13 August 2018

Good in the Hood

by Steve Hockensmith

Back in July, I wrote a post about Fred Rogers, and you know what? I'm still thinking about the guy. I spend a lot of time in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood, you see. So much so, that a part of me wishes I could become a permanent resident. Since you're visiting this blog, there's a good chance you feel the same way.

I'm not saying I'm dying to move to Pittsburgh. (Mr. Rogers' real neighborhood, you know.) And I certainly wouldn't assume that you want to move there. I wouldn't assume anyone wants to move to Pittsburgh. (Sorry, Pittsburgh! I lived in your suburbs for a couple summers! It was...umm...nicer than at least one other place I've lived!)

I'm also not talking about that electric train set-looking 'hood with the Matchbox cars from the opening credits of Mr. Rogers' show. Though I must say, I wouldn't mind living there, too. It looks so peaceful. You can't imagine a carjacking there. Partially because it looks like it was hit by a cute little Matchbox neutron bomb. There are buildings and cars and even a moving trolley, but there aren't any people. Which is a big plus in my book. Just look at the headlines. Who's causing all the trouble? People, man. And the occasional wombat. But mostly people.

No, the place I've been checking out with my realtor is the realm of good King Friday: the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. You know -- the joint with the hand puppets that Mr. Rogers used to go to when he'd catch his trolley through the wall. (Boy, that sounds like faux hippie talk from a late '60s episode of Dragnet, doesn't it? "Buzz off, pig! I'm gonna drop a lid and catch a trolley through the wall, dig?")

It's not the hand puppets I'm into. (Though I am pretty fond of Daniel Striped Tiger.) It's the Make-Believe. Because the Neighborhood of Non-Make-Believe lately? "Reality"? It sucks. So I've been thinking about relocating.

There are writers who wrestle with grim truths in their works. They win awards. (Or, more commonly, go unpublished.) And there are readers who seek out works that force them to stare deep into the abyss of an indifferent universe and contemplate the fatally flawed humanity floundering in it. They join book clubs. (Or write reviews for The New York Times.)

I'm not that kind of writer and not that kind of reader. I never have been. Tell me "Life is nasty, brutish and short," and I'd say, "Well, duh." Tell me "Life is meaningless," and I'd say, "Yeah...and?" Tell me a good joke, and I'd say, "Thanks."

So, yeah, escapism. I'm into it. It got me through high school. (Thanks, Star Trek! Thanks, Doctor Who! Thanks, DC Comics!) And maybe, just maybe, it'll get me through the collapse of Western civilization. (Thanks, Marvel movies! Thanks, FilmStruck! Thanks, bourbon!)

In the meantime, I want to keep writing. Because, you know, I'm a writer. But I have zero interest in writing about the world of today. See above, re: "Reality." I can barely keep up with "the world of today" anyway. By the time anything I've written comes out, "today" is "yesterday" -- or more like "last year," which may as well be "the Mesozoic Era" given the speed of change nowadays. That's probably why I've been so drawn to historical mysteries and Westerns. Where do you go when the present is an ever-shifting morass of suck and you don't believe in a future? Narnia, maybe. Middle Earth. Or the past.

Which reminds me of another subdivision in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Gene Roddenberry's. Specifically, the Star Trek episode "All Our Yesterdays." I recently had a revelation about it akin to realizing for the first time, when I was in college, that Scooby-Doo's pals in Mystery Inc. were watered down hippies exposing how The Man (as personified by "Mr. Jenkins" or whoever) manipulates fear to get rich. Zoinks, indeed.

In "All Our Yesterdays," Capt. Kirk and crew boldly go to a doomed planet where the population has seemingly disappeared except for one person: Mr. Atoz, a librarian. It turns out Mr. Atoz's "library" is actually a time portal, and everyone has escaped their world's imminent destruction by fleeing into the past.

Jesus! What a metaphor! And I never saw it. Until I was living it.

I'm sure some of you are going to tell me "You've got to live in the present, dude. You've got to fight for the future." Yeah, yeah. I know, I know. And I do, I do. But that's all stuff you've got to do. Reading and writing are things I choose to do. And I choose to ride the trolley through the wall. Dig?


  1. Steve, your post also reminds me of a couple Twilight Zone episodes, The Stop at Willoughby and The Bewitchin' Pool. Though, I believe, one has a happier ending than the other. But in both people escape into a more ideal and idyllic world.

    It (your post) also makes me think of the argument between writing/making serious works vs. pure entertainment. And that always makes me think of the classic Preston Sturges movie Sullivan's Travels, which I tend to write about a lot in that context.

    Good stuff.

  2. Thanks, Paul! I sometimes think about Sullivan's Travels, too. Although my post today makes it seem pretty one-sided, I do have the same argument with myself that Sullivan does in the movie: Am I trying to create something "worthy" and relevant or something diverting and fun? In the end, Sullivan goes for fun, and I do, too. But there is still that (ambitious? pretentious?) part of me that wants to shoot for more.

  3. Steve, I think we can balance and try to go for both fun and entertainment. Though sometimes I just opt for fun and silly, usually satirical. But never for Oh Brother Where Art Thou.

  4. Every so often you see an example of Oh Brother Where Art Thou (the Sullivan's Travels version, not the Coen brothers version) get rewarded. The Best Picture Oscar for the film Crash comes to mind. I don't think 2004 was a great year for movies, but I can think of at least four that were much, much, MUCH better than Crash. But no one was going to give a Best Picture Oscar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Incredibles, Shaun of the Dead or Kill Bill, Volume 2. Yet those are the films that people will be appreciating for years to come. Which maybe proves that Sullivan was right: Oh Brother Where Art Thou might feel "relevant" in the short run, but it's Mickey Mouse who'll be remembered in the long run.

  5. Mickey Mouse will definitely be remembered in the long run. And the Academy created a new category this year, something like Best Popular Film for the hoi polloi. That way they can keep awarding Best Picture to the Oh Brother Where Art Thous...

  6. Without children (other than myself), I would have missed the Mr Rogers thing entirely if a girlfriend hadn't literally lived in his neighborhood. But Star Trek! Yeah.

    And wombats. Who knew!

    How many bats could a wombat bat
    If a wombat could bat bats?

    I made that up. Myself. Just now.

  7. I worked for a hard-ass guy barely this side of gangsterhood. Funny thing, he was a sucker for Disney movies. Kids things could really soften him up.

  8. Yeah, that new Academy Award category -- "Outstanding Popular Film" -- is pretty pander-y, Paul. You're exactly right: It was created so Academy voters can give the Best Picture nod to the usual "important" Hollywood movie while patting Black Panther (or whatever the big smash of the year is) on the head. It's as silly as the People's Choice Awards.

    The hard-ass quasi-criminal who goes all soft and gooey for Disney flicks sounds like a great character for a story or book, Leigh. Since you knew the guy, I'll leave him to you, though!


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