MAD DOG: I've Seen the Future and It Is Tomorrow

Some days I worry about the future of the world. Just look at it. Kids are shooting up schools. People are planting bombs throughout London. There are hard pitched, furious wars going on between groups of people who hate each other in Kosovo, Algeria, the Middle East, and the Senate. And worst of all, there's Star Wars mania. That's right. People are going nuts over the new Star Wars movie. Or maybe it's just that the nuts are making the news. After all, it's much more interesting to see people on TV and in the newspaper trading their lives for a place in a movie line than it is to hear them say, "I can't wait until it comes to cable so I can watch it for free." For reasons sociologists -- and corporate marketing people the world over -- will be discussing for years, Star Wars is bringing out the weird in people.Let's think about this for a second. It's a movie. There have already been three installments in the series and there are supposed to be two more coming later. You go to the theater, buy an overpriced ticket, wolf down a 55-gallon drum of popcorn followed by a couple of quarts of bad fountain soda, you're entertained for two hours, then you go home and have to floss for the rest of the night to try to get those rock-hard popcorn nubs from between your teeth and that kinda-sorta-butter-like-flavored-soybean-oil slick out of your mouth. This is hardly an excuse for mass hysteria. Yet that's what we're getting. People stood in line for hours waiting for the doors to open at toy stores across the country so they could scarf up inanimate action figures and put them on a shelf in the rec room as Junior's college education fund. They're swarming fast food restaurants nationwide searching for a complete set of collector's cups so they can be the first one on the e-Bay block to swap them for a velvet painting of Erik Estrada with pecs that follow you around the room. They're even camping out in front of movie theaters wearing Darth Vader costumes and spouting dialogue from the first three installments in Ewokese. What do they think this is, The Rocky Horror Picture Show or something?Recently, the San Francisco Examiner quoted A.J. Napa, a 20-year-old who started camping out at the movie theater 18 days before the movie's opening, as saying, "I've been waiting for this moment for 15 years. This is a defining moment for our generation."Now do you understand why I'm worried?Defining moments -- every generation has them. Years ago it was the discovery of electricity. A couple of generations later it was the Great Depression, or maybe World War II. The Boomers certainly had their share of defining moments, what with the Vietnam War, Woodstock, and the first men to land on the moon. Yet here we are, scant inches away from a New Millennium, and what do we have? A generation whose defining moments are the end of Seinfeld, the invasion of Granada, and the release of another Star Wars movie. All I can say is, Like cool, Dude!True, the phrase defining moment has become so overused that it should be retired along with bottom line, paradigm, and David Letterman. Yet there's a strong possibility that A.J.'s remark itself was a defining moment for his generation. After all, this is a generation that's living in a time when a constitutional crisis means the president got oral sex. Or at least got caught. A time when abortion's legal but euthanasia isn't. An era when the grief process has become denial, anger, rage, press conference, civil suit, and book deal.But it's okay to worry about the future. After all, the past is gone and can't be changed, while the present, well, it becomes the past so quickly that I'm not sure there's a present to be concerned with. So that leaves us with only one thing to really worry about: How will Pamela Anderson Lee explain to her son about what happened to her breasts without him growing up blaming himself for the loss of four or five cup sizes and shooting up a Victoria's Secret store with a Star Wars AK-47 Light Saber?Actually, the question is, what does the future hold in store for this generation? That's hard to say. Prognostication is a tricky thing, as you can tell each December when the tabloids trot out their predictions for the coming year. After all, if their star psychics didn't know that World Championship Wrestling would be releasing a line of perfumes this year, how could we? If they didn't foresee that someone in Taiwan would pay $2,424 for the mobile telephone number 456789 because they thought it was lucky, how can know for sure which Star Wars pajama set will increase most in value? And if they didn't realize that Bryant Gumbel would be back on morning TV, then who could? Okay, besides the 27 people who actually watched him on Public Eye With Bryant Gumbel.Maybe the answer is not to worry about the future at all, but to just take it one day at a time. Think of life as a line at the movie theater -- every day you get a little closer to the main feature. The difference is, if you're lucky in life there won't be some guy dressed in a Wookie outfit standing right in front of you.

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