public library. I keep a photo on my desk of him sitting in our backyard, focussedly whittling away on a tiny bit sculpture in his hands– Joe was always working on something, so I try to leverage my memory of his industriousness to remind myself to stop procrastinating and get back to work.

Fortunately, the internet has come along way in the last decade, so my google search of two nights ago led me right away to the Flickr page of another old friend of his who has posted this Schactman drawing ‘PAIR OF LIZARDS’:

One fun thing that Joe would talk about from time to time was the various bizarre live-work spaces that he inhabited as a rag-tag artist in New York City in the late 70s and early 80s. One place, in particular, that he lived in was a giant abandoned factory building somewhere in (if I recall correctly) Williamsburg. Space was rented out for a song to artists, who had all the room they could possibly need there, but the problem was that the place was so vast that you couldn’t realistically heat it in wintertime. So, everyone who lived there would make some kind of teepee-like structure, a tiny sub-unit that they could sleep in and afford to heat. The overall effect, as Joe described to me, was like living in the Serengeti, except you’re also in a giant factory building. In the morning, you would creep out of your tent and start making coffee outside, and then gaze across the vast cement expanse to watch another groggy nomad emerging from his or her tent as well at some great distance. Perhaps friendly salutations would be exchanged or (I like to imagine) some hostile fist-shaking if neighborly relations were momentarily strained. This idea of recreating these kind of primitive tribal patterns within a giant cement enclosure entertains me to no end.

So long, old friend

For my money, Berlin is the best place around. A friend of mine who lives there was once describing the feeling of relief that comes over him every time he returns to Berlin after a trip– that “Ahhhh, I’m home” sensation. I thought about this for a second and said, “Actually, I feel that way and I don’t even live there.” There’s just something about the place that feels so comfortable– for a city that was once the worldwide headquarters of Evil, it sure has gotten awful hospitable in recent years. Plus, there’s tons of cool cultural stuff going on. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about much of it because I almost never wake up before 2pm when I’m there… but it’s heartening to know that its there anyway.

Two things I did manage to do while I was there: get a burrito at the Mission-themed Tacqueria Dolores, and buy a new wallet. Here’s the spent husk of the old wallet…

… and here it is sitting next to a mostly-eaten Tacqueria Dolores burrito, having just been officially decommissioned (I did the switcheroo to new wallet while eating the burrito):

There’s nothing that you put so little time into selecting but then wind up spending so much time with as a wallet. This sad, battered one had been with me since 2004 (?) and has gradually deteriorated into the leather equivalent of a wet paper bag, loosely enwrapping its contents. When a 1000 crown note nearly fluttered out of it a few weeks ago at the beer garden, I decided it was time for a change.

Having tired of a the default black leather look, I selected a more jaunty one this time around, black with red stitching and a zippered change purse area (this is a big deal for me, as having too much change slushing in my pockets is a constant condition in my life and one that I feels undermines my general credibility). Granted, it’s a bit womanly. In fact, I think it is a woman’s wallet. But I feel good about it so far, and think that this new era of my life is off to a promising start.

Now, if only I hadn’t left my house keys in Berlin…

Faeted To Pretend

I had iTunes on shuffle today and Time to Pretend by MGMT came up. The song’s been out for like a year and a half, but somehow I had never really paid attention to the lyrics before. Oh, I’d listened through the part about ‘I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars’, but tended to tune out thereafter and had always just assumed that the song was about youthful hedonism and that’s all there was to it. This time, for whatever reason, I paid attention through to the end and was struck by how much in common the lyrics have with one of W.B. Yeats’ early poems, ‘The Stolen Child‘ (one of the few Yeats’ pieces I still remember vividly from a seminar I took in college). Consider…

In Yeats poem, a bunch of faeries plan to spirit off a human child to a magical land. The magical land is all good times, carousing around and staying up all night (‘To and fro we leap / And chase the frothy bubbles, / While the world is full of troubles / And anxious in its sleep’). Its allure is in its non-reality and weightlessness (consider the strange and beautiful line ‘We seek for slumbering trout / and whispering in their ears / Give them unquiet dreams’), and in the extent to which this contrasts with the mundanity and sorrow of the real world:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

But then, the final stanza produces this switcheroo where we’re made to feel the longing that the stolen child will feel for the tangible, commonplace details of the real world, petty and squalid as they may be:

He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest

The sheer tangibility and realness of the lowing cows, singing kettle and vermin-infested oatmeal chest becomes the stuff of nostalgia. Time To Pretend manages a similar trick: the first half presents stardom as all models, cocaine and elegant cars, an escape from mundanity. ‘What else can we do?’ the singer asks, ‘Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?’. The first verse ends with him pledging to ‘forget about our mothers and our friends’. But then, in the second verse, we get the equivalent of brown mice bobbing in the oatmeal chest:

I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms
I’ll miss the comfort of my mother and the weight of the world
I’ll miss my sister, miss my father, miss my dog and my home
Yeah, I’ll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone.

Suddenly worms, family members and even boredom are things to be longed for. Of course, Time To Pretend ends with a sort of resolution and renewed vow to party up to the end and eventually ‘choke on our own vomit’… but I like to think that they were really channeling Yeats and just threw this in at the end to make it an acceptable pop song. In any case, I think there’s a lot of correspondence between the two, given that one is a youth anthem and the other is all pre-Raphaelite and shit.

Skid Row

In case you missed the brouhaha, TK at 40goingon28 posted this tweet from noted film critic and profuse sweater Roger Ebert:

Several folks (myself included) quickly recognized this as a semi-opaque reference to the movie Vertigo, where the movie’s action is instigated by a request that James Stewart’s character visit an old friend with a Mission address– ‘skid row’, as gal friday Midge remarks. As it turns out, both references have a ‘sic’ quality to them, in that both the End Up and Gavin Elster reside in what we would now consider to be SoMa, but back in the day, this counted as part of the Mission.

Here’s the clip (click for movie file):

As far as I know, the other notable cultural references to the neighborhood are:

1. 48 Hours, where Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte visit the credulity-stretching Torchie’s Western Bar– supposedly, a straight, white, red neck strip joint. (By the way, check out this Czech-dubbed version of the scene that demonstrates the particular awkwardness of trying to find jive-sounding Czech guys to do the lines for the Eddie Murphys and Wayans brothers and other hip African Americans of the movie world.)

2. Dashiell Hammet’s novel The Glass Key. Members of an occult group break into a pharmacy in the Mission to steal opium.

3. Nabokov’s Lolita. As Humbert Humbert travels the country with the nymphette Dolores Haze towards the end of the book, he gives a series of quick one-liners listing places they’ve visited. ‘Mission Dolores: good title for book,” he remarks self-deprecatorily.

Anything I’m missing?

Getting back to Roger Ebert for a sec, here’s a photo of him from 1970 where he actually looks a tad End-Uppy:

Glimpses of A Disco Story

Some screenshots from Discopriběh (A Disco Story), the seminal Czechoslovakian teenybopper movie that I watched over the weekend on a friend’s suggestion.

It’s essentially an 80s teen musical in the spirit of Pretty In Pink, anchored by the pop stylings of Michal David, who might really be the most incredibly cheesy person on the face of the planet. Filmed just two years before the Velvet Revolution, it gives an interesting glimpse into the last days of Communism… I suppose. And the points where it converges and diverges with American teeny-bopperism are instructive … I guess. But mostly, it’s just a good laugh. I would recommend it, but I imagine it’s impossible to find a copy with subtitles (I had to have my wife clue me as to what was happening whenever the plot strayed from the most rudimentary teen plot points).

Lots of this: exuberant, goofball out-of-the-blue musical numbers.

Many of the clubs they hang out in don’t really look fully renovated, and thus have a kind of civic-sponsored, junior-high-school-dance vibe. I would make more fun of this, but a lot of clubs in villages still look like this, and I’ve hung out in many such places…

Early on, there’s a Teenage Mischief Montage where the main character engages in a bunch of ruses to evade a tram inspector who’s caught him without a ticket. Suddenly, he plunges into a crowd of goose-stepping, robotic soldiers who are marching through the main town square. Marching soldiers: communist-era comic foil!

Also, a gratuitous topless scene involving these two girls that’s far more random, baffling, and inexplicable than anything you can imagine seeing in a U.S. movie from the same period (and that’s saying a lot). It’s all a bit… unreconstructed.

Aside from the dreamy male and female leads, the other sidekick characters are incredibly cretinous and look like they just fell off a dump truck. This is the lucky male character who gets prominently involved in the topless scene mentioned above. Let’s just move on…

Lots of bonding scenes between father and son, who share a typical (small) Communist-era box flat and therefore share a bed. You can really ratchet up the bonding vibe when the two characters are sharing a bed.

There’s a classic West Side Story angle, in that the boy hides his humble social status in order to try and impress the girl. Interestingly, the humble social role that he’s trying to conceal also involves training to become a chimney sweep (??), so we see lots and lots of scenes with guys dressed liked this.

Then, a fantastically cheesy date montage scene, which someone was kind enough to upload to youtube. I encourage you to watch it.

Finally, after a classic dramatic arc and some depressing moments, the movie ends with a triumphant denouement where thousands of kids suddenly burst out dancing on the main square of Plzen. By this point, my wife had stopped watching, so I was kind of confused as to what had happened that had suddenly made everyone so jubilant… but I enjoyed the happy ending nevertheless.