Saturday, March 29, 2008
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word 'postmodern' as "Of or relating to art, architecture, or literature that reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes." We can find examples of postmodern cinema dating back into the 60's and 70's, but television was slightly slower to embrace this concept. In fact, most of the postmodern risks that Buffy takes can be traced directly back to another groundbreaking program that we watched in class - Twin Peaks.
Genre blending? Buffy has it. Its main thematic basis lies directly in the world of horror, of course, and the show often takes on the "Monster of the Week" format that The Outer Limits and The X Files, (among other programs) have popularized. Structurally, the show varies throughout the years, often switching back and forth between an almost procedural, detective drama and a soap operaesque coming-of-age dramedy.
Buffy also plays with the idea of the mundane seeming supernatural and the supernatural seeming mundane. Often, Buffy and Willow can have no problem slaying a vampire or banishing a demon, but hit a brick wall when having to deal with a relationship problem. In one famous episode from season 3, The Zeppo, Xander loses his virginity in a manner that feels far more surreal than any of the apocalyptic monsters that Buffy is fighting at the same time. Later on in the series, nostalgia also plays an incredibly large thematic role. In seasons 4 and 5, every character on the show questions their trajectory in life as their tight-knit group from high school begins to dissolve.
The show also deals a lot with cultural references, especially to other forms of media. Buffy, Willow, and Xander call their monster fighting group "the Scooby gang", in reference to the mystery machine crew in the old cartoon show Scooby Doo. They will often make reference to other famous fictional sleuths (The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew) and refer to monsters in relation to monsters they (and we) have seen in the movies. In fact, the entire vernacular that is used by the primary characters on the show is rife with postmodern references and a unique take on language twisting that empowers our young protagonists.
Many of the gothic tropes we saw in Twin Peaks are present here, too. The victim/tormentor dichotomy is seen here (especially in the Buffy/Spike relationship), as well as the presence of doppelgangers. The idea of a locus of evil is present in the Buffyverse with the existence of the hellmouth, and the importance of dreams and nightmares is always clear: there are even a few episodes that take place entirely in the subconscious. While the identity dyads don't permeate quite as far in Buffy as they do in Twin Peaks, they are still present - especially in the characters of Angel and Spike, who constantly fluctuate between their good and bad selves.
Still, there are probably even more instances of postmodernity as well as similarities to Twin Peaks, but how related are the two shows, exactly? Do you think that Whedon borrowed heavily from Lynch, or did the earlier series simply pave the way for 90's television at large? Feel free to comment so we can discuss this further!
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Historically Blacks have been underrepresented in the Media. It is only been within the last 30 years that the Black experience has been exhibited on television sets. Shows with largely if not all Blacks casts such as What’s Happening, The Jeffersons, Good Times, In Living Color, and Girlfriends have garnered both critical acclaim and strong viewer support. Blacks have had successful runs in comedy and drama. However, for whatever reason are underrepresented in supernatural genres. So this blogpost will extol those characters from some of our favorite supernatural television shows.
Guinan, played by actress Whoopi Goldberg, was the resident bartender of The Starship Enterprise. She hails from a planet that was killed by the Borg and her civilization can live much longer than humans. As an Alien she has the ability to sense when things are wrong with others, this often comes in handy when her patrons have issues that they need to work out. Actress Whoopi Goldberg was a huge fan of the television show and actually approached the producers to see if they could find a roll for her.
Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge, the other Black crewmember aboard The Starship Enterprise. La Forge was not only Black but disabled. Blind from birth he wore a VISO (Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement) that enabled him to see electromagnetic radio waves, infrared, ultraviRolet, but not normal light perception. La Forge is a Human born in the futuristic year of 2335 in the African Confederation of Earth. When he travels back in time he is responsible in helping to create Earth’s first warp-capable vessel and was one of the first to achieve contact with the Vulcan race.
Micah Sanders, one of the youngest heroes on the television hit Heros. Micah is a technopath that has the ability to communicate with machines and electronics. Micah is extremely intelligent but comes from a chaotic household. He has to go on the run with his mother when she fails to repay a debt borrowed from a loan shark. Later on in the show he is kidnapped by his father when he walks in on them having a fierce battle.
Walt Lloyd, the youngest survivor of Oceanic flight 815. Walt is just getting reacquainted with his estranged father Michael, when their plane goes down on the mystical island. Walt exhibits some form of supernatural power that has yet to be explained. He shares a close relationship with fellow survivor, Locke. In the season 3 finale after fleeing the island Walt appears to Locke who has been shot by resident ass hole, Benjamin.
One of my favorite appearances by a Black actor in a supernatural television show would have to be Kendra played by Bianca Lawson in television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Kendra was the vampire slayer who once stated “that was my favorite shirt… That was my only shirt” moments after a vampire from the hellmouth of Sunndale tore the shirt she was wearing. Kendra appeared to be a native of some island in the Caribbean. Although no place of origin was given this could be assumed by her accent. Kendra unfortunately only appeared in three episodes before she was killed making way for morally corrupt vampires slayer, Faith.
Most of us will remember our childhood television lineup very fondly. In fact, 90’s nostalgia apparently happens to be very in right now. Girls remember our crushes on Jonathon Taylor Thomas, guys playing with Pogs and everyone wearing those sneakers that lit up when you walked. The mid 90’s demonstrated that Nickelodeon was the go to place for the most popular children’s programming. While stations like ABC aired shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Nick just seemed to have the best selection. The channels offered shows like the variety show “All That”, the cartoons “Ren and Stimpy”, “Doug”, and “Rugrats”, sitcoms like “Clarissa Explains it All” and “Salute Your Shorts” and great contest shows like “Guts” and “Legends of the Hidden Temple.” However the channel also offered great supernatural TV. The shows that I remember particularly are Ah! Real Monsters, Alex Mack, Pete and Pete (in a magical realism way) and most specifically “Are you Afraid of the Dark?” All of these shows are great examples of supernatural TV in one of its most fun forms. In adult supernatural TV, the supernatural is always seconded guessed and sometimes, if not unconvincingly, can ruin a show completely. Due to the audience, children’s shows can allow for even the cheesiest supernatural elements and have a successful run.
“Are You Afraid of the Dark?” (intro linked) adapted the anthology series format, starting each show with several friends calling themselves the Midnight Society meeting by a campfire to tell scary stories. It aired regularly Saturday nights during SNICK along with three other shows. Now I don’t know about you guys, but I remember having to prep myself before watching the show to deal with how scary the episodes were. Even now, clips of the show will pop into my head and give me chills. The episode “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” was about a kid who steals the nose of a cigar-smoking clown he doesn’t believe is real. He instantly regrets this when the clown comes to life. I wouldn’t hesitate to blame my fear of clowns on this particular episode. “The Tale of the Captured Soul” tells the story of a family who vacations in a house where the owners are slowly stealing the life of the visiting family through the mirrors. “The Tale of the Pinball Wizard” is usually one people remember, where a boy gets stuck inside a mall after dark and suddenly finds himself stuck in a life size pinball machine. While none of these plots seem particularly scary now a days and most if not all are borrowed plots, at the time, I always tuned in to scare my self to death every Saturday night.
The sad thing about this is, is today’s Nickelodeon is relatively barren of not just supernatural TV, but good TV in general. While Sponge Bob Square Pants has it’s moments, the channel is filled with shows like Drake and Josh and The Amanda Show. My younger sister watched shows like “That’s So Raven” and “Lizzy Maguire” that had a supernatural tinge, but they didn't air on Nick and played to an older audience. The show "Fairly Odd Parents" is particularly hilarious for older people who get the jokes, but I don’t see it having the following that 90’s Nick shows had when we were growing up. When they did revive “Are You Afraid of the Dark” recently it missed the mark of what the original show had tried to accomplish. While most of the Nickelodeon shows I watched growing up had a more surreal element to them, today’s shows are mostly lame varieties or sitcoms and this is truly a shame.
However, what I REALLY want to talk about is “The Constant,” the 5th episode of Lost’s current (fourth) season.
(**WARNING: For those who are a little behind, or potential future Losties, DO NOT READ THIS POST. THERE ARE SPOILERS.** Sorry, but this episode was too good not to be talked about.)
This episode is a Desmond episode, which is always a good sign. Desmond is, in my opinion, not only a total babe with a sexy accent, but the best character on the show. (Proof: In Jack’s flashbacks, he drunkenly mopes around a hospital whining about his Dad and his ex-wife. In Desmond’s, he drunkenly sails around the world and travels through time.) The last time Des tried to leave the island, he did not succeed on his compass bearing and ended up back exactly where he started, drunk, exclaiming that the island was in “a bloody snowglobe”.
This time, he’s heading to the mysterious freighter offshore in a helicopter, whose pilot is instructed by physicist Daniel Faraday (an awesome new character) to follow a strict compass bearing, or else “side effects” will occur. In a recent episode, we saw Faraday conduct an experiment that revealed that time moves differently on the island than it does in the outside world. This has been one of the biggest reveals of the series, and potentially explains a lot of things: perhaps this is why pregnant women are dying, and perhaps this is why it seems as though not as much time has passed when we see the Oceanic Six back in the real world.
When the helicopter hits turbulence, Desmond’s consciousness from 1996 enters his 2004 body, and his consciousness jumps uncontrollably between 1996 and 2004. Long story short, Faraday helps the “unstuck in time” Desmond. We learn that Faraday had been studying time travel, which does not occur physically but occurs within the consciousness. The writers did their research, because some of these theories are actually somewhat grounded in reality. Here is a very interesting article on said topic from Popular Mechanics. Dealing with time travel is tricky, especially when you want to avoid creating a temporal paradox, which we’ve seen dealt with before in “Back to the Future.”
Basically, the answer to Desmond’s problem is to find a “constant,” something important to him in both 1996 and 2004 that can anchor his consciousness in time. And of course, his constant ends up being his true love, Penny. (Even when Lost gets cheesy, it’s still great.) Penelope Widmore is a great character (and she looks a lot like Frank Black’s wife on Millennium). She is the great love of one of our principal protagonists as well as the daughter of possibly the most evil man on the show, Charles Widmore, the man behind the plot against the island. Penny is one of the few connections between those on the island and the outside world, and the show’s producers have said that she is an extremely important character in the overarching mythology of the show.
My roommate also pointed out to me that the final season of Felicity, another J.J. Abrams show, had its protagonist traveling through time, and the only person who believed her was her true love. Awww.
EDIT: I just found this and I had to share it with you all. Pretty awesome.
Next week we will be viewing and discussing Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh joy! Because we will be slightly abbreviating our cobverage of Buffy, I'd like to generate some discussion/response to the articles on htis blog. As you might expect, you will evaluated on your response participation as if we were having an in-class discussion. As well, I would like to have a one-page response combining reaction to/thoughts on the following two articles for Tuesday (you may email this). Along with reading the Krzywinska article in the reading packet ("Hubble, Bubble, Herbs and Grimoires") for next Tuesday, be sure to check out Jason Winslade's article on Slayage.tv, Teen Witches, Wiccans, and “Wanna-Blessed-Be’s”: Pop-Culture Magic in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since the topics are similar, you might consider comparing and contrasting the two articles.
There are a plethora of sources on the web on Buffy, and many academic articles. Slayage has an undergraduate page as well, for junior scholars to submit essays for online publication.
And for the true fan, you can purchase collectible action figures!
So we have been talking this week about the millennial anxiety and the End of the World, but what about the stuff that happens after the end of the world. That's right, I'm referring to the Post-Apocalypse.
It's no surprise this is such a popular theme. I did some digging into the Book of Revelations, as well as into some other popular scriptures and theories concerning our impending doom, and none clearly state the death of all humanity as we know it. Therefore, there should be this flicker of hope that in the face of such a disaster that a few will survive, and this brings about two thoughts: 1) Will I be one of the survivors; and 2) What will it be like. These two questions, I believe, perpetuate the post-apocalyptic genre as a whole.
We can't talk about the post-apocalypse in television without making mention of Japanese Animation. The proliferation of these themes in Japanese Animation can much be attributed to the anxiety surrounding the bombings of Japan in World War II. The bombs were Japan's own personal little apocalypse and to this day the country still remembers them well. As time goes by, at least one show or movie devoted to these themes come out yearly. The most well-known of these, I believe, would be Akira. Taking place in a post-WWIII Tokyo, Japan has suffered another cataclysmic casualty in the form of yet another bomb. Having rebuilt again, the new Neo-Tokyo is now a hotbed of crime and gang wars and insurrection that cannot be held back. Another less known title was Hokuto no Ken, or Fist of North Star, after yet another world ending disaster, the whole planet has become a desert, and the few people left living, are left impoverished and barely clinging to life. With no order, gangs and other criminals roam the land doing whatever they feel, desecrating life along the way.
It is no doubt that often the picture of these worlds are gloomy at best, with little order or sense of restrictions, but the fact that people can still hang on to life despite how terrible it might be, I believe is a triumph of the spirit that viewers respect. I hope to see more from this genre as the years go on.
This show was brought up a few times in class, but has yet to really be discussed.
I’ve been a pretty loyal watcher from the beginning, due to the correlation to Penn State University (The Paranormal Research Society [PRS] featured on the show is compiled of a group of Penn State students) and my general interest in ghosts and hauntings.
For those of you who haven’t seen the show, or haven’t devoted much thought to it, here’s a basic synopsis:
[Monday nights, 10 pm, A&E] A team of Paranormal Researchers from Penn State University travel to different locals on the request of people experiencing paranormal phenomena. The show focuses on host Ryan Buell, who’s now working on a second degree at Penn State, as he leads viewers through the process of paranormal investigation. This process commonly revolves around interviewing the victim/subject of paranormal experience, bringing in a renown psychic (more on that later) to flesh out the story behind the paranormal experience, holding a sort of séance at “dead-time” (3:00 am) in which to communicate with any spirit or demon present, and then concluding with usually a blessing placed on the residence and a summary by Ryan Buell.
The show is a half-hour docu-drama, according to A&E’s Paranormal State website.
This mixture of documentary and drama lends to the shows, oftentimes, excessive media effects. These effects include a distortion on Buell’s voice, to make him sound as if he’s speaking into a tape recorder (leads more to misunderstanding than anything else) as well as strangely distinct, possibly volume-altered, sounds that occur during “dead-time” séances. And its half-hour format is effective and possibly necessary since most episodes leave the viewer with very little to prove that they’ve just watched something paranormal occur, but due to the short time-frame of the show, it’s presented almost as if the PRS couldn’t fit in everything that occured. If you’re hooked – like I unregretfully am – this format sucks you in every time.
Some things that do boost the credibility of the show (if anything can) are the two main psychics Buell often utilizes, Chip Coffey and Lorraine Warren. Whereas you might not recognize Coffey’s name, Warren was one of the investigators of the Amityville Haunting case. These two are great, regardless of their psychic abilities; they’re also fun to watch. Coffey sometimes gets possessed and that’s always a treat (there is a great episode where Warren and Coffey are working on a case, Coffey gets possessed and Warren slaps him out of it) and Warren is very sweet and also very old.
Something the show lacks is general clarification. There are often demons or spirits or psychic children, but not so often is the explanation as to why they may exist, how, or what the difference is between something like a demon or spirit. Another thing is Ryan often blesses the homes where paranormal activity has occurred, in the vein of Catholicism. The “why” of this, over other religions and ceremonies, is never discussed.
All and all, if the show isn’t believable, it is personable, and definitely will make you question the next time you see something out of the corner of your eye, or that door that seems to just keep closing by itself.
Psychics. Are they real? Is it possible that one can know something, or sense something, that they could not otherwise using their normal five senses? Or is it all based on the belief in mysticism and a few parlor tricks?
What exactly does it mean to be a psychic? It is believed that a psychic individual can sense things (such as events in the past, present, or future) that they had no involvement in, nor could they have otherwise known about, or sensed using their normal five senses. It is believed that certain individuals possess what is called extra-sensory perception (ESP, as it is commonly called).
Can these powers really exist? Many claim to possess such powers, and even many more believe very strongly in its existence. The question is, has there been any concrete scientific evidence to suggest that there might be some kind of extra sense in some individuals? So far the answer to this question is no. James Randi, a former magician, turned paranormal skeptic, has been studying this for many years. Randi has said in interviews over the years that he wishes that he could be proven wrong, that science could be proven wrong, but it has not yet happened. In fact, his education foundation has for many years allocated one million dollars as a prize for any person who can prove under controlled circumstances that paranormal activity exists. No one has been able to claim the prize as of yet.
I am sure you have heard about psychic detectives before. You have probably heard how some police departments use psychic consultants on a regular basis to help solve crimes, and to locate victims, often with much success. The truth of the matter is that these claims are greatly exaggerated. In fact, no psychics have ever officially been given credit for helping to solve a crime by the F.B.I. or other law enforcement agency.
You can find a brief overview of psychic detectives here:
Many of these so-called psychics are actually more like private detectives. They may receive inside information that helps them with their miraculous answers to the unanswered questions to the crimes. USA Network actually has a television show mocking this very idea, called Psych. It’s a comedy about an aspiring detective who solves crimes using his excellent observational skills, and then purports to be psychic in order to aid police in their investigations.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence, it is not that hard to find individuals who swear to the belief in psychic abilities. Why do people believe in something so strongly despite lack of evidence, or rather strong evidence against something? I think it comes out of a search for answers to the unexplained, or the unbelievable. If you recall, after 9/11 a 16th century “prophet” called Nostradamus came into popular culture. People looked to the parallels between his vague writings of his supposed prophecies for answers as to why 9/11 happened. This is probably why shows like Millennium were, and still are, very popular. It plays on the hope that there is more to humans than meets the eye. It allows us to believe that we too might possess some kind of extraordinary gift, and gives individuals a chance to fantasize about it.
This is of course a very basic summary of psychics. There is so much more information than I could fit into such a small blog post. But to answer the question, do psychics exist? Scientifically speaking, probably not.
For more information, you can start by looking at:
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
After last class, I started to think about other examples of where we've seen pre-millenial tension and anxiety, and it didn't take too long to remember the crap ton (roughly 7.99993 times greater than a metric ton) of disaster movies that started to downpour upon us starting in the mid-1990's. With the rise of computer graphics during this time, responsible for stunning visual effects sequences in movies like Jurassic Park, and perhaps some influence from the coming new millennium, a revival in the disaster genre had been sparked.
So every Tuesday and Thursday as I am getting ready to go to class I always turn my TV to the Sci Fi Channel. I have been noticing that around that time they will normaly be playing mini marathons of X-Files, Outer Limits, Jake 2.0 etc. One morning I'm going through my guide and it says "Tales From the..." So I think oh its Tales From the Crypt but when I turn to the channel, I see this low quality show with cheesy effects that is called Tales From the Darkside. I had never heard of this show before and no clue what is was about.
Turns out that Tales From the Darkside had aired from 1984 to 1988, and was created and produced by George A. Romero of all people! The show was an anthology series very similar and inspired by The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits but tended to deal more in horror stories very similar to Tales From the Crypt. Each episode would be its own story that usually ended in a plot twist of some kind. Some of the episodes were written by Romero himself, but most episodes were adaptations of famous books or stories, even Steven King's short stories were adapted for the show. Despite only being on air for 4 years it had enough success for its own movie.
The two episodes I saw were My Ghostwriter - The Vampire where a writer discovers a vampire and agrees to store his coffin in his apartment in exchange for his life stories and becomes famous. The other one being The Enormous Radio a story in where a couple buys a new radio but it can pick up the personal conversations of couples from around the area. I have to say that while both episodes were interesting and creative they certainly did not seem scary, it did not even seem that well made and quite funny because of its low production value.
Even the opening screams low quality, I mean come on Are You Afraid of The Dark? had a scarier opening. despite its cheese factor and not being that scary, it still seems like a cool show with some creative aspects. So the next time it is on in the morning as I am getting ready to go I will be happy to see what creative/hilarious story will come from it.
So in closing I just have to ask, has anyone else seen or heard of this show?
Fuzzy/Digital “Monsters” and Other Japanese Gaming Consoles that Saturated the American Buying Market.
Millennium was one of those shows I remember being horrified of when I was growing up. I know for some 10 to 13 year olds supernatural television like Millennium and the X – Files were weekly television viewing, but for people who just recently got over being afraid of the dark, the images from these shows could cause endless nightmares. Now after viewing them in class, and partaking in this blog which tells me “Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark” I see the interesting merits of such programming.
I am not sure if the episode we watched in class is considered a classic millennium episode or not, but I can see some of the reasons it failed and The X-Files succeeded. The X-files is enjoyable even to a casual fan because of the dry wit and appeal of its lead actors Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. The characters of Mulder and Scully transcended the X-files by becoming a fixture of 1990s pop culture, even appearing on The Simpsons. Frank Black’s bleak darkness like the show itself probably was too intense for American audiences. If you can’t be spoofed on the Simpsons you are never going to make it as a series.
In fact, much of the knowledge I have about supernatural television shows comes from various Simpsons parodies over the years. Each Halloween we can look forward to a new “Tree House of Horror” episode of the Simpsons. While the quality of the Simpsons has gone down by most standards over the years, as the series approaches its 20th season and the strange airing of the “Tree House of Horror” episodes after Halloween may be seen as a sign of a weaker cultural impact. Many of the parodies will stand the test of time as testaments to supernatural television that may be remembered more than the films and shows they spoof themselves.
The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, The X-Files, and countless other supernatural television shows and films have been parodied on the Simpsons. The seemingly endless syndication of the Simpsons will make the supernatural television parodied live on forever and entice television viewers to revisit the supernatural past.
I knew it would only be a matter of time before I would blog about the Simpsons, but at least it is something other than Lost. Although I have to admit watching Millennium and seeing John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) with a mustache and hair was highly enjoyable. Also, the villain pharmaceutical worker who poisoned Frank Black was the evil president Charles Logan on 24. When I Lost and 24 cross paths my mind begins to explode!
They bring a new “charmed” one to the show, Paige. She is supposedly a secret child that was given up at birth but qualifies to be next in line to the Power of Three. I totally don’t buy this, and hate her character from the start along with many other people who was watching the show at the time. Everyone liked Prue and wanted her back basically. So, Paige was the secret child Patty, their mother, had from the love affair she had with her Whitelighter. All the fans were mad; I’m guessing a good percent of viewers stopped watching after Prue died. I wasn’t so quick to give up on the show. I love the weekly kills and mythological creatures that came around. The Book of Shadows grew over the years and so did Paige’s character.
Since they brought her into the picture her character was very personable and interesting. While we all love Prue, I do think Paige was able to live up to the job. I mean she did last 4 years which is more than half the run of the series. I was reading some Prue vs. Paige forums and it was definitely clear that people, overtime, enjoyed Paige’s character more than Prue’s. Both had similar powers but Paige was half Whitelighter. Paige was the better asset and all was forgiven for the death of Prue. I still don’t like how they “mended” the Power of Three, but you gotta keep the show going somehow.
So as of recently in class we have taken it upon ourselves to discuss everyone’s favorite topic…the end of the world, the apocalypse, the piece de résistance of our own mortality. Daunting yes, scary, oh yes, but dreadfully entertaining none the less.
What better story line for a show than the impending and inevitable end to our world and humanity’s constant efforts to stop it. Shows have done this for years. Specifically in class these past few weeks we have gone through 2. Millennium and their apocalyptic Y2K ending and the X-Files with their unstoppable aliens.
I can’t say that I was a huge fan of these programs during their run, however after watching my first few episodes of the X-files I’m change my tune on the sci-fi classic but Millennium is a just seems like such a downer and….wait what was I talking about? Oh yeah, the whole end of the world thing. After all this talk of Nostradamus and the impending 4 horsemen I figured I would try and relate this to something in modern times that I can relate to. And that something was the fan favorite “Lost” a show who’s MO is blowing peoples minds week to week.
Now Lost isn’t exactly a show that lays everything out there for it’s audience, you gotta look in the back corners and search the internet for info. Finally after a little digging I found Enzo Valenzetti, a fictionalized Mathematician who “Anecdotal reports indicate that Valenzetti, at the request of the United Nations, devised a complicated algorithm capable of predicting the exact date of the extinction of the human race.”
Leave it to lost to make the weirdest and most in depth side story line that gets maybe 8 seconds of air time a season.
Through his formula he came up with the numbers 4:8:15:16:23:42, in which some how represent the exact end of the human race. Any fan of lost knows the importance of these numbers. For one, they are Hurley’s winning lotto numbers, which after winning he is surrounded by death and destruction. But most notably the numbers served purpose in the hatch a place where Desmond would enter the numbers into a computer every 108 minutes so he could do what class? That’s right! Stop the world from ending! The numbers even appear written in invisible ink map on a door within the Hatch itself (Translated Version of the Map on the door) and seen on the elusive Dharma training videos, and in the secret HANSO Tapings.
Check this youtube video, if you're a fan and you haven't seen it get on it.
Some people suppose that the purpose of the Dharma initiative is to find away to prevent this Valenzetti equation, possibly saving humanity. Who knows really, I guess we will all have to wait and see. Damn this Lost universe for making the end of humanity so in depth and weird……but oh so cool.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
My first post was on the X-Files, but it was broad and unspecific. Now, lets get into some of the gross details, shall we? That is why we love it so, after all. The grossness of the monster-of-the-week episodes are the icing on the proverbial cake, secretly underlining the brilliance of the show as they were overpowered by the highly addictive conspiracy theory story line of the "mytharc" episodes. I believe that now, looking back on this AWESOME show, what is the most memorable are the monster-of-the-week episodes. The conspiracy theory episodes were highly exciting, but now I barely remember half of the shit that went on. So much happened! Black ink? Russia? The bees? The dude with the metal teeth? I remember these things but not entirely in context. Shame on you poor excuse for an X-Files fan: me.
Friday, March 21, 2008
What kept me away from watching the X- Files was the fear of the unknown. Don’t get me wrong, like most young kids I thrived off of a good spook. I enjoyed sitting in pitch-black rooms trading scary movies with my cousins, watching movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, or Jason. When Michael Jackson’s Thriller would come on MTV I was the one ripping my cousins hands off of their face just as the undead were pulling themselves from their graves. But there was something about shows like the X- Files or Unsolved Mysteries something about the unknown that made it more feasible and as such, much more real to me.
I could easily look at television and say “you know what, I don’t think this Freddy guy with the melted off skin and the axe to grind is going to try and kill me in my sleep” and even if he wanted to he couldn’t that’s not humanly possible. But at night staring up at that great expansion of darkness, how could I know exactly what could or could not be lurking out there. In the ocean and on the earth itself, we are constantly finding new species of animals, so who is there to say that there isn’t something out there that doesn’t want to come down here kidnap some people and play with their butt-holes?
This is where the strength of the X- Files lies, that gray area. Although they do deal with storylines that could be fantastical in nature there are also those instances where either through science or sheer ignorance the events within can be open to possibility. As was bought up in the X- Files article a major theme in the television show was the idea of skepticism, believer vs. non-believer. Having no firm conviction (either for or against) is more frightening than believing to “know” one way or another. The dichotomy of the show exhibited through Mulder’s beliefs vs. Scully’s skepticism together is what created this gray area. Neither was right and the other wrong, things that appeared one way could turn out to be completely different later on. A viewer's "belief" in what was truly happening in the show changed frequently enough that they were never able to become definite on what was really going on. "Trust no one..." Thanks, but I'd rather deal with monster's that I know probably don't exist...
Thursday, March 20, 2008
When reading the X-files article i was particularly fascinated with the description and analysis of the episode “Hollywood AD”. This sort of self-conscious tongue and cheek parody is endlessly amusing and particularly intriguing to me. It got me thinking of other shows today that try and accomplish the same kind of self parody without being too overt about it.
South Park, for one, accomplished this notably in its first season through “Terrence & Phillip”, the foul television show watched by the children. “T&P” stands as a representation of “South Park” as it is a cartoon that should not be watched by children or, as the intro states, anyone for that matter. Yet time after time the children sat and watched the two characters use inappropriate language and make vulgar and disgusting jokes. As for myself, I, at the tender age of 12 or 13, watched them watching the program, and became equally corrupted.
Scrubs, on occasion, has been known to flaunt its self consciousness from time to time as well. Once a season an episode will come around where the narration will be taken over be another character, giving the program a chance to show us what the lead character look like in another point of view. I think this works particularly well in “Their Story” where we finally get to see what the lead, JD, looks like when he goes off into one of his day dreams, all from the point of view of an entirely different character. The humor of this scene is played upon quite well by the fact that not only do we see how ridiculous he looks, but also how much it annoys the other characters.
I feel the self conscious humor of shows like these play an important part in making the audience feel as though the show they are watching is aware that they are there, and that they know how how the show looks to them, rather than to just itself. It adds a level of interactivity to television which i feel is very well received.
My mind jumps, and I begin to think about how this is so successful in paranormal documentaries like Destination Truth and Ghost Hunters. The skepticism displayed in these shows makes me question, and believe more, in real supernatural events.
Paranormal State, devoid of Skepticism, does the opposite.
Paranormal State is an A&E show, Mondays at 10pm (9Central), about a group of college students who are investigating paranormal events. This takes the same formula that other shows of this type use, like Ghost Hunters and Destination Truth. Each episode has 1 or 2 "cases" to investigate, and one entire case is gone through before the second one is introduced. Each case starts with the "lead investigator" (Ryan in the case of Paranormal State) giving an introduction into the case, and a brief synopsis of what is going on at the supposedly haunted site they'll be working on. After that, they arrive on site and interview those occupying the location, while also getting research about the place done, to learn as much as they can beforehand. Then there is a single night spent at the location to attempt to spot and document the phenomenon. This is all followed by a closing session in which the lead investigators give their ideas as to whether the place is haunted or not, and whats the best course of action for it.
In shows like Ghost Hunters and Destination Truth, the investigation attempts to be unbias. They come in with equipment to try to pick up small things, like infra-red video cameras to pick up tiny heat signatures, recorders in hopes of catching Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), and maybe even personal experiences. Many of these episodes end in no evidence, or even finding scientific reasons as to what is actually occurring (like the "Fear cage," which is a high amount of electricity in an area from a generator or something that makes people paranoid, and potentially even cause hallucinations). At the 'worst,' they'll say "We got some spooky evidence that we currently can't substantiate, and we have to say its paranormal at this time." Rarely is it "Your place is haunted, we need an exorcism...now."
Paranormal State is the opposite. The team goes in believing everything they hear. Heck, one of the major team members is an 'Occult Expert' because they deal so often with demons. Their investigation is cleverly named "Dead Time" where they often just sit in rooms and have seances. Occasionally the group will disprove something, but its not what there mission is apparently set out to be. They are more likely to bring in a "Psychic" to feel out energies than they are to disprove anything. This show has ended with them exorcising houses, and has a constant feel that we, the audience, need to believe all this is happening...even if the show doesn't have a single image of anything disturbing other than bad acting.
The show attempts to be so dead set on being true, that it feels scripted. Perhaps its just editing as clever as John Edwards show, but their Psychic and Mystics, with "No prior knowledge," are able to guess whats haunting the houses in the first guess pretty well. And the fact that there was an under story that the lead investigator, Ryan, was being chased by the demon Belial (every mention of Belial in the show was actually bleeped out to 'protect' the audience from his wrath) went through a few episodes really makes the show hard to believe. It comes out so often believing everything, and expecting the audience to follow, that it ruins its own credibility.
But maybe the show is true in claiming to be 'reality TV.' Maybe these events are real, and 100% proof of the existence of the paranormal. Maybe the occult expert is right and Belial, the ruler of Northern Hell, has nothing better to do than haunt people for having messy houses. If its all true, its lack of skepticism makes it impossible to believe. After episodes of Ghost Hunters, even if they disprove a haunting, I still go to sleep thinking "What about that next house..." Its skepticism that really keeps our minds focussed on an idea, and allow for the potential of hauntings, demons, and alien abductions to exist.
But one compliment to Paranormal State; it did have the coolest ad campaign. Two huge billboards that used ultrasound to shoot messages to passerby's that sounded like whispers that you could only hear at specific places? Yes, included and you can see it here due to the magic of youtube.
This blog post is difficult for me...
Because, well, I never watched the X-Files.
I don’t think I had anything against it. It was just always that show on “FOX” for me. But perhaps FOX snobbery is undeserved, they have aired some gems like Arrested Development...at least I hear it’s a gem, I didn’t watch it because it was on FOX....
Anyway, so, in order to understand the popularity of the show better, I thought it best to go right to the fan source: the X-Philes.
What is convenient about all this is that, as we discussed in class, the X-Files came to popularity with the rise of the Internet. So popping “X-Philes” into google leads to a variety of results.
Who knew that there were so many different factions of X-philia?
The first link that pops up is the “X-Phile Finis Romantics Society.” Yeah. This was (the site is no longer active) a coalition of like-minded X-philiacs who wanted to see their beloved Mulder and Scully wait until the end of the series to explore a romantic relationship. Fair enough, I’d say...keep that tension and expectation charging on into the unknown.
Another X-Phile site is specifically dedicated to Mulder.
Oh David Duchovny, how you slayyyy me. With that boy-next-door mousy-brown hair and that voice with that distinctive back-of-the-throat-sort-of-in-his-nose tonal quality...mmmmmhmmmm. I understand you, you “X-Philes for Mulder.”
But on a more serious note: This site was last updated on April 4, 2002. There’s a poignant mission statement on the site’s main page:
“The latest statements issued from X-Files Central (most particularly those recently printed in the September 22, 2000, issue of Entertainment Weekly) have led us to conclude that the amazing contribution David Duchovny has made to the success of The X-Files over the years - in his portrayal of Mulder, in his writing and direction, and in his sheer dedication - has been all but forgotten in the face of 1013 and Fox Inc.'s pursuit of a new format for the show. *Mulder* himself appears to have been forgotten.”
It’s nice to see that this fan site had a motive beyond Duchovny’s cute squinty eyes.
And then you’ve got websites such as this.
Fan fiction! The place where an X-philiac’s desires can come true. It’s great. I love the concept of fan fiction. Why wait for the creators of the show to give you what you want when you can just give it to yourself. (Not intended to be a sexual innuendo.)
This site is divided up into neat things such as “Category Listings” and “Story Listings” in order to help the X-philiac navigate with more efficiency. But it’s a little dated looking, lacking in pizzazz, much like the other two sites I already mentioned.
What’s interesting about all three of these sites is none have been, or appear to be, updated in a while (the last story submitted to the fan fiction site was in December).
Whereas the show has ended, it seems like the upcoming film and reruns should keep the Internet buzz a little higher than these websites suggest.
However, I feel like it may be the fault of these sites and not a lack of general interest. Like the X-Files, the Internet started slow, and then took off. The use of websites to generate and maintain the fan base went hand and hand with this. Whereas the X-Files tried to adapt and change with the times, it seems that these websites, in format and style, are stuck in their original structure.
It’s time to get your act together X-Philiacs! Drum up some hype and make the next film a summer blockbuster! You just may get a third film in the pipeline...
I must be honest. I was never a fan of the X-Files, and largely, I am still not. However, examining shows like the X-Files for class has gotten me somewhat interested in exploring these types of shows much deeper. Before this class I had no idea what Twin Peaks was. I had certainly heard of it, but knew very little about it. When we watched the episodes in class, I became interested in seeing more, largely due to the fact that it is quite a unique show. When reading the Strange TV article about the X-Files, I noticed there were quite a few references to Twin Peaks. This got me thinking about the two shows. There are a lot of similarities there.
Let’s take a look at some of the similarities between the pilot of the X-files and Twin Peaks. The show starts with the mysterious murder of a young, attractive female. Because of the mystery surrounding the case, a special agent of the FBI is called in to investigate, who is known for, shall we say, his somewhat strange and interesting practices. Which show am I talking about here? Exactly. Both. Now, of course, there is a large difference here. Twin Peaks largely surrounds the single case of Laura Palmer’s death, while X-Files seems to largely contain a case per episode: the monster of the week, as others have so eloquently put it. I think this what makes the X-Files more watch-able, since the story arches are smaller, as opposed to the series-long main arches of the soap-opera-esque Twin Peaks.
Both the X-Files and Twin Peaks seem to have an interesting self-awareness. There is a campy-ness to them, while still attempting to be at the very least somewhat serious: The X-Files does a much better job with its seriousness than Twin Peaks. Even the grotesque humor is an indication of this. Agents Cooper/Mulder are able to see the dead as objects, and often may be able to joke about them; whereas Agent Scully/Sheriff Truman, don’t seem to be able to share the same abilities.
Throughout the X-Files series, there are many episodes that one might call experimental. I can recall the X-Cops episode that was a parody of another Fox show at the time: Cops. While Twin Peaks ran too short to have ever explored these kinds of episodes, I do feel that the campy-ness is shared between them. I think that because the X-Files largely tried to keep a seriousness about itself, these episodes were a release of sorts: a tip of the hat, if you will, to the very overt campy-ness that Twin Peaks has.
Now up to this point, I have not even mentioned the supernatural similarities between the two shows. I feel that this is a fairly obvious connection for anyone who has seen an episode of both shows, or has even a little knowledge of the genre of the shows. Certainly both shows surround the topic of the supernatural, or the paranormal, which is, within the show, met with a great deal of skepticism. However, the X-Files deals largely with the idea of alien invasion of earth; an idea that never really appeared in Twin Peaks.
Certainly this is just a basic overview of the similarities. If you’re interested in further reading, there is one short website that I found that deals with the cast crossovers between the two shows. Apparently there was a lot:
Gillian Anderson, who played Special Agent Dana Scully through the series' entire run, was an attractive woman, and yet her character was consistently allowed to remain intelligent, tough, and dignified. (And appropriately dressed!)
Ms. Anderson clearly realized that her show was not Baywatch, and that she was the "anti-Pam". Interesting considering that the network was apparently looking for a Pamela Anderson type at first.
The show pokes fun at its unconventional views. Any jealousy between the two or resentment of others was generally played in a humorous fashion, such as in "War of the Copropahges", as mentioned in the article. Scully's maternal relationship with Mulder is also sometimes played for humor. I remember one particular episode, "Detour", wherein Mulder asks Scully to sing to him while stranded in the woods. Her chosen song? Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World".
When watching the pilot the other day, I noticed that her character was treated this way almost from teh beginning. While in the hotel in Oregon, there is a scene where she is seen taking her clothes off for a shower. When she notices the marks on her back, she runs into Mulder's room in her bathrobe. However, there are no lingering glances and no inappropriate comments. Both are only concerned about her well-being.
I think this speaks volumes about Mulder and Scully's relationship. While there may be some lingering, unconsummated romantic tension (I never really saw it, personally, but I watched most of the show while in elementary and middle school), they clearly have a respectful, professional relationship. They can work well together and be friends, but she is not forced into a position of always having to be sexy around him. The show didn't try to sex anything up with a lasting exterior love interest, either. Scully apparently had a boyfriend in the original drafts of the pilot, whom was subsequently written out. Too often, women on television are shown to have a constant need for men in their life. Scully may well have needed Mulder, but he was primarily an intellectual foil, not romantic.
In the book Fantasy Girls: Gender in the New Universe of Science Fiction and Fantasy (ed. Elyse Rae Helford) Linda Badley argues that Scully is not as progressive as some may think.
...Scully subverts patriarchal heteronormativity through her role as both a cybercop and forensic investigator, penetrating inert, male bodies with an unfeminine, carnivorous promiscuity (p. 81). On the other hand, Scully’s powerful position vis-à-vis alien(ated) men is destabilized and subsequently contained through the introduction of an abuse survivor/abductee narrative.
While I can see where she's coming from, I disagree with her view. Yes, Scully was abducted and abused. However, she was far from a hapless female. Mulder was never consistently having to save her; sometimes, he got captured and had to be rescued by her as well. The characters were not treated especially differently in this regard.
Dana Scully paved the way for many other strong female characters in supernatural or science fiction TV shows. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Captain Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager, Xena, Zoe Washburne of Firefly, etc. However, I think the character she had to strongest influence on was Willow Rosenberg, also of Buffy. Scully didn't quite have the quirky cutesyness of Willow, but both women were strong, intelligent, and a little geeky. They got to play botht the heroine and the victim, as did the male characters on their series. I think this is the most natural way of showing real human strengths and interactions.
(They're also both redheaded. Mustn't forget that.)
Many of the shows mentioned in the X-Files article have multiple strong interconnections, from Twin Peaks all the way up to Lost. The X-Files thus serves as a prominent link in a postmodern web of supernatural television that began in the early 1990s, capping off strange TV in the 20th century, and allowing the form to successfully carry over into the 21st century.
The shows in this web all display traits of postmodernism – stylistically and referentially, they are extremely self-conscious and formally experimental. They deal with conspiracy theories and monsters. They have their own mythological arcs that take us in unexpected new directions. They suggest that there are supernatural forces at work in the world and explore them using both reason and spirituality. But they don't take themselves too seriously - they parody themselves. The paranoia they place on us is ultimately comforting when we realize that everything really is connected, just like that Kevin Bacon game. Let's try it with The X-Files.
Twin Peaks, as we all know, was super awesome and changed the face of television forever. Nine members of the cast of Twin Peaks – including David Duchovny in his unforgettable turn as a transvestite DEA agent – later appeared on The X-Files. Richard Beymer (Tony from West Side Story and Ben Horne from TP) appeared on the show. Don S. Davis (Bobby Briggs’ father on TP) played Scully’s dad. Michael J. Anderson, aka The Man From Another Place (the dancing, reverse-speaking dwarf), appeared in the episode “Humbug” that was mentioned in the article. Anderson was also later on the short-lived but critically acclaimed supernatural HBO show Carnivale.
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which aired the hour
before The X-Files, was co-created by executive producer Carlton Cuse, one of the showrunners for Lost. Like many other shows we have discussed, Brisco County is highly multi-genred, combining buddy comedy, sci-fi, Western, and drama. Brisco was initially seen as more promising than The X-Files, but it was cancelled after 27 episodes. Starring Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead, the show developed a cult following, featuring odd guest stars such as Timothy Leary parodying himself. How postmodern! Brisco’s other co-creator, Jeffrey Boam, worked on HBO’s Tales From the Crypt, a horror anthology series in the vein of The Twilight Zone that ran from 1989-1996 and also featured appearances by cast members from other supernatural shows, like Miguel Ferrer and Kyle McLachlan (who also directed an episode of Crypt) from Twin Peaks.
After the success of X-Files, Chris Carter created a new show, Millennium, which aired from 1996-1999 on Fox. The show was critically acclaimed but did not last long, yet it propelled further the career of Terry O’Quinn, best known for his role as John Locke in ABC’s Lost. Conceived as a more mature companion series to X-Files, Millennium was set in the years approaching the new millennium and was compared to the film Seven. A crossover episode with The X-Files (which was mentioned in the article) occurred after the show ended.
All of these shows connect, influence, and allude to one another, much like the characters on Twin Peaks and Lost all interconnect. In interviews, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, the executive producers of Lost, compare themselves to Scully and Mulder, Lindelof being the empirically-minded one and Cuse willing to leap beyond logic. This is reflected in the Scully-and-Mulder-like tension (without the sexual part) between Jack Shepard and Locke.
This interconnectivity and allusiveness of this "web" is highly postmodern, on a much larger scale than we see within the individual shows. When you look at it this way, it’s easy to understand the “geek culture” that becomes associated with a lot of these shows. A loyal fan base can be recruited by facilitating a search for clues, connections, and answers. As postmodern subjects, we strive to make sense of the complexities of the world as well as the media we consume. Thus, it's people like us who can provide the cult status shows like these need in order to stay on the air. (Or in my case, if it's too late, to catch them on DVD.)