I am one of those people who genuinely enjoys the essentially meaningless bits of cultural detritus that ebb and flow like driftwood throughout the swampy ecosystem of our combined consciousness. If I see a decades-old Coke bottle in a vacant lot, I am likely as not to pick it up, try to remember the last time I saw one like that, maybe even take it home, clean it up and set it on a shelf next to my old copies of Mad Magazine for a few years. I am often amused and even fascinated by old newspapers, magazines, dated advertisements, old pop-culture stuff that must have seemed new, fresh, and vibrant at one time but has become laughably dated if not hopelessly obscure.
Like this old coffee ad, which suggests that a good marital ass-beating is the proper response to stale coffee and bad shopping habits. Ah, those were the days!
While individual bits of culture may not have much influence alone, they are still part of a greater whole. If Mr.T had never achieved fame, the eighties would have been much the same culturally, except that wearing a scowl and gruffly shouting "I pity the fool!" wouldn't have any referential meaning today. I wonder how different the 80's would have been if there was no Mr T, no A-Team, no awesome TV show themes by Mike Post (He did A-Team, Rockford Files, Greatest American Hero, ChiPs, & Hill Street Blues among many many many others), no bad synthesizer music, no insanely bad hairstyles, and no Aquanet hairspray? By themselves these things have almost zero meaning or impact on our lives (except that giant Aquanet hole in the ozone layer, I know it wasn't just Freon from leaky air conditioners that did that) but together, they ARE the 80's, at least the pop-culture 80's that many of us remember and can access in our common cultural memories.
"I pity the fool who watched 80's TV but doesn't know who Mike Post is!"
This is one of the many reasons I love the internet. It can act as a one-way time machine, showing us things we've forgotten which may never have had much import to begin with, but still subtly affected the world and our perceptions of the world. It can present a historical record of culture that is otherwise easily forgotten. Not only that, but it can keep these things alive well past their sell-by date and (more importantly to me) even allow them to be re-used and re-purposed in an unpredictable infinty of ways- a vast, chaotic, user-driven system of cultural recycling and creation.
We can take the old, and easily compare, contrast, and incorporate it into the new. The result of cheaply reproducible culture combined with the internet has been a global return to the way that culture was created long before there were records, film, video, and onerous copyright laws: one big artistic and ideological free-for-all, modeled after the chaos of life and built on itself, ever familiar yet ever renewed, and heedless of attempts to control it. And I LOVE that.
So what is all this leading up to? One of my favorite things from the 80's, one of my favorite bits of cultural detritus from my childhood, is the Chick Tract, the brain(?)child of Jack Chick, a prolific artist who was extremely serious about Hell and the many ways to get there.
No, not "Chicks"....."Chick TRACTS" I realize that
expecting tits and getting religion instead can be disappointing, but let's move on.
If you grew up going to a conservative Protestant church, or grew up anywhere near a conservative Protestant church, if you had any friends or relatives who lived in earnest fear of Satan and his many worldy snares, if you ever read the crappy little pamphlets left in coin laundries, truck stops, and phone booths, then you have probably read a Chick Tract or ten. They are innocent-looking little booklets containing various stories that are illustrated comic book style, but with only one Holy-Rollin' purpose...to scare kids (and presumably, semi-literate adults) straight into the loving arms of Jesus Christ. As far as the flavor of Christianity involved, it's a pretty rancid form of paranoid fundamentalism, with plenty of hatred and demonization to go around. That is one thing I love about them...the religious ideals involved are every bit as cartoonish as the artwork- it's a good match. Video games, television, Halloween, drugs & alcohol, Catholics, liberal Christians, Wiccans, Muslims....the list of doomed people and paths to hell is long, and wide is the way. Even role-playing board games, with their magic incantations and mythical beasts, are a one-way ticket to the Hot Place. One of the best tracts ever was called...
I don't want to reproduce the whole thing here, it's a large picture and copyrighted, but seriously, check it out!
I've never even played a game of Dungeons & Dragons, but I know plenty of people who have....and I'm pretty sure that they aren't members of an actual Coven. I did watch a game once, but it was disappointing...no real magic, no coven of witches, no Black Mass- just dice, bad jokes and Natty Light of all fucking things. I suppose you could call the beer a hellworthy curse, but really we were just young and tasteless, not truly evil.
So what has the wonderful, chaotic internet done to Dark Dungeons, that brooding, paranoid work of fevered religious
fantasy from my childhood memory? Made it awesome, that's what!
If you've read the original, you are primed and ready for the new. Truth be told, the main reason I wrote this post was to do my part in spreading these parodies as far as I can. They're just that awesome.
The first is a parody reversal of the entire tract, with the Role-Players representing Evangelists playing a Christian role-playing game, and using logical fallacies and threats of Hell to convert others to their cult, while the originally "Christian" characters are rationalists who recommend logic and debate, leading to positive outcomes. From blogger Bronze Dog at The Bronze Blog, Dark Dungeons becomes:
It's a link to the original content...CLICK IT!
The second one is a brilliant parody using the format of one of the greatest concepts to ever be broadcast on television, Mystery Science Theater 3000:
Another link! Exercise that index finger!
So, I just wasted an hour or two of my time, and hopefully some other peoples' time as well, to rant a bit about the effects of the internet on today's culture and to share a couple of my favorite examples. I hope anyone who might stumble across this post enjoys these as much as I did.