Are Fortune Cookie’s Starting to Jerk Us Around, Or Am I Alone?

“You are kind and loved.”
I demand my money back
That ain’t no fortune

I’ve never believed in them; let’s make that totally clear.  I don’t like anything telling me what to do, which includes cookies, self-help books, or parents.  I hold any “Wisdom From the Beyond”, be it astrological, numerological, tarot, or confectionery, all with the same disdain.  Jupiter is in Leo, with Mercury rising?  My fifth chakra is out of line?  Gag unto me with a spoon.  I understand the appeal, though, and this stuff can be fun.  I read my horoscope sometimes, even if it’s just to see how wrong they are.

But these cookies.  These cookies are screwing with us.  I remember once when I was a child cracking open a fortune cookie and reading “You will find a ruby buried in the sand.”  I spent the next year surveying every beach, sandbox, and miscellaneous piles of dirt for a hint of a gem, even the tiniest little scrap.  When I grew up and stopped being as gullible as, well, a seven year old, I couldn’t get angry at a tiny scrap of paper; I hadn’t found a ruby, but I had found a $10 bill, a bird skull, a pocket knife, three pogs (which were in vogue at the time), and a fair share of bouncy balls.  All of that may not of been worth much, but what a treasure!

Something has changed though.  These cookies nowadays don’t give fortunes.  I started noticing about a decade ago, when fortunes such as “A long lost uncle will die and leave his entire estate to you”, or “Your wife is sleeping with your brother” were replaced by more vague premonitions.  “Your future is bright” and “Your work situation will improve”.  I’m okay with these, I guess, but none of them are going to go make a kid sifting through an entire playground.  It’s like trading a homemade cookie that was made with real molasses, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and is the shape of a duck, with a national brand cookie that is a regular shape and has a standard taste – it’s still good, but it’s not as much fun.

All the fortunes have been replaced by affirming platitudes.  “You are an insightful individual” and “You are cherished and adored by your friends”.  What sort of bullshit is that?  I did not buy $30 worth of over salted noodles and dumplings that I am sure are filled with more raccoon meat than chicken to be told I’m happy and pleasant person.  I WANT EXTREMES, DAMMIT!  Give me my family’s weight in gold!  Tell me if I climb a mountain, I’ll be able to read people’s minds!  It doesn’t even have to be positive!  “You will get lupus within three years.”  AWESOME!  BRING IT!

To make-up for their lack of creativity, these people print lotto numbers below these trite affirmations, as if saying randomly generated computer numbers hold all of our luck.  I can do that at home.  Hell, 14 03 63 22 05.  See?!  (If anyone wins with those numbers, please let me know; I may have a future in the psychic industry.)  What I can’t do at home is be surprised by a sweet crunchy sugary treat foretelling that my grandmother is going to buy me a horse named Sprinkles.

I believe there is more to be seen in this slow degradation of our Chinese-themed, American-invented dessert: instead of dealing with the prospect of opening the cookie and being told our future may not be all that we had planned, we merely wish to be placated and told that we are worthwhile human beings who deserve to be happy simply for ordering delivery.  If you need to be told you’re okay by a cookie, then you may need more help than a dessert can offer.

It might also be that in this time of recession and what may be the beginnings of some civil unrest, people simply don’t want to think about the future even if it’s all for fun.  Yet there’s something depressing about cracking open a fortune cookie and finding nothing, so they fill it with happy descriptions . . . but it’s hard to write a funny article with that one.

Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!

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Phil & Rosco Glance Into History

Phil and Rosco sit in a living room.  Phil is reading a newspaper, while Rosco is setting up the board game Mousetrap.

PHIL: Hmmm, well what do you know?  Apparently, George Washington borrowed two books from a New York Library and never returned them.

ROSCO:  Really?

PHIL:  Yeah.  In 1789, which is the year he became president, he borrowed “Law of Nations,” a dissertation on international relations, and a volume of debate transcripts from Britain’s House of Commons, and never returned them.

ROSCO:  Wow.

PHIL:  He didn’t even sign his name.  Just put down “President”.

Silence.

PHIL:  I don’t know how to feel about this.

ROSCO:  Well if the sonofabitch became the first president of America that year, he probably thought he could do whatever the fuck he wanted.  Still, he was so honorable or whatever, that all he could manage to do was not return some free books.

PHIL:  I wonder if he felt guilty afterwards.

ROSCO:  (in a low gruff voice) You know what, Martha? I ain’t fuckin returning these.  (in a high-pitched voice) I don’t know George – (in a low gruff voice) No, fuck it. I’m the President; the library can suck my dick.

PHIL:  I think his behavior set the bar pretty low for those to follow.

ROSCO:  I think this has been a big fucking government secret.  Someone definitely lost their job and/or life over letting this little factoid slip out to the public.

PHIL: (chuckling) National Treasure 3: The Lost Tomes of GW

ROSCO:  And the BIGGER secret is that presidents have been taking books ever since then, and that is how the Library of Congress really started.

Pause.  Phil slowly puts down his paper, wide-eyed.

PHIL: (softly)  Oh shit . . .that makes intuitive sense.

ROSCO: We’re through the looking glass, Phil.  We need to watch our backs.

They each tentatively look around the room, waiting to see if something happens.  When nothing does, they go back to what they were doing.  Pause.

ROSCO:  I bet all they were looking for was porn.

PHIL: For sure.

“I’m president; the library can suck my dick.”

The Plague of the New Era

I have sworn off sequels.  They anger and disappoint me.  It’s like if one had just finished a very good meal and instead of trying to make it better, they just shit onto a plate and call it The Meal 2.  In no uncertain terms, I believe sequels are ruining everything.  Everything.

Sequels have ruined these donuts.

Not just sequels though – prequels, remakes, re”envisioning”s, based on’s, adaptations, Americanizations, regurgitations, and sometimes just plain, good old fashioned thievery.  These have taken over the box office of the American movie theater.  The film openings a few weeks ago; two remakes no one was asking for (Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night), a sequel to a franchise we all thought died a decade ago (Spy Kids: All the Time in the World 4D), an adaptation that’s probably good (One Night) but like anyone is going to go see it, and then two originals that sound very intriguing (The Invisible Griff and Amigo) but which have a “limited release”.  That means that although my lucky Los Angeles ass has access to it, most of the country won’t even know about it let alone see it.  Even typing that depresses the shit out of me.

Prequels have ruined this piggy bank.

Spiderman remakes, Superman remakes, Blade Runner and Total Recall remakes, Mildred fucking Pierce remakes.  Why?  WHY?!  Why why why why why?!  What purpose does all of this serve except to make some rich assholes more money and to make the rest of us look like ignorant, uncultured, uneducated morons?  Let me help you with that one:  IT DOESN’T SERVE ANY OTHER PURPOSE.  Hollywood has become even more about making money, which is a hard thing to do because that’s all it’s ever really been about.  The business model “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” is dominant these days and it’s showing.  If a movie makes enough money, well shit, let’s make it again!  And again!  And again!  They’ve done this so much that a fear of trying to do it differently is now inherent in the system.

Now now now.  Yes yes yes.  I can hear all of your arguments from here.  Almost all of the major influential films in America are adaptations of other works (The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, The Wizard of Oz.)  Remakes and reimaginings will always occur when an influential work hits a large audience or is discovered by a new generation (Seven Samurai to The Magnificent Seven, Internal Affairs to The Departed.)  And like it or not, sequels have always been around especially in the horror and comedy genres (Nightmare on Elm Street, American Pie, Rocky).  Even a complete remake of your own work is not unheard of as Hitchcock did it with The Man Who Knew Too Much and Ridley Scott is going to do it with Blade Runner.  And just because it’s not original doesn’t mean it will be bad; The Dark Knight and Star Trek are shining examples of it done right.

Remakes are trying to ruin this moment for me.

It’s not the existence of these things but their emergence as the majority that bothers me. But can we really blame Hollywood?  They’re just doing what they’ve always done.  Could they take more risks on creating new icons and works rather than bank off of old ones?  Sure, but it’s not just the studio bigwigs, directors and actors that get a share of those profits.  It’s also the gaffers, the production assistants and the make-up artists.  Hollywood is funding a whole league of people dedicated to entertaining you, oodles of people much further down on the chain that work their asses off to support their families, themselves and their dreams through this industry, and an artistic risk may also be a payroll risk.  Sticking with the status quo, no matter how low the bar, ensures people get paid.  The root of the problem is not with them.  The problem is us.

The greatest enemy to my generation is itself.  Through civil advancements made by our forebears, technological advancements taught to us by our teachers and the advancement of the standard of living provided by our parents, my generation has all the tools it needs to change the world we live in and yet we don’t.  It’s not that we don’t care but that we’re lazy.  I don’t know anyone who likes all these goddamn sequels.  They’re tired of Pirates of the Caribbean, they’re sick of Shrek and most of them seriously want Michael Bay to stop making movies all together.  But these same people will flock to theatres to see the latest installment of any franchise while simultaneously hating it.  The youth population is one of the largest in the country.  If we all banded together and started to demand a change, Hollywood would have no choice but to follow suit.  Hollywood continues to make these shitty-ass sequels because we let them.

I don't know how, but sequels are ruining bad movies too.

But I do not believe the answer is in altering the current system to fit our needs.  I believe the answer is in creating a whole new system.  See, there’s this thing out there called the internet and it’s changed everything.  It’s made a global community and that is the world that my contemporaries and I have not only lived in but have been raised in.  We are beginning to realize that the old system doesn’t work in the new world.  The internet introduced us to the idea of the free exchange of knowledge and information and there is no turning back.  It’s time to collapse the structures that our parents built, throw out the rule books they wrote and replace it with something that will work for today and our future.  A revolution.

My arguments are going to break down now (or rather, they were breaking down from the beginning and I’m just now noticing it), because I’m not sure how this revolution is going to manifest itself as a whole.  As far as entertainment, I think the revolution has already begun.

The entertainment machine is based around the principle that you must pay before you get to see the product and that the deal is more or less final.  If you don’t like it, well tough, because you didn’t pay to see a movie you liked, you paid just to gain access to a movie.  The fee is in no way based upon satisfaction.  What other product based industry works like this?  You get to test drive a car, and you can return that breadmaker if you don’t like it and get your money back.  Not with movies, or any other media.  But thanks to P2P (Peer to Peer), Bit Torrent and online streaming, the audience’s attitude about this is already changing from, “Here, take my money,” to, “Show me it’s worth my money.”  How many people download a movie illegally only to go see it in the theatres afterwards?  Probably not many.  But how many people download a movie and then buy it on DVD when it comes out?   Quite a few.  The movie (or album or television show) is no longer the product for sale, it’s the DVD/bluray that is for sale.  I would much rather pay $25 for a movie I know I like rather than pay $12 for one I believe will be bad.  This is not being unwilling to take a risk on a movie, it’s about not being guaranteed to lose money in doing so.

Sequles are destroying the Andromeda galaxy.

I don’t want to get rid of movie theatres but let’s just start to think of different ways.  With Netflix people have grown comfortable with paying a fee for a service that allows them almost unlimited access to any movie or show ever made.  Why not have something like that for movie theatres?  Instead of buying one ticket every single time, why not have something like a season pass?  Lay down some larger sum of money and get a ticket to every movie that shows in that theatre as many times as you want for the rest of the season.  If you’re into blockbusters, get the summer season ticket.  If you want to be up to date with the Academy Awards, go for a winter season one.  Don’t want to spend that much money, how about a day pass where you can see as many movies as you can in a single day?  If you don’t like that, then the option to buy one ticket at a time could still be made available.  And there are endless options and combinations that could be made, all at varying prices.  I’m not saying it’s the answer, but at least it’s an idea.

For now we have to work with what we’ve got.  I know I’m never going to pay to see another Bay, Shyamalan or Paul W.S. Anderson film.  I use Netflix to access all the small and independent films that got looked over by the system.  I will stream and pirate until I find something I like and then I will buy it or go see it in the theatres (I have actually done that, although I haven’t in a while because all the movies look like they suck right now.)  You see, I love movies and I love going to the movie theatre.  But I stopped going when the magic I felt there vanished (the exact moment was about an hour into Transformers 2.)

Michael Bay, you ruined Optimus Prime and thereby my entire childhood. May you rot in hell.

I want to go back.  I want it to be worth my time and money.  But something needs to change, and as it is with all things, the change needs to happen in ourselves first.