I've already posted at length about the impact that The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai had on my life, here and here. But while those posts touched on the history of my involvement with it, and became an examination of the story's more problematic aspects, there is a side to it that I haven't addressed yet - my perception of it as a part of my growth as a fan.
When I was sixteen and seeing the film for the first time, I was very attracted to the random, offbeat humor that permeated the whole film. I was, at that point, in the orbit of several people who professed to be "Subgeniuses," one of them being a math teacher at my High School, and I was participating in the antics of a loose collective of social misfits who engaged in acts of Dadaist and absurdist humor (to give you an idea: we saw the description of Chaotic Neutral in the AD&D 2nd Edition Player's Handbook and were like "this is us.")
So when our computer science teacher gave me a bootleg VHS copy of The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The 8th Dimension, it was right up my alley. I immediately went out and showed it to as many of my friends as would take the time to watch it with me.
But underneath it all, there was an idea that we were "signal jamming" something very sinister and malignant in nature. As this was the early 1990s, the pop culture conspiracy theory engine was just getting warmed up. One of my friends at the time (who, somewhat ironically, ended up working for the US Government in the defense industry) confessed to us that he was the agent of a Extraterrestrial force which was working to safeguard humanity against "The Other Side." "The Other Side" was a rigid, hierarchical, mechanized intelligence of fascistic order, which could only be defeated by random, chaotic white noise.
It was a narrative borrowed directly from John C Lilly's writings, and the conspiracy theories about "Influencing Machines." We glommed onto this narrative, because it gave us an excuse to behave in the "LOL, WE'RE SO RANDOM" manner in which we already had been up to that point, and feel like we were saving the world. It also gave me a ready-made explanation for my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, since I was diagnosed with the primarily obsessional, or "Pure O" type. No, I wasn't mentally ill - I was the focus of a concentrated attack from sinister, sentient machines. Because we were onto them.
And when my best friend snapped and suddenly went weird and hostile, and was controlling. and physically and sexually and psychologically abusive towards her then-girlfriend, it gave me a ready-made explanation for that, too. The Solid State. Influencing Machines. Project Stargate. We were a threat, so we were being neutralized. It was damnably effective. They didn't even have to kill us for it to work.
And Buckaroo Banzai worked its way into this mythos. We really believed that Hanoi Xan (the original Big Bad of the Buckaroo Banzai mythos above and beyond John Lithgow's character, who was referenced in the Across The 8th Dimension script and the novelization, and the fanfic we had access to at the time) was a real, evil force and behind it all. I even linked Nostradamus's prophesy of The Third Antichrist to Xan.
The fandom itself encouraged this. Writer Earl Mac Rauch, who wrote the original screenplay, has always insisted that Buckaroo Banzai is a real person and that the stories written about him are "docudramas, based on real events."
We were a bunch of crazy kids whose grip on reality was already tenuous at best, and it fed right into what we were already caught up in.
Because I didn't get my hands on the Buckaroo Banzai novelization until much later, we had this idea of Xan as a paramilitary Colonel Kurtz-like figure with psychic powers; the obvious resemblance to Fu Manchu, and the racist/problematic Yellow Peril connotations didn't even occur to us at the time.
I didn't even learn until recently that Earl Mac Rauch had borrowed Xan from another author, H Ashton-Wolfe. Hanoi Xan first appeared in his 1918 novel Warped In The Making - Crimes Of Love And Hate - which again, was professed by the author to have been based on true events.
The "loose collective of social misfits" dissolved as we tried to put as much distance between ourselves and my crazy, abusive ex-best friend as possible. We graduated. We drifted apart, and into other circles. We went to college and got jobs. We integrated into "normal adult life." One of our previous associates is now a conservative Evangelical. Another, as I mentioned before, now works in the defense industry.
Years later, I tried showing Buckaroo Banzai to a new group of friends, and the random, offbeat jokes in the film just fell flat. They all just watched in silence. I could feel a part of myself wither and die as I saw it as if for the first time through their eyes. I believe one of them even asked me, "So why is this your favorite movie, again?"
I've recovered since then, obviously.
I look at things now and see how the polarities have shifted: Neo Nazis and the "Alt -Right" have appropriated the chaotic "white noise" of symbol jamming and culture jamming, claiming to be harmless memesters. Merry pranksters poking fun at ("triggering") too-serious liberals, all while churning out dangerously toxic symbols of hate, violence, and genocidal oppression towards their usual targets: Jews, women, Muslims, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and the Black community.
I remember what Buckaroo Banzai and the other absurdist heroes of our shared mythos meant to us once upon a time, and wonder if there is a way we can fight fire with fire.
When I heard that Kevin Smith was going to reboot Buckaroo Banzai into a new series for Amazon, I was cautiously optimistic. The initiative fell through because MGM didn't ask permission from Earl Mac Rauch, the original writer and creator of the Banzai universe (never mind what he claims to the contrary, and the fact that the Big Bad was borrowed from an earlier work) and "Mac" has always maintained that he still holds the rights to any new material. A legal battle has ensued between Earl Mac Rauch and MGM, and who knows if a sequel, or a new series, will ever see the light of day.