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Three and a half to five minutes. That’s the cultural value, adjusted for inflation, of the 30 minutes you spent plopped on a couch watching “Charlie’s Angels” in 1976. Or watching “Starksy and Hutch,” “What’s Happening!!” or any of the 15 other ’70s-era shows that Sony trimmed for time and placed on MySpace this week as part of its new Minisode Network.
Let’s get the nostalgia out of the way. There’s no shortage (so to speak) of bell bottoms, feathered and fluffy haircuts, Afros, Lacoste tees, rainbow suspenders, Gran Torinos, thinly veiled lessons in sugar-sweet morality and or tracks that sound about as human as an electrolarynx. And yes, you might have once appreciated these shows for their unabashed schlock — seriously, was the laugh track of “Silver Spoons” stuck on awwwwwwww? — but now you’re invited to appreciate them for their unabashed crappiness.
Is that too harsh? The minisodes certainly offer several golden moments of kitsch: Rerun of “Happening!!” doing a boogie that belies his size, Willis from “Diff’rent Strokes” strutting his pimp apparel, Starsky in a barrel roll, gun drawn. These moments are the substrate beneath today’s pop culture kudzu. Watching them is watching your childhood, literally, flash before your eyes. Have at it.
But it’s the minisode’s pace of editing that’s truly interesting. Out: The full opening credits, establishing shots and scene fades. In: Lots of scene changes. You mentally backfill the missing details between scenes, but it’s an unconscious effort. We’ve learned a lot about editing since the ’70s. Test this at home yourself: Watch an episode on the minisode network, then an episode of the popular original show “Prom Queen,” also on MySpace. Even with the edits, the minisodes lecture; “Prom Queen” nods and winks.
You want to think this media savvy, this ability to take a narrative hint, makes you smarter. Steven Johnson said exactly that in his 2005 book “Everything Bad Is Good for You,” arguing that our increasing appetite for complex story lines — “24′”s multithreaded narratives, “Lost’s” never-ending mysteries — is evidence of increased intelligence. Instead of wallowing in an intrauterine bliss of low expectations, we’re plumbing the depths of narrative.
Whether our affinity for quick cuts and complex story lines is evidence of quicker wits or more efficient consumption (or both), I don’t know. But the minisodes are a tremendously clever way to take advantage of cultural changes and the Internet’s aftermarket. Good for a laugh, if only briefly.
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