Johnny Carson signs off, Samuel Morse signs on, and 3 little pigs make history
Let’s face it, most of history kind of sucks. Wars, death, politics. Sometimes there are brighter moments to be had. If we’re going to look back over our shoulders, let’s at least look at something worth smiling at, yes? These are those things.
May 22nd, 1992— Johnny Carson gave his final bow on the Tonight Show. The episode brought in over fifty million viewers, a worthy end to three decades at the desk. He was replaced by Jay Leno and his chin.
May 23rd, 1980 — “The Shining”, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and some kid on a tricycle made it’s debut. The film went on to inspire many light-hearted tributes in other movies and shows such as “Toy Story” and “The Simpsons”. Not so light-hearted was director Stanley Kubrick’s treatment of Duvall.
May 24th, 1844 — Samuel Morse transmitted the world’s first telegraph message. It was a simple one: “What hath God wrought.” Thus long-distance texting was born. Well over a billion telegraphs were sent in the techonlogy’s 150+ year history.
May 25th, 1977 — The original “Star Wars” premiered. Later redubbed “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”, it was the flint that ignited an ever-widening glut of Star Wars movies, shows, video games, breakfast cereals, torture devices, weapons of mass destruction, underwear, and Happy Meal toys. At the end of the world, there will be cockroaches, Cher, and “Star Wars” properties that nobody cares about.
May 27th, 1933 — Walt Disney’s “3 Little Pigs” was released. It would go on to win an Oscar for Best Animated Film the following year. Since this is 2023, I can tell you that it currently holds a score of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, and you can stream it now on Disney+. What would dear old Uncle Walt ever make of any of this?
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Anybody who knows me will probably know that I go on about Hollywood et al having the unfortunate habit of doing the same thing over and over again. And I get it, people love familiarity, and familiarity breeds repeat business, at least until people get sick and tired of that familiarity. Hello, Disney, Star Wars, etc.
So Star Trek: Picard has been a bit of a peculiarity for me. Is it more of the same? Well, yes and no. There’s a large amount of time that exists between the last time we saw our TNG crew and the present. But that has presented its own specific problems.
The show, for all of its contradictions and subpar writing, tries its very best to come off as new and fresh. All this, while an 82-year-old Patrick Stewart struggles to talk clearly, let alone do anything else, as electrifying battles take place all around his shuffling feet. This was the first half of the series for me: Let’s do something new and exciting, but drag this poor octogenarian along for the ride for nostalgia’s sake.
For nostalgia’s sake.
It’s no surprise that Star Trek: Picard sparked thoughts of nostalgia for me. That said, it’s occurred to me only lately that there are two kinds of nostalgia: one linked to fellow humans, and one linked to the environments in which they operated. That delineation first occurred to me when I saw the big reveal of the Enterprise 1701-D.
I had tears in my eyes as I watched the ship, in its entirety, leave the hanger bay. It was as if a friend once feared mortally wounded, if not dead, suddenly walked through the front door. Here they were, smiling knowingly, welcoming a flood of positive emotions.
I never had that moment with the human components of the show. Of course, I would smile when a new old face would appear. It felt different, though. These were the same people I watched faithfully on Star Trek: The Next Generation for years, but unlike the Enterprise, they were fundamentally different.
As humans, we yearn for the past. Whether it is true or not, our brains believe that we were happier in our memories of our earlier lives. As time pushes us forward, we cling to those memories, and revel in all things that give that little spark of warmth that is nostalgia.
This is the reason we cherish souvenirs. Physical reminders of a happier time now past. We restore old cars that carried us to a happier place. We maintain old buildings filled with the ghosts of better times and much merriment.
We also cling to objects that were once owned by loved ones, now long passed. These too spark loving memories, but tinged with a feeling of melancholy, perhaps emptiness. Therein lies the difference between the two nostalgias.
Pushing aging actors to recreate what once was does create moments of nostalgia, but perhaps not in a way that the writers intended. For me, it’s been a stark reminder that we can never go back to where we were. Time will drag us all forward, degrade us, reduce us to a wristwatch in a daughter’s desk drawer.
Picard being reborn as an android is actually the perfect metaphor for what I’m talking about. Picard’s existence is brought to a fairly definitive end. They then take this once great man, beloved by many, and breathe largely clinical life into what was once dead.
What we see on the screen is not Picard, but a rough simile. The avatar of the man we once knew shuffles slowly through new, unfamiliar spaces using the heft of what he once was to stubbornly continue his journey. Told repeatedly by those who care about him that he should stop, he instead continues on in a display of ugly, at times painful, stoicism.
This Picard is not my Picard. He is but a lifeless simile. Both for the credibility of the writers and our own sanity, he should have been allowed to die his noble death at the end of season one. The younger generation of heroes should have been left to carry on his legacy, building a new web of nostalgic memories.
Instead, we ended up with this unsettling, unfamiliar version of an old friend. A stark and unwelcome reminder of our own mortality. A shambling automaton that crosses the galaxy in an attempt to reclaim what he once was, now a cold and incomplete corpse. How fitting.
Ultimately, the human aspect of Star Trek: Picard’s nostalgia was lost on me. I was encouraged to visit my grandmother one last time on her deathbed. That is now the last memory I have of her. Withered and something completely removed from the strong woman I once loved. So too now, Picard et al.
Like that moment with my grandmother, I so wish this moment with once-cherished characters had never come to pass. It would have been better to remember what once was. Sometimes it’s better to just keep moving forward, boldly or otherwise.
Our hero walks through the dimly-lit offices of Fat Mop Zoo. A single, flickering lightbulb swings ominously. Okay, John actually hit it with his head, but still… Cobwebs clinging to his balding pate, he slumps into his weathered office chair in a cloud of swirling dust.
Right! So… How do I do this again? I don’t think I knew how to do it before, actually. Anyways…
I have a bad habit of “viewing shows from afar.” I read enough about them in topical articles, but don’t actually watch them for lack of time/enough interest. One of those shows lately has been Wandavision. A scene from the episode caught my attention.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR A NEW EPISODE OF WANDAVISION AT THE TIME THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN, ETC. ETC. ELECTRIC BOOGALOO and so on…
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. So towards the end (I guess?) of the episode, White Vision squares off against Wanda Maximoff’s mind-created Vision. The latter asks the former if he’s familiar with the Ship of Theseus thought experiment.
He allows that he does: “The Ship of Theseus is an artifact in a museum. Over time, its planks of wood rot and are replaced with new planks. When no original plank remains is it still the Ship of Theseus?”
The Wanda-created Vision continues his line of thinking: “Secondly, if those removed planks are restored and reassembled, free of the rot, is that the Ship of Theseus?”
Whitey Vision responds: “Neither is the true ship. Both are the true ship.”
After a brief conversation in regards to what each Vision has of the “real” vision, Wanda-Vision muses: “Perhaps the rot is the memories. The wear and tear of the voyages. The wood touched by Theseus himself.” At this point, he restores Whitey-Vision’s memories, et cetera, and so on.
My point is that it got me thinking. One of the over-arching themes that surrounds the androids, or “Synthetics,” in my books is what level of consciousness they have. More to the point: What level of “selfness” do they have? This thought experiment is especially applicable to “transfers,” or Synthetics that house a transferred human consciousness.
I touched on the idea in Preservation Protocol and have explored it in the No Road Home series. The subject takes precedence in the final book in the series, Deliverance, that I’m currently writing. If you could transfer an exact map of someone’s mind to an artificial being, would that being BE that someone?
This question gets underlined in the last book when it’s confirmed that a character’s original human form is still alive with all of their faculties intact. In other words, you have one human, and one “clone.” Both have the same exact thoughts, memories, feelings, etc. Is the human THE person? Can the Synthetic not also be considered the person?
The question gains weight when one considers a “terminal transfer.” The “original” person expires at the conclusion of the mind transfer to the Synthetic. It could be argued that the Synthetic is undoubtedly the person, now. The human body ceased to function, and the artificial one woke up believing itself to be that person.
One inevitably wades into metaphysical waters when you further extrapolate on the idea. What happens when the human body wakes up? Both are conscious. Would the Synthetic be considered to have an artificial consciousness? And what is consciousness, anyway?
According to Merriam-Webster, it is “sentience or awareness of internal or external existence.” It’s the whole “I think, therefore I am” deal. So arguably, both android and human would be the same person.
It’s all quite mind-bending, but it’s something that humans are going to have to explore in the future. Scientists are already working on devices that could one day augment — or even replace — memory in the brain. This actually adds shades of gray to the conversation.
At what point would one’s consciousness be seated in the technology instead of the brain? Science can’t even agree yet on where consciousness physically manifests. Further, if the mind is wholly encompassed in that technology, what happens if it is powered down?
When one is “woken up,” will it be the same person? Or would it be like dying, with the person who “wakes up” being a precise clone of the former consciousness? It could be that, as with your organic brain, having your technological brain power down would essentially be the death of your unique consciousness.
This is how the question is handled in the canon of my books. Synthetics fear a loss of power to their neural net, as continual power is required to maintain their conscious state even in dormancy. Zero power will collapse the neural net, resulting in irreversible brain “death” for the individual.
A fun, but equally disturbing aside from the world of Star Trek: Transporters. In the fictional universe of Star Trek, transporters work by mapping out the position of every molecule of your body, breaking it down into a data-matter stream, and precisely reassembling it on the other side. We find similar questions here.
This would obviously obstruct your consciousness, not to mention literally obliterate your physical brain, regardless of it’s reassembly on the other side. Would you, in fact, still be you? For the religious: Would this scrambling happen to your soul, as well? Would it get left behind? Travel along?
More ominously, scientific consensus at the moment is that transporting would be a little more… uh, lethal in this reality. Such a system would most likely still map your molecules, but then it would recreate those molecules on the far side like another Star Trek staple, the replicator. The kicker? It would be a perfect recreation of you, and the original would be destroyed.
It kind of puts all of Star Trek into a new light. Just imagine every time Kirk or Picard or any of your favorite characters beam themselves somewhere, they’re dying at the moment of transfer. The person stepping out on the other side of the process is just another in a line of clueless clones, doomed to die the next time they need to be somewhere fast.
Any of that should be more than enough to tighten your sphincter. It’s also pretty thought-provoking. For more thought experiments on the subject, check out Preservation Protocol and the No Road Home series, and be sure to look out for Deliverance later this year.
Canada wins(finally,) Charlie Brown checks out, and Voyager 1 never left.
Time to jump back into the time machine, kiddies. Here’s what was cooking in 2010, 2000, and 1990 in the month of February.
February 14: Better late than never
On February 14, Alexandre Bilodeau won gold in the freestyle skiing men’s moguls event. Say that last sentence three times, fast. He was the first Canadian to win a gold medal during a Canadian-hosted Olympics. So okay, it was only the third time, but given that there’s like one hundred gold medal events in any given Winter Olympics, and Canada is like, winter central… Come ON, Canada! Good lord.
FEBRUARY 13: All out of Peanuts
The very last new Peanuts comic strip ran on 13 February, 2000, a Sunday. By coincidence or fate, it was only a day after its creator, Charles Schulz, passed away. Thus ended an era of small, smart-mouthed kids and one smart-ass dog that stretched a full half-century.
As happens with all intellectual property, the Peanuts brand has been kicked around, bought up, and divided multiple times since Schulz kicked off. The brand was sold off to the new company Peanuts Worldwide LLC, which was 80% owned by Iconix Brand Group and 20% owned by Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates. Then DHX Media swallowed Iconix whole, taking their 80%. Then they sold 49% of their 80% to Sony Music Entertainment Japan for like, some reason.
I can’t stop wondering what Linus would make of all this.
FEBRUARY 14: Voyager snaps a world-class pic
What is with everything happening on Valentine’s Day? Is it just a good waypoint, or something? Anyway…
The Voyager 1 space probe finally got far enough afield to take a picture of the entire solar system.
It was the composite of the last pictures the probe sent back to Earth. It continued to send other data back home, however. In fact, it still does to this very day, despite being over 13 billion miles from home base.
Voyager 1 has never failed to impress. The space probe’s original mission was completed nearly FORTY YEARS AGO, but it just kept going, and going, and going… As long as everything keeps poking along, Voyager 1 will mark the 43rd anniversary of its launch this September.
How long can it go? Sadly, not much longer. Best estimates suggest that the electrical power will fail sometime in 2025. I think it’s safe to say this thing’s done its service to God and country, however. Dead but not gone, it will continue to float further afield into outer space, possibly outliving the civilization that first sent it on its way.
TODAY’S LESSON: A cartoon dog and an inanimate object have both outworked and outlived you. Time to step up your game, yo.
He has run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible.
Look, we all had a lot of hope that 2020 would be the year that things got better. Then things, uh, didn’t.
Then Terry Jones just had to go and pile on the misery by having the gall to seize up. Three weeks on and bam, no more. He has ceased to be.
And that SUCKS!
In all clarity, Terry Jones was one of the legendary members of the Monty Python comedy troupe. In other words, he was part of quite possibly the most important thing to emerge from the UK, my ancestors aside. The man’s body of work spans a half-century and is full of pop culture gold, for gods sake!
And now he is being far too quiet. Forever. Damn it.
The man laughed his way through his life, so I will honor him by continuing to make tasteless jokes at his expense. What follows is a selective, and increasingly exaggerated, accounting of his life.
A LEGEND IS BORN
Jones was born in 1942 in Wales to Dilys and Alick Jones. Our hero, and presumably his amusingly-named parents, moved to Surrey a few years later. Several boring school-related years later, he would meet Michael Palin. Together they would begin the groundwork that would lead to global domination.
He dove head-first into television on shows such as Twice a Fortnight, Do Not Adjust Your Set, and The Complete and Utter History of Britain in the late sixties.
Then God spake, saying “May the giant foot be upon thee.” Jones had no bloody idea what this meant, as he was still mostly intact at the time. However, he still managed to co-create Monty Python’s Flying Circus with Graham Chapman, John Cleese, and several other people, this article can’t go on forever.
Thus, Voltron was formed. The tour de force that was Monty Python, or Monty Python for short, would go on to devastate the British — and to a lesser extent, the American — countryside for the next several years.
Unable to contain their power to the small, rectangular glass tubes, the comedy troupe erupted onto the big screen with classics such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life, and it was all Jones’ fault. Okay, well maybe not all his fault, but he did write, act in, and direct those films so let’s keep things in perspective.
Unable to cage these immense powers that made him feel funny in an uncomfortable place, he launched a multi-tiered war on common sense and human decency. I mean, honestly. The man had the gall to write a number of books, act in numerous shows and movies, write numerous shows and movies…
This man quite clearly should have been stopped long ago. Who allowed this gargantuan man of immense talent to even… and I mean he is gargantuan. Honestly, he just kept growing, upward, not outward, save for that one time. Eight-foot-nine when the Lord finally smacked him down.
There he was, just stealing all the glory. It was a tolerable theft, though. The kind of thing that whoops, there it is, I’ve grown used to it, now. This went on for some time.
Probably sensing that his power had grown too great for mere mortals, Jones went from working on several projects to just many in the early 2000’s. Then things went all sideways in 2014.
He re-formed Voltron with those other people in that Monty Python thing for Monty Python Live(Mostly). The Great Hidden Prophecy, sensing a resurgence in his latent abilities, set forth to silence him once and for all. Unfortunately, the plan was to all-too literally silence him.
In all(mostly)seriousness(mostly,) Terry Jones was diagnosed the next year with primary progressive aphasia. This form of dementia was Jones’ kryptonite, slowly robbing him of the ability to communicate.
He continued to make people laugh and smile through other unique styles of communication, including but not limited to: funny faces, flatulence, sock puppets, interpretive dance, and excessive blinking.
Finally, and most likely due to exhaustion from all that excessive blinking, Jones’ weary soul had enough and called it quits on 21 January, 2020. Now free of the shackles of icky humanity, only the gods know how his powers will swell. The very universe will quake in awe at the newest god to wade in its waters.
Have mercy on us, neogod Terry Jones. We didn’t know.