Friday, March 4, 2011

Time Zombies

BC Provincial Highway 3A near Merritt from milebymile

When I was young, and I motorcycled, I'd ride early, and too fast. When I passed cars, I counted down the time to Quilchena and it seemed like I was riding a time machine, that I could get gain time and arrive before I left. It's a crazy thought, but if you're a morning person, maybe you'll understand. If not, I apologise. But speaking of passing time, check out the keyboard player's afro!

So let's see if I can put this together. It's about people, as time passes. Sometimes, time passes wrong, and you die before you can start living. That's why that terrible teacher in that movie about being a bad teacher is constantly telling us to "seize the day." Even if you haven't a clue how to teach poetry, you can still hook up with a good idea once in a while.*

For most of us, dying is the end of the story. Once time travel gets into the picture, things get complicated. You live after you've already died. You're a time zombie.

"Come with me if you want to live." Who doesn't? But this is the story of Sarah's son. And John Connor's father died long ago. Before the war.

This is Sarah's story. It should have been the last war, and it wasn't. Because of her son, and the way that she raised and protected him. And John Connor's father doesn't even exist yet.

This is Kyle Reese's story, sent on a mission to the past by a leader who cannot tell him anything. Because John Connor is sending his father to die  so that he can live. It's a sacrifice that a good father will make, but it is not the father making that sacrifice. Yet Kyle must die if he is to live, because to live is to love, and his love lies in the past: Sarah Connor.

Oh, sure, it's schmaltzy and, if you want to overintellectualise it, troubling. There's a word for people who fall in love with pictures, and that word is "crazy." Still, there's a reason that Terminator works and the sequels don't, so much. It's a story with a heart. It plays with the longing a time machine signifies, to go back and do it over, make it right. There was this girl who liked you, and you didn't even notice. Or  you couldn't accept that someone like that liked you.

And it realises that that's zombie territory. Life is to be lived forward. Kyle has to live in the now, where the girl  is, take that picture out and do some bloody seizing. And it works! You've got to love stories.

And yet....This is also the Terminator's story. Thinking about time travel just hurts the head, but it really seems hard to believe that you can change what has already happened in your past. Skynet rose, and was defeated. Now it is sending a poor peripheral to the past. In its longing for what could have been, Skynet demands that Terminator "make it didn't happen." All that it can accomplish is to add a  robot Cupid to the story of Sarah and Kyle, shooting 9mm bullets of love.

 At least we don't have to worry about Terminator's romantic arc. It's not that a machine can't find love, since in Hollywood anything, even robots, can find love. It's that it's already dead. It died before it could live.

This isn't right. Not even to poor Terminator. Trapping people in time loops is unfair to them. And here I speak as a historian.

Why? Historians time travel in a different way. We look back to the past and try to get inside its clothes. Its pants, even. But when you're interested in the longue durée, time has a way of moving into the future. Fernand Braudel spent the last part of his career worrying about the future, because his idea of how history worked told him he was in the middle of a long downward movement. Much as I admire Braudel, he was wrong about that. You don't, however, have to believe in his weird Kondratieff waves to see that the demography of the past has shaped our future. That age cohort bulge is working its way through the system, and for Generation X to live in retirement will take all the money that we are making now. We need to earn it, keep what fraction we can (since finance is hungry for every penny to replenish the funds that are supposed to meet the demand) and, since we'll never see those funds, send that fraction forward in time to fund that retirement.

The problem is that every dollar sent forward is a dollar that we can't spend now on what have you. Skynet wants to exterminate the human race, but it won't have to if we can't scrounge up some dollars for living life. No life, no babies. And so Gen X is trapped, dying before it can live.

 I'm hungry enough to eat some brains. Although today I'll settle for a Sausage McMuffin on my way to work.

*If you find this animus for Dead Poet's Society troubling, all I can say is that you need to hang out with a pervert teacher who quotes it all the time.

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