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Monday, May 4, 2009

he boldy went

My mom was born in 1929. She was raised on the radio programs and Saturday serials at the movies and was a Hollywoodphile. Aside from a traumatic WWII event, her fondest recollections of her youth were the hours her family spent in front of the radio and at the Fox theater.
They listened to everything from Fibber McGee and Molly to the Shadow. Abbot and Costello met and frustrated everyone. The programs she loved best allowed the imagination to fill in the gaps between dialog and exposition. Well, the noir mysteries tended to tell you what color the blonde's hair was. I know- duh. Anyway, the imagination was the hook. Mom said she thought of herself as more of a co-creator than a listener. This might account for her very annoying tendency to accurately "predict" plot twists in the soaps we watched. As I think back on the saga Brent Spiner wove over the course of the last month, I realized that his twitfiction shares similar characteristics with those early radio dramas my mom loved.

First it depended on brief, evocative description to move the plot. Second, he used dialect to color the characters dialog. Third, the secondary characters were built successfully upon stereotypes, updated for modern audiences as seen in Monty the bumbling actors agent. Monty is still an agent, but of a different stripe than the bumbling FBI/revenuers/sheriffs of my mother's time. Production style is not the only similarity.

The audience response, as seen in the real time feed, was similar. The audience has some ownership. This, in part, is due to the close identification the audience, already Spiner fans, has with his previous screen incarnations. The trend in modern screenwriting to reference common pop culture icons to give characters more connection to the audience adds to this feeling of ownership or co-creatorship with Spiner. Bogie, to the best of my knowledge, didn't reference the Maltese Falcon in Casablanca or any of his other movies. And no where in the Wizard of Oz do the characters reference Bogie. It wasn't done back then. Similar to my mother's time, is the audience chatter amongst themselves.
What is different, as I said in the first review, is the immediacy of internet connections and the real time (pacific) updates free of time slot constrictions. Spiner posted whenever it was convenient for the story as oppsed to being convenient for a network. My mother and her girlfriends did the same Monday morning "Oh my God, did you_" that me and my friends did in highschool with only 3 TV networks. That was only if they did not gather at someone's house to listen as a party. With the internet, all 300 thousand of us could follow instantly, chat amongst ourselves instantly and give the author/director/actor feedback instantly.

My mother would be uncomfortable with the physicality of this technological age. But I think she would have loved to be able to participate with the star. Of course, knowing mom, Brent Spiner would have had to wear out the block button to get her to stop spoiling the surprises. Of all the Star Trek I have ever watched in my life, Next Generation was the only thing my mom kinda got and Data, the realization of early sci-fi writers' dreams, was the only character my mom actually liked. Public Radio, to some extent, keeps this radio drama tradition alive with Prairie Home Companion and This American Life. But it is the immediacy unknown is old time radio style drama that, if even for a moment, would have made Spiner her hero for life.

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