There is no sin except stupidity. - Oscar Wilde
It isn’t that I hate television, I actually like it quite a lot. Maybe too much. I just hate what it has become. Then again, that’s been the battle cry of critics since about five minutes after the first set was turned on, I suppose.
It is true that I have a special place in my Pantheon of Contempt for so-called “reality” programming, those shows which delude viewers into thinking that somehow, what they are seeing on screen is happening for the first time, that nothing is ever reshot, that emotions are never manipulated, and that folks on such shows are . . . well, genuine.
You know, real.
The other night I happened upon a show about a self-proclaimed “Demon Hunter” - a man who was basically looking for a network to call home, since his show keeps getting bounced around. Yes, I do Google this stuff. I only intended to stay till the first commercial break, but was hooked after the fellow obviously decided that a Doctor Strange/Doctor Phil approach worked best for him, and he gently asked the woman whose house was beset was demons:
“How does all this make you feel?”
There’s demons in my house, you moron! I’m not paying you for an encounter session - just get rid of the damn things!
There is a certain sameness to most of the haunting shows. The rattlings start, pictures fall off the wall, kids get scratched in the night, and finally the dogs begin quoting Rick Santorum. Finally someone in the house goes online and finds a local ghost-hunting group (who all seem to be wearing matching T-shirts), who bring their own psychic, cameras, and tape recorders that pick up other-worldly voices saying “Get out!”
They always seem to be saying “Get out!” But of course they never do. A friend of mine once told me that these shows are all about middle-class white people who are too cheap too move.
The psychic makes contact with the spirit, and tells it to move on, to hit the road. Everything is fine for a few weeks. But then . . .
Not only is the spirit/demon back, but it has brought along its posse. All hell threatens to literally break loose. Finally, in the last few minutes of the show, a priest is brought in, who performs the Rite of Exorcism. That’s it. End of story. Nothing to see here see, folks. Roll credits.
So this what you do, if you think there is a demon in your house. You don’t call in Barney Fife to handle the heavy lifting - go right to Sheriff Andy Taylor. It isn’t even good TV anymore; the producers can pretty much just phone these shows in.
A friend of mine once joined a ghost hunting group. “Do they all have matching T-shirts?” I asked.
“Yes,” he admitted.
“Well, then,” I said. “That’s half the battle won already!”
Which brings us to shows which feature folks who must read the journals left on islands, lost planets or in abandoned cities by long-dead explorers . Stalking them is a fearsome monster. Thankfully, we have the tattered old journal which tells the story of the ill-fated expedition and how it faced the monster. Did they survive? Did they defeat the beast?
The intrepid - yet slightly dim - heroes run around, turning page after page, reading inconsequential crap about how Cookie the Chef pissed in the breakfast one day, and Captain Strong Heart led his men to their final stand in the Valley of Truth . . . and and oh, yeah, pages and pages of whining about how everybody else smelled.
In the meantime, the fearsome beast is getting closer and closer, even picking off a few of our team.
Finally, we get to the last page, and we discover that the weapon we needed was in our grasp the whole time! End of yet another cliched story. These people are free to go out into the world and add their stupidity to the human gene pool.
The solution, of course, is to read the last page first. If you have to, work your way backwards from that.
But no - that would make sense.
What the Artist winning the Oscar means for television - and it ain’t good news
I haven’t seen The Artist yet, though I am looking forward to it. There is a terrible sinking feeling in my gut, though, that the success of this film means horrible things for television viewers next season, because almost every show from the whimsical to the deadly serious will be jumping the shark all over the place and producing “silent episodes.”
“ But wait,” you cry. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it!” Well, kinda sorta. And though they did what they did well, it is no reason for . . . oh, what the hell am I saying? Demon Hunters without Sound? The Cat from Hell without Sound? NCIS without sound?
Okay, it’s a mixed blessing.
The River King
Why hasn’t anyone ever shoved any of Alice Hoffman’s books into my hands before now and bid me, “Shut up, read, and enjoy?" Some friends I have . . .
The River King is a novel about courage, cowardice, magic, love and the mysteries of the human soul. On one level it is the story of young people at a prep school in the Northeastern United States, where unsupervised, casual cruelty and petty ugliness becomes the norm among the students. It takes a strong young person to be able to stand up to the cruelties administered by the shallow and insecure; in truth, it often takes far more courage than most of us are called upon to exhibit in our lives at any age.
When one young man turns up dead in the river one morning, everyone assumes he cracked under the pressure of school. It is easy for most to dismiss the young man, Gus, since he fits the stereotype of the classic loser. Surely no one to lose sleep over. No one will ever miss him. But there are those who will not let the river keep its dead. Those who aren’t quite accepted into “normal” society must seek justice for the young man. They include Carlin, a beautiful young woman he was doomed to love, Betsy (a school instructor and photographer) and Abel, a police officer who had always gotten along by going along.
Almost against their wills, each of the three feels compelled to make some sense of the young boy’s death. It is almost as if, by finding meaning in this death, they will find absolution.
The town of Haddan itself becomes a major character in this work, with all of the classic “Town Vs Gown” elements coming into play. Abel becomes all too aware that the town profits by turning its collective back on untoward activity at the school. And Gus himself - though dead - has very much a pull on the character’s lives, whether it be through leaving Minnow’s in Carlin’s pockets, or showing up in photographs, he cries out to be avenged. Or at least to be understood.
In the end, Gus is not so much avenged as he understood, which may be the most important thing for any of us. And by coming to understand Gus, the three protagonists understand themselves, and the emotionally trapped lives they lead.
Alice Hoffman is a writer I wish had discovered a long time ago. Have you discovered her yet?
Quote of the Day
"The truth has a well-known liberal bias." - Stephen Colbert.