I simply have to thank Lynette Noni for bringing the following legendary exercise in pith and summation back to the front of my mind. Little did Rick Polito know in 1998 that his witty rundown of classic movie lore would be THIS legendary:
Now, as these things have it, this kind of viscerally-accurate Molotov cocktail only engenders imitation. Most of them pretty pathetic and cloying overall. I suspect this is mainly because the imitators immediately default to the cynical knob setting when trying to do it.
In reality, the ability to blurb and summarize is an incredibly valuable skill. It’s actual value, of course, lies in the ability to maintain informational integrity while doing so. Polito’s blurb, and its associated viral track on Reddit—lie in the fact that it distills only the harsh negatives. In journalism, it’s almost akin to “burying the lede,” as they say. Monty Python sort of broached this kind of absurdity in The Meaning of Life. John Cleese, playing the part of the wigged headmaster, gives the boarding school children their morning “briefing” as it were. This contains the usual and boilerplate information, pedestrian reminders and reaffirmation of the myriad of rules and restrictions. He then excuses the boys out of the auditorium. And an afterthought, he calls out one young man from the adjourning group and says, “I’ve been informed that your mother has just died. Good day!” and walks out.
I’ve always found this kind of gamesmanship fascinating. And while I find myself doing these kinds of things ad hoc, I figured it might be fun to make a few protracted runs—analyzing what is intended before intent is committed.
1) Making the lighthearted into dark
Polito’s Wizard of Oz synopsis makes the theme way darker sounding than it is. Although I must admit, the film always left an eerie, aromatic vapor in my subconscious when I’d watch it every year. So the goal is pick a candidate with zero ominous underpinnings, and then try to hack out the bald exercise in disproportion:
Gilligan’s Island (7PM) A demographically-diverse group of shipwreck survivors struggle to maintain distance between themselves and a default, primal descent into cannibalism.
2) Making the ridiculously-horrifying benign.
This, of course is theoretically easier; taking things out—or committing the deliberate sin of omission. Way more fun and perhaps the logical starting point for the novice:
JFK (9PM) School books, sultry days and a trip to the hospital. Little John learns to salute in spite of a hastily-interrupted road trip.
The red phone just rang. Someone on the other end said “too early,” and hung up. I’ll do another:
The Exorcist (12AM) A young impressionable discovers that board-games enhance her mild interest in theology.
3) Making the completely meaningful meaningless.
Quite frankly, I happen to think the majority of the world around me comes outfitted with this algorithmic mechanism in pre-production. But why not line up in the government-funded line marked Nihilism for a few, creative seconds? Thus:
Schindler’s List (Travel Channel) A corporate magnate struggles with timely data entry.
Okay. The truly savvy will notice that I’ve failed to invoke the true, postmodernist muse to ruin it. But I tried.
4) Making the meaningless sound meaningful
.The search for meaningless media is akin to shooting water in a barrel. Geeves, cue up a giant helping of abject vacancy, please:
Keeping up with the Kardashians (9PM) A father’s willingness to change is at the heart of a blended-family’s everyday struggles with relationships, money and self-actualization.
I’m going to stop. Mainly because I have no reasonable expectation of getting a job doing only this. But the “academic exercise” has been a lark.
Time for me to now “open up the phone lines” as they say. Have at it. Do your worst. Thrash about. Let the world see what kind of absurdity YOU—have tucked away on the shelf.