[Thanks to Silverback Kent (Crypto Silverbacks) for suggesting this. Who needs Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones when you can just have Michael Winslow. If you can’t have fun with this, then you should go to the doctor. SB SM]

The Holy Anarchy of Fun

In our era of high vigilance, emergency measures and vast decrees, Walter Kirn makes the case for fun.

Walter Kirn

published on, July 3, 2022

Fun: the other communicable illness! (Fiona Hanson/PA Images via Getty Images)

No writer stokes more consistent envy among Common Sense editors than Walter Kirn. Two of his essays from last year—The Bullshit and The Power and the Silence—got our vote for the best of 2021. But we never miss anything he writes.

You might know Kirn’s name from his novels, including “Up in the Air” and “Blood Will Out.” We hope you’ll love his debut piece for us as much as we do. — BW

So, a little late as always, because I like my pop culture to ferment some before I swill it down, I saw the sequel to Top Gun. I attended the movie in a theater equipped with so-called “4DX” technology. I didn’t know what this was when I chose my tickets on my phone. I learned it cost more to watch the film this way and, since I see so few movies in cinemas—and because inflation has made me lazy about trying to save money that’s growing worthless—I thought I’d try it out.

I assumed it involved a wider screen or something. Maybe crisper sound. Not close. I learned when my wife and I sat down that 4DX is a suite of crude effects which include simulated wind from fans, squirting water, and seats that rock and vibrate. This commotion is linked to the drama up on screen, but confusingly so at times. For example, in the flying scenes vigorous gusts were directed at our faces despite there being no such turbulence inside the sealed cockpits of zooming fighter jets. The scenes which featured water—one set on a beach, another on a sailboat—seemed less than vital to the story and were maybe just there to exploit the squirting tech. 

I feared my wife would hate all this. Amanda has nerves like needles. But when the seats went wild she laughed and when the water sprayed she shrieked. It helped that the story wasn’t hard to follow and easily absorbed these interruptions. The theme of the movie also harmonized with the rattling, spraying, blowing mayhem. “Don’t think. Do,” Tom Cruise kept telling the kids, the kids being younger, less experienced pilots and, in their real lives, budding celebrities, which gave them good reason to heed his Zen-style wisdom in case it applied to becoming famous too. Tom Cruise is a marvel of advanced self-care and seems to be aging in reverse. Whatever his mantra is, one wants to know it, and when he repeats it several times as though he’s afraid you’ll forget it, you try not to. “Don’t think. Do.” And then the water droplets hit your face, shocking you into enlightenment like the loud hand-claps of a Buddhist monk. 

Life is rich enough, even in short stretches, that you can apply to it any proverb you wish and find supporting evidence close at hand. Amanda was smiling as we left our seats and crossed the candy- and Lysol-scented lobby, passing a poster of Cruise wearing a flight suit. His image stirred in me a sense of gratitude.

One reason I had to be thankful was that Amanda had been feeling sad about the world, yet here she was bouncing along on gummy carpet, her hair still mussed from artificial tempests. “I think it was all about aging and masculinity,” she observed as we exited onto the sidewalk. I nodded but offered no theory of my own, which is rare for me after a show. I happened to know the movie was controversial in certain thoughtful circles, derided as too patriotic and nostalgic, but I decided to take it as it was, perhaps as a way of snubbing these woke drones. My wife was no longer grim, that’s all I cared about. The shaking seats, fast jets, and grinning movie star had cleansed her system of a long winter heralded by our downbeat president as a season of “severe illness and death.” 

After such prophecies, people can use some fun. 

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