Unmitigated Optimism


Pictured: Johnny 5 is REALLY alive!

I saw Short Circuit in the movie theater when I was 12. For a week afterwards my sister and I screaming “number 5 is alive!” and embroiled ourselves in an excitement that culminated in the “construction” of a robot by painting a face on an easy bake oven and placing it on top of the washing machine. Of all the people unimpressed by our technological creation, my mother tops the list as she wasn’t able to get to a load of whites.

Two years later Short Circuit 2 came out and our enthusiasm was not what it once had been. Perhaps the sea of troubles that presented itself in the 8th grade and 6th grade respectively had led us to seek solace in Faith no More lyrics and M*A*S*H reruns. Nevertheless, it was this movie that Burke chose to follow up Three Men and a Baby in our Saturday night double feature.

Mine has been a decidedly 80s household in the last three weeks. We have been watching 80s movies and TV shows. Murder She Wrote and Magnum PI (and their gloriously enjoyable crossover episodes). We don’t really breach the 90s; we sort of stand on the edge and look warily across the way like Moonlight Graham on a magic field in Iowa. We have decided that 80s shows that “look like the 90s” are not as fun to watch. And Saturday we have a double feature of happy 80s movies.

There are bad guys in these movies, to be sure. Who could forget the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern drug dealers in Three Men and a Baby? Or the wannabe bank robbers in Short Circuit 2? Sure, they’re bad guys, but they’re not terrible guys. The drug dealers are taken down by Steve Guttenberg’s video recorder and Ted Danson in drag playing with elevator switches. The bank robbers are jostled around by Home Alone-like booby traps but set by a robot who likes to read. The big bad guy is captured and dropped into the East River. Everything is redeemable.

Why watch? Well, fake or not, there’s an optimistic factor to our intake. Whether or not something bad happens in Magnum, unless you’re watching Did you See the Sunrise?, it’s going to end with hijinks with Higgy Baby or TC. Jessica Fletcher catches a murderer and then bakes Sheriff Tupper and Dr. Hazlitt a lemon cake. Something bad has certainly happened, but life will go on.

This little bit of optimism goes a long way. I want to believe that everyday people like Thomas Magnum and Jessica Fletcher are out there seeking the truth and sticking up for the wronged little guy. It helps me sleep at night. It’s perhaps for this reason that I wonder about the continued story after our Saturday night movies.

In Three Men and a Baby, the baby’s mother comes back at the end to take Mary (the baby) to London. Everyone is sad. We overlook the fact that a woman who dropped a baby off on someone’s doorstep with no discussion seamlessly drops back in to take over her duties once she’s rested. She baby talks Mary and it’s as if she never literally walked out on her. We disregard that fact along with the fact that she has a very bad British accent and speaks American English. We overlook because we want the happy ending we know is coming. And it does.

The mother goes to the airport in the “all hope is lost” moments of the movie and the three men rush to catch her. Her plane has left and we are sad, only to be filled with joy when we see her on their doorstep when they arrive home. They decide to all live together and raise the child as a group. Some mildly funky 80s end-of-movie music comes on and we breathe a sigh of relief that we can go on with our lives in the knowledge that the house will be filled with handsome men, Steve Guttenberg, a baby, and an American woman for some reason playing a British woman.

Short Circuit 2 ends with Ben and Johnny 5 taking their American citizenship oaths. Ben is ecstatic. He had (obviously) won the girl and a new home. Johnny 5 is gilded (what the…?) and leaps into the air to celebrate his newly acquired citizenship status. One may assume that Ben and his friends will go on to make money and be successful, mostly based on Michael McKean getting into the back of a limo and talking on a cell phone the size of a shoe. But it’s what becomes of Johnny 5 that commands the remainder of my Saturday evening attention span.

Johnny 5 is a wonder of Artificial Intelligence before most people knew that term even existed. Though he could certainly find a good, steady job somewhere in the intelligence sector or on Wall Street, we hope he would put his voracious reading to good use. He’s made of gold, so finding a nice girl to settle down with would not be hard. She’d be human, because in the late 1980s an inter-automative relationship would have been taboo, but it was about breaking down barriers. He’d move to a nice townhome in Queens where he would have a charging station next to the Dust Buster’s. I don’t know enough about robots to know if he and a human could procreate. I have consulted online sources for insight into the mating habits of robots, but only learned that Johnny 5 would most likely have an affair with his step-sister.  

What could have been more optimistic in 1988 than beating the bad guys and being rewarded with citizenship in the country that’s clearly winning the Cold War? Nothing. And even better is that Johnny got to go on to enjoy the 1990s. Bill Clinton. Actual music videos on MTV and Pop Up Videos on VH1. He watched Seinfeld and Friends (and how did he react to Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E?). These were golden years of SNL.  

But one wonders how Johnny 5 would have reacted to the last 20 years of American history. Did he solemnly cheer Bin Laden’s death? Swat his forehead when Obama had to show his birth certificate? Vote for Hillary? Is he exasperated and baffled by those who worship the epically stupid Donald Trump? Did he ever lose faith in what he had signed up for in 1988? Maybe. But I hope like the rest of us he had a few good years of optimism.

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