Friday, March 17, 2006

Snap, Crackle, Pop ... Culture

Wednesday afternoon, I was flying to New York City on JetBlue and was watching a great “Leave it to Beaver” episode on TVLand. It was one of my all-time favorite episodes where Wally dates a chick who dropped out of school, lies to Ward and June, smokes, drinks beer ... at beer joints, and just wants to make out all the time. At first Wally is too dumb to notice that she is a tramp, but after she instructs him to pull his car over so she can stick her tongue down his throat (causing them to miss a movie) and takes him to Hank’s (the only bar AND grill in Mayfield) and orders him a couple of brews, he figures out that Marlene ain’t the right girl for him.

She also told him to go home, which cemented it in Wally’s dense dome.

Anyhow, as I was 18,000 feet above Connecticut or Rhode Island or where ever the hell I was, it occurred to me that when this episode of LTB was written, I would say that less than half of the American people had gone on a plane and there was no color television. Now, plane travel is about as common as jumping on a bus and there is even small color TVs in the back of all the headrests.

Ok, so with more than 40 years of technology you are going to see a large jump in stuff that never were imagined to things that are commonplace, that’s a given. But another thing that struck me was the number of channels that Jet Blue offered, 37. When I was younger and we first got cable, 36 was the maximum amount of channels that we could get. We had this gigantic box connected to the television and it had 12 buttons across and a switch that had three different settings.

I wish that I could find a picture of it, but Google isn’t being much of a help, so I’ll have to explain it. It was about 10 inches in length, brown and black, with about a seven foot wire that connected to the television. On the top row of channels it was numbered 2-13, the middle 14-25 and the bottom was 26-37 and you had to actually press down on the channel number to watch the show. The only good thing about this thing was, if someone had the box and you wanted it you can just tug on the wire real quick ... and you’re in control. It was also fun to hit my brother over the head with the thing.

In any event, that was the apex of technology 20 years ago and stayed that way (at least in my house) until about 1988 or so. Now you get more channels in the air. What’s my point? Shit changes pretty fucking quick, my man ... if you aren’t with it, you’re going to end up being like Wally. Stuck in a beer joint with some floozy as she makes time with another dude, wondering how the hell you got stuck in this mess anyway.

Speaking of changes, on the way home from NYC, VH1 had their retrospective on hip hop and I was watching that. They broke it up into hour-long pieces on the evolution of the medium from New York B-boys to what it is now. I caught some of the pieces on the mid 80s to the early 90s, and it was pretty damn dope. The one thing that caught my eye was Ice Cube.

Fifteen years ago, there wasn’t a bigger, tougher dude than this guy. From his constant scowl, to his gheri curl to his all-black garb, this was one motherfucker that you didn’t want to meet on a bad day. The guy wrote “Fuck the Police” and “Straight Outta Compton” for God’s sake. Even if Nelson George is right, and he probably is, that early gangsta rap was wrestling, Ice Cube was an intimidating person.

Now? This guy is starring in family comedies like, “Are We There Yet?” and is going to be Mr. Kotter in the movie version of “Welcome Back Kotter”. Seriously. What the hell is up with that? When did the baddest guy on the planet turn into the softest guy? Was he always like this? As a kid, NWA was a tape that you could pop in and scare the shit out of your parents, now I find out that all of the rhymes were written by a third-rate Bill Cosby?

This got me thinking, we accept Ice Cube’s transformation from pissed-off, angry black man to hard on the outside, soft on the inside movie star without question. It actually happens a lot with tough guys, see Schwarzenegger in “Kindergarten Cop”, Stallone in a variety of movies, Vin Diesel in “The Pacifier”, however it never goes the other way. An example, when Hammer remade himself into the Funky Headhunter, everyone laughed.

I think this says something about our selves. What exactly that is, I have no idea … maybe it has something to do with our world view that the only “real” person is a “hard” person. Though I would say that first impressions do count for a lot, if you show up tough, you’re going to be pegged as a tough guy, but there’s always room for redemption. However if you show up nice and friendly, there’s no going back.

Ok. I can’t write anymore, because I think I’m starting to get a cold. Until next week.