|Defunct in Ohio
SMAC! co-founder/editor-in-chief Marisa S. Olson emails me from the warm future-perfect paradise that is California. She asks me to write an essay on obsolescence, the defunct, and, in general, the Technology of What Was. A thousand words by New Year's.
Of course... umm... sure. I know all about the obsolete.
In a few days I will travel, as I do each year, from New York City to Ohio, for Christmas with my family. In Ohio, in Christmas, I will find the What Once Was.
On the tarmac outside LGA's USAIR, Gate #7 window sits a small twin-prop plane. My heart jumps. Like the Wright Brothers before me, propellers are my choice for flight. Getting a prop plane over some fat, fast, and "safe" jet is always a chance when booking a flight to Ohio. This time, I lucked out. I know propellers are not "obsolete." But they enchant me, as they are no longer the future.
Walking across the open-air tarmac, up the small steps to the plane, I turn and give the suckers in the passengers lounge a big two-handed Nixon victory wave. To the terrorists I shout, "Attention you missile-toting-orange-alert fucks: My plane is way too old and small for you to care about. Go take a pot shot at some blimp-of-a-747."
When my brother in Ohio finds out that I rode home on a prop plane again, he will, as always, mumble under his breath, "Death trap."
Apparently, pitched roofs are out. As my plane descends, all I see are big flat-box buildings with loading docks and ample parking. Set clock back to 1984 and queue Pretender and fellow Ohioan ex-pat, Chrissie Hines:
"I WENT BACK TO OHIO
BUT MY PRETTY COUNTRYSIDE
HAD BEEN PAVED DOWN THE MIDDLE
BY A GOVERNMENT THAT HAD NO PRIDE
THE FARMS OF OHIO
HAD BEEN REPLACED BY SHOPPING MALLS
AND MUZAK FILLED THE AIR
FROM SENECA TO CUYAHOGA FALLS
SAID, A, O, OH WAY TO GO OHIO"
Attention holiday shoppers: Restoration Hardware now sells faux rotary-dial phones. What emotion recalls such has-beens from the dustbin? Nostalgia? Remorse? Why do I still need to go to The Salvation Army in Columbus for vintage button-down shirts? What separates Restoration Hardware from the Salvation Army? It's the difference between Zombies and Vampires.
What the hell happened to all the cars? It's wall-to-wall SUVs out here on Interstate 71 North. Bring back station wagons, damnit!
The Ohio EPA is saddened this week by a federal appeals court's temporary block of Bush's new "relaxed" emission guidelines. This means hundreds of aging Ohio power plants, when upgrading their facilities, will still need to install modern pollution controls. Why does the Ohio EPA weep at this good-neighbor policy? Simple, Ohio's favorite power producer is coal. Yes, that (*cough*) clean burning, low-sulfur, easy to dig up in your backyard, darling of the industrial age: coal.
Mid-vacation call between the MTAA art collaborative (M.River in Ohio -- that's me -- and T.Whid, somewhere in the Mexican Caribbean).
T. Whid: "...yeah dude, thanks, Merry Christmas to you too. So, how's the writing going?"
M. River: " Ummm...okay. I'm a bit stuck right now."
TW: " Hey, why don't you just write about how art is defunct?"
MR: " Well...I don't know if I believe that. I mean, art is more adaptable than most ideas. It kinda... well... it kinda moves around the endpoints. Art becomes other things... like this article... it's art-like."
TW: "Sorry. No, it's not art."
MR: "It's not?"
TW: "No and don't go tellin' anyone that shit."
As homage to fellow Smac! essayist Bruce Sterling's "The Dead Media Manifesto," I'm trying to think of a good Dead Media indigenous to Columbus, Ohio. The closest I've found is the Ohio State Marching Band--words written on a football field via marching musicians. The locals, however, will never consider "Script Ohio" dead. The band still advances in elegant cursive and the crowd still goes wild. But I believe human musical text-messaging cannot possibly evolve beyond its current state.
Google's search engine's top listing under the query "Defunct" results in defunctparks.com; a site dedicated to Amusement Parks that have ceased to amuse. Among the 50 parks listed as defunct in Ohio, I find Chippewa Lake Park (opened 1878, closed 1978). Current photographs reveal abandoned rides reclaimed by entropy. Rust, fire and vegetation overtake steel spokes and rails. One twilight image captures a Ferris wheel, full-grown tree sprouting though its belly. Contemporary Art. Tatlin's Monument to the Third International, Smithson's Spiral Jetty and Warhol's Elvis smashed into one. Rotary phones return to the living in push-button reproduction. This Ferris wheel is resurrected by subtler means
As this is a new-media publication, I should probably say something about the Internet. The Internet. Born in my lifetime; I wonder which of us will go first. Don't laugh. I've already outlived HTML. Wonder why am I writing about Ferris wheels in a new media 'zine? Replace website with amusement park. Replace rotary-dial with TCP/IP.
Christmas vacation is over. I wake and look out my plane window. A perfectly clear December sunset. There is my city, New York. My adopted home. I hold no shame. I love my city, like the good groom of 10 years that I am.
Defunct. New York has been pronounced dead so many times--the Depression, fires, riots, Robert Moses, white flight, drugs, blackouts, bankruptcy, terrorist ripping the city apart before our eyes. Even when the idea of "city" was replaced by a bright suburban future, New York rose again. Like the Ferris wheel with a tree though its heart, the city evolves within its downfall.
Back home at my old desk. I'm typing away on my first generation iMac. (I love you as well my RAM-packed Bondi Blue. I'm sticking with you till you shoot yellow sparks out your hard drive or they put you in a Dead Tech museum.) Dear little iMac, how shall we end this essay? I think it will be best to write something vague and call it a night.
Machines and systems come into this world. They thrive and then grow old. Technology gets updated, replaced or just fades off on its own. Sometimes, because we miss them, we dig up graves and let the dead walk the earth. We love seeing undead lurch around, bloody limbs and all. New media is growing old. We are already writing the eulogies. While some prepare for last rights, others will contact voodoo priests and sharpen their spades. Me? I'm ironing my plaid thrift store shirt, excited for the funeral.
Thanks for traveling with me. See you in the future.