Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Last week I packed some sandwiches and some cut apples into a lunchbox for my daughter and myself to eat while we caught a movie together. As we sat down and the movie started, I emptied my pockets—keys, wallet, cell phone—and put the contents into the lunchbox for safe(r) keeping. But when I returned home that night I opened the lunchbox and discovered that my phone, which I was sure had at least half a charge left on it when I last noticed early in the day, now looked quite inactive. I reached in and pulled up my lovely Verizon appliance out of a shallow pool of what turned out to be apple juice, runoff from the apparently none-too-airtight Tupperware container into which I placed the cut apples. A quick plug-in to the charger confirmed, via an unmistakably gut-wrenching crackling sound akin to bacon frying electronically, that my cell phone, including my phone directory and the hundred or so pictures I had stored on it, was now in hell, the device itself now a useless shell representing the limits of man’s technological dominance in the face of seemingly harmless high fructose 100% fruit juice. So I immediately sent out an e-mail informing my friends and relatives of my digitally crippled status, only in doing so exposing myself as a relatively hopeless Luddite who didn’t realize that even though my phone is dead, my voice mail account lives on and was fully capable of receiving messages. All I really had to do was change the outgoing message on it (which I eventually did) to reveal my dire straits to those who needed to know. All my smart tech-savvy friends laughed at me (just as Mother Margaret said they would—“They’re all gonna laugh at you!”), but one of them—let’s just call her “PSaga,” was right there to pull my chin off the floor with another dose of Internet comedy, this one via The Observer’s ”Very Short List.”

This one’s a zippy clip-fest built around the alarming frequency with which Hollywood falls back on what has rapidly become an easy go-to story cliché, the cell phone that suddenly has no service just when the desperate/stranded/frightened/annoyed/disgusted character needs it most. It’s one thing to observe how almost every TV show and movie character is predisposed to instant communication via cell phone to the degree that some of the plots swirling around these characters would stop dead in their tracks without the technological convenience of digital wireless service (thank you, Mulder and Scully). It’s quite another to see how willingly lazy screenwriters tap into their lack of faith in Mssrs. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile when the going gets tough, or potentially disembowel-y. It is the mission of No Signal (and Other Cellular Drama), a hilarious montage of badly-timed digital phone failure in movies and TV, to make you painfully aware of just how vulnerable we all were before we had those little pocket-sized hand-held life-savers to carry around with us wherever we went, not to mention how hung out to dry each and every one of us would be if we were being pursued through the woods or the desert by a pack of in-bred cannibal killers and were only pulling in one bar or less on that goddamn useless iPhone. “Ninety-seven percent nationwide coverage,” bemoans a soon-to-be rack of ribs in The Hills Have Eyes, “and we’ve found ourselves in that three percent.” Don’t worry, bub. Even if your phone was pulling in a lusty four bars, the writers would make sure you’re brainless enough to do something really lunkheaded in order to keep you right where the atomically mutated creepers want you to be. Like, oh, I don’t know, pulling your phone out of your backpack only to discover a leaky bottle of apple juice has drained all over your gear. Yeah! Now, that’s a neat wrinkle! Let’s go with that!