“Perception is real, and the truth is not.” — Dame Imelda Marcos

An agent storms across a long tiled hallway, his shoes clack-clack-clacking intensely with every footfall, and he’s carrying a giant ream of paper; he’s storming with purpose, because why else would you storm, and the trailer you saw and the things you heard from friends who’ve already seen it make you feel like this is a super-intense lead-in to a fucking head-spinning spy-thriller, and it is, it’s just like the movies, but it’s in real life, just like the movies, so the dude is actually dressed like some sort of clownish fucking South Beach pimp, or Ronnie Coleman, like if the Joker lifted weights, pallid and mellow neons, five-button blazers, thick pinstripes, the clack-clack-clacking shoes are wingtips, and his fellow agents glare at him scornfully as he rushes past them in the hall, for meeting the letter of appearance policy but certainly not its intent. This is to say nothing of the fact he dyes his own hair and has a fucking goatee. A fucking goatee.

He kicks open the door to his shared office, and his coworker, who dresses just as ridiculously, is seated at his desk, eating, fucking just annihilating a hoagie, and the first agent, Dale, slams the ream of paper onto his desk before hurling the door shut and breaking down in tears.

Whoa, man, whoa, what’s the matter?

We’re out, man. The fucking subcommittee defunded us. Look, he screams, pointing at the ream of paper.

The second agent, Donnie, grabs the ream, lightly panicked, and starts thumbing through it.

Appropriations, man.

I know.

He still can’t find it.



He continues to thumb, to leaf, to scan, and minutes are frittered away while he continues to not find it.

Just fucking give it here.

Dale spreads it out over the desk, and they skim, finding mentions of budgets for the Intelligence Security Bureau, the Security Intelligence Service, the Security Service, the Bureau of Intelligence and Security Services, the Security Intelligence Bureau, the Intelligence Service, and the Bureau of Security Intelligence, but nothing for their department, the Intelligence Service Bureau.

How can they just fuck us like that? Just savagely fuck us in the ass like that? With no warning? How? Do they not know what we can fucking do to them? I’m calling The Times.

Don’t do that.

Why not? They’re about to fucking end us.

No, says Dale, they can’t. They won’t. I know someone.


A writer.

What writer? Donnie asks.

And Dale tells him. He tells him a name and Donnie doesn’t recognize it, then he mentions the name of the film the guy is best-known for writing, and of course Donnie recognizes that.

Inspector Gadget was not merely the biggest film of its time more than twenty years ago, it has entered the annals of film history as one of its greatest achievements, with an inflation-adjusted box office haul of well over seven billion dollars, making it the highest-grossing film of all time, earning more than twice as much as its nearest rival, 2002’s Robot Stepdad. Considering the revenue from toy sales and other ancillary income streams, such as home media and film-inspired fashion, the film was and remains virtually an economy unto itself.

The cultural impact the film had is impossible to understate, and still makes itself felt to this day. The best-selling hat of 1999 through 2019 was the deerstalker, a piece of double-billed headgear which had fallen virtually into extinction before the film revived its use, and it was worn—in fact, is still frequently worn—by all sorts: punk rockers would purchase leather models and affix spikes and studs after decorating them in paint marker and sewn-on patches, college students could find white cotton editions with their school team logos or frat letters, there were even occupational variants, for plumbers, Kevlar versions for cops, lightweight canvas models for painters and cyclists, hardhat models for construction laborers, Nomex editions for firefighters. The variations were virtually endless and, combined, straddled all society, becoming a universal and unifying totem. The polite hat-tip returned to vogue.

The gourd Calabash pipe was also resuscitated, largely by those who didn’t even smoke tobacco or anything else. Innovative potheads fabricated water-vessel stems and detachable bowls, so they could be ripped like bongs. Club kids modified them to blow bubbles for Inspector Gadget-themed raves and techno foam parties, where internationally renowned DJs like DJ Claw or Finot tha Topp Dawg (who adapted their noms de danse from characters in the film) remixed Le Thème de Inspecteur Gadget into the hottest underground club hits. But mostly, the pipes were owned by people who enjoyed handling them for no other reason than to have some tactile, some real attachment to the film, to bring it into being and to bring themselves into it. It was another reifying totem of community.

The Mackintosh coat was now worn at every opportunity but proved somewhat more contentious than other objects from the film. Firstly, a schism developed between “Tru-Macs,” purists who insisted the jacket must be both rubberized and grey in tone, and everyone else (called “Inspector Posers” by the Tru-Macs), who enjoyed wearing it in all possible configurations of color and material. There was also the issue of the so-called “Gadget Flash”; fans would wear the coat, seemingly with nothing beneath it, like the exhibitionists of yore, then rip it open in a sudden burst, revealing brightly colored T-shirts with the detective’s catchphrases printed on them, like Wowsers! or I’m always on duty. One such shirt invited a years-long obscenity trial, ultimately decided by the Supreme Court. It featured a concupiscent riff on one of the catchphrases; it said Go-go-gadget…then had an arrow pointing at the groin.

People began forming Inspector Gadget science clubs, where they would attempt to recreate his gadgets, despite somber, desperate pleas from the film’s stars to not try and fabricate these devices, most of which could not possibly function in the real world anyway. But that didn’t stop the estimated 500,000-plus people who died in the pursuit of bringing to life these fantastic police technologies. The most common form of death was decapitation following a bungled effort to build the personal “backpack”-style helicopter which sprouted out of his hat. Not far behind were attempts to build transformable cars, disasters made all the more tragic by the fact that they tended to occur in traffic, on highways, surrounded by innocent bystanders, claiming many of them as victims, sometimes as many as a dozen at a time, trapped screaming in their flaming cars after incompetently altered Matra Murenas exploded during rush hour traffic jams.

The ghastliest were the attempts to surgically alter oneself, for example with go-go-gadget arms, or a family pet to take after the bipedal, nearly verbal dog, Brain.

Donnie is quiet for a bit, mulling something over. Dale asks what the matter is.

Well, the two things that always bothered me are, firstly, he wore a trilby, and he also never smoked a pipe.

Dale stares at him blankly until Donnie speaks again.

And… I really don’t understand why a guy like that would need to help us.

The writer?

No, fucking Inspector Gadget.

Dale pauses, considering something, then asks Donnie a question.

You didn’t see his next two films?


Oh, man…

The writer had naturally become the most sought-after talent in Hollywood, and he claimed the next project he took wasn’t just for its ten-million-dollar flat fee on the front end—a record-setting and still unsurpassed sum for a screenwriter; he said it was for the challenge. It was the sequel to a box office dud called Dunston Checks In, a film about an orangutan jewel thief who rampages through a luxury hotel. He called the sequel Dunston Loops Time, and it picked up right where the first left off, with Dunston, the titular orangutan, checking out of the hotel, but then almost instantly stumbling upon a time machine while attempting to hail a cab to the airport.

Dunston then, of course being an orangutan and unable to operate the machine properly, repeatedly becomes the cause of many of the world’s most cataclysmic events. His first trip lands him on the deck of the RMS Titanic, which was before Dunston’s arrival almost 20 nautical miles removed from that disastrous iceberg, but Dunston’s hijinks naturally rerouted the ship directly into it.

He then ends up in Vienna, in 1908, at the exhibition of a nervous young artist. The young man’s work is displayed for the consideration of the Academy after having already once failed to gain entry to its prestige. And just as the academicians arrive, Dunston shows up, destroying the exhibition with his tomfoolery, sending the young man on a downward spiral into trench warfare, and then, worse, politics.

Jesus fucking Christ, man, I can’t hear any more of this.

Dale falls silent.

I saw the first one, though.

First what?

The first Dunston one.

Really? What’d you think? He didn’t write that one, by the way.

No, I know. Um…I don’t know that I liked it, but I was really fuckin’ freaked out by how that monkey massaged Faye Dunaway.

What do you mean?

Well, I just don’t know that that’s right.


Monkey-on-person massage.

Who the fuck cares?

I don’t know.

There’s a long pause while Donnie seems to consider something.

I think it’s because it reminds me of another upsetting sexual thing with a monkey.

Dale starts laughing and quips about Donnie being raped at a zoo.

No, no, fuck you, it was another film. It had that chick from The Karate Kid.

Yeah? She’s a real piece of ass.

Oh, for sure. She got fuckin’ butt-naked in this one.

Dale bolts upright from a reclined position, almost falling out of his office chair, desperately clawing the surface of his desk for a pen and paper.

Really? What film?

I don’t remember the name, but she was taking a shower, but for some reason she was totally dry, and then this fucking orangutan walked in and just started staring at her. She just stood there, too, like a fucking idiot. Then she tries to close the door, and the thing wouldn’t let her.

Dale stares at Donnie quizzically.

I don’t know. It’s like sexual exploitation or something.

Dale laughs and asks if he wants to hear about the other film.

Yeah, but I wonder if it was the same orangutan in all three films.

Dale shakes his head lightly, and shrugs, unknowing, indifferent.

Dunston Loops Time was one of the most disastrous films ever made, barely recouping even ten percent of its billion-dollar price tag. It was the most expensive film starring an animal ever produced and the most critically reviled film of any kind, ever, in the history of film. Nearly everyone who worked on it was subjected to vicious abuse by nearly everyone they encountered who saw it; Slushees and other beverages of varying temperatures were hurled from passing cars, bags of dog shit thrown by dogwalkers, even the occasional physical assault. Or worse. The director had a gun pulled on him on a racquetball court. One of the actors was dragged screaming from the Viper Room and into the alley behind it by a rabid anti-Dunston gang, where they kicked and stomped him until a broken rib pierced his liver, all the while ranting about the film, claiming that if there were a third installment, they’d put a bullet in his fucking skull, the monkey’s, too. The writer went into hiding. Grainy tabloid photographs surfaced, claimed to show him laying low in Budapest, Prague, Dresden. A taxi driver who resembled him was stabbed 17 times by an off-off-Broadway playwright. He lived, barely. Many others were not so lucky. Criminologists with the Bureau of Justice Statistics attributed a nearly double-digit increase in Los Angeles’ rates of most forms of interpersonal violence, from battery to homicide, to this film. The most hideous: a gaffer was found impaled on a mooring bollard in the port with an orangutan mask stapled to his head. A note was hung around his neck: NEVER AGAIN!!!

But the writer’s agent convinced him to take on another project, equally ambitious and visionary, this time without an orangutan.

What was this one, then?

You know it, even if you haven’t seen it, says Dale.

Beverly Hills Ninja 2: The Confrontation was an attempt to revive two ailing franchises by amalgamating them; indeed, so much money had already been sunk into pre-production of the sequel to Beverly Hills Ninja that the untimely death of its star had no impact on whether it would be made. It was a fait accompli. Those investors would’ve pimped their own children to recover that sum, something around the size of Costa Rica’s GDP. That was clear.

What was less clear was the decision to merge it with the American Ninja series. Industry experts cited the studio’s vast debt overhang resulting from the overall poor commercial performance of the American Ninja films, but rumors circulated about money laundering schemes, real deaths being used as stunts, the gang-rape of the female lead in her trailer by most of the male cast, and a whole host of other shockingly vile allegations, though none ever even made it into the blind items. Money changed hands. Threats were made. A paparazzo was kneecapped, then urinated upon, by someone who claimed to be a cop and flashed a badge, and photos of the micturition-shooting were sent to the hosts of Entertainment Tonight with the warning: you could be next.

Still, the heat was on most of the principals of the American Ninja project. One by one, under different circumstances but still suspiciously enough one could be forgiven for thinking that some kind of point was being made, they disappeared or died. A month-long safari turned into a missing persons report for the star of the films. The director set sail, solo, to Hawaii from Malibu on a 25-foot cutter and even the boat was never recovered. A producer was shot dead in Tel Aviv, though that was reputed to be over a personal debt. Another was hacked up with his wife and children during what was considered a home invasion robbery, though it could not be demonstrated what precisely was stolen.

So, it then appeared that the sort of people you don’t fuck around with wanted, or perhaps needed, to maintain the corporate structure associated with that film, especially its messy, impenetrable financial organization, and accommodations were made. Or, more accurately, forced.

It was an unmitigated disaster, nearly as bad as Dunston Loops Time, though some critics and audiences praised the suspiciously realistic action sequences, the screams of surprised terror as arms were sawed off, the smashed-in heads, the bodies ripped in two or even disintegrated by machine-gun fire, the bodies flung from high-rises and slamming into parked cars 40 stories below, the bodies turned to mist after being shoved into fan blades on helicopters or hovercraft; an almost unending stream of violence and gore allowed the film to nearly meet a break-even point by standard accounting methods, so it was useless as a money-laundering vehicle, and the rest of the film was roundly mocked, becoming a staple of late-night monologues and barroom jokes, the group sex scenes, the dog trained to recover shuriken and other discarded weapons, the assertion that Jesus spent his silent years studying ninjitsu in Japan, all this conspired to rob the film of any sense of the legitimacy the action scenes established. The writer was not only ruined, he was marked. The silent partners, rumored to be responsible for so much painful mystery in Los Angeles, had a plan for him. Gang members were hired. An SUV was stolen, and its cargo compartment lined with thick plastic. He again fled the country, and again went into hiding.


For all installments of “Emperors,” click here.