Young Geoffrey (ed_rex) wrote,
Young Geoffrey

The Fleeting Pleasures of Youth or, The Tedium of Khan

[Edit, April 7, circa 10:34 AM: I've corrected some of the more eggregrious errors from last night, and - I hope - improved some of the prose. Damn it, I should know better than post 1,000 words while half-drunk. In fact, I do better. But there it was ...]

{[Edit, April 7, circa 1435 hours: "In fact I do know better." Jesus ...]}

Coming home from work tonight, stopped at the intersection of Queen and Gladstone, I saw for the fifth or sixth time this spring the strangest sight: a grown man slowly riding along the sidewalk on a bike over which most of the boys I knew when I was 12 or so would have drooled.

It was a miniature Harley. Pedal powered, with a rear tire that wouldn't have been out of place on a small car, it was a miniature motorcycle, low-slung and about as aerodynamic as a brick on wheels.

Like everyone else I've seen astride these beasts, the rider as a dull-looking, short-haired white man, probably in his mid-20s, smoking as he rode and looking tough.

I wanted to shout catcalls across the street, to mock him like a 4th grade bully mocks the class stutterer.

What pleasure can a grown man take in riding a pretend motorcycle? Are they somehow to be envied for keeping magically in touch with their inner child? Or pitied, for never haven grown up at all?

But maybe I shouldn't judge. After all, for years I have taken pride in my own ability to maintain a connection with the boy I once was.

Arguably a man of some eccentricity, I can at least claim I come by it honestly. By the age of 6 or so, when it came time to divvy up the toy cars, my pick was inevitably the station-wagon, some similarly sensible mode of (pretend) transportation. I thought banana seats silly and ostentatious (of course, I didn't use that word), not to mention too damned slow!

I much preferred my standard-issue coaster bike. And today, my fantasy car is the Toyota Echo, so not much has changed. More, my actual and very happy means of day-to-day transportation is either a 25 year-old 10-speed (the winter beater) or a 40 year-old Jeunet, a machine whose craftsmanship continues to astound. But I digress.

At the same time, I still hold dear some childish things: Winnie-the-Pooh and Alice and Tintin, to name three.

But ever since George Lucas re-released the "original" Star Wars some - what? 7? 8? - 8 years ago, I've noticed that many of the most intense of my childhood pleasures have become ghosts, mere memories of a reality I can no longer reach.

Batman and his super-human brethren are impossible to take seriously; the special effects in Star Wars leave me cold - I can pay attention only to the lousy acting and non-sensical story-line; The Wind in the Willows is dully juvenile and more than a little stilted; it has been a couple of decades since I lost myself in the pleasures of building a sand-castle, or strapping on some make-shift armor and a wooden sword in order to descend into the St. Clair ravine in order to play live Dungeons and Dragons; and Star Trek: Enterprise, whenever I did actually watch it, seemed to exemplify all of the flaws and none of the virtues of its predecessors. (I'll leave alone the apparent fascist undertone of its post-9/11 politics; I have not seen enough of the series to fairly determine whether the franchise's trustees have betrayed Gene Rodenberry's remarkable liberalism or if the long story-line was a commentary on the current US situation.)

Still, some youthful pleasures have not lost their various flavours.

Tintin remains clever, witty, imaginative and beautifully-rendered; The Lord of the Rings is a novel whose human depths only grow more profound upon re-reading; Fawlty Towers is still brutally funny, and Catch-22 has added existential nightmare to the cynical semi-surrealism that first drew me in. (It's true: revisiting the Hundred Acre Wood, or even stepping once again through the looking-glass leaves me nervous that I'll not find my way there again.)

And so, as of this past Tuesday, so I knew it would be true of the best Star Trek movie of them all, The Wrath of Khan. I knew, without the slightest doubt, that that film was still marvelous fun - and would be, even to someone who knew nothing of Kirk, and Spock, and McCoy - someone like Laura, who thinks she might have seen an episode or two of the original series when she was very young, but isn't sure.

We'd decided to have a movie night. Laura wanted to share with me her guilty pleasure (Billy Madison) and so I wanted to share mine with her. We rented both (and I enjoyed her pick far more than she did mine).

In memory's astigmatic eye, The Wrath of Khan managed the very neat trick of being a self-referential fanboy's delight and a marvelous soap-opera adventure, while at the same time sustaining enough plot and characterization to bear repeat viewing. William Shatner was still playing Captain James T. Kirk rather than playing at playing him. He was still acting, and if he winked once in a while at the audience, it was not enough to force the willing suspension of disbelief. One could allow oneself to believe in the threat of Ricardo Montalban's obsessed genius, Khan.

But it turns out that Star Trek is another ghost, an emblem of who or what I once was, rather than a living connection to my past.

The Wrath of Khan is really bad movie. Burdened with a ponderous plot and shallow characterizations, only Montalban's Khan is worthy of any note. All other performers are campily-wooden at best, merely wooden at worst. The story is inane and would not have been out of place in an issue of Planet Stories, circa 1937.

The main characters - Kirk, Spock and McCoy - were not the archetypes I had described to Laura: Kirk, the passionate adventurer; Spock, the logical aesthetic; Bones, the fearful but loyal common man, forever afraid but always willing for sake of friendship and duty to risk all.

Characters I had loved as a child and enjoyed as archetypes in my youth were now only sloppy sketches, playing out a ritual of forgotten relevance.

The plot is a super-heroic fantasy (with phasers and photon torpedoes standing in for X-ray vision and the ability to fly), not an adventure.

As someone once said, there's no there, there.

(That the special effects no longer look at all special doesn't matter; the special effects weren't the point at the time.)

The Wrath of Khan is a slow-moving, dull and mostly witless movie, of interest only to those who - for whatever reason - have not grown past his (or her - but mostly his) infatuation with Captain Kirk's macho passion or Mr. Spock's sophomoric pseudo-Zen philosophizing.

And I have to face the fact that I am no longer that fan-boy, if ever I really was (I never went to conventions, all right?). Yet another tangible link to my past has been forever sundered, leaving only memory's memory to tease me with what (I think) I once was.

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