Friday, October 31, 2008

Death of an ex-President

Tragedy today, as former President Gerald Ford was eaten by wolves.

Here, master impressionist Dana Carvey (Wayne's World) plays news anchor Tom Brokaw in a 01996 sketch for Saturday Night Live -- to my knowledge one of the finest moments the show has produced in over 30 years on the air.

It starts with a brilliant comic premise: the newsman is pre-recording a bunch of alternative future headlines so he can take an extended vacation in Barbados. Carvey's Brokaw covers a variety of contingencies in which former U.S. President Gerald Ford meets his maker, through a series of bizarre and increasingly unlikely scenarios. (Ford was still alive in '96, and had the good fortune to live another ten years, wolf-free.)

The sketch works not only because of Carvey's fabulous characterisation -- like any great caricature, whether drawn or performed, you don't actually have to be familiar with the original in order to recognise it -- but also because of the splendid absurdity of the premise, which naturally is stretched as far as humanly possible.

One take-home message from a futures standpoint (hey, you knew we had to go there) is that, although life -- and death -- unfold in infinite specificity, to anticipate and plan for such unforeseeable concrete particulars is inherently absurd.* Another thought that occurs to me is that while any useful statement about the future should appear to be ridiculous (per Dator's second law), it doesn't follow that any or all ridiculous statements about the future are necessarily useful.

They can, however, be very funny.

[via | embedded clip from | transcript here]

Related posts:
> Death of a President
> Future news-flash: your vote counts
> A death foretold

* Update (01/11/08): I just remembered a classic sketch by British comedy duo Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in which Stephen's doddering old man character is trying to buy a get well card from Hugh's shopkeeper, but all the pre-printed messages in the cards are incredibly specific [video; transcript]. Great sketch, parallel concept.

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