Pluperfect PDA Meme

By: Joshua Glenn
October 28, 2010

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Last September, I stumbled upon evidence of what appears to be time travel… in the cover photograph on a French edition of Chester Himes’ crime novel All Shot Up. In the photo, which dates from 1971 or earlier, a woman appears to be using a smartphone or PDA. I shared this find with HiLobrow readers, and Boing Boing picked it up. Then artist Alex Varanese referenced the discovery (one could argue) in a clever conceptual art project. Had PLUPERFECT PDA become a meme? Not quite. Not yet, anyway.

Since then, I’ve come across a couple of other examples of “Pluperfect PDAs,” one from the 1931 movie Platinum Blonde, and the other from the 1944 movie Laura. OK, these latter finds aren’t quite as compelling as the first one. I was inclined to drop the topic.

But now comes news that Irish filmmaker George Clarke has discovered a woman (or man in drag) who appears to be talking to her cell phone in 1928 footage of people lining up for the premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s movie The Circus. Video below:

Clarke discusses his discovery with’s readers in a post today. Excerpt:

Matt – “No cell towers means no phones….idiots!”

George Clarke – “Well, the no cell towers theory lets me see how small-minded a lot of people can be in relation to the subject. The fact that the video is focusing on what could be a time traveller, should instantly point out that if that someone had the technology and ability to do so, then they would also have the technology to communicate without the needs we have today for mobile networks.”

Les – “if you could time travel, why would waste your time at a Charlie Chaplin premiere?”

George Clarke – “Who says the person in question went back to see the Chaplin premiere? How about, the person went back to an earlier period and got stuck there or was in town doing something else and just happened to stroll on by?”

Alf – “I own the same box set he shows in the clip. I have watched the extra’s portion of The Circus and regret to advise the lady isn’t there. It seems the lady was added by computer graphic imagery by someone in 2010 and agree with the comment that this was done as publicity to promote the filmmaker. Please note if you look at the supposed lady on mobile phone, you can see through her. Her image on film has a slight ghostly effect. She was added into the film.”

George Clarke – “Alf obviously has a different version of the release. The extra feature in question is the 1928 Hollywood Premiere. It’s on my DVD and a number of others from those who have contacted me. In fact, one of those other people put the full six-minute premiere footage on Youtube available through my account as a favourite. I can assure you that I didn’t personally add anything – if I did, why would I hold up the cover, point out the DVD label and urge people to get their own? As for the guys that released the film, I honestly wouldn’t think they would go to so much trouble for a two-second clip. So as for the ghostly effect – well, I can only say it strengthens the mystery of the visitor.”

Houston, we have achieved meme status. Really. Standing by for further instructions.

PS: 1928 is earlier than any of my discoveries…. but the earliest Pluperfect PDA yet was pointed out by a Boing Boing reader. It’s a statue of Apollo taking a photo with his mobile phone.

I also like the notion — suggested by an io9 reader — that the guy at bottom left in this famous photo of LBJ swearing in after Kennedy’s assassination is holding a Nintendo Game Boy. Though, to my eyes, it’s obviously Mattel’s 1977 electronic Football game.

And I dig the Time-Traveling Hipster Meme, too.

PPS: The Weekly World News clipping below, which points out a cell phone visible in a 1918 newspaper photo, appeared in our friend Luc Sante’s book Evidence.


MORE FURSHLUGGINER THEORIES BY JOSH GLENN: TAKING THE MICKEY (series) | KLAATU YOU (series intro) | We Are Iron Man! | And We Lived Beneath the Waves | Is It A Chamber Pot? | I’d Like to Force the World to Sing | The Argonaut Folly | The Perfect Flâneur | The Twentieth Day of January | The Dark Side of Scrabble | The YHWH Virus | Boston (Stalker) Rock | The Sweetest Hangover | The Vibe of Dr. Strange | CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (series intro) | Tyger! Tyger! | Star Wars Semiotics | The Original Stooge | Fake Authenticity | Camp, Kitsch & Cheese | Stallone vs. Eros | The UNCLE Hypothesis | Icon Game | Meet the Semionauts | The Abductive Method | Semionauts at Work | Origin of the Pogo | The Black Iron Prison | Blue Krishma! | Big Mal Lives! | Schmoozitsu | You Down with VCP? | Calvin Peeing Meme | Daniel Clowes: Against Groovy | The Zine Revolution (series) | Best Adventure Novels (series) | Debating in a Vacuum (notes on the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triad) | Pluperfect PDA (series) | Double Exposure (series) | Fitting Shoes (series) | Cthulhuwatch (series) | Shocking Blocking (series) | Quatschwatch (series)