All the Creamed Corn you can eat, or, Stuck in the 80s Again

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Written by Marty Williams

Memo to: High ranking TV weasel.
From: Marty Williams, idea guy.
Subject: New “Reality” show, “The Early 80’s Student”

So I was thinking about all the nonsense that passes for entertainment on TV these days and it occurred to me that it would be quite funny and entertaining –especially to those of us nostalgic for IBM Selectrics and heavy black phones with one ring tone – to put a bunch of current college and university students into an early 1980s campus and watch them fall apart.

Can’t you just see them boo-hoo-ing over the lack of ipods? Don’t you think it would be fun to witness their shock and horror to be stuck in a world without instant messaging, with no email, and no opportunity for web-based plagiarism (they’d have to do it the old fashion way). How would they cope? Not very well, I’d imagine.

I imagine a scene from episode one would play out something like this:

A typical young woman who has finished her classes for the day decides to stop in on her way home at the residence eatery. She wonders vaguely what the main course vegan option will be, if there will be toasted almonds at the salad bar (she loves them toasted almonds), and whether her new girlfriend will be back with her new tattoo in time for dinner or if she will have to order delivery on her meal card.

Imagine her shock when in place of the Marche, the eatery/takeout store/gourmet grocery/and wine bar on the ground floor of her residence, she is confronted with a single file line up, a stack of metal trays, and only two options for dinner: (1) Salisbury Steak with mashed potatoes and creamed corn, or (2) going hungry.

And that when it hits her: that’s when she remembers that she has signed up for a reality show called “The Early 80s” student.” She has been sent back in time twenty-five years, to the uncivilized and barely recognizable campus of before she was born. She must learn how to cope with the dark age of books and pens; of “bulletin boards” made out of cork that you “posted to” using stick pins; of vinyl records playing on “stereos” the size of a Zamboni.

(Watching at home behind the safety of their plasma screen TVs, her age cohort will wonder how she possibly cope with the antediluvian nightmares that visit her week after week. They gasp and shriek at the primitive conditions of the Early 80’s Student, watching their peers be humiliated for the general entertainment of the masses.)

Meanwhile, back at the cafeteria, a plate heavy with mystery meat and glutinous gravy clangs down on our typical student’s tray.

“But where are the toasted almonds?” she asks.

Dumfounded, and more than slightly nauseated, she concocts a plan to grab some take-out and beat a hasty retreat to her room. But then she notices (oh, no!) that the options for take out have also disappeared.

“Where are the baked nacho chips?” she asks the women behind the counter. “Where is the Ben and Jerry’s? What happened to the sushi bar? I mean I could really use a soy shake, and a vegan power bar if you could grab that for me.”

Of course nobody has any idea what she’s talking about, and he women behind the counter regard her with suspicion and contempt; they look at her as if she has two heads.

“Pull your pants up,” one of them says by way of an answer.

She has no option but to wait in a long, slow moving line to have her meal card “punched” by a surely cafeteria worker who also eyes her with suspicion and contempt. “Where’s the rest of your shirt?” she hears the woman mutters as she woman goes past, barely hiding her disgust at the student’s bared naval and the jewellery that pierces it.

Stumbling into the eating area she finds a place to sit on one of the hard wooden benches that have replaced the padded leather chairs. And that’s when she notices something else: a smell that wafts above the faux beefy aroma of the gravy, the unmistakeable funk of testosterone. “Oh my god,” she thinks, “the place is full of boys!” Ah yes, that’s because in the early 80’s Canadian campuses were mainly male. Scarce as they are on in the Post-Secondary scene of 2006, they (like the dinosaurs) were once the dominant species. She looks down the table and sees a sea of scraggly faces scarfing down food with mindless abandon, paying no mind to the calories, the fat content, the unnaturally spongy texture of the “steak” or the snotty consistency of the corn. She sees them return again and again to the trough for second and third helpings of this all-you-can eat buffet from hell.

On “The Early 80s Student” the good news is you can have all the creamed corn you want: the bad news is she wants exactly none.

As for her living accommodations, her suite style apartment has been replaced by a dormitory with one toilet and one shower for every 25 people. Amenities include walls floors, and ceilings. In place of her double bed, there is a narrow single with a squeaky steel frame covered by a thin mattress; it has all the firmness of a hammock, and when she sits on it, her butt brushes the floor.

Her computer is gone, of course, replaced by a typewriter. Her Blackberry has been confiscated, and so too has her land-line phone. There’s a payphone in the hallway that will receive incoming calls, but unfortunately for her, many of her dorm-mates (who are boys, remember) think it’s funny to tell callers asking for her that she’s: (a) busy having sex with the football team, (b) much too drunk to talk, or (c) dead.

Week after week we watch as she learns to cope with the indignity of human contact. Instead of chat rooms, we see her chatting in rooms with classmates and professors. Watch this brave soul as she tries new (old) things such as knocking on doors when you want to ask somebody something. Watch as she comes to appreciate the high tech wonder that is the IBM Selectric typewriter with an automatic correcting ribbon to replace white out! (And see her cutting paragraphs from her typed essays with scissors and pasting them in another section with glue. “Oh, so that’s why they call it that,” we see her saying).

By week three she has started a woman’s group in the dorm to discuss ways of helping the boys rise up out of the primordial ooze. She also has over a hundred names on a petition to include a vegetarian option in “the Caf” (she admits to the food service manager that vegan is too far a stretch just yet – he regards her as if she is from another planet).

Anyway, Mr. Big Shot TV guy, you get the idea. There are plenty of situations to be mined for mindless entertainment. And as somebody who lived through it all, I’d be happy to act as a consultant for a suitably enormous fee.

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