An Exercise In Silliness

 

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I would actually love to hear this on vinyl. It seems so appropriate.

I was driving to work this morning when Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” popped up on my playlist. For some reason, one of the lines stuck in my head as something other than the usual bubblegum pop-metal Sweet is known for and I started building a scene in my head based on the lyrics to the song. That started me down the dark path of thinking about how other songs could show scenes that they weren’t necessarily intending to show. Some songs are pretty obvious: Bowie’s Major Tom and all the variants and songs about him tell a story of an astronaut slipping the surly bonds of Earth. Mike + The Mechanics did similar stuff with “Silent Running”, telling a story of a world falling to dictatorship. Roger Waters has made a career out telling a story through an entire album. But it was a particular line in “Ballroom Blitz” that built a much darker scene than Chinn and Chapman likely had in mind when they wrote the song.

So, as an exercise, I decided to see if I could take some other songs and build new scenes off the lyrics. Not all of ’em are winners, but there are a few gems scattered here and there. Most of ’em should be pretty obvious, but there might be a couple you haven’t come across.

The Marine lay dying on the floor. Blood leaked from his torn parade uniform and pooled on the floor under his prone body.

“What happened, son?” General Modine asked as he applied pressure to the young man’s chest.

“It was a trap sir,” the young Marine replied. He turned his head and winced as he coughed up a spray of blood. “The man in the back said, ‘Everyone attack!’. It turned into a ballroom blitz.”

 

Noboru was proud warrior, the last of his line after the near disastrous rout at the hands of the Hakama clan’s dark wizards. He knelt in front of the supreme overlord, his head bent forward exposing his neck that he might be spared the dishonor he had brought up his clan. The overlord’s mechanicals clicked and whirred, a sure sign of his displeasure. Noboru only hoped it would end quickly.

“For your bravery,” the overlord intoned in a voice filled with the ticking of his gear-like body, “you are promoted to field marshal. You may see the fight as a failure, but you saved the lives of your comrades. Rise Marshal Noboru, that my realm may see what a warrior looks like.”

Noburu’s mind whirled as he stood. He had expected death, had convinced himself to welcome it. Instead, he had to learn to convince himself he hadn’t failed. The overlord’s glass eyes stared at him without emotion, but a hint of smile formed on his rubber lips.

Noboru bowed his head to hide both his shame and his relief. “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto,” he whispered.

All around them the desert cracked and blew in waves of dust. Her lips were dry and cracked, eyes sunken in her head. She felt like she was inches from joining the sand. His smile was the last thing she expected to see.

His skin was little more than a thin parchment stretched over a skull, but even though his lips were split, he smiled and said, “You look like rain.”

“Good morning world! Well, what’s left of it, anyway. There are reports of mutants swarming Central, so be sure to avoid the university area this morning. Also, Drox says he has water, but he’s lied before. Let’s be careful out there today. This is the last radio station on Earth and we’re getting ready to play the complete Supersuckers catalog because, man, this sure does suck. You’re listening to the last bit of civilization on the planet and I’m coming at you live from a Mexican radio.”

Sergeant McClaine thought he’d seen it all, but this was horrifying. He couldn’t even tell where her body began and ended. As usual, he buried it deep in his psyche and fought to dig up a witty response. His normal flippancy fled when the bile rose in his stomach and all he could come up with was a lame play on words. “Well,” he said. “She was pretty. Now she’s just pretty fucked up.”

Your turn. Drop ’em in the comments. If anyone’s interested, I can put up a list of the songs I used.

Write Your Own Conspiracy Theory

When I was working on my Master’s Degree, everyone in the MA (yes, I got a Master of Arts in Speech Communication – go figure) program had to go through grad-level statistics. Ostensibly, this was to teach us how to have valid experimental work and give us a better understanding in general of how statistics works. It was actually a good class and I’m glad I took it, even if the only real stats work I did was running a chi square test and some basic validity and reliability tests on my thesis. What I actually took away from the class was how easy it is to manipulate people with numbers. 60% of the time it works 90% of the time. 79% of people know that.

Since my degree – even though it was in Speech Comm – focused on rhetoric and persuasion, I’ve had a sick fascination with the ways people can be manipulated. Naturally, this last election cycle was like being on a several month long bender of lies and distortions. U.S. Presidential elections are usually like that, though. They’re like that crazy chick you know you should stay away from, but you still find yourself waking up in her bedroom and wondering what happened to your clothes and where you got the crazy idea to pierce various places.

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Shocked owl is shocked.

Just to get this out of the way, the election is over and this post isn’t directly about the election, anyway. What this is about, is all the paranoid ramblings that come up every election cycle. Since I’m a writer, I thought it would be fun to write a conspiracy theory and step y’all through the process of manipulating people for fun and profit.

Conspiracy theories are inherently interesting to us as humans. It’s easier to believe aliens built the pyramids than it is to understand a whole lot of people can accomplish something amazing when they set their minds to it. Just like with fake news stories (which are a form of conspiracy theories in that they exploit our base predilections) the trick with any good conspiracy theory is to take advantage the small truth and expand it in all kinds of exciting ways. We’re going to start with two small (probable) truths:

  • Self-driving cars will be a reality in about ten years
  • Insurance companies will offer higher rates for people who insist on driving themselves

I don’t have any concrete evidence for this, but the beauty of a good conspiracy theory is it doesn’t require much evidence. Actually, less evidence is better because it’s hard to refute nothingness. All you really need to do is work with something people already “know”.

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Meet your new car. The high-end ’82 Firebird turned a jaw-dropping 165 bhp from a V8 engine.

Now we’re going to throw some techno-babble at it to make it all sound scientific. Self-driving cars rely on GPS navigation and advanced near-AI computers. Don’t go overboard with the tech stuff or people will ignore it. Add a major corporation and a touch of heath care and you’ve got the makings of a great conspiracy theory.

To finalize the conspiracy theory all you need to do is add a bit of paranoid ramblings that sound truthy. Truthiness is important. A conspiracy theory plays on people’s inherent pre-judgements about the world around them. Again, take something everyone already “knows” is true. This is what separates a conspiracy theory from propaganda. Propaganda seeks to create the “truth”, conspiracy theories exploit that “truth”.  For our conspiracy theory we’re going to play on Americans’ inherent mistrust of government and large corporations. That’s actually one of the things that brings us together as a country: distrusting the people that run the joint and pay the bills.

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Knows a little too much about truthiness, if you know what I mean.

Put it all together and you get something like:

Self-driving cars are almost a reality. Google’s almost got one ready to deploy and you or your kids will probably be able to buy it. Guess what! You’ll also get a discount on your car insurance if you let the car drive itself because that’s how good Google is at this kind of thing and they’ve cut a deal with automotive insurance companies. Google’s actually creating an artificial intelligence to make it all work!

Think that’s a great idea? Think again.

Google is the same company that helped design the Great Firewall of China that blocked Chinese citizens from learning what their government is up to. And they did it at the behest of the State Department! It doesn’t take a genius to think they can do the same thing here in the United States. They’re also masters at working with GPS. Ever looked up your house on Google Maps? They’ve got pictures of your front door. They know where your phone is, too! Now, at the behest of the United States government, Google is going to be able to track your car and see everywhere you go! If you decide you’re going to McDonald’s, Google will know and they’ll tell the government. Since the government runs healthcare now, your health insurance rates will go up because you wanted a Big Mac and someone decided that’s unhealthy!

We’re through the looking glass here, folks. The future is now and it’s just like Orwell predicted: a boot on your throat forever. When self-driving cars debut, do yourself a favor and DON’T BUY ONE!

See how easy that was? Unfortunately, a lot of news these days follows the same kinds of formula. Find something interesting that are already twitchy about, extract it to a logical-sounding conclusion. Next time you read something that sounds too good to be true (Obama founded ISIS!), do yourself a favor and do some digging, especially if it smells conspiratorial. Just like with statistics, it’s possible to “prove” almost anything. Unlike statistics, a conspiracy theory or a fake news story doesn’t require much in the way of truth, it just has to sound true.

Remember, perception is reality.