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Men Without Hats; Men With Vision

November 26, 2010 1 comment

Here’s a goofy essay that I wrote on the web back in 2003. Saving it here for posterity:

In 1983, the United States was under the grip of a brutal dictator with a penchant for jellybeans and happy-go-lucky quips about nuclear annihilation in close proximity to live microphones. Betamax videocassette recorders were the rage. And an upstart network called MTV dared to make a go of showing music videos around-the-clock.

Yes, indeed, the fertile media in that cultural petri dish proved perfect for the adulation due a band known as Men Without Hats and their classic musical missive, The Safety Dance.

We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
‘Cause your friends don’t dance
and if they don’t dance
Well they’re no friends of mine

The lyrics of Canadian protest singer Ivan Doroschuk are deceptively simplistic. They are, in fact, ripe with deep sociopolitical implications. They speak to intolerance in a world with high cultural borders and declining societal morals, in the era before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Superficially, one might suspect that Doroschuk is simply trying to say that the subject of his attention need not bring fraternal companions if they prefer not to dance. But look deeper and one will find that he is, instead, actually speaking to the troubled relationship between the United States and the rest of the world, with its mad-dog dictators, pinko Communist hounds, and foppish black berets. Get in step with America, baby, Doroschuk is saying, or get left behind in the superpower slow lane.

Say, we can go where we want to
A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come
from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
And we can dance, “dansez”

This prescient stanza demonstrates why so many music historians refer to Ivan Doroschuk as “Nostradamus in parachute pants.” While on the surface it seems to deal with the freedom of mobility in a too-strict class structure, it is in truth the eerily accurate prediction of the ascent and popularization of the Internet – “a place where they will never find”, indeed. A world without borders, without prejudice and without hate. A utopia where one cannot tell the freak from the frat boy. A place where one can not merely dance, but dansez. It would not be that great a leap to believe that a young Tennessee politician by the name of Al Gore might have heard these lyrics and found his inspiration for the World Wide Web, which he crafted from cathode ray tubes, egg cartons and Pop Rocks in his family’s barn.

We can go when we want to
Night is young and so am I
And we can dress real neat from
our hats to our feet
And surprise them with a victory cry

In a continuing effort to expand his cultural horizons, and to encourage his listeners to do the same, Doroschuk throws aside the concepts of curfews and crazy pants. No one can hold him back from going where he wants to go, when he wants to go there – although, for some reason, no matter what neat outfit he wears, he is constantly intent on doffing a hat on his head. This inherent contradiction with the band’s moniker, Men Without Hats, is no doubt a psychological exploration of man’s need for safety and security in spite of an underlying nature attuned to daring and risk-taking behaviors. Some have argued that this particular lyric, in the early advent of the AIDS epidemic, was one of the first public service announcements – veiled as thin as sheepskin to avoid the censors – urging young people to practice safe sex. The reference to the victory cry, and its surprising nature, may have less to do with a sartorial triumph and more to do with really making your girlfriend cut loose with an amazing orgasm. For once.

Say, we can act if we want to
If we don’t nobody will
And you can act real rude
and totally removed
And I can act like an imbecile,
and say
We can dance, we can dance
Everything’s out of control
We can dance, we can dance
We’re doing it from pole to pole
We can dance, we can dance
Everybody look at your hands
We can dance, we can dance
Everybody’s taking the chance
Safe to dance
Oh well its safe to dance
Yes it’s safe to dance

Music historians are divided when it comes to the interpretation of this passage, but most agree: The cocaine has clearly taken a pitbull-strength grip on Doroschuk’s brain stem, sending him through conflicting lyrical gyrations reminiscent of Virgil guiding Dante through the circles of Hell, past horrific visages of the ill-mannered, the gluttonous, the vain, the just plain stupid. Here, we see a man confronting the army of demons that confront him, struggling to remain morally afloat in an age that encourages excess, Members Only jackets, and the inexplicable popularity of Phil Collins.

We can dance if we want to
We’ve got all your life and mine
As long as we abuse it,
never going to lose it
Everything will work out right

In the midst of his verbal great white shark thrashing, Doroschuk briefly seems to make peace with those demons, finding a ray of hopefulness in a sky thick with black clouds of despair and splattering raindrops of melancholy. Everything, he assures us, will work out right. We’ve lost John Lennon. We’ve lost Brian Eno. People think bands such as Night Ranger and Mister Mister consist of musical geniuses. Nancy Reagan’s psychic adviser is probably selling state secrets to the Russians. But if we just dance along with everyone else, if we mind our own damned business and ignore the rest of the world, everything will work out right. To do otherwise is to invite the swirling winds of chaos, in which everything’s out of control.

I say, We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
‘Cause your friends don’t dance,
and if they don’t dance
Well they’re no friends of mine
I say, we can dance, we can dance
Everything’s out of control
We can dance, we can dance
We’re doing it from pole to pole
We can dance, we can dance
Everybody look at your hands
We can dance, we can dance
Everybody’s taking the chance
Well it’s safe to dance
Yes it’s safe to dance
Well it’s safe to dance
Well it’s safe to dance
Yes it’s safe to dance
Well it’s safe to dance
Well it’s safe to dance
It’s a Safety Dance
Well it’s a Safety Dance
Oh it’s a Safety Dance
Oh it’s a Safety Dance
Well it’s a Safety Dance

At first glance, it is easy to dismiss the final lyrical cascade of Doroschuk’s magnum opus as just a frenzied, slap-dash revisitation of previous lyrical content – the sort of thing one might expect from less scrupulous artists such as John Denver, Jimmy Buffett and that guy from Flock of Seagulls. But when one reconsiders the source, the font, of this dynamic textual whirlwind, the truth becomes manifest. Doroschuk is not merely droning on about the safety of dancing. He is speaking to a culture of fear. A culture of isolationistic paranoia. A nation that has forgotten how to embrace outsiders. A nation that has forgotten, more importantly, how to embrace itself and its passion. Like Gloria Gaynor’s plucky disco heroine, we will survive. We can dance.

It’s safe to dance.

Perhaps now, in our own troubled times in the infantile years of the 21st Century, this new millennium, we would be wise to heed these lyrics. Before we launch wars against concepts. Before we overthrow dictators in the name of ephemeral weapons of mass destruction. Before the Terminator becomes mayor of Carmel – or, worse, the entire state of California, we must do it, pole to pole.

Take the chance. It’s safe to dance.

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Three Words Musing No. 2: Your suggestions?

November 25, 2010 2 comments

It’s time for me to get to work on the second Three Words Musing project. As with the first, I’m looking for suggestions for three words that will inspire the story. Once I’ve picked someone’s suggested words, I’ll post the story in installments here on the blog. So…what do you say? The first go-round, it was “bacon, blockade, and shortage,” which led to a zombie apocalypse story. What’ll it be next?

Twitterfeed: #boringprequels

November 25, 2010 1 comment

Here are my contributions to the recent #boringprequels topic on Twitter:

* My Breakfast, Lunch, and Afternoon Tea with Andre
* Indiana Jones and the Great Gallstone Caper
* The Muppets Take Sun City
* Shaun of the Comatose
* Mall Police Academy
* Harry Potter and the Diaper Surprise
* The Year of Living Frugally
* Quantum of So-So
* Bill and Ted’s Excellent Circle K Purchase
* Heckraiser
* No Discounts for Old Men
* The Last Temptation of Christ’s Accountant
* Paralegal Activity
* One Tip-Toed Around the Budgie’s Nest
* An American Werewolf on a Desert Island
* I Know What You Did Last Summer, but Let’s Watch All 100 Hours of Camp Footage Anyway

The Road to World Conquest: Thanksgiving Edition…

November 23, 2010 2 comments

Well, here we are, entering the third week of my pursuit of world conquest and, as of today, the mode is shifting from job search to relocation prep.

Next week, after spending Thanksgiving with the family in Florida, I’ll be visiting my future home of Huntsville, Alabama. It’ll be the next step in my career as a video game designer. I’ll have more to say about it down the road, but for now I’ll settle for saying that it’s an exciting opportunity and I’m supremely grateful to the gang for offering me somewhere cool to land in the wake of the layoffs.

I’ve also got reason to be thankful to the Employment Security Commission, which successfully sent me the first of what I hope will be a precious few unemployment checks. Bills can be paid! Christmas can happen!

I’m thankful to my girlfriend, Catherine, who is enduring a bit of stress right now because within months of finding each other it looks as though we’ll be transitioning to a long-distance relationship for a while. I’ve assured her that I’m relocating geographically, but not emotionally. She’s a huge part of my life, my relationship with her is something great that’s come from my time here in North Carolina, and I don’t intend to wreck that.

I’m grateful to the loving relatives and true friends who have supported me throughout this difficult time.

I’m forever grateful to Huck and the cats for giving me something else to worry about besides myself.

I’m intermittently thankful to the postal service, which intermittently delivers my mail.

And I’m very glad to have had the support of the staffers and players of OtherSpace (and some players of Fallen Earth, come to think of it) during this period.

Now it’s time to start looking at new places to live, get prices for movers, and make sure Catherine’s got those airline tickets so she can come down to visit me in Huntsville as often as possible!

The Road to World Conquest: Day 5…

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Late getting this entry in today because…well, let’s just say I’ve been busy working on some design proposals for a prospective employer! Not much more to say about that except that 1) I really enjoyed the phone interview today and 2) I totally lost myself in the joy of plotting out encounters for this potential new project.

Meanwhile, I made some follow-up inquiries to other job targets that I’d contacted last week.

And then it was passport time! I drove back to my favorite post office in Cary, approached the closed door at the appointed time of 2:30 PM, and knocked lightly. No one answered. I studied the door carefully, pondering it. I considered speaking the elvish word for “friend” to see if that did any good. Then, to the left of the door, I noticed a slot in the wall labeled “MIS-BOXED MAIL.” And beside that slot, a nondescript black button with no label at all.

What the hell, I figured. I pushed the button. It rang! The door soon opened, revealing the woman who had told me the day before that I’d need to make an appointment to see the wiza…er, the passport clerk. I half expected her to say “Pay no attention to the civil servant behind the door.” Well, I couldn’t complain much. I’d finally made it this far. I had my application, a couple of photos, my birth certificate, and a check in the amount of $135 made out to the Department of State.

“Oh,” she said, because, I suppose, this couldn’t just be EASY, “this needs to be broken in two.” Part goes to the Department of State, while the rest goes toward processing. I didn’t have another check with me, so we put it on the debit card.

A few minutes later, I left with a receipt and assurances that the passport would reach my mailbox within six weeks.

Now that I’m getting mail again, I feel slightly more confident about that actually happening.

The Road to World Conquest: Day 4…

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, got a few things finished on my to-do list today.

* Scheduled a physical for December.
* Finished the application for my passport and tried to turn it in at the Cary post office. However, that requires an appointment. So, I’m scheduled now to deliver the application on Wednesday afternoon.
* Talked to the bank about some bookkeeping issues.
* Paid some bills.

It was rather gray and rainy out. Despite the gloomy weather, I was in pretty good spirits. Around lunchtime, while I was out stopping at the post office in the hopes of getting the passport taken care of, I went shopping for bookcases. I found some good candidates, but realized that it made little sense to purchase new furniture if I’m just going to turn around and (maybe) move to another state. Why add to the crap that must be moved? If anything, I need to shift into full jettison mode, getting rid of items that aren’t absolutely necessary for my continued existence.

Cooked up some homemade chili in the crock pot. It’s delicious, thank you very much, especially with some cheddar cheese thrown in.

I downloaded Game Maker Pro to tinker a bit with new game designs.

And I started a new project at Jointhesaga.com – something that, for now, I’m calling “viral fiction.” Basically, it’s a cross between traditional fiction, footnotes, and a Wiki. Using a core story, such as “Sometimes It Eats Its Own,” I’ll start branching off other stories inspired by the main piece of fiction. It’s not my first hypertext fiction endeavor, but I hope it’s the one I have the most fun with.

The Road to World Conquest: Day 3…

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

One week since liberation, and everything’s chugging along. Somewhat frustrated at the unemployment pay situation: You claim first, wait a week, file for certification to prove you weren’t working but were looking for work, and then wait another week to get paid. However, I’m not hurting too badly. I can make it until next week, and then it should be pretty smooth sailing while the job search continues.

It helps, a lot, that I had streamlined my lifestyle in the past year or so. My car? Paid for. My apartment? It’s a glorified studio dwelling. Not working actually has the side benefit of making it very unlikely that I’ll spend a lot of money on lunches with work colleagues or, say, Friday happy hour. I’ve got a girlfriend, but she has a job, her own place, and her own sense of independence. She’s an asset – not a liability!

Spent the day dealing with some bookkeeping issues, including one matter that turns out to not be a concern of mine at all. Nothing feels quite so good as learning that some debt issue isn’t your problem for a change, despite someone else’s claim to the contrary.

Applied for a couple more jobs in the area. Still waiting on word back from others.

During my lunch break, I drove to Kohl’s to pick up some new clothes in preparation for any interviews that might be lined up soon. While there, I witnessed a massing flock of geese preparing for their assault on the greater Cary metropolitan region. Meteorologists say it’s going to rain tomorrow, but I have the feeling it’ll be bird poop, not water, streaking those ponchos.