A Fridge Too Far

I had a problem with my fridge. No, I know that’s not the most compelling way to start an article, but bear with me, it’ll all come right in the end. Anyway, my fridge was dying. It wasn’t a cheap fridge so naturally I was somewhat annoyed at its premature bout of terminal illness. So much so, that I started bitching about it on Facebook – “Fridge dying… really pissed off… that’s £600 down the toilet… etc.”

Well, I’m sad to say that the inevitable happened, and over the following weekend my loyal refrigerating retainer shuffled off to the great landfill in the sky. I may have shed a tear as I rapidly devoured the tub of liquefying Cornish ice-cream and the McMountain of softening oven chips.

On returning to work the next week, a colleague of mine – who we’ll call “Jim” for that is his name – asked, in response to my Facebook lamentations, “Did you get your fridge working?”

Jake sees the light

Epiphany, epiphany! They’ve all got it epiphany!

And I was struck by that cosmic kismet, that astronomical alignment, where a perfectly placed funny line is the ONLY correct response. The comedy greatness of what was about to usher forth from my lips could not be under estimated. The Fates had set me up with the ultimate feedline and I was about to deliver on it. So I said the only thing I could say in the situation, with a deadpan face I said,

“It’s worse than that, it’s dead, Jim”

Pause. Wait for penny to drop and hilarious laughter to ensue. Create bond of shared experience with fellow human being. Grow friendship. Began lifetime of mutual admiration and respect. Discover shared hitherto unknown fascination with human DNA. Cure Cancer and Ebola. Collect Nobel Prize. Finally part in death – our lives complete – as fulfilled, revered old men. State funeral. A nation mourns. Exeunt omnes. Curtain.

Jim looked at me with a blank expression that said “it’s Monday morning and I’m yet to have tea”.

“Oh” he replied, “that’s a shame”

And left me. Standing there. Mouth agape. Holding the stillborn cadaver of a comic moment that could have taken its place in humour history alongside Del-Boy at the bar, Dead Parrot and Keanu Reeves’ English accent. A metaphorical tumbleweed blew through my office, closely followed by an orchestra of crickets. Chirp. Chirp.

What had gone wrong? It was the perfect set-up – a dying appliance, a bloke called Jim, a question about its recovery – followed by a fantastically witty Star Trek reference. How could it have failed? This would never happen on The Big Bang Theory. Could it be Monday morning slowness on Jim’s part? Could I have been too deadpan in my delivery? Orrrrrrrrrrrr could it be because Jim is about half my age and hasn’t watched any Shatner era Star Trek?

Nah. Surely everyone has seen some Shatner Trek? It’s always being repeated on some channel or other and it was required viewing when I was a kid and –

Shouty Shatner

JIIIIIIMMMMM!

Hold on. In the past twenty years since I could be called ‘young’ things have changed quite a lot. There are more TV channels, lots more, and there are DVD box sets, and streaming, and video piracy and what’s more there’s enough new Star Trek (and other sci-fi) to mean there’s no need to return to the archive. In fact, if I were alive today (so to speak) I doubt I’d bother watching an old TV show that was cancelled before I was even born. So perhaps twenty-something Jim has not boldy gone where no man has gone before (steady!).

But I was force fed a lot of film and TV in the 70s and 80s – good and bad – and it helped shape my thinking, my language and my humour. And this got me wondering about cultural references, and how the common language of television and film is perhaps not as ‘common’ as it once was.

I was born in the early 1970s and we had three channels to choose from – none of them 24 hour – and a black and white TV set to watch them on. Home video recording hadn’t been invented and even if it had, we couldn’t afford one (we didn’t get a VCR until the late 1980s). So you watched what you were damn well given and if you wanted to re-watch something you had to wait for the repeat, or in the case of a movie go back to the cinema and cough up for another ticket (I think I only did that with Star Wars). This meant that for the most part you ended up consuming someone else’s entertainment playlist – the TV scheduler.

You had a little control, you could hop channels or switch off, but ultimately you had to make the best of watching a stranger’s choices. Because there wasn’t anything more modern and shiny available at that particular moment, it meant you watched a lot of tripe you wished you hadn’t (Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan back catalogue, for example) and a lot of TV and film gold that you perhaps wouldn’t have chosen for yourself otherwise.

This meant that over the years I was exposed to amongst other things Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Keystone Cops, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Invaders, Mission Impossible, Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers, Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, Land of the Giants, Time Tunnel, Randall & Hopkirk Deceased, Frankenstein (Karloff), Dracula (Legosi/Lee), The Wolfman (Chaney), The Haunting, Night of the Demon, Brighton Rock, The Avengers (Steed, et al) and of course, the original Star Trek series.

Some of the titles listed above are rightly regarded as classics and you might think “well of course he should watch them”. But remember I was young and like most kids, hedonistic. I just wanted to watch what I wanted to watch, never mind if it was ‘required viewing’ or not.

The Adventure Game

Daenerys Targaryen looked different back then

But because of the limitations of the time, I couldn’t just watch what I wanted to watch (mostly cartoons, TISWAS and anything from the US). I was locked into THAT schedule. By killing time waiting for M*A*S*H to start, or failing to turn over after The Adventure Game I was exposed to these un-selected gems, and because of their age (some from as early as the 1920s) it meant I had something in common with my older relatives and friends.

My Dad and I could have a laugh talking about Laurel & Hardy, if a family friend shouted “I am not a number!” I got the joke, and if I said “it’s worse than that, he’s dead Jim” I bloody well got a laugh. We had stuff in common; a seven year old kid talking to person ten times his age, and that’s the first step in any healthy relationship. Without it, we’d feel uncomfortable and stilted and soon retreat to our respective corners where we still felt relevant.

So does that mean the generation gap is widening now that we have Tivo and video-on-demand? Does being able to choose from a buffet of media mean that we only choose what we like, and never dabble with the slightly odd looking grey dish at the back covered in fluff? Does this mean the ‘youth of today’ are culturally stunted and only live in the now? And does this mean I’m doomed to eke out the rest of my days making bad jokes and seeing the less wrinkled faces stare back at me blankly? Who knows? Let’s try…

This message will self-destruct in five seconds.

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Anything?

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3 thoughts on “A Fridge Too Far

  1. Very insightful. Those film and TV one-liners are part of the glue that binds our generation; presumably there must be “contemporary” equivalents?
    And don’t forget those LARP and RPG moments we have shared over the decades: do they make us elitist (elite-ist?), part of a clique?
    Ultimately it is all part of “belonging”: you rightly mourn the loss of that link with the younger generation, in effect witnessing a breach in the social fabric [from your perspective].
    In other words: you’re getting old. 😉

    • Look at it from another perspective: you’re forging those bonds with your children, something I would consider very valuable. Having that common ground link with one’s parents makes for a solid foundation for the relationship.
      Though your one-liner falling flat (shocked, t.b.h.) is still the death knell for that commonality with those outside your peer group, who cares about them? Let them work at it: you’ve done your bit. 🙂

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