Saturday, January 13, 2018

Plot twist? Cell phone.

So, yes, we're home! It's a new year! And stuff!

Today was Nerd Brigade Mark 2.5 day, notable in that the female players, for the first time, outnumbered the male ones. They played and sang and ate pizza and cupcakes and generally appeared to be having fun, despite going up against an astral spirit, a giant and a whole bunch of Githyanki.

In other news, V has started a new semester at school, which means I anticipate spending several days a month reading plays to her over the phone. We read the first one, Deathtrap by Ira Levin, a few days ago. I'm familiar with Deathtrap, having seen the film and at least one student production, and I noticed a number of self-referential play-within-a-play conceits that I hadn't seen before, but this time what mostly stood out to me was the way technology has changed since October 1978, the setting of the play. There were no cell phones, there were no fax machines, there was no modern Internet, and there was no way for an upper-middle-class household to access the Internet that existed at the time, since home computers were brand new and fantastically expensive. Instead, everyone uses typewriters. One character mentions having to make a carbon copy of his play, since the Xerox machine is on the fritz (for those not in the know, a carbon copy is a mechanical method of creating an original document and a copy simultaneously, using a typewriter, two sheets of paper and a sheet of carbon paper sandwiched between them. As one types, the typewriter prints the original sheet of text and also presses hard enough to create a secondary text behind it, using the carbon paper to transfer the typed letters onto the second sheet. It's a slow, painstaking, low-resolution process that Microsoft Word and a cheap printer have made happily obsolete).

(There were also a few popular culture references that might confuse people who came of age since 2001. At one point a character dryly describes his potential collaboration with another character as "Rodgers and Heartless." V didn't know about Rodgers and Hart, so that comment went sailing over her head. It's a reference that's aged relatively well, assuming you know your Broadway musical collaborators... of the past century.)

My sister and I were discussing this later, and we came to the conclusion that most of the major plot twists in popular fiction, from the beginning of time all the way into the 1980s, could have been untwisted easily if characters had just had cell phones. The Cask of Amontillado? Cell phone. Robinson Crusoe? Cell phone. Metropolis? Cell phone. Romeo & Juliet? Cell phone. In fact, the cell phone is such a deus ex machina device for plot twistification that it's probably destroyed all sorts of potential tragic romances and castaway novels in embryo, before the writers spin up a single word.

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