The Nature of Television

The evolution of the media is not the most exciting thing. We figured out how to paint on caves sharing information about the animals we encountered and how we killed them. This was the first bulletin board. Later we figured out how to make these things mobile. Hammurabi had the law etched onto columns that were distributed around his empire. Since we figured out ink earlier, it took a bit longer, but we came up with various forms of paper to go with it. Once we hand ink and paper, the next big thing was the printing press. Folks from Eurocentric cultures know Gutenberg as the creator. Once we had that, we had everything pretty much in hand until the telegraph allowed us to transmit information electronically. Marconi is credited with making it wireless, although my love of Nikola Tesla forces me to say that’s a bit of bullshit. The wireless paved the way for radio. Radio gained picture to become television. Then the internet blew everything up.

Each media has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some are more local, others are more intimate. The strength of television was the simple ability to show you what was happening instead of just describing it. In the beginning, there was a lot of experimentation while people learned how tv could work. Stage plays were reenacted to poor effect initially. People learned comedy worked much better on television than radio because, well, you couldn’t do Buster Keaton with no sound. Over time the rules of television were codified. The rogue experimental factions settled down. Ideas were borrowed from film, but where film morphed into a venue for seeing large expanses on a wide screen, television settled into telling more intimate stories and the day’s news.

There is still experimentation on television, but you don’t see much of it anymore. Most of the world plays the same programs people in North America see because the United States dominates entertainment creation and distribution globally. (Since Hollywood was built on the backs of Jews forced out of Europe because of racism and discrimination, I wonder what the USA and the southern coast of California would be like if Europe had been more welcoming in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.) There is a huge amount of money made, so much so that there is little incentive to change. Hence where the problems of capitalism come into play.

It’s little wonder that a wealthy, more socialist country is redefining television in their borders. It isn’t that the programs have more viewers than The Big Bang Theory. It’s that some smart people there looked at their culture and decided that, yes, a show about wood stacking can be popular here. The success of that program led to others. Right now we are in the midst of a nine hour knitting marathon being broadcast live. It’s being simulcast, so take a few minutes and watch. You might even find it as fascinating as I do.

It isn’t that I think we need more knitting or wood stacking shows. It’s that I want to see more experimentation in the medium. When I first began college, I was amazed to find out that the BBC showed sheep dog competitions on television. I wanted to see it because I wanted a chance to taste that culture in a way that eating bangers and mash can’t convey. Thanks Norway for sharing what makes you you. Please continue sharing. Please continue to use television as a dynamic medium.

There’s embed code on their site, so I am giving it a go:

31 Nights of Horror: An Epilogue

I’ve been doing 31 Nights of Horror for years. It’s a tradition stretching back nearly a decade now. Initially my brother and friends were who got my picks for the month. Later, the picks spread to Facebook. Now they’ve come to the web populace at large via this website.

Many people don’t like horror films. There are some people who don’t like the images they present or the stories they tell. They don’t like movies trying to scare them. These feelings and thoughts are entirely valid.

That said, many people have never seen really good horror pictures because the market has always been diluted with lowest common denominator dreck aimed at teenagers. The formula was distilled in the 70s and codified in the 80s. While these films might be shocking to the uninitiated, they aren’t really horror movies.

Real horror movies can appear in any genre. They are movies that make you feel the cold air in the darkened theater. They raise the hair on the back of your neck. They push you into uneasy emotional territory. The important thing is that they make you feel. The feelings they tap into are just as powerful as those touched by romances or dramas.

The emotion of being afraid is something we feel immediately upon entering this world. It comes from the loud sounds and bright lights that had previously been muted inside our mother’s wombs. It continues as we learn what is known and unknown. We know what’s in the light because we can see and touch it. What lingers in the dark? Wild animals who hunt nocturnally. That primal fear is mixed in our heads with everything else to form new horrors…horrors you are forced to watch in the theater of the mind. Watching, reading and listening to scary things is a way to inoculate ourselves. They allow us to temper our fears the same way your taste is tempered by spicy foods.

Remember this Halloween that scary things are out there. The only real protection is to face your fears one at a time. The easiest way is to return to the primal idea of the collective and shared risk. Go see a scary movie with friends or as part of the crowd at a movie theater. Your fear is reduced because you aren’t alone. This is the idea behind 31 Nights of Horror: Shared risk and enjoyment. In the age of so called “social media” what could be more appropriate?

31 Nights of Horror: An Index

Oct 1: House of Wax
Oct 2: Fascination

Oct. 3: NOS4A2

Oct. 4: Carnival of Souls

Oct. 5: Frailty

Oct 6: Wallace and Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Oct 7: Friday the 13th

Oct 8: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Oct 9: I Married a Witch

Oct 10: Tower of Evil

Oct 11: Gremlins 2

Oct 12: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oct 13: The Fog

Oct 14: Sinister

Oct 15: The Haunting

Oct 16: Pacific Rim

Oct 17: Warm Bodies

Oct 18: Arsenic and Old Lace

Oct 19: An American Werewolf in London

Oct 20: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Oct 21: Click-Clack the Rattlebag

Oct 22: The Howling

Oct 23: The Conjuring

Oct 24: Pit and the Pendulum

Oct 25: Rosemary’s Baby

Oct 26: Viy

Oct 27: Juan of the Dead

Oct 28: The Halloween Tree

Oct 29: Doctor Sleep

Oct 30: Orson Welles’ Production of ‘War of the Worlds’

Oct 31: Dracula: Prince of Darkness


31 Nights of Horror: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Halloween has arrived as has the final installment of 2013’s 31 Nights of Horror. Choosing a title for today was actually a little difficult. Fortunately Turner Classic Movies saw fit to provide a solution. While I have previously seen Hammer’s Horror of Dracula, I had not seen its 1966 sequel.

Horror of Dracula ended with Christopher Lee’s Dracula being reduced to ash via sunlight. I suspected that was the end of Dracula, and this sequel would simply ignore the prior film. Not so! Apparently in the 10 or so years between visitors to the ominous castle, Dracula’s henchmen swept up the ashes and kept them in a little box. He then proceeds to lure a few British tourists to the castle. One of them ventures off to investigate a noise and is killed and strung up over an open sarcophagus. The henchmen then drains the guy’s blood into it, mixing liberally with Dracula’s ashes. One misty revelation later, Dracula is returned. The man’s wife goes looking for her husband and becomes bride number one.

The other couple gets away, but in their escape, there is a carriage accident and the wife suffers a concussion. They are taken to the local monastery where they recover where Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor gives the lowdown on what’s going on. Dracula is still intent on gaining his second bride, though and mounts an assault on the monastery. He loses one bride, captures his desired number two and flees into the night back to his castle. Father Sandor and the husband pursue them and reach them just as they arrive outside the castle. The wife is rescued and Dracula meets his fate in one of the more original and rarely repeated ways in the book of vampire lore.

The film is a lot of fun. There is the gloomy castle. There is the bride of Dracula in a flowing evening gown. There’s the knowing priest who is also a man of action. Everything comes together nicely. You can’t top Christopher Lee as Dracula. But interestingly, he has no dialogue in this film. Lee said what was written was rubbish and he refused to say any of the lines. The film’s writer says he didn’t write any. It’s left for us to decide who’s telling the truth.

Given that vampires have been at a new peak in popularity the last few years, I was thinking about the ideas rooted in Dracula. Did Bram Stoker write Dracula as that Euro-trash guy who comes into the bar and leaves with the woman Stoker was trying to chat up? Is his ability to mesmerize women the writer’s crutch for why he couldn’t hold the interest of women when a man with a thick Eastern European accent came into the room? Probably there’s a paper in there somewhere if someone else hasn’t written it.