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Splatterloose Foothouse Five

March 7, 2012

The perpetual, unconquerable list of things that I suddenly develop an interest in and appreciation for decades after everyone else continues apace. This week it is Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five and the Sonic Youth album ‘Goo’.

Such is the way of modern pop culture cross-pollination that I first became aware of Slaughterhouse-Five when it was mentioned in the 1984 film Footloose, starring Kevin Bacon. Vonnegut’s satirical novel is the centrepiece of a subplot wherein the reactionary denizens of a small bumblefuck town in Oklahoma are incensed at the book being included in a high school curriculum and eventually convene a good ole book burning to rectify the problem. Fish-out-of-water, free-wheelin’ rebel kid new to the small town that he is, Bacon’s character Ren shocks and offends some townsfolk who ask his opinion of the book only to have him respond, “It’s a classic!”
Now, at the time, I was barely aware of who Kurt Vonnegut was. I had probably read his seminal short story ‘Harrison Bergeron‘ by that age but I had not retained Vonnegut’s name in my memory. I had never heard of Slaughterhouse-Five before watching Footloose. The word ‘slaughterhouse’, though it should have prompted me to think merely of a common abattoir, instead immediately brought to my mind the original arcade video game Splatterhouse featuring a playable character modeled on Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th franchise (hockey mask and boiler suit) who ventured through a large spooky mansion dismembering ghouls with a meat cleaver. I knew the novel forming the subplot in Footloose was unlikely to have any connection to a video game riffing on famous horror movies of the era but, knowing nothing about the book, and being influenced by mental images of the game, I kept picturing a Jason mask and bloody cleaver and imagining Slaughterhouse Five was some kind of gory horror novel which was nonetheless in possession of sufficient literary merit that liberal-minded Americans considered it as worthy of “classic” status. Needless to say, I was puzzled.

Thus did my wild misconception of Slaughterhouse-Five haunt me for some time until I finally came to read some detailed descriptions of the novel and my brain made the necessary corrections. Although appropriately informed of the novel’s content for many years now, I only came to read it recently at last. However, throughout the short time it took to ingest Vonnegut’s slim book; I was constantly reminded of that same scene in Footloose with Kevin Bacon’s declaration, “It’s a classic” playing in my head like a bad ad slogan and with it would follow the recollection of my initial erroneous musings on the novel itself.

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