Greetings from This Modern World

Introduction by Bill Griffith

I like Tom Tomorrow. He thinks like me. He even hides behind an alter-ego like me. (Come out from behind your punk sunglasses and penguin costume, Dan Perkins!) he borrows tacky media icons from the past to subvert tacky media icons from the present. He lures us into a familiar, fifties clip-art world, and once we're at home in its "safe" surroundings, he delivers his one-two punch to the cultural midsection. He doesn't exactly hold up a mirror to reality -- it's more like the glare off a television screen. Am I uttering sound bites yet?

Like most ironic, cool, detached, self-centered, cynical members of the first TV generation, Dan Perkins is a closet optimist. Good satire works like a neutron bomb: it levels institutions, but lets people live. In order to avoid mere ranting or carping, a satirist needs a measure of affection for his target. I was once asked after a talk, "Do you think people are essentially good or essentially evil?" (I should stress that not all my post-lecture questions are this lofty.) I quipped back, "I guess I think people are essentially good enough to make fun of."

Beneath the vicious, unflinching attack on every treasured illusion we Americans hold dear, I believe Dan Perkins also thinks we're good enough to make fun of. Not that he lets such friendly feelings get in the way of the full, frontal assault. His is really the only rational response to This Modern World, after all. We swim in a sea of media. Sam Donaldson is more real to us than our own families. "Infomercials" are the perfect metaphor for our data-based environment: they blur distinctions between entertainment and "news," between fiction and reality. The sea of media forms and informs us. Without unprogrammed "station breaks" like This Modern World and other "outsider" views, we'd be sucked into a whirlpool of Bush-speak, neon skiwear, and Dan Rather blather. What *is* the frequency, Kenneth?

As Zippy once put it, "America. I love it, I hate it, I love it, I hate it. When do I collect unemployment?"

Another thing I like about Tom Tomorrow -- he wields a mean Toshiba copier.