What hath Zod wrought? Dude culture and the future of American discourse.

Have you seen the May 5 cover of Time Magazine? Christopher Lambert has seen it, and it’s difficult to tell whether he’s amused or not. Hey, he’s Christopher Lambert — the man doesn’t have a ton of range. But he … Continued

Have you seen the May 5 cover of Time Magazine? Christopher Lambert has seen it, and it’s difficult to tell whether he’s amused or not.

Hey, he’s Christopher Lambert — the man doesn’t have a ton of range. But he does know how to chop someone’s head off.

And now, apparently, so do the season’s Democratically ordained Princes of the Universe, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Oh, I know the temptation is to dismiss the citizenry of the overthinkingit phantasmagoria — guys like Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod (who has a lifetime membership) — but if current trends continue, you’re likely to hear a lot more of this guy in the darnedest places.

The cover, and the future, after the jump —

Without further ado —

Kind of gives you chills, doesn’t it?


Well, maybe you haven’t seen Highlander or any of its sequels or spinoffs (big breath) —

For the 0.5% (I think that’s pretty much just my girlfriend) of Overthinking It readers who know nothing of Highlander, here’s the gist —

There are certain people in the world who, once they die (for whatever reason), wake up again and realize they can live forever and no longer age. The only thing that can kill them? Decapitation.

This of course leads to these immortals running around trying to chop each others’ heads off with swords.

The protagonist is known as The Highlander because he is from the Highlands of Scotland. He is trained by Sean Connery, who in this movie is Spanish for some reason.

There is a kickass sountrack by Queen, which, with a few tweaks (like removal of all references to the word Highlander), became a #1 hit record in the U.K.

And now, because it would be cruel for anyone to be denied its awesomeness, here is one song from that soundtrack:


And one last thing — the central rule of the Highlander universe, the thing that motivates all the characters and presents all of their challenges and moral dilemmas, is the decree of uncertain origin that resonates across all properties and spinoffs — There can be only one.

Now, back to the matter at hand. This Time cover is either a direct reference, an homage (unlikely, since it came out two weeks ago), or a blatant ripoff of a recent NBA ad campaign:


But there is no doubt in my mind that the awkward phrasing these both use and the imagery of everybody having their heads “chopped,” shows that whoever came up with the NBA ad campaign was conscious of Highlander and operated under its influence.

“There can only be one” is grammatically awkward — it splits the verb phrase and weakens the sense of paring down to a single combatant. “There can be only one” is cleaner, clearer and catchier, which is why the Highlander folks used it. The NBA advertising person didn’t use the better phrasing because it would be disrespectful to Highlander.

Sure, maybe it was a lawyer who told them not to do it. That is possible, but begs the question — maybe the lawyer saw Highlander too — although hopefully, for his or her own sake, the lawyer did not see Highlander II.

The point is, somewhere in the group of people making advertisements for the NBA there’s a guy aged 20-35 who saw Highlander at some point and really liked it. Now, things said in Highlander are affecting the cover of Time Magazine — something usually reserved for idiotic gimmicks and brutal dictators.

They walk among us

I’ve been noticing references like this cropping up more and more — a Boston Metro review of Basic Black: The Essential Guide to Getting Ahead in Work (and in Life), by Hearst Magazines President Cathie Black was titled “Always Bet on Black” (for the 0.5%ers, that’s a reference to this):


I doubt Cathie’s a fan.

And I’ve already noted how A.O. Scott of the New York Times couldn’t get through a pissy rant about the Oscars without invoking Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The point is that yesterday’s teenagers become today’s adults, and they bring with them the memories, symbols, language and culture on which they were raised. President Bush may consider himself a cowboy, but if he were thirty years younger, he’d consider himself a Jedi Knight (or maybe not).

And today’s adults — in other words, speaking as an overthinkingit writer, us — were raised on a broad body of cultural material that is widely dismissed as dreck. And yet it lingers on — on cable TV, in random blogs like this one, and now, increasingly as a contributing influence to the vocabulary of mainstream American marketing and discourse.

Barack Obama’s head speechwriter is a random dude in his mid-20s. With that in mind, is it that much of a surprise that his speeches sound exactly like those of WWE Superstar The Rock? Sure, the voice helps, and there’s a common ancestor to the rhetorical style here, but I can’t help but think that these random dudes, with their dude culture, are out there, adding their own culture subliminally to everything around us.

Have you seen any examples of this latey? Post them to comments!

And I would like to say I am officially afraid of 15 years from now, when our political leader start making sideways references to Hannah Montana.

9 Comments on “What hath Zod wrought? Dude culture and the future of American discourse.”

  1. mlawski OTI Staff #

    This season, having nothing else to watch on the TV, I followed “New Amsterdam,” the show about the immortal cop in New York. Hands down, the best moment of the series was this:

    Little Kid: What if someone cut your head off?

    John Amsterdam: …that hasn’t happened yet.

    And, honestly, I like the cadence of “There can only be one” better.


  2. Stokes #

    What I always wondered about Highlander is this: what happens if a non-immortal chops off an immortal’s head? Do they become an immortal themselves? Or do they just get electrocuted by questionably rotoscoped lightning bolts?

    The one episode of “Highlander: The Series” that I watched all the way through was set during The Terror of the French Revolution. The only reason I watched it (other than that it was on in the timeslot after Saturday Night Live, and I was fourteen) was that it seemed like pretty much a given that one of Connor’s buddies was going to get his ass guillotined. Didn’t happen. I’ve been harboring a grudge about that for a long time.


  3. Stokes #

    p.s. comparing “There can be only one” and “there can only be one” is actually pretty interesting, because in the first one, “be” is a stressed syllable, but in the second, it’s unstressed. (I’m not saying that’s the only way it could be read, but it is the way you generally hear people say it.)

    there can BE only ONE!
    there can ON-ly be ONE!

    From the above, you’d get the sense that the two phrases have the same cadence. But in fact, I think that the first comes out as two anapests
    xx/ xx/
    while the second is a dibrach followed by a choriamb
    xx /xx/

    Thoughts, Fenzel? I know you have more to say about this kind of thing than I do.


  4. fenzel #

    I think the Highlander one starts with a secondary stress, and is actually acephalic.



  5. fenzel #

    Seriously though, I’m not a big fan of using feet like choriambs and dithyrambs in Englsh if you can avoid it. In accentual-syllabic meter, I don’t find the feet tend to line up that way.

    I’d call the Hillary/Barrack one anapestic, and I might actually make a case for the highlander one being three feet – an acephalic iamb, and iamb, and an anapest — or maybe just two trochees and an iamb.

    The last one makes more sense, because I don’t get any of the lightheartedness that comes out of English anapests from that line.


  6. fenzel #


    It hit me when I was coming back from the gym, and once it hit me, I realized it worked perfectly.

    The reason the Highlander line scans so awkwardly in this system is because it isn’t accentual-syllabic at all. Look at the following line:

    I am CON-nor maCLEOD || of the CLAN maCLEOD

    Obvious, isn’t it?

    Connor is a sword-wielding epic hero from the British isles. OF COURSE he speaks in alliterative verse with hemistiches!!

    It sort of hit me when I was thinking of what the line means — under my scansion, the word “only” is very de-emphasized. That just didn’t seem right, especially since “Only” and “One” start with the same vowel-consonant sound.

    (it’s a very loose borrowing from alliterative verse — in alliterative verse, vowels are vowels and the specific one doesn’t matter, nor does the consonant following it.)

    So, if I go back to the original Highlander line, I’m still putting a secondary stress on the first word, but I think there’s also a secondary or even tertiary stress on the first syllable of “Only,” and a very soft, almost glossed-over caesura. So it reads:

    “THERE can BE || ONly ONE.”

    So, yeah, it’s basically just four stresses, with one unstressed syllable in each hemistich, both ending on super-strong stresses.

    This scansion adds several things to the reading —

    1. The tension between the natural meter of the line and its various more conversational readings in the bazillion spinoffs is interesting to listen to.

    2. The line sounds mystical — it is not only oddly symmetrical, but it also has a pair of “3s” in it, which I think does come out in the cadence, and which gives it a magical quality.

    3. The first hemistich is a mess, with no alliteration, and the second hemistich is total resolution, with more alliteration than is generally ever required of a hemistich. This adds to the line’s powerful sense of building to a note of finality.

    And the reason why the Hillary/Barrack line is both more comfortable and less powerful is because it is more Latinate (well, more French) — and just consists of either two anapests or a slight variation thereof. The jarring trochees that lead to an eventual transition into a more Germanic prosody just aren’t there when “be” is so de-emphasized.

    Note how powerful the “on” sounds are in connecting and disrupting a more comfortable reading of the line.

    Man, Highlander is the best.

    I have a few more comments to add on Highlander later . . .


  7. fenzel #

    (and also, to clarify, perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on the choriamb. Still, just saying “trochee plus iamb” is often just as good, and can help you notice substitutions better. But I was really influenced by a book that taught me that the only foot of more than 3 syllables that survives in English prosody as a coherent unit is the double iamb.)


  8. fenzel #

    So, in response to the question “What happens if a non-immortal kills an immortal?”

    First of all, I can pretty much guarantee that this question has been addressed at least once in the five movies, one animated movie, and three different televised series. However, I have no idea when or how, let alone what the answer is.

    However, I will say that the only tabletop RPG campaign that I ever designed and DMed myself was a campaign of _Werewolf: the Apocalypse_ that used a rules set I downloaded off the Internet to include Highlander characters.

    The protagonists were knighted werewolf secret agents who worked for the British Crown, and the goal of the campaign was to locate and fight former Swedish monarch Gustauvus Adolphus, who was a Highlander-style immortal with ridiculous stats who went around chopping people’s heads off and ran an international crime syndicate, Bond-villain style. British then-Prime Minister John Major was a central NPC.

    The result of the campaign was pretty much as expected. Note: at the very beginning of your adventure, do not give the player characters access to the resources of even a mid-sized European military, no matter how irrelevant you think they will be to their overall goals. The characters pretty much flew around in helicopters all the time and blew up vampire hideouts with surface-to-air missiles, accruing absurd quantities of experience points or whatever. The campaign never got off the ground, so to speak.

    Anyway, the point is that the rules to play Highlander characters in the White Wolf game system circa 1996 said that if a regular human kills an immortal, you roll a certain number of six-sided dice, and that determines whether the person becomes an immortal or not.

    So that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.

    Final note: I had also found on the Internet a rules set for playing characters from the Disney afternoon cartoon _Gargoyles_. If they had ever let me DM a campaign again, I definitely would have used them, even if their powers turned out to be irrelevant because some idiot just gave them a bunch of Harrier jets.


  9. treypole #

    Actually, Sean Connery was Ethiopian in the original, but late of a Spanish court or something.


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