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#Quem Pensa é Spiralist: “The Lost Tape”

#Quem Pensa é Spiralist: “The Lost Tape”

Legend has it that on Friday, March the 15th 2002, the popular children entertainment show known as “The Plumpy and Scraggy Show” was marred by a single live broadcast episode, the events of which I, myself, can neither confirm or deny, whether out of sheer forgetfulness or simply by not having tuned in to bear witness to that fateful day’s developments.

According to those who claim to remember the incident, it was during a standard and recurring slapstick routine that Plumpy pushed Scraggy toward a door with unscripted irritability, prompting the latter clown host to rush toward the former and to react aggressively. The trade of blows that followed could have very well been a thought-out moment in the show, and the young live audience surrounding the stage that day certainly seemed to think that it was for a handful of seconds, but soon enough the foul language and violently flailing arms confirmed that nothing about that moment was pretending, and the children quickly transitioned from joy and laughter to panicking and crying. The two clowns had to be pulled apart by production assistants in front of the cameras, and before the thousands of children watching at home could properly process what was happening to their favorite show, the transmission abruptly cut to static, and then to a soap opera episode rerun. Nothing was heard of the show in the coming weeks, but it was eventually announced that it was to be put on hold for the foreseeable future; and then, with a discreet communiqué, it was permanently canceled.

18 years later, an entire generation recalls the mysterious incident with the wild exhilaration that only an unsolved conundrum can prompt. When closure eludes us, we do tend to pursue it like rabbits reaching for the carrot at the end of the treadmill – however, things are further complicated when the carrot is an unrevisitable moment in time, and the treadmill is obsession powered by the unreliable memory of men. One would think that, in this day and age, archival footage of the brawl would have surfaced in some far out corner of the digital grid, but nothing has ever come about. Perhaps to add insult to injury, Plumpy and Scraggy have both made sporadic television appearances in the past few years in game shows and interviews – and together, no less – but whenever the pressing question chimes in and a confiding remark seems to be upon their lips, the two clowns lose us in ambiguous language and fall back on their silly old goofiness.

Contributing to the lore of this ever-growing riddle, several individuals have attempted to play a part in solving the mystery of “The Plumpy and Scraggy Incident”, as it is known today. The following paragraphs detail the most noteworthy efforts made to this day.

In one of the first publicly known testimonies of obsessive research on the subject, an internet forum user known only as “Pedro” recounted that he, much like myself, has never witnessed the brawl on “The Plumpy and Scraggy Show”, and how he was contemptuously shunned from conversation by his elementary school colleagues at the time for having missed it. Interestingly, he reports that his grandmother used to record every episode missed by her grandson on VHS, but he does not recall watching the tape. In fact, he does not even recall arriving home after school giddy with excitement and ready to watch the incident at all. With the years piling on and the mystery growing with each and every one, “Pedro”, already in his adult age, decided to return to his grandmother’s basement, where old tapes and recordings filled dusty boxes and trunks, knowing not what he would find and in what state he would find it. For several weeks, every day after his day job and even during whole weekends, he rummaged through these poorly labeled recordings from one end of the tapes to the other, moving through Japanimation, computerized cartoons and commercials at normal speed just so that he could find his precious moment, eventually discovering that several of the tapes were so worn out, either by usage or time, that the audio and image quality were rather lackluster, often providing little more than noise and the outlines of human shapes. He also found that some of the tapes’ initial content would suddenly and incoherently transition to entirely different material, from live news and football matches to talk shows and historical documentaries, meaning that someone (most likely his grandmother) indiscriminately recorded over the tapes that were once meant for him. In his most desperate attempt to salvage something possibly irretrievable, “Pedro” took home the damaged tapes in hope that perhaps some Deus Ex Machina wizard of yore could have a crack at repairing them, and even met with two other forum users at their behest for the purpose – but alas, no update was ever given on whether they succeeded or not, and nothing is known of their work on the damaged tapes.

Following this testimony, several deemed “The Plumpy and Scraggy Incident” destined to become nothing more than an urban myth of no consequence and limited gravitas. But in a matter of few years, a creative piece of cinematic expression would confirm that the incident had been a moment not that easily forgotten in the collective memory of those who remembered it.

Maria González, a 25 year-old film student, decided to make an exercise of nostalgia and interpretation out of a university project. Said project required film students to create an original trailer for a movie that was never to be fully made, and the trailer had to be constructed and edited in the style of an already existing one. Burrowing from the aesthetic beats of a trailer for a much revered and recent film about a dangerous and mentally ill clown who eventually snaps in New York City in the early 80s, Maria changed the unhinged protagonist for Plumpy and featured Scraggy as well, both being played in her false trailer by acting students. The trailer shows how her non-existent movie would chronicle the rise of “The Plumpy and Scraggy Show”, making it feel like a triumphant origin story for the two beloved characters. However, following the title reveal of “Plumpy”, the trailer ends with a scene of the two clowns engaging in a bitter argument which culminates with Plumpy angrily assaulting Scraggy before the film cuts to black. Rather than simply keeping her work to herself following assessment and peer appraisal, Maria chose to share her two and a half minute video with the world. And, with enthusiasm beyond her wildest expectations, Maria’s false trailer was seen and shared by thousands who for long had waited for confirmation that they had not merely dreamt up the brawl as a result of childish fancy. Though nothing but simulacrum tainted by the erosion of time, the final shot was evidence that many were linked by a single moment they would helplessly bask in in every soon to come trip down memory lane, nourishing a manic craving for closure made impossible by the puzzling disappearance of the original footage.

A quick intermission: simulacrum can, of course, only go so far. One knows that even the most faithful of replicas of classic and historically defining visual masterpieces has an inherent value far lower than the original – for the original was not just the first instance in which the painting was created, but also and especially because it bears the godly mark and touch of its creator.

With this in mind, it is no wonder that one false trailer for an unmade film would not suffice. Rampant demands for the original footage increased tenfold, and with no word or official statement from the show’s network on the subject, the most obsessive theorists and victims of nostalgia were left with fantasies of breaking into the network’s headquarters and plundering its archives in search of the lost tape. Few could, however, have predicted the audacity of four such individuals who, in a circumstance as simple as being in the same dinner party, found themselves sharing their fascination with the incident and their shared memories of it, and upon discovering that the network was based in their very own hometown, conjured up a brainsick plan in ardent whispers to pay the edifice an unexpected visit. Eventual news stories reported that four masked trespassers somehow sneaked past security and broke into the building while overlooking the cameras in the corners of every room and corridor, frantically seeking the grail to end all grails, the minotaur at the center of the labyrinth, the promise of immortality. Without a map of the building or knowledge on the purpose of each of its rooms, the intruders were accursed with wandering at the late hours of the night through endless halls and cloned rooms filled with machinery, leading them to realize they would never find such a tape, for all they could find were server rooms filled to the brim with computers stacked atop one another, which meant that, if they were to find evidence of the infamous incident, it would be stored as a digital file in one of the hundreds of computers in the building, and before they could contemplate a hacking heist from afar into a system with far too advanced a firewall to allow such sacrilege, the group was seized upon by security in one of the server rooms and told at gunpoint to kneel before being handcuffed and dragged out. The police could barely believe the group’s motivations behind the deed, initially incredulous to their embarrassing admission of guilt, but after each member corroborated the other’s intents that night and frantically attempted to convey the state of obsessiveness the mystery drove them to, the laughter of each and every officer who heard them was shrill and uncontainable to the point of falling off of chairs, leaning on one another’s shoulder for support and gagging on their donuts and coffee. This was, of course, due to the unrelatability of the mystery to them, and though there was now an entire criminal process to go through for these rapscallions, if it was all up to the officers, they would send their jesters back where they came from with a pat on the back to thank them for the entertainment. Unbeknownst to them, the virtual community that had now formed around “The Plumpy and Scraggy Incident” was hailing the four intruders as “capeless heroes” as soon as the unsuccessful heist broke out in the media, and the story grew to a point where outlets, magazines and newspapers could no longer ignore the numbers it registered with every new development or addition. Within days, reporters found themselves being told to wait outside of the network’s and its director’s house’s premises for his comment on both the story and on whether “The Plumpy and Scraggy Incident” really happened, perhaps hoping that, by pressing him enough, confirmation would indeed be given at last, perhaps even with the added bonus of the unveiling of the archival footage. To this day, the director refuses to answer questions on the subject. No confirmation, and no denial. Merely silence.

But silence has a tell. It feeds the pilgrim within the confinements of the maze, wondering where the next turn leads. The labyrinth at the heart of  “The Plumpy and Scraggy Incident” remains unraveled, and this document too is a code to feed the hunger of those insane enough to read between the lines and know what it is that is at play here. Where closure continues to elude us, and collective memory remains faint, mystery remains sovereign, beckoning us to madly chase at the answers that patiently beat deep within the heart of the labyrinth. And thus, this text is not the summary of a doomed quest. Instead it is, hopefully, a step forward in the maze.

Ana Simão – Touches