An Analysis of Two Cultural Artifacts With Nothing in Common


There’s no grand unifying theme for this week’s column. Sometimes—and only sometimes—reductionism is inappropriate when referencing pop cultural artifacts, because evidence of a particular epoch need not be found within the subtext of obsolete trends and memes. Sometimes—and only sometimes—we can look at a pop cultural artifact as its own phenomenon. It remains both timeless and past its expiration date. The best of these become irrelevant the moment they enter public consciousness. With immediate irrelevancy, the pop cultural artifact stops aging. It’s born as an ant trapped in amber, preserved for future generations to marvel at its differences and similarities with contemporary cousins.

Thus we arrive at our first artifact: early 90’s quasi-action star Jeff Speakman. Speakman—who deserves credit for keeping his surname—starred in a fistful of forgettable action pics but he should be remembered for The Perfect Weapon. The plot doesn’t matter (revenge, martial arts, etc.) but what does matter is the opening sequence. Take an early 90’s quasi-action star, remove his shirt, spray his torso with canola oil, have him perform a longform Kenpo kata, and play Snap’s I’ve Got the Power. Sometimes alchemy does create gold:

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I was seventeen when I first saw this movie. Did I want to be Jeff Speakman? Of course. I may have even bought the _I’ve Got the Power _single and played it non-stop while practicing my Isshin-Ryu kata in my bedroom. Wearing karate pants. With my shirt off. My girlfriend at the time (who had far better taste and far more sense) thought Speakman was ridiculous and while I feigned agreement I secretly wanted Speakman’s skills and Speakman’s pecs. I achieved neither. But I’m still working on the pecs.

And then there’s the 1988 movie R.O.T.O.R., without question the worst movie of all time, so bad it must be seen in the way that spoiled milk must be smelled or rank cheese must be sniffed. R.O.T.O.R. _is far worse than anything Ed Wood ever created because as bad as Ed Wood movies are, they succeed on a campy level and as a sort of _Rocky Horror Picture Show _participatory event. We know Ed Wood and we expect harmless trash. But do we know _R.O.T.O.R.? We do not. Because _R.O.T.O.R. _is almost impossible to find. It’s the Ark of the Covenant of bad movies. Last I checked a VHS copy of _R.O.T.O.R. _was for sale on eBay. VHS! Could the mythology of this horrific movie be any more apt?

_R.O.T.O.R. _concerns a cyborg cop on a murderous rampage and the square-jawed detective hired to track him down and hit the “Deactivate” button. But the plot is inconsequential. Of great consequence is the writing, the synth soundtrack, the editing, the sound effects, and the acting. Along with the set design, the cinematography, the lighting, and, I imagine, the catering. They are all unbelievably bad. Terrifically bad. Insert-your-favorite-adverb bad. To wit:

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Some argue the interweb has made us immune to low quality, that instant access to tens of thousands of homemade dance videos and college dorm stunts (punch out the frat boy, put head through closet door, swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon, etc.) inures us to various forms of dreck and horror. But _R.O.T.O.R. _proves the cynic wrong. There will always be room for new subterranean depths of incompetence, and they will always entertain.

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