Recent history, it seems, is like one long corridor out of the snowman. Already we’ve journeyed far, far back to a time when it was OK to keep women in cages, and even farther to a Hollywood where yellowface got the green light.
It’s often relieving, and probably appropriate to dismiss these dated blunders (???) as inherently of-their-time. After all, as well as being 1944 Squinting Champion (for an incredible 147 mins) Katherine Hepburn was also an Oscar-winner, and it’s not like John Wayne is Marlon Brando or anything.
Of course, Enlightenment thinking is problematic at best — and besides, entry into the snowman is not always annal in nature. Sometimes it’s space, rather than time, that gives us that distance, and the vertigo that comes with it.
Take this example, from 1997 movie Spawn:
The Spawn movie does not occupy a place in many critical canons. It does, however, remind us that what is pretty darn offensive in one country (the UK) gets a resounding and irony-free ‘Nothing wrong here’ in another (the US).
So imagine my reaction when I’m dragging my wakeful self through the film, and all of a sudden somebody says the S-word.
OMG it totally sounded like they just said SPAZ.
Never mind, I must have fallen asleep for a second. What did I miss: they’re running around, it looks like they’ve all got consternation, they seem to have lost their dog…
“Spaz…! Where are you, boy? Spaz…?”
They said WHAT…
I reel. It’s like an edutainment video for the dangers of pet naming; cut to a tired biscuit-tin family at the dinner table:
Pop: What we gonna name him if we do get one?
Timmy: How about Toto?
Pop: I’m not calling out Toto in the middle of the night when he won’t come back…
Mom: How about Spaz?
Pop: (Raises glass) I like it!
(All together:) Nothing wrong here…
* * *
So you see, things can get lost in translation without Chinese whispers (or Oscar-winners) ever becoming involved. Like the old saying goes, a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the Earth could be entering the snowman on the other.
Of course the implication is that everything we do — whatever you just did, whatever you’re going to do next — will eventually be found to be a goof. Action and opinion will come to a proscriptive halt, and dogs in films won’t even be given names.
Which doesn’t actually sound too bad.