Last year, my blood-brother Watty and I were discussing the layered indictment of free trade and class structure in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Our roommate Goose was hopelessly confused. Watty sighed and gave him a trademark quip: “If you really want to join the conversation, think about three levels up from wherever you are in your brain, and I’ll try to reach down and grab you, okay?”
Goose shook his head and asked, “Where do you guys get this stuff?”
Nick and I stared at each other dumbly.
“I dunno,” I shrugged. “Just from like, knowing things.”
As much as I love that answer, it is a total sham, as most of my answers are. The origin of our astounding “smartitude” comes from three sources:
- excellent parenting/grade school education
- reading the newspaper
- digging through Wikipedia Tunnels for recreation
Wikipedia Tunnels are those strange gaps in space/time where you start out looking up Franz Kafka, and you wake up 3 hours later and there are 30 open tabs on the browser and you’re reading about Azura Class Warships from Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Those missing hours are a haze of speed learning. Some may consider this a waste. Those people are as wrong as the Jem H’Adar were when they thought they could rebel against The Founders in Season 4.
It’s an easy mistake to make.
The real prize of Wikipedia Tunnels is that the material in general doesn’t matter. The attitude of the tunneler does. The easiest way to get the most out of this exercise is to remember that you are an assortment of combusting fractals and energy reacting with the fractals and energy around you — no separation between anything — but if that mindset is spiritually impossible, fear not. [Much of that attitude comes from my history of being read A Wrinkle in Time before bed each night]
An amateur tunneler can start, at the very least, by keeping in mind this question: How does this information apply to me, my generation, and our current situation?
Wikipedia’ing something like “the Pope” can be a mentally intense experience. Truth is almost always extremely scary, and the most “serious” of issues generally look hideously ugly when inspected up close. Entries on serious subjects are like hard drugs. Look what they did to Julian Assange: the whole WikiLeaks project is like Requiem for a Dream. A captivating exploration of loss, deftly edited. A eulogy for our grandfather’s American Idealism with painstaking honesty. No happy endings. For mature audiences only.
So to be safe, start small.
WIKIPEDIA YOUR CHILDHOOD SHOWS
If you were like most children my age, you had at least one hour’s worth of TV time allowed to you everyday. If you sat in on a lecture for an hour every day for a year, you probably learned something whether you wanted to or not. Now’s a great time to freshen up on what shaped you.
Rocco’s Modern Life
Rocco was a chilled out wallaby. He had an incredibly relaxed and optimistic outlook on life despite being surrounded by an urban dystopia run by the evil Conglom-O Corporation.
Conglom-O Corporation is the biggest company in town; it even runs City Hall. [â€¦] Conglom-O does not seem to have a specific purpose or product–it is a giant company that manufactures many products. Conglom-O’s slogan is always shown beneath its name. The slogan is “We own you,” revealing in a later musical episode that they own everything in O-Town. When Ed Bighead was shown to work at Conglom-O in 1961, the slogan stated “We Will Own You” (alluding to the future of megacorporations).
Rocco was a child of the 90’s, a first generation American learning to deal with the impact of the Regan-inspired ultra-capitalism. The comedy was slap-stick potty-humor, but the situations were all based on real-life. In fact, the creator, Joe Murray, often found himself baffled that his stories were interpreted as a kid’s show.
In 1992, two months prior to the production of season 1 of Rocko’s Modern Life, Murray’s first wife committed suicide. Murray had often blamed his wife’s suicide on the show being picked up. He said “It was always an awful connection because I look at Rocko as such a positive in my life.” Murray felt that he had emotional and physical “unresolved issues” when he moved to Los Angeles. He describes the experience as like participating in “marathon with my pants around my ankles.” Murray initially believed that he would create one season, move back to the San Francisco Bay Area, and “clean up the loose ends I had left hanging.” Murray said that he felt surprised when Nickelodeon approved new seasons; Nickelodeon renewed the series for its second season in December 1993.
Thank you, Mr. Murray, for pushing through and using your personal struggles to redeem yourself and entertain/enlighten an entire generation in the process.
Yes, obviously, this was a show about fighting against the corporate greed and atavistic money hoarding of our parents and grandparents (or uncles)â€¦ and doing all this with the idealistic sureness of ducks who found solidarity in adventure as opposed to material goods. But I know what stuck with you most.
The series theme song was written by Mark Mueller, an ASCAP award-winning pop music songwriter who also wrote the theme song toChip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. Episode background music was written by composer Ron Jones. In contrast to how other composers were creating a “patronizing” and “cute” score for the show, Jones says he composed the music with regard to the audience and its intelligence.
The DuckTales Theme was sung by Jeff Pescetto. There are four different versions of the theme song. The original version contained one verse, chorus, bridge, and then chorus. A shorter version of the opening theme was used in The Disney Afternoon lineup with the line, “Everyday they’re out there making Duck Tales, woo-ooh,” taken out. A full-length version of the theme song was released on the Disney Afternoon soundtrack. The full version contains a second verse, and it includes a guitar solo, which is performed with a wah-wah pedal while making duck-like noises. It also has a fadeout ending, unlike the other versions. There is also a rare extended version that was used in the read along cassettes in 1987. It has a sequence order of verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-instrumental break-chorus.
Woo-ooh! This wasn’t kids stuff. This was internationally groundbreaking television.
In Hungary the term “DuckTales generation” (KacsamesÃ©k generÃ¡ciÃ³) refers to the people who were born in the early to mid-1980s, because the death of JÃ³zsef Antall, the first democratically-elected Prime Minister of Hungary was announced during a DuckTales episode in 1993. This was the generation’s first encounter with politics.
How’s that for a legacy?
Almost everyone I know watched Captain Planet. And it’s elementary to deduce that we were being Inception-ed with the concept of environmental concern at a young age. It’s no wonder our generation has held onto it well into our twenties. Almost all the cartoons we watched in the early 90s had a strong green hue. But did you know Captain Planet also taught us about AIDS awareness and fearmongering?
“A Formula for Hate”
The episode titled “A Formula for Hate” (1992) was unique for the series in that it did not deal with environmental pollution or destruction. It was also the first episode in an American children’s animated series to directly deal with the AIDS–HIV pandemic (and also the first to directly mention sex on a children’s show). In the episode, Verminous Skumm brainwashes a local community into thinking the virus can be spread through casual contact, and thus causing people to hate and fear a young man, infected with HIV, named Todd (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, with his mother voiced by Elizabeth Taylor).
Notice the appearance by NPH (who was in the closet at the time, but still delivering a very important message for tolerance towards same-sex relationships). This is heavy stuff.
We were getting educated through that little black box. Some of the themes were hidden. Some just came right out and said it. We were forced to decide, at a young age, who to trust.
Endings of the show also featured Mandel breaking the proverbial “fourth wall” by talking to viewers about the preceding episode. In some part of the episode, Bobby will break the fourth wall by telling the audience his perspective on life.
This shaped me hugely. I was an only child and would spend hours and hours everyday alone with my imagination. I had a bike (not a tricycle like Bobby). And I had a stuffed Eeyore (not a spider). But otherwise, we were pretty similar. Even though I never trusted Howie Mandel (and still don’t), I trusted Bobby. So when he broke the fourth wall and addressed me directly, he was sowing the first seeds of my techno-psychosis while also delivering a strong moral lesson.
But what moral lesson?
17 “Nightmare on Bobby’s Street“ September 28, 1991 Bobby is scared of a mysterious house until he meets the man who lives there. This episode parodies the movie To Kill a Mockingbird.
This episode taught me about the perils of ignorance — how it can lead to fear, bigotry, and isolation. On top of that, Howie Mandel brought me the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 6. Thanks, man. I could almost forgive you for Deal or No Deal now.
Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey
Ted Theodore Logan has always been one of my role models. I watched this movie endlessly on premium movie channels after its release. I wanted, desperately, to believe that if I followed my passion and tried to do goodâ€¦ I could save the world without turning into one of the incredibly lame people we usually put in charge of such things. We all want to change the world – but I wanted to look like an idiot while I did it.
And these “dummies” were enlightened.
I don’t endorse Poison, but I do endorse those song lyrics as an acceptable answer for the meaning of life. And the introduction course to time-travel paradoxes and philosophical worm-holing presented in the third act would come in very handy later in my life. This Wikipedia entry also reminded me that I used to watch the Animated Seriesâ€¦ which is currently embroiled in a fierce legal battle over ownership rights. No DVDs anytime soon.
TAKE A BREAK FROM THE SELF
You can learn wayyyy too much about yourself while you’re deep in a Wikipedia tunnel. So when you get exhausted looking into the mirror, try looking through it. There are many questions and topics to dissect. For instance:
What are your immediate speculations as to the type of person who filled out the character bios for the environmentally conscious children’s animated series Biker Mice From Mars?
Some of the information was harvested from various fan sites, but the person actually in charge of streamlining it — with journalistic ideology and unbiased integrity maintained — is an interesting subject for study.
I, for one, am happy that a man with such triviatic knowledge was able to finally find an outlet where he could reach his target audience. Imagine having such mundane tidbits of fact stuck in one’s headâ€¦ They could eat you alive, those Biker Mice going to town on your frontal lobe.
And what a service he provided while emptying his brain of all that “useless” information!
I don’t know if your memory can reach back this far anymore, but do you remember how frustrating it was when you couldn’t remember an actor’s name in a movie? I’m talking pre-IMDB. It’s no wonder our parents are crazy. Not being able to remember the eyepatch mouse’s name (Throttle) is enough to drive someone over the edge. That feeling is excruciating. How much would you have paid to make it stop? Well, it’s free now.
We’re a spoiled generation.
This is why I’ve donated to Wikipedia multiple times in the past, and why I’ll continue to do so. It’s the only organization that’s ever received any of my money. It’s worth plenty just to keep it ad-free and out of the paws of those who would seek to manipulate the power of knowledge for their own twisted ends.
And trust me, that day is coming. Power corrupts. Evil always takes over. We own you. But the Good that’s there now, it can last a lifetime — if you download it into your brain. So go on, get it while it’s free. Find something random. Look at it. Then look closer. Then extrapolate. Then look back. Now climb a few rungs up. You will get dizzy. You might even black out for 3 hours. But when you wake up, you’ll have more than you went in with and you’ll be higher up the brain-ladder. And then you’ll be able to reach down and help someone else climb up, too.