Spaceship America's video trash

By Jon Roig (
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 29, 1996

By Jon Roig (

I am a man with very large pockets. Not deep pockets for

charity, mind you, but pockets capable of accommodating the

large amount of stuff that I accumulate as I move about in the world. At the end of a long evening out on the town, I can always recount the day's events by examining the cornucopia of fliers, ticket stubs, receipts, and pure garbage that I have built up over the span of a few hours.

As Spaceship America hurtles through time and space, it too collects stuff in its vast pockets € be it in commercial institutions like book or video stores, public institutions like libraries or schools, or in the collective psyches of the citizens of this fine nation. To be sure, much is lost in the flow € I've had the darndest time trying to locate a tape of the "Alf" TV movie from a few weeks ago€but the movies will always be somewhere, preserved by film geeks and Blockbuster alike, available with a few bucks to bribe or pay the right person or corporate entity. Perhaps we should a take a moment to reflect on some of the films and their expressed ideologies, and take another look at where we've been and what we've accomplished.

While authors such as Jane Feuer, Noam Chomsky, and Neil Postman may decry TV as an ineffective medium with which to exchange ideas, nothing can ever be done to reverse this process. Or, as William Irwin Thompson states in his book, The American Replacement of Nature, "It will do no good to try to create some new Amish Lancaster County in which there is no TV, for that quaint space will only become yet another movie set of heritage and transition in the midst of the vast electronic polity." I argue that this is not only a done deal, but a good thing, rather than a bad thing.

First stop on our little adventure through the theme park of history is in the sewers of America: 1984's horror masterpiece "C.H.U.D." In the midst of a time when our president, Ronald Reagan, was quoted as saying that pollution came from trees, the environmental movement bubbled deep underneath the surface of the cultural sea. These days, recycling bins are everywhere, but we still had communists to worry about back then. So our vague, but growing concerns about toxic waste and radiation damage to the environment found their way into mass culture, not through Greenpeace protests, but through the backdoor of horror movies. Campy, yet surprisingly watchable even today, "C.H.U.D." stands as a cultural landmark from a different era.

Like I said, there are the fliers and the pure garbage € but viewed in the right light, even the garbage can be interesting ... at least in theory. Presumably, 1987's "Disorderlies" should've been a bizarre insight into late '80s pop-culture. But, as one might expect from any film starring the infamous Fat Boys, the resulting work had a cripplingly low budget and, as a result, was poorly executed and nearly unwatchable.

And yet, everyone I've talked to who saw "Disorderlies" as a kid really enjoyed the film. Making fun of people's physical deformities just isn't acceptable in these sensitive times. Fat people aren't fair game anymore, unless, as Jane Feuer (who recently traveled to this fine instituion with a lecture titled "Averting the Male Gaze") suggests, the people being laughed at are coded as lower class, white trash, or black.

This is, of course, pure nonsense from a dying and reactionary view of the world that cannot handle the shift from print to image. It is this sort of Gutenberg-era thinking that dooms people and has allowed this sort of self-loathing to build up in our country. He (or she ... remember, we're being sensitive here) who controls the gaze has the power. Ask any politician € what matter in this age of television are the all-powerful image and soundbite? The Fat Boys knew how to exploit their weight problem, and made an odd, yet respectable career out of it that died prematurely of some kind of a massive coronary. And, while academics like Feuer may take a condescending view of the Fat Boys, I can guarantee that more people have heard of them than of her ... and as ideology is exchanged in mass culture by television, I'm willing to bet that they'll have a more lasting impact.

Back in the Reagan years, we didn't have time to fight the battles of the Fat Liberation Front; we had real enemies € well, sort of. No film from the end of the Cold War is more relevant today than 1992's "Falling Down." With all this spare time and paranoia on our hands, we have nowhere to turn but inward € "Falling Down" is an account of a white man (D-FENS) on a journey through the hostile streets of Los Angeles.

D-FENS' encounters with price-gouging foreigners, turf-crazed gang members, insolent fast food employees, and a greedy homeless man perfectly mimic, in narrative form, the ideology of the Buchanan campaign. In a world no longer viewed as safe for the middle class white male, this year great numbers of voters have turned to the conservative Christian commentator for solace. Hey, I guess he'd make a better candidate than D-FENS or any other Dirty Harry clone, but when it comes down to it, there really isn't very much difference between them.

History will mark the last decades proceeding the turn of millennium as a battleground between conflicting outlooks € the old guard "book" people, deeply entrenched in literature and academia, versus the final triumph of the image, as television and movies, led by America's vast entertainment industry, takes precedence and swallows up the world. In fact, it has already happened € nothing shows this better than a quick examination of the media culture that engulfs us. While many may decry political and ideological battles fought out over the vast lattice of electronic networks, it is simply a fact now and there's no going back.