[5 September 2007]
Whenever I visit someone’s house for the first time, I’m quick to scope out the tell-tale details of their home. I have found that the contents of one’s trash can have little to say about one’s personality; more telling by far are the items residing in the bookshelf, the comic book longbox or, in the finer homes of the more culturally savvy, the toy shelf. Your medicine cabinet might show me the real you, but your DVD cabinet will show me something more fascinating by far: the you to which you aspire. The you which you want the world to see.
While house-hunting in southern Idaho earlier this summer in preparation for my family’s relocation from California, I came across a frankly startling number of Christian-themed paintings and, most fascinating of all from an anthropological perspective, a framed portrait of George and Laura Bush. Back home, my daughter’s daycare goddess worked out of her charming, inviting, hippie den of a home, and during our first visit, I left the irrelevant minutiae like child development philosophies and organic diet tips to the sitter and my wife in favor of brooding at the sitter’s cultural relics, ranging from decades-old dolls handmade by prisoners to large and inviting R. Crumb tomes. Obviously, this was all the endorsement I required. Raise my kid, please!
A friend recently admitted to having been terrified of his first post-divorce date one year ago, in no small part due to how his pop obsessions had overtaken his home. Like me, he is a big, hopeless man-dork, and his newfound bachelorhood had opened the door to Satanic Church levels of self-indulgence, and as such his entire bedroom was festooned with Spawn toys and Star Wars toys, Batman toys and Matrix toys and too many more to list. “I can’t bring Julie here,” he said. “It’s like The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” (Julie must have been okay with the décor; they’re expecting a baby boy. They’re naming him Kirk. You wish I was kidding.)
My own toy collection has been an albatross about the neck of my long-suffering wife for a full decade, now. It has invaded everything from our hallway linen closet to the entertainment center to the guest room, and let’s just say that anyone overhearing vague talk of our “toys in the bedroom” would have been sadly disappointed to see what we meant.
When I was still living at home with my mom in the mid-90s, poor quality construction and inadequate funds to improve said construction led to the walls of our house sweating and dripping, and portions of our ceiling caving in, and yet as long as my Iron Maiden posters looked good, I was happy. Back in those caved-in-ceiling days, as now, my preferred model of pop culture shrine was homemade wallpaper, being a series of chaotic, floor-to-ceiling collages wherein the trivial and the profound overlap and contradict one another until entire walls of my home resemble a David Mack splash panel from a particularly frenetic issue of Kabuki, with G.I. Joe overtaking Tony Soprano betwixt Buffy and the Cowardly Lion above Pee-Wee Herman and Morgan Freeman, with Kate Winslet, He-Man, and Optimus Prime filling the gaps. (I use this same approach when decorating my classroom. My sixth graders have two choices: love Alex Ross’ superhero portraits, or close your precious little eyes.)
Of course, one wall must always remain empty to accommodate my ever-growing collection of G.I. Joe dolls. Back in the late ‘80s, a friend whom I call “Poptart” had amassed such a collection of Joes that he had a second bedroom devoted entirely to housing all his vehicles, action figures and playsets; he’s the only kid I ever knew who had the U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier, which was a toy boat measuring a heroic seven feet in length, and which retailed for $120 20 years ago. Later, when Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies and LSD replaced Snake Eyes and Serpentor in our affections, Poptart’s bedroom underwent the kind of astonishing transformation which every parent is eventually forced to witness, as Optimus Prime and Hordak gave way to Playboy centerfolds, those rock n’ roll mirrors you’d win at the county fair by popping balloons with a dart, and the obligatory Iron Maiden posters. (Obligatory and ubiquitous; Maiden have long since lost their grip on anything approaching mainstream popularity, but at their height in the late ‘80s, I counted no fewer than 32 Iron Maiden posters for sale in our local record shop.)
Having abandoned cable back in the 20th century, I’ve seen precious few episodes of MTV’s Cribs, and while I feel no need to watch rich brats display their bling in blinding fits of overcompensation, I am always interested in how some celebrities opt to turn their homes into pop shrines just like we peasants do. I remember Sebastian Bach’s KISS collection, which threatened to take over his entire house. Stranger still, since I’ve always been politely indifferent to her, is my vivid recollection of a magazine article on Rosie O’Donnell from the mid-‘90s, which featured a photo of Rosie standing proudly before her action figure collection, including no fewer than three identical figures of Whoopie Goldberg’s character Guinan, from Star Trek The Next Generation.
The ‘Real’ Simpsons House
The Holy Grail for people who turn their homes into pop billboards would have to be the real-life Simpsons house Fox gave away in a contest back in 1997. We might fill our rooms with Simpsons DVDs, toys and posters, but oh, to actually live in a Simpsons house! How safe and secure one might feel with one’s pop totems serving not as mere shields but indeed, providing a complete womb.
Alan Moore once wrote, “We dream we’re the people in songs,” and indeed it seems we seek to actually become the characters we admire, and failing that we use their words and styles to augment and embellish our own personalities. We wear our favorite characters on our shirts and our skins, and we plaster them on our walls and lose ourselves in them until we resemble Michelangelo in his redundant Cowabunga Carl outfit, or Ren and Stimpy in their Ren and Stimpy costumes from A Visit with Anthony. We lose not only our identities, but also the courage and drive to ever discover them again; my DVDs and books and toys are so seductive, and the outside world so unappealing, that it’s sometimes all I can do to force myself to walk out the front door every morning. Judy Garland tells us “There’s no place like home,” but Faith No More suggest, “These walls won’t keep them out. They’ll keep you in.”
I for one will not likely escape this comfortable trap. If I could be said to be like any fictional character, it would have to be J.K. Rowling’s Professor Slughorn, with his love of creature comforts and nesting. And so be it. I may not live in a Simpsons house or a Castle Greyskull, and I may not be as tough or charismatic as Spike or Angel, nor as clever as Veronica Mars or as attractive as Kyle XY or Clark Kent, but at the end of a long day’s work, as I pass through my front door into my pop culture shrine of a home, I know I am safe, for I have superheroes surrounding me. I have gods and monsters on my side. I have G.I. Joe and He-Man on my wall, smiling down at me.
I have my books. And my poetry to protect me.