SWHSOr, how I learned to put my foot down and hate Star Wars

I wasn’t around yet when Star Wars premiered in 1977. My introduction to the franchise (and I will refer to it as a franchise, not a ‘saga’) did, however, come at a very young age. It was, I am certain, prior to my fourth birthday, as it was my enthusiasm for the original movie when I viewed it at my uncle’s house that led to me receiving the trilogy on VHS when I turned four. From that young age, I was hooked on the series. It was, as I would later muse, a bit like being initiated into a cult.

But- business first.

In the early 90’s, Lucasfilm was, rather than developing new films based on its popular Star Wars and Indiana Jones properties, developing merchandising tie-ins. It began innocently enough: West End Games adapted the Star Wars setting into a roleplaying game, modifying the D6-based game mechanics of their (very fun) Ghostbusters RPG. Lucasfilm’s wholly-owned subsidiary game studio LucasArts was in its early years adept at creating original properties like Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, but as time progressed, they increasingly became known for their output of Star Wars titles (when the studio died, that’s about all they were making). Toy licensing agreements with Kenner, who had manufactured action figures for the original films’ release, were renewed. New novels in an “expanded universe”, so called because it expanded from the central stories and settings of the films, began to be published in the early 1990’s.

I became a fan of Star Wars in this environment. I had loved Star Wars when I initially received the movies on video cassette, but things began to kick into high gear with one particular commercial for Kenner’s resurrected toyline (which, for some reason, saw fit to buff out Luke so that he looked like a more like a blonde Sylvester Stallone than Mark Hammill). This one advertised Boba Fett. I had no idea who that was at the time, having not even known what a bounty hunter was in spite of it being a recurring subplot in the films, but hey- the last time I had seen the films, I was four, and much more interested in “space planes” and “light up swords” as I called them. But Boba Fett was strangely familiar and looked cool. Therefore, I had to have the action figure. It became the first of many in the collection I would build over the years, and more troubling, the first occurrence of “I don’t know what it is, but I gotta have it!”.

My parents seemed nonplussed. I suppose it might have been a relief for them, for me to have an interest in Star Wars. It was something they had at least seen and understood- I think my mom was in her Senior year of High School when the original film premiered- as opposed to the Saturday Morning cartoons and comic book heroes that I developed a deep interest in for about a month before losing interest and moving onto the next fad. I began to get back into watching the films, this time much more aware of the finer points of what was going on in them. I started reading Star Wars novels, playing Star Wars computer games, and in addition, rumblings began to stir of Special Editions of Star Wars, that were going to look better and have all new computer-generated special effects! (Yes, we actually got excited about CGI, back when our main exposure to it was its superlative use in Jurassic Park and Terminator 2.)

To my youthful, special-effects addled mind, I was living in a dream.

The Special Editions represent, in hindsight, something we see more now than ever before: a nostalgia boom, marketing new or repackaged or remade products with the promise that it’ll stir those warm and fuzzy feelings you had seeing the film for the first time as a child, or that it’s something you remember from when you were a child and can share with your own children. It is not surprising that George Lucas would milk nostalgia for Star Wars; after all, his first hit film, American Graffiti, was playing on the nostalgia that young adults in the early 1970’s had for carefree days of drag racing and rock and roll radio, away from the horrors of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Lucas may have been stupid or careless about many things, but he recognized a good business plan when he saw one.

So, on the morning that the Special Edition of Star Wars premiered (we never called it A New Hope when I was a kid, and no one referred to the films by episode until the prequels came), I dragged my dad to the movie theater and I made damn sure we were there early. I was sure that there would be a line around the block, and I didn’t want it to be sold out. Of course, being an obsessed child with no concept of the fact that Star Wars was NOT hugely popular anymore, I ended up dragging my poor father to the movie theater an hour before the theater opened, and there was no one but us in line.

To begin chanting a thematic mantra of this essay: Mom, Dad: I am so sorry.

The really funny thing? After that initial morning in the theater with the however many minutes of original footage, I didn’t end up seeing the other two Special Editions in theaters. I meant to, but other things came up. That didn’t stop me from getting as many of the Taco Bell toys as I could or collecting every magazine and trading card of the the films that I could get. However, this was only one step in the long game that Lucasfilm was playing. The re-release of the Star Wars filmed served to build up hype for the prequels that he was developing. Or perhaps more realistically, scribbling on a legal pad in the bathroom.

I don’t think that we had ever seen a Hollywood hype machine on the level that we saw in the lead-up to The Phantom Menace’s release in 1999 was something we hadn’t seen before, and if we had, this was the first time I was aware. That Panzer column of hype would be surpassed in the years to come, but let’s not undersell it: people were paying full price for a movie ticket to the long-forgotten Brad Pitt vehicle Meet Joe Black and leaving the theater once the Star Wars trailer had played. I had perhaps overestimated the interest when the Special Editions came out, but when I arrived at the theater after school on May 19th, that vision of lines around the block had come to fruition. I had a newly-bought Obi-Wan action figure in my pocket the whole day and waved it around at nothing in particular as I stood in line. We got into the theater and the movie began, and I began a journey toward becoming an unreasonable Star Wars fanboy.

Following the release of The Phantom Menace, there were new Star Wars-related products and entertainment available on a monthly basis. In particular, LucasArts kicked the production of Star Wars games into high gear, to the detriment of their original titles. You had plenty of food on the buffet table, so to speak, and no, most of them weren’t great. While Star Wars Episode I: Racer on the N64 is pretty fondly remembered by some of my generation, I think I always found it to be, for lack of a better term, janky. Maybe, being a PlayStation guy I had been exposed to better and deeper racing games like Gran Turismo (or even more interesting futuristic racers like Jet Moto). I can’t say for certain. But as time went on you definitely began to detect a feeling of laziness from the output of Lucas’ brands. They knew you’d buy it because you’re an idiot fanboy and it’s branded with Star Wars. Come and get it, it’s feedin’ time!

I didn’t know at the time that anyone was critical of the film. I was in 5th Grade, about to enter 6th. I didn’t read movie reviews in the paper or watch Siskel and Ebert. However, I think that something was amiss from the fact that I was more interested in collecting the merchandise than I was with watching the film. I had loads of action figures to add to my existing Star Wars collection, along with a couple of plastic light sabers and even that stupid Jedi communicator thing. But I probably only saw the movie twice in theaters, and maybe once or twice more, sporadically, once it came out on VHS. I had even watched the Special Editions enough to wear my Return of the Jedi tape out, but The Phantom Menace I never had a big urge to watch again.

It’s no surprise, then, that Disney purchased Star Wars along with the rest of Lucasfilm’s properties. They have similar long term goals accomplished by starting brand recognition early in people’s lives. A child grows up with that brand, becomes “hooked” on it, so to speak, and passes their interest in it on to the next generation. Now, passing culture down from one generation to another is fine, and anthropologically, that’s precisely what is supposed to happen. But in the modern world, popular culture is mixed up with marketing and merchandising. A small number of people stands to profit enormously from you passing your nostalgic memories of a privately owned intellectual property onto your children.

Companies like Disney thrive on being “family friendly” yet using ethically questionable methods in which to sell their products. Mark Twain once said that it is easier to fool someone than to convince them they are being fooled, and I believe this is in full play here- either that, or parents are so desperate for family friendly entertainment that doesn’t bore them to death that they’re willing to put up with buying their kids some toys. Not being a parent yet, I can’t truthfully make a statement, one way or the other. Ask me in ten years.

There is, of course, always the hope that someone will see beyond the smoke and mirrors and understand that they’re being manipulated. When I was in High School, one of my English teachers related a story that was about his son or nephew or some such junior relative. As the story goes, they were buying ice cream, and the younger noticed one in the shape of Shrek. Brand recognition kicking in, he demanded that particular head on a stick. My teacher tried to encourage the child otherwise, but his mind was made up, and the child was given the ice cream. He opened it. He began to eat. The lifeless gumball eyes of Shrek staring up at him, he felt that taste of betrayal, the flavor of what marketing slapping an image on a shoddy product tastes like. That’s what it’s all about. Quality doesn’t matter. What matters is maximizing profit through brand recognition.

To get on my soapbox here for a second (as if I haven’t been on one for the past several paragraphs): I think marketing anything to children is on a shaky ethical foundation to begin with. Kids aren’t likely to know about marketing, they aren’t likely to know they’re being sold to, and don’t make their own income. Children are probably not going to understand the value of things in any meaningful way (don’t believe me? Wait until they panic the first time they have to pay their own auto insurance bill). I would not count on a child to know that the five dollar action figure was made for a fraction of what it costs their parent.

So essentially, these companies are marketing to children in order to get their parents’ money. Disney, its subsidiaries, and so many others bank on this. They expect children to needle their parents for something, and parents, whether for fear of disappointing their children or just to get them to stop asking, to relent and pay the money for whatever product it is the child is begging for. I think it also plants the kernel of an idea that advertisers are to be trusted implicitly. Why ask a trusted friend for advice when the answers are right there, waiting to be sold to you?

With the way popular media operates, with cinematic universes and the enthusiast press providing press at negligible cost to the IP holder, it has even become a strangely circular exercise. Let’s say a new hypothetical Star Wars film comes out. There will be a concurrent marketing blitz with television commercials, web ads, store and movie theater displays and standees, the works. The merchandise and film will work both ways: someone might see a toy they like or someone wearing a t-shirt of the film* and that might spur an interest in the film; while coming from the other direction, someone that’s enjoyed the film will be more inclined to buy merchandise of it. They have even tied it into how we identify ourselves. You’re not a TRUE fan unless you’ve double-dipped on multiple editions of the Blu-Ray and own every tchotchke known to man.

At one point, I had that mentality. I wanted to own all that Star Wars stuff. I had two Boba Fett helmets, one to wear (which I never did outside of my bedroom) and one to keep in the box. I had action figures. I had a couple of shelves worth of Star Wars novels. I had games. Shirts. I had a lot. I know some are probably reading that with envy for my 24 year old self, and if you feel that way…I’m sorry. Most of the books went unread. Most of the toys just sat on shelves. The momentary happiness I got when I bought them was always short-lived.

I am more than pleased to be rid of them.

Let me conclude and summarize: I have no problem with the Star Wars films as films. They’re often good and sometimes great films. But, the franchise, the fandom, the sheer early childhood brainwashing power of it all- I’m uncomfortable with it, the way it exists and we accept it uncritically. I hold a grudge against Lucasfilm for exploiting my enthusiasm for its films to sell me products when I wasn’t even earning my own money, and it disturbs me that Disney is going to continue the same cycle. It bothers me that we share this enthusiasm with our children when we should know better that we’re being marketed and sold to. Fandom on this level is creepy and cult like, and it bothers me seeing Star Wars everywhere. Maybe marketing isn’t an ugly enough term. It’s more than that; it’s exploitation. So, parents, future parents, aunts and uncles, let me get on my soapbox for a moment. This is less a Helen Lovejoy “think of the children!” moment than a call to think. Star Wars and similar franchises are all too happy to start selling merchandise to you and your children from cradle to grave. It might be prudent to learn when to say no. What is the value of plastic toys you never play with, plastic statuettes that you never look at, books you never read, just because it’s branded with the emblem of something you like? Please, give it some thought before you buy something else branded with the Star Wars logo. Maybe give a new intellectual property a chance. They’re just movies, and owning every piece of merchandise doesn’t make the movies any better.

Miami Connection

Miami Connection

Why Miami Connection works, and Kung Fury doesn’t

It’s been about a week since I was introduced to two distinct pieces of media. The first is the recently created short film Kung Fury, and the second is the recently brought from obscurity Miami Connection.

These two films have a lot of similarities. Both take place in 1980’s Florida, both of them feature martial arts as a main force of conflict resolution, and both have synthesizer heavy soundtracks. But where they differ is their approach to storytelling and intention. Miami Connection is a genuine relic of the 1980’s, and is an earnest if rather ineptly made and acted film. Kung Fury, on the other hand, is intended as a parody (or something), but the whole project’s tone is self aware, inviting the audience to point and laugh at the supposed 1980’s cliches.

And it’s caused me to come to an important epiphany: you can’t manufacture “So bad it’s good.” This term is often applied to films that are so bad they become enjoyable, but it’s important to note that not all bad movies are really “So bad it’s good”. Some bad movies are just bad. The B-movie industry as it exists today essentially makes most of its profit on the conceit that it’s dreck and everyone knows it, but frankly, I don’t find these movies enjoyable. No bad film that’s memorable sets out to be bad. With The Room, Tommy Wiseau took a crack at telling a deeply personal story, even though he was a terrible actor and couldn’t keep a consistent tone throughout the film. Plan Nine from Outer Space is charmingly bad in a way that only an auteur with a talent for the awful like Ed Wood could have made. There are plenty of similar sci-fi movies from the 50’s and 60’s with zero appeal (look up Zontar for a good example), that were made to fill out Drive-In schedules and make a quick buck.

Miami Connection joins that semi-proud tradition of well-intentioned but ultimately bad attempts at filmmaking. Masterminded by director Richard Park and McDojo magnate Y.K. Kim, the film offers up a few tropes that defined the time period and genre (cocaine smuggling, ninjas), but at its heart there’s more to it than that. There are some small character moments that sort of make you wish they’d actually developed them, and the film ends with the message ONLY THROUGH THE ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE CAN WE ACHIEVE WORLD PEACE, after all of the film’s problems have been solved through a judicious application of Tae Kwon Do and katana slices. The idea of a rock band composed of martial artists battling drug-dealing bikers is silly, but it’s endearing, and you could almost imagine Y.K. Kim wanted to use the film to get kids interested in learning Tae Kwon Do…if it wasn’t for the gore and saggy biker boobs. It’s a real effort- they wanted to make a hit movie, failed, and it was forgotten until it resurfaced as a cult classic.

Kung Fury, on the other hand…it has some artifices that try to mark it as the 1980’s, but these just drag the film’s inauthenticity screaming into the light. Parody of 80’s tropes can be done well- Double Dragon Neon and The Wedding Singer, for example (both of which are much more focused than Kung Fury). But Kung Fury is artificial to the core, right down to the fake VHS grain and tracking borrowed from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. This isn’t helped by the fact that the film’s creators don’t seem to have seen any actual 80’s films. I don’t really associate dinosaurs, nazis or vikings with the 1980’s but they’re a big part of the movie. Nor do I associate glaring CGI or blatant green screen with 1980’s movies. These things seemed to just be included to wink at the audience to say “haha, look at how bad our movie is”! Unfortunately it never really does anything clever or funny- the joke is that the creators intentionally made a bad movie and made their Kickstarter backers pay for it. Parody works best when characters behave normally in a world gone mad. You need that normal, non-humorous character to ground the piece. This is why Leslie Nielsen is so funny in Airplane- insane things are happening all around him, and yet he’s behaving as if he’s completely serious. All of Kung Fury’s characters are in on the joke, and none are funny or clever as a result.

I posit that “So bad it’s good” is not something you can manufacture. It’s a state that comes out as an accident. It’s lightning in a bottle and you can’t fake Bela Lugosi’s oddly hearfelt “I have no home” speech from Bride of the Monster or summon the lack of acting talent seen in Troll 2. Glorious badness is rare, and in its own way, beautiful, and it cannot be faked.

I’ve recently found my way back into playing the Tekken series, and it seems there’s a new game on the horizon. Tekken 7 has debuted in arcades and will be on its way to the PS4 (and possibly the Xbox One, but I’m not about to actually do research) and much fuss has been raised over some of the character designs. Josie Rizal for being a rather unfortunately designed representative of the Phillipines- which is pretty lame, because there are some great real-life martial artists of Filipino descent out there, like Dan Inosanto. Gigas is a big dumb robot (and we’ve already got those). Katarina is basically Christie 2.0. Lucky Chloe has been attacked for being a really, really dumb anime-esque design that appeals to creepy 40 year olds that are into teenage Japanophiles.

But the thing is, it’s not like stupid character designs are a new thing in Tekken. They’ve been there right since the very start. Tekken has never been a series that took itself too seriously (let’s not forget that game modes have included bowling), so it’s to be expected that some oddballs will pop up now and then. Now, I’m not going to rip on the characters that are obviously there as jokes like Gon, Mokujin, or Tiger. The characters I’m going to point and laugh at are the ones that just stick out for all the wrong reasons. Tekken select

The Animals (Kuma, Panda, Roger, Alex)

These have been around since Kuma first appeared as a boss in the first Tekken, but the animal roster has expanded to include Panda, Roger (a boxing kangaroo) and Alex (a model swap of Roger that happens to be a velociraptor). In order, they go from acceptable, to dumb as hell, to stupid, and then all the way back to completely awesome with Alex. I mean, he is a velociraptor that boxes. It’s stupid, yeah, but it’s stupid in the way that would have made you choose Alex when you were a kid.

Jack series

Basically, Terminators. Would robots programmed to kill have any place in a fighting tournament with real people? Even someone who claims to be as tough as Paul Phoenix would break his hand punching at Jack’s metal limbs. It’s not a problem with the character’s design itself, I guess- Jack has always filled the typical slot of the big, slow guy that hits hard- but the robot vs. human problem is one that starts to bug you after one too many “CONTINUE?” screens.

Wang Jinrei

Wang isn’t so much a bad design as an uninspired design. I guess every fighting game series needs an old Kung Fu master that no one really wants to play- Street Fighter has Gen, DOA has Gen Fu, and so on. My theory is that the AARP has a secret deal with game developers to add in elderly kung fu dudes to get senior citizens, which are the primary market for fighting games, to discover the benefits of Tai Chi.  His name doesn’t help- anytime I fight him I want to quote Shadow Warrior and shout “Who wants some Wang?”

Not Wang Jinrei, but he may as well be.

Not Wang Jinrei, but he may as well be.

Devil

Let’s get this out of the way: Kazuya is pretty cool. Jin is only moderately less cool. The Devil version of them, however, are stupid. Overpowered, annoying, silly looking…a boss that can wipe the floor with you should look a lot cooler than a purple dude with horns. To add insult to injury, the Devil version of Jin Kazama turns the ordinarily-pretty-cool-if-not-as-cool-as-his-father Jin into a silly looking emo cosplayer.

Miharu Hirano

The start of the somewhat disturbing trend the Tekken series has taken up of adding cutesy High School girls that are cloned from another character’s moveset. The problem here is that she’s copied from the already-existing cutesy High School girl in the game, Ling Xiaoyu. At least Asuka Kazama replaced the long-absent Jun.

Jinpachi Mishima

Let’s not kid ourselves- their are too many Mishimas, and all of them except Kazuya look ridiculous. And even his hair is pushing it. They all use pretty much the same karate style, and are overpowered like Geese Howard (woo! That rhymes.). Jinpachi takes the cake on ridiculous Mishimas, with a styled beard that would be the envy of Prussia. He basically comes into play so they wouldn’t have to use Heihachi again. To top this all off, he has a fireball in a game series that otherwise eschews projectile weapons. That’s fair.

I just don't think your beard should extend above your eyebrows.

I just don’t think your beard should extend above your eyebrows.

Lili

Tekken has a long, proud history of clones of pop culture figures. Usually, however, these are martial arts superstars. Every fighting game needs a Bruce Lee clone, but Tekken went above and beyond that. Tekken had two Bruce Lee clones, a Jackie Chan, and a Wesley Snipes, and a good case could be made that Paul Phoenix is the combination of Chuck Norris and Brian Setzer. Lili, however, is either a clone of annoying reality star Paris Hilton (at about the 13th of her 15 minutes of fame when Tekken 5 released in 2005) or Street Fighter Alpha character Karin. In any case, Lili is an annoying character with an unbelievable backstory…a rich, self taught street fighting prodigy. A fighting style with slaps instead of punches or knife hand strikes. Yeah. Tekken’s story has always been an afterthought, but seriously. This is the next stupid evolution in the pointless teen girl addition to the roster, too.

Lars

The absolute nadir of the overextended Mishima family, Lars’ design is basically what would happen if Goku from Dragon Ball raided a 70’s glam rocker’s wardrobe. Seriously…a cape? That hair? To make things worse, Namco made him the default protagonist of Tekken 6. They were really pushing this clown. What’s worse is that he’s paired with…

Alisa

This manages to be a trilateral terror of bad design. Alisa is a pink-haired, super polite pink-haired robot teenager dressed in scraps. Her design shouts “weird otaku crap, run away as fast as your legs can carry you!” And on top of that, she has chainsaws that come out of her arms and an exploding head. I made my feelings about robots in martial arts tournaments very clear with Jack; and the fact is, this is actually pretty logically supported by the game itself by the fact that she is ridiculously overpowered. Maybe, just maybe, admitting a robot with chainsaw hands to a fighting tournament with flesh and blood combatants isn’t a great idea.

The whole art department should be fired.

The whole art department should be fired.

Bob

Bob isn’t really a bad character. In fact, most will agree he’s one of the strongest fighters in Tekken 6. However, he is an obese man, and in Japanese pop culture Americans are often blonde (see Guile, Paul Phoenix, Bandit Keith)…so I’m not really sure if he’s intended to be a caricature or not. On the one hand, his weight and looks display negative stereotypes of Americans, but on the other hand, Bob is an absolute beast to play as and character wise seems to be fairly heroic. So…it’s kind of a draw.

Leo

Seeking fresh new ways to alienate the average western consumer, Namco took some inspiration from Square-Enix and created an androgynous character named Leo. Leo is short for “Eleonor” in this context. Because apparently someone spelled the name Eleanor in that excessively convenient fashion. And since Eleonor turned out to be a girl, this also figures into the Tekken team’s current obsession with swelling the ranks of the cast with teenage girls. Enough already!

Azazel

More Square-Enix styled crap, Azazel is a big, ugly crystalline dragon/chicken monstrosity with cheap attacks that can hit you from anywhere on screen. It’s the nadir of the supernatural monsters in the series (the only cool one was Ogre, period), and it ranks up there with the nastiest cheap and overpowered bosses you’ve ever faced in a video game. This guy makes Tekken 6’s arcade mode nigh unfinishable.

In conclusion, I want to point out that Tekken has always had its share of questionable, lazy, and sometimes downright creepy character design. They used to be fewer and further between, but as the roster has grown, so has the number of bizarre characters. The good thing is, the series has never taken itself too seriously. There’s room for the dumb characters with outlandish fighting styles alongside the more grounded and realistic fighters. So cut the Tekken team some slack, at least on the visual design. The occasional ridiculous character is practically a series hallmark.

Continuing from my last post, but hopefully with a more measured and sane state of mind, I’d like to come back to car shows. Specifically, a few types of cars that might be overlooked as potential show cars. Yeah, we’d all love to be the guy that rolls in driving a chopped Merc or a 440-equipped Dodge Charger. But a lot of us can’t afford or just plain can’t find a car like that…so here are a few cars that don’t quite fit the traditional hot rod mold, but are interesting enough to get attention and foot traffic at any car show- and most of them can still be had under ten grand.

Nash Metropolitan (1954-1962)

NashMetTruly a strange car in its day, the Metropolitan (built in Britain and marketed under a variety of American Motors marques) managed to flout the current fashion of building ever larger and more extravagant cars while still having a very streamlined, 50’s-friendly design. While today it’s not unusual to see a small car like a Chevy Spark or a Smart FourTwo on the road, in the atomic age it was strange to see. The compact Metropolitan can always reliably turn heads and get people talking. 

AMC Gremlin (1970-1978)

GremlinWhile it is notoriously ugly, the famed Gremlin is a distinctive-looking car that may qualify as a cult classic. Either way, you’re guaranteed to get people looking at the oddly-proportioned car. Add to this that the engine bay is large enough to easily mount a powerful V8 engine and you can take it from economy car to street rod with a little bit of work. Love it or hate it, the Gremlin never fails to get people’s attention. 

Willys Jeepster (1948-1950)

JeepsterThe original Army Jeeps of World War II made a huge impact, and after the war Willys continued producing both the original vehicle and trucks, wagons, and other cars based on the simple but rugged features and go-anywhere attitude the G.I.s had come to depend on. Most interesting of these was the Jeepster, a drop-top that doesn’t look out of place on the beach, in the desert, or cruising old Route 66. The Jeepster is an attractive, eye-catching classic that can still go just about anywhere and do whatever you want.

Side note: The Jeepster name was revived in 1966 for the Jeepster Commando, a more off-road centered take on the concept. 

Studebaker Champion (1950-1951)

StudebakerThe Studebaker Champion entered the 1950’s with a stunning bullet-nosed style that immediately differentiated itself from many of the more conservative-looking entries on the market. This style only made it for two years before Studebaker began to move toward a less outrageous look. It’s a bold car that maybe went wild a little too far ahead of when the futuristic fashions of the late 50’s came into style.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia (1954-1974)

KarmannGhiaSharing a lot of its underpinnings with the universally well-known VW Beetle, the Karmann Ghia has a lot going for it. It’s stylish, bridging the gap between the common lineage of VW and Porsche, as well as retaining most of the Beetle’s solid and easy to work with (and readily available) mechanical parts. Offered as both a coupe and convertible, there are enough decent Karmann Ghias out there going at a reasonable price that they make an attractive project car that you can easily use as a daily driver. 

My Hometown

Posted: July 26, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Blythe isn’t a place where much ever happened that’s of any importance to the majority of the world. It’s a quiet little town on the California side of the Colorado river. For most of its existence, it has been a farming community relying on river water to feed its crops, although in recent years it has found some growth due to the proximity of the Chuckawalla prison facility (a dubious achievement, I guess).

There are some intaglios, a mesa, lots of canals feeding the farmland, and the Cibola wildlife preserve, but it’s probably best known as one of the few places to gas up or grab a bite to eat between Palm Springs and Phoenix- when they know it exists at all. A lot of its businesses have closed down-  Don Julian’s, where my mom waitressed for numerous years, was lost in a fire when I was young. Morelock’s Taxi Service- my grandfather’s business, ended shortly before he passed away a few years ago. The classic Googie diner Courtesy Coffee Shop still remains, in all of its midcentury glory, but most people rolling through town ignore it for McDonald’s or Taco Bell.

It’s a town that means almost nothing to a lot of people out there- but it means everything in the world to me. I won’t romanticize it too much- my parents realized that there were better opportunities elsewhere when we moved out in 1990, and it is a quiet, some might even say dying desert town. But at another time it must have offered something that told my grandparents it was a good place to settle down. And I returned there a lot of times- as far back as I can remember my granddad and grandma lived in a red house at the corner of Murphy and North Ash. The land was purchased and the house demolished shortly after my grandfather died, and my grandmother moved in with my aunt.

Walls that held lots of memories for me- shooting out a window (by accident, I swear) with a BB gun, eating the tremendous and always heartily greasy biscuits and gravy and bacon my grandmother would make, watching old Western movies with my granddad, Christmas mornings, summer nights so hot and humid you couldn’t sleep- all of those walls have been crushed to dust now.

I’ve got still other memories of the town. About the time I started Middle School my granddad let me drive one of the taxis down the street and back- that Oldsmobile Cutlass was only the second car I’d driven after my dad’s Toyota pickup (out in the nearby desert), and the first I’d felt that thrill of a V8 rumbling under the car.

I don’t have a lot left of my grandparents. The cars were sold off, the house demolished, and my grandmother didn’t really have much of note left when she passed away a few years back. I’ve got a ballpoint pen with the Morelock’s Taxi Service logo and I’ve got one of my grandfather’s hats- other than that, all I’ve got are memories. The corner of Murphy and North Ash is just a vacant lot now.

There’s a lot more than just that. There’s the R&R mini mart (which may or may not be there anymore, I don’t know) where I would always pester my dad to buy me a Root Beer. There are the railroad tracks, which I distinctly remember because of a time my sister and I found a flattened cat there. I’ve caught a lot of fish in the canals, and witnessed the outright insanity that sweeps the town when dove season hits. There are some places to get food I won’t tell you about because they’re closely guarded local secrets.

And I’ve visited the Frye mortuary more times than I’d like to remember.

Maybe it’s because I just moved to the other side of the country, but I’m starting to wax a little nostalgic about that little middle-of-nowhere town. It’s a place that most people won’t give a second thought, and that most other people want to badmouth. Not all of my family has left- we’re still part of the town’s lifeblood, just like we’ve been for the 50 or so years. And I suppose the town’s part of my blood, too.

 

Moving Sale!

Posted: May 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

Well, I’m getting set to pull up the roots and move, so I’ve found it necessary to jettison some cargo I don’t have room for. Please check out the stuff I’ve got up for sale; more will be added in the next few weeks and should help me pay for gas and other expenses.

http://www.ebay.com/sch/cmorelock951/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_ipg=&_from=

You_Only_Live_Twice_-_Gun_BarrelI recently watched Skyfall. This post isn’t really about that.

It’s about James Bond in general. Or rather, fans, as manifested in the modern James Bond fanbase. Mostly because it’s fun to revisit. Now, when I was around 11 or 12 I was absolutely obsessed with the 007 movies. Frankly, it was a good time to get into the franchise- the heart of the Brosnan era (3/4 of which were good films), a time when TBS regularly ran marathons of the older Bond flicks, when you had a singularly fantastic video game based on the franchise in GoldenEye (and a few fun, if not amazing games based on Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. We’ll ignore the fact that 007 Racing exists.). My dad even dug up his old copy of From Russia With Love (the novel) so I could get a taste for how Fleming originally wrote Bond.

It’s fun to look back on it. I remember hanging out with my buddies when we’d rented or bought another movie or one was coming on TV, I remember middle school debates at the lunch table over who was the best Bond and who was the sexiest Bond girl and which was our favorite pre-title sequence. We had idiosyncratic names for those parts of the movies we didn’t know the proper terms for (we called the famed Gun barrel sequence the “Shoot the screen thingy” and the teaser the “before the credits part”. ).

And then Die Another Day happened. We all saw it. We all know it sucked. It was a million bad decisions vomited onto celluloid. Terrible theme song by a pop star that was never any good? Check. Shoehorned in character intended for spinoff? Check. Horrifying CGI that makes your eyeballs want to grow tiny mouths and scream FAKE? Oh, god yes. For Christ’s sake, Austin Powers was more dignified. At least that was consciously making fun of the spy genre.  A good portion of us disowned the whole Brosnan series as crap. Some of us probably still do.

That wasn’t the first or last time that kind of thing would happen to something I was a big fan of. Earlier, we had seen the Batman franchise take its nose dive with Batman & Robin. The Fallout games would soon falter as interplay made a series of stupid decisions (among them dropping the Fallout sequel for PCs and focusing on the poorly received PS2 game). And then it happened yet again with the Tomb Raider games. What do these all have in common? Well, they all received new installments or reboots that brought in a lot of new people to the fanbase. However, in all cases, I have a hard time welcoming the new blood in the fandom.

The new installment is always different enough from previous installments to be able to say “we swear, it doesn’t suck as bad as the last one!”. In the case of Batman Begins and Casino Royale they at least tangentially resembled their un-rebooted series’ before they’d gone off the deep end; while Fallout 3 and Tomb Raider 2013 both pretty much scrap everything about earlier installments. But both in either case, I remain ambivalent about the new fans brought in. There’s often something of an arrogance to these, considering the version they got into first (almost always the newest one) to be the best and being incredibly dismissive of both other fans that claim otherwise (“That’s just nostalgia talking! The newest one is the best because *x reason*”). Funny enough, I can find examples of this behavior across all four franchises. Whether it’s referring to the Tim Burton Batman films as campy (ignoring that they were unlike any other superhero film yet seen), criticizing Fallout 1 and 2 for a clunky interface, or…well, 007 has been around long enough that if you want to nitpick something there’s certainly an available target.

I guess I don’t like when the new fans come in and start acting like they own the place, with all its attendant swagger. There were fans before you, and there will be new fans after you. I guess there will always be conflict between the new arrivals and the old guard. Maybe part of my ambivalence comes from the fact that when you liked those things in the past, you didn’t have the internet as a place to discuss it. Among friends there was always disagreement and a lively debate. We all had different opinions. A few of us might have even uttered the heresy that The World is Not Enough N64 game was better than GoldenEye (it wasn’t me, I swear!). I think that maybe on the internet it’s easier to reach a large number of people quickly, so it’s easier to form a single-minded group that claims SKYFALL IS BEST BOND FILM, YOU AGREE OR YOU GET SENT TO SIBERIA.

I suppose I have no right to complain since I was new once, too. But I don’t have to like the new blood.

Aside  —  Posted: March 2, 2014 in Musings
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