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Revisiting the original social medium | Chuck's World


Last updated 8/2/2017 at Noon

A few months ago, I had a nice lunch with a young journalist. We talked a bit about the future, which is to say her future. I do a little dance with denial, which strikes me as completely normal, but facts are facts: My life is, statistically speaking, mostly over.

Mortality wasn’t on the menu, though. What we were discussing was the storyteller’s toolbox, and specifically the use of allusion as shorthand. Referring to Hamlet or Hans Solo is a quick and easy way to sketch a personality, for example, and be certain that everyone is on the same page.

It’s tricky, though, particularly for those of us with a few decades of breathing under our belts. As with hall closets, maintenance and vigilance are key. From time to time, we just need to throw stuff out.

I mentioned to this young woman that, when referring to the culture of my formative years, I sometimes talk about “Welcome Back, Kotter,” a forgettable 1970s TV show that, for some reason, I don’t seem to be able to forget.

I’ve used it often as a sloppy touchstone for my generation, something dumb and simple that nevertheless stuck. With someone my age, I’m comfortable name-checking Mr. Kotter and assuming they get it.

My companion just shrugged. The reference didn’t work, nor should it. Time to clean out that closet.

So I’m a little reluctant to mention Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. It’s been 80 years since “Babes in Arms” was made, the first in a series of Depression-era musicals in which remarkably talented youngsters, sometimes in an orphanage, band together to avert some crisis by appropriating a barn and putting on a show. It’s a useful allusion, although I have no idea if its expiration date has come and gone.

Anyway. Last week I found a barn and put on a show. If you follow.

It was actually a small church, one that came with a video projector and a movie screen. Taking advantage of a summer schedule that left this space empty on Wednesday nights, I fulfilled a desire that felt as dusty as a Mickey-Judy duet: I wanted to watch a movie with my friends.

I actually have a history of this. When I was in high school and involved with student government, I discovered film catalogues. We could actually rent movies, have them shipped to school and show them in the auditorium. I got a lot of pleasure (and a bit of power) in coordinating this, picking favorites and sharing them.

I can hear some of you shrugging. I get it. A 40-year-old might have no memory of a time when a favorite movie wasn’t available at the nearest video store. A teenager might not remember video stores.

And I’m the first one to acknowledge the awesomeness of immediate gratification. Whether I want to wallow in nostalgia or catch the latest superhero incarnation, my wishes are my commands. Click, pay, watch. It’s amazing.

It’s also lonely, though. The obvious downside to a culture of choice is that we don’t have to compromise, or collaborate. From Netflix binges to earbuds, we can all listen to, read, work out to or watch whatever we want, wherever, whenever and however it suits us. We just can’t talk about it the next day.

You know this. Everyone knows this. “Game of Thrones” might be your passion, but a casual reference to Westeros is likely to produce blank looks among the company you keep. It can be tempting to just keep your own company, and I’m thinking that can’t be a good thing.

So I did a little experiment in socialization last week, and it turned out to be something that works pretty much the same way it did when I was in high school. We watched Scottish director Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film, “Local Hero,” a personal favorite, but it was less about what and more about how. We saw it together, and afterwards we had some conversations.

Again, I’m grateful to live in the time we do, when whims become reality by just moving a mouse. The brick-and-mortar mentality of even a decade ago seems quaint in the age of Amazon. Who among us hasn’t had a moment or two when we run out of cereal at an inconvenient time? An unplanned trip to the grocery store feels so 1995, somehow. We have to put on shoes and everything.

The risks of convenience aren’t new ones, overly processed food and foreign sweatshops producing inexpensive shirts just being two examples, but I worry mostly these days about isolation, mine and yours.

It’s fun to binge-watch while barefoot, absolutely, but empathy withers in a vacuum, and I don’t see how we survive without empathy. Sometimes we need to go outside.

Or inside a dark room, as the case may be. There are plenty of social activities we can engage in other than movies, although movies are easy. There are dozens of parks in our area showing movies this summer, for example. Bring a blanket, bring the family, hang out with your neighbors and watch an old favorite. You can even take your shoes off.

Maybe it’ll have John Travolta in it, like “Grease.” Maybe somebody like me will mention that he became a star 40 years ago, on a TV show about a high school class taught by a guy named Kotter. Feel free to shrug. I’m used to it.


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