First posted on May 4th, 2011 on The Retroist Retro Blog and Podcast - CW post link
Sometimes it seems like pop culture greatness is a difficult thing to achieve. With changing tastes and advances in technology there can be a fine line between being popular and circling the drain. Even “Retro” movements can have an influence on modern entertainment. But is pop culture destined to always get better? Maybe not. Perhaps there are events powerful enough to change it’s course forever. I bring you the tragic tale of Battle Zone.
The year was 1980 and the place was Vector, New Mexico. Members of the US Military’s elite, Imagination Corps had embarked on a groundbreaking program of war games known as BattleZone. The US Military purchased 200 acres of land in the vast Rotberg Desert in the shadows of the Atari Mountains. Highly trained technicians designed an elaborate and massive obstacle course to train soldiers in the operation of the new 2600 Tank series. Large generic geometric objects were placed at regular and awkward intervals throughout the grounds.
This training ground thrived for years. The research and training at the battle zone facility led to advances in warfare, sweet action television shows, real weapons and toy weapons. Pretty much everything except video games. Unfortunately over time, regulations began to relax and the battle grounds began to transform from a source of innovation, into a place where soldiers could work out aggression and do some damage with no real consequence. The trainees turned tank training into a game with a point system for “tagging” the tanks of the other team. The destruction of “enemy” helicopters gave tank pilots an even larger amount of points.
At that same time, an alien race sped across the universe, on a mission of mercy to our world. They recognized the crossroads that earth had found itself at. At that time we were at the height of our creative potential. Never before had people created such amazing cartoons, action figures, or of course senior citizen themed sci-fi movies. While we seemed invincible, we were in fact at a tipping point. In one direction. it meant that we could build upon the greatness that we had only begun to realize. The other direction took us to a dark place, a future of reality shows, hollow pop singers, and children show hosts that couldn’t even SPELL Mr. Rogers. This is what the brave captains of those alien vessels had hoped to prevent. Little did any of us know that they were on a collision course with destiny.
There were transmissions announcing the arrival of these emissaries. They were transmissions that would ultimately arrive too late. The captains of the space crafts unknowingly made one fatal mistake. They attempted to land at the secret castle hidden within the Battle Zone Volcano. The soldiers, not knowing what they were dealing with, were stunned by the arrival of flying saucers. And while they could have taken the time to communicate, to be patient and find out the purpose of these visitors; they instead choose to expand the rules of their war games to include the alien ships and award “bonus points” to the soldiers who shot them out of the sky. The alien visitors clearly posed no threat and never once fired on the tanks, yet still they were targeted. A second saucer was sent and met with the same fate. Finally after a third craft was attacked the leaders of the planet Oddidore had had enough. There was a brief moment when the Mothership was almost sent to retaliate for the number of saucers destroyed but it was eventually decided to just abandon all attempt to deliver the gifts of art and culture to a planet that clearly did not deserve it. As we had sealed our own fate, no further punishment would be needed.
In a heartbreaking revelation after the tragedy we finally received the messages from our would-be heroes. And what they revealed was shocking. We were given a glimpse, not only into our future but into TWO possible futures. The first was so amazing, few of us could begin to imagine. In this earth, we had begun to produce programs of such high quality, that people felt nostalgic for show while they were still being produced! We had abandoned the shallow concept of trying to please a mass audience and in doing so had refined all forms of art to near perfection. This was a world where the music industry had been taken by storm by the elegant genius of a man simply named Peachy. A world where the television show Serenity was entering into its 11th season. Where horror films had continued to get better and better, in the honored tradition of classics like Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser. Movies so great that no remakes were ever made.
The second future was a grim one indeed, full of too many horrors to name in my limited time. This was a place where people like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, had somehow become pop stars. A world where mankind was interested in the latest exploits of a “lady” named Gaga who constantly paraded in costumes made of whatever stuffed toys or grocery items she happened to find. There were channels called Music Television, and Cartoon network, that had turned their backs on Music and Cartoons. Worst of all, the people of this future had opened their arms to embrace the unthinkable…They embraced people from New Jersey. These “celebrities” starred in a television program that was so horrible, I refuse to even attempt to describe it.
After the contents of the alien transmissions were leaked to the public, all nations slipped into a state of despair. Blame quickly fell not only on the tank pilots, but the entire Imagination Corps. Some people even claimed that we should have never created the Corps in the first place. Even going so far as to say that we should have just stuck with normal military branches, not one based on creating and defending pop culture.
In a last ditch effort to sway the opinion of the public General Bradley T. Trayner released an official and heartbreaking statement:
“We, hardened soldiers of the Imagination Corps, have been through a lot. We remember when GI Joe was a giant doll, and not the awesome articulated action figures they are today. We remember the dark days before Reagan once again allowed advertisers to create thirty minute long commercials for their new toy lines. And what totally boss commercials they were. There have never been greater fans of such pure works of art as the Go-Bots and Rubik the Amazing Cube, than your fighting men and women. If it means that there will be a time when we can’t drive down the street listening to the latest hit by Flock of Seagulls or Devo. If it means that one day we as a nation will be subjected to the music of Ni….(he pauses here, visibly trying to hold back a flood of emotion, to stay strong.) the music of Nickleback, then I cannot say how personally sorry I am. We have always pledged to keep this country free to make newer, better, less Boe focused episodes of She-Ra Princess of Power. And it is our hope that we can bounce back from this mistake. However dark it may seem, I believe that we can come back. I believe that joy will once again return to our nation. In the words of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, “Na na na, we are going to have a good time!”
The Generals powerful words began to ever slightly, lift the spirits of the nation. Despite the crushing setback, perhaps Earth could move forward to a brighter future on its own. The human spirit is a powerful thing. As I do not exist within your reality,, there is no way for me to be sure as to which path you chose. All I can say is that I hope this communication finds you well. It is my fondest hope that you have arrived in the bright future I witnessed and never have to suffer the horrors of Zack and Cody, or the Jersey Shore. Wherever you happen to be, I hope a lesson has been learned. We should always assume that the sudden arrival of spacecraft from another would will bring nothing but peace, hope and a better tomorrow. If we ever again destroy what we don’t understand, we could doom ourselves even more than we already have.
Bonus points? Sure. But at what cost. At what cost.