For some reason this morning I remembered a snatch of a phrase I had not thought about since childhood – “Niagara Falls. Slowly I turn. Step by step, inch by inch…” Some of you will recognize this as a line from very funny scene in an old Three Stooges film.

The humor of the Three Stooges was squarely aimed at little kids, with a precisely calibrated transgressiveness rivaled only by “Mad Magazine”, that sublime liberator of curious young minds. There was a point in my early childhood when the humor of the Three Stooges, endlessly repeated on daytime TV, could hold me completely rapt. I realized even then that their brand of take-no-prisoners slapstick was not at all the sort of thing responsible parents would want a kid like me to watch. Which of course made it twice as much fun.

I remember that when I was about six years old and my brother was eight, one of us had merely to utter the words “Niagara Falls” for both of us to collapse helplessly into a paroxysm of hysterical giggles.

This being the twenty first century, I responded to this memory as would almost any normal modern citizen: I googled it. Turns out it was from a 1944 Stooges episode called “Gents Without Cents”. The sketch was originally written and performed by the great Joey Faye – you may also have seen it done by Abbott and Costello.

But what really strikes me about this is how many people have contributed on-line to the minutiae of this and other obscure long-ago artifacts of pop culture. For example, a great many commenters have noted that Larry Fein flubbed a line during the “Niagara Falls” sketch, at one point saying “inch by inch, step by step”, rather than the other way around.

But you can also see that for yourself – just click on the image below to watch it on YouTube (and I dare you to try not to giggle):


Taken all together it’s astonishing how much the internet has become an enabler for learned Talmudic commentaries about the Three Stooges, “Knight Rider”, “My Mother the Car”, “December Bride”, old toilet paper commercials with Mr. Whipple, Chevrolet ads with Dinah Shore, and so many other artifacts of our shared history of popular culture that were intended in their own time to be no more than entertaining ephemera.

It seems that we are collectively digging deeper and deeper into the arcana of this last half century or so of commercial entertainment, laying everything bare, putting it all on YouTube and Wikipedia, hungry to know everything there is to know about everything.

As we collectively rub away at pop cultural history with a scrub brush, we seem to trying to be more Proustian than Marcel Proust.

Perhaps, as technology advances, our reach will go further and further. New forms of reconstructive spatio-temporal imaging will emerge, and then everything that has ever happened in our culture can go up on the Web.

You’ll be able to look up exactly who attended your ex-lover’s birthday party that time in 1994, or what your mother had for lunch on the day that your dad proposed.

You’ll be able to do a simple search to see all the outtakes from all the Beatles songs, whilst zooming in to study McCartney’s fingering on that tricky bass guitar part.

You will even be able to find out what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson.

And then perhaps technology will advance even further, when we finally perfect forensic extracranial neural holography. Then you’ll be able to look up exactly what O.J. was thinking while he was trying on the white glove, or what thoughts flitted through Lee Harvey Oswald’s mind the moment he pulled the trigger.

You’ll be able to find out whether that pesky little bulging box taped to George W. Bush’s back under his suit jacket during the 2004 debates was making him uncomfortable, or whether he was just annoyed by that voice in his ear telling him what to say.

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad that I can find out where to go to relive my moments of childhood glee when watching Moe, Larry and Curly doing “Niagara Falls”. But I wonder how far we will go. Or rather, how far we are willing to go.

And I wonder whether Marcel Proust, wherever he is, is laughing or weeping.

One Response to “Proustipedia”

  1. troy says:

    I just want to be left alone on the reservation with my two dozen packets of seeds, and ten kilogrammes of wheat flour. None of that synthetic starch and cotton-waste flour-substitute Even though it is more nourishing.

    Oh brave new world that has such people in’t.

Leave a Reply