Welcome to week two of "Ask The A.V. Club," a weekly column in which the pop-culture experts at The A.V. Club attempt to answer your questions. Thanks for all your questions last week. Some of them stumped us, so we're going to throw them out to the readers at the end in a section we call "Stumped." Meanwhile, let's get to the non-stumpy questions. We'll start off with one on a philosophical bent:
How Geeky Is Too Geeky?
Essentially, my question revolves around what you guys think is an acceptable level of displaying pop-culture knowledge. Quick story: I was recently up at a cottage with a bunch of pals, and on the way to a fire pit, a bunch of people fell into this fairly big gopher hole, resulting in scraped knees and spilled beers. Later, I jokingly made reference to it as "The Pit Of Sarlak," to which a friend replied, "I'm so ashamed I get that reference." So what's your opinion? At what point do you cross the line into Comic Book Guy territory? I realize that it's a little different when you make a fairly geeky reference like Star Wars anyway (and is it even correct? Is it Sarlak or Sarnak?) But what's the acceptability on busting out the references?
The Cure Of Keon
Here, we're going to turn things over to A.V. Club associate editor Tasha Robinson, our token geek, whose philosophy on the entire subject may itself be too geeky:
Technically, Keon, it's "the pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlaac." (Isn't the Internet useful? Though how exactly is a fangy hole in the ground "all-powerful"?) Admittedly, knowing that off the top of your head would make you pretty geeky.
But too geeky? Well, who's to say? A hardcore Star Wars fan is going to give you a different answer on that than someone who saw that movie once when it came out, and only vaguely recollects that it takes place in space and involves some dudes with laser swords or something. "Geeky" is easy to determine—anyone who has a lot of dedicated interest or specialized knowledge in a given area (sports, computers, MMORPGs, collectible fantasy-sword reproductions, Star Wars monsters) can be considered a geek, particularly if they have more knowledge of that area than you personally care to have. But "too geeky" is an entirely subjective question.
To my mind, the bright line between "geeky" and "too geeky" is mostly determined by two things: context and attitude. Context is all about being aware of your environment: Chanting off 20 numbers from the Fibonacci sequence is acceptable at math camp, too geeky at band camp. Knowing whether a ghoul is tougher than a ghast is useful if you're playing Dungeons & Dragons, but way too geeky if you're trying to pick someone up in a bar. Being able to recite entire scenes from Wall Street is great in-group male-bonding fun if you happen to be a day-trader in The Boiler Room, but walking around doing it at an art-gallery opening will just get you funny looks. Basically, you aren't too geeky until you're geeky in an inappropriate situation, especially if you're proudly displaying your specialized knowledge in front of people who think it's a badge of shame rather than honor.
Which is where your attitude comes in. When do you cross the line into Comic Book Guy territory? When you start acting like the Comic Book Guy, treating people with contempt because they don't get your references. "That thing's as deep as the Sarlacc Pit!" isn't too geeky, as long as it amuses you and your friends. "The Sarlacc Pit? Duh! Star Wars? A little movie called Return Of The Jedi? Maybe you saw it? Hell-ooo!" is too geeky for any crowd, and by any standard.
And then there's your own comfort level, which only you can determine. If making a Star Wars reference makes you feel so unclean that you need to seek A.V. Club counseling, maybe that's just too geeky for you, and you should leave that sort of thing to the professionals from now on. But if you're only feeling creeped-out about it because your friend called you on it, then you should probably just can the Sarlaac-pit allusions around him.
The Melody Lingers On
I remember watching MTV over the summer sometime around 1990 (give or take three to five years) and seeing some fairly avant-garde video (people wearing weird costumes on a weird landscape) for an instrumental song. It wasn't by any group I'd heard of (not Enigma or Dave Stewart or anything—didn't sound like them at all). Any clues?
For this answer we turn to Donna Bowman, who used your few details to battle through decades of haze for an answer:
While that's a pretty vague description, we're willing to bet that your mystery video is "Close (To The Edit)" by The Art Of Noise. This mid-'80s artifact was in heavy rotation not only on MTV, but on network video shows like "Friday Night Videos" and on piddly UHF stations that set themselves up as non-cable MTV alternatives. If you've seen it, you probably remember it. A waifish little girl, made up like an anorexic Cyndi Lauper, roams spastically around industrial settings beating on musical instruments—a violin, a piano, a double bass, a bass saxophone. She calls over three black-suited, goggled, wild-haired men wielding power tools, and they set about dismantling the instruments to a metallic andante beat. At one point, one of the men intones poetry while holding a sausage, and a dachshund joins the demolition team. Is this it?
Probably the most memorable characteristic of the video is the humans' weirdly choppy movements. The film appears to be slightly undercranked, speeding up the action. At the same time, the actors have been encouraged to move slowly except when punctuating the beat or rushing in and out of the frame. The result is a combination of fluid, apparently normal-speed movement with preternaturally accurate, lightning-fast gestures pounding out the backbeat.
Other than this iconic video, The Art Of Noise is probably best known for a few popular remixes and deconstructions of TV themes like "Peter Gunn" and "Dragnet," and for being the band behind Tom Jones on his hit remake of Prince's "Kiss." There's a reason they feel so very '80s; they were members of Trevor Horn's team of studio musicians. So when you hear that metal-on-metal, full-spectrum screech on every other beat of "Close (To The Edit)," think of the impossibly rich synthesized sound of Asia and Yes circa 90125—same pedigree, slightly more avant-garde (though undeniably pop-friendly) direction.
Rather than searching the Internet, I want to know what the phrases "so over" and prefix "post-" mean in the context of media criticism? Also, how could one possibly use these phrases in any sort of critical writing without getting stabbed in the face?
Keith Phipps weighs in:
Well, let's get to the second part of the question first: You don't know where we live, and I question your knifing skills.
Now to the first part: I don't think you've ever seen the term "so over" in these pages. My take on it as that it's tied to a way of looking at culture in terms of cycles and expiration dates rather than in terms of quality. It's not, we hope, what we try to do here.
However, it admittedly has some legitimacy as a kind of realpolitick way of looking at pop culture. If a band, for instance, waits too long between albums, it can miss its moment and be perceived as irrelevant. (Hello, Cornershop.) If a film fails at the box office, it can be seen as having little to offer, no matter how high its quality. (Hi there, Down In The Valley.) That type of commentary has its place, and we tend to follow it here, sometimes against our best judgment. (I've got Jeffrey Wells' website bookmarked.) But it's hard to see how the slow encroachment of sales and box-office totals into the critical assessment of art will benefit that art in the long run, except to ensure to confuse quality with marketability.
As for "post-", it's a perfectly fine prefix that's just gotten overused. Although anyone who uses terms like "post-Britney" might deserve some kind of punishment, if not quite a knife to the face.
After correctly identifying a mysterious TV show as Misfits Of Science last week, we were flooded with other hazy memories of forgotten shows and movies. Here are a few. Write in if you can identify them:
I have a couple vivid memories of cheesy, probably made-for-TV movies from the '80s, and I can't for the life of me figure out what they're from:
The first was about a group of kids who are able to talk to each other through blinking their eyes. No super powers or anything, they've just all memorized Morse code or something and can communicate this way. They somehow get mixed up in some sinister plot involving adults (possibly the CIA or something like that). A couple of scenes I remember apart from the blinking include a mix-up between a chocolate-candy hand grenade and a real grenade, and a kid sitting poolside and ordering a beer, then being brought a root beer.
The second one is even more obscure and less clear. All I remember is (possibly) the beginning, where a jet airplane either accidentally or purposefully drops some type of bomb/payload into a warehouse. It doesn't explode—instead, there is a black, gooey substance in the bomb, and it is close to dripping out and causing some type of disaster. A kid is brought in who has some special mental powers, and just as the black liquid is about to drip, the kid is able to mentally return the goo to the bomb and save the day.
I've had these two TV shows that I cannot place bouncing around my head from my childhood, and you've gone and volunteered to find them for me. Sweet. Here goes:
1. This was a sci-fi-type Saturday-morning, live-action show from the early '80s, I reckon, with a team exploring the countryside and doing good. The most prominent element is they drove a white RV, laden with antenna and all sorts of other cool stuff to make it look like it came from the future. I'm sure they also wore white suits, probably tight-fitting in an early-'80s sort of way. I'm also sure the show was bad, but can't remember anything else.
2. This primetime, mid-'80s show was called Phoenix Rising or some such nonsense, and featured this guy (you'd recognize him if you saw him) as some sort of mystic traveling the countryside helping people. But he could call the spirits of his ancestors or some such nonsense, and I seem to also remember there were lots of moments with glowing things he used when needing help from beyond. Or some such nonsense.
So there you have it. Next week, more questions and more answers. But you need to help us out. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.