02 January 2009

Coping with the present through bad acting and special effects

I was reminded this weekend how much some of us look to the future to get to the present - even if those futures will never exist.
My friend Bryon visited this weekend, and brought with him a huge box of books, several of which were old Star Trek technical manuals. I know, I know - they sound like real page-turning stuff to you non-science fiction types out there, but back in the dark ages of high school middle age, they were godsends. I get asked a lot why I like Star Wars and Star Trek, and after years of wondering, I've finally come up with a good answer.
In science fiction, the last, as the Bible verse goes, come first. Unlike real life, the beautiful and the popular do not matter. In a usual science fiction story, the unlikely (Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins) end up heroes, and everyone gets a chance based on their ability, not where they rank in the social scheme of things. Once the playing field has been tilted, the former-nothings usually get a chance to do something great an extraordinary (blow up the Death Star, destroy the Ring, etc.) It's a complete disconnection from the way things work in the real world, where ideals are often sacrificed in the name of pragmatism, and the bold and the beautiful often come out on top.
Neither Bryon nor I were bold OR beautiful during high school. I think it would be safe to say that we were both Luke Skywalker-types who had our heads in another place and were waiting for the time when we'd be able to show the world what we were capable of. We were nothing special in the eyes of our peers, and so we retreated into a world that didn't exist. Some people say that punk rock saved their lives. For me, it was Star Wars, and the music of John Williams. It was a reminder to me of the power of imagination over circumstance, of how dreams can influence reality, and finally, how the small and rise to topple the might.
For nearly two years, I lived, ate and breathed Star Wars. I listened to the music every day on the cold bus that drove me to school. During study halls, I drew amazing technical drawings of the various technologies that made up the movies. I spend every day of the summer of 1994 watching "The Empire Strikes Back," memorizing the dialog and developing a taste for dark sequels. Needless to say, as enjoyable as these skills are, they don't translate to popularity, good grades, or even good posture. It's a complete case of escapism - an escapism that in some small way drove us to chase our dreams. Bryon recently earned his Green Beret, and I've been a journalist for nearly three years now.
I've toned it down over the years. I don't pester friends to sell me their older brother's attic-bound action figures anymore. I don't bring the "Imperial Forces Technical Manual" with me everywhere I go these days. I don't imagine myself as an X-Wing in every "Death Star" trench-looking hallway I find myself in. Real life has taken over my previously lofty orbit, for the most part. I try not to spend too much time imagining how cool it would be to have a jet pack, like Boba Fett.
But if you find me not paying attention or staring off into the distance at some random instant, it's quite possible that I've slipped the bounds of convention and put myself into a "long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

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