A small, round ship parted the Heavens and swirled the dark, electrified clouds around in tiny eddies. Slowly the saucer approached the surface of the desolate planet and engaged its landing repulsors for a soft settle on its thin, tripod legs.
All was silent for a moment, before an abrupt, loud hiss could be heard as the belly of the craft opened with bright lights shining, showing a single, shadowy figure. It descended the lengthening ramp to the sandy floor of what once was a forest. The figure pulled its tattered robes tighter around its strong frame, guarding against the winds and whirling sands. It headed forward into the dead vegetation as the ramp retracted back into the ship. There was no one, nothing to hear the sounds.
At last the visitor's boots found the firm step of a small home, little more than a shack. There was a pause. Then the character knocked, primitively, on the door before him.
After a moment the door slid open manually and a light-colored yet smiling face appeared shouting "Jones! You made it! Merry Christmas!"
The visitor stepped inside and dusted off its boots. It pulled down its hood and slowly removed its full breathing mask to reveal the darker, healthier face of Jones. "Flynn! Merry Christmas. What a trip!"
"Indeed, indeed! Did you have any trouble finding the place?"
"Trouble? No, you're probably the only life form approximating human left on this planet! Plus, the ruins of the freeways could still be detected, so I, basically, just took I-10!"
"Ha ha! Brilliant!"
Jones handed Flynn his cloak. "Possibly. Though coming back to this place, this... this planet Earth... I need my head examined. Why are you still here, Flynn? We all thought you'd come back to society again and join us!"
Flynn never lost her smile. "Yes, it's lonely here sometimes, but where else can I do my research? You know the thesis of my dissertation is the downfall of the Earth Societies all those millennia ago."
Jones laughed. "Yeah, I know. But you've been here for a decade. If you don't turn in your papers soon, all your professors will have preceded you in death!"
"Well, one would hope!"
Jones laughed again. "Yeah, living here, who knows what could happen to ya, huh?"
Flynn finished hanging the cloak on the wall, still adorned with Earthly artifacts. "Nothing so morbid on Christmas Day, my friend. It's a reunion for us and a time to celebrate. Come, I've made the sides. And... well, a special surprise!"
"Really? Come on, I hate surprises, Flynn!"
"Well..." Flynn paused and made up a face. "Let's eat, and I'll tell you over dinner!"
Jones raised an eyebrow to his old friend. "Hint?"
She thought about it and said "I think I've found it. The catalyst! The biggest hint to the mystery of the downfall of Earth."
"The missing link in 'the Downfall Problem'? I can't wait!" Jones said. "But dinner sounds great, lead the way!"
After a Christmas Dinner that couldn't be beat, Jones leaned back and enjoyed his warmed eggnog. "Brandy! Wow. How do you get these things out here?"
She blushed, which was the first color Jones had seen in her face since he had arrived, "Spacelift." Flynn said. "Part of the University stipend. I message what I need and they drop it, once every six weeks."
Jones drank it down and said "Well, it's good for the free stuff, I'll tell you that. I guess that also explains where you got the Christmas Turkey, huh?"
Flynn didn't respond at first, then she said "Well, no, Jones... that's... that's from here!"
"Don't worry, it's perfectly safe!"
"I'm sure it-"
"In fact, it leads directly into what I was going to tell you!" Her smile had returned in force. "Come on into the Living Room!"
Flynn's "living room" was a part of the metal shelter that she had walled off with cubicle parts. She had placed various pieces of furniture from different time periods in a homey pattern. "Gone native, have you?"
Flynn grinned. "Just a few things I've picked up on my excursions. I figure if I'm going to understand what happened in the 20th and 21st Centuries, living like the people then could only help!"
"I'm sure you're right!" Jones said and sat down, carefully, and mindfully of his full belly, on the naugahyde sofa. She joined him. "So, you've made some headway, have you?"
"More than that. I followed all the social tributaries and the spider-webbing after effects that finally led to... to... well..."
"The end of the world?"
"That's as good a name for it as any!" she said. "At last I had the answer!"
"The shift in monetary power and influence from the West to the emerging Eastern superpowers?"
"That was only a side effect of the main catalyst!"
"Ah! Oil, then! Oil scarcity lined the pockets of the Eastern powers before the supplies finally dried up, leaving the West unprepared for the future. Couple that with the outsourcing of manufacturing and support operations to Eastern Powers and the West collapsed outright. Without support of the West, the East imploded and-"
"Jones! Clearly you've done your research too... but no, all of these things were the aftershocks only. My main breakthrough happened when I found this!" She placed an orange, rectangular box on the coffee table.
Jones squinted down. "A cereal box? Who is that guy on the front?"
"That... is Bruce Jenner, or at least the Bruce Jenner of 1977. He was a-"
"- Track and Field athlete and somewhat of a celebrity. You told me about him in one of your letters. He seemed harmless enough."
"Oh, he was. As were these guys." Flynn showed him a series of photographs, some of only one person, some of two or more at a time.
In total, Jones identified seven men, though two of them were very similar in appearance. "Let's see, a couple of... looks like Law Enforcement guys; um... looks like a tribal leader of the original inhabitants of this continent; kind of a... what is this... star of the old Westerns?; guy in a helmet of some kind... possibly for construction; a man dressed only in black leather and studs (must be a tough guy); and... maybe a 20th Century-era Soldier!"
"Yes, Jones. You're up on your History."
"I learned from the best!"
"These were The Village People, and while they certainly appeared to be those Western Archetypes, they were actually a singing group." She looked up at him. "I know, you're confused. Here are some more pictures."
She showed him a lovely woman, another police officer and a brunette in a peach colored dress.
Flynn went on. "This was the actress known as Valerie Ritchie Perrine, who had once been nominated for Earth's highest acting award."
"Yes! This... " she handed him another picture, "... was Steve Guttenberg, by the way he was an actor too, not a Law Enforcement Officer, though he played one in many films." Jones nodded. "And this was another actress named Nancy Walker, who had starred in both lead and supporting roles, including one in the ancient Earth program The Nancy Walker Show."
"I've never heard of that!"
"It had been forgotten long before the Great Catastrophe."
"Forgive me, but how does this relate to your Thesis?"
"Well, Jones, do you know how many terrible events in history can be traced back to very good people with very good intentions who simply came up with a very bad plan?"
"Of course! It's caused the fall of many corporations and governments alike!"
"Well, these people, when put together in the same melting pot meted upon the world a truly frightening monstrosity that ultimately led to the events that destroyed this... our homeworld." She motioned, dramatically, toward the transparent aluminum window.
Jones took a moment to survey the desolation of their surroundings. Then he asked "What was it called?"
"It was called Can't Stop the Music! It was a movie musical, directed by the actress Walker, about... about... " Tears welled up in her eyes.
Jones leaned in to comfort his friend. "It's okay! Tell me, I'm here!"
"It was about Disco!" she blurted.
At first Jones was sure he had heard her wrong. "Disco? Like the... the..." He couldn't bring himself to call it music.
She nodded. The worst was over and she hadn't actually cried. She straightened up and said. "Many publications attempted to warn the world about this event, but few listened. So ominous were these proceedings that the original Police Officer character in those pictures, a man named Victor Willis, left the singing group to avoid being in the movie. Though he had been the band's main lyricist for a time before this, he was replaced by another."
"Can't Stop the-?"
"And they couldn't! At first it seemed that the movie had come and gone, making a minor splash at Worldwide Theatres, but that wasn't the case. The movie hibernated, lurking beneath the notice of pop culture, machinating and controlling trends until the right time came for it to strike."
"Well, quite a lot happened at first, before it went into hiding. For example, up until that point awards were given to people and to events and even to canines at what were called "Dog Shows", based on meritorious qualities. However, in the year of 1981 Can't Stop the Music was given a new award, not based on Merit, but on liabilities. It was the first ever winner of the Golden Raspberry Award or 'Razzie' for 'Worst Picture'!"
"WORST Picture? People of the past celebrated those things?"
"Sort of! After Can't Stop the Music, it began an age of cynical irony, in which things no longer had to be good to be celebrated. Things were then appreciated sarcastically and ironically. Oh, there were precursors, tributaries as I call them, but this was the real catalyst. Soon after everything became Ironic. People wore ripped clothing, though they could afford better, and actually spent more money on clothing that looked used. Counter Culture became Culture and Culture became Counter Culture. In fact, Counter Culture became so normalized that the former marks of Culture became Ironic, and thus popular again. Singers were made popular because they sang poorly on television shows. Celebrities became more popular when they made horrible and embarrassing mistakes."
"This is all astounding! But wouldn't these things cause the staples of society to be suddenly taken less seriously, if they were appreciated only ironically like... like these kinds of movies?"
"Exactly. With the advent of Digital Versatile Discs and the Internet everything, good and bad, could be made available to consumers, so all forms of Irony could be celebrated. In the United States alone, Millions of dollars were spent on bad movies from all over the world! Films so derided they were actually banned in the United States' Mother Country of England became sought-after relics of tragic rhetoric. Internet Movie Critics with great egos and marginal talent, who wrote in stunted prose styles more about themselves than their subjects were suddenly read by thousands of people every day!"
"No, sadly, it wasn't impossible, just highly unlikely!" she said. "New movies began to embrace the Kitsch and create intentionally ironic for the sake of irony stories that, ironically, were no longer ironic at all, due to the twists and pitfalls and iron chains of ironic double irony. Soon, nothing was serious anymore and within only a couple of centuries the world simply... broke down... and those that were left over, like our ancestors, took to the skies and other worlds! The rest... didn't pay much attention, because, ironically, the end of society became societally cool."
Jones shook his head in amazed interest. "And it's all because of this film?"
"This film was the focal point. The eye of the storm. By the time it was, itself, released on Digital Versatile Disc, the world was ready for it and it spread like lightening through water. Many things led up to this, and it led to many things... look!"
She brought up on her view screen (built to look like an early 1980s television) a diagram with many lines leading into the center and many lines leading away from it. The core circle read "Can't Stop the Music" and many tributaries and distributaries went into and out of the central point. It looked, to Jones, like a huge, frightening Spider, ready to strike!
He studied it intently.
"I see. But not all of these feeders or results were that bad!"
"True, but you well know the interconnectivity of all things. These things led to other bad things, which led to more, which led to more until they all culminated in disasters. And Can't Stop the Music was at Ground Zero! I can show you the rest of the diagram if you want!"
Jones looked again at the mutant spider and swallowed hard. He shook his head. "Incredible! Just incredible. Your Dissertation is going to put you on the map, and could really re-awaken Archeological studies on this planet."
"It could, yes, but-"
Jones was still so amazed that he interrupted her protest "It's just too bad that we can't actually see this thing for ourselves. It would be fascinating!"
"Well..." Flynn said.
"You don't mean-" Jones was amazed.
"Look, what I'm trying to tell you is-"
"Flynn, you have this?"
"I do but-"
"But what, is it dangerous?" he asked.
"No, not to individuals. It only becomes lethal when it infects on a larger scale. We could watch it. In fact, let's! Yes. Let's! It will be my Christmas Gift to you! But after this, we need to talk. I need to explain what I've been trying to tell you!"
"Fair deal!" he said and settled in to watch this Earth Artifact.
Flynn set it up and began to guide him through the movie.
"What's that noise?" Jones asked. "Is one of your speakers broken?"
Flynn laughed. "No, that's Disco."
A very attractive woman with large, bouncing breasts appeared on the screen. "That's Valerie Perrine." said Flynn. "She's the one that was nominated for that high award a few years prior to this."
Jones concentrated. "That's the Os-... Osc-..."
"Oh, that's too bad. Who won?"
"The naked girl from The Blue Lagoon! Anyway, here Valerie is Samantha Simpson, a former model who is now enjoying getting really fat."
"Wait a second. She's not fat!"
"I know! That's in the script though, if you can believe it! I'm also putting a chapter in the dissertation about how this film contributed to the female anorexia epidemic that helped contribute to society's downfall."
"And that... is Guttenberg, who plays Jack Morell. He's a thinly veiled reference to the main composer and founder of the Village People, Jacques Morali, a Frenchman!"
"Oh!", said Jones with alarm.
"He's just quit his job because he's got a gig DJing and thinks he's going to be a big, big star. The problem is, he can't sing, so he has to find singers to go with his music."
For no apparent reason a young man in a full, feathered head dress with war paints and almost no clothes appeared on the screen in Jack and Samantha's apartment! Jones started. "Hey, wait a minute! Who was that? Did you see that, or was the food drugged?"
Flynn giggled. "I had to double check too when I first saw it. No, that's Felipe Rose, playing Felipe the Indian, which apparently (coupled with the big litter problems of the day) made another Indian cry."
"Do they ever explain why-"
"-he's dressed that way? Sadly no, he just is!"
Jones' strange sensations continued as he was brought through a number of painful disco dance interludes that hardly related to the plot in any significant way. The moments seemed to be little more than expositions of the dancing skills of the individual Village People, along with a series of beautiful women that none of them seemed particularly interested in.
"See, here Perrine swears that she's going to get a record deal for Jack's emerging band, so she goes to hit up her ex-boyfriend played byyyyyyyyyyyyy... that guy there, Paul Sand! He's playing Steve Waits, president of a record label called Marrakech."
Flynn paused the presentation and continued to explain.
"The Real Village People were signed to Casablanca Records, a label who owed its success to Kiss, a band of young men with theatrically painted faces and armored costumes, run by a man named Neil Bogart! Now listen to this line!"
Flynn un-paused the program so that Jones could hear Sand say "Who do you think I am, Neil Bogart?".
Jones suddenly felt a little depressed and maybe a little sick. Flynn said, "That was one of the earlier attempts at ironic metafiction in such a medium. Unlike the noble predecessors of the art, this use of metafiction instead led to such self-aware comedic structures as Family Guy, The Venture Bros. and Scrubs."
"Oh, hey, there's that Jenner guy!"
"Yep, there he is. He plays a stuffed shirt Lawyer guy named Ron White who is hinted at... see? He's hinted at as being homophobic and the-"
"Oh, I get it, the Village People were gay?"
Flynn stared at Jones for about a minute to see if he was kidding. "Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaah."
She went on. "But that doesn't last long and soon he starts helping with the band's management and legal needs."
"Yeah, I noticed that, characters in this film seem to make drop-of-the-hat, flip-of-the-coin changes that make no characteristic sense!" Jones observed.
"And it goes on like that. Here's Sand's character refusing to have anything to do with the band... then gets them a deal to do a commercial for Milk. Oh, and here's Jenner's character offering his office as a place to hold auditions for new singers, and when his homophobic boss bursts in he quits. But not before hiring the character known as 'Leatherman'."
"Leatherman? Sounds like kind of a Bulletproof Superhero."
"Well, to the gay community, Glenn Hughes kind of was. Before this, he was a Tollbooth Operator."
"Yeah, they just mentioned that about his character. Wait, is this-?"
"Yes, it was supposed to have been a Bio-Pic. Sort of a Comedy autobiography of the Village People! It led to such terrible latter day entries as Spice World and-
"No need to go on."
Flynn stopped and just watched the film. He didn't have the heart to tell her that he hadn't meant to stop her from talking, but had meant that there was no need to go on watching this movie.
Jones watched as the band was completed and this one guy that had been silently in the background, dressed the whole time as a cowboy, in virtually every scene turned out to also be in the band. He was so poorly introduced that Jones had figured that the actor was just a friend of the producer or something. "Who is that?"
"Don't worry, no relation, I've checked."
"Oh, thank God!"
One of the dancers from one of the many painful Discothèque interludes, David Hodo became the Construction Worker, Alex Briley put on a uniform to become the Military Man. Having shown up earlier to take a police report from Jenner's character, Ray Simpson became the cop, probably playing both himself and Victor Edward Willis, who never appeared on screen. Naturally they brought the guy dressed as an American Indian Chief too.
And that's about the time that they all hit the streets in a big parade and burst through the doors of the Young Men's Christian Association, singing its praises in a song packed with Homo-Erotic Sexual Innuendo.
"Eventually," said Flynn, "this became one of the biggest songs of all time. For generations to come, people would not only sing out the letters 'Y.M.C.A', but also stand and dance wildly, making their arms and bodies into the forms of those four characters as they called them out."
"They did? Did they realize what it was really about?"
"Irony, Jones, Irony. Sadly, however, this film did manage to set the gay rights movement back by a full 78 years!"
Jones was happy that homophobia didn't exist in his time, but it didn't mean he was all that happy to see this much man ass, even from an academic standpoint. There were well-oiled, well-muscled men all over the place, hooking up, diving into pools together, disappearing into rooms together, flashing their penises at the camera together and hiding as the one woman ran through their locker room.
"Hey, did you see that?" Jones asked, astonished. "Valerie Perrine is naked. That wasn't a nipple slip, she's bouncing around completely naked in that hot tub with all those guys."
"Well, they're all gay, Jones, it doesn't mean anything!"
"No, of course not, but the plot and acting and situations and even the editing was all so infantile that up to this point I was sure this was a family film aimed at the 20th Century's Eight to Twelve year olds! Now we've got a song about gay cruising where a naked woman takes a bath with a bunch of men? That might fly now, but this was 1980!"
"I know. But remember, according to the script, she's fat! Really, really fat!" Flynn joked, looking at the shapely body of Perrine in appreciation.
This amazing film seemed to go on forever. Though it wasn't quite as eternal as it felt, it was still long, especially for a 1980 comedy musical, clocking in at two hours and four minutes. In fact, Jones was quite sure it had ended approximately ten minutes before it actually had. Instead he was greeted by yet another long disco interlude, this time featuring all the Village People in solid white costumes, entertaining a concert crowd with their songs.
And then it was over. "That's it?"
"That's it. How are you feeling?"
"I'll be fine in a minute!" he said, sprinting to the rest room. 124 minutes was a long time.
In one minute and twenty-four seconds Jones was back. "Okay, I don't get it, was anything really resolved in this movie? This all led up to them getting this record deal and that's it?"
"That and the long concert numbers."
"Was there any real conflict in this movie? Anything?"
"Oh, yeah. Implicitly. But there was no real acting or directing to convey that. Plus the characters changed so rapidly that it was almost impossible to determine who was on what side when. If Guttenberg had pulled out a ray gun and shot the whole band on the eve of their debut, it wouldn't have been all that out of character for the film."
"And what was the purpose of Marilyn Sokol's character?"
"Lulu? Just to make Sex Jokes and act obnoxious. I'm surprised you didn't ask about the girl band who showed up before the end!"
"Aw, man, I thought that was either a dream sequence or some of the Village People in Drag."
"No, but you're not far off. That was just a cheap attempt to get another of Morali's creations called The Ritchie Family into the film!"
"Hey, didn't you say the star's name was Valerie Ritchie Perrine?"
"Pure coincidence. No relation. In fact, none of the people in the band were even related, or named Ritchie, in spite of the word 'Family'."
"Good LORD! And speaking of family, this wasn't aimed toward kids, in spite of its approach? I was convinced it was until Perrine got naked and we also saw all those penises and men's asses."
"Well, I'm actually not really sure about that. At the time there was a rule that showing male frontal nudity was an automatic 'X Rating', from what I've read, which means no patrons under the age of seventeen for any reason at all. But this one was rated PG, which meant 'Parental Guidance'. It was open to all ages."
Jones sighed, shook his head again and said "And to think, they really didn't mean any harm. There's nobody to truly hate in this movie, in front of, or behind the camera."
"I know, but still, this is what we get!"
Jones slapped his hands together and rubbed them in excitement. "Well, Flynn, my dear. I think you've done it! I really do. You've found the real core event that caused the downfall of Earth. Here, buried on Earth's desolate remains. You're... You're incredible, Flynn! Why when the board reads your-"
"No, Jones, I can't. The dissertation is never to be now. I've discovered something too frightening, too powerful and I can't risk unleashing Pandora's Box onto the galaxy."
"Oh, come on, Flynn! It's just a movie!"
"That's what they said back in 1980, too! Then look what happened. Societies don't end overnight, it takes time. It takes time and one major event that snowballs until the final catastrophic moment that dooms a culture. When they released the film, after its long slumber, on Digital Versatile Discs, to an unsuspecting public, the damage was already being done. But with its wide availability and new cultural taste for irony and kitsch, the ripple effects spread from Can't Stop the Music were just too, too great. Too, too fast. There was no way that writers Alan Carr and Bronte Woodard could have known how accurate their title was. There was no way that Village People Svengalis Henri Belolo and Jacques Morali (who composed the score to this accursed film too) could have ever realized that it was all true. You really CAN'T Stop the Music! Jones, they just didn't know. And how could they know? How could they know?"
Jones was reminded of an old proverb. "There is no Hell for the good intentioned, no matter the aftermath." She was right. How could they know? "But we do." Jones completed for her.
"Yes. We do! In the early 21st Century when the film's damage had really begun its domino effect, some of those same idiotic Internet Movie Critics helped to feed the fire, not knowing what they were doing. The same could happen now. I write my paper, someone reads it and takes an interest, they'll see the film, which, obviously, I will have to submit to the Committee to support and defend the Thesis. Nothing will happen at first, not with just a few people watching it. But then another will come and another and another, until the entire cycle begins again. It wouldn't happen in our lifetimes, but eventually, this Dog could spread even faster than before with our advanced technologies. Hell, it could theoretically move so fast now that it could happen before we die. We can't risk it, Jones. We can't. It's not worth a Doctorate. It's not worth anything. That's why I have to stay. I have to stay and guard what I've found so that Can't Stop the Music can never fall into the wrong hands and become a weapon. A ticking time bomb! Do you understand?"
Jones paused, concerned. "I'm beginning to." he said. "What will you do now? Clearly, you're not planning to leave."
"No. Not without another guardian to hold back the spread of Can't Stop the Music! But. Maybe. Maybe you could come and visit me sometimes? Maybe on Christmas?"
"I guarantee it. And I'll bring friends and family-"
"But... we'll never discuss Can't Stop the Music! I understand now. Can't Stop the Music is too dangerous to be let out of the confines of this all-but-deserted planet."
"Right. Thank you! I knew I could trust you!"
As the evening went on, Jones tried not to think about the movie. They opened presents together and laughed and talked about the good old days and they had some more leftovers and eggnog and... and it was the best Christmas they had experienced in as long as either could remember. He would be back. That was for sure.
In the morning, on the 26th of December, Jones loaded himself back into his cloak and breathing mask to brave the wilderness between Flynn's home and his ship. The old friends said their goodbyes and he promised to return in no more than one year, but hopefully less time than that. It was a promise he would keep.
He left the planet in his Flying Saucer, happy and with a full stomach (the leftovers had made a great breakfast too). He hoped never to think about Can't Stop the Music again. But he had thought for a moment about something Flynn had tried to tell him earlier. Something about the Turkey they ate being somehow related to her discovery of the missing link in the Downfall Problem. He laughed for a moment, remembering that during the 20th and 21st Centuries, "Bad Movies" went by many names. "Bombs", "Dogs" and even "Turkeys". It would have been hilarious if that was what she had meant.
Suddenly he got just a small pang of indigestion. He didn't realize that somehow this Turkey had indeed been related to the Dog on the View Screen. Instead of thinking of this, he hummed some of the music, without realizing it, from the film and speculated on some ideas he was tossing around. He idly wondered what it might take to get together a band of his own again, maybe this time with interesting "Macho" costumes of his day. Space Ranger, Alien Aboriginal, Lizard Skin wearing Bike Jockey, Construct-o-bot, Frontier Explorer and maybe a couple of Astro Deputies. Who knew... perhaps he could even get a movie made. Who knew?
Who knew indeed? And after all... how could he know? How could he know?
There is no Hell for the good intentioned, no matter the aftermath.
But we do know. This warning of the future should tell us all that it is NOT too late! We must prevent the downfall of Earth at the hands of a well-meaning dog. Trust me. Join me. Merry Christmas, everyone. Enjoy your Christmas Turkey for 2007. But heed my warning. I beg you. Heed my warning. We must stop Can't Stop the Music! They say we can't, but we must, before it's too late. We must stop Can't Stop the Music!
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