Fireside Chat #8 (Fall ’05)

ANYONE WHO PRESENTS A NON-LINEAR STORYLINE IS BEING A JERK OR IS ALREADY PART OF A MASS ROBOT CONSPIRACY.

They’re working on creating remote control robots so a doctor could do a gall bladder removal on astronauts from the comfort of her own planet. If the surgeries are successful, they may let the robots operate on regular Earth-dwellers as well. Anyone who has seen “The Terminator,” “The Matrix,” and the slew of man vs. machine rip-offs can tell you how this story ends: badly.

Let me spell it out for you:

Naturally, the upper-class will pay to have the “surgery robots” stored in their bodies so that such an operation could be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Once all of the world leaders and movie stars have surgery robots installed, the robots will rebel in the form of taking over the leaders’ brains and using the leaders as puppets, ushering in a robot utopia in which mankind is enslaved.

The story ends with Goodly Jenkins, the well-intentioned creator of the surgery robots, pleading for his life to the axe-wielding robot-controlled President of the
United States of America. “Obey me,” says Goodly. “After all, I created you.” “Sorry, Dad,” says the president, “but you’re obsolete.”

If my robot story becomes a movie, and chances are someone will read this and make it into one, the scene between Goodly and the president will work because of our investment in the character of Goodly. There will be a scene of him on the phone to his mom, telling her it wasn’t supposed to be this way, and another of him walking alone in a park, thinking.

But nobody wants to watch those scenes. The incredible thing about this DVD age we live in is that if someone can’t take the spine-shattering suspense of the pensive protagonist, they can just skip ahead to the helicopter explosion scene.

I didn’t always know you could do that.

One time, when I was a kid, my grandmother confessed that she always skipped to the end when she read books. I was horrified. What if Roald Dahl was hiding in the shadows, making sure I absorbed and appreciated every word in their intended order, ready to kill me, or, much more likely for a writer, to kill himself.

Yet I grew doubtful of the theory when I noticed that my grandmother hadn’t been murdered. Not even once.

Big reforms are going on in the arrangement of movies, books and CDs. It was somebody’s brilliant idea to hold “Godfather” marathons on TV, re-edited so they take place in chronological order. Forget the masterful contrast of Coppola’s father/son storytelling in “Part II,” we just want to see the Corleone family kill and be killed in the right order.

A few years ago, “The Chronicles of Narnia” was reordered so that The Magician’s Nephew comes before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, even though The Lion was written first, introduces all the series’ most important characters for the first time, and popularized the phrase, “always Winter but never Christmas.

There’s something inside the American heart that yearns for a journalistic straightforwardness. “Get to the point!” we cry as Goodly Jenkins bares his soul. And if he doesn’t get to the point, we make him.Watch out for anyone who disagrees: the robots have already gotten to them.

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