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Chapter 1
Days of ARNS Past

Licence Reviewed: The Emergence of 360 Degree Verite [ARNS]

by ELMORE TERADONOVICH, Alternate Reality News Service Film and Television Writer

The helmet is crowned by what looks like four air raid sirens, each pointed in a cardinal direction (which may or may not be red depending upon your orientation towards Russia); the air raid siren analogy is ironic, given that the device is not designed to record sound. Glamstand, the manufacturer, recommends a three month training course for anybody intent on wearing the helmet in order to strengthen their neck muscles. Strongly recommends it. To the point of legal indemnification against injuries caused to people who try to use the device without training for it first recommends it. The helmet costs about the same as a mid-size luxury sedan, a week-long trip to Vegas for all of the members of your bridge club or 2,378 toaster ovens (klieg lights and pack beavers not included).

Ah, the sacrifices some people make for their art!

The device, marketed to the public under the name Total ViewMaster (but known in the film industry as "Where Weak Necks Go To Die"), allows the wearer to shoot different, but overlapping views of a scene. Onboard computers take the inputs from the four cameras and seamlessly create a single 360 degree scene out of them (in much the same way you wish your Aunt Bertha had sewn the arms to the body of the sweater she made you for Christmas, but you can't really object because she's had a hard life what with her ongoing spleen troubles and Uncle Joe's philandering and being laid off at the gorgonzola mine, and would it really kill you to call your mother's only sister up and say a few nice things to her every once in a while?!).

When the technology was first introduced, it was so expensive that only Hollywood studios could afford to use it (they just negotiated lower fees with the writers guild to cover the cost). This led to scenes like the one in Twentieth Century Voles' X-Persons 27: Die Xer which focused on a battle between Wolf Pup and seventeen zombie Santas in a shopping mall; if you turned you head to the left, you would see people ignoring the fight and happily eating haggis burgers at a Mick & Donalds restaurant (you haven't seen product placement until you've seen it in wraparound video!); if you turned your head right, you saw the obligatory mother fretting about the danger the fight her child in the stroller in (without actually, you know, running in the opposite direction to get away from it); if you looked behind you, you saw a dozen Christmas shoppers taking video of the carnage in front of you with their cellphones.

It was not Hollywood's finest hour. For one thing, it wasn't until X-Persons 31: TazmanianDevilMan's Fifth Revenge that Twentieth Century Vole realized that cellphone video of scenes taken behind the viewer's back could go mucal on Farcebook and YahooTube, saving the studio millions in marketing.

Even though Hollywood struggled with the best way to employ the technology, it took civilians to find a way to totally ruin it. Civilians like Bertrand Catswallop, who, once the Total ViewMaster came down in price enough that he didn't have to mortgage his kid's college degree to buy it, used it to film himself standing for two hours in line to get his driver's licence renewed.

The first 30 minutes of Licence Renewed: One Man's Descent into Bureaucracy is somewhat interesting as we can not only watch the skinhead standing in front of Catswallop smile blandly as he views videos of cats jumping onto Christmas trees with crashtastic results on his tablet (not an electronic pill…but it's such a good idea I'll be sure to sue the ultimate creator of it for infringing on the copyright of this article), but the woman behind him reading Eat, Love, Prey (a memoir of one vampire's attempts to find herself in three countries whose names begin with the letter I), and the children on either side of him pointing at his head and laughing. There is a dramatic moment, of sorts, at the 37 minute mark when the filmmaker is told that he has been standing in the wrong line. Unfortunately, the rest of the film, all 83 inglorious bastard minutes of it, is something of an anticlimax that even trying to pick a crying baby out of a crowd of circus clowns cannot enliven.

You can find innumerable (at least many) amateur videos captured by the Total ViewMaster on the Internet; they have such titles as My First Cigarette: Triumph and Tragedy, Taking My Laptop Back to the Store Where I Got it to See If My Hard Drive Can Be Salvaged: One Man's Quest and Workers Leaving the Glamstand Factory. I can't recommend them: their lack of character, story or any sort of basic dramatic tension makes Catswallop look like Antonioni!

Some critics have taken to calling these films 360 Degree Verite because, well, that's the sort of thing critics do, isn't it?

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