Turkey Day Mystery Science Theater 3000 Offering

Enjoy “Johnny at the Fair” and “The Rebel Set” riffed on by Joel and the bots.

For those who don’t know, the premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is that Joel Robinson is stranded on a spaceship with a couple of robots he made himself. A mad scientist and his assistant force Joel and the bots to watch really bad movies, and sell the results to cable TV.

Back in the 90s, Turkey Day often featured a 24-hour marathon of MST3K episodes run back to back. For this Turkey Day, I’m offering just a single episode (#419), consisting of a short and a feature.

The short is about a little boy named Johnny who gets lost at a sort of Canadian World’s Fair, and soon strikes out on his own. (“Haight-Ashbury, please!”)

The feature is a crime drama with a beatnik theme, starring Edward Platt (best known as The Chief in the old Get Smart comedy series). Probably the funniest thing is the coffee house populated by faux Beats, including a really bad poet. As robot Tom Servo riffs: “Cigar, cigarettes, Camus, Sartre, angst, alienation, Wittgenstein…”

One of the cute things about the robots is that they’re often like young children, placing Joel in the role of a parent. In the opening host segment, Joel is reading them scary bedtime stories like In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter, but they’re completely jaded and bored, so he has to look further afield to locate a book that will really frighten them. 😉

The series also includes something called the “Invention Exchange.” In this episode, Joel comes up with a paint-by-numbers kit for color field painters like Mark Rothko.

Please enjoy Mystery Science Theater 3000 #419, and don’t eat too much turkey, Tofurkey, or other seasonal delicacy:

MST3K has a homespun quality — sometimes naive, sometimes unexpectedly hip. It was produced in Minnesota, and one of the identifiable modes of riffing is Joel breaking into his Minnesota housewife persona: “Oh, I never go down to the village. They’re too nutty down there…”

The show quickly became an underground hit, based partly on the motto (run during the closing credits) “Keep circulating the tapes.” Nevertheless, for those who prefer DVDs to dodgy VHS copies, DVDs are certainly available. #419 is included in the 4-disc set The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection – Volume 12.


Of Further Interest

Guamanians! Test your civil defense knowledge
(featuring the MST3K skit “Civil Defense Quiz Bowl”

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Vote For Number 6

An election day screening of The Prisoner: Free For All

As an artist (or at least an artistic type), I prefer not to reduce the world to simple binaries. Still, in the current political landscape many choices come down to whether we want to be kind and loving, or mean and selfish:

Both major parties tend to act out stereotypes of themselves, and neither party is perfect (greed being a nearly universal constant — something we learn at our mother’s knee, so to speak). Still, there’s a difference between bad and worse. Politics in general is a cutthroat business, but there’s more kindness and compassion among the democrats. Whatever their faults, they recognize that affordable health care, an inclusive society, and concern for the environment are ideals worth fighting for. That’s why I personally tend to support democratic candidates.

Of course, the political world can look rather surreal, and one can reasonably question the extent to which our votes make a difference. They do make a difference, though perhaps not as much as good government types would lead us to believe. All that said, get out and vote!


Sidebar: Doctor Who – The Beast Below

In the annals of televisual speculative fiction, perhaps ranking equally with The Prisoner: Free For All is Doctor Who: The Beast Below:

It’s arguably about the exploitation of labour, or exploitation of Third World resources by First World powers. It’s also about repressive tolerance. You are free to protest, but those hitting the “protest” button are quickly whisked to Starship UK’s dank lower extremities. For those who care to see it, there’s even a spiritual lesson at the end about those who would torture the boatman who is carrying them in his spiritual vessel. Someone so old, so kind (and the very last of his kind) that he could not bear to hear the children crying.

One of the best New Who’s, with a fine balance between political commentary, emotional intensity, a great sense of style, and splendid dashes of humour.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Of Further Interest

Survival, Friday The 13th, Doctor Who, and Black Cats
The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant
Donald Trump vs. Ferris Fremont
Will The Real Mr. Magoo Please Stand Up?
Scott Pruitt: Of Mattresses and Moisturizer

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The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant

A science fiction podcast from Lightspeed Magazine

UPDATED! Having known many vegetarians — including some who worked in or even owned vegetarian restaurants — I thought I would post this podcast of a story called “The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant,” by Rachael K. Jones. You might say it’s about the difficulties of the restaurant business, and the problems caused by meat. 😉 [Click to listen:]

 

More specifically, it’s about a bunch of cyborgs who are fleeing human beings; only their stolen spaceship is a food service vehicle, so they keep getting pinged by human ships wanting to place takeout orders.

To buy time, the cyborgs try and fill these orders. Despite having no experience as cooks, they eventually manage to flesh out a menu and expand their customer base. This leads them to the cusp of a momentous decision: Should they really lam it back to the cyborg factory, henceforth to live only among their own kind? Or should they continue to perfect their culinary skills and scoop out a place for themselves in the restaurant biz, catering to the hopelessly illogical tastes of humans? It’s really something of a head-scratcher…

In the meantime, they must wrestle with problems of low morale and scanty resources. The personality conflicts so common among kitchen staff inevitably arise.

Despite my deadpan synopsis, this is a laugh-out-loud funny story made even better by narrator Claire Benedek’s masterful voice acting. She creates a convincing contrast between Friendly — the most human of the cyborgs — and Engineer, who becomes most obsessed with cooking.

Rachael K. Jones is a gifted storyteller with an ear for dialogue and an unflagging sense of craft. She knows how to mix it up, too. Perhaps funniest are the restaurant reviews which trickle in, helping the cyborgs tweak their recipes:

Like the chefs closed their eyes and dumped handfuls of ingredients onto the grill. But they didn’t charge me anything, so I’m giving it two stars instead of one.

This impressive audio offering is brought to you by Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams. Click on their link to find out more about them, including their podcasts produced by Skyboat Media. Audio intro and outro by Jim Freund of Hour of the Wolf fame. Illustration by Christopher Park.

“The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant” is from Lightspeed #91, where you can also read the story in text format.


Sidebar: Unusual Foods and Dinners from Hell

Movie & TV buffs have already made numerous lists comprising this category, leaving me very little, ahem — meat on the bone. But here are a couple of items which seem to have escaped the going lists:

Michael Howard

Manchester: Hive of Industry

The Internet is all abuzz with this lighthearted tribute to Manchester, Mancunians, science fiction, and bees. But is the author simply winging it?

Last Tuesday was the one year anniversary of the tragic terrorist attack at a Manchester concert venue which killed twenty-two people and injured hundreds more. The day was marked by prayers, speeches, tears, floral tributes, and capped by a mass sing-along in Albert Square estimated at over ten thousand people:

I always think singing says more than sermons, but I did watch part of the services at Manchester Cathedral live via YouTube.

I had written something serious at the time of the event last year. But as laughter is also good medicine, I thought I’d post something funny about Manchester’s renewed identification with the bee as a symbol of– what, exactly?

An article in The Guardian suggests: ‘Peaceful but not to be messed with’ – how the bee came to symbolise Manchester. Apparently, Manchester’s cotton mills were once colloquially known as beehives.

The beehive in pop culture: a hairdo.

But neither industriousness nor spikiness seem the qualities which formed the iconography of bees after the 2017 terrorist attack. Rather, it’s as if the Mancunian hive mind suddenly hit on cheerfulness as a quality of bees. They don’t give in to despair or melancholia, don’t isolate themselves and pine. They stay together, fly right, and keep to their schedules. They carry on producing sweet honey.

A cute, cheerful bee courtesy the People’s History Museum in Manchester

Like Mancunians post May 2017, bees are also an endangered species:

And in a diverse city which can’t always agree on words, the bee may be a shared icon which transcends language, a visual code signifying oneness and positivity. In a city where people practice many religions (or none at all), the bee may have become a universal symbol for feelings that would otherwise get lost in translation.

But how does science fiction treat the bee, particularly bad or camp sci-fi? This pressing question, pondered by sages, is precisely what we’ll tackle in the clips below:

Before viewing our next sci-fi clip, let’s take a short musical break. After all, the lilting melodies of Rimsky-Korsakov might have a soothing effect on bees:

Bees! Are you soothed and sleepy yet? If not, perhaps the style was too vigorous. What we need is a more innocent, childlike approach:

Still not sleepy? Well, tonight’s Late Late Late Show happens to feature:

In response to such an eccentric artefact from the 70s, one can only wax philosophical and say: It be what it be…

Conclusion

Clearly, cheerfulness and industry are not the only qualities we can ascribe to bees. Their hive minds may strike some as a threat to human individuality, and their female superior culture can easily be twisted into a femme fatale meme.

Their industriousness might be given a murderous bent by the perennial mad beekeeper. And even the casual stray bee has proven a nuisance to Wimbledon competitors. But I think Mancunians have the right idea in staying busy and cheerful.

The Manchester Evening News reports that the Tree of Hope established after the Manchester bombing is now home to a colony of bees.

Bonus Clip
Potent Quote

“But I still don’t understand what motivated them.” –Captain Peters (Cliff Osmond) at the end of Invasion of the Bee Girls

MSTie Trivia

When riffing on The Deadly Bees, Crow T. Robot suggests these book titles:

  • How To Raise Bees To Kill People
  • Beekeeping for Lunatics
  • Apiaries for the Criminally Insane

Mike Nelson: Just for today I thought I’d communicate as the bees do.
Tom Servo: Bees communicate through movement and odour.
Mike Nelson: I’ll just be using movement.

MST3K’s Michael J. Nelson dressed as a bee, flanked by robots Crow and Tom Servo.

Souvenir Shop

This lovely bee girl ring as worn by Anitra Ford is available from manchestersouvenirs.co.uk. JK

Barnburner Encore
Riddle

What does this post have in common with the New Testament?
Answer: They’re both concerned with bee attitudes!

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Donald Trump vs. Ferris Fremont

Comparing Donald Trump with the fictional president of an authoritarian state conjured up by SF writer Philip K. Dick. Listen to a short audiobook clip and see what resonates with you.

Radio Free Albemuth is a novel by P.K. Dick written in 1976, published posthumously in 1985. It’s not a final draft, and so has an improvisatory air that’s sometimes enjoyable, sometimes not.

Despite its flaws, there’s a lot to like; but I’m not reviewing the book here, or dealing with the totality of its plot and vision of America in the mid-70s, nor with Dick’s unique brand of gnosticism. My narrow purpose today is to compare a Philip K. Dick character — Ferris F. Fremont — with a Republican Party character — Donald J. Trump.

To lay the groundwork, I should nevertheless give a few minimal plot details. Radio Free Albemuth takes place in an alternate history where America has become an authoritarian state under the bootheel of president Ferris F. Fremont — sometimes described as a composite of Joseph R. McCarthy and Richard M. Nixon.

This is a dark period for America, but help has come in the form of VALIS — who in P.K. Dick’s iconography might be God, or might be an AI entity from a distant star. (But that doesn’t concern us here).

Groups supporting Fremont include FAP, or “Friends of the American People,” a right-wing populist group which spies and informs on citizens. Members of this group are called FAPers.

The rest is fairly self-explanatory, and the fun lies in tallying up the ways in which Trump resembles Fremont (and the ways he doesn’t).

Dick’s alternate history is dark, dystopian, paranoid, and conspiratorial. I’m not for a moment suggesting we live in that world, or that Donald Trump = Ferris Fremont. But as with books like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, asking tough questions about how our present day world compares with those fictional worlds is a great jumping off point for discussions among English and PolySci majors, or anybody else who gives a fig. 😉

So what’s the verdict? How close is Donald Trump to Ferris Fremont? And in what ways does our present world resemble the fictional world of Radio Free Albemuth?

For people who don’t actually listen to the excerpt, I should mention that P.K. Dick has an interesting answer to a perennial question:

Why should such disparate groups as the Soviet Union and the US intelligence community back the same man? I am no political theoretician, but Nicholas one time said, “They both like figureheads who are corrupt. So they can govern from behind. The Soviets and the fuzz, they’re all for shadow governments. They always will be, because basically each of them is the man with the gun. The pistol to the head.”

No one had put a pistol to Ferris Fremont’s head. He was the pistol itself, pointed at our head. Pointed at the people who had elected him. Behind him stood all the cops in the world, the left-wing cops in Russia, the right-wing cops in the United States. Cops are cops. There are only divisions of rank, into greater and lesser. The top cop is probably never seen.

Again, I’m not endorsing this ultra-paranoid (and somewhat simplistic) view, but it does suggest that authoritarianism is authoritarianism, whether left-wing or right-wing.

From another SF writer, Robert Heinlein, I learned the important distinction between bad and worse. The political situation in the US is bad at the moment, but things are far worse elsewhere. We are not yet living in a dictatorship. Still, it remains to be seen whether American democracy can survive the onslaught of billionaires funding covert psyops to shoe in their handpicked candidates, as with Cambridge Analytica.

Note 1: In case this isn’t obvious, much of the novel is written from a pacifist perspective. P.K. Dick is not advocating violence, but does reference the violence used by Ferris Fremont to ascend to power.

Note 2: Regular readers would know that I frequently write about peace studies and the need to create a more peaceful world. To discuss Dick’s dark, dystopian vision is obviously not to endorse it.

Note 3: The excerpt is read by Tom Weiner. I’ve searched for working commercial links to the full audiobook produced by Blackstone Audio, but it appears to be out-of-stock, possibly discontinued.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Links

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
Auspicious Good Fortune (free audiobook!)
Blackstone Audio

Quote of the Day

“The Constitution? We can dismember it for you wholesale…”

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Picasso and the Circus, Part 2

Connecting Picasso and the Circus with Sri Chinmoy, Elena Day, Jim Freund, Genevieve Valentine, and The Outer Limits

In Part 1, I embedded a video of Picasso and the Circus, where a little girl named Elena views Picassos in the museum, with cutaways to a modern-day Parisian circus. I closed by saying this makes me think of many things…

I sometimes listen to Hour of the Wolf, the sci-fi/fantasy radio programme started by the late Margot Adler, and hosted lo these many years by Jim Freund. I remember Jim saying that he loved the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis as a child, but when he reread them in adulthood the magic seemed to be gone.

Aha! I thought to myself. The books are the same, but what has changed? Consciousness has changed! This ties in very nicely with Picasso, who famously said that “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Unless we consciously try to cultivate childlike qualities, those qualities become lost to us — and with them so much beauty and joy!

Students of Sri Chinmoy put on their own amateur circus which has all kinds of crazy and colourful acts meant to bring out childlike qualities:

Madal Circus 1

Madal Circus 2

Madal Circus 3

Madal Circus 4

It’s called the Madal Circus, based on Sri Chinmoy’s childhood nickname “Madal,” which means “kettledum” in Bengali. Of the Madal Circus, Sri Chinmoy said:

Dear ones, Madal Circus gives me the utmost joy, purer than the purest joy. Our philosophy is progress, progress, progress, progress. Let us not change our philosophy! I am begging you to remain young, young, young. Only the young in spirit will realise God.

— Sri Chinmoy, from His compassion is everything to us

Sri Chinmoy drew millions of birds, including this green one which graces the cover of one of his songbooks:

Green Bird c.k.gBlogging is learning, and TIL that Elena Day (the little girl in the film) grew up to create and perform The Green Bird character in Cirque du Soleil:

She has escaped her cage, and desperately wants to fly. But she can’t fly away and join the circus, because she is too awkward. She remains trapped in the urban world like a marionette with tangled strings.

— The Green Bird, Cirque du Soleil press kit

This could easily describe certain former seekers I know who lost their childlike qualities and became spiritually “bankrupt.” 😉

Moving on… Sri Chinmoy wrote this song about a green bird which he translated into English:

O green bird of the blue sky,
Tell me, will you go with me, brother?
I am afraid to go alone
To my Mother’s Home
Which is on the other shore.
No capacity have I
To swim across the river of destruction.
Will you follow me?
Will you help me fly like you
To the other shore
Where my Eternity’s Mother is?

— Sri Chinmoy, from Supreme, Teach Me How To Cry songbook

See also this discussion thread on “Bird Imagery in Secular and Sacred Music.” (I like connecting different sources like this to see what may be discovered by shifting from one frame of reference to another.)

Jim Freund, if you’re out there, I wonder if your frequent guest Genevieve Valentine — author of Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti — would enjoy this post. Her character Elena is perhaps darker and more dystopic than Elena Day’s Green Bird character, but it’s always fun to compare circus motifs and see how they pan out among different artists and genres. Reviewer Abigail Nussbaum notes that Mechanique opens with these lines:

The tent is draped with strings of bare bulbs, with bits of mirror tied here and there to make it sparkle. (It doesn’t look shabby until you’ve already paid.)

This forms a contrast with The Truman Show, which I recently wrote about. If we think of the faked city of Seahaven as a media big top, its illusions are rather high tech compared to those of Circus Tresaulti. In Truman there’s hope that one might escape from conformism and find a world more real, while the dystopic nature of Mechanique suggests that travellers in a dingy, post-apocalyptic world find little ultimate solace in the steampunkish illusions of Circus Tresaulti.

A memorable line from Mechanique reads: “You do strange things out in the world before you join the Circus.” Circus performers tend to live on the outskirts of the city, the outskirts of society, the outskirts of morality. Colourful characters who feel marked by difference may take refuge in a circus subculture where difference becomes a livelihood, a way of life, and ultimately the new norm. It was natural for a bohemian like Picasso to take an interest in the circus.

Picasso--and-friends

The young Picasso with his bohemian friends

I’ve written before about Chinese bohemian San Mao, and about the album Echo, which was a collaboration between San Mao, Chyi Yu, and Pan Ywe Yun. That album actually opens with a song which has a circus motif:

Of course, once one begins to tally up all the film, TV, music, and literature which dallies with some variation on the circus theme, the possibilities are endless. Only yesterday I happened on an old Outer Limits episode where a birdlike alien takes charge of a space ride and sends the ticketholders on a longer journey than they’d planned.

BirdmanThis campy trailer for “Second Chance” (The Outer Limits, s01e23) is highly evocative of the genre:

The no-star cast and noirish photography are refreshing in an age of overproduced technicolor extravaganzas.

Potent Outer Limits quote: “Maybe young people are the only ones who listen and understand. You can’t reach a closed mind.”

PicassoAndTheCircus_v8d_ShorterTwirl_anim_vdub