Watch This Not That: on TV
"Laugh-In" and "Scam City"
WORDS: Stu Gomez
Skateboarders are a reliable stereotype in movies and TV. Watch This Not That is a guide for those of you who are easily triggered by skate appropriation. This week features "Laugh-In" and "Scam City."
Watch This: "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In"
"Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" is a true relic of a bygone age. It ran for six seasons from 1968 thru 1973, kicking off as the "free love" movement was in full "swing" (the pun, much like every bit of wordplay in this show, is very much intended). The Vietnam War was a hot-button issue when the pilot aired and, six years later, the conflict was still in full swing by the end of the final episode. The era's hippies were trippin,' and many of the squares were turning on (the TV), tuning in (to NBC), and (not) dropping out.
Like every hip time capsule of the mid-'60s—"The Monkees," "Batman," etc.—"Laugh-In" was fast-paced and didn't slow down long enough for you to catch your breath. Watching one of these shows in the right frame of mind, or (ahem) under the right influence, can be immensely satisfying. "Laugh-In," in particular, has a prescient quality; sadly, humanity still suffers from the same ills in the sixties that society is combating today. Unfortunately, some things never go out of style. But that's why shows like "Laugh-In" existed—give 'em something to laugh about!
Here come the one-liners.
And the show's cast was well-suited for the job. Series vet Ruth Buzzi, man of a million faces Arte Johnson ("Very interesting…"), and poet-at-large Henry Gibson, were comedic geniuses. And future stars, like Goldie Hawn, Richard Dawson, and Lily Tomlin, had early roles on the show. Even SNL's head honcho, Lorne Michaels, was one its writers. What a coinky-dink.
The show spawned catchphrases galore, influencing pop culture like no other show at the time. Today, "sock it to me" may be the most recognizable. But an image that pops up on the screen for a few seconds in the first season (the show was famous for its short attention span-style of editing) suggests that "Laugh-In" may have even influenced internet-age lingo, as well. Specifically, the below shot of a troll riding a skateboard.
"Laugh-In" was of its time and ahead of its time. A regular "News of The Future" segment even managed to correctly predict that Ronald Reagan would one day be president, and that the Berlin Wall would come down in 1989. Specific? You bet your sweet bippy.
So, it isn't really surprising that thirty years before BBS chat rooms and the ubiquity of anonymous message board critics, "Laugh-In" identified that shit-talking would become eternal. Especially in the hyper-opinionated world of skating. "Troll doll on a skateboard" might even be the most succinct commentary on today's online skate "community" culture, portrayed in a way that deflates the egos of would-be internet gangstas: a purple-haired "toy" wearing a diaper. That's right, all you know-nothing critical babies—you're toys and you need a change.
Next time a troll has got you down with a purposely inflammatory comment, picture this skateboarding troll and just laugh. Better yet, sock it to 'em with the meme.
Stream all six seasons of "Laugh-In" on Amazon Prime.
NOT THAT: "Scam City"
"Scam City" stars host Conor Woodman, and its mission is very simple: empower would-be scam victims abroad so that they won't be another statistic. Admirable. Sure—who hasn't been on the wrong end of a criminal's scheme at one point or another in their lives? If you haven't been victimized yet, consider yourself lucky… and overdue.
The show, which aired on Nat Geo and is available on Netflix, is endlessly fascinating. Woodman insinuates himself in the seediest situations imaginable, usually armed with nothing more than a hidden camera in his jacket button, and he sometimes doesn't make it out unharmed. Think Keanu with a sincere, do-gooder Irishman in the place of Key & Peele. After watching an episode of "Scam City," you're likely to feel wiser, more "street smart" (whatever that means), and jaded. Cynicism is a by-product of the show's "not everything is as it seems" premise. It'll make you doubly skeptical of any glossy ads from these cities' tourism bureaus, that's for sure.
While "Scam City"'s heart is in the right place, it doesn't shy away from easy stereotypes. Case in point, the first season's "Barcelona" episode makes use of an easy trope—using skateboarding to represent dangerous turf. Barcelona, as any team manager will tell you, is the pickpocketingest city in the world. I've never been there, but I can assure you that I would be a victim. In the Berrics' offices, we have been regaled with stories about camera bags being snatched and hard-won footage being lost forever.
Skaters know that Barcelona isn't the safest; skate at your own risk, homie. But, Mr. Woodman, this is OUR story to tell. This smacks of cultural appriopriation—something that National Geographic happens to do very well, in addition to racism (which they recently admitted to). [eye-roll emoji]
When Woodman hits the Ramblas, he says, "I've come here to see if Barcelona lives up to its reputation… ten million pass through these streets each year, and every kind of scam happens—from pickpockets to hustling, to prostitution…" And don't forget the old "Hey dude, can I see your board?" in which the hustler proceeds to run away with your skateboard. But, I mean, what are you gonna say? No? We are blood, after all. Regardless, you don't want to be left standing there in a strange city holding nothing but your paella.
The episode introduces us to Marianna, the transexual prositute who teaches our homie about contouring and walking in heels (no joke) while fleecing a john; and Eliana, the pickpocket vigilante, who is also the most likely person to break up the MACBA sesh. But before we meet these characters, "Scam City" blesses us with a MACBA montage to illustrate that you should keep your wallet in your front pocket when you see a Jart board. They even go so far as to use a POV shot of a skateboard rolling through the plaza.
Okay, we get it. Skaters will just as soon rob you as do a kickflip (or a McTwist, or whatever the fuck they think we do), but you don't need to keep reinforcing the stereotype. But, now that I think about it, it's kind of on us. All of our "Make Something Out of Nothing" shirts and "Hustle Trees" mumbo jumbo emblazoned across our chests as we skate through and bust up the tourists' leisurely sightseeing. Goddammit, maybe you should watch this and think long and hard about why this stereotype is sticking so well.
Watch This: "Scam City"
Stream "Scam City" on Netflix.