Friday, August 21, 2009


Originally Published: 8/09 on: St. John - Moved here by Author

A friend of mine recently sent me a short story he'd written entitled Martinique - a well crafted little piece of dystopian science fiction about a future in which people's vacations consist of rides on immitation cruislines that never leave a warehouse-sized soundstage. It was vaguely reminiscient of A Handmaids Tale and Farenhight 451 in that the story featured a patriarchal, militant dictatorship bent on managing peoples domestic behaviors, right down to what they read and who they sleep with. But I think it's a bit rude to compare an artist's work with that of another artist, as it sort of insinuates that their's is somehow derivative. So when emailing him back, rather than and err by way of praise and walk this fine line, I opted instead to elaborate on what intruiged me about his story.

Of course - as is often the case - I got so carried away in my letter to him that I ended up writing an entire article about postmodernism. Or rather, post-post-modernism. Which is fine, I've been meaning to write such an article for a long time now anyway.

As with all great dystopian science fiction, the power of his story was not in it's ability to paint a portrait of a bizarre, futuristic reality, but rather, in its ability to illustrate the dehumanizing "unreality" (artificiality) of the day-to-day world that we currently inhabit. There's probably an easier, more economical way of saying this, but since he is the real writer, I'll leave it up to him to figure out what that is. His story illustrated this unreality so well that I'm almost surprised these ersatz Caribbean cruises he described aren't already a staple of everyday life in the suburban North American landscape. I'm sure they'd go over well. With the exception of Japan where such cruises are probably already commonplace, simualated experience seems to be a quintesentially American theme.

For example: All accross the U.S. there are "Bourbon Streets": indoor, shopping mall, food-court-esque versions of the famous Rue Bourbon in the New Orleans' French Quarter. Personally, I have never been to one of these booze courts, but quite frankly they sound dreadful. If I ever resort to getting drunk in a shopping mall, I hope one of my friends had the good sense to kill me in a drunk-driving accident.

Then there's a restaurant chain called J. Alexander's that tries to recreate the "modern" nineteen-fifties à la Frank Lloyd Write, complete with oversized entrés and bow-tie wearing wait-staff. Plenty of attention to detail: right down to the Copperplate Gothic font that they use on the menu. Or how about Ted's Montana Grill: a blatant attempt to aesthetically reconstitute... 1932? ...`42? Who even knows anymore?

Meanwhile, beautiful, old, one-of-a-kind buildings are alloweed to rot until they get torn down to make way for new buildings that have been designed to look like old buildings. It's all so strange.

Another example:

Ever been to Disney's Epcot Center? ("Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow") Since October 1, 1982, they've had miniature replicas of the nations of the world, all within walking distance of one another.

If that isn't strange in and of itself, this miniature global village even contains a miniature U.S. of A. called "The American Adventure" and stranger still, there is an exhibit where you can see animatronic versions of all 44 US presidents (including an animatronic Obama) standing on stage together, interacting and addressing the audience.

It seems like just-about everything is retro-referential these days. Apparently, everyone in America would always rather be somewhere else, somewhen else and in all likelihood, someone else. Where's my Perky Pat layout goddamnit?! (for those readers who are unfamiliar with Philip K. Dick's Perky Pat, I highly recommend reading: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - one of the best pieces of science fiction ever written).

Dick's description of the eponymous "Palmer" character always makes me think of the album cover for the Didjit's "Hey Judester".

"He had enormous steel teeth, these having been installed prior to his trip to Prox by Czech dental surgeons; they were welded to his jaws, were permanent: he would die with them. And--his right arm was artificial. Twenty years ago in a hunting accident on Callisto he had lost the original; this one of course was superior in that it provided a specialized variety of interchangeable hands. At the moment Eldritch made use of the five-finger humanoid manual extremity; except for its metallic shine it might have been organic. And he was blind. At least from the standpoint of the natural-born body. But replacements had been made-- at the prices which Eldritch could and would pay; that had been done just prior to his Prox voyage by Brazilian oculists. They had done a superb job. The replacements, fitted into the bone sockets, had no pupils, nor did any ball move by muscular action."

And speaking of Perky Pat layouts, this Technovelgy article is simultaneously both amusing and disturbing:

All of which brings to mind the late Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra And Simulation and all sorts of associated social commentaries that go beyond the scope of the present article. Suffice it to say, I tend to be critical of "simulacra" and generally prefer the authentic over any approximations thereof. How antiquated and dreadfully un-American of me. At least I think I do - though sometimes I'm not even sure if I can tell the difference anymore. Or ever could for that matter.

That's the problem with living in a schizophrenically post, post-modern world. We literally have no sight of what constitutes "reality". Unless - by contrast - the simulated experiences that surround us can show us what is real by putting it in sharp contrast. Of course, with close to 7 billion people on the planet, anything "authentic" inevitably comes at a premium. Hence the market for antiques. Or, to frame it in a voyeuristic, postmodern context: The Antiques Roadshow.

This seems a natural response to living in Popomo. Which brings me to the title of this article. This is my little in-joke with myself, referencing that truly horrible Beach Boys song from the eighties: "Kokomo". Although, I might start saying popopomo to futher emphasize the perpetual post-ness of it all.

In fact, I'm thinking of doing a sardonic rendition of the Beach Boys' "Kokomo", but changing the title to "Popomo" and instead of having the lyrics describe all the beautiful beaches in the world, have them describe all the weird retro dining experiences a person can have in a single suburb.

I haven't gotten all the lyrics worked out yet but here's a start:

and China
ooh I wanna dine ya'
in the fifties
the sixties
it'll be so nifty
We can eat just
like they did
Have a giant grilled cheese
sushi, sashimi...

There's a place called Popomo
Thats where you wanna go to get away from it all

Heads in the sand
And our wangs firmly in our hands
Well be pulling our pud
To the rhythms of forgotten bands
Way down in Popomo

...You get the idea.

Hysterical I know... But additionally, there are two more funny/ironic things about this:

1) They actually mention Martinique in that song and...

2) There is (I couldn't make this up) a CGI video on YouTube of people's virtual-avatars - presumably from some popular MMO - dancing on virtual beaches to that song:

Personally, the only time-period that I want to revisit is one in which everyone was still looking blissfully into the future instead of wistfully into the past.

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