Archives for posts with tag: Netflix

AT LOOSE ENDS AFTER MONTHS IN MY ROOM, doing nothing but watching AmazonNetflixHulu, I decide to cruise Craigslist for a job. Under “part-time gigs in and around Dodge City,” I come across a listing for a “junior writer of Fake News, paid $15.75 per published article.”

 

Seems reasonable, I think, though I have no point of comparison. After corresponding a little with someone named XGurl69, I’m told to “just write about whatever you think is happening here, since that’s the easiest way of making sure anything you publish is fake.”

 

Fair enough, I reason, setting out onto the Internet to see what I can find. The first story that catches my eye (which forms the basis for the article I’m writing now) has to do with a confluence of snakes that vanished into Dead Sir upon Pussygrab’s inauguration. According to eyewitness accounts, they swarmed in from numerous surrounding counties, desperate to partake in what some claim they saw as a chance at a New World Order. “A snake revolution,” as one blogger put it, in between posts demanding the complete eradication of paper money and public schools.

 

In any case, the snake-pit grew increasingly dense over the early months of the Pussygrab Regime, until their bodies absorbed all the nutrients Dead Sir could offer and began to degrade into oil, trapped deep beneath the shale ledge upon which the bog wobbles.

 

Several months later, the snake oil is declared ready for extraction. Naturally, hundreds of snake oil salesmen (in the literal sense of the term) swarm into town, in a mini-Gold Rush of epic proportions. They’re all holed up in the same Hotel I’m writing this from, busy trying to steal one another’s claims, tarnish one another’s reputations, and poison one another at the Bar (the dead bodies are dragged out with the empty bottles at the end of each shift).

 

Over the course of a week of frantic activity, they drain Dead Sir and pipe the snake oil out of the shale, bottling it for wholesale distribution. Costco, some sources report, has already put in a bid for a billion metric tons, as has AmazonWholeFoods.

 

But there’s a hitch: when the snake oil salesmen have finished their extraction and loaded their trucks, they’re stopped at the newly militarized Dodge City Border, where Pussygrab officials demand to know just where they think they’re headed with such precious cargo. When they answer, “Back to America,” they are executed on the spot.

 

The bodies of all 600 snake oil salesmen are tossed into the now-dry pit of Dead Sir, and the product is returned to Dodge City, where Pussygrab claims, on an impromptu Netflix Special later that same night, “no longer will our most cherished products be exported for the benefit of foreign markets. No, good people of Dodge City: I promise you, from now on, all Dodge City snake oil will remain right here, where it belongs.”

 

So now there’s a glut: a billion metric tons of snake oil is far more than any town can absorb, and besides, as noted economist Larry Finkelbaum puts it on a Netlfix 2 expose of the phenomenon, “the cardinal rule of the snake oil trade is that it must always be sold far from where it’s extracted. Otherwise, all public credulity in its potential use as an aphrodisiac or miracle cure or whatever it’s being marketed as tends toward zero. I mean, all of us here in Dodge City know it’s from a bunch of dirty snakes that drowned in a swamp, right? Who’s gonna believe that cures blindness?”

 

And, indeed, no one does. The snake oil sits undistributed in its crates until it starts to rot and the Pussygrab Regime has no choice but to begin marketing it as water. “Regular, secular water,” Paul Sweetie announces during Sunday Worship. “Nothing funny about it. Just good, honest water, folks.”

 

But, of course, it’s not. No one forgets that it’s snake oil except those who, according to another Netflix 2 expose, begin a campaign claiming that, “the Pussygrab Regime is poisoning our drinking water and turning our children into snake-people. Resist! Resist! Don’t drink the water!! Better to die of thirst than live as a snake-boy!!”

 

 

*****

With that, I finish writing my first piece of fake news and send it off for review, fingers crossed, since I’m not ashamed to admit that I could really use the money. In the meantime, I fire up Amazon to see what’s new with the so-called “First Dodge City Genocide,” which I’m sure has been drawing nearer by the day, if it isn’t already in progress.

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AFTER CNN’S BREAKING NEWS RECEDES, I return to my usual programming only to notice that Netflix has split into two channels, each taking up half of my laptop screen. The Movie I find myself watching seems to use the same footage in both instances, but it quickly becomes clear that one of them is spinning it as a pro-Pussygrab story, the other as anti-.

 

Though the dichotomy disturbs me, I see no option other than watching both at once.

 

From what I can tell, the story focuses on how Big Pharmakos made the decision to offer his services to the Regime as — both halves agree on this term — the “official comedic warm-up act for the coming First Dodge City Genocide.”

 

Old newsreel footage of the actual First Dodge City Genocide (the one I remember learning about as soon as I arrived here) plays behind Big Pharmakos strutting on a huge stage in Pussygrab Palace, doffing a top-hat and doing vaudeville tricks with a cane. “This, friends,” he says, pointing his cane at the atrocity footage, “which many of you have probably been taught in lie-school is footage of the First Dodge City Genocide, is actually just the trailer! That’s right folks, the real First Dodge City Genocide is still coming, thanks to — you guessed it — the Good Colonel himself! So, no need to worry. You haven’t missed a thing. With your help, and the Colonel’s guidance, we’ll have ourselves the best little Genocide this tired old world has ever witnessed!”

 

Riotous applause across both halves of the screen.

 

Semi-consciously, I make a face imploring Big Pharmakos to return to decency, though I remind myself that he can’t see me from where he is.

 

“What we have here,” says Netflix 1, as the volume on Big Pharmakos’ giddy routine fades to a murmur, “is the patriotic awakening of a formerly degenerate artist. A man who, by his own admission, spent the first half of his life ‘wallowing in the filth of my own self-image,’ only to finally heed the call of duty, upon the historic occasion of Pussygrab’s unanimous victory last fall, and step up to the plate to pave the way for the First Dodge City Genocide, which, let me tell you folks, is going to make us all, as citizens of this fine town, damn proud.”

 

Netflix 2 interrupts with its own narrative. “What we’re seeing here is a disgraceful moral collapse of the sort that is sadly all too common in the ascendency of fascist regimes. A collapse which is, indeed, a key component of such ascendencies, a component without which no fascist regime can ever fully take hold. The poisoning of the culturati, if you will, which is in many ways a darker and more sinister process than the provoking of the angry mob which was, after all, nothing but an angry mob to begin with, even before Pussygrab whipped it into a murderous frenzy. What do you think causes a comedian of Big Pharmakos’ stature to turn like this?”

 

Here the camera pans from the first pundit, who looks somewhat familiar (I find myself wondering if everyone on both channels is an extra from Dodge City TV, dressed up as a partisan expert), to the second, who looks even more concerned.

 

“Well, Bob, that’s certainly a good question. I think it has to do with validation, quite simply. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves. Big Pharmakos was hardly at the height of his comedy career when Pussygrab came to power. And, to be even more honest, did he ever make it as big as he’d like to have us think? Was he really on Marc Maron’s podcast, as we all know he loves to claim? If so, have you heard the interview? I haven’t. I’d argue that he was, along with so many other members of the Regime and even Pussygrab himself, nothing but a washed-up hack who saw the dark glimmer of opportunity after last fall’s trainwreck of an election and, well, was either smart or dumb enough to seize it, depending on your point of view. When regimes like Pussygrab’s come along — regimes in desperate need, you might say, of entertainment value, since no dictator can go very far without comedy to lubricate his path — there’s always a Big Pharmakos waiting in the wings.”

 

*****

MY FIRST INSTINCT is to defend my old pal — it hurts to hear him discussed like this — but when the screen cuts back to him mincing onstage, with Paul Sweetie and all the higher-ups seated behind him, smiling moronically and fanning themselves with oversized photos of Pussygrab, it’s hard not to agree.

 

As if reading my thoughts, the camera zooms in on his grimacing face, covered in sweat-streaked pancake makeup and black eye shadow, leading the crowd in a chant of, “Kill the Jews! Kill the Jews! Kill the New Jews and make Dodge City gentile again!”

 

So what mental calculus is there left to perform? I begin the hard work of denying that he was ever my friend. As I watch him reiterate to the crowd that the First Dodge City Genocide never occurred and that Pussygrab will soon rectify this problem, I think, you do your Denial, old friend, and I’ll do mine.

 

As soon as I think this, I open a new window and start searching for a Netflix Movie that shows my time in Dodge City free of Big Pharmakos’ friendship — one that, ideally, shows me rejecting his creepy fascistic advances early in my time here. I find I can no longer evaluate whether it’s reasonable to expect such a Movie to exist, but I know I’ll feel soothed if it does.

 

*****

WHILE I’M SEARCHING, both Netflix Movies I just watched end at the same time and a box pops up asking me to rate my experience. I hover my cursor over both 1 and 5 stars, unsure how to rate both versions at once, until I decide to split the difference and give it a 3. A safe bet, I find myself thinking, trying to suppress my sense of irony for the time being.

I FIND MYSELF AT THE END OF A TRAILER FOR A MOVIE WHOSE NAME I DON’T CATCH but which seems to depict the formation of 100 soldiers into a Victory Parade in Sacrifice Square. According to the trailer’s narrator, “our troops so thoroughly defeated the enemy that all memory of the war has been erased. No one, today or ever after, will be able to say what the war was about, whom it was against, nor even where it took place.”

 

The question I’m left with (other than whether to see the movie — I know I’ll end up seeing it eventually) is how we can be sure these soldiers are actually the same as the ones who departed Dodge City to fight the forgotten war. They look completely standard-issue, like a random sampling of 100 action figures from a ValuPak of 1000 … so who’s to say these are the same Dodge City boys that supposedly set out all those months or years ago? At the same time, I think, treating myself for once as a rational debate partner, let’s not be too insensitive: who’s to say that the war itself didn’t burn their personalities so thoroughly away that these faceless brutes are all that’s left?

 

I chide myself for either my gullibility or my heartlessness (though not both). Then the next trailer begins. This one’s called Coal Country, and promises to tell the story of how “Pussygrab sent all the unemployed coal miners back underground until the next election.”

 

*****

THEN THE TRAILERS END and the main feature starts up.

 

It’s a sequel to The Dodge City Basement Boys, a special I remember watching a few months ago, back when the Pussygrab Regime still seemed young, before he’d called a snap-referendum and run a second, unopposed campaign in order to be voted “Double Mayor,” a position he then declared “at least twice as powerful as any Mayor in history, maybe three times.”

 

This time around, the narrator tells us that The Dodge City Basement Boys voted for Pussygrab on the promise that he would completely destroy the outside world and thus free them from the bad faith of dwelling inside the Game while knowing that an outside world continued to exist, a world in which they’d made no progress and had no prospects for success or approval.

 

At the same time, the Normcore Voters — most, if not all, of Dodge City’s adults — voted for Pussygrab for a diametrically opposed reason: that he would add entertainment value to their TV viewing because now reality TV would actually be real. “We wanted to feel like what we were seeing on the TV, even when it went beyond belief, was really happening. Like it was news, you know? Otherwise, we feared that watching TV would someday get old, and then where would we be, in terms of our lives and stuff?” says a man identified as Roland Epps, dentist, 43.

 

“So,” the narrator says, “Pussygrab and his Swamp Creatures have a dilemma on their hands. A dilemma that, if they’re not careful, could fracture into an outright Schism: on the one hand, their mandate is to destroy the entirety of Dodge City’s External Reality, leaving nothing but the Game. On the other hand, their mandate is to make Dodge City realer than ever, such that those watching at home might feel their TV diet growing fresher rather than increasingly stale. Ball’s in your court, Pussygrab. What’s your move?”

 

*****

Now the Netflix Movie begins in earnest. In one half of a split-screen, a team of Regime-loyalist hackers is hard at work creating a prototype of “the destroyed Dodge City,” which they plan to import into the Game hoping that the Basement Boys will accept this in lieu of actual destruction of the outside world. (“I mean, if they live full-time in the Game anyway,” one of the hackers says, “how will they even know the difference? They’ll look up from their in-Game lairs and see the ravaged post-Dodge-City wasteland we’ve designed, and believe the Colonel has made good on his campaign promise.”)

 

In the other half of the split-screen, another delegation of Swamp Creatures, led by Paul Sweetie, is hard at work torturing various Dodge City citizens, trying to put them on Permanent Swamp Mode so as to tether them forever to the belief that what they’re watching on TV constitutes the hyperreal world they all believe they voted for, while, presumably, the Regime carries out its real work in secret.

 

“What could go wrong?” Pussygrab is caught asking on a hot mic, his tone seemingly non-rhetorical.

 

*****

THE HACKER TEAM GETS RIGHT DOWN TO WORK, lifting the lid off the Game (which they apparently managed to commandeer right after the election, perhaps taking the reins from the previous administration — no two Dodge City citizens agree as to the Game’s origins, if they even agree about its existence) and beginning to sow destruction.

 

I watch on Netflix as they turn Sacrifice Square into a pile of smoking debris, boil Dead Sir into greenish vapor, reduce the Bar to digital boards and nails sweltering by the side of the road, and even reduce the Hotel (the same one I’m sitting in, the one that doubles as Pussygrab Palace) to a pile of rubble that reminds me of Berlin circa 1947.

 

As a finishing touch, they create an in-Game version of Pussygrab himself, incarnated here as a tribal warlord with sharpened teeth and a necklace of skulls, on the assumption that the more they can do to convince the Basement Boys that all of Dodge City now exists solely within the ravaged landscape of the Game, the less they’ll have to worry about the Boys’ interference aboveground.

 

The Basement Boys initially rejoice at this upgrade, burrowing that much deeper into their basements secure in the knowledge that there’s nothing outside to miss out on. “At last,” one of them says to the camera, “we can breathe free knowing that the basement’s the only place to be. Sex, money, prestige … finally, not having these things makes us stronger, not weaker. Thanks, Pussygrab, for fucking up all the shit you said you were gonna.” He addresses this comment to the in-Game Pussygrab, clearly acknowledging him as the real thing.

 

Then, finishing his ice cream and shouting for his mom to take the bowl, he picks his controller back up, unpauses the Game, and drives his avatar into the smoking remnants.

 

*****

“BUT WHAT OF THE NORMCORE VOTERS, AT HOME WATCHING TV?” the Netflix narrator asks. Indeed, I think. What about them?

 

It turns out that, at first, they’re satisfied too: Dodge City, outside the Game, looks the same as ever, so the entertainment value of watching Pussygrab poison its drinking water, imprison its journalists, and shutter its hospitals has lost none of its pizzazz. They sit at home eating takeout (“Does this Chinese food taste worse?” they wonder. “What happened to all the Chinese people that used to live here?”), laughing and cheering along with the Regime, secure in the knowledge that, just as they always wanted, the reality TV they’re watching is now truly real, and thus no longer a diversion from the lives they might otherwise have to wish they were living.

 

*****

ALL MIGHT HAVE REACHED A DETENTE AT THIS POINT HAD THE HACKERS NOT LEFT THE SEAM TO THE GAME OPEN. But, in their haste to escape the Basement Boys’ notice, they did. They fled the Game after destroying the virtual Dodge City and forgot to patch things up on their way out.

 

So, as is only natural, the air of apocalyptic decay from within the Game begins to ooze out into the real (so-to-speak) Dodge City. Pretty soon (unless Netflix has cut a lot out of this section) one-eyed humanoid hulks are wandering out of the Game and onto the streets of Dodge City, brandishing sharpened sticks and rocks in slings, led by the digital warlord version of Pussygrab himself, who’s now bellowing about burning the corporate overlords alive and eating the hearts of the faithless for lunch.

 

The split-screens merge here. The left-hand side looks slightly more digital, the right-hand side slightly more analog, but it’s clear they’re now both on the same level of reality, one whose consequences will surely apply to everyone watching, myself included.

 

The digital Pussygrab rips a cobblestone from the ground of Sacrifice Square and smashes it over his head, shrieking, “From now on, no Apocalypse is pretend!!”

 

The Basement Boys, I think, must be loving this.

 

The Netflix special stops here for a BREAKING NEWS interlude, featuring Paul Sweetie in his white wedding dress, shouting into a mic:

 

“A contingent of highly undesirable aliens has just poured across our border,” he tells the cameras, as screens behind him show those same faceless soldiers from the Victory Parade shoving the Game characters into armored vans. “This wouldn’t have happened had adequate border security measures been taken by the previous administration, but let’s let bygones be bygones. What matters now is how we respond. And let me tell you, we’re going to respond with extreme violence. The dawn of a new Dodge City Genocide is upon us, folks!”

I WANDER IN MY PAJAMAS back down the hallway and into the closet I do most of my viewing in, somewhere in the depths of what used to be the Hotel and is now Pussygrab Palace.

 

As soon as I’m inside, I boot up my laptop and start to scroll. Though it’d be nice to feel like an active participant in my media diet, a Netflix special called A People’s History of Swamp Mode starts playing before I can stop it, and I’m instantly mesmerized.

 

As the special begins, we see a land developer (“let’s call him X,” the special’s narrator says) trying to chop The Dodge City Outskirts into what he calls “condo-izable subdivisions.” He has a decent life — a dog, a family, a midcentury house — when he commits a sudden and seemingly motiveless murder, strangling the UPS delivery man on his doorstep first thing one morning.

 

Forced to testify before The Dodge City High Court, he pleads insanity, claiming that something came over him in the night, that he was “another person entirely” while committing the crime he now stands accused of. “I was a different man,” he says, addressing the camera directly. “A bad man. Not a man I’d ever want to know.”

 

“Well, if you can find this bad man,” the Judge replies, in a gesture of either largesse or deep perversity, “then bring him before me and you, as yourself, will be free to go.”

 

So X does exactly this. He goes back into himself, “all up and down his heart’s halls of mirrors,” as the Netflix narrator puts it, until he reaches the dark inner room where he went the first time. Here he finds the bad man waiting, all too happy to be summoned again.

 

This time, he kills on a larger scale: three people, including a child, which he buries in the frozen foods aisle of ULTRA MAX.

 

Needless to say, he ends up back in court, faced with the same ultimatum, and, again, he follows through: he finds the bad man yet again, closer to the surface this time, more attuned to the deal, even readier to be summoned.

 

This time he burns his whole neighborhood to the ground, killing 50 and radicalizing three followers, who in turn radicalize others.

 

Absurd as it seems, the Judge, apparently terrified of sentencing an innocent man, offers his ultimatum yet again, and again after that. “Bring me the man who did these awful things and we’ll throw him deep into the oily blackness of Dead Sir,” he says to X, after the bad man has initiated the First Dodge City Genocide, killing tens of thousands and leaving entire neighborhoods in ruins.

 

 

*****

SOUL-SICK AT WHAT HE’S WROUGHT and despairing of ever bringing the bad man to justice, X musters the very last of his willpower — free for a brief moment from the bad man’s growing influence — and hurls himself into Dead Sir.

 

“If the Judge won’t sentence me, I’ll sentence myself,” the actor playing him in the Netflix special says to the screen, as he falls, landing with a slurp in the jet black water.

 

PART I ends with the waters closing in, the last of X sinking into the depths, never to rise again.

 

 

*****

THE SCREEN GOES BLACK and I blink for a moment, afraid that the entertainment’s over and I’ll have to find something else to click on before the creeping dread of having nothing to do overwhelms me.

 

Luckily, PART II begins just in time.

 

Down in Dead Sir — the camera’s filming this all underwater, lit in sickly green night-vision — the man formerly known as X sloughs away. His skin puckers, bubbles, and peels back, drifting off in sheets which are eaten by huge solemn carp and gar.

 

Inside, rather than the viscera and bone structure I was expecting, is another man, encased in whitish gelatin. He peels this away and balls it up in his spindly hands, sculpting it into humanoid shapes that he plants in the murk at the bottom of Dead Sir, like he expects them to grow there.

 

And grow they do: over the course of a time-lapse montage, the man — who is clearly the bad man, perpetrator of the First Dodge City Genocide — changes, slowly but surely, into Col. Pussygrab, while all the white humanoids he planted around him grow into his retinue of Swamp Creatures. It’s particularly grotesque to watch Paul Sweetie’s face sprout from the fleshy blob that now constitutes his body.

 

Bubbles spewing from his mouth, the bad man addresses the camera and says, in what is now clearly Pussygrab’s voice, “What I’ve learned down here is that Swamp Mode is latent in all of us. It’s part of who we are, the backmost part, the reptile part. Did we create Dead Sir, or did Dead Sir create us? That, my friends, is the question. What I can say for sure is that it’s not unique to me, I was just smart enough to embrace it first. That poor bastard I used to be? ‘X,’ as you Netflix faggots call him? He’s gone, but I’m here to stay. The Dodge City Mayoral Election is tomorrow, and all I can say is, to anyone who thinks I can’t win … wait and see. It doesn’t matter if you’re sure you won’t vote for me. When the time comes, when you’re alone in that booth, you will. You all will. Swamp Mode’s ascendent. The Second Dodge City Genocide’s ramping up, and let me tell you all right now, it’s gonna be a motherfucking party!”

 

The Netflix special ends with Pussygrab and his Swamp Creatures marching across the bottom of Dead Sir and then slowly rising toward the surface, green hard-ons engorged, as a spooked newscaster’s voice says in the background, “I can’t believe it folks, but reports are coming in that Col. Pussygrab has won the Election in a landslide. Barring a miracle, by dawn he’ll be our next Mayor.”

 

Then the screen goes black and the credits roll over hysterical cackling.

I FINALLY MAKE IT BACK TO MY ROOM, or what looks like my Room but may in fact be a replica set up in the cramped closet off the hallway I’ve been in all this time, somewhere in the bowels of what used to be the Hotel and is now Pussygrab Palace.

 

My attention, as ever, is quickly absorbed by what’s up next on my laptop: a Netflix News special entitled “The Dodge City Basement Boys: a Key Component of Pussygrab’s Electorate,” billed as “an exclusive look into the depths of The Dodge City Pizza Basement, which is, depending on whom you ask, either Hell, Purgatory, or The Ark.”

 

As the opening titles fade, the screen makes a diving motion, like the camera’s being shoved down a hole, slowly coming into focus in a dim grotto thick with dust motes, Akira posters, and several generations of Playstation controllers balanced on a stack of waterlogged copies of Steppenwolf and Notes from Underground.

 

A skinny, nervous-looking boy in sweatpants and a Tool T-shirt sits scowling at his computer screen while an off-camera reporter clears her throat and says, “Ahem, so … can you tell us what’s been going on with you boys since Pussygrab became Mayor?”

 

The boy, who looks to be around thirty, shrugs and says, “No, but I’ll show you.” He presses Play on a video window on his computer, and the scene zooms in, into a similar basement, where a similar boy sits, grinning and ready to talk like he’s just been tapped-in on a wrestling tag team.

 

“So there was this breeding experiment about thirty years ago,” he begins, fondling a Playstation controller,”set in motion by Mayor Paul Broth, right before he hung himself on the Edge of Town instead of serving the life sentence for war crimes that all previous and subsequent Dodge City Mayors have served immediately after leaving office. In this experiment, a group of neuroscientists set out to discover if it was possible to breed people to have a sort of hyperawareness that would enable them to see beyond the fundamental idiocy, jingoism, and cowardice of the human race. It was, without doubt, Dodge City’s most significant post-humanist attempt to transcend its ancient animosities and superstitions, and thus finally approach Genuine Rational Thought, regardless of any loss in empathy and compassion that might go along with it.

 

“The answer to this experiment was yes, it is possible. The only problem?”

 

He grins and presses the X button on his controller, which sends us deeper into The Dodge City Pizza Basement, which seems to have many nested chambers.

 

Another boy snaps into alertness and says, clearing his throat, “The only problem was they only experimented on boys. Not a single girl among the initial control group. Make of that what you will. What did we make of it? Well, we tried to make the best of it. We got on 4chan and connected up.”

 

He presses Play on his computer screen and turns to face it, motioning for the camera to watch over his shoulder. Onscreen, a hulking samurai paces the ground with an angry erection protruding from his tunic. The boy on the near side of the screen blushes a little as he eases his pajama pants down and fits a joystick-sheath over his groin.

 

“Okay, here goes,” he says, as he starts manipulating the joystick while the samurai onscreen begins fucking a curvaceous anime princess in a nest of thorns. Tentacles, pincers, and other wild appendages grope the screen from all sides. It’s unclear whom they belong to, but they waste no time getting in on the action. Soon the scene looks like an orgy, although it still has only two main participants, as far as I can tell.

 

Each time the boy thrusts in his seat, the samurai thrusts onscreen, and the anime princess moans out a cloud of digital oohs and aahs.

 

Then the boy shudders and hunches over his desk. As he comes inside the joystick, the samurai comes onscreen, pumping the anime princess full before pulling out to reveal gouts of digital semen leaking onto the pixilated ground.

 

“I did it quick since you all were watching,” he says. “Normally I last a lot longer.”

 

Wiping himself off with a sock and pulling his pajama pants back up, he says, “In nine hours, my son will be born. He’ll be half-human and half-Game. Though of course that’s an over-simplification, since I myself am half-human and half-Game, my father being a 4chan Boy like me and my mother being a, well …” He nods upward at a poster for Ghost in the Shell, “you know.”

 

*****

The phrase “NINE HOURS LATER” flashes across my screen, but I can’t tell whether nine hours have actually passed, or only in screen-time. The two are hard to distinguish at this point.

 

Now I’m watching the anime princess give birth to a screaming bundle of pixilated flesh, which then stands, cries, wanders for a while and, after a cross-dissolve, ends up in a basement of its own, bleary-eyed, surrounded by half-eaten chicken nuggets and Chinese takeout, staring at a web browser with at least thirty tabs open.

 

After checking 4chan and posting some garden-variety Hate on a few of its message boards, he cries out, “Mom! Ice cream!”

 

A few moments later, the anime princess from the previous scene — middle-aged now — trudges into the Pizza Basement with an Ikea bowl full of Cherry Garcia, and leaves it near her son’s typing hand, wary of interrupting him. The boy seamlessly incorporates it, spooning ice cream into his open mouth with one hand and Tweeting slurs with the other.

 

*****

“EVERYTHING JUST STARTED TO SEEM FUTILE,” one of the boys says, many generations later. “Like it was all fake, a sham within a sham within a sham, you know?” He adjusts his crotch joystick, which appears to be in foreplay mode, not yet impacting his ability to speak. “Like we were a bunch of mules … an evolutionary dead end. An experiment that was called a success but wasn’t.”

 

“So us Basement Boys started to circle the notion that it was all a Game. You know, like Nietzsche said: the outside world was nothing but neo-liberal hand-wringing and rich bitches crying themselves to sleep in multimillion dollar penthouses. A bunch of smirking bleeding heart coastal dickweeds who insisted on taking everything way too seriously. I mean, how dumb do you have to be to believe that — and please quote me here — Good and Evil still exist? Even with so much obvious evidence to the contrary.”

 

He gestures at his basement bedroom here, as if to imply that this is the evidence he means.

 

“So all of us, through 4chan and through our characters in all the individual games we were playing, began to formulate the theory of The Game.”

 

“The Game?” the reporter asks.

 

The boy nods. “Yeah, the idea that it was all networked together at the very top. That the Apocalypse had already happened, and we were now living in its aftermath. We’ve come to believe that The Game — a fully unified field, the ultimate convergence of all human endeavor — is the only refuge of whatever survivors there are. The Pizza Basement’s an Ark that contains the entire world. The entire universe, even. Underlying all of Dodge City, it opens onto the infinite.”

 

“And Pussygrab?” the reporter asks, looking at her watch. “What does all this have to do with him?”

 

The boy yawns and presses his controller, taking us to a yet-deeper echelon. The air in the room I’ve been watching Netflix in gets tighter and ranker, the smell of old pizza boxes and Big Mac wrappers close to overwhelming.

 

*****

A NEW BOY LOOKS UP from his screen and says, “Well, Pussygrab was a test case. A Swamp Creature we all knew from The Game, a Boss if you like, a natural outgrowth of the Hate we’d been fomenting for years, but the fact that he was somehow also on the ballot in the so-called real world, in Dodge City itself … it was too much to resist. We had to see if, by electing him, Dodge City would prove incapable of accommodating his victory and collapse into chaos, thereby proving that The Game is not ubiquitous, or, as we suspected, whether he would be seamlessly integrated into his new role as Mayor, thus proving that The Game is indeed everything, and that there is no world outside of it. No rules but its rules.”

 

He takes a long slurp from a Big Gulp he’s apparently been cradling in his lap all this time. “And so far, I have to say, all signs point toward the latter. He’s been Mayor for two months now, and Dodge City’s still standing — from what I gather, since I admittedly haven’t been outside yet this year — so what does that tell you? I’d argue that it tells you there’s no getting beyond The Game. The fact that Pussygrab’s both a leering ghoul from the digital depths of Dead Sir whom we elected with our Playstation controllers, and also the actual, real-life Mayor? Doesn’t that pretty much prove that Dodge City can’t be a real place?

 

“At the very least,” he adds, taking another Big Gulp, “isn’t it the funniest thing ever?”

 

“Is it though?” I hear myself ask, shocked to discover I’m now Skyping with him. “I mean, people are going to die.”

 

He nods, unsurprised to be Skyping with me. “True, but think about it: somehow, we made him cross over. The human embodiment of the festering heart of 4chan is now Mayor! And not just our Mayor, but yours too. How could that not be funny? The Line’s been crossed and no one even gets it. You libtards still think the old rules apply.”

 

I stifle a cough and ask, “So what does that mean about the Pizza Basement?”

 

He waves his arm at the dank walls and taped-over windows surrounding him, eyeing a bowl of melted ice cream like he’s weighing the pros and cons of polishing it off. “It means, if you’re watching this, that you’ve survived the collapse of humanity and have, whether you like it or not, succeeded in uploading yourself to The Game. It’s all pretend, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

 

He blushes and stirs the melted ice cream, tasting it carefully. “On the other hand, we’re aware that if it’s all pretend that means we’re pretend too, so in a sense it’s also real. If we and The Game are made of the same code, then we’re not impervious to what goes on here. Which is why we’re kinda hoping Pussygrab doesn’t do that much damage in the end. In The Game, if you die, you have to restart the level. No biggie, in theory, but I’ll admit that we haven’t figured out a way to save our progress yet. And so, yeah, no one wants to go all the way back to the beginning if they can avoid it.”

 

He falls silent here, a bit shamefaced as he stares at me through the Skype window, which is somehow embedded in Netflix.

 

A while later, he says, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, it looks like my wife’s in labor.”

 

The broadcast cuts to the screen he’s watching, where the now-familiar sight of an anime princess giving birth is well underway.

 

*****

THE NETFLIX NEWS SPECIAL ENDS with the termination of the Skype call, and I end up back in the room I started in, though the smell of old pizza boxes and Big Macs and bowls of curdled ice cream and discarded Big Gulps and cum-rags surrounds me, and I have to say I’m not as surprised as I wish I were.

 

Sighing, I log onto Twitter to see what Pussygrab’s been up to since last I checked, thinking, I’ll just clear my mind a little before watching Paul Sweetie Vs. The Dodge City Dead, which is already starting up on Netflix in one of my thirty open tabs.

AT SOME POINT during my foray into the Lobby to see the American Takashi Miike receive his award from the Hotelier for writing and directing The New Jews on such short notice, I find myself instead watching Netflix on a strange computer, alone in a drafty side room.

 

Someone must have escorted me in here, like a child who sneaks down late at night to see what his parents are discussing in the kitchen and, unwilling to go back to sleep, is set up with a video and a bowl of popcorn in the den. I can just make out the crackle of voices beyond the closed door, but I’m too tired to get up and check if it’s locked (either that, or I’m afraid of what I’d do if I found it was).

 

Turning my thoughts away from the door, which I’m now pretty sure is locked, I have a moment of vertigo as my consciousness wavers between that of the me sitting in this drafty side room and the me onscreen (do I really look like that??), but as soon as the Movie’s opening credits fade I lose all awareness that there’s any part of myself outside what’s going on, which is that Paul Sweetie, Col. Pussygrab’s First Mate, is dragging me down a cement hallway toward what appears to be an electric chair, muttering, “it’s only set on stun, it’s only set on stun.”

 

“We always begin on stun,” he adds, once I’m strapped in, feet outstretched on the footrest like I’m about to be treated to dinner and a Movie. “What we end on is, well, up to you.”

 

“So this, uh …” I ask, hoping some question will sound implicit in my trailing off.

 

“Conversion Therapy, yes,” Sweetie answers, “your name came up on a list. Don’t worry, it’s a free service.” He pauses, perhaps giving me the chance to ask a follow-up question.

 

Cautiously optimistic, I follow up with, “conversion from what to what?”

 

Sweetie smiles, donning a pair of yellow rubber gloves and a clown mask as he charges up the chair. “From what you are to what you will be.”

 

Here I do recoil, if only for a moment, into my more remote self, the one watching this all on Netflix, in the (comparative) comfort of the drafty room off the hall somewhere in the Hotel, which, come to think of it, is remarkably similar to this drafty room off the hall of …

 

I lose my train of thought when the electricity hits my gonads, zapping them long and hard, making my teeth knock together like wooden puppet teeth, woodchips raining down my throat.

 

When I gag loudly enough to disturb him, Sweetie pulls the plug, panting like he’s the one who just got zapped, and asks if I feel different yet.

 

Though part of me knows I should say yes and spare myself whatever future pain is coming, another part of me shakes its head. Whether the urge to defy is an end unto itself, or is based on some half-formed desire to undergo the therapy a second time, or simply to continue watching it on Netflix rather than facing whatever comes next, I can’t say. I just know I’m not ready for it to be over yet.

 

Sweetie clears his throat and says, “Then proceed,” and proceeds to shock me a second time, this time with more juice, like in Milgram’s obedience experiments at Yale.

 

Weird liturgical symbols fly inside my lids as Sweetie grunts in my ear, unless that’s the sound of my brains frying.

 

Next time he stops, I plan to shout “I’m changed! I’m changed!” But, once again, when he asks, I say, “Nope, gimme more.”

 

*****

SO HE DOES.

 

This time, my eyes vibrating like two eggs about to hatch, I’m rocketed out of my self and into a free-floating vision of Dodge City as a series of concentric towns, nested Dodge City’s, each presided over by its own Pussygrab, each one giant and green and sitting on an inflatable throne, bouncing with glee like a six-year-old who’s chugged a gallon of Diet Coke.

 

And beside each Dodge City is a smaller, nearly-identical one with a sign that reads DaltonLand: a theme park in which the moderate, even-tempered Professor Dalton won the election and became our Mayor instead.

 

Beyond these, marking the Outskirts of my vision, are a series of ChaosLand‘s, theme parks ruled over by lumbering cavemen and huge spindly birds, and what I’m left to wonder — as Sweetie eases up on the juice again — is whether what I just saw is real outside this building or only inside of it, in the vast fake kingdom of Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu …

 

“What?” he asks, and I realize I’ve been speaking aloud.

 

“Nothing,” I reply, struggling to retain the image of DaltonLand and my determination, though I know it’s a form of denial, to get myself out of this room and through the theme park gates as soon as I’m physically able, assuming such a theme park exists.

 

“Okay then,” he says, pulling up his clown mask to lick sweat from its neck flap. “Let’s get ya cleaned up.”

 

*****

SHIVERING WITH ICE WATER AND LYE, I find myself alone in the drafty room in the hall — one or the other of those rooms, if there are indeed two — watching a floating clown face that resembles Sweetie’s stare at me from the center of the strange computer I’ve been watching this all on.

 

At first I think it’s a screen-saver, so I just stare back, but then it grows agitated and says,”so …”

 

I shrug. “So … what?”

 

Now it smiles, and the purple smoke clears, revealing either that it really is Sweetie talking to me through something like a Netflix version of Skype, or else it’s a very good actor speaking from within a Movie scripted to sync up with whatever I say.

 

“So how do you feel, now that your Conversion Therapy has taken place?” he bats his eyes seductively, glowing with pride.

 

I feel fuzzy and unwell, not quite sure what he’s talking about, though it sounds more familiar than I wish it did. “I … I feel the same as I always have.”

 

Here he resumes laughing and the purple smoke gushes back up around his neck and begins to gush from the sprinkler system overhead as well, so now I’m choking and coughing in addition to everything that was already wrong with me.

 

“Oh you’re changed! You’re changed alright!” the clown-Sweetie cackles. “You just can’t remember what you used to be!! What you are now … that’s the new you!! Anything you think now, anything you see or feel or do … it’s the new you! It’s what we made you into!! If you don’t believe me, just check your gonads.”

 

*****

THE SCREEN TURNS BLACK as I’m taking this in, wondering how much is true and, if so, how I could ever tell. I certainly don’t, for the time being, have any intention of checking my gonads.

 

As I’m wavering in the limbo of these thoughts, trying to remember the way to DaltonLand, the next Movie automatically begins to play on Netflix.

 

Entitled The Superimposed Hotel, a tagline over the opening shot (of a man alone in a dingy room, coughing on purple smoke) reads: THE MOVIE THAT FINALLY ANSWERS THE QUESTION OF WHETHER YOU’RE LIVING IN ONE HOTEL OR TWO!!!!

BED REST following the Intestine Episode is cut short by the scheduled arrival of an Idol.

 

The baby that Stokoe Drifter sired is tucked away in some nursery or orphanage, attended by specialists and orderlies.

 

If we could have postponed it we would have, just to have a few extra days to lie low, but these things involve multiple towns and the amount of legwork required to disrupt the Idol from its scheduled tour is way beyond what any of us were up to undertaking.

 

In fact, it’s on a fixed circuit of 30 towns, which means it has, max., one day of leeway per month. In February, obviously enough, it has to hit, on average, more than one town per day.

 

Every town gets its turn. Ours is today.

 

The Idol is wheeled in by hooded underlings, big as a Trojan Horse except, instead of wooden and hollow and filled with spies, it’s blobular and gummy, solid, filled with despair and self-doubt.

 

Every citizen of Dodge City, except those living Underground and/or Off The Record, is assembled in the square (the same one in which the Intestine Episode played out — some of the cobblestones are still stained), yawning and shivering in the autumn chill, watching the Idol approach on its titanium casters.

 

The hooded underlings take a few minutes to stabilize it once it’s been rolled into position, anchored with a rope around the fountain in the dead center of the square like it has some astrological significance, something with the sun and the shadow of the clocktower and concentric circles and diametrically opposed shop windows mirroring each other.

 

Once the wobbly gelatinous mass is still enough to be safe-seeming, we separate into four lines of roughly equal length, each facing the Idol from a distinct direction, dividing 360 degrees into chunks of 90.

 

*****

WE WAIT in this formation until the underlings blow a whistle. They hereby Give the Go-Ahead, then disperse into the streets around the square, perhaps for a bite and a cup of coffee, or just to afford us some privacy.

 

One citizen from each of the four lines approaches the Idol, gagging and blowing out air, preparing mouth and throat for the bitter, gooey taste of what’s to come.

 

All four dive in, burying their faces in the mass of the Idol’s side, boring as far into that biology as it’ll let them.

 

I gag in sympathy, watching their heads disappear and then enough of their torsos that their feet lose ground and tip up into the air, kicking and dangling. A few kick so hard their shoes scramble off.

 

It’s dim weather out, hard to stay sharp in — my mind wanders over to 12 Years a Slave and a kind of yarn-ball of jealousy over the critical acclaim bestowed upon Steve McQueen unfurls in my system, quickly re-knotting in new and painful ways. I try to fight it but only end up, predictably, fighting myself.

 

I’m up next.

 

I’m fantasizing about my Gmail account, begging the universe for a story of mine to have been accepted somewhere, anywhere.

 

I would’ve missed my turn if someone hadn’t shoved me in the rib, sending me off-balance toward the Idol, tripping over the knot of jealousy over how far short of Steve McQueen’s my critical fate has so far fallen, which has wormed its way out of my body and is now hanging down like the tassels on a prayer shawl all over my crotch and thighs.

 

Propelled bodily by the rib-shove and mentally by this craven (and common enough) thought-welter, my face ends up in the Idol’s side.

 

The familiar bitter putty taste seeps out to receive me. It spreads my mouth open as surely as a thumb and forefinger squeezing my nose.

 

All the insecurity of the past few minutes serves me well now: I’ve been adequately prostrated on the threshold, brought to my knees in advance of coming face-to-face with it.

 

I wriggle further in, arms pinned to my sides like when I was five and fat and stuck in the tunnel of a snow fort that had become an ice fort overnight.

 

The claustrophobia sets in as the Idol’s blob material forces its way down my throat, covering my tongue with a tongue of its own, stretching all the way into my esophagus to the point where it blots out all other sensation and opens the pathways of thought:

 

Maybe I’m really, truly not good enough, I think.

 

Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to see this — any of this, anything I’m working on — through.

 

Maybe I have the vision but not the chops, simple as that.

 

Maybe I’ll aspire forever, or even give that up, settle for fandom and a kind of select regional knowledge.

 

I mean, what do I know about what it really, like, really, takes?

 

These thoughts rush into me, pumped in from the belly of the Idol, whose sole purpose is to pump us all full of these thoughts, once every thirty days without fail throughout the year.

 

A lot of people can think it up, but only a very, very few can do it for real. Why believe you’re one of them? The thoughts continue, same every time.

 

What indication is there?

 

The Idol slowly and expertly ratchets up the tension, building to the brink of the unbearable. This is what it’s been called to town to do. This is what it is, living proof of the possibility that I am not — that none of us are — the genius I so miserably want to be and, twenty-nine days out of thirty, am mostly able to behave as if I believed I were.

 

The kind of belief that lets you move forward with work that no one else is forcing you to do.

 

I feel internal bleeding everywhere from my ribs on up, and a black soupy mucus pouring down into my stomach as the reality hits me full on: I might genuinely, truly, and, worst of all, simply, not be cut out for it. Not when you seriously size up the competition.

 

I mean, c’mon.

 

And maybe it’s your fault, whispers the Idol, beginning to ease its tongue out of my gut. Maybe you just don’t want it enough. Maybe, years ago, you took a long, sober look at what it actually takes and thought to yourself … eh, I dunno …

 

*****

Finally it pulls its tongue the rest of the way out me. I can feel life returning to my arms, which begin morosely swimming back out of the blob’s interior, pushing back toward the open air of Dodge City.

 

Back on the cobblestones, it’s dark and, compared to where I’ve just been, frighteningly dry and cold.

 

I hang my head low, dog-like, and saunter off to a bar to knock a few back and try to thaw out from the High Sabbath.

 

The bar is full of people who’ve just undergone the same ordeal, all of us shaken in our resolve, our homunculi unseated from their habitual thrones.

 

Each of us drinks like we’re the only one there. Even the bartender looks like he’s asking himself what the point is.

 

When the place gets full enough and some of the taps start running out, I picture the hooded underlings untying the Idol’s anchor from the fountain and wheeling it away through the dark, back through the Outskirts and on to the next town, stopping somewhere unseen to pass the night.

 

I wonder whether they sleep inside or beside it, and all at once or in shifts. And whether they keep their hoods on even when it’s only them and too dark to see.

 

*****

When I get back to my Room, I open my Internet browser: several Email accounts, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify, Pitchfork, The Dissolve, The AV Club, Netflix, and Hulu, along with the Events Schedules of at least five music and comedy venues.

 

Several minutes later, I open my novel draft, thick with several years’ worth of dust and tract marks, odious even to glance at.

 

Then, not to put too fine a point on things, I ask myself what sort of man I am.