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THE GHOSTS IN THE LIVING ROOM

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Adam Curtis | 11:33 UK time, Thursday, 22 December 2011

Here is a ghost story for Christmas - it is a brief history of the appearance of ghosts and poltergeists and other spirits on television. Not fictional ghosts - but real ones, or the reports of their appearances, that you find in various news and documentary programmes.

But as so often when one looks at material in the archives, it turns out that it tells you less about the subjects of the programmes - the ghosts - than about the strange medium that possesses modern society - television.

In 1992 the BBC transmitted a drama that was based on a number of the factual reports I am going to show. The underlying aim of the makers of the drama was not just to frighten, but to demonstrate in a vivid way what had happened to the very idea of reality in television.

It was called Ghostwatch, and it caused a national sensation because thousands of viewers believed it was real. And, at the time, the BBC promised never to show it again.

I want to tell the story of the rise of the suburban poltergeist in factual TV from the 1970s onwards, how those reports inspired Ghostwatch, and how the extraordinary reaction on the night Ghostwatch was transmitted in 1992 showed clearly where the real ghosts of our society had now gone to live. They are inside television itself  - a strange nether world of PR-driven half truths, synthetic personalities, and waves of apocalyptic fear.

 

In the 1950s and early 1960s the reporting of ghosts on television followed the classical rules. The hauntings were in old houses, stately homes, or ancient ruins. Here is a perfect example. It is from the Tonight programme in 1963. The reporter also follows an accepted format - he is indulgently sceptical, but brings with him a religious "expert" who is going to exorcise the presence.

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But then, in the early 1970s, there was a peculiar change. The ghosts moved. They gave up haunting old castles and ruins and moved into the most ordinary suburban houses.

The battle between good and evil was now relocated into the suburban kitchens, bedrooms and even the stairs of modern Britain. Throughout, the ghosts also showed perfect taste in wallpaper.

Here is an extract from one of the earliest. It is the haunting of a council house in Swindon in 1973.

At this stage the film-makers are still following the classical editorial model. The local vicar brings in a religious "expert" to expel the poltergeist. The vicar smokes a fantastic pipe - and there is a wonderful shot of the Mr and Mrs Pellymounter watching the exorcism.

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As the suburban hauntings multiplied in the mid 1970s, the approach of the programme-makers changed. The idea of exorcism disappeared and the TV reporters decided to turn to science. They would use special recording equipment to discover whether the hauntings were real, and the stories were turned into a battle between superstition and reason.
 
Here is part of a film made by the BBC Northeast regional magazine programme in 1975. It's about a 1960s block of maisonettes that have been built over an old disused coal mine just outside Newcastle.

The reporter and the crew decide to stay all night in an empty flat - and set up their special cameras and audio recording equipment.

There also a wonderful long-held shot in which one of the haunted occupants shows the reporter what the spirit did with his golf clubs.

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The poltergeists kept spreading.

In January 1977 one turned up at 16 Ruskin Road, Dartford in Kent. Ann and Barry Robertson who lived there were terrified and are fleeing the house as the film starts.

There is a change in this film. The suburban couple at the heart of the story are no longer secondary figures in the story. They turn it into an emotional melodrama where they become the focus - Ann especially who has an epic turn of phrase:

"I can't even face taking the furniture with me because this thing - whatever it is - has interfered with my home. It's touched my things. And I'm so frightened that I won't even take the things with me now. So we're back to square one where we started. With nothing"

Suddenly suburbia becomes not boring - but sinister, mysterious and epic.

The film also interviews the man from Dartford Council who Ann and Barry are demanding rehouse them. He is sympathetic but then comes out with a great quote - "I'm afraid the Dartford Council Transfer Points Scheme doesn't recognise ghosts - and therefore they can't be pointed".

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And then - ten months later in November 1977 - the Nationwide programme made a film which brought all the elements of the modern haunted house together into a perfect form. And it also introduced a powerful new character into the melodrama - the psychic investigator who was determined to prove that the haunting was real.

A poltergeist had apparently turned up in a house in the north London suburb of Ponders End in the borough of Enfield. The Nationwide film was going to make this house famous.

 

And along with the house, the film would also make a star out of this man - he was Maurice Grosse who was an investigator for the Society for Psychical Research. Maurice Grosse would come to dominate the TV-ghostworld interface.

 

The film is beautifully made. It is possibly the best evocation of the mood that is at the heart of all these film reports - a transformation of the dull interior of an ordinary suburban house into an intense psycho-drama where even the most mundane of objects, in this case a Lego-block, becomes possessed by an inner destructive force.

And the poltergeist has by now gone beyond wallpaper. It has chosen the most wonderful bedroom to live in. The walls are covered with Bay City Rollers and David Soul posters. And the shot of an elderly psychic investigator sitting among the images of late 70s teen dreams while listening to the recordings of himself communicating with the poltergeist is just brilliant.

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The fascination with the Enfield haunting didn't stop there. Two years later BBC Scotland made another film inside the house.

This time they concentrated on the two daughters  - Margaret and Janet Hodgson. The crew filmed the two girls as the poltergeist seems to speak through Janet, the strange voice coming and going in front of the camera.

 

It is weird and a bit frightening - but you also think that she may be faking it. And it is fascinating to watch the long held shots of the two daughters, studying their faces to try and work out what they are up to. And it introduces a new element into these haunting stories - that children are not innocent, but potentially malicious and a bit dangerous (like in The Innocents). A modern fear that was going to grow much bigger in the 1990s - especially again on TV.

The girls have since said that they faked some of the incidents in the house. But they insist that they were only doing this to test and tease Mr Grosse - and that much of it was real.

The Scottish crew had also got their own mini-scoop. They persuaded the police who had seen the chair levitate inside the house in 1977 to describe it. It is a fantastic two-shot.

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The Enfield haunting became famous, and so did the psychic investigator, Maurice Grosse. He was completely convinced by the two Hodgson girls from Ponders End  and it launched him on a thirty-year odyssey to try and fight against the rise of what he saw as a narrow-minded sceptical rationalism in Britain.

Grosse was a wonderful person. He died in 2006 aged 87. He had been trained as an engineer - and back in the 1940s he had become an inventor. His most famous invention was called "The Cost-Effective Poster Machine". It is better known as the rotating poster display which you can still see today at thousands of bus stops.

 

In 1976 Maurice Grosse's 22 year old daughter died in a traffic accident. It devastated both him and his wife. But then Maurice came to believe that his daughter was trying to make contact with him from beyond the grave. This led him to join the Society for Psychical Research - and that took him into the Enfield house just a year later.

Maurice Grosse was well aware that his quest to contact the supernatural was driven by the intense feelings of loss he had experienced through his daughter's death. This made him intensely sympathetic to the people he encountered in his investigations.

In 1996 Grosse made a Video Diary with the BBC. He went around with a Hi-8 camera, operating it himself. He then had full editorial control - and used it to put together a beautiful and moving film.

It is structured around various of his visits to hauntings - both past and present - but he uses that structure to also tell the story of his life - both factual and emotional. He describes his daughter's death and the feelings that raised in him, and the odyssey it led him into, in a very moving way.

One of the most touching moments is when he sits in an ordinary living room and talks to a couple who believe their dead son appears to them on their television. Grosse himself then becomes overtaken by emotion and has to leave the room

As you watch the film it becomes clear that Grosse believes that it is these intense feelings that give people, and the places they live in, the power to summon up poltergeists. The feelings give people something special - the power to pierce through the disappointing reality of their suburban lives and enter into something new and special. Another, and possibly better, world of high drama and raised emotion.

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In 1988 a TV dramatist called Stephen Volk had an idea for a six-part drama based on all these suburban hauntings - the story would focus on how television had reported them. Volk's original idea was to have a TV reporter team up with a psychical researcher to investigate the haunting of a contemporary London council house. It was going to culminate in the final episode with a live broadcast from the house - and all hell was going to break loose.

Then Volk's producer, Ruth Baumgarten, suggested that instead they make a one-off play based on the sixth episode. Volk agreed. And he immediately realised that he could use the structure of a live outside broadcast to make a powerful drama that demonstrated dramatically what was happening to television as a medium - how the line between reality and fiction was getting blurred.

Out of that came Ghostwatch.

 

A few years ago Stephen Volk wrote a fantastic essay about the making of Ghostwatch. It was published by the Fortean Times. And you can find the whole thing here.

In it Volk describes his underlying aim - to make people look at what was happening to reality on television:

Ghostwatch was, of course, also about television.

It’s quite difficult now to think back to the televisual landscape of 1992. Formats that dissolve the boundaries between factual and fictional TV have since become the staple diet of the schedules, and it’s difficult to imagine a world where they were new or unusual. But this was the time of the first successful hybrids: docu-dramas and drama-docs. Drama series like NYPD Blue increasingly employed a hand-held camera style derived from documentary realism, and documentaries like Crimewatch and 999 were full of reconstructions using actors mix-and-matched to real footage of real people.

Ruth, the producer, and I discussed how we both felt we could no longer trust what we were seeing, what we were being shown or told by TV. The lines between the once distinct languages of factual and fictional TV were becoming dangerously blurred. Even the CNN Gulf War reports on Newsnight (with the infrared camerawork we duplicated in Ghostwatch) felt suspect, somehow unreliable. What was drama and what was not?

But then Volk added a line that I think goes to the heart of what has happened to TV ever since. The strange paradox that, at the very time that the audience is becoming more and more aware that not everything on TV is real, that same audience feel that if an event appears on TV - that is a guide to whether it is real or not.

Yet, paradoxically, television had also become the arbiter of reality, as John Waite exemplified on hearing of the release of his hostage cousin Terry in November 1991: “I won’t believe it until I see it on TV.”

 

Ghostwatch was transmitted on Halloween 1992. It was quite obvious from both the introduction and the titles that it was a work of fiction. But the reaction was astonishing - thousands of people rang in - either terrified or angry or to report that they were experiencing paranormal activity in their house at that very moment.

The next day there was a media storm - and the BBC reacted in its normal courageous way by burying the programme and disowning it. The Radio Times was apparently told never to mention it ever again. And Volk has described how it was like being airbrushed out of a photograph in Stalinist Russia.

But the extraordinary reaction rather proved the central aim of the drama.

It demonstrated the truth about modern television - that we all know that increasingly the line between fiction and non-fiction is blurred on TV. But far from making us distrust television this actually makes it more powerful. It possesses our imagination more powerfully precisely because we don't know what is real and what is not.

I think the reason is that, from the early 1990s onwards, the big confident stories of our time started to collapse, and people were faced instead with an everyday reality composed only of small and mostly mundane fragments. In the face of that, factual television has increasingly become a two-dimensional version of our world where everything is amplified and distorted.

News reporting and factual television are populated today by a strange nether world of PR-driven half truths, synthetic personalities and waves of apocalyptic fear. It is a world that is like ours but is exaggerated - weird, wonderful and frightening.

It is just like living in a haunted suburban house on the fringes of North London - except that it is now the whole world. All the mundane and banal aspects of reality are taken and infused with an hysterical intensity - that we are both fascinated by and terrified of - whether it be food or Al Qaida. Yet we know in our hearts that much of this is either distorted or just untrue.

It is the true spirit world of our time

 

It is made even weirder because, at the same time, audiences are shown harsh and terrifying moments of reality, but they are also insubstantial 2D images flickering on a box in the living room. They don't feel real, they look like a ghost world. Here is an example.

The tiny white figures you see that look like ghosts are actually still alive. But probably not for very long.

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And here are some extracts from Ghostwatch - which show how much it was rooted in the suburban poltergeist reports of the 1970s. But also how it used them to brilliantly evoke the mood at the heart of today's television - where so much is half-fiction and half-real.

It is also very frightening - and a brilliant piece of TV drama. Just remember it's not real.

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks Adam. Spent a whole month going through all your previous blogs. You're a great storyteller. Trying to use some of your work and the theories you have bought up for an upcoming documentary of mine. Would love to have some input from you if you ever have a few spare minutes. Omar.

  • Comment number 2.

    Great piece, Adam! We were wondering if you might want to join us on our radio show "Spooky Southcoast" sometime in the new year to discuss this further. Our website is www.spookysouthcoast.com and you can reach me at tim@spookysouthcoast.com. Thank you for your work!

  • Comment number 3.

    This looks fantastic, can't wait to watch all the vids when I get in.

    People who like this might like one of Adam's doc from the Living Dead series. It makes a point at the end of one episode about the mediating of the experience of the (first) Gulf War, which this post reminded me off - particularly the thermal imaging bit. I think it's On The Desperate Edge Of Now.

    Also, I don't know if it's relevant, but it occured to me. When Stephen King was asked about Kubrick's version of The Shining he said he didn't like it, partly because the film emphasised Jack's innate psychopathy, as opposed to the evil environment of the Overlook. That just occured to me, it seems relevant.

  • Comment number 4.

    Brilliant stuff Adam - and you've scared the crip out of me yet again. It seems to me, when all said and done, a frightened human being is the most frightening thing imaginable. What we can do and how we think when we think we are threatened is scary. And how the powerful others manipulate this phenomena every day through the media is the most frightening thing of all. Great stuff. But very scary.

  • Comment number 5.

    Great blog... Giving the viewer more of what he wants and less of what he needs.

  • Comment number 6.

    Apologies, earlier the program I'm referring to is actually You Have Used Me As A Fish Long enough.

    Watch 'em both anyway, treat yourself. It's Christmas after all.

  • Comment number 7.

    Well done and unexpected to quote myself "this makes one think the Matrix was a documentary." A one two punch first reifing, then recouping. Tunneling the arm then the chest kite to the viewer's heart(martial arts jargon seems appropriate.) This is something only the still guys got right: McCallum, Smith and Capa. Even Coutard and Wexler's equipment got in the way. Thank you for showing how it's done; dragging the project off into a dark dark alley. Thank you.
    and letting the zombies (or suits) have their way with the idea.

  • Comment number 8.

    Fascinating as always, Adam - though I'm biased on this one, as this kind of material is my life's blood: my PhD was actually a specialisation in study of historical reports of poltergeist activity in the 15th - 18th centuries (I kid you not) and I have lectured to the Society for Psychical Research and the Ghost Club on it (in fact, I'm not 100% sure that Guy Lyon Playfair, who investigated in Enfield, didn't sit in on my lecture!). I know this footage surprisingly well, but it's always very exciting to see it again. Incidentally, I was always convinced that, while the first reports of something akin to poltergeists are truly ancient, there is a massive new prevalence accorded this type of haunting in accounts from the late 16th onwards. My conviction was that, in an increasingly Protestantised (and/or Counter Reformational) environment there was less and less conviction being accorded to reports of ghosts that actually held intentions (i.e. things like requesting their percipients help generate dispensation from Purgatory for them) and more and more accorded to apparent 'intercessions' that came with no obvious rhyme and reason, and did not manifest in a corporeal form. So, in my opinion, the modern obsession with the poltergeist in fact has its origins in the Reformation. Just a thought!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Clever touch to get Michael Parkinson and Sarah Greene involved in the Ghostwatch drama. Their participation lent "credibility" to the project. Makes you wonder how much viewers rely on the presence of a celebrity to judge the authenticity of a TV project. If, say, actors like David Duchovny or Patrick Stewart had done the commentator roles, would Ghostwatch have received the kind of attention it did?

    One is reminded of stories about Orson Welles's 1938 radio adaptation of H G Wells's The War of the Worlds which reportedly caused panic among listeners in the US. The radio drama was presented as a series of news bulletins. Welles may have got the idea from Ronald Knox who in 1926 presented "Broadcasting from the Barricades", a hoax report of London being stormed by revolutionaries on the BBC: the hoax included apparent live reports of buildings being blown up and a government minister being "roasted alive" in Trafalgar Square.

    Format is important and the more realistic something sounds, especially with all the right effects and an "expert", the more people are likely to fall for the hoax.

    Incidentally I was reminded of some other mockumentary-type films I've seen: "The Blair Witch Project" which itself was inspired by Ghostwatch and Ruggero Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust", another mockumentary; Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's "Catfish", about a man seeking a child artist and her mother online through Facebook; and Remy Belvaux, Benoit Poelvoorde and Andre Bonzel's "Man Bites Dog" in which a film crew follows a serial killer around his home town: that one is such a classic.

    And can't forget Daniel Minahan's "Series 7: The Contenders" about contestants in a reality TV series who have to kill each other with the last person standing going into the next series and which has that hilarious scene where the reigning champ gives birth and the woman about to do her in happens to be a nurse and has to deliver the baby. Kinji Fukasaku's "Battle Royale" also springs to mind.

    I have seen "You have used me as a Fish long enough" and though it was quite good in parts, it should have referred to the entire MK ULTRA program as Ewen Cameron's work was part of that project and also PROJECT ARTICHOKE and a fair few others that continued up to the 1970s. A much better program in this regard is Scott Noble's "Human Resources" whose second half is entirely devoted to investigating the CIA's brainwashing programs and briefly touches on TV as the ultimate mind control instrument in which flickering moving images encourage a passive and suggestible state of mind.

  • Comment number 10.

    @ theartteacher2: Noted your comment about "The Living Dead" series. Think I'll pass up seeing Episode 3 "The Attic". I've just seen the trailer for "The Iron Lady" and it was quite horrific. I went to see Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" at the cinema yesterday and had to sit through the trailer. Creepy and monstrous. After that, anything was welcome comic relief and "Melancholia", for all its Lars von Trier mannerisms and concerns (the universe as malevolent and hostile to humankind, science and faith as useless in the face of doom, depression as escape and freedom from marriage, family and home life which are portrayed as empty), didn't disappoint at all - it was very blackly humorous!

    But Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher making herself into the eponymous Frankensteinian monster - that takes some beating. Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" doesn't even begin to compare - it's print after all and you can always put it down if it gets too much!

    Then I read the letters page in The Sydney Morning Herald and noted one male letter-writer saying that seeing the trailer reminded him too much of what he lived through in the 1980s and he was reduced to crying!

    "The Iron Lady" opens in Sydney cinemas on Boxing Day and I imagine everyone I know will be clamouring to see it. I don't know if I want to see it. Probably will, if only to know what the water-cooler conversation will turn on at work. Naturally I have little idea of what it'll be about but the trailer suggests the woman in the process of making over her image from dowdy housewife politician who doesn't stand out in the crowd to a steely and immaculate superbitch. (What I wouldn't give for some of that superbitch stuff in my own way next time I talk to my pal from these comments forums who dive-bombed my email address with his own version of shock treatment.) Already the talk is on about Streep walking off with the Best Actress Oscar at next year's Academy Awards presentation hoopla.

    Actually, come to think of it, it probably would be good to see "The Iron Lady" if only to see how much public relations came to bear on Thatcher's post-1979 style and presentation in a pop-culture format and how much of an impact she made on British politics and the economy, especially after 1986 when the finance industry was deregulated. Will just have to find a specially made Kevlar vest that deflects the worst radiation and wear special glasses so I get what I need.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thank you Adam. Another excellent read. What I enjoy about your blogs is that I can savour them over a few hours or a day and take it all in. Three things of note;

    1. The devastation delivered from above in the bombing clip is truly awful. Did you set it to the music yourself? If so what is the music used? Sounds similar to the current hauntology style of music emerging from the UK. I'm also interested to know more details about that film as a whole, what sought of gun-ship was it? I guess it really disturbed me and I want some back story to help contextualise what I saw?(Which kind of fits in neatly to the general message of the blog).

    2. Didn't realise Catfish was a hoax! Stunned I was taken in by it. What a good hoax.

    3. I must've been at the youth club in 92 and missed Ghostwatch but can't believe how anyone could be taken in by Sarah Greene's pretending? Truly dreadful acting but to be fair she was simply a children's presenter. As a child I really didn't like her and found her very patronizing, I was probably misunderstanding my true feelings, that of teenage lust. Sarah Greene... Where are you now?

  • Comment number 12.

    I also forgot to mention to anyone interested that there is a good documentary on the Enfield Poltergiest available on youtube.

    Once again thanks Adam

  • Comment number 13.

    The more I am thinking about this post the more interesting it becomes. I think the central point is a neat reversal (i.e. that as the tales of fiction perhaps masquerading as fact become ever more prevalent on television so, too, does it become harder to distinguish the fact from fiction - very Baudrillard!), and there is an interesting hint about the vacuity of modern celebrity being rooted in the banal being promoted to the status of the epic, though both of these claims are, as usual with Adam, at least a little tangentially inferred from the original material! But it's certainly great original material!

    An earlier poster mentioned David Duchovny (and how his presence in a capacity as a host of a 'Ghostwatch' like piece might well have rendered it less, rather than more, conviction) - interestingly, 'The X-Files' began broadcasting in the US in the same year that 'Ghostwatch' aired, and the very first episode was presented in the style of a typical US TV movie, with a disclaimer to the effect that all elements in the programme were based on recorded events. Another interesting blurring of the televisual line between fact and fiction, with the programme going on to revisit many of these peculiar 'boundary' issues throughout its run. I remember strongly how, in the early years of the show at least, there was a drive to attempt to give the fictional underpinnings a veneer of 'honesty' by elaborating stories on the basis of recorded material so that, even though one was never in any doubt here that what was being watched was a fiction, there was always the lurking suspicion that the story had truth at its core. That Mulder's character was an assiduous believer in everything and Scully a consistently rational sceptic actually served to give the show more versimilitude than it might otherwise have had. And all of this was part of the 'true to life' tradition that the 'X Files' followed in: the Betty and Barney Hill UFO abduction case, one of the most foundational of modern ufology in the sense that it gave the world an awareness of the existence of alien 'Greys' and their tendencies to wish to experiment medically upon human beings, first came to prominent attention in the US in the 70's...when a TV Movie was made about it.

    I was also fascinated by Adam's take on the poltergeist tale somehow imbuing the banal with the force of the numinous: this is actually quite close to the argument I used to make about it when I was studying it - it is a peculiarly domesticated form of haunting. Interestingly, in his otherwise quite literary essay, it is preci

  • Comment number 14.

    precisely this contrast - a disjunction between the quotidian everyday and the apperance of a force of inexplicable efficacy - that defines the sense of the 'uncanny' (or 'unheimlich') in Freud's formulation - which the psychologist saw as being the basis of all nightmare. As I said in the last post, having studied it, I don't think there is anything especially new about the treatment accorded the poltergeist: I can point you to cases from the 17th and 18th centuries which are peculiarly reminiscent of everything that seems to stem from these cases of late 1970's vintage (!), but Adam recognises that the power of television to transmit these stories seems to give them an even greater 'uncanny' power than they possessed in any time prior. A great observation!

    Finally, if one is talking about the origination of the blurring of the line between fiction and fact on screen - at least, as long as we take the big, rather than small, screen into account - one cannot fail to recall Orson Welle's 'F For Fake' (1974) containing no supernatural, let alone 'ghostly' elements, but consistently blurring the line between the fact that it constitutes a documentary based on hoaxers, may contain some reconstructions of their lives that are falsified, seems to contain references to hoaxes that never actually happened, and has often combined footage together in the edit suite that constitutes faked dialogues that never actually occurred.

  • Comment number 15.

    @ 77mathews: "Catfish" did involve a hoax but it was the film-makers who were being duped by the mother of the "artist". The "artist" supposedly had a sister who fell in love with the brother of one of the film-makers and he with her. Something prompted them to suspect all was not well with the sister so they had to investigate. They went to Ishpeming and discovered the "sister" didn't exist and the 8-year-old "artist" was not an artist.

    @ Leeravitz: Never saw The X-Files series but I understand there were several story arcs? Several episodes in a season shared similar themes and the themes changed from season to season. With each revisit of a theme the mythology associated with it became deeper and more complex. I believe current seasons of Doctor Who (Matt Smith) are attempting something similar; I lost interest in Doctor Who shortly after Smith started and haven't seen any of the recent episodes.

    Don't forget also that with cult TV series like The X-Files that fans often produce their own "episodes" and "versions" that take up particular themes and plot strands and run with them. Are these any less "legitimate" than the official episodes?

  • Comment number 16.

    @ Nausika: The 'X - Files' eventually crafted for itself a single major story arc (principally concerned with the notion of an international conspiracy hiding the existence of extraterrestrial intervention on Earth), although this was quite a gradual process: while the very first episode was already concerned with the issue of dealing with the claims of UFO abductees, it is evident that the writers did not set out initially to craft a coherent arc story (indeed, back in the early 90's, the basic notion that a television programme would have an internally consistent central plotline that would deepen as the season wore on, was still really in its infancy). They came to the conclusion, after two or three seasons, that the need to develop a solid arc was required and attempted (with, IMO, patchy success) to justify the notion that this had been what they had intended all along in the latter stages of the programme's run.

    By the end of its run, 'X-Files' had, I think it's safe to say, 'jumped the shark', and lost contact with what had made it an interesting piece in the first instance (and which the development of an arc story increasingly concerned with deepening in-series mythology did little to forestall). In essence, this is the feature I was alluding to (perhaps too obscurely) in the last post: the fact that the 'X-Files' initially had verisimilitude (or the appearance of verisimilitude, at least) on its side. For the first couple of seasons, considerable service was paid to the idea that, at the root of the typically escapist and adventure oriented episodes, lay a basis of fact (or, at least, real world reportage). The first episode made a claim to the effect that all material was based on 'recorded instances' - although this was disingenuous, it is certainly true that all of the strange results attributed to UFO's and abductions in this pilot are as reported in the given literature on the subject. Later episodes derived material from allusions to the real-life testing of the Aurora project, unusual biological entities (such as 'brain eating' amoebas and extremophile bacterias), research into rare medical conditions and scientific disciplines (progeria, cryogenics) etc. The very final episode of the first season took hold of a (then) very topical story - about a woman who had supposedly been operated on in a US Emergency Room and whose body had seemed to give off toxic fumes that felled the surgeons (this case has, in the years since, become increasingly well referenced in US medical literature - no firm solution has ever been given, but the theory is t

  • Comment number 17.

    is that an anomalous chemical reaction with a dimethyl sulfoxide home remedy had occurred). The 'X-Files' ran with this, developing a whole tall tale concerning human-alien hybrids, and ultimately making great play of the fact that an 'oily sheen' had been claimed to have been seen covering the victim's body. I find this tendency in 'X-Files' history to be extremely interesting because (like 'Ghostwatch') it represents a determined blurring between fact and fiction.

    Later in its broadcast history, the 'X -Files' became increasingly fictitious in content, and increasingly self - referential (which does not stop Season 3's 'Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' - a satire on 'Strange but True' Investigation programmes - from being a minor masterpiece). At this point, I grew rather less interested in it as a programme, however. Still, even as late as the late 90's, it was occasionally making the odd topical allusion, and developing further stories rooted in reference to contemporary topics – for example, there was a later episode devoted to discussing the possibility of life on Mars being transferred to Earth in the wake of the discovery of a (real world) Martian rock fragment, said to have contained apparent traces of long dead bacteria. In the early 21st century, J.J. Abram’s series ‘Fringe’ has, to all intents and purposes, resurrected the ‘X-Files’ formula with conspicuous success for a new generation – but it has always prided itself on storytelling over and above verisimilitude and I don’t hold the same interest in it.

  • Comment number 18.

    @ Everyone: Try this for a laugh - you've all heard of the Illuminati, right? The famous underground global conspiracy network that supposedly controls governments, banks and corporations? Now try spelling the name backwards; you will get "itanimulli" which sounds like something straight out of the Mayan or Quechuan languages. Now type www.itanimulli.com next time you're doing a search and see what you get.

    It's hilarious! Someone out there has a black sense of humour!

    @ Leeravitz: The history of The X-Files episodes sounds like the script-writers initially had the balance of verisimilitude and fiction about right but possibly came under pressure from the studio or the public or whoever to write wackier stories to maintain ratings as the show continued and had to compete with upcoming competition in the same evening time slots. I think once a TV show becomes self-referential in a shallow way or starts making references to phenomena outside the show that only its die-hard followers know, it's showing signs of smugness and insularity that would be a turn-off for casual viewers or people who follow the show faithfully(that is, they never miss an episode) but otherwise don't obsessively lap up every detail about the show, its plots and what the plots miss out or lead to.

    I'm not familiar with how script-writers were employed by Hollywood in those days. Did shows like The X-Files rely on a revolving set of script-writers who also worked for other TV shows or was it assigned one or two script-writers who had to nut out the scripts for an entire season? Traditionally a TV show was assigned a small number of writers (or maybe even just the one) who wrote all the stories for the season or several seasons and usually after midway through the second or third season the scripts would get very tired and repetitive. But by the late 1980s (I think), Hollywood was using several writers for the one show.

    A cult show like The X-Files needs to have several good writers who can source lots of intriguing yet realistically grounded ideas from unlikely contexts and this is an area where film studios could invite fans, aspiring writers, students of creative writing and even readers of media like The Fortean Times to contribute scripts or ideas for scripts.

    If you look at the Doctor Who episodes listed here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/doctor-who/6199603/Doctor-Who-Top-10-fans-vote-for-all-time-best-episode.html, you will find they were the work of several writers including Robert Holmes (alone or in collaboration), Douglas Adams, Terry Nation, Chris Boucher who invented the character of Leela, Russell T Davies, Steven Moffat and Paul Cornell. Many of these writers have worked on other TV shows (Terry Nation did work for several British and American TV shows with a spy theme, often a spy theme shot through with science fiction and occult ideas: some old 1960s shows like The Avengers, The Champions and Department S, which he contributed to, come to mind and The Avengers still gets a work-out in Australia on Channel 9 in the wee hours of the morning) and in other media (Paul Cornell now does work for DC Comics, the home of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Black Canary, Aquaman and others).

    Part of the reason that I no longer watch Doctor Who is that there's something superficial and one-dimensional about the direction that the show's going in. There used to be a sub-text in the episodes of the late 1970s that hinted at exploring the psychological history of British colonialism and its effects, usually unfavourable, on both coloniser and colonised alike. There were stories where the Time Lords would toss the Doctor into situations he had to fix because in the distant past the Time Lords had intervened and messed up big-time and the context subsequently changed such that an emergency presented itself or the natives were being oppressed by an alien force. I guess though that in the post-9/11 age such stories can no longer be told.

  • Comment number 19.

    @Nausika: The history of the writing of 'The X -Files' is quite complicated. It was definitely the brain child of a single creator, Chris Carter (who was to it what e.g. Gene Rodenberry was to Star Trek) and Carter always had a primary motivating influence over the direction the series took (plus taking writing duties on many of the key 'story arc' episodes). However, he was initially rather vague about how much of an 'in show mythology' he wished to build up, and appeared to rather like apeing the style of older, 70's style US shows which had emphasised the week-by-week format of storytelling (a particular influence was 'Kolchak, The Nightstalker', readily acknowledged). Other than essentially coming up with the idea that UFO lore was (relatively) unconventional material to draw upon in the early 90's (as opposed to tried and trusted material relating to e.g. ghosts or werewolves etc.), and positing a basic notion that a government sponsored cover-up of extraterrestrial existence was in play, there was no real story arc as such defined by Carter for the first season.

    As time wore on, the fans began to pick more holes in plot contradictions, and it appears that pressure was placed upon Carter by his writing team to deepen the 'story arc' work in order to make the series more sustainable and more coherent. Certain individual writers, like Frank Spotnitz (apt name!) were drafted in as script doctors at this point, and arc stories grew deeper. However, there was always a revolving roster of writers working on 'X - Files' under Carter's guiding hand, and it is widely recognised by fans that often his work was less effective than that of writers, such as the much feted Derren Morgan, who actually eschewed the arc plotting in favour of their own postmodern takes on the central material! It's possible some pressure was felt from the networks to make the show more easy to follow, deepen a romantic relationship between the leads (which Carter was always dead against, as he wanted the partnership to be strictly business led) and so on, but pressure was also being felt from the writers themselves, I believe (not to mention the fans).

    In my personal opinion, the main reason that the verisimilitude went off the boil is because there were only so many variations on Fortean type stories that could be told season by season. Once you have told a 'nuts and bolts' vampire story, ghost story, abduction story, feral human story, cryptozoological story etc. - the next time you do one, you have to come up with more random elements to keep the story fresh, and the%2

  • Comment number 20.

    more you do this, the more and more it becomes fully fictionalised and departs from a grounding in 'real world' reference. I think that most of the writers were actually avid Forteans and were employed in large part because they were so well versed in this kind of material. But they gradually needed to ring changes on the same old scenarios. I suspect they composed on a typical writers' room basis with Carter overseeing the major meetings, and individual writers being pitched plotlines that they were then left free to develop. This seems very different to what I understand the methodology on 'classic' Doctor Who to have been - where I believe many of the scripts were submitted first (on the basis of a rough idea) and then edited to fit specifications.

    I say this because I am also a great Doctor Who fan, and know a tremendous amount about what they have now taken to calling 'the classic series', so I suspect you are preaching to the converted in my case. I, too, have little time for the modern version of the series. My take is, in fact, that the story editor's imprint has been allowed to colour the entire mythology that is propagated to an extent unprecedented in earlier decades, and Russell Davies and Steven Moffatt have both followed very much their own agendas in redefining the parameters of the programme. But I also suspect that going into this too deeply on Adam's blog is going way off topic!

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    @ Leeravitz: Thanks for the explanation. I've just had a look at the list of The X-Files episodes on Wikipedia (they have their own entry) and I can see in the early seasons a large group of writers wrote scripts but over time the show relies increasingly on Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban to write the bulk of the stories in most seasons and other assorted writers to write the remainder. I note that in Season 5, Stephen King co-wrote a story with Chris Carter ("Chinga") and cyberpunk sci-fi writers William Gibson and Tom Maddox co-wrote "Kill Switch". Gibson and Maddox also did "First Person Shooter" for Season 7.

    What could The X-Files have been if it could have attracted more spceulative fiction writers like King, Gibson and Maddox to contribute ideas and scripts for the show! The same applies to all other sci-fi shows and movies. Why can't there be more interactions between speculative fiction writing and sci-fi / horror films?

    I don't think it is going off the topic talking about Doctor Who as that show did have one adventure "The Deadly Assassin" that came in for criticism from the self-styled morals campaigner Mary Whitehouse in the late 1970s. She complained about a cliffhanger scene in which the Doctor is almost drowned that ends one episode and worried that children would remember it obsessively for a week until the next episode screened. Now if you go to www.imdb.com and read the user reviews of "Ghostwatch", you'll see a lot of them are by people who saw the show as children and who were spooked by it. This begs the question of how much influence television has over people whose level of mental development is unprepared to take in what they see and to interpret what they do see. What is it about sci-fi and horror that people think these genres are suitable for children? Do children take in "messages" that might not even exist in some films or does most of the content fly over their heads and all they might remember is the pyrotechnics?

    Like "Ghostwatch" which influenced "The Blair Witch Project", "The Deadly Assassin" is said to have been an influence on The Matrix movie franchise. Ideas do get recycled over and over!

  • Comment number 23.

    Roughly 32% of people are susceptible to the placebo effect. Such persons are not really in a position to make their own decisions. They fall for anything. Political theories, religious cults, new age healing, etc.

    There should be a test for such weak mindedness. Like getting your drivers license such people should not be allowed all the responsibilities of adulthood until they develop some critical faculties.

  • Comment number 24.

    @ Nausika, children like those kinds of stories; they find suspension of disbelief easier, hence they are more powerful to them. Children are also more consciously engaged in trying to work out what is going on (generally, in reality, I mean) and therefore are attracted to stories that give alternative explanations to those that are more obviously served up in their daily reality. A development of this is that teenagers and young adults seem more likely to be attracted to rigid political ideologies that seek to provide means to explain causes and effects and supply solutions to all problems. Incidentally, one of the things I so enjoy about Adam's films is his obsession with unexpected effects. Mainstream media finds this hard to deal with, it doesn't like to go back to look at causes that much.

    @ nemo888. Your examples of what people fall for should include advertising. But if you don't allow people the responsibilities of adulthood, what do you do with them instead? Erm..... hmm.

  • Comment number 25.

    @ nemo888: Don't be too hard on people. Format - that is, the way ideas and information are presented - can have a significant effect on the way people believe something is true or not, or choose between options. Look at this classic problem: a disease breaks out in a community of 600 and there are 2 possible methods to beat it but only one can be used.

    Method A: you save 200 people for sure
    Method B: 600 people are saved with a probability of 33%

    You ask most people which method they'd choose and they'll pick Method A.

    Now you rephrase the problem so the methods read like this:

    Method A: 400 die for certain
    Method B: there's a probability of 67% that 600 die

    Most people, when asked which method they would use, say Method B.

    But in fact Method A remains exactly the same (200 are saved so 400 die) and Method B is also the same (if there's a 33% likelihood that 600 will live, then the likelihood that 600 will die is 67%) - the difference is that when we first phrased the options, we phrased them in terms of people saved and when we phrased the options again, we phrased them in terms of people lost.

    In the case of "Ghostwatch", the presence of Michael Parkinson encouraged a lot of people to think that the events shown were for real as he is not normally associated with presenting shows of a fictional nature. The famous "War of the Worlds" hoax by Orson Welles was presented in the form of a series of news bulletins and unless people were loyal listeners of the radio station that presented the hoax, they were not likely to be aware that what they were hearing was not for real. Many people who were taken in by the radio hoax had merely dipped into listening to the radio station at a particular time when one of the "news bulletins" was being broadcast.

    I suppose that like most people, when you heard that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the 2009 presidential elections in Iran and the media in the West proclaimed that widespread fraud had taken place, that you took it for granted that that is what happened? Because we are conditioned to believe that Ahmadinejad is an anti-Semitic populist bad-guy demagogue, anything he does or might do is always put in a bad light, so it's very easy for us to think he's capable of electoral fraud.

    Unfortunately the truth is that the Washington Post conducted a pre-poll of voters across Iran before the elections and found that two-thirds of voters were going to vote for Ahmadinejad anyway. He is a savvy politician (he has an engineering background and a PhD in traffic management) who campaigned across the country for three months, visiting rural communities, while his main opponent Mir Hossain Moussavi (who was "supposed" to win) did very little campaigning and hardly left the cities. Significantly Moussavi failed to win areas in northwestern Iran which are supposed to be his ethnic base (he is ethnic Azeri and that part of Iran is more Azeri than Persian).

    We can't really test for "weak mindedness" - how would we define it anyway? And usually when people fall for religious cults or medical quacks, they do so because they may be going through a crisis in their lives (divorce, family break-up, someone has an incurable disease, someone was killed violently) and they're desperate for any help they can get. Young people who get caught up in cults are often very naive and have lived sheltered lives with respect to experience of religion. When I was much younger, I nearly got swallowed by a Scientology cult because I had never heard of Scientology before and when I was approached by someone conducting a "survey", I was quite open-minded and had no inkling that there was an agenda behind the survey.

  • Comment number 26.

    @ T73: Only just saw your comment when I posted Comment 25. What I meant to say was I wonder how much television can influence naive people who may not be in a position to judge what they are watching because they lack knowledge about the subject at hand. As you say, young people can be susceptible to rigid ideologies because these serve up nostrums that appear to solve all aspects of a problem that confronts them and the usual authorities they consult (parents, teachers, ministers, counsellors) try to avoid the issue or steer them away from it when they should be tackling it head on.

    Actually children, especially pre-teens, can be quite sophisticated in their thinking, more so than their parents sometimes: they can be curious and matter-of-fact about death and dying. I'm reminded of something I read in The Last Word in a New Scientist issue about an 8-year-old boy who buried his hamster in the garden and kept nagging his mother about how fast the hamster would decompose so the mother wrote in to find out. The people who responded to her request reassured her that the boy was not being gruesome and that his attitude was typical for children his age.

  • Comment number 27.

    I am reminded of an observation that my brother made when we discussed the film The Ring, that to find supernatural stories frightening, one has to have some kind of belief in the supernatural, even if one rationally doesn't believe (that one believes) in it. It's an interesting thought but I am not totally convinced by it, because (and this is where some films for example, could be said to be objectively much better than others) the viewer is manipulated to suspend disbelief, and some films do this much more effectively than others, and when it is done very powerfully, then the experience is potentially frightening no matter what your rational mind tells you. Some viewers may be more susceptible to the effects than others, and children more commonly find it hard to distinguish reality from fiction. While adults are more or less likely to respond strongly to the portrayal of the supernatural, the effectiveness of the suspension of disbelief that the story produces is a very important part of the process. Now, the popularity of "reality" TV suggests that viewers are very willing to suspend disbelief and to forget about the production crew being in the room with the participants of Come Dine With Me etc. And these are relatively clear beliefs - does the supernatural exist? Does the production crew exist and do the participants behave "normally" in their presence? But what about more complicated matters? What was the cause of the summer's riots? What caused the western financial crisis? In fact we are persuaded to similarly suspend disbelief and *adopt beliefs* that say, people rioted because they wanted consumer goods they couldn't afford, or the debt crisis was ... oh yes, same explanation... anything to keep things nice and simple so that someone can provide a simple solution, whether that be a product or a policy. As I mentioned before, I like Adam's films for the continual reminder that nothing is simple, and that well-intended acts can have bizarre unforeseen consequences. I like to be reminded that the better informed I can become, the less I will understand.

  • Comment number 28.

    Alas, it appears that Tom Robertson's exorcism from the first clip failed and the Black Lady sill haunts the site and Tom has persisted for 50 years in trying to free it from it's earth bound existence. I hope he has put his rates up!

    Sadly it also appears Tom has been quite unwell this year but the latest news clipping I found of him was in the Sun from Jan 2011 so I'm not sure of his current status.
    http://www.thesun.co.uk/scotsol/homepage/scotlandfeatures/3333156/Ghosthunter-Tom-Robertson-on-his-cancer-battle.html

    His Website is also here: http://www.ghosthuntertomrobertson.com/ and it makes for interesting reading.. Luckily for him, he doesn't look like a young Robert Maxwell anymore..

  • Comment number 29.

    @ T73: I think with horror films, a lot depends on the viewer's current cultural context. In periods of tremendous social change horror films can be effective commentaries on changing social mores and relieve anxieties about the effects of change. It may be too early to tell yet but the Twilight books and films which combine the vampire horror genre with the romance genre may be telling us something about the clash between socially conservative mores (Twilight author Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon believer and the idea for the books came to her in a dream) and changing gender roles which are forcing changes in the way men and women relate to each other.

    You may have seen Tomas Alfredsson's film "Let the Right One In" which was quite a powerful movie about bullying and a young vampire's manipulation of his familiars whether they were an elderly man or a young boy. There was also some weak social commentary about down-and-out people scraping by as best they could in a society that's meant to be classless and inclusive but maybe isn't really. The US remake "Let Me In" could have been equally powerful - I did pick up a weak theme about escape and reinventing oneself which is a uniquely American cultural motif - but the director opted for the safe option of copying the Swedish original. But both movies were much better than the book on which they are based: the book is very pulpy and includes a lot of cartoonish zombie-related violence.

    Films like "The Ring" work well in an east Asian context due to Japan's particular cultural mix: Japanese people have always been keen on technology and gadgetry (they worked out very quickly how to make guns when the Portuguese first introduced them in the 1500s and were using arquebuses, early forerunners of rifles, in the Battle of Nagashino in 1575, referenced by Akira Kurosawa in his film "Ran") and are a highly faddish and very visual people, even a bit child-like in some ways. (It was retired General Douglas Macarthur who once told the US Congress in 1951 that Japan was a country of 12 year olds though it's possible that he didn't mean that literally but was using a metaphor.) It seems easier for Japanese people (and Koreans as well) to suspend disbelief in the supernatural perhaps because in their native cultures the border between the real world and the supernatural is seen to be more porous and there is a strong shamanic element which is usually associated with women.

    I don't know much about horror films in other parts of Asia although I have seen "13 Beloved" from Thailand which was as much comedy as it was horror and featured some god-awful skits such as eating faeces in a high-class Chinese restaurant, bashing teenagers for their mobile phone and a clothesline strung across a highway that decapitates a teenage motorcycle gang. I suppose I should know something about Chinese horror films since my family comes from China but Chinese films don't interest me as much as Japanese ones do which probably says something profound about my level of maturity.

    You probably are also aware of culture-specific fears and mental illnesses such as koro in Asian cultures and the phenomenon of people, usually women, going berserk and running "amok" in Malaysia, and of incidents of laughing sickness in parts of east Africa in 1961 which I know Fortean Times has covered.

  • Comment number 30.

    The BBC's ghostwatch in 1992 wasn't the last time the BBC covered the supernatural and the weird in a longer-than-usual format. It is not often remembered now as most of its content was only ever shown once and only once. Remember during the 90s when BBC2 would have "themed evenings"? The BBC devoted one such evening to the weird and paranormal in 1994, calling it "Weird night".

    Weird night included the following in its run-up of programmes;

    * Fortean review of the year
    * 3 Short programmes entitled "Strange days", "Coincidences","Beasts" and "Visions".
    * The last american freak show
    * WSH (Which stands for weird **** happens)
    * Weird thoughts (which was a debate style programme).

    There was also a showing of an X-Files programme.

    ljones

  • Comment number 31.

    This is one of those rare occasions where:

    A. A piece of music blows me away and
    B. I can't find something on the internet.

    While watching your segment on the most recent screenwipe, I couldn't stop pushing the slider back to the beginning of it over and over again. There's a piece of string music that I don't recognise and that I can't find anywhere whatsoever. It's driving me insane. If you read this Adam, help me out and let me know what it is. Other than the desperation to find out what it was, the segment itself was brilliant.

    Cheers!

    a

  • Comment number 32.

    @ Coffee-Cat: Try Musipedia at www.musipedia.org to identify the tune. You don't need to be musical: the website offers options for you to hum the tune, trace it out according to whether the notes go up or down, or you can tap out the rhythm. Musipedia incorporates the Melodyhound.com search engine.

    @ everyone else: Happy New Year to Adam and all who frequent the Comments Forums! May we all continue to have interesting and informative discussions here. (And may I continue to sow sedition around here before someone finally notices and throws me off?)

  • Comment number 33.

    ... That should have read: "... And may I continue to sow sedition around here before someone finally notices and throws me off!" (No question mark here.)

    Now I bet that's cast a pall over these corridas of comment.

    In this year of the Olympic Games and the baggage and endless gravy-trains that accompany it, I expect the UK public will be subjected to nauseous television and newspaper propaganda about how wonderful the games will be, how they will stimulate the economy (eg jacking up property prices so high none except wealthy foreigners will be able to buy anything) and how they will bring in so many tourists (provided they all spend loads of money and remember to go home when their visas expire).

    Adam, if it's at all possible, I'd like to see a post here about how the Olympic Games have been used in the past as propaganda to rally populations for war, for repressive actions and controls over people or for justifying the "superiority" of one ideology or political system over another. All past Olympic Games celebrations have been used in some way or another as a form of propaganda or cultural manipulation. If you can find the time and resources to do this, that would be greatly appreciated!

  • Comment number 34.

    Well I survived Christmas for another year.

    I suppose this article is really about television and how it blurs reality and fantasy, or that of course, television is not reality at all. But what concerns me more is how the power of television is used to push political agendas.

    I think it's time for sport and its myths, especially the Olympics and its dodgy history, to be exposed. And that would make a fine article. In fact, I'm pretty sure you covered it already in one of your documentaries.

    As for the supernatural, I think quality TV Drama seems to share itself with supernatural themes. For example Rod Serlings excellent Twilight Zone series, although that was largely science fiction, and was meant to make people watch adverts, it had many supernatural storylines. And of course Twin Peaks came along and introduced its artistic, surreal and supernatural themes. Then the much neglected Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where artistic vision and commercialism seemed to happily coexist, in their odd ways.

    Now, quality seems to have largely disappeared in British drama, and we're all now consuming as much quality American drama as possible, much of it with supernatural elements--True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, The Walking Dead, The Secret Circle, American Horror Story, and so on. Obviously the supernatural is now big business and a successful product.

  • Comment number 35.

    @ egbert_the_atheist: These TV shows that you mentioned are based on novels and comics and revolve around small town life or dysfunctional families, am I correct? And they use several scriptwriters who also work on other, usually very different TV shows. The producers of American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, also work on Glee. It would be good if more of these TV shows had cross-links with the world of comics and graphic novels beyond DC Comics and Marvel Comics and also more links with genre literature and fan fiction.

    Also there is a new US crime/fantasy/horror TV series called "Grimm" that just started broadcasting in Australia this week. All episodes are based on the fairy tales that Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collected and published two hundred years ago. Channel 7 here has also bought the fairy tale drama TV series "Once upon a Time" which starts broadcasting here in March 2012. Both TV shows use elements from famous fairy tales and mix them with the lives of people in the present day.

    If the supernatural is big business now, it is because we now have several generations of adults who grew up on fantasy, sci-fi and other speculative fiction literature, films and TV shows as children and it has taken TV networks and movie studios a while to realise there has always been an adult market for these kinds of films and people do like to revisit their favourite childhood stories. It would not surprise me if the majority of people who read speculative fiction written for children and teenagers are actually adults. I have heard that the Twilight series of books by Stephenie Meyer attracts a huge adult female audience but at the local library where I sometimes do weekend casual work, I haven't seen that many women order these books for themselves!

    We all live in a world where it's much easier to suspend disbelief in the supernatural or parallel worlds because society these days is so much more complex: we are no longer told we have to follow one or a few authorities or institutions and all belief systems, ideologies and other major cultural memes, for want of a better term, are competing for our attention in a huge market-place.

    Unfortunately in Australia the TV channels are not interested in developing their own TV shows based on the supernatural and I suppose the same applies to Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

    I would be happy to see more Norwegian movies about zombie Nazi soldiers. I did see one last year (Tommy Wirkola's "Dead Snow") on SBS TV.

    Also there is supposed to be a live action movie based on Katsuhiro Otomo's "Akira" to be released in 2012 by Hollywood but I can't see that film succeeding - the themes of the original "Akira" manga and anime are too specific to modern Japanese culture and Japanese fears about technology, children interacting with technology and apocalypse in Tokyo to translate to an American cultural context. Even speculative fiction has its particular cultural manifestations that the Hollywood marketing machine ignores at its peril.

  • Comment number 36.

    @egbert - I think the article is partly about radical atheism, which I'm sure you'll agree is brutal and dogmatic :)

    If anyone wants a good book about football (and I'm sure you all do) check out The Ball Is Round. I'd like to see an article about the redemptive and transcendental nature of sport, the sublime.

    Or an article about why people on the left don't like sport. Or why intellectuals misunderstand popular culture.

  • Comment number 37.

    Re: Thatcher - Nostalgia is pretty powerful, especially if it can treat Thatcher sympathetically. I wonder if, for all her

    faults, it actually felt that she represented something, she had an identity and in some sense she represented something.

    The Attic is well worth seeing in that regard, a certain myth of 'Great' Britain exhumed.....are people getting all twinkly

    eyed about her because the current mob are so boring, that they mean nothing? Will we do the same with Blair in 20 years? I'm sure he'd love it.....'like the crowd at a rock concert, begging for more' or whatever it was.

    Re: Catfish - I quite liked that. It captured people precisely because they didn't know if it was real or not, and so the

    suspense is amped, it's a good comparison to Ghostwatch. I really don't know what to make of this 'blurring', I

    can't make out what it really means yet, the "strange nether world of PR-driven half truths, synthetic personalities and

    waves of apocalyptic fear." Wasn't there an extent to which TV was always like this? Is TV inherently a bit like this and we don't recognise that it is a representation, not reality? I've never quite grasped this 'hyperreal', Baudrillard, 'simulacra' thing....although I have seen Total Recall.

  • Comment number 38.

    @ theartteacher2: I am sure you don't want to know Andrew Jennings's book "Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals", which was published by HarperCollins in 2006. I can't imagine there's very much in that book that demonstrates the redemptive and transcendental nature of football politics.

    It was my suggestion that if possible Adam could kindly put up a post on how the Olympic Games have been used by governments to justify undemocratic and/or repressive actions against the public that would not normally be tolerated. Actions such as clearing out neighbourhoods where poor people or unwanted groups live to make way for sports facilities or relaxing development controls and rules over certain categories of properties and land use to enable building and commercial developments directly or indirectly related to having the Olympics that have the effect of forced gentrification and driving underprivileged groups out into suburbs where they have limited choices, can't get access to services: these are examples of how governments have used the Olympic Games in underhand ways.

    My understanding is that 1.5 million families in Brazil will be displaced from their homes due to urban renewal and infrastructure projects taking place in Rio de Janeiro and other cities preparing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games; the vast majority of these families live in favelas (slums). In Rio alone, three new express highways are to be built in favela areas. According to a report released by the UN's Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing in early 2011, the families affected have been offered inadequate compensation for losing their homes which in most cases were taken from them without consultation or negotiation.

    After the riots in London last year, security measures for the London Olympic Games are sure to be escalated to an extent that the entire city might become a de facto police state or at the very least a huge gated community that serves the rich and the privileged.

    Then there is the exploitation of sportspeople themselves and the pressures that are placed on them to perform. The case of the Georgian luger who died in Vancouver in 2010 illustrates the recklessness of the Canadian authorities who organised the Winter Games: the organisers wanted a fast track for breaking world records and got one, even though lugers' lives were put at risk. Then they organised practice times so that Canadian lugers got 10 times the number of practice runs as lugers from other countries. The luger who died was reported by the Wall Street Journal as having told his father he was "terrified" of the track.

    Dunno what you mean about left-wing types not liking sport or intellectuals misunderstanding popular culture. Are you sure you are not confusing sport itself with sport competitions organised by their official sporting organisations and often sponsored by private corporations? I am sure a lot of left-wing types would like to play golf ... looks relaxing ... it's just that maybe they don't like the idea of golfing links drinking up precious water that should be going to underprivileged people or using land where endangered species of plants and animals live. Golf courses are also very high-maintenance and use up a lot of fertiliser and pesticide! And if you want to see something really damning about golf and golf courses, read this article about Tiger Woods's business dealings at http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/42936.

    I did end up seeing "The Iron Lady" and "The Attic" after all. I found "The Iron Lady" a dishonest as well as a badly made film: the advertising posits Thatcher as a feminist icon and she was nothing of the sort. I have nothing against women who happen to think and behave like men and who don't go out of their way to promote the sisterhood but for the film and its spin-doctors to say Thatcher was a role model for women and girls when she clearly liked to be sole queen bee is unbelievable. Then there is a throwaway line in the film where Thatcher says she won't have anything to do with "fascist thugs" during the Falklands War episode. Ha! - Pinochet was not a "fascist thug", eh?

    Thatcher certainly did represent something: she represented a package that included the economic nostrums of Milton Friedman and Frederick Hayek, those champions of the free market and total deregulation of the economy and social services including deregulation of schools and de-licensing of doctors; and a way of thinking-acting-behaving that a certain Ayn Rand might have heartily approved of.

    As for "The Attic", that had a good premise: Thatcher emulating Winston Churchill. Well, yes, he certainly was a role model of sorts. I see him as an unprincipled figure who strove for power and influence at any cost and a war criminal to boot. I did think Adam could have gone into more detail and drawn more parallels between Churchill and Thatcher. There is a pretty good article by Ralph Raico, "Rethinking Churchill" at http://mises.org/daily/2973 that gives you Churchill, warts and all.

    It is possible the hoopla surrounding the London Olympics may have something to do with the nostalgia wave that birthed "The Iron Lady" or maybe the timing is coincidental.

    I also saw "We will force you to be free" a few days ago but not any of the other episodes of "The Trap: What Happened to our Dream of Freedom".

  • Comment number 39.

    38. NausikaDalazBlindaz wrote:

    "And if you want to see something really damning about golf and golf courses, read this article about Tiger Woods's business dealings at http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/42936."

    The two examples used to accuse Tiger Woods of a 'great crime' are more a 'great crime of a naivety' than anything more sinister, for example:


    "In 2008, Chevron entered a five-year relationship with Tiger Woods' foundation under the guise of philanthropy.

    But if Woods had a shred of social conscience, this partnership would never have existed.

    Lawsuits have been issued against Chevron for dumping toxic waste all over the planet. Alaska, Canada, Brazil, Angola and California have all accused Chevron of dumping. "


    I don't think attaching blame to Tiger Woods for Chevron's misdemeanors is helpful, correct or even close to being fair. Pressure needs to be made on the various governments of those nations or the Directors / CEOs at Chevron at the time of the dumping for allowing it to happen and not a golfer who happened to have a sponsorship with Chevron. Almost any sport star (or rock star or film star etc) can have the same 'great crime' attached to them for financially benefitting with a partnership with a corporation, Nike? Pepsi? BP? etc etc It's a shame that as individuals, the shinging light celebrities often don't think more about the companies they partner with but it's hardly surprising, would they legitimately be able to link up with any large company without being linked to some form of malfeasance? Perhaps Bono is one that would like to think that he does go that extra step and I leave it to you to see if that has that proved any more successful!

    And: "Then there is Dubai, the site of the first Tiger Woods-designed golf course.

    Located at the southern coast of the Persian Gulf, Dubai has been a symbol of both economic excess, and most recently, economic collapse. It has been called an 'adult Disneyland' — complete with indoor ski resorts and unspeakable human rights violations. "

    The jump from the construction of a Tiger Woods designed golf course in Dubai to all of Dubai's ills is a big one, I can imagine Tiger Woods genuinely believes he was just designing a golf course in Dubai which for all we know used labour practices that were fair and just, the article doesn't highlight otherwise.

    I think he's the wrong target for that article, who's permitting, encouraging or turning a blind eye to the "Paid foreign labourers work in more than 100°F heat for less than $3 a day. Dubai also has a reputation as ground zero of the global sex trade."? Certainly not Tiger Woods! (And no jokes about the Tiger and the sex trade..)

  • Comment number 40.

    @Nausika - I wasn't having a pop with my comment by way.....I was really reacting to the "sport and its myths" comment, because I had an idea of where that was going. It's that Chomsky "sport is about creating assimilation and irrational hatred" type nonsense. I think he regrets all that rhubarb to be fair to him.

    On Brazil 2014 - Tim Vickery (probably the 2nd best blogger on the BBC) has written some stuff about this, I highly recommend his blog. From what I've read about this there's terrible power politics in play, but that goes on in lots of aspects of life, not just sport. I bet there is a fascinating story involving the Olympics thought that could be unearthed......the points you've made so far on this are interesting.

    On Thatcher - I think she was a kind of a feminist icon only in the sense Lady Macbeth is. Women adopting the brutality of Men is a pretty perverse type of equality, although maybe saying that makes me a mysogynist, I'm not sure. I'm sure i'm not the first person to compare her to Lady Macbeth though. It might be unfair, I'm not quite sure how much she was aware of the consequence of her actions..... I suppose what's most important are the consequences themselves in the end.

    Churchill..... he's remembered for his speeches, the war.....I'm sure he had some unifying power but the electorate gave an opinion on him in '45 that's worth taking notice of. I prefer Attlee. Of course.

  • Comment number 41.

    I think Thatcher and the Attic is really relevant to this post. I've been thinking about it all day. The Living Dead series is significant generally.

    What are the hauntings that appear in the stories.....it's not just loved ones. The paragraph that starts "As you watch the film..." is just beautiful by the way.

    There's hauntings and ghosts all over Adam's stuff. @Nausika - you just watched Part 3 of The Trap (perhaps my fave program) and it mentions the haunting other idea of freedom. Is this the kinda underlying phenomenon?

    I'm thinking of something out of Derrida, he talks about a haunting in society. It's clear There Is No Alternative, no one talks of any, this highly materialist (in every sense) way of living is the sole, rational option. But the spectre of a kind of transcending utopia still manifests in strange ways that we don't recognise. You see these fragments of yearning, disclosed in the everyday.

    It's like the immensely personal sense of loss and the epic vision of a better world come together in some sense here.

  • Comment number 42.

    @ onwhosplanet: I cited the Tiger Woods article as an example of how the commodification of sport and its personalities can be damaging for people and human rights, local economies as opposed to global economies, and ecologies. Woods was naive but then someone at his level of fame and wealth must surely have advisors who can find out and cross-check whether having Chevron as a sponsor would benefit his image and reputation.

    There are plenty of other places around the planet where Tiger Woods Design could build golf courses where good industrial relations practice is followed and where sport doesn't have to compete for scarce resources like land and water with local communities and ecosystems. What were the criteria and standards that TWD used to decide that building a golf course in Dubai was the best idea? Who really benefits? Do the local people there play lots of golf? Is it really a good idea to build golf courses in places like Dubai whose economy is dependent on oil and global financial services (and the precarious and often under-handed nature of that industry) when the oil runs out? Not to mention the fact that the country is across the Straits of Hormuz from Iran and must be concerned about talk and rumours of an impending war between Iran and the United States. Iran could cut access to the Straits and watch at least half the world's economy go belly-up.

    As far as I know the TWD Dubai golf course project has been abandoned and any holes already built have already receded back into the desert.

    I have an inkling that Dubai is an example of what we Australians call the "two-speed economy" in which one layer of society enjoys immense wealth coming from a commodity like oil or rare earth minerals that dominates the economy and distorts it while a second layer of society falls into poverty because of those distortions created by the economy's reliance on a narrow range of goods and services. If Dubai were not so closely linked to the global economy in the way it is, how would its people survive?

    Well yes, I think Bono did go the extra step of making more money - if that's the guiding principle for celebrities to maintain their reputation among their fans - by moving his tax base to the Netherlands in 2006 after Ireland changed its taxation laws so that high-income earners would have to pay extra tax so the country could afford more social services. See this 2007 report in the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/04/business/yourmoney/04amster.html?pagewanted=all. (If you can't get the article, do a Google search on Bono, U2, New York Times and Netherlands in the search field and it should come up.) Tax Research UK has fingered the Netherlands as a major tax haven and Nicholas Shaxson has also mentioned the Netherlands in his book on global tax avoidance "Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the men who stole the world".

    It's true that a lot of rock stars and sport celebrities use tax shelters in the Netherlands to relieve the pressure on their incomes and they are entitled to do so depending on the tax regimes of their home countries and the celebrities' particular circumstances but U2 are a special case given that their name is associated with charity and the circumstances in which they decided to move their tax base.

  • Comment number 43.

    Lesser known is the Saturday Night Theatre radio play "The House At Spook Corner" broadcast in 1987, five years before Ghostwatch, which explored the relationship between media-driven suburban poltergeist cases and their effect on the participants - a working class suburban family, and covers very similar ground. It drew heavily on the Enfield poltergeist case, as well as the Rosenheim cases. As writer, I met Maurice Grosse, heard his tapes and his accounts and was impressed by his earnestness, but not his evidence.

  • Comment number 44.

    @ theartteacher2: I don't see Thatcher as Lady Macbeth. Leave the Lady Macbeth comparisons to the likes of Hilary Rodham Clinton and the woman who was married to the 16th century Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. Now that lady (Roxelana aka the Hurrem Sultana) was a real Lady Macbeth: she duped Suleyman into thinking his legitimate heir Mustafa was plotting against him so Suleyman had Mustaf strangled. This enabled one of Roxelana's sons, Selim the Sot, would become the next sultan. Roxelana herself died violently in 1558; Suleyman himself died in 1566 while on a military campaign.

    Thatcher had a vision of restoring Britain as an enterprising, progressive society: the kind of society that built an empire across the globe. The Britain she saw around her must have seemed cowed and ordinary. Perhaps she too saw the malaise that you refer to in Comment 41? The interesting thing is that possibly the Britain she found was a nation exhausted by war and holding onto an empire for too long.

    I was motivated to watch Episode 3 of "The Trap ..." after seeing a newspaper article on negative and positive freedoms and realised Adam Curtis had dealt with this topic. The program was good but for me it just didn't go far enough ... I guess it is not necessarily part of AC's remit to suggest alternatives to Isaiah Berlin's philosophy or that Berlin's definition of positive freedom (as Curtis sees it or as other people have interpreted it) might be flawed but I did think if the program had put forward the notion that Berlin's definition of positive freedom was problematic in some way - maybe in the choice of language used to describe the definition - then that could have given rise to something hopeful and open-ended to conclude the episode and the series.

    My watching of the episode is that Curtis described positive freedom as something that improves people to make them more "rational" thinkers so that they can choose which society they want to live in. At one point in the episode it is suggested that "rational" people behave in their own self-interest without reference to emotion. If this is the goal of positive freedom, then the definition is flawed: psychopaths behave in their own self-interest without reference to emotion. You remember I was flagellating G over the issue of "rational" morality and saying that if "rationality" is defined as behaving in a self-interested way without considering emotions and the consequences of one's actions, it will lead to problems like the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, because modern economic and financial systems a

  • Comment number 45.

    (continued) My watching of the episode is that Curtis described positive freedom as something that improves people to make them more "rational" thinkers so that they can choose which society they want to live in. At one point in the episode it is suggested that "rational" people behave in their own self-interest without reference to emotion. If this is the goal of positive freedom, then the definition is flawed: psychopaths behave in their own self-interest without reference to emotion. You remember I was flagellating G over the issue of "rational" morality and saying that if "rationality" is defined as behaving in a self-interested way without considering emotions and the consequences of one's actions, it will lead to problems like the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, because modern economic and financial systems and networks are based on that view of rationality.

    I saw Pedro Almodovar's new film "The Skin I Live In" and though it actually deals with gender identity and not with freedom, the two main characters actually exhibit different kinds of freedom: the surgeon's prisoner, Vicente/Vera, suffers a forced sex change and is kept prisoner in a mansion but s/he takes up yoga and educates him/herself on art (and maybe other subjects). V manages to escape and return home. Now if V hadn't undergone the physical imprisonment and transformation, would s/he have had the opportunity to do his/her own make-over and become a better person to the extent that s/he can escape the surgeon? In that sense, V has experienced "positive freedom", ie self-improvement and self-mastery.

    For the surgeon's part, his obsession with V and improving him/her with cosmetic surgery, a sex change and creating a new skin becomes his prison. So even though he's the master of V and moves freely, and enjoys wealth and renown as a surgeon, in a sense he's even less "free" than V is and is defeated by V.

    Likewise, the film that "The Skin ..." partly resembles - Georges Franju's "Eyes without a Face", made in 1959 - deals with the issue of being and freedom in a different way: the girl who receives the face transplants becomes aware of the other girls who die so she can live and she has to decide whether she must continue to live lat the expense of others or choose a different path that means she can never integrate back into normal society.

    The screenplay for "Eyes without a face" was written by the two writers (Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac) who wrote the novel "D'Entre les Morts" which itself became the basis for the famous Alfred Hitchcock movie "Vertigo". In the Hitchcock film a young woman initially resists then willingly yields to an older man's attempts to mould her in the image of a dead woman he loves.

    I prefer to see positive freedom as the opportunity that arises to become a better person as a result of having made a choice that rules out other alternatives which may be equally as or more desirable than the path you have chosen. The other alternatives promise short-term gain, wealth and fame even, and everyone thinks you've got it made; yet you become unhappy and unfulfilled and you end up squandering your wealth and reputation. You may even be depressed, mentally ill and suicidal. The hard option might involve sacrificing security and popularity for risk, uncertainty, loneliness, rejection and danger but if you are a happy and fulfilled person for all that and you know you would never be the person you have become otherwise, you are truly free.

    In a wider sense, a society has positive economic freedom if its citizens choose to have opportunities that they realise might entail certain costs and which disallow various alternatives, yet they go ahead with these opportunities because they believe they will lead to long-term benefits.

    Sorry if you haven't already seen any of these feature films. - the Almodovar film is fairly new and we may have had an early release in Australia ahead of most other countries.

  • Comment number 46.

    The couple talking about the babies dummy in that first video is lovely, the two of them obviously keep putting it in two different places, but then when it's disappeared it's not their partner moving it it's a poltergeist.

  • Comment number 47.

    It all makes me wonder if when McLuhan came up with "the medium is the message", he really meant a psychic medium. Maybe there's a big ghost problem in Canada...

    Or if the writer of the 'Gay girl in Damascus' blog (or any of the other faked internet social media starlets. The lonelygirl15 controversy comes to mind) were so far removed from the actual reality that they go beyond being just a ghost writer, to a full blown ghost.

    One of the best mockumentaries to watch is Mondo Cane, which despite claiming to be 100% actual footage does seem to blur the boundaries between reality and fiction. Also worth a look as it has much in common with Mr Curtis' work too.

  • Comment number 48.

    Regarding the stuff about the Hodgson daughters - what is the meaning behind an idea "that children are not innocent, but potentially malicious and a bit dangerous"?

    I've been thinking and I've got 2 ideas. Firstly, does this have something to do with our attitudes to youth, in that we're obsessed with looking young and behaving in a certain 'youthful' way? So is it a manifestation of some kind of generational resentment based on the elevation of youthfulness in our culture?

    The other idea relates to things discussed elsewhere in the post. In a hyper-rational world do children scare us because they aren't subject to all encompassing rationality? With their imagination and creativity and their difficulty to control are they a threat to the rigid adult world?

    [starts humming The Logical Song]

  • Comment number 49.

    @ theartteacher2: The notion "that children are not innocent, but potentially malicious and a bit dangerous" harks back to several cultural phenomena in the past.

    Firstly until the early 1900s, in most countries the vast majority of children under ten years of age died (from disease, neglect, poor sanitation, unstable conditions) and people had to invent explanations or reasons to soothe themselves and grieving relatives. One such explanation was that children are much closer to the spirit world than older children and adults are and therefore the spirits could invade the littlies' minds and bodies and literally snatch them away.

    The notion that blue is for boys and pink is for girls might have grown from this belief. In some Middle Eastern societies pink was originally for boys (it's a mild form of red) but as the Angel of Death liked boys more than girls (because boys have a higher death rate than girls at all ages: they get out more so they have more accidents and are often less hardy at surviving diseases), some people figured if they dressed their baby girls in pink the Angel of Death might take them instead! The idea might have gone back to Europe with the Crusaders. Though that's not the whole story as blue was the favoured colour for girls (and still is in some European countries) in Western societies well into the 1930s.

    Secondly if you have a family of mostly quiet people and all of a sudden they have a child who's loud and boisterous, people might suggest the child was a changeling swapped by fairies for a human child. Fairies supposedly needed human DNA to keep their kind going. So that's another reason to be scared of children: they might not be what you think they should be.

    Thirdly traditional Christian religion taught that children were born in sin (because of Adam and Eve's original sin) and had to have the devil beaten out of them. I have seen some stuff that suggests an extreme authoritarian parenting style that includes lots of corporal punishment moulds people into having authoritarian personalities: they have little tolerance for diversity, they stick to the straight and narrow path in most things and they fear change. They may also have apocalyptic fantasies and may be secretly drawn to behaviours they condemn publicly.

    Fourthly in some cultures children undergoing puberty may be considered vulnerable and subject to dangerous spirit influences until they undergo rites of passage. I'm sure I need not repeat examples of rites of passages young men and women in some cultures are forced to undergo!

    Fifth the idea o

  • Comment number 50.

    (continued) ... Fifth the idea of childhood innocence is a relatively recent one in Western cultures - it only really came about during the late 1800s and might have been an outgrowth of the Christian belief that children's minds are tabulae rasae to be filled with scripture and other approved knowledge before the Devil gets to them.

    Of course there is the influence of pop culture icons such as The Exorcist films in which a girl about to undergo puberty is possessed by the demon Pazuzu. It's possible the family in "Ghostwatch" is modelled on Regan and her mother: where was Dad the whole time in both the BBC mockumentary and The Exorcist?

    Other cultures, notably Japan, have their own myths about children as sweet and innocent angels able to commune with technology. When I was growing up, Australian TV stations imported shitloads of Japanese children's TV shows and one of these was "Gigantor", about a huge robot controlled by a little boy. One show we didn't get though was the Ultraman show which was about a teenage boy with attitude problems who could morph into a giant superhero. I saw an episode of this show years ago in Hong Kong: cheesiest kids' sci-fi show put together with string and duct tape I'd ever seen this side of the old Doctor Who episodes.

    As for the other idea you suggested, there is a phenomenon not much remarked on in the media of women becoming jealous and resentful towards their daughters once the girls hit puberty and turn into objects of desire.

  • Comment number 51.

    Are we still working out why intellectuals or leftwing types dislike sport or misunderstand popular culture?

    Let's clear up what is meant by "intellectual". Here are some useful definitions we can go by from www.urbandictionary.com:

    1/ Someone who has found something more interesting than sex and alcohol.
    2/ A person with a creative mind who studies and reflects and thinks himself out of a basic knowedge of who he really is.
    3/ A person who is devoted to literary or scholarly pursuits.
    4/ A thinker, someone who reflects and asks or answers questions involving a wide variety of ideas. Loves ideas, books and the mind.
    5/ Someone given to activities that require exercise of the intellect.
    6/ A grown-up nerd.

    I would add to the sixth definition: " ... and paid for being a grown-up nerd".

    I could only find two websites where nerdy types actually discuss their dislike for sport and the reasons:
    http://disgustedbeyondbelief.blogspot.com/2007/05/i-hate-sports.html
    http://www.ram.org/ramblings/philosophy/sports.html

    Of course one reason intellectuals dislike sport is that sports people dislike intellectuals. In many sports, particularly team sports, coaches, captains and managers demand that everyone in the team should think alike and act alike and there is no room for alternative points of view which of course the intellectual excels at. The competitive aspect of sport in which there is only one winner and a whole load of losers and just one reward (the gold medal) tends to reinforce a narrow point of view that excludes alternatives.

    Interestingly there has been psychological research done which shows that people who win Olympic bronze medals are happier than people who win Olympic silver medals. According to the research, silver medallists compare themselves with the gold medallists and the bronze medallists compare themselves with those who don't win medals but only get certificates for being finalists.

    As a result of the closed-in styles of thinking (and possibly bullying) that predominate in many competitive sports, these sports tend to attract a lowbrow subculture and this subculture in itself attracts more people hostile to thinkers so a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" situation arises. See here: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/541796.html

    So it would be logical to ask why sportspeople dislike intellectuals as well as ask why intellectuals dislike sport.

    As for misunderstanding popular culture, I'm still scratching my head on that.

  • Comment number 52.

    Thank God for Urban Dictionary.

    I don't really care who likes sport or not. But I think to talk about the corruption around it, or emphasise the machismo and brutality that occurs in sport, is like tainting music because the music business is bad, or because some musicians are idiots.

    I think the reason is similar to an argument put out in the Dream On post. I don't think sport is a lower pursuit or interest than literature, not necessarily. I think inherently it's a kind of snobbery, and an elevation of the mental over the physical. That in itself is a misunderstanding......put it this way, I think Xavi uses higher mental faculties in his work than Tracey Emin. Some people prefer watching Shane Warne to Nureyev - this is not an error.

    "Of course one reason intellectuals dislike sport is that sports people dislike intellectuals." Mmm....I think is kind of a strange argument. You're really saying that sports environments don't suit intellectuals, with their 'free thinking' attitude. I'd say a couple of things about this -

    1. The way you describe sport is one way of looking at it. Fine. How about describing it this way - 'In many sports, coaches, captains, managers and players work together committed to common goals that all parties realise can only be
    achieved collectively. The competitive aspect of sport is an expression of identity and solidarity, but all teams enter with a common love for the game itself, and in this respect they have deeply shared sympathies and values. There is appreciation
    of the physical, not in prosaic pursuit of the telos of winning, but in expression, the unneccessary, the accidental, the irrational, the ornamentative, the spectacular, and ultimately the elevation beyond the physical. Success is transient and selective, but everyone is elevated by the endeavour itself, as the social participation and engagement it enables are antidotes to the passivity and apathy that threaten real human life.' That's another way. I prefer my way.

    2. Where are the outspoken intellectuals now, challenging the structures of power in society? There are some, sure. And back in the day, say the sixties, there were more. But some would argue they are part of structure in large part now, part of the groupthink, reinforcing paradigm/stories than continue to imprison us. I'd love to see the university system become the haven for radical and creative thinking that I (perhaps idealistically) think it might have been once.

  • Comment number 53.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 54.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 55.

    An extremely good post as usual.

    Incidentally, has anyone else seen this? It's pretty damned funny -

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_N-2igV9h24&feature=related

  • Comment number 56.

    Adam, What is wrong with these film uploads as some of them are not playing...AGAIN ? AAARRRGGGHHH. I complained before about this and I know you are not responsible for this, but, if you could get someone to fix this or mention it in some way to get it fixed that would be great...I do realise that BBC 3's output is higher on the agenda than you're output ( for some strange reason that eludes me ) but it would be great if they could put two bob in the meter for the video player knobs...Thanks Adam...Gerry...

  • Comment number 57.

    Dear Mr Curtis,
    My apologies for writing here, but I have not found another way to contact you unfortunately.
    My name is Lilly Papagianni and I am writing from the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in Greece, which takes place in March and to which we would much like to invite you. My email is papagianni@filmfestival.gr. Please write to me should you be interested in attending. Many thanks.
    All the best,
    Lilly

  • Comment number 58.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 59.

    Didn't Orson Welles do the Ghostwatch trick? But on the radio? Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know he's in the best selling show. Is there Life on Mars?

  • Comment number 60.

    @ Moor Larkin: I make reference to Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast at Comment 9 and probably elsewhere. I think I mentioned it here twice.

  • Comment number 61.

    @NausikaDalazBlindaz

    Not all thought is original I guess.

    I have read recently in revisionist histories that the the whole Welles-on-Mars story was blown out of all proportion to it's real impact, by the newspapers - who spotted a great story that would shift some product at the time. Cynically, it has crossed my mind that the BBC is also in charge of its own news too...... but.... No.... it could not happen could it.... :-D

  • Comment number 62.

    @ Moor Larkin

    You'll be interested in this:
    http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/broadcasting_the_barricade_ronald_knox.htm

    The website www.war-ofthe-worlds.com also mentions that Welles's radio broadcast was remade in Spanish for a radio audience in Santiago de Chile and caused panic there in 1944. In 1949, a radio station in Ecuador got hold of the Chilean script and did its own radio broadcast version. People panicked and genuinely thought the country was being invaded by Peru (Ecuador and Peru were having a border dispute at the time). The radio station then appealed for calm and a mob turned up at the building where the radio station was housed and caused a fire to break out. People trapped in the building tried to get out and some died. The death toll is reckoned to be between 6 and 20 casualties.

    For all these incidents, we don't discount the prevailing political and economic climate when they took place. The 1926 BBC incident occurred in a period when memories of the 1917 Russian Revolution were still fresh and there were heightened concerns that industrial unrest in Britain could lead to something similar. (In May 1926 there was a general strike in the country.) The 1938 Orson Welles broadcast took place amid concerns that Germany was preparing for war in Europe. The 1944 Chilean broadcast took place during World War II. The 1949 Ecuadorian broadcast occurred just after the war and there was a lot of distrust among South American countries, not just between Ecuador and Peru, over border and territorial issues.

 

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