Monthly Archives: February 2011

Remember Voltron?

Remember the 1980s cartoon Voltron?

I do.

Voltron was a cartoon about five robot lions that combined to form a giant robot humanoid warrior named Voltron. The lions were not self-animating but were each piloted by a human being. I did not really care about the human beings. I don’t profess to know the history of Voltron, the story of Voltron, or even the names of the characters. In this pillar of geek culture I am, at best, a dabbler. Doctoral dissertations have likely been written on this subject and I am humbly aware that there is nothing that I can say that will contribute anything new to the analysis of 1970s anime that evolved into this show and its progeny.

All I can contribute is what Voltron meant to me. And what it meant was five robot lions forming a giant humanoid robot warrior with lion-heads for hands and feet, all to very awesome music.

My entire reason for watching Voltron was to watch them form Voltron. I watched He-Man for the moment when [spoiler alert] Adam turned into He-Man, and I watched Voltron for the moment when the five robot lions formed Voltron. These lions would be fighting some evil force in the universe – a giant alien monster, a giant alien robot, Grendel – and things would not be going well, and all of a sudden one of the lion pilots would suggest forming Voltron.

I never understood why they did not form Voltron the minute they saw the evil-doers coming over the Throgs Neck Bridge. But I will try to describe the experience. The pilot of the leader lion would press some controls, the key to his lion would shift around in the ignition and glow, there would be a collage of all five pilots of the robot lions saying “Voltron Force,” and then the music would start.

Oh that music. All great cartoon moments involve music. Voltron formed to electronic trumpets, guitars, and drums, and my image of the battle between good and evil formed to Voltron forming. The pilots of the robot lions would talk the audience through the formation.

[Trumpets, trumpets]

“Form feet and legs!”

[Guitars, drums]

“Form arms and torso!”

[Trumpets, guitars, drums]

“And I’ll form the head!”

I remember that Voltron was formed in exactly this manner in every single episode. I don’t recall any “express” formation of Voltron where certain steps were truncated. I don’t recall ever seeing Voltron show up to the party already formed, smoking a cigarette and sipping a giant robot martini.

The moment Voltron formed was the most exciting moment of my life for that day. There was nothing more satisfying to my pre-adolescent mind than the combination of electronic fight music and robot lions interlocking to form a giant humanoid robot warrior. But as happened with so many shows for me, the plot of Voltron became too complicated to follow. Something about a love story and zoning regulations. Perhaps I sustained brain damage from eating bowls of Count Chocula. Whatever the reason, I did not care about the story. I just wanted them to play the music and form Voltron, again and again. But alas, my family did not have a VCR at the time, and thus I had no means of recording the show. The forming of Voltron would be just another childhood gem that would live only in my fading memory.

And then along came this thing called YouTube, where an adult can be a kid when he’s supposed to be working. It did not matter that there was a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and a pile of dirty snow in the driveway. I had returned home, at last, rocking back and forth in my chair, heart racing along with the music, watching them form Voltron again and again, and remembering the days when, in between commercials, good battled evil.

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Filed under Television and Movies

Remember When You Could Not Instantly Settle Arguments on the Internet?

Remember when people couldn’t instantly settle arguments on the Internet?

I do.

Sometime during the 90s, when my friends and I had started to resemble adults, I got into a disagreement with a close associate of mine, whom I will call X. The nature of my disagreement with X related to Jambi, a character on the award-winning television program Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Jambi was a disembodied head floating inside a bejeweled box in the corner of the Playhouse. X and I disagreed over the color of Jambi’s skin.

I said, “Jambi is blue.”

X said, “Jambi is green.”

Thus we disagreed, even wagering $5 on the outcome. Had our dispute arisen just five years later we could have resolved it instantly with a search on Google, the same way we would later resolve disputes over song lyrics or whether whales have penises. But at the time we had no way of quickly resolving the issue. Pee Wee’s Playhouse had been canceled a few years earlier, and I had not thought of taping it. Not that I would have known how to work the VCR anyway.

Although X and I remained cordial to each other, the disagreement simmered. Our mutual friends were compelled to take sides. After a while I would get invited to things only after it was assured that X would not be there. Sometimes one of us would be arriving while the other was leaving and it would be awkward. People begged us to reconcile. But I was adamant. I knew Jambi was blue, just as Neo from The Matrix knew he was the One. I just knew.

And then one day X invited me to his house. I figured he wanted to make up and serve up some of his famous iced tea – an old family recipe that called for six times the legal limit of iced tea mix. I walked in his door and he greeted me not with iced tea but with a remote control and a smirk. He pressed a button and Jambi appeared on the TV. And the Jambi on the screen was undisputedly green.

X was triumphant. “See? Jambi is green. Now pay up.”

I handed over a five-spot and began the long walk home. I thought that there was something very unsettling about what I’d seen. The show on the screen was definitely Pee Wee’s Playhouse, but it seemed just a little different from the one on TV that I’d watched every Saturday morning for a year. Perhaps I was just sore from losing money. I would have to accept defeat gracefully.

Years passed. I went to college and forgot about the Jambi wager. Then I graduated and went to work. By this time Google had been invented and I had gotten into the habit of searching for random things on the Internet when no one was looking. Finally it occurred to me to search for Jambi. And lo and behold, the Jambi that Google revealed was blue. Blue! And as I scrolled down to find less common results I discovered why I had lost that bet. The tape that X had showed me was of the HBO special, done live on a stage, where Jambi was green. But on the TV show, Jambi was blue. I was right. Well, maybe we were both right. But I was more right. I wanted to call up X and tell him. I wanted to gloat and feel vindicated. I wanted my five dollars back with interest compounded monthly.

But when I did see X and told him my big news, he just shrugged his shoulders. He would not give me any satisfaction. There would be no gloating, no vindication. Just lost years and a lost five-spot.

All because there had been no Internet to instantly settle our dispute.

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