Would you look at that: Theo’s conked right out on a Monday night. Meanwhile, I’m wide awake because I’m a plush representation of his muff existing in a state of perceptive flux. Id est, I don’t sleep, but watch late-night TV instead.
All the major networks are running back-to-back reruns of Two and a Half Men. KANG, a local affiliate, is doing a roundtable interview with people of varying importance and clout. More precisely, “The El Cassetto Debate” on a show called Hard Shaft, with Milton Shaftburger. Curious, I grab Theo’s phone and look up Milton’s IMDB page, and am admittedly surprised to discover that he’s not a satirist, but rather a leftover talk show relic from the 1960s whose career has somehow managed to span seven decades:
- It’s Milton Shaftburger! (1960s variety show)
- The Shaft (1970s celebrity interviews)
- Hard Shaft (1980s investigative 60 Minutes rip—ongoing)
- Soft Shaft (1990s comedy sitcom lasting thirteen episodes)
- With Shaft We Thrust (2000s podcast)
Additionally, he’s got his own crypto-currency: Shaftcoin.
Milton himself is this geeky-looking gray-haired old guy with giant schoolteacher glasses and a permanent deadpan. He seems to like naming his TV shows using double entendres, but he’s so old-school, I doubt all of them are intentional. He probably thinks he’s being clever, and even a bit witty, but instead it’s just…awkward. Like any mom besides Theo’s trying to dance to EDM, or your grandparents talking openly about “the sex.”
I kind of have to watch.
“Where were you the night Asia Afrodesia got pregnant?” Milton asks the camera. “That’s the question future generations will ask when the subject of tonight’s program comes up at the dinner table, beside the water cooler, in the boys’ locker room, while standing in line for digital enemas at the pharmacy. My guests are Sikuist Edna Forthright and journalist Thornton Milburrough, both of whom will be providing a little perspective onthe spontaneous pregnancy trend currently sweeping the nation. Hard facts, open rapport, real issues. I’m Milton Shaftburger, let’s get hard.”
Oh, wow. This is a thing.
The camera cuts to a wider shot, revealing a vintage shag-pad of a table behind which Milton and his guests are seated. “What are we talking about here?”
“Technology running rampant,” Thornton replies. “An extremely high-profile celebrity harlot who’s made a career out of being naked, promiscuous, and forever nineteen has suddenly been called out by the very same social media platform that made her a star in the first place. Whether we like it or not, the El Cassetto epidemic—and it is an epidemic—has put the topic of technological contagion on the table. We share everything online. It’s the real-world equivalent of having unprotected sex. Everyone melding their data with everyone else on a daily basis—of course it was going to lead to unwanted consequences sooner or later. The social media singularity is here, the tech is able, but is the flesh willing?”
Milton turns to Edna. “I understand you have a different viewpoint.”
Edna arranges her strophium, adjusts her loincloth, takes an unnecessarily long swig from her organic, gluten-free water box. “Yes, I certainly do—”
“Give it to me hard.”
“—in the West, pregnancy is a subject that’s become very nearly taboo. Historically, a pregnancy was a joyous occasion, the promise of new life forthcoming into a burgeoning young world. But in modern times, pregnancy is a mistake, a hindrance, a shameful accident that suggests the end of one’s career, family dishonor, teenage stereotypes being fulfilled. No wonder even the mere mention of a pregnancy brings to mind shattered dreams, lost innocence. A girl has no longer become a woman, but rather a slut. Tainted. Broken. Damaged goods. The problem we’re facing isn’t technological, it’s sociological. Just as knives don’t kill of their own volition, nor does tech impregnate of its own accord. People are making poor sexual choices, and they’re blaming the consequences on tech in the form of an Internet meme.”
Thornton clears his throat. “I respectfully disagree, Ms. Forthright.This has everything to do with technology. Social media, high-speed Internet, crypto–currency—Newdcoin. Promiscuity begets promiscuity, and tech is the Great Enabler. An entire culture has been created around online sexuality. It’s only a matter of time before the other foot drops. I did a column for The Angelican in which I wrote, and I quote, ‘That the world economy of tomorrow will be built upon the bare butts and crotches of kids mining Newdcoin in their bedrooms is a bastardization of blockchain technology that will either bring the crypto–currency movement to its knees—or usher in a new era of social delinquency the likes of which we’ve never seen.’ Think about that, Milton.” He leans forward, taps the tabletop with his index finger. “Think about it.” He leans back again.
“Dire words,” Milton says. “What can we do about it?”
Thornton starts to say something, but Edna cuts him off: “Open dialogues, everywhere and all the time. No doors in the household. The embrasure of a wholesome family Sikuist lifestyle. Roll out San Angelico’s Fundoshi Mandate nationwide and make it permanent. No more cell phones outside of work. Face-to-face conversations instead of text messaging. Make love in front your children, answer their questions without trepidation. Stop using antibacterial soap. Drink boxed water instead of bottled water. Go gluten-free and vegetarian. Add the square root of pi to the LGBTQIA+ rainbow—”
I turn off the TV and sit quietly in the darkness, and I’m thinking to myself that a lesser puppet would have been disturbed by what he just saw. But try as the media might to confuse the masses, I know better. El Cassetto isn’t bad tech versus bad family values, it’s a classic case of mass hysteria. Copycat pregnancies. Hypochondria. Urban mythology gone wild. Other rock stars perform scantily-clad? Asia performs naked but for her neon-pink pubic hair and ankle monitor. Other rock stars have backup singers? Asia has backup fuckers—guys with giant muscles and enormous wangs who bang gals with perky bottoms and dauntless racks. You want to know how Asia got pregnant? Just go to one of her live shows. There’s enough semen flying around onstage to knock up a small country. She’s only come forward now to capitalize on a trend.
The media’s split America into two distinct factions regarding El Cassetto. One believes that there’s actually an evil cassette tape going around knocking people up. The other believes it’s a spate of unchecked virility brought about by a lack of proper sex-ed and communication between parents and their kids regarding the ways of the world. I bet a lot of parents are at this very moment having The Talk with their tweenage and/or teenage sons and daughters. Needlessly. Well, I guess it’s never exactly needless to be having The Talk with your kids. It’s just that parents are doing it because they’re worried about a racist Internet meme downloading into their daughters’ bedrooms instead of doing it because they want their kids to make educated decisions when it comes to knocking boots. Meanwhile, no one’s asking what’s on the other side of the smokescreen—
A knock at the bedroom door wakes Theo with a start.
“Come in!” he calls out groggily, and feels around the bedside table for his special contacts.
The door swings open.
Theo’s parents are standing in the hallway.
His mom says, “Theo, dear? We just finished watching the news, and we’ve decided it’s time to have…the Talk.”
See what I mean?