Monday, January 30, 2012

MSTs of Brilliance, Part One: Who Left This Here?

I've been dithering for a good long while on what to write for my first "offical" post--should it be light and funny? Deep and thoughtful? Boring and pretentious? But finally I decided to go for a kind of background thing; something that really explains me. It should be about the one thing that's shaped me, molded me, hell, turned me into my present self, the thing that's influenced my thoughts and tastes, my aesthetics, my humor and my thinking for the last fifteen or so years.

Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Everybody has Their Show. The one that speaks to that part of their mind that was sleeping, all unawares, until The Show came and woke it up with lights and colors and sounds and music. Ever since the dawn of human civilization, when our barely evolved ancestors crouched around the hard-won fires in their caves, our Astroprolithicus brethen had a favorite story/cave painting/Look I Can Make A Shadow Mastadon On The Wall. In ancient Greece, a hopeful tragedian's take on Electra siezed the heart and wine-sodden guts of some Bacchian festival goer. Medeval Japan produced a Kabuki play that threw on the lights for some rice harvest celebration attending shopkeeper. In the bowels of seventeenth century London, a music hall act somewhere hit a fourteen year old scullery maid full in the face with a wave of gold. In a two story house in 1949 Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a radio play made the spine of a twenty four year old father of two clench in recognition.

Everybody has Their Show.

Mine came into my life about two hundred years ago; when  I was but a young and hopeful theater graduate moving to Seattle with my freind C, who had just gotten a job at that Microsoft company we'd heard so much tell about. We drove up in his car, ready to set the world on fire.

Microsoft may be a word-bestriding behemoth that has dictated how we interface with every aspect of our world for the last thirty years, but they treated their employees/slaves right. One perk of the velvet cage was a month's rent free stay in one of their thousands of employee housing condos. The idea was that a person could get settled into their work, learn the layout of the city, and not try to start a new job and search for housing all at once.

It was very kind and generous of them and all, but. A few things.

One, I don't drive. Never have (my driving phobia is legendary.) And even if I could, C's car was the only car. He needed it to get to work, so I was in a condo in the wilds of Issaquah and at the mercy of a bus system I could barely navigate. Plus, I had no real way to search for work until I had a better idea of where we'd be living. So every day I'd be clawing the walls or spending hours lost among various buses (did I mention my period started once while I was sitting in a bus shelter in the middle of nowhere, soaking my jeans to the knees with blood? MY PERIOD STARTED. IN A BUS SHELTER. SOAKING MY JEANS TO THE KNEES WITH BLOOD.) Then C would come home, exhausted and stressed out from basically starting his first major venture of his adult life, to find a young woman bouncing with boredom, rage, and terror, and having the same basic demeanor of a hamster on really strong crack.

This did not do much for our relationship.

And then, one day about three weeks into this saga of extitential Issaqhahian dread, something happened.

One perk of the velvet condo cage was cable, and late one afternoon, desperate, bored and trying to find something, anything to waste some time with, I came across...well...I had no idea what the hell it was.

It had a movie. It wasn't a movie, it had a movie. And in the right hand corner, three shadows. One looked human, but the other two...well, I didn't know what the hell they were.

The shadows were talking. More precisely, the shadows were riffing.

For those of you who missed the last two decades and change, riffing is mocking/funning/satirizing a piece of pre-existing media. It's mainly done with movies, t.v. shows and commercials, but tumblr has proven that the still image is certainly up for grabs. The humor of the riffing is entirely subjective. But the right riffing will leave you to laugh, laugh, laugh until oxygen debt creates flashing lights and pretty colors all along your peripheral vision, while in your thoracic cavity a big, fluffy dahlia of delight is opening--the shocked realization that you have, entirely accidentally, found your tribe. The ones that understand you.

That's what happened to me.

I don't remember the episode (or "ep", as we old hands call them), but I do remember staring first with bemusement and then open mouth bellow laughing at the screen, as the three shadows spewed out quip after quip that turned that forgotten B movie inside out, upside down, and shook entertainment from it like a bully shaking out a nerd's lunch money from his pockets.

About twenty minutes later, C came home. Curious about why I hadn't been hovering at the door to rip his arms off with my neediness, he came over to the couch.

"LOOK!" I shouted. (I'm always one for the subtle.) "LOOK AT THIS! IT'S BRILLIANT! I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS BUT IT'S BRILLIANT!"

"Oh yeah," said C casually after a moment or two. "I heard about this. It's that Mysterious Science show or whatever. They make fun of movies."

Well,  C may have had it much more together in every Really Truly Adult catagory than I did, but he was wrong.

He wasn't factually inaccurate; That Mysterious Science Show does make fun of movies. But it's so much more than that.

It's a show that layers smart funny at a dizzying speed--juxtaposing Sophocles with fart jokes, Satre with horrible puns, Madame Curie with songs about pants. It's a show that, the more you think about it, should never have had the room to exist in the first place (A two hour comedy show? That makes fun of terrible forgotten movies? With PUPPETS?) let alone run for ten years. It's a show made in Minneapolis, for Christ's sake, that managed to be hilarious, insightful, and sly without ever succumbing to post modernist nihilism "crap on everything" self-hate. It's a miracle.

And I know it's just that, a miracle, because like all miracles, it appeared when I needed it more than I had ever needed anything before. And like all miracles, it didn't solve all my problems, it just showed me a way to a new state of mind about my life, a club that had been waiting for me with nametag and open arms, a new way to be.

I've got a lot more to say about my favorite miracle, but I'll let the story be for now--on a couch in a furnished condo in Issaquah, with a young woman desperate for some kind of ground beneath her feet, staring at a cable tv show starring a man and two puppets, having her life saved.


  1. Aye, 'tis true. And the thanks for that save, they are much given.

    Indeed, I cannot recollect a single day what goes past where I don't, at some point, run into part of an MST ep running off YouTube on her laptop as she's making the bed, or in the living room off DVD or, yes, VHS, while she's in the kitchen or whatever. Just on and not even necessarily being watched.

    (And she gives ME guff for spending too much time in blog-land . . . oh well, suppose them days is over now . . . )

    ; )

  2. Okay, I'm leaving a comment. Where's my free donut?

    Nice blog (but why is that lady wearing salad on her groinicological area?). Teasing, I know who that lady is and what a riot MST is. Thanks for sharing your story. Except for the part about the blood, that made me squeamish.

  3. I assume you're up on your "Cinematic Titanic", and "Rifftrax"?

  4. "...that managed to be hilarious, insightful, and sly without ever succumbing to post modernist nihilism "crap on everything" self-hate".

    *Eyes dart about guiltily*

  5. Oh, of course! CT live shows are The Bomb and The Diggity. Rifftrax Live shows are the Kick and the Ass.

    It's like my favorite puppy brought home a kitten and a panda!

  6. I know you made it out of IssaquaH alive... but HOW?

  7. I'm sure it's those two magical deer I spotted on a rare walk beside the highway...