Saturday, July 18, 2009

Laser Cheese

If you're old enough, you may remember when the Laserium was first invented. But in case you aren't old enough or your memory isn't that good, a Laserium show was basically a few lasers creating complex patterns on the ceiling in time to some music.

I don't know when I first heard about it, but I remember seeing a Laserium show in the auditorium of the Griffith Park Planetarium when I was a freshman in college, at home for the Christmas break. It wasn't a horrible experience or anything like that, but I'm pretty sure I thought the show didn't live up to all the hype.

I never gave it much thought after that, and I guess I just assumed that the Laserium died with the 1970s, but I have come to find out recently that it's still around.

Last weekend, I went with a friend of mine to see a brand new Laserium show at the Laserium CyberTheater on the fabled corner of Hollywood and Vine. But before I get into that, I'll just interrupt myself for a while to tell you that as far as I'm concerned, calling something a "CyberTheater" makes it sound really outdated. I mentioned this to my friend and she agreed, saying it sounded like something from The Terminator. To make things worse, it turns out that the Laserium CyberTheater just opened last month. But all that notwithstanding, the name is inappropriate for another reason. Just look up the word "cybernetic" to find out why.

But hokey and inappropriate though the name may be, the new Laserium technology is much more advanced. They use a lot more lasers, and more colors than I remembered from back in 1972, and they're better at creating representational images, such as words and faces, with the lasers. But despite all that advanced technology, the show seemed just as cheesy as the first one I saw.

While we were waiting in line, I asked my friend how she heard about the new Laserium shows. She told me she gets a weekly email that lists all the local events you can buy tickets for through a particular ticket retailer. I asked her what other events she'd been to and she mentioned that she'd seen a live performance by the Moscow Cat Circus.

I didn't think you could train cats to do tricks, but apparently you can. And if you don't believe me, go to YouTube and search for "Moscow Cat Circus." You'll find videos of cats walking tightropes (actually, loose ropes), climbing up poles, and jumping from one person's shoulders to another's.

She told me that since cats tend to be recalcitrant by nature, sometimes one of the circus cats wouldn't perform a trick. But whenever that happened, they just shooed it away and brought on a cat that was willing to perform. So the cat tricks never stopped, and the show was fun to watch.

I sort of wish I'd seen the cat circus instead of the Laserium show. The Laserium show wasn't bad, but the best part was the music. The lasers weren't all that interesting, because after a while the visual effects just get old. There were basically three shows, each one featuring a different band from the '60s and '70s. We saw the Beatles show. If we'd gone on another night, we could have seen the Led Zeppelin show or the Pink Floyd show. I wanted to see the Beatles show because I was never much of a Pink Floyd or Led Zep fan, but in retrospect, maybe we should have seen the Pink Floyd show instead.

And here's why: Regardless of what anyone says, Laserium started out as a form of pseudo-psychedelic entertainment for stoners -- you could get high, sink into a comfortable upholstered chair, then stare at the ceiling and watch lasers spinning around to what was then called "acid rock" or sometimes "psychedelic rock" -- the music of Pink Floyd, for example -- or "electronic music," which had been gestating in avant-garde circles and was just beginning its emergence into the mainstream at the time.

Despite its roots in the drug culture, the Laserium of today is more of a family thing. Sitting to the right of me was a family of three, and the girl was probably four years old at the most. The music didn't bring back memories of the '60s and '70s for her, as it did for me, but she seemed to be enjoying the show nonetheless.

When the show was over, it was still sort of early -- maybe about 10:00 or 10:30 at night -- so we walked down Vine to a coffee shop. It was a tiny little coffee shop, and it was crowded inside due to some sort of Klingon gathering. So we sat at a little table on the sidewalk next to some Klingons.

I'm not a trekkie or a trekker or whatever they like to be called, but based on my limited experience, it seems like of all the different humanoids that populate the Star Trek universe, Klingons are the most popular by far. You never hear of Star Trek fans dressing up as Romulans, Cardassians, Ferengi, or even Earthlings, for that matter. Everybody always wants to be a Klingon. Maybe it's because they look so menacing.

Just as an aside, did you know that the Bible and the works of Shakespeare are being translated into the Klingon language? Did you even know there is a Klingon language? For some reason, I know this, but it's because I've been interested in linguistics for a long time and not because I'm a fan of Star Trek. I read an article a few years ago about the Klingon Language Institute, which was founded by a linguist who basically invented the Klingon language himself. I don't know how much his language has to do with the language spoken by the Klingons on TV -- not much as far as I can tell, since the TV Klingons mostly spoke English -- but it doesn't really matter, since neither language is actually a real language, despite the likely protestations of the Klingon Language Institute.

Anyway, as the night wore on, the Klingons at the coffee table decided it was time to go. But before they left, they decided to get out of their Klingon costumes. After they packed up their fake swords, removed the wigs and latex masks from their faces, took off their robes, and replaced their boots with their street shoes, they didn't look so menacing anymore. They were two guys in their late 50s or early 60s, both balding and mild-mannered, one wearing glasses and the other a bit on the short side. I wondered if they had any kids, or grandchildren, and if they did, what their offspring thought of them. Were they proud? Were they embarrassed? We may never know, but I didn't see any young-looking Klingons there, if that's any sort of clue.

We decided to leave a little while later, and since I live sort of far from Hollywood, I probably got home around midnight. I wasn't tired, though. I'm rarely tired at midnight -- that's just the way my biological clock is set -- but the coffee I had probably played a part in keeping me awake as well. I didn't feel like reading or watching TV, so I turned on my computer and watched a few clips of the Moscow Cat Circus.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

It Started with a Cat

There's a woman who works at my local Whole Foods Market. I don't see her every time I go there, but sometimes when I'm there she's working behind one of the cash registers. She tends to wear short-sleeve or sleeveless tops, so I can usually see her arms, and one day when she was totaling up my grocery bill, I happened to notice that she had a Hello Kitty tattoo on one of her arms.

That seemed like some sort of trademark violation to me, but I know it's not the first time someone's gotten a tattoo of a corporate logo. Consider the many motorcycle gang members with Harley-Davidson tattoos on their arms. As far as I know, not one of them has ever been sued for trademark infringement.

Anyway, back to the woman at Whole Foods. When I first saw that little stylized cat head on her arm, I wasn't even sure it was actually a tattoo. It looked like someone had drawn the Hello Kitty logo on her arm with a ballpoint pen. I couldn't tell for sure, but by the time I'd gotten back to my house, I'd completely forgotten about it.

Then I saw her again a few weeks later. She still had the Hello Kitty logo, so I assumed it was a permanent tattoo. She also had a smaller tattoo somewhere else on her arm, but I don't remember what it looked like, nor do I remember which arm it was on. In any case, once again, by the time I got home, I'd forgotten all about it.

But then I saw her again several months later and she had multi-colored tattoos all over both arms. The original Hello Kitty tattoo was all but invisible.

I've been seeing a lot of this sort of thing lately, by the way. A lot of people are getting tattoos that go up and down each arm. Men do it and women do it, although men usually stick with the classic dark blue, while women tend do go with multiple colors. Also, men tend to get what have become known as tribal tattoos -- possibly because they vaguely resemble the tattoos worn by the Maoris in New Zealand -- while women tend to favor more representational designs, such as flowers and birds and trees and Hello Kitty logos.

I don't know how I feel about this whole thing. Sometimes all those tattoos look okay, although I've always thought that tattoos look better on the upper arms than they do on the forearms. That's just a reflection of my own personal aesthetic, however, and beyond that, I don't feel like I'm qualified to make any judgments since I don't have any tattoos myself, and probably never will for as long as I live. But it's not because I don't like them -- it's more that I don't see the point.

People with tattoos get criticized a lot, it seems, and a few years ago some guy was telling me that anyone who gets a lot of tattoos as a teenager might find it difficult getting a job in the professional world as an adult. I disagreed, telling him that by the time that teenager becomes an adult, a lot of other people will have tattoos as well -- including his potential boss -- because by then tattoos will be so common that they won't have the stigma that they have today.

He didn't have any response to that, leading me to believe that I was right and he was wrong, but if I'm right, it probably means that in the not-too-distant future, when more than half the people are covered with tattoos, people like me -- the ones without tattoos -- will be stigmatized. So watch out whom you look down upon, because one day, when they are in the majority, they will probably look down upon you.

If you don't believe me, then just wait. And it's not going to be limited to people with tattoos either. Consider this, for example:

Right now, fat people outnumber fit people. And as the ranks of the fat people grow and the low fat people become more of a minority group, anyone who isn't more than a few pounds overweight will be treated like an outcast. I'm not saying we won't deserve it, because fat people have been teased and taunted and discriminated against for longer than I've been alive. But it won't stop there, because the fat majority will eventually be outnumbered by the ever-growing community of obese people, who might eventually outnumber all the fat and fit people put together. And when that happens, they'd be justified in turning their scorn and their wrath toward us, because of the cruel way we've made fun of them over the years. Things could get ugly if they become violent, but at least we'd be able to outrun them. On the other hand, if they decide to taunt and tease and ostracize the rest of us, I don't know how many of us would be able to deal with the humiliation.

But please don't think I'm singling out the fat or the obese. I'm just using them as an example.

I believe stupid people already outnumber the rest of us, but instead of admiring us or even simply tolerating us, they ridicule us by calling us eggheads and elitists. (As an aside, where did stupid people learn the word "elitist"?) It doesn't happen a lot, because very often they're too stupid to realize that we're smarter than they are. I can tell when I'm in the company of someone a lot smarter than I am, but a lot of stupid people foolishly think that they're just as smart as anyone else. But getting back to my original point, stupid people -- when they recognize an intelligence greater than their own -- will often ridicule it. I've been a victim of this, myself. You probably have been too.

This is the tyranny of the masses. When the lowest common denominator gains power, it uses that power to discriminate against everyone else. And as each generation follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, and the lowest common denominator gets lower and lower, we as a people will become useless and irrelevant. And this is how humanity will end.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the pendulum will one day reach the end of its arc and swing back in the opposite direction. Maybe people will once again recognize the importance of intellectual curiosity and the value of thinking for themselves. Maybe one day, more people will decide to take a walk around the block and enjoy the sensation of muscles contracting and relaxing in harmony instead of vegetating in front of the television.

Or maybe not. Either way, it doesn't matter to me. I'm still not getting a tattoo.