PANIC! Everything bad is happening and it’s happening to you and everyone you’ve ever cared about! Recession, recession (super spooky echo effect) the recession is not receding. Your hairline is or maybe your head is just getting fat like your ass. There are naked bath salt zombies in Miami, dead cat helicopters from the Netherlands and everywhere fat faced children with hollow eyes glued to Smartphones sexting each other and unknowingly bringing down the singularity on us all. And that’s just the last few weeks. James Cameron has come out of the super villainy closet and declared his nefarious plot to become a space Rockefeller meteor tycoon backed by Google. He’s also revealed his even more nefarious plot to only make Avatar films in the future. Young people are swearing casually and jaywalking with aplomb.
Old people know who Jay Z is now.
People everywhere are using the word catachrestic catachrestically, and on purpose; which is impossible. Right? I don’t know and I’m supposed to be the writer. Life is like being abducted, blindfolded and told to smash open a piñata in order to gain your freedom. Only once you hear the sucker crack open and the candy drop your blindfold falls off and you realize the monster who did this to you also tied up your best friend and that wasn’t jolly ranchers hitting the floor. Holy Diver, life is unbearable. At least some of the time. Luckily there’s an alternative. But if you’ve tried death and that just didn’t take I have good news for you.
Something was invented in the 70’s called pop culture and it’s here to heal us.
In lieu of my usual sockdolager of an article intended to sway you to my righteous path (scientology, the superiority of peanut butter Twix to all other Twix, also the theory that the Amish are actually time travelers from the future sent back to discourage technology and pants for women because of course both led to the panted female robot holocaust of 2112) instead this week I want to simply present a list of comforting culture that I seek out when I feel like disconnecting a little bit from the real world.
Comfort food is described by the scientists at wikipedia as: Food prepared traditionally, that may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal, or simply provide an easy-to-eat, easy-to-digest meal rich in calories, nutrients or both. Comfort foods may be foods that have a nostalgic element either to an individual or a specific culture. Many comfort foods are flavorful and easily eaten, having soft consistencies.
Every one of those attributes applies to the pop culture stuff we seek out when we need to feel better for whatever reason.
That DVD boxset you always go back to, that video game you’ve beaten 203 times, that album that has been your personal soundtrack since you where in 7th grade; that’s comfort culture. And we might need it now more than ever. Here are some of my favorites:
Super Mario Bros 2: Or Doki Doki Panic if you’re nasty. This game is kind of the black sheep of the original run of Mario games. It doesn’t take place in the Mushroom Kingdom, the gameplay is very different from the original Mario Bros. and you have a character selection beyond Mario and Lugi. I completely love playing this game, but that’s not really why I go back to it again and again. I find myself returning to Mario Bros. 2
because I am obsessed with the soundtrack to this game.
It’s exactly what it would sound like if Daft Punk and Steely Dan had a baby.
And the baby was sorta slushed and a little frisky.
Sting From Dune, 1984, and more importantly his Battle Diaper: I don’t know if I’ve even seen the whole movie and I don’t care. I just know that this is all I remember and occasionally I will look at this picture and just be happy that this happened. And it was Sting. And that he used to be a goddamn teacher. Then he became a reggae appropriating new wave rock star and then he was this. And nothing can ever change this.
The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury: This book is my favorite thing Bradbury ever wrote, and that’s a cheat, since it’s really a collection of short stories as opposed to one complete novel. There are so many different kinds of stories in here. The one I read the most is The Silent Towns. A story about the last man on Mars after all the earthling colonists there have packed up and left for earth to fight in some huge war. It appears they have all perished and poor Walter is the last living person in the universe. That is until a phone rings on Mars and Walter discovers there is another human lady left on Mars. He of course rushes to find her, notions of them becoming the new Adam and Eve racing through his mind. The rub is when he finds her he discovers that she is overweight, uncouth and tremendously annoying. He decides to leave the next morning effectively, albeit only in his mind as we find out later, damning the future of the entire human race. All because he couldn’t take one for the team and bag a gargoyle. Love it.
Short Story Collections: As I mentioned with Bradbury sometimes I love to go back to my favorite author’s shorter works as opposed to a beloved novel when I need a quick defribulator pad to my imagination or spirits. Stephen King’s longer works are often criticized; sometimes justly, for lacking shape, general meanderings or having unsatisfying endings. But his short stories almost always deliver. Any collections of his shorter stories will work.
His best being either Nightmares and Dreamscapes or Skeleton Crew.
I love his story about it raining black man eating frogs. That is to say that the frogs are black and they eat man not that they’re frogs which only dine on black men, which though scary sort of feels wrong.
Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
A brutal collection of stories revolving around a podunk town in Ohio populated by reprobates of the highest order. These stories are relentlessly unforgiving and the characters featured in them are all sad, malformed and ultimately believable. The best bit of the whole shebang is Pollock’s prose which can range from laconic to deftly lyrical when needed. He speaks in a colloquial, natural tongue that finds its alchemy with the pairing of familiar words in unusual ways. As opposed to those writers who are always breaking their back to shine you on with showy prose and four dollar words.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome To The Monkey House is always worth picking off the shelf. Besides the titular tale I have quite the affinity for “Tom Edison’s Talking Dog” an absurdly funny story that is also a bit chilling near the end.
The Mindscape Of Alan Moore: This DVD documentary about the acclaimed comic book writer also explores his views on the nature of reality. The synthesis of quantum mechanics and magic. There are a lot of ideas here to ingest and consider. At the heart of it there is the story of a man from a working background who was bold enough to follow what he was passionate about. And a body of work exploring a likewise intrepid viewpoint. Here’s the entire documentary on Youtube. It’s in english with subtitles for some reason but you can also watch it for freebles on Hulu as well without those pesky subtitles.
Pixies, Come On Pilgrim/Surfer Rosa/Doolittle: I refuse to pick one work from the best band Boston ever produced. Each of these shares the same bent aesthetic, music that sounds violent, sensual and menacing . Coupled with this alien primitive sound are hilarious and terrifying lyrics.
Sometimes sounding like profound nonsense and other times scattershot nightmare candy imagery interpolated with old testament dread and weirdness.
The early Pixies records will make you feel angry and turned on and ready to shave dirty words into the hides of stray dogs. And sometimes, you need that.
Cartoon Show Boxsets: The Simpsons Seasons 3-9; after that it gets a bit dicey. But with these seasons, especially 3-6 The Simpsons is easily the greatest comedy show ever devised. Flip on “Bart Of Darkness”, “Homer The Heretic” or “Last Exit To Springfield”. Not only is the show beyond seminal in terms of begetting the fast paced comedy we now enjoy on all good shows animated or otherwise; the show is still bust a gut funny. It has that balance of irreverence, intelligence and heart that Family Guy will never achieve.
Every goddamn season because it is the finest superhero deconstruction/satire featuring David Bowie as the head of a super villain cabal still on air.
If you haven’t seen it yet either immolate yourself in the street in hopes of cosmic penance or quit your job, pick up Season 1 and start preparing for your life to finally begin.
Futurama: Every season, most of the movies too. If you like sci-fi and also like to make fun of the fact that you like sci-fi then chances are you like this show. They did a Schrodinger’s cat gag for christsake.
Great Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror Flicks From My Youth: John Carpenter’s The Thing, Robocop, Alien, Aliens, Nightmare On Elm Street, Terminator 1 & 2, Blade Runner, Star Wars, Willow, Predator and Monster Squad. Anything back when the special effects were mostly practical and the stories were exceptional. No CGI shiny garbage or rehash formulaic plotting.
Believe it or not this is just a small sampling of my comfort culture. I could honestly stretch this out much longer. Everyone has his or her own lists of the stuff you’ve always loved and the stuff that gets you through the crumby times. But despite my reverence for the stuff I cut my teeth on I don’t underestimate the importance of seeking new things to get excited about. There’s always a new band, new movie or a new book to find that will enhance your life. Because even though I’ve spoken mostly about how much my comfort culture serves as an escape from life that’s only part of the truth.
The truth is that our favorite art should feel like a party.
It takes you somewhere you’ve never been, dazzles and intoxicates you and above all it takes your mind off things. And when you stop for a second and stop fretting over the all the big things that’s when what’s truly important can come into focus.So just like the best parties at the end of the night after some escapism you learn something about yourself. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that you weren’t expecting it. Perhaps it’s just easier to take a good look at yourself when you’ve achieved the proper distance from your subject. If not exactly easier at the proper distance, without question far more comfortable.