OM119 - Vice Versa

Toboy child stars (OM119)

John has told the listeners before about his love for mid-1970s Tomboy child stars, that coffee table book he still owns, or rather that he should write. Chapter 1: Kristy McNichol, Chapter 2: Tatum O’Neal.

Jodie Foster (OM119)

Jodie Foster did turn out to be a fine woman, a talented director and an activist, while Lindsay Lohan has not yet done that, but she still has time to turn it around. John was a big Jodie Foster fan, but he hadn’t see Taxi Driver. She was in Candleshoe and she was a big part in Bugsy Malone which meant a lot to John. Ken might not have seen Jodie Foster between Freaky Friday and Silence of the Lambs, except for Little Man Tate, but he never saw The Accused, which is not a kid’s movie, and neither has he seen Nell where she is raised by possums and speaks her own made-up language from Pogo-comics.

John was 12 when Foxes came out and he saw it, but it was sophisticated, being about a 1970s coming-of-age tomboy girl falling in love with Scott Baio, who was also in Bugsy Malone. Jodie Foster is an Academy Award winning important actress who went to Yale, but Scott Baio just kind of lands over here, and he did not go to any Ivy League school, but they did a few films together. Maybe Jodie loves Chachi? Probably not anymore. The Hotel New Hampshire in 1984 was a sex-comedy and Silence of the Lambs and Little Man Tate came out the same year. She was at Yale then and The Silence of the Lambs hit so hard, because Annabel Andrews from Freaky Friday had now joined the FBI.

Ken’s supernatural wish (OM119)

If Ken could wish for something supernatural, he would definitely not wish for a body swap because that often turns out to be more trouble than it is worth, comic hijinks ensues, and lessons get learned. If Ken could be 13 again and live his life over from 13 to the present on an alternate timeline, he might, but would he lose everything he has now? That not the premise of a body-swap adjacent movie with Zac Efron and Matthew Perry called 17 Again, but more like Peggy Sue got married, except that is your parent’s generation. Then you fly back to your normal state and are returned to the present, like in Back to the Future where you go back in time, solve a problem and your present gets altered. This is always implicit in these movies, like an episode of a sitcom, and there is not a whole lot of tension because it will go back to normal or slightly better than normal because there will now be intergenerational understanding.

Ken’s wish might be immortality if he was able to chose some Deus Ex Machina cosmic gimmick, but you would see everyone you love die. The nightmare of immortality is played up in the Twilight Zone, but it is not really a problem. Think how many hours of TV you have waiting for you to watch right now? To keep his money Highlander Style, Ken would have to leave town and come back with different facial hair and ”You remember my father Ken, right?” and you would have a secretary who knows your story and her daughter always works for you and you have a keep somewhere with all of your jewels. It does kill all your relationships for sure, but John is doing that anyway. Being a man is kind of the same as watching everyone around you wither and get old while you are like ”I don’t know, this seems fine!” until a certain point.

Superpowers (OM119)

An incredible superpower for John would be if he couldn't be hurt, which is an element of a lot of superpowers. Does John mean emotionally hurt? If that was part of the Superman mythos, like ”Clark, you are always tripping and falling down!” - ”I don’t care! I’m not insulted by that at all, I’m very grounded! Your opinion is valid, but it does not affect me!” Can you imaging what a superhero you would be when you could just say ”That’s fine! Say whatever you want!” and you would genuinely not be affected? You would basically be a low-level sociopath and it would be the weirdest superpower. Batman would just be like ”I’m a rich guy. I’m not dressing up like a bat anymore! I’m fine!”

If you couldn't get hurt, you could walk into any situation and say ”I’d like to put a stop to this bank robbery right now!” and the bank robbers would shoot at you, but you could still try to put a stop to the bank robbery. It would be incredible to go into situations and not suffer injury. You could intervene in situations where you would normally say ”Better leave that alone, it is none of my business!” There are many situations in a day that you avoid because you fear getting hurt, you are not even conscious of all of them! You could step out of a moving car if you saw somebody yelling at his girlfriend in front of a club. It would end the fight right there when they see some guy fall out of a car, roll over and hit the brick wall. Then you get up and say ”Hey, is this guy bothering you?” or ”Why don’t you be nicer to your girlfriend?” or ”Hey buddy! I think you are using some swears!”

Body and soul in religions (OM119)

It is written into reincarnation that your soul would be cleansed of memory, but still be the same soul that will transfer from body to body. Even if you believe that your spirit is going to survive your body, it somehow implies that it can leave. At no point does God put you in someone else, like some Book-of-Jobe-like scenario where God and the devil are like ”You know what would be funny? Shelley Long is a very uptight executive and she does not get along with her daughter” If the soul survives the body, there are only a few places it can go: It can go to heaven, to purgatory, or to hell. It can’t just wander the Earth! Clearly this is not just an effect of how it feels to have a bunch of neurons firing because it can survive the neurons stopping, even in most Western religious traditions.

In Ken’s tradition, Mormonism, the soul actually predates the body. We all lived before we came here and it is clearly something that can come, get imposed on a head somehow, and then leave again. Also, in the afterworld you will still be affected by things that are happening on Earth. You can be baptized retro-actively, or if you are Patrick Swayze’s ghost you can move a penny. The ending of Interstellar is not that, but moving a book on a bookshelf to communicate with his daughter through a tesseract is intra-dimensional. John is so mad about it still! Higher-dimensional aliens weirdly live behind the bookshelf in your house, it goes up and down and side to side and of all the houses it could be, it happened to be his?

John’s dad’s ashes (OM119)

Body-swap movies are typically comedies and you can count the movies where it is used for scary effect and it is a nightmare on one hand, but that would probably be more accurate. If John body-swapped with his dad right now, it would totally be a nightmare! His dad has been dead for 10 years and he was cremated. He had a cemetery plot, but he wished that his ashes be sprinkled over the top of Mount Susitna in Alaska and he wanted some of his ashes sprinkled over Mount Alyeska, and he wanted some put in the center of Lake Washington where he used to swim, he wanted himself dispersed and he wanted John to do a lot of work. There is also a tree in Volunteer Park where his grandfather was buried and John's dad wanted some of his ashes there for some consistency throughout life. It is like the person you pet-sit for having 8 pages of numbered instruction.

John’s dad charged him with all these duties and of course, being his father’s son, John was like ”Yeah, I will get to that!” and so his dad currently resides under John’s piano and they pass him every day. There should be a body-swap comedy where John can see the error of his ways, living in an urn under his own piano, while his dad wanders around John’s house, trying to figure out why he is back. It would be a good deal for him after sitting under John’s piano with all the globes for 10 years. Being back in John’s body that is still hale and hearty and go back to causing trouble in the world? Dad would be thrilled!

John doesn’t want to open his dad's urn until he is ready to sprinkle it on Mount Susitna. There is some obligation to have a bunch of family members there, too, which is hard to coordinate. "Why don’t you come to Seattle? We are going to rent a boat and go out into Lake Washington and sprinkle a portion of dad’s ashes!" It has to coincide with something. John is not a party-planner and Ken can’t see him sending out that invite. It has to be somebody else’s event and John will just co-opt everyone, show up with the ashes and ”Hey, guess what we are doing this afternoon!”

Who enjoys having sex more? (OM119)

Further back in history there was the idea of metamorphosis or changing bodies. It goes back to pretty much every Greek myth, like a God turning into a cow to be able to have sex or a nymph turning into a tree to not have to have sex. John thinks that if he would be turning into something to have sex, a cow would probably not be his first choice, which is why John is not Zeus, who saw Europa and was like ”If I turn into this bull, she will be ’Oh, look at this bull!’”, which is probably not how girls react to bulls, but whatever! A bull and a cow are different things and Ken meant a cattle (the correct word is bovine). John really thought Ken meant a female cow because he otherwise has correct agricultural knowledge.

There is also the Greek myth of the blind prophet Tiresias who encountered two snakes doing it, probably before he was blind. Two Snakes Doing It was John’s Indian name! Tiresias was a bit of a prude or thought that no-one should have to see this and he separated them with his stick, which offended the Greek Goddess of marriage Hera and she turned him into a woman, which at the time apparently was an appropriate punishment for cock-blocking some snakes. He lived 7 years as a woman and thought about what would happen if he separated another pair of snakes going at it, and as he did so he turned back into a man.

Later Zeus and Hera were having an argument who gets more pleasure during the act of love: Is it the man or the woman? Interestingly each thought it was the other. Zeus was like ”I’m out here puffing away, you are having a better time!” and Hera was like ”Are you kidding me? I’m the one who has to put up with this assault and you meanwhile get to have your way!” They each think the other one has it really easy, until Hera eventually remembered that she had turned Tiresias into a woman for 7 years and they ask him who has the better time in this very heteronormative story. He says that it is totally the woman. "Of the 12 parts of pleasure, a man knows only one!" Zeus got furious and punished him in some way.

John showing Dumbo to his daughter (OM119)

Two years ago John showed Dumbo to his daughter, thinking that this was one of those cartoons from his childhood and he wanted to introduce his daughter to his culture. From the very beginning Dumbo is an absolutely vicious tragedy! Leaving alone the racist crows, it is visceral and Dumbo is literally pulled from his mother who is chained up in the saddest possible place, an abandoned circus car, he watches her pull away and everybody is trumpeting in agony. It is awful! John wouldn’t subject Dumbo on a room full of 40-year olds. Sadistic clowns are ruining his life. Tim Burton is remaking it now and you can see why we need a goth Dumbo.

Urinals (OM119)

When John was a kid, he definitely did not like peeing in a common urinal because he felt like something was going to come up his pee. Still to this day he doesn't use a urinal or a toilet that has been pre-used, but he always pre-flushes. Ken has kids and has not peed in a clean bowl in 10 years, but most people shouldn’t have to put up with that!

John said ”He would be died”, which is his daughter’s language.

Pixar movies (OM119)

Ken gets annoyed watching Pixar movies with his kids because these guys clearly think they have touched the child’s mind, but they are really just making movies for emotional dads. All Pixar movies are about what happens when your kids grow up and how sad that is. If you watch the beginning of Up as an 8-year old you don’t know why the grown-ups are crying. Toy Story 3 is about the Holocaust, Toy Story 2 is about separation, because they eventually go to college and leave you. All the Pixar Movies are essentially about someday they will leave you.

Things used to be better (OM119)

The Cars movies are about ”Things used to be better!”, like Fox News as an Animation Studio. Growing up in John's home, ”Things used to be better” is one of the major literary ideas of his daughter's whole childhood and she says it all the time, like ”Oh boy, traffic in this town, things have really gone downhill!” The perfect era is John’s Youth: ”Seattle in 1989!”

Body-swap / soul-swap movies (OM119)

When John hears the phrase ”Body swap comedies” he has a deep an visceral reaction. His first body swap comedy was the 1976 comedy Freaky Friday and John was front and center for it and a big fan of it. He was dismayed when it got remade, but he also thought Lindsay Lohan was great. John loved Freaky Friday because its premise is so appealing to a kid. You get to be a grown-up, inhabit your mother’s body and go out into the world without being constrained. She uses her dad’s credit card and she could drive a car and all these things that when you are 8-10 years old seemed like a real liberation. You think that if your parent would be in your body, they would screw up because they don’t know how hard you have it. They wouldn’t be able to deal with the 100 things you deal with on a typical school day. It is total adolescent narcissism!

After Freaky Friday in the 1980s there was an unaccountable tsunami of gimmicky body-swap movies, usually a soul transference where one person’s consciousness jumped abruptly into someone else’s body and they assumed correctly that a similar exchange has happened the other way around. In most cases it is a soul-swap, not a body-swap because the person’s body remains where it was.

The ur-text of this plot comes from the 1881 novel called Vice Versa by Thomas Anstey Guthrie. He later wrote the story A Brass Bottle about a Jeannie, which is the basis for I Dream of Jeannie. There was a Royal Air Force colonel involved in that story, but because there were no airplanes yet, it is mostly thinking and planning what will happen when there will be airplanes, which is what 99% of the Air Force does today, more like Chair Force, am I right? That is what the other services say about the Air Force, the Air Force are the coddled ones who have it so easy.

The fact that body-swap movies are always comedies means that we have exhausted the comic potential of real life and we invent increasingly baroque and hypothetical things to laugh at. We thought about everything else in our culturally dense time and to sustain conversations we have to have things like ”Would you rather be a bug with the coloring of a zebra or a zebra with the coloring of a bug” These lame stoner conversations are now the foundation of society.

A lot of fantastic premisses are driven by the desire that this could happen some day. Jules Verne was like ”What if we had a submersible boat? What if there were flying machines?” Someday this will happen and what would that be like? Here it is a fun hypothetical! What you would do if you were in your kid’s body and your mother was in your body? We don’t believe it is going to happen and we know it is bunk!

A comparable literary device would be the monkey’s paw three wishes stuff, anybody who will grant you wishes. Probably 1000 years ago people believed that there might be a little man living in the roots of that tree and he would grant them wishes, but after decades of not encountering him, they finally decided that there might not be a little man. We do that constantly, for example asking us what our superpower would be, or if we would be invisible or fly if we had a choice. We do it all the time!

It is a completely arbitrary device that we know will never happen and there is no scientific basis for it. It assumes some kind of cartesian dualism where your mind exists out with your body and can just get mapped onto any other body with no difficulties. That was very appealing in the 17th century, but today we know that your consciousness is encoded in the nerves of your brain and you couldn’t just drop it into someone else’s head, but you would have to physically transplant the brain, which never happens in these movies. Nobody ever gets their head sawed off, unless Ken missed something because he never saw the Disney Channel Shelley Long Gaby Hoffmann Freaky Friday remake.

There is always some bizarre supernatural and not explained cosmic mechanism that creates the body swap. In Freaky Friday Jodie Foster and her mom simultaneously wish for the same thing. You have to be careful because people are always listening and if someone wishes for the same thing at the same time as you, apparently the universe will arrange for that thing to happen.

  • Like Father Like Son: Dudley More and Kirck Cameron switch because of a Native American potion in a hot sauce bottle.
  • In Prelude to a Kiss (play): An old man kisses a bride on her wedding day.
  • Vice Versa: Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage: A magical skull from Thailand
  • 18 Again: George Burns and Charlie Schlatter: Car accident, they crash their cars into each other and their souls keep going.
  • The Hot Chick: Rob Schneider and Rachel McAdams: They don’t know what it is, but the audience knows it is a cheerleader small-time gross hood (they exchange enchanted earrings from ancient Egypt), a clueless or mean-girl scenario if Rob Schneider was in it more.
  • Freaky Friday remake with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan: It was the last movie Ken saw in a drive-in. There is a spell in a magic fortune cookie. As recently as 2003 it was okay to say that Chinese restaurants might swap your brain because they are weird Asians.
  • The Change-Up: Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman are peeing in the same fountain when lightning strikes, implying that you consciousness can get swapped through your urethra.
  • Your name: A lot of vague rigmarole revolving around a series of cometary impacts with a 1200-year period and a ritual Japanese shrine that has rice-wine made with saliva. The combination of those two things is enough to somehow effect the boob-grabbing consciousness swap.
  • Vice Versa (novel): The Garuda stone, it is not a soul-transfer, but literally a body-swap where the bodies switch places. They continue to talk about the plot of the novel.

Sex is always an iffy squicky side-note. In the Jodie Foster Freaky Friday, the dad is leering at his own daughter during the whole movie. You leap into your mom’s body and then John Austin is like ”Honey, you are looking very spry today!” What a total nightmare scenario for the daughter who thought that she was going to have fun and go shopping. If this doesn’t turn around by Saturday night, she is going to bed with daddy. At the same time Jodie Foster hops into Barbara Harris’ body and has to hang out with this neighbor boy who thinks he is having his Mrs. Robinson moment.

In the Rob Schneider - Rachel McAdams movie (The Hot Chick) there is surely a scene where he looks down his shirt and gasps or she look down her pajama bottom and gasps in dismay. What is John saying about Rob Schneider? John had to get it in there! So did he. There is a recent anime called Your Name, a very smart body swap drama where a teenage boy and a teenage girl swap places. It is more of a city mouse - country mouse thing and they are the same generation. Every morning when he wakes up in her body he immediately feels up his chest for 20 minutes. It is the only realistic treatment of this phenomenon. It is a very sweet movie and it is very realistic about what a Japanese boy would do if he were popped into that situation, or probably any culture except for Victorian England.

Ken recently read the book Vice Versa and was hoping it would be good because Alice in Wonderland is also from the Victorian era and is still a classic today that tweaks the conventions of the instructive Victorian novel and holds up pretty well, but all the other light entertainments of that period were not super-funny. Ken likes books like Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome or The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith, which was the beginning of middle-class comedy with people having funny adventures trying to put new windows on their house or go for a picnic in the country. Guthrie might have been a very popular humorist in his time, but his work has not survived to the present day, while Twain remains an American treasure.

Ken wrote in his book about comedy that the modern comedy voice really is the American one. Some of these American monologists would go to London and do their home-spun country-fried tall-tale stuff, and London audiences just couldn’t get enough of this very direct voice because they would have said it with 1000 more words.

The text of Vice Versa seems musty and might as well be The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for how much it grabs you. Ken was sorry to see that and he had hoped it would hold up. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court at least the dialog is still lively. Alice in Wonderland is a book written by someone who understands children and most literature back then, even for children, did not really care what the inner life of a child was like. Vice Versa is really a lesson for fathers.

During a 6-months stretch in the late 1980s, all these movies came out:

  • Oktober 1987: Like Father Like Son
  • March 1988: Vice Versa
  • April 1988: 18 Again!
  • June 1988: Big

It might be a coincidence, but Ken’s theory is that the Boomers were having their kids in the late 1980s, but they still see themselves as the protagonists of reality, as the young people who saved the world during the 1960s. They arbitrated ”cool” and they are shocked that they are suddenly on the other end, realizing that they are the Fuddy Duddy, the dad in Bye Bye Birdy, because they don’t like the Beastie Boys.

John had that experience in the late 1980s when there was a brief resurgence of 1960s culture and psychedelia, like The Doors movie and several movies about what it was like to be a young person in the 1960s, clearly produced by 40-year old Hollywood producers. As an 18 year old John got suckered in like a lot of people did. All these movies had a 1960s soundtrack and John was thinking that Crosby Stills & Nash was also the soundtrack of his generation and that the California Raisins represent him.

Suddenly there was a real generation gap and people who were used to being the young and cool ones were having to come to grips with it. What a hilarious premise that you would suddenly be Fred Savage in large-legged Raver Pants! It is relatable both ways, because those people do see themselves as both a teenager and a dad. They get back into the kid’s body and go ”I can skateboard! Or can I?”

Body Swap movies as acting challenges (OM119)

The other reason body-swap movies keep getting made is because it is an acting challenge. The movie Face Off came out 10 years later as a very limited and strange form of body swap comedy and it gave Nicholas Cage and John Travolta lots of opportunities to comically use their faces and bodies and be the other in a sinister way. Nicholas Cage is one of the gonzo-esque actors of his generation and John Travolta is one of the most limited ones, but he has to make his face all gonzo while Nicholas Cage has to calm his action down.

As an actor, even a very versatile one, you are always locked into playing somebody who looks like you in your age. If you are Al Pacino you are going to yell at some point. Unless there is motion capture you are not going to be able to play an 11-year old boy or a 30-year old housewife or a very old man and body-swap movies are the ultimate challenge. Tom Hanks got to do his idea of what a 9-year old boy is like for a whole movie, or Ellen Barkin in Switch showed her idea how an awful guy would trump around in his beautiful Ellen Barkin body.

Time Travel movies (OM119)

When John thinks about time travel adventures where he goes back to being 13 again, the first thing he would do in early 1980 was buy a bunch of silver bullion and sell it when it got to be $50. He could also buy Apple, or Fantastic Four #1, or he could do some Grays Sports Almanac research and see what the biggest money making property would be. John would always like to take his iPhone back with him and keep it in a secret box. The biggest challenge would be how to mask sophistication to your parents and friends so that you could continue to live in your world at the time and go to world history class and not be just like ”Come on!”

You would also have to sit at the dinner table at the end of the night and convince your parents that you didn’t suddenly know more than they do about everything. Typically everyone in these books and movies is terrible at that. No-one is very good and everybody will keep saying ”my mom” instead of ”me”. They don’t know how to extricate themselves out of scenarios or how to cover for not knowing anybody’s names, which actually feels pretty true. Sometimes they are able to convince their parent’s or kid’s peers by knowing something that only dad would know. Ken and John would never believe it if one of their friends said that they were actually their 9-year old son, even if he had all the dirt.

Especially within a family you would have to sit at the dinner table every night and look across the table at your other version. You both knew the truth and you would be in conspiracy. All these things would have to be kept separate or the plot immediately breaks down, they would join forces and that is not funny. The plot always has to have some mad-cap series of busy days, way too busy to actually address the awful body swap that has happened. Even though you would go find your other version immediately, ”No, sorry, I have several appointments! I’ll take care of this tonight!”

John’s daughter wrote a letter to Santa (OM119)

John’s daughter wrote a letter to Santa and actually found a real stamp, put it on the envelope and put it in the mailbox. None of them went out to retrieve it before the mail person came and the mail person took it and it is gone now. John is not sure if mail addressed to Santa at the North Pole gets delivered to some place, maybe North Pole, Alaska, or if they just put it in the bag of mail that they are constantly stealing. If the existence of Santa ever comes to trial like it does in the Miracle on 34th Street, they will dump out those mail bags on the judge. There is a Santa Claus in Indiana, and a lot of people write there at Christmas to get a special holiday post mark. Kids must do this all the time and there must be a not insignificant volume of mail that is just addressed to Santa.

In Canada they have reserved the zip-code H0H 0H0 as Santa’s zip-code and if anybody owns the North Pole it is Canada. They are geographically close and they are very friendly. If there was somebody who was just going to enter your house and leave you a nice surprise, you’d rather it being a Canadian than a Russian. A Russian would just crap on your carpet or something. Come into your house with a bottle of vodka, defecate on your carpet and leave.

Outro (OM119)

Maybe there are six Futurelings in every cool body and there are a bunch of empty bodies like in the video game RoboTron with all the dumb bodies walking in circles. You would see attractive people walking around and unattractive people just lulling, like in Being John Malkovich where you inhabit John Malkovich while he is still there, the All Of Me gimmick where you can jump into someone’s body but have to share it with Steve Martin or Malkovich Malkovich. Maybe that is the experience of Futurelings in their future world who want to listen to this podcast, but their co-sharer hates podcasts? Maybe they have all leaped into John’s dad’s urn, all of them, maybe they are there now? What if some super-intelligent civilization has evolved in John’s dad’s urn because they are higher-dimensional pan-traveling tesseract beings?

People often comment on John's Instagram that he is so handsome which is not what he is looking for, but feels like a social obligation of the young people.

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