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Of the last few crops of Youth it’s been lamented their plundering of the increasingly immediate past for inspiration paints a grim future where we simply run out of ideas. The 80s took from the 50s. The 90s looked to the 70s. The 00s referenced the 80s. And now in the Teens, kids born after 9/11 wear Nevermind shirts and ‘The Mind’s Eye’ is cutting edge design. Remember ‘The Mind’s Eye’? You might have seen it playing behind Rihanna’s SNL performance recently:

(kidding, but man, this and MYST – is your bran reeling with dissonance remembering this as ULTRA CUTTING EDGE! and seeing it now? If so, congratulations- you’re over 30.)

There is a corresponding positive view that once the snake finally eats itself into nothingness, once we completely mine our immediate past, we’ll be left with nothing but the present and from there, off to a bright and shiny future. Well, perhaps not so bright and shiny; if Disney’s current ‘House of Tomorrow’ teaches anything, it’s that past optimism about the amazing potential of the future has been replaced by a desperate vision of ‘the present plus unasked-for electronics’. From plastic houses on Mars to talking picture frames and presetting music to blast on whenever you enter a room.

The current crop seems to take only optimism from the early 90s, which seems strange only in hindsight. Grunge may have just hit the public consciousness, but the music was the product of late 80s job stagnation and political frustration brewing in a scene for years, then finally breaking through. Bright colors, goofiness, naïvete – the early 90s saw the beginning of the dotcom boom and innovation in every artistic field, especially television and music. What better icon to epitomize the era than Bart Simpson,a mix of irreverence, bravado and hidden insecurity?

Current young designers like ALL Knitwear and Dusen Dusen fully embrace this eye-bright style- late 80s garish excessiveness transmuted by genuine energy and talent into something at once more playful and subversive. Think ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’, ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Sam and Max’, and ‘ToeJam & Earl’.

I’ve written about ‘Toejam & Earl’ before, and realize it’s a bit out of its league in terms of changing the visual landscape for future generations like the other examples, but still- here is a game with little violence, lots of goofiness, and very low stakes. Perhaps a generation’s desire to return to the false idyll of childhood, where stakes felt lower, motivates the current interest in these visuals.

And so, once again taking the extremely scenic route, here sampled are some of those bright and happy images calling up the hopeful future the original generation is currently living (in all its mixed results), and the younger generation still reaching for.

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Firstly, I am not a philosophy major. I did take a rather enjoyable philosophy class led by a man who hated the institution of marriage and gave his office hours as “the bar around the corner from after class to 1:00 a.m.”, but this does not make me an expert.
Though I’m sure my definitions are debatable, I’ve always thought of Existentialism and Nihilism as two sides of the same coin- both are predicated on the idea of living in an absurd, uncaring universe with no purpose or meaning to life; both are reactions to man’s realization of this.
Existentialism strikes me as the stoic positive to Nihilism’s angry negative-where Nihilism’s followers believe in nothing(which sort of negates the whole concept of there beingNihilists, really), Existentialists believe the individual has to forge their own meaning by living life honestly, without conforming to anyone else’s ideas of what living life means. One reacts to the void of purpose by giving in completely, the other by fighting tooth and nail against it. All this, of course, can be expounded upon and debated over for hours and hours on end, preferably over too much coffee in the wee hours of the morning, when philosophical arguments seem to make the most sense.
To simplify, I offer a brief table:


The French
Albert Camus’ “L’Etranger”
The Cure’s “Faith” album
”Hell is other people.”-Sartre


Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games”
The Cure’s “Pornography” album
“The life of mortals is so mean a thing as to be virtually un-life.”- Empedocles

One of my favorite games of all times is the original ‘Toejam and Earl’ for Sega Genesis. Unlike many games today, with epic, sprawling storylines, ‘Toejam & Earl’s is simple to the point of irrelevancy: two aliens crash-land on earth, and have to find the pieces to rebuild the ship and get home to Planet Funkotron.

The rest of the game they wander around a demented, cartoon version of Earth that I wish everyday would become reality. The music is the best MIDI funk I’ve ever heard, and all the sweet early-90’s backgrounds are straight from the FunPants of my dreams.

I bring this game up because I feel it embodies the Existential life. You, as Toejam &/or Earl, choose to make your own meaning as you wander about the Earthly (literal)planes. You could look for the ship pieces, and this would give you purpose and meaning. One could argue that choosing to do so would fulfill the role the game designers had planned for your character, and therefore free you from forging your own reason(ie-the opposite of being existential), but that’s being quibbly.

Or you could just wander about. And that’s fine, too.

This game is everything those pretentious Godard movies should be. Instead of some stupid couple wandering around Paris not really doing much of anything, maybe running away from the police or some bullshit, sitting in a room for 4 hours staring at the quality of light while making vague references to American cinema from the 1940’s, Toejam and Earl kick it around these strange interconnected island levels, cracking wise and dealing with the local Earthlings. Just as in life, some are good, some evil, and most are unaware they’re even causing damage. You can even sneak up on Santa Claus! Does Godard have Santa Claus? Does he?

Fuck no. I bet he doesn’t even believe in Santa.

The point is not the goal. Yes, if you put the ship together, you get to head on back to the perma-party that is Funkotron. But this game is all about the journey. As they wander around a strange and alien land in what is most assuredly an absurd universe that cares not one whit about their plight, TJ & E learn how to interact with their fellow travelers.

(A point-The existential life, as a result of creating one’s own identity, is by default a lonely one. However, as their goals and actions are one(both TJ & E have to be on the elevator for it to move, for example), I consider them symbiant and therefore one being in two bodies). There is no hope of empathy or true interaction; the Screaming Mother with a shopping cart would just as soon run you down as not, and the Giant Hamster’s isolation is literally translated into the ball it’s trapped in. The most that can be hoped for is a pleasant surface exchange, such as paying the Carrot Man(a wandering scholar in a carrot suit) to tell you what your presents are. There is also the enigmatic and benevolent Santa, but it is nigh impossible to reach him; as you near, he startles, and quickly zips away on his jetpack.

Nihilism takes the form of a roving pack of tomato-shooting chickens(I believe they are wearing German WWI helmets, in a further connection). These chickens are acting against being chickens, but instead of forging a new identity, they choose to maintain a pack mentality and wreak destruction on all who wander near. Alright, that argument is totally shaky and unconvincing, but whatever, I’m arguing philosophy in relation to evil chickens. Alright! Three hours wasted!

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