Two of my favorite contemporary books, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, in the character within a character The Watcherwoman, use clocks and time as a central motif of mortality. I can’t go a week without another clock-as-metaphor contender—for example, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. But go back further in time and meet Hourman, an obscure superhero created in 1940 and occasionally brought back as a supporting member of various super teams. He was a scientist (see also: Flash, Iron Man, Spider-man, Mr. Fantastic, Ant-Man, et al) who invents a miracle drug (named, um, Miraclo; see also: Captain America, Cloak and Dagger, Luke Cage, ad infinitum) and, of course, tests it on himself (see: Dr. Jekyll, Beast), presumably to avoid the IRB paperwork. The drug grants boring entry-level standard with the vehicle superpowers (super strength, super speed, super endurance), but—here’s the twist—only for one hour.
A few things interest me about this character. First, his powers are essentially framed as a deficiency—the super lasts only an hour, unlike Superman, who’s always super, rather than against regular people, to whom it’s an hour more super than they’ll ever get [said in sassy tone]. The other thing, though, is his decision to go with the name Hourman, which seems pretty stupid for a scientist. He’s essentially advertising his weakness: “Hark ye, villains of the world! Just wait it out; I’ve only got a good hour in me,” as if Superman called himself Kryptonite Man (the name a villain would later take pretty much just to screw with Superman’s psyche). Later writers would also turn Hourman into a Miraclo junkie, kill him off, bring him back, reboot him, and make him time travel (last one: fair enough with the name), same as everyone else in Hollywood.
Think of how different Hourman is from Sixty Minute Man, from the 1951 song. The names are nearly identical, but whereas Hourman has powers for ONLY an hour, 60 Minute Man has powers prowess for a WHOLE HOUR!
There’ll be fifteen minutes of kissin’
Then you’ll holler “Please don’t stop” (Don’t stop!)
There’ll be fifteen minutes of teasin’
Fifteen minutes of squeezin’
And fifteen minutes of blowin’ my top
I’m still amazed at how explicit the song is for its time. Also, how awesome. But taken together, Hourman and Sixty Minute Man present a nicely double sided pair and image—an hour is on the one hand never enough, but it can be, um, a fine, long time as well. And so that’s my operative image for the page.
I’ll be writing about popular culture—books, movies, music, and television—for no more than one-hour sittings, and I’ll try to keep track of the time. Writing this blog for me is really an experiment in process, like the freewriting exercises created and espoused by writers like Peter Elbow and Natalie Goldberg. Except my goal isn’t words on the page as much as expressing a particular idea for a particular amount of time. The point of my hour is not to force me to produce, although it’s that too, but also to force me to stop. Writing time is like dog years—you sit down to spend ten minutes tweaking and realize that seventy minutes have gone by. For something that I’d write for publication, I could spend an hour on a page, or a sometimes rewriting or re-punctuating a sentence. Hell, I’ve spent an hour just rereading something I’ve written without making any changes at all. So that hour is both a self imposed limitation as well as an endurance test. And when I take less than an hour, which I hope to for this entry and maybe others, I’ll indicate the time at the end.
So maybe you won’t turn into an addict, or holler don’t stop, but maybe you’ll return for another episode.
Time: 40 minutes, not including getting the basics of the blog formatting down. That took forever.