Monday, August 24, 2015

Agenda 21: One-Hour Photo

Agenda 21, pp. 94

After a few pages of build-up, we're about to discover what's hidden in mommy's sleeping mat. It turns out to be a photograph, but oh, what that photograph tells us:

[The tear] was too small for me to pull the paper through so I tore it a larger. Then a little larger. I saw a word. KODACHROME.

Kodachrome. I'm not even sure where to start.

This book was published in 2012. The Kodachrome film stock was discontinued three years earlier, with processing discontinued shortly after that.

I've mentioned before that Harriet Parke's failure to mention computers or anything else developed after the 1960's or 70's gives Agenda 21 a retro feel that I don't think was intentional. And now we're talking about film cameras. This is the part that stopped me in my tracks the first time I read the book. I was nodding off from boredom when I saw that word in all caps and it snapped me right the hell out of it.

As ridiculous as this is, I obviously understand the need to use a physical photograph - it would have made far less sense if Emmeline pulled a digital camera out of that thing. But why Kodachrome? As I write this, I have a photograph sitting to my right that I printed out at a self-serve kiosk at FedEx-Kinko's. Surely that's how non-professionals get photos these days - making prints from digital files either at a retail outlet or at home via a high-end consumer or specialty printer capable of handling glossy paper. But there are other options. I remember seeing a line of digital cameras equipped with microprinters that came out around the same time as the novel. Or it could have been a Polaroid! Instant cameras are having a sort of revival, and the imagery of the Polaroid has so thoroughly transcended the device that a person who's never seen an instant camera can still recognize the distinctive white border.

But that's only the half of it. Because Kodachrome is a specifically dated product, we can use this picture to estimate a latest possible date for this novel's setting - something the authors have been specifically avoiding. The other hint is in the picture itself:

A little girl in a pink dress, white shoes, and white socks with ruffles around the top. A lady holding her and smiling at her...

...The lady was Mother. Her skin was smooth, without scars or blotches.

The little girl must be me.

So this is a picture of the protagonist, who is seventeen years old as she looks at this.

Kodachrome processing ended in 2010, so this picture was taken that year or before. It's hard to say how old Emmeline is supposed to be - I picture her around four, but we'll say that she was two years old just to be generous. This means that Emmeline was born in 2008 at the latest, which means that this story takes place no later than 2025. The confiscation of paper occured when she was "about seven," meaning no later than 2015, and the Children's Villages opened when she was four, meaning 2012 at the latest.

You may be picking up on an alternate explanation for the lack of precise dates, as the above timeline makes no sense at all - not for a book written in 2012, and not for a book that suggested that the changes came slowly. And all of this came from a single anachronistic slip-up on a single page.

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