Monday, March 13, 2017

Three Seashells: The Dangers of Not Backing Up Your Details

There was a post earlier today, in which a friend ask (begged) to know how the three seashells are used.

For those who don't know, the three seashells are what replaced toilet paper in the future in the 1993 Sylvester Stallone film, Demolition Man. The main character expresses confusion about the seashells and all the future-people giggle and comment on how he doesn't know how to use them. But it is never revealed how they are used.

24 years later, people are still trying to figure it out. Demolition Man was a good movie, but not great, so why is it that a throw-away entertainment flick has this effect?

Like a crappy cliffhanger ending, people are left wondering about something that should have been neatly tied up in the course of the plot. It isn't a big thing, but it's the thing that can make or break the perception of a work. It happens the same way when a TV show is cancelled too soon, or a sci-fi franchise makes up a technology that they don't adequately explain.

It's the reason authors need to research so much for small details. If we get them wrong, we risk creating the three seashells.

People remember Demolition Man, in part, because of the seashells. But it isn't a good way to remember it. We remember that there was this simple thing that probably wasn't supposed to be answered, or answerable, and the thing left us hanging. The seashells stole the movie away from the action (decent), speculation about the future (ironic), commentary on society (way deeper than it should have been), and more.

Instead of being lost to time or gaining a cult following for the symbolism, it is reduced to a question: What about those damn seashells?

Having a real reason for the seashells and addressing their use enough to have it make any kind of sense would have solved that. And it is important to remember not to leave the seashell question unanswered in other works of fiction.

You don't want your hard work remembered because of a bathroom joke gone wrong, do you?

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