Words in a Row

Spelling and grammer and all that stuff--supposibly its like, real important!

To Gilligan or Not to Gilligan

You know what’s wrong with kids these days? I’ll tell ya what’s wrong with kids these days!

When I was a kid, every­one I knew was famil­iar with the aria “Votre toast je peux vous le ren­dre” from the opera Car­men, aka “The Tore­ador Song” (skip ahead to 1:12):

No, we weren’t opera buffs. Bear with me a sec.

Car­men is an unusu­al opera, giv­en that its libret­to was orig­i­nal­ly in French.

Here are the orig­i­nal lyrics in French:

Toréador, en garde! Toréador!
Et songe bien, oui,
songe en combattant
Qu’en oenoir te regarde,
Et que l’amour t’attend,
Tore­ador, l’amour, l’amour t’attend!

And here’s a rough Eng­lish translation:

Tore­ador, on guard!
Tore­ador!
Tore­ador!
And con­tem­plate well!
Yes! Con­tem­plate as you fight!
That a dark eye is watch­ing you,
And that love is wait­ing for you,
Tore­ador! Love, love is wait­ing for you!

My friends and I didn’t have the first clue about Car­men, much less opera in gen­er­al. We just knew a frag­ment of the aria with (at the time) mild­ly risqué alter­na­tive lyrics; a few years lat­er we knew the aria with some oth­er amus­ing lyrics we saw on TV.

You are now about to date your­self with one of three reactions:

  1. You’ll rec­og­nize the aria by its qua­si-risqué Eng­lish lyrics
  2. You’ll rec­og­nize it by the fun­ny TV lyrics, or
  3. You don’t rec­og­nize it at all, in which case I would tell you to get off my lawn, but you already got bored and are watch­ing pim­ple-pop­ping videos or some­thing instead.

Here are the mild­ly risqué lyrics:

Tore­ador!
Don’t spit upon the floor!
Use the cuspidor!
That’s what it’s for!

That’s not very naughty, you’re think­ing. But this was a long time ago, when any­thing with even the most oblique ref­er­ence to any­thing scat­o­log­i­cal or burps or farts or spit­ting or what­ev­er was hys­ter­i­cal­ly fun­ny because they’d get you in trou­ble.1

Now, here is the TV ver­sion I men­tioned: It occurred in an episode of Gilligan’s Island titled “The Pro­duc­er.” In “The Pro­duc­er,” a film pro­duc­er crash-lands on the island, so the cast­aways cre­ate a musi­cal ver­sion of Shakespeare’s Ham­let.

As one does.

So they cob­ble togeth­er a mashup of var­i­ous oper­at­ic frag­ments with (sort of) the plot of Ham­let. In this case they mashed up Lord Polo­nius’ speech to Laertes (and here are the fun­ny TV lyrics I men­tioned earlier):

Nei­ther a bor­row­er nor a lender be
Do not for­get! Stay out of debt!
Think twice, and take this good advice from me:
Guard that old solvency!
There’s just one oth­er thing you ought to do:
To thine own self be true!

(Skip ahead to 3:30 in the video):

Shock­ing­ly, Gilligan’s Island did­n’t rack up lots of awards. But “The Pro­duc­er” snagged a spot on TV Guide’s list of the top 100 TV episodes of all time.

“The Pro­duc­er” reminds me of some of the best mate­r­i­al from Warn­er Broth­ers’ car­toons or Sesame Street: They can pro­duce high-qual­i­ty, hilar­i­ous enter­tain­ment that both chil­dren and adults love. Not because it appeals to a low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor with fart or poop jokes (don’t get me wrong—well-executed fart or poop jokes can be a plea­sure sublime).

No, it’s because they can appeal to chil­dren at their lev­el and adults at their lev­el2 (I could get into a sim­i­lar com­par­i­son of “The Rab­bit of Seville” (sor­ry; but YouTube does­n’t have this one), or “What’s Opera, Doc?” (same here), for instance, both of which should have won Nobel Peace prizes).

Where was I? Oh, yeah: “Kids these days.”

Like every gen­er­a­tion ever, today’s kids think they invent­ed every­thing cool—sex, f’instance. Or more specif­i­cal­ly in this case: Memes.

A meme is a lit­tle snip­pet of a cul­tur­al fad or joke all the cool kids know. But kids these days didn’t invent memes. They just dumb­ed them down.

Memes these days are some idiot on Dr. Phil say­ing “Cash me ous­side; how bow dah?” Or a gamer scream­ing “Leeroy Jenk­ins!” as he gets all his team­mates killed. Or dab­bing, or Nyan Cat, or Grumpy Cat, or Ceil­ing Cat Is Watch­ing You Mas­tur­bate, or Philoso­rap­tor or Tide Pod Chal­lenge or a zil­lion oth­er things.

Many of these are rib-crack­ing fun­ny, but they don’t go any­where. They’re a mile wide and an inch deep. Flash­es in the pan.

If you vis­it Know Your Meme and search for pop­u­lar memes, you’ll find ref­er­ences to a fun­ny line in a show or amus­ing acci­dent or bizarre news sto­ry that caught the public’s atten­tion: DAMN, Daniel!; Oh, wait: You’re seri­ous? Let me laugh even hard­er!; Ermagerd! Gers­berms!—stuff like that.

And since the Inter­net has giv­en most peo­ple the atten­tion span of a hum­ming­bird on crack, I guess that’s noth­ing to sneeze at.

But again: They don’t go any­where. With memes, the name of the game isn’t to suss out where they came from and who start­ed it and where they got the idea from and oth­er inter­est­ing triv­ia. With cur­rent memes, the goal is to acquire pho­to­graph­ic mem­o­ry of the words or pho­tos accom­pa­ny­ing the meme so you can toss them out there online so every­one will chuck­le at how smart you are.

And how does one acquire this ency­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge? Sim­ple: By stay­ing online and plugged in 24/7/365.

While No. 1 Son and The Chow­der were grow­ing up, My Pre­vi­ous Best Half worked Sat­ur­days for a few years; a bit lat­er I worked as a free­lance con­trac­tor with super-flex­i­ble hours.

I had the priv­i­lege of spend­ing many price­less hours with my kids at muse­ums, book­stores, the library and so on.

But some­times when I was busy with con­tract work, we hung out at home and watched movies. For Christ­mas one year, First Sis­ter gave me a set of all the Warn­er Broth­ers car­toons ever made; I already owned all of Mel Brooks’ movies on DVD as well, along with most Mon­ty Python movies, and the unri­valed kings of spoof movies: Zuck­er, Abra­hams and Zuck­er, pro­duc­ers of Air­plane, Air­plane II, Top Secret! and the Naked Gun flicks.

Memes are the cul­tur­al equiv­a­lent of triv­ia quizzes. These days “spoof” movies are just strings of loose­ly relat­ed triv­ia fac­ti­cles, but tru­ly great spoofs are more than triv­ia quizzes. If you want to pro­duce tru­ly great spoofs like Blaz­ing Sad­dles or Air­plane!, you have to love the genre you’re spoof­ing, love it enough to turn it inside out in a way true afi­ciona­dos of West­erns or dis­as­ter movies will rec­og­nize instantly.

Old-school memes like The Tore­ador Song are fun­ny and viral, yes, but if you get inter­est­ed in where they come from, you won’t see info like “This meme start­ed when Ben­der the robot said ‘Oh, you were seri­ous? Let me laugh even hard­er’ on Futu­ra­ma.”

That’s what I think, any­way. YMMV. Get off my lawn.

  1. Although I’m com­pelled to point out that TV or movie rat­ings nowa­days are just as con­cerned about char­ac­ters smok­ing as with graph­ic sex or violence.
  2. See what I did there? I said “adults at their lev­el”? Because I’m over 21 but I don’t iden­ti­fy as an adult? Hel­lo? Chee—tough room.

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