Common practice in today’s world takes great joy in reproofing stereotypes. Artists in particular relish breaking down the barriers that all too often pigeonhole groups of individuals with various – and often untrue – adjectives: stupid, violent, awkward, materialistic. One could hardly dispute the honesty and justice of such protests, expounding the potential of each individual regardless of race, creed, sex, or homeland, stimulating understanding and erasing bigotry en masse. Yet most reformers stop there, forgetting to seek the honesty and justice among the stereotypes as well. After all, stereotypes – unlike rumors – possess some and popular foundation in truth. Often outward beauty reflects inward beauty, power corrupts government, crime-ridden cities, bucolic paradise, the French chef, the Irish drunk, the girl cooking and sewing, and the boy grunting, spitting and scratching – all in the same fluid motion no less. We cannot hope to surmount our prison walls if we ignore their existence.
Over the past week or so I’ve had the opportunity to encounter several of these proven stereotypes, instances where despite my best efforts at iconoclasm, some habits are just too deeply ingrained for escape.
#1: Trekkies look like Trekkies
Last Sunday Dasad treated me to an IMAX showing of Star Trek. He has been a long time fan of the movies and the Next Generation series, thus like Virgil he was to be my guide for the day. As expected the line began early and the theater despite its large size was sold out the day before; thus we made sure we arrived a good forty-five minutes beforehand. A group of ten or twelve people clustered near the entrance and so until the crowd became more substantial, we wandered over to the arcade.
One of the travesties of the modern world is the death of the arcade. With the omnipresence of the home theater and game systems, most surviving arcades are the digital descendant of the ghost town: empty corridors, blank flicking screens, broken controls, lilting broken tunes emanating from crane games sparsely piled with stuffed representations of decade old cartoon series. The change machine worked though. Changing my dollar to some tokens we took our chance on the crane game, which true to form slipped down and up Shrek’s bulbous head as if made of soap. Two dollars lost and no (working) game in sight, we scuttled over to the line which had doubled in size within a few minutes.
Normally at the house and in public, I attempt to diminish the weirdness of my more geeky hobbies through a combined use of sleight of hand, explanatory argument, and large words:
- “Weird? He’s an addict, Mom. A physical representation of addiction and evil’s ability to erode good. Gollum is one of the most unique and important characters in literature;”
- “So what you’re saying is that heroes don’t matter, huh? That heroism and the ideals of these heroes don’t play a role in our daily lives. So what if they wear tights. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it;”
- “It’s just the art style, guys. If you look beyond the semi-naked nubile eye-candy, the stories are quite good, entertaining yet poignant.”
Yeah so, it doesn’t always work. Nonetheless I continue to plug away, a never-ending (and possible futile) crusade to convince others (and possibly myself) that what I do has value beyond escapism. The irony is that while Dasad and I try claw our way from the muck and mire of stereotype, others seem to revel in it.
No one donned any costume. Apart from one bearded shaggy guy with oddly pointed but otherwise natural ears, no one looked like a Volcan. Or a Klingon. Nevertheless everybody in line looked like Trekkies. It’s hard to communicate in words how my fellow movie-goers struck me, no general pattern or scent – although Dasad argued that his neighbors exuded a rather unpleasant funk. I will say that if you consider an average shape or size for the human body, these people were the outliers, individuals much too tall, short, hairy, or obese, whose collective differences were not so much uniform as much as uniform in their collective differences. If that seems a little confusing, just imagine fifty or so characters from the Where’s Waldo books decked out in sandals, cargo shorts, and a black T-shirts that read “There are 10 types of people in this world, those that understand binary and those that don’t.”
One lady, her frizzy grey hair tied off in a bun, wore cut off jeans, a tucked in T-shirt like the ones they wear at summer camp and a Transformers backpack, adorned with Muppet pins. She talked freely and happily with a giant, a seven-foot man with a face that reminded me of my old physics professor: his eyes, nose, and mouth hidden behind a bushy mangled mop of black hair. If the man had a beard or if the mange stemmed entirely from his head, I could not tell. The woman snorted every now and then at something the bushman said when the line suddenly began moving. Dasad and I entered the theater and found our seats. A pod of Asian kids sat behind us, discussing the mechanics of something they saw on MythBusters. A phone rang a few aisles up, playing a few measures of Final Fantasy’s ‘Vamo’alla Flamenco’ before cutting off (yes, it bespeaks my own level of depravity that I recognized the tune). Below us several kids practiced holding the gap between their third and fourth fingers – I still need masking tape and/or rubber bands.
We sat next to a rather obese couple, a man and his wife, their bodies overflowing atop and around the arms of their chairs. While the pre-movie ads rolled, the lady squeezed through the row and left the theater. Dasad leaned over to me.
“Now there’s a never-ending cycle,” he whispered. “Fat people get married, reproduce, and have kids who cannot help but become fat as well, right?”
“Why are you asking me this?”
“Think about it,” he continued. “It’s in the genes, right? No way to escape that.”
“Not necessarily,” I say in a low whisper, a little embarrassed. “Obesity is not necessarily genetic. Even if it were two people with the same phenotype, the same characteristic, may yield different children. Mom and Dad both have dark hair, but Pat and Sean are blonde. And you also have to take into account lifestyle too.”
“Right, so a child living in such an environment will do nothing but eat. It’s doomed to follow its parents’ footsteps.”
“Again,” I said after a minute, “lifestyle isn’t like computer programming. Kids react differently depending on their parents. They might rebel or seeing the health issues their parents have or might have, they might become fitness gurus or baggers at Trader Joes.”
“Still it’s more than likely . . .” Dasad said. “It’s just rather sad and disgusting.”
“Dude, I wouldn’t say that. Stereotypes can be quite misleading. They might be a nice couple: kind, courteous, generous, loyal, hardworking. The kind of people who do anything for their friends, family or even their co-workers. They might even . . .”
Just then the woman returned carrying a mega-sized drink, a tub of popcorn and a pizza. She bit into a slice of pizza navigating through the seats and shoes, balancing the rest of the food on a cardboard tray. Still walking she twisted to take a sip from her cup; a glob of tomato sauce fell onto my pants leg. Pepperoni splattered my shoes.
“. . . be rather disgusting, yeah.”
Before closing up shop here I should note — stains notwithstanding — that the movie was awesome. I’ve seen it twice, and frankly if you’re able IMAX is the way to go. As I said to Dasad, if the original series had only a smidgeon of the humor and charm of the flick, I might have joined his Trekkie club long ago. He only nodded.
“Yeah, it was pretty good. Even after the second time,” he said. “When I got back home last Friday, I even dreamed about it some.” Now I believe in karma, that all things balance themselves out, that those that mock and deride others will eventually get their comeuppance. Thus I felt fairly certain that the following conversation will come back to haunt me one day.
“Dreams, eh?” I mutter, feigning boredom. “So you dreamt of space hotties, huh? That semi-clothed green-skinned alien girl was pretty hot, right? Was she on the spaceship with you?”
“Huh? Wait . . .”
“Were Kirk and Spock there too? What were they doing? Wait . . . I probably don’t want to know that.”
“Hold on . . .”
“And that bald guy from X-men. Capt. Piccadilly, right? Did you dream of him too?”
“Picard. His name is Picard.”
“So you did dream about him . . .” I laugh. “He’s buff.”
“Look, dude, I’m not that much of a geek. It was just this one time. I do not dream about the Enterprise every night.”
“Uh huh . . .”
“Ok then, but seriously you had to think the whole space/time thing was kinda lame, right? That aspect was a little cliché,” I said matter-of-factly.
“No, well, it was their way of staying true to the canon of the original films while totally changing everything,” Dasad sighed. “Frankly I thought it a little weak too. Also while the characters were great, the villain was horrible. No pathos. Nothing like the Borg or Khan. Now there was a villain. He had the intellect, power, and every reason to hate Kirk and the Enterprise. I remember when I first saw him . . .”
“You got really turned on, didn’t you?” I laugh.
“Okay look, you suck.”
“Did you see Ricardo Montalban in the Naked Gun too? Or was he only sexy in that Alladin vest and long flowing Bon Jovi locks?”
“I hate you.”