Monday, December 23, 2013

Number 12 Looks Just Like You (Twilight Zone Series, #137)

I want to start off with a confession: I am currently in the midst of a serious Young Adult novel kick with no potential end in sight. Specifically as of late I've been reading up (though to be technically accurate I've been listening to audio books) on the monstrously popular dystopian/post apocalyptic end of the YA spectrum; the kinds of stories, usually told written in trilogies where tough but vulnerable teen girl protagonists are put through horrifying and gruesome amounts of trauma all while falling in love with some hunky boy. It kind of started after I saw the second Hunger Games film (which reignited my interest in the books which I got through last year) which in turn compelled me to power through the entire Divergent Trilogy (short review: it really is a poor man's Hunger Games). Side note: bet heavy on the star of the upcoming film adaptation, Shailene Woodley she looks primed to follow the Jennifer Lawrence path to world domination (or at the very least be a respectable poor man's version of her). I'm currently reading though "The 5th Wave" (the first of a planned trilogy) which trades in future dystopia for modern post apocalypse. So far I'm digging the brisk pacing and the setup; plus I'm quite surprised at the horrifically detailed description of a decimated planet earth where 97% of the population has been killed off, shades of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road". It's tailor made for a film adaptation and I would be surprised if one isn't announced soon.

It's just in my nature to go off on these random pop culture obsessions for indefinite periods of time. I think this time last year I was seriously in an all things David Mitchell British comedy hole in which only now am I starting to recover from. Then there's my long time on again off again infatuation with the romantic comedy genre which finally peaked with the completion of my own rom-com script (still waiting for that call Hollywood!). So yeah that's the state of affairs with me, Victor is now into YA novels. This whole thing might blow over quickly like a 24 hour bug or it might settle into a long term condition, I don't know.

I think a big part of what drew me to rom-coms is what currently attracts me to these YA books. They're both genres with strongly established, almost rigid rules and conventions. I find something attractive in that, the idea of being creative in a more narrowly defined space and with certain preconceived expectations by the audience established from the start. I've found that I'm paradoxically way more apt to be creative myself when given restrictions. I also dig that both genres have a certain loose formula to follow, though the best examples are by no means formulaic, and that both types of stories are escapist fantasies that almost always end in a crowd pleasing manner (though obviously one has a much higher body count than the other). Who knows, maybe once I really sink my teeth into the genre and get a through understanding of its ins and outs I might even try my hand in writing my own; the barrier certainly isn't all that low. That's another thing rom-coms and YA dystopian series share, for every stand out example there is a flood of derivative follow ups. For every Love Actually you get a New Years Eve. For every Hunger Games you get The Testing (that's right it's Hunger Games meets the SATs).

Anyways I had to do that longish set up to get to my main point and that's how I've come to notice that the Twilight Zone episode "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" has all the elements of a solid dystopian YA novel. The plot of the episode is that in a future society everyone at age 18 undergoes a process known as "the Transformation" where their face and body is altered into one a of a small section of models. Everyone becomes generically beautiful while becoming more resistant to disease and living far longer. Apparently ugliness has been the sole cause of societies ills since it's implied that since the transformation system was established there is no longer any crime or war or suffering of any kind in this world (it's a good thing too since I'd imagine identity theft would run rampant considering everyone looks the same and you're only distinguished by your name tag).

The main protagonist Marilyn who is scheduled to for the transformation is a nonconformist type who has grave misgivings about the procedure and doesn't want to go through with it, much to the dismay of her friends, family, and those in charge of the transformations. Obviously it turns out there is more to the transformation than just a change in physical appearance and things like individuality and free thought are conspicuously missing in this utopia. We later find out that Marilyn's deceased father, who was a free thinker himself and gave her banned books to read, committed suicide because he couldn't deal with his transformation. Though Marilyn struggles, in the end she is forced into the transformation and becomes just another unidentifiable pretty face; one of the sadder Twilight Zone endings.

There obviously needs to be a few tweaks to the plot but essentially you can convert the story (an adaptation of a short story by acclaimed TZ writer Charles Beaumont) straight into a solid modern trilogy. Even after almost 50 years the major themes still resonate with today's teens: society's obsession with beauty, the importance of being yourself, the dignity of being human, thinking forself is beautiful, etc. The lost parental figure is a common trope (it could be revealed that the father was actually alive as a twist in the second book). I would probably add a cute little brother or sister that the protagonist is always looking out for. Of course the original ending would have to change. She would run away before her transformation and maybe find some secret underground anti-transformation movement living in the fringes of society and they'd teach her of the "old days" when everyone looked different and aged naturally. There she might meet some handsome (maybe give him a small flaw like a scar since we don't want him to go against the story's theme) boy with whom she falls in love least until she meets the other attractive teen boy transformation escapee that she knew from high school who shows up later in the book to complicate matters. Two books of bloody civil war between the evil leaders of society and the insurgents where she watches a bunch of friends get brutally killed, suffers a bunch of painful but ultimately non-lethal flesh wounds, impales the malicious leader of the future society with a shattered mirror (because symbolism), picks a boy after an excessive amount of anguished first person contemplation, and society is once again free to be you and me. Call up Elle Fanning to helm the film franchise, watch the millions roll in.

Note: As I found out shortly after writing this post, there actually was a YA dystopian series "Uglies", published between 2005 and 2007, with similar plots and themes. So I guess my instincts were correct. Maybe for my next post I'll write up a treatment for a YA adaption of the less than classic episode "Black Leather Jackets" about an alien invader who unexpectedly falls in love with a young girl and decides humanity is worth saving.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Live Más

A sad bit of new I read earlier. The apparent driving force behind the creation of Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Tacos, a 41 year old Little Rock, AR resident named Todd Mills, passed away from cancer today. According to the article, Mills, who had no ties to Frito Lay or Taco Bell, was just a dedicated dreamer who doggedly pursued the epiphany of creating a taco shell made of Doritos after watching a Doritos commercial while eating a taco in 2009. After launching a one man facebook crusade, he eventually got the attention of Taco Bell in early 2012 and the rest is nacho cheese encrusted, low grade, beef filled, history.

While there's no information on how long is battle with cancer was, I'd like to imagine a heroic narrative in my mind along the same lines of Kurosawa's 1952 classic film "Ikiru". Like the protagonist of the film, after being given a terminal cancer diagnosis, he struggles to find meaning in his life and finally resolves himself to accomplish one worthwhile achievement with the time he has left (in the case of the film it's a simple neighborhood park for children and in this case the greatest innovation to stoner cuisine since in invention of Combos). Highly unlikely scenario I know, cancer is more often than not pretty damn unromantic.

Though he never received any compensation for the idea that went on to sell a $1 billion worth of tacos, his remarkable legacy lives on throughout the world. It's an inspiring testament to the power of following through on your dreams.