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Cargo Cult: Setting Out

The following episodes further lay out Cargo Cult's project of looking at movies and culture through the filter of America's professional and personal urge for adventure. And because I can't resist the urge to be a smartypants, I use a Russian literary theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin, and his theories of the unification of time and space to tease out the subject. Because he's a good sport, Justin indulged me.


The theory is the chronotope, and to simplify the hell out of it, it's how you choose to organize a story. Few chronotope devices are clearer than the road, because the change in both time and space is represented by the beginning, middle, and end of the journey. Bring a ring to a fiery pit, escape to Mexico to outrun the posse, or head to Florida to settle in for a good life.


Need to tell a story about driving eastbound and down to get 400 cases of Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta in less than 28 hours? Simply follow the routes and cover the actions to get to Georgia. It's mapped out for you. What makes the story interesting is those 28 hours. You've got a long way to go and a short time to get there. Now you gotta speed to beat the clock. And if you speed, you reduce your reaction time risking a wreck or getting caught by local law enforcement. It's not just a speeding ticket, it's illegal contraband. You're going to jail. Game over.


The obstacle of time has now created the obstacle of space. Anything between you and Atlanta is a potential detour that requires tactics. Sometimes those tactics require going back to get around, and the clock keeps mercilessly ticking. Ticking as the runaway bride joins you, ticking as the vindictive sheriff closes in to barbecue your ass, and ticking as the bridge you were counting on is no longer there. You might have to drive through a little league playground. Cheerleaders be damned.


There's a reason both Alfred Hitchcock and truckers love this particular chronotope.


If you're not careful, you start seeing this chronotope thingamajig in almost every story you read, listen to, or watch. A series of destinations with various time limits, each sequentially ratcheting up the tension, and leading either to an apocalyptic disaster with victory in sight or a triumphant race across the story's finish line when all seems lost. In fact, we're willing to bet you'll see the device inside the movies of these next six episodes. It happens on a macro and micro scale throughout.


Just to give you a few examples. One movie has a mad race across New York to bring a ransom to an unmoving train before a hostage is executed. Another detours into a cemetery forcing its characters to overcome the ghosts of their past in order to continue moving across the entire United States. Finally, and one of my favorites of all time, four aging cowboys, inches from freedom, make the fateful decision to march back into hell to save a friend from a terrible fate.


Throughout it all, Justin and I talk about our own journeys in both our professional lives and love affairs with the big screen. Just a couple of boys hijacking subways, training to be ninjas, loading up for one more showdown, and rolling bikes out on the highways of America. We hope our enthusiasm permeates each of these episodes and inspires you to watch, rewatch, or ponder these films that we hold near and dear to our hearts.

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