I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.
As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.
The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.
Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…
It was late one February night in 1992. Edmonton’s winters don’t even call their travel agent to book their flight out of town until at least March, so the snow on the ground was thick and slothful. My friend Josh White and I were exercising our teenage stupidity in a place we called Beggar’s Canyon – it was the local zoo’s parking lot, but in the winter months when the zoo lay stagnant, it was the ideal locale for spinning our cars upon the ice, and generally undertaking whatever foolishness we felt to be worthy of our adolescent immortality.
This night, we were hood-riding. That is exactly what it sounds like: one idiot drives the car while the other idiot lays flat upon the hood, trying to syphon just a droplet of action-movie adrenaline into our otherwise mundane lives. I know – don’t do this, kids. We were stupid, and living prior to the age of internet pornography. Were there any cosmic arbiter presiding over nights like those in Beggar’s Canyon we’d have escaped into adulthood with at least one limb missing apiece.
On one run in particular, while Josh was clinging to the hood, aiming a non-existent pistol at me through the glass, I hit a snowbank. Josh flew forward into the (fortunately) pillowy cold, taking the Buick hood ornament clean off with his crotch. The karmic judge let us off with a warning (and for Josh, an ass-bruise) that day. But ever since then, I have held an odd curiosity about hood ornaments. These seemingly useless statuettes upon the tip of a car’s nose perplexed me. Why did we even have them?
The first hood ornaments had a functional purpose. They were called motometers, and they were actually the car’s radiator cap. More specifically, they screwed into the radiator cap which was mounted on the outside of the hood, and displayed the temperature of the fluid within. The early motometers were ugly distractions, so manufacturers began jazzing them up with wings and funky knobs. The Boyce MotoMeter Company was the first to snag a patent for this technology back in 1912. Read more…
A few days ago I slaked my fingers through the questionable history of the television laugh track. While I have always been baffled that one studio audience’s instinctive responses to actual comedy might 1 have been slapped underneath decades-worth of other material, I had no idea there was one guy running the entire show from his garage. One guy whose job it was to make Small Wonder appear as though it was funny to someone. One guy who made us believe there was a studio audience atop bamboo bleachers on Gilligan’s Island.
A laugh track is a form of audience deception, but it’s not the only tool in the manipulative belt of the entertainment industry. And I get it – people slave for weeks or months in preparation for a performance, often to the point where the ‘funny’ disappears for them into the swampy churn of repetition and rehearsal. They don’t want all that work to simply hover in the air around their audience like an unwelcome fart.
So they’ll take a moment of hilarity-response from Milton Berle’s old show and make it sound like Happy Days never lost a step when Richie and Ralph left. And we’ll eat it up, just as audiences have done before us – back before television, when entertainment producers had to be a little more clever and a lot more clandestine with their work.
16th-century French poet and playwright Jean Daurat was the first to plunk his toe into the smoky brine of audience manipulation. Whether it was moral or deceitful is a judgment call; Jean’s artistic guts were in the lines of this play, and he wanted a good response from the ticket-holders. So he did what any desperate artist would do: he bought a bunch of his own tickets and gave them away for free. Well, for “free” meaning that the recipients had promised to supply applause.
And it worked. Read more…
Anytime someone uses the term ‘Mickey Mouse Organization’ to denote a company or government that is inexperienced, ineffectual or somehow incompetent, I wonder why such a saying exists. The real Mickey Mouse organization – in particular the theme parks with Mickey’s trademark ears plastered all over the place – is about as slick and capable a machine as you’ll ever see.
Every facet of the theme park experience is engineered and monitored, from the admin buildings and garbage cans being painted to blend into the landscape, to the meticulous litter monitoring and hidden camera setups.
Oh and there are secrets. Crazy, amazing secrets. Tiny corners of the park that you can’t wander into as a tourist, but with the right connections, you can witness for yourself.
High on my bucket list of places to visit is the mysterious Club 33, located in the New Orleans Square district of Disneyland, not far from the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride. You can approach the door with the number ‘33’ beside it, but unless your name is on the list, you aren’t getting in. Read more…