Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Zoolander Phenomenon

On Friday, I confessed to my tennis group that I’d never actually seen the movie Zoolander. This would not normally be considered a liability on the tennis court. It’s not like being terminally uncoordinated or too decrepit to run (two deficits that I reluctantly cop to). But Zoolander is one of the two movies that Laura The Tennis Pro appears to know every line of (the other being Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery) and it was getting to the point where I was feeling a little, well, left out.

So I rented the movie and my suspicion was confirmed. Easily 90% of the chuckle-ridden conversation between Laura and Gina is either a reference to or verbatim dialogue from Zoolander.

Certainly all the chatter about Blue Steel now made sense. But a bigger mystery began to loom. What is it about the people who memorize dialogue, and why do I seem to know so many of them?

In high school, Donna G and I set about learning most of the Monty Python library. We could flawlessly perform at least 10 vignettes from the TV show and a good deal of the movie, The Holy Grail.

Nancy, whom I met as an adult, can seemingly reenact every scene from every Brady Bunch show ever broadcast. I know this not because she told me so, but because certain words or phrases will trigger it, like a Pavlovian response. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”

Years ago, I took my family to see Home Alone II. The theater was crowded and a kid sitting nearby was reciting the movie, word for word, as it was happening. Beyond being annoying, it was an impressive feat, made all the more so by the fact that the movie had only been out for a day.

I recently read The Road by Cormac McCarthy for my book group and one of the things we were all taken with was how much the dad knew about survival. It was more than just common sense. He knew what kinds of tools would come in handy when he was scavenging through a deserted barn, how to make an oil lamp from scraps, how to eat, stay dry, keep warm under impossible conditions. It made me realize that if I were ever to have a hope of lodging this kind of useful information into my long-term memory, it would need to be made into a movie. Not the movie of The Road that is the true adaptation of the novel, due out sometime this year. But rather some farcical comedy, with Ben Stiller at the helm, or perhaps another cult classic where the characters loom large and where a true apocalyptic emergency would summon that part of my brain in which I can actually hear those characters’ instructions to each other.

Financial strategies, first aid rules, survival basics. Even the Periodic Table of Elements. If that kind of information were imparted in the form of a ridiculous movie, I might actually know some things.

“Use the tarp, Luke”


  1. Oddly enough, my girlfriend quoted Zoolander the other day. I had no idea it was such a phenomenon!

  2. Zoolander is a classic. I remember going to see it right after 9/11. It was a great way to escape reality. Other laugh-out-loud, silly comedies include "Anchorman" and "Tropic Thunder".