If I take you from behind Push myself into your mind When you least expect it Will you try and reject it If I’m in charge And I treat you like a child Will you let yourself go wild?--Madonna, from “Erotica ”
This piece is a prologue. It is not the prologue to another piece but the prologue to what you did, what you are doing, and what you will do. You are the topic. This piece is the prologue to the topic. It is the prologue to your practices and customs. It is the prologue to your actions. It is the prologue to your inactivity. It is the prologue to your lying down, to your sitting, to your standing, to your walking. It is the prologue to the plays and to the seriousness of your life. It is also the prologue to your future visits to the theater. It is also the prologue to all other prologues. This piece is world theater.
--Offending the Audience, by Peter Handke
If her project was a book, it’s jacket might read as follows: “Jennifer Hoyt hopes that, in the process of writing, certain truths, not to mention plots, will reveal themselves to her and that the project will, at some point, assume a shape and have an emergent message.” You are probably relieved to see a video monitor in the room. This way you will not have to look at Jennifer Hoyt as the project unfolds. You can relax a bit. You want to lean back and put your feet on somebody’s else’s chair. You want the lights out.
But wait. You have to go to the bathroom. Should you tell Jennifer now and interrupt the unity of her presentation? Or should you hold it and worry that your interpretation and criticism of her project will be tainted by the urge to relieve yourself? You’ll probably hold it because you don’t want to be rude. But you know that when you hold it, you become extremely self-aware. You start counting and measuring the duration of your breaths and you can feel your heart and lungs jostle your ribs. Your clothes start to feel scratchy. You cross your legs and you uncross your legs repeatedly. You smile a lot. You lean forward a lot. You feel your neck constrict. Your tap your feet rapidly. You become aware of your swallowing and of the rhythmic brushing of your eyelashes against your cheek. You resist the urge to scratch yourself. You are too warm or a little too chilly. You begin to talk and think hastily. You begin to feel betrayed by your body as it throbs with the unwanted electric pulse, the nonproductive expenditure of urine.
But, you’ve resolved to see this through. You inhale deeply and glance at your watch. It is 4:10 PM.
Suddenly a shape appears in your mind:
You can’t remember where you saw it. It looks a bit like a snake looking back at its tail. It also looks like the new Diet Pepsi logo. Which reminds you that you’re thirsty. And Jennifer’s project is about to begin. It would not be appropriate, you decide, to stop everything and go to a vending machine. Besides you still have to go to the bathroom.
You slump down in your chair and prop your feet up on the table or you cross your legs and stare straight ahead at the blank video screen. You like this preliminary period of not knowing what to expect, this feeling of nervous exhilaration, of desiring the unknown. It is not the same feeling as starting a book. It is not the same feeling as sexual lust. It is not the same feeling as wanting cocaine. It is a desire for the theater. It is the desire for metaphor through the spoken voice and the visual cue. You want the vanishing body.
You are a little nervous about how this project will turn out. You hope that it’s well thought through and coherent. You like the following types of projects:
Right now, you are assembling the features of your face in such a way as to convey the utmost concentration and interest in Jennifer Hoyt’s project. You will determine the laughter points and you will laugh at said points. Whatever happens, you will not allow your face to convey disapproval. You will prepare to ask questions at the conclusion and to receive logical answers. You will pull out a sheet of paper on which to write these questions. You will try to ask the questions in a polite and gentle tone because you will be having dinner with Jennifer Hoyt immediately following this session. You wonder where you’ll be eating. You only have $5.53 on you. You’re getting hungry. And you’re really not in the mood for pizza or gyros.
This is the new shape that has come into your head:
It could be a manhole or a long-playing album. You feel like you’ve just seen it somewhere. Maybe it’s the new RC Cola logo. It could be a deadly drug. It could be a vagina. It could be a nostril. Or an anus. Maybe it’s the number zero. Maybe it’s a mouth screaming for help. Maybe it’s the secret shape of the world.
In retrospect over the history of television comedy, we can say that we believe it has grown from infancy, to full growth to death (what we have now).--Eisner and Krinsky
You have to learn how to look. You have to open yourself to the data. TV offers incredible amounts of psychic data. It opens ancient memories of world birth, it welcomes us into the grid...’Coke is it, Coke is it, Coke is it.’ The medium practically overflows with sacred formulas if we can remember how to respond innocently and get past our irritation, weariness and disgust.--Murray from White Noise
Narrator: (camera focuses on scrolling posterboard while Narrator reads) Only once in a great while does a writer come along who defies comparison--a writer so original he redefines the way we look at the world. I am that writer. You are about to take a mind- altering romp through our future America. A future that is so bizarre, so outrageous... you'll recognize it immediately.
In the course of your journey you will, no doubt, find that I am hip, surreal, distressingly funny. I am a crafty plotter and a wry writer...This film is great fun, both loopy and dense, a tootsie roll of a story--chewy center and all. It is, without question, a fantastic, slam-bang-overdrive, supersurrealistic, comic-spooky whirl through a tomorrow that is already happening. It should be clear that I am intelligent, perceptive, hip, and will become a major force in American writing. Furthermore, this film of mine promises to be heady, surrealistic pastiche of the not-so-distant future. It is SF at its best...highly recommended.(1)
This is the story of...
The effects of this X-action in 2035 were almost immediately visible. Gallup Polling Service reported a 99.04% approval rating. Dudes ‘round the states could be heard screechin and joicin as the news was broadcast. However, TeleJetson (the hybrid appliance that contains the now obsolete family bank, telephone, television, personal computer, flash-bake oven, and washer-drier) failed to i.d. the rebels, the dissenting 0.96% who refused to ‘bide by the new standards. The military bases were converted almost over night into Demographix facilities, where consumer response (nichetics) is spewed into the mainframe Adverticus computer which then converts its results into sit com markup language for KAOS and The Writers Posse.
The buyout by KAOS of the US did not dramatically affect the populace. According to Gallup, 99.786% of American households had already memorized the Book of KAOS (4) , a religious document written by Joel Eisner and David Krinsky in 1984, prior to the official x-fer of power. As early as 2000, the Foreword to the Book of KAOS, written by Alan Hale (a k a the Skipper on "Gilligan's Island"), was being ritually recited before meals by 92.3% of American families and 99.89% of children born after 1970 had known sit com language from the time of birth. Gallup confirms that, by 2049, 97.344% of Americans reported feeling no fear.
Because real life for the imagineers is a precise reproduction of the TV programming of the twentieth century, TeleJetson no longer needs to present actual living individuals on its program schedule. All characters are simulated composites of famous dead actors. Not only does this cut the cost of hiring talent, but it allows for more “hyperrealistic” and fantastic sets. New sitcom episodes are now on TeleJetson seven days a week instead of one.
The 0.214% of the population who has not mastered the language and customs of KAOS belongs, chiefly, to quasi-intellectual enterprises that are located on the fringes of towns. These outlaw outfits are entirely subsidized by profits from European, Asian, and African publishing companies. Because their members are not citizens of the new America, they have not been given access to TeleJetson. Also, because many of these individuals are markedly different in their dissent, they have not succeeded in building a united front against KAOS. Until...yesterday.
Twirling Newspaper with Bold Headlines "Anyone Seen DeLillo?"
Enter Mikhail Bakhtin, “Gotta Getta Genre Enterprises”
JB: So yesterday I’m watching old Boy George videos for research, right, and I get interrupted by this singing telegram from Don De Lillo’s wife yesterday. It says: “Don gone. stop. doo wop doo wop. stop. Need your help. stop. ow. stop. KAOS written all over. stop. fruit roll-up. stop. thanks. stop. 357. stop. stop. stop.” After the skinny kid who’s singing the telegram is done, he looks at me with a blank face and says in a gravelly voice, “You’re just gonna love it.” I say, “Love what?” He says, “The feel of the new Ford Ranger. Four wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning, drivers-side airbag.” Just like that--mesmerizes me. I’m too busy staring when this weirdo castrati takes my hand--this is sick--and he licks the top of it and runs away. And today, there’s this weird technicolor rash all over the back of my hand. [He shows the rash to MB. This is its shape:]
Somehow it must be connected to KAOS and De Lillo. Next thing you know, some freakchild will be licking your hand. That’s why I called. I’m planning to go to KAOS headquarters, if I can find it, and I need your deciphering abilities, pod. I don’t speak no sitcom, ya dig?
MB: You called the right person. They don’t call me Generic Man for nothing. This looks like your classic spy episode.
JB: You think so? See, I didn’t think that KAOS actually used the sitcom format to conduct its business. That would be too obvious to the imagineers.
MB: Don’t you get it? It’s precisely because it is so obvious that they can’t get it. Imagineers aren’t “programmed” to rebel or question their role. Therefore, KAOS doesn’t have to hide its exploitation of imagineers. If something seems odd or illegal, imagineers won’t register alarm because they assume that whoever is perpetrating the act will learn their lesson by the end of a twenty-one minute time interval. Like the old sitcoms, they assume that everyone is like them and that no one will change. After all, they think, why would anyone want to do anything differently from the Book of KAOS. It makes life so easy, right?
JB: So what’s our plan of action, Mickey?
MB: (has a thought) Wait! Let me see your hand for a second.
JB: (holds out his infected hand) Why, what is it?
MB: (seriously) This is no rash, my friend. This is a map.
Both men gasp
Men jump in Baudrillard’s 1963 Alpha Romeo and head towards the Golden Freeway.
I’m producing too many stories at once because what I want is for you to feel, around the story, a saturation of other stories that I could tell and maybe will tell or who knows may already have told on some other occasion, a space full of stories that perhaps is simply my lifetime, where you can move in all directions, as in space, always finding stories that cannot be told until other stories are told first, and so, setting out from any moment or place, you encounter always the same density of material to be told. In fact, looking in perspective at everything I am leaving out of the main narration, I see something like a forest that extends in all directions and is so thick that it doesn’t allow light to pass: a material, in other words, much richer than what I have chosen to put in the foreground this time, so it is not impossible that the person who follows my story may feel himself a bit cheated, seeing that the stream is dispersed into so many trickles, and that of the essential events only the last echoes and reverberations arrive at him; but it is not impossible that this is the very effect I aimed at when I started narrating, or let’s say it’s a trick of the narrative art that I am trying to employ, a rule of discretion that consists in maintaining my position slightly below the narrative possibilities at my disposal.--Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a travele (5)r
At this point, you’re saying to yourself, “I didn’t want A Long, Dull Project where the Creator Includes Extremely Long Quotations.” You’re wondering if each video segment will be like the one before. You hope not. You want a Project that Moves like a Dolphin-- sleek, enigmatic, cool, fast, simple. You want a Project like New Improved Aqua Fresh. You look at the other viewers, some men, some women, for their reactions to Jennifer Hoyt’s project. All other viewers, except one, have a look of uncomfortable politeness, complete with tiny smile and shifty eyes. You ask yourself where the project is going, because you don’t get it. You belong to the genre of people who hate to not get it. You are impatient and hungry and your throat is dry. You want vegetarian egg rolls and a cold Coke. Or you want a bean burrito from Taco Bell. Quiet now. The action is about to begin.
JB: This doesn’t look like KAOS’s headquarters. It’s nothing but a small house.
MB: I’m inclined to agree with you, but we should still go in and perhaps they know where we can find the right building. Hmmm...this is the kind of house where the husband drinks Milwaukee’s Best in front of the TeleJetson while the kids run around in dirty clothes and the mother cheerfully screams, “Shut up, you two, or I’ll bash your face in!”
JB: This is the kind of house where the family dog pukes in your shoes, where Hostess snack cakes line the cabinets, where cigarette ashes and Tupperware smell up the kitchen....(realizes he is getting carried away). Oh, well, let’s go in.
MB: Remember, Johnny, there’s a good chance they’re speaking sitcom. If you listen carefully, you might be able to pick it up and speak it yourself. The key is finding out which genre and time period the show they’re doing belongs to. (almost forgetting) Oh, by the way, here’s a laminated card I made for you that contains some of the more common plots that families perform at this time of year:
MB: Don’t mention it. If we should get separated for any reason, just consult this card. Oh, and take these shoes. (MB hands JB a pair of red ruby loafers.)
JB: Thanks, but they’re really not my style. I’m more of a Doc Martens kind of guy. MB: I realize that Jean. Even though, fashion-wise, these aren’t that appealing, they have great powers. Always keep them on your feet. And keep your feet on the ground.
JB: Why do I feel like I’m never going to see you again?
MB: Oh, we’ll see each other. I’m just giving you this stuff because I think we should enter the house separately in case De Lillo’s being held in there.
JB: Okay. Here we go...
Girl: (to JB) Uncle, Uncle, Uncle, Uncle, Uncle!!! You’re back! What did you bring me?
JB: (taken aback by sight of clean-scrubbed blond waif; scans plot list) Uh, uh, um...(reads carefully) “Moonshine, which usually has characters drunk at the end.”
Girl: (giggles hysterically) You silly old man! Wait till I tell Daddy what you said!
JB: (reading once again from list to see if she can be shocked.) “I think I’m pregnant.”
Girl: (unflappable; face registers no self-consciousness) Don’t you worry, Kimberly, I promise I won’t tell Dad. And I promise I won’t tell Willis....(turns around mechanically) Hey, Willis! Come here! Kevin got Kimberly knocked up while they were at the ski cabin!
JB: (to himself) This is worse than I ever imagined. And yet, there’s something fun about it. There’s something inviting about--
Girl: (affects a lisp) Daddy, you silly bear. Santa’s not at Macy’s. He’s at Bloomie’s. I saw him myself! [laugh track]
JB: (joking) “I think I’m pregnant.”
DD: I told you, Princess, to wait until Christmas.
JB: Don, it’s me, Jean Baudrillard. I work for Image Control. You’re wife sent me to look for you. She was worried that you were kidnapped by KAOS.
DD: Hi, Ward. Look, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about the Beaver. He can’t seem to keep himself clean! He can’t seem to keep himself clean! He can’t seem to keep himself clean! He can’t seem to keep himself clean! [DD’s eyes are spinning] He’s a dirty bastard! He’s a fucking asshole, no-good little prick! Fuck him! I’m gonna kill him, yeah, when I get my hands on him, I’m gonna rip his filthy face off! And then I’m gonna throw myself on him because he’s so hot, he wants it bad.
JB: Don? [starts shaking him] It’s me, Don! [Looks over at little girl, whose eyes are also spinning]
JB: That about does it for me. I’m outta here...[skedaddle music]
MB: Quick! Get in the car!
JB: Whew! That was a close one!
MB: Yeah! Something tells me we’re not in Kansas anymore. [Audience groans]
JB: Mick, you’ve got a map on your cheek.
MB: Johnny, my friend, you have a second map on your forehead.
JB: All of a sudden, I don’t feel so good.
MB: I’m afraid we’ve been infected with something. Based on some old plots I’ve studied, I’d say that we have a limited time to save ourselves from this virus before it kills us. We need the kind of person who can give us the whole picture. Somebody who has a plan. We need Umberto Eco.
JB: (groans) Not the Brain!
MB: But he’s the only one who can help us!
JB: He’s no help. All he’ll do is make fun of us for getting into this in the first place and then he’ll send us a huge bill.
MB: When he finds out what we saw, he’ll be interested, trust me. There’s a good chance that he’s going to be targeted also. Although we still don’t know what we’re being marked for.
MB: You know there’s no such thing as death, bozo.
JB: Yes, of course, but I....I...I’m feeling....fain..I’m dying....[gasping soundtrack]
MB: Oh, for crying out loud, Johnny boy! [shoves cigarette into JB’s mouth]
JB: That’s much better! Thanks!
MB: Now, get in the car. We need to go to Eco’s shop and get to the bottom of all this.
UE: (a brain in a jar is on the phone) mmm...yes...well, after all, the crisis of contemporary bourgeois civilization is partly due to the fact that the average man has been unable to elude the systems of assumptions that are imposed on him from the outside, and to the fact that he has not formed himself through a direct exploration of reality. (Eco, 83) Yes, you’re welcome. I’ll tell my secretary. Goodbye. (notices MB and JB) Well, well, if it isn’t Heckle and Jeckle! Nice tattoos, boys! What can I do for you on this lovely day?
MB: Listen, Umberto, we didn’t come here for your lip. Or your torso for that matter [laugh track]. We came to get your advice before we weaken and become incapacitated by KAOS.
UE: Let’s back up for a second, shall we? How did you boys get those things on your bodies?
JB: I got the first one from a singing telegram boy. The second at this awful house on my tattoo map.
MB: That’s where I got mine as well.
UE: Do you recall the name of the singing telegram boy?
JB: (thinks hard) Yes, I remember now! His name was William S. Burroughs! He rubbed his tongue all over my hand.
UE: I see. And what caused the second one?
JB: Believe it or not, the Leave it to Beaver episode called “Cleaning Up Beaver.” (JB’s and MB’s eyes start to spin and they sit down on the floor.) I feel faint... I feel so...sleepy...so...tired..I think...I’ll just...take a little... (stretches out on floor and falls asleep next to MB who’s already asleep).
UE: These idiots couldn’t recognize the forest for the trees. This is right out of The Wizard of Oz for Christ’s sake. (Spies Max Frisch standing in the corner) Well, what is it Maxie? What’s that you’ve got in your hands?
UE: (Reads aloud) “Depersonalization Disorder is characterized by a persistent or recurrent feeling of being detached from one’s mental processes or body that is accompanied by intact reality testing.” Lovely, dear. Thanks so much. Betty, be a darling and file this. Now what are we going to do about the mess on the floor? Where did this field of poppies come from? Maxie, sweetheart, come over here and clean this stuff up! We’ve got some sawdust in the closet. Try that. Beautiful. Okay, what to do....what to do...Good grief, look at the time. We’ve only got three minutes left to resolve this thick plot. Let’s see: who do I know on the inside? Ah, yes, the Haraway-Krokers!
[credits start rolling]
This has been a production of KAOS TeleJetson. Stay tuned tomorrow when Georges Bataille meets The Flying Nun on Everyone’s a Critic, the TV show Americans can’t stop talking about.
2 killed by the Gallup Poll and bought out
3 These are the Three Principles of Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong.
4 The book's original title was Television Comedy Series: An Episode Guide to 153 TV Sitcoms in Syndication, published by McFarland & Company, Jefferson, NC, 1984.
5 Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler, Trans. William Weaver (New York: Harvest, 1981) 109.