Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Merzbow (Bigfoot, Bill and Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure, Bill Elliott's NASCAR Challenge)

It is an ironic fact that memory is a collective act, while the actual relics of historical experience are personal. Case in point - I am a nerd. Accordingly, of the following three cultural touchstones, only one is distinctly part of my memory: monster truck rallies, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and NASCAR. Thus it is unusual that these three games - Bigfoot, Bill and Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure, and Bill Elliott's NASCAR Challenge - should be presented sequentially.

Playing these games, absolutely none of which are even remotely good, I came to realize something, though. Although monster truck rallies are in no way part of my memory, they were distinctly a part of my past. I can't put my finger on exactly when monster trucks crossed the thin line from awesome to redneck, but it is clear that at some point they did. I remember growing up, however, that monster trucks were simply a part of my cultural landscape, and they were awesome. Reconstructing this signifying chain is a challenge - they were inexorably linked to Hulk Hogan, and thus to professional wrestling, which accompanied them across the line to redneck. (In the 80s, professional wrestling was not redneck. This is easily demonstrated by the fact that, in the 80s, professional wrestling was gayer than Justin Bieber.) Past that, I'm not sure. I suspect these things existed as part of the general cultural mishmash that was Saturday morning cartoons. (There is an entry to be written about the role of Saturday morning cartoons in creating cultural hegemony and collectivism, in which I argue that the preposterously large margin of victory Obama enjoyed among 18-29 year olds is primarily due to Saturday morning cartoons. This is not that entry.)

Somewhere on the road from the 1980s to today, however, monster trucks passed out of my cultural background. This is in many ways a pity, because the fundamental idea of gigantic machines crushing other machines is not redneck at all, a fact that Battlebots, Mythbusters, Transformers, and the bulk of giant robots will readily attest to. Bigfoot, then, represents this earlier, naive time period in which a man could drive a giant truck over cars without shame or cultural judgment. Regardless of whether this act is fun (and in Bigfoot it amounts to little more than a generic car stunt game of the most disposable rent-only kind), it is something that ought to be part of our culture.

I can readily imagine, on the other side of this seemingly insurmountable cultural divide, someone sitting at a monster truck rally. A sense of sorrow creeps over them. They are past the point where their childhood imagination ever took them, past having grown up and into some strange twilight state their childhood never made room for. For no reason, a pang of memory strikes, and they remember an afternoon watching a scratchy VHS tape of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Their intake of science fiction is limited now to the culturally prescribed mass appeal movies. They have no concept that Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is, among other things, an elaborate send-up of Doctor Who, the longest-running science fiction show of all time. They are unaware that most of the best jokes in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey come from parodies of The Seventh Seal. All they know, and even this they know in a way that is beyond words, is that there is some secret history, some alternate mode of being contained in this thing that is not a memory, that is an uncanny other to their entire cultural apparatus. Before a tear can form, a gigantic truck crushes a mobile home, and all is forgiven.

If memory is the personal treason that rewrites history into a cultural milieu, nostalgia is the drive to connect impossibly with lived experience. It is nostalgia that sends one to the dust-ridden gray rectangles of NES games, where these strands of lost history coexist. That Bill and Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure is a tedious piece of drek involving a lot of awkward isometric dodge-sprite, just as Bigfoot is an unmemorable entry into a basically uninteresting genre is, perhaps simply an idiotic historical accident of poor design. Or perhaps it is a crowning arch-metaphor for the impossibility of reconciling memory to actual lived experience - of the impossibility of carving a cultural position where the individual love of giant cars and sci-fi can co-exist.

The fantasy that this cultural hegemony that separates giant robots and giant trucks forevermore is in some way permeable underlies the film Billy Elliot, in which we learn that the harsh realities of fading Welsh mining towns and the cultural elitism of ballet dancing exist on opposite sides of a gauzy piece of tulle. Is it mere coincidence that this British film appropriates the name of a NASCAR driver whose name was in turn given to the first licensed NASCAR video game? Is the film itself a fugue on cultural permeability, suggesting the bleed from male ballet dancing to the ultimate in masculinity? One is adapted by Elton John into a musical. The other is appropriated by Rush Limbaugh to define an agrarian fantasy of America. One plays at the other's wedding. This is surely a false history, constructed from coincidence and culturally determined memory.

But the Other plays at all weddings. The line between memory and experience is a haze of noise that we endlessly ascribe signal to. In that din, who can tell the difference between a Wyld Stallyns concert and the roar of a monster truck engine?


  1. Probably my favorite entry thus far in the NES Project.

  2. But the Other plays at all weddings.

    And we all know he plays the spoons.

  3. These monsters are a little bit salty, but you can probably handle ‘em…...adventure of ted game free online play