14 October 2009

The Meme Cloud, Part 2

Software/Hardware: Commodore 128

Back when I was about 10 or 11 years old, the only computer I had that was user programmable was the Commodore 128 (I went through several models, but the 128D was my favourite, and the longest lasting).

At the time I was addicted to Genesis and Super Nintendo games such as Phantasy Star II, Starfox, and Super Mario Kart. I wanted nothing more than to be able to make my own 16-bit video games.

The Commodore, while woefully underpowered for anyone with 16-bit ambitions, was the closest thing I had. Far from sneering at the primitive machine, I threw myself into learning how to coax anything video-gamey out of it. I tricked it out with a RAM expansion cartridge and set to work.

For the most part I was interested in making graphics, and ended up making more intro and cinema sequences for games than games themselves. I never moved beyond Basic 7.0, squeezing every last drop out of it instead of attempting the seemingly insuperable task of learning the arcane Machine Language.

I have many fond memories of the era, and even if I never accomplished much of note with the Commodore, it helped to shape me into a programmer and video game designer. The abstract lessons I learnt in those early years are still with me, even in the age of Game Maker, when there are almost no graphic, memory, or processor limitations.

TV Series: Mr Bean

I watched Mr Bean because I loved Rowan Atkinson's performance as Blackadder.

Mr Bean is almost the exact antithesis of Blackadder, but equally well-performed and hilarious. While Blackadder is the epitome of sophisticated verbal wit, Mr Bean is the epitome of simple physical comedy.

But it's not your average tired slapstick routine. It's exceptionally clever, like when Bean is brushing his teeth and changing into his suit while driving his mini - with his feet. Even watching the man prepare a sandwich is funny.

Music (Band): They Might Be Giants

I have Sega to thank for turning me on to TMBG, as their song "Mammal" was on a Sampler CD that shipped with the Sega CD to show off its CDA playing capabilities. The song was a true novelty, a dollop of weird in my otherwise Beatles soaked music world. To this day it remains a favourite of mine, and the only song on the sampler that I remember at all.

It wasn't until I began to listen to the Dr Demento show regularly that I encountered TMBG again. That's where I heard most of their hits, like "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)", "Why the Sun Shines", "Birdhouse in Your Soul", and "Particle Man". It was great to discover that that little band I had a soft spot for because I associated them with the day I got Sonic CD actually had more to offer.

The first time I ever saw them performing was on "The Screensavers" (which I watched religiously at the time). John & John's charming and quirky personalities (as well as the sheer fact that they were willing to be on a geeky show like The Screensavers) won me over, and I had to become an active fan and follower.

The thing I like the most about TMBG is their ability to make a song out of anything. "Hovering Sombrero", "I've Got a Fang", "Unrelated Thing", "Mink Car", "Edison Museum"... the list goes on and on. No other band expresses that prodigious overbubbling zest for clattering around and having fun making music for music's sake as well or as much.

Music (Artist): Roger Miller

Because Roger Miller seems like something only boring old people would listen to, it may come as some surprise that someone who just cited TMBG can squeeze him in their Meme Cloud. It becomes less surprising, however, when one realises that Disney's animated Robin Hood was how I was first introduced to his music. And less surprising still, because it was also the Dr Demento show that offered further exposure - significantly, "I'm A Nut", one of the best novelty songs ever written. In fact, Roger Miller's song "Whistlestop" was sped up and remixed to create the infamous Hampster Dance, and you can't get much more relevant than that, can you?

In all seriousness, though, his songs can range from wry to bittersweet to uproarious, but they're all sung with such an honest, soul-baring frankness that it plays havoc with your natural laugh / cry instincts.

Not only is this the only country-and-western music I will tolerate, but I actively adore it.

TV Series (Animated): The Adventures of Tintin

Here I'm specifically referring to the Ellipse / Nelvana cartoon. Though I'm sure the original books by Herge are fabulous as well, I can't speak for them because I haven't bothered to read them yet (I have a general dislike for the comic book format that I'll have to overcome first).

The wonderful thing about the cartoon is that it is refreshingly adventurous. Almost all children's adventure cartoons these days are terrible. Not least because of the stringent rules about depictions of violence. With the inability to depict realistic guns, or show any blood whatsoever, all action sequences devolve into mindless bonecracking fistfights, numbing explosions of ever increasing magnitude, and laser weapons that seem programmed to miss. The Japanese are able to make more entertaining adventure cartoons for the same age group, but by the time they reach our shores they more often than not are bowdlerised, impotent (sometimes to the point of being unintelligible, as is the case with some Yu-Gi-Oh! storylines), and poisoned by cringe-inducing dubbing.

But Tintin avoids all of those pitfalls. It harks back to the same era as does Indiana Jones, when men were men (and dogs, aparently, were superhumanly adorable). It's just adventure, plain and simple - with exploration, intrigue, danger, and yes, real guns. There's no cynicism, no "look at how awesome we are", and no gaggle of identical superfriends with 5-foot wide shoulders and the same brand of humour as the House scriptwriter who "wrote" all their lines (you can't tell I hate Justice League Unlimited, right?).

And it also has the best orchestral theme song this side of a John Williams score.

I'm hoping that the new CG movie does at least as well, but I'm not terribly optimistic about it.

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