Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"Sex and Violence Sells?"
PEACE - The Adrian Paul Fan Club. 12439 Magnolia Blvd. #159, North Hollywood, CA 91607. Send a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope for information.
The Forever Knight Fan Club, POB 1228, Boston MA 02130-0011. Or via GEnie, address J.Prasinos@Genie.Geis.Com. (That's an E-mail address.)
Star Trek: Voyager - via your local UPN network station.
Babylon 5 - in syndication.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - syndicated, often opposite Voyager for commercial reasons.
Last month, I confessed to my reading addiction, and my aversion for speed reading. I also noted that greed impels me to read novels in preference to watching television because even at my relatively pedestrian speed, I read faster than TV can show a story.
I also noted that the alternative to learning to read faster via speed reading techniques is to apply technology to make up the deficiencies hardwired into the human body. The solution to the problem of the telephone's intrusiveness is the answering machine (and now voice mail, fax, E-mail, etc.), and the solution to the tyranny of broadcast programming is the VCR. Likewise, the solution to slow reading is not faster reading, but better access methods some of which haven't been conceptualized yet, never mind invented.
This month, let's examine commercial parameters underlying high-tech fiction delivery systems such as television, cable and the information superhighway, and where those commercial parameters are taking science fiction/fantasy and why. And what you and I can do about it . . . other than remain helpless victims of the system, that is. Being addicted to heroic fiction tends to jar one out of the "helpless victim" mindset. That tends to make life interesting.
With the December and January issues, I brought this review column into a discussion of what I term "The Fiction Delivery System" because I see that system as "broken" and because I see things going on behind the scenes of book publishing (and TV producing) that are because the system is broken drastically limiting the kinds of things available to you to imbibe when you need a fiction fix.
The type of fiction I review for this column fiction with an underlying spiritual vibration, a shaft of "white light" has taken the biggest "hit" in this most recent shake-up. As I pointed out over the last few columns, the place to start change is on the astral plane, with dreams, imagination, concepts, prayer, and internal peace. We must enlist the efforts of accomplished practitioners of these arts who know better than to try to impose their will on others, who know the great power of the Divine and how to yield to it.
Every fiction consumer is in fact participating in this effort to reform the fiction delivery system. When people have the imagination to respond emotionally to a TV show, they become a focus that allows the energy in the show to manifest through them. That is why one should choose TV shows and novels with some considerable care.
At Arisia, a science fiction convention in Boston primarily for readers, I "accidentally" ran into a group of people who have dedicated themselves to focusing an energy that could become very dangerous indeed if left to run wild. I'm speaking here of the people involved in the Adrian Paul fan club who set up a hospitality room in an ordinary hotel room at Arisia. (An actor fanclub here? you ask. Is she nuts? ) (Ah, maybe, but that doesn't mean this isn't true.)
If you find yourself revolted by the splashing blood and the pornography of destruction that has taken over movies and TV in general science fiction/fantasy movies and TV in specific bear with me! This may be the most important thing I have ever brought to your attention in the two years I've been doing this column.
Here's a strange observation: an awful lot of the fans of my own books stumbled into this obscurely positioned hotel room and only discovered me sitting there after they'd gushed over how much they loved the show and how thrilled that there was a club and how gorgeous the Adrian Paul posters on the walls, etc.
When they'd spent all their money on T-shirts and hair-ties with Celtic knots (odd thing: fans tend to know those knots have meanings), these fans would finally notice me and demand news of my next book. But all I could talk about was how important this silly fan club was because it's different.
To give you an idea of what Arisia is like as a convention, while I spent three days mostly sitting in the Adrian Paul fanclub room alternately giggling and shrieking over a TV show and solemnly proclaiming the esoteric importance of it, my husband was on panels having to do with religion and spirituality in science fiction. He's become known at science fiction conventions as a philosopher. Meanwhile, down on the main programming floor, the fans of Forever Knight, another Rysher TV show, were running a fanclub information table and selling memberships to a vampire convention. The attendees of Arisia are the kind of sf/f readers who would never think there was a contradiction there.
One of the attendees who happened to be working on the convention staff wandered into the Adrian Paul room several times, and then finally identified himself as a stringer (i.e., freelance contributing writer) for the trade paper, Variety and, I believe, some others. This astonished the people representing the club. After two days meeting sf/f fans, they still had no idea "who" they were dealing with.
While discussing how to create a press kit (which the club didn't have because they'd never thought of it) the reporter revealed that he wanted to do an article on the club "because this is different."
I squealed for joy, silently of course. Someone had corroborated my assessment independently. This club is different and its importance stems from its difference.
Now that I've got you squirming in the agony of suspense, I will reveal that Adrian Paul is the actor who plays Duncan MacLeod in Highlander - The Series. This is not the same actor who plays the Highlander you've probably seen in the movie. A great effort is made to maintain the connection between the movies and the TV series, but frankly I can't quite see them in the same universe.
The movies are ultra-violent, often ugly for the sake of ugly, and action-action-action. The TV series puts all the ugly violence offstage or off-shot, and focuses on deep interpersonal relationships, the plight of the immortal in a mortal society, the agony of not knowing your own parentage especially when you are manifestly different, and the ethics of the use of power. The movies have to do with political revolution by force of arms; the TV show has to do with soul evolution by force of character.
But I never expected any of the actors, most especially not the one playing the lead character, to realize that. I should have known better from all my years of associating with the stars of the original Star Trek. Trek didn't happen by accident but by design. Why should I have assumed Highlander did? I don't know the story behind Highlander - The Series. But having met some of Adrian Paul's personal friends and associates, and having read an article he wrote for the fan club publication (yes, he can write, and extraordinarily well, too), I am now convinced there is a story behind Highlander - The Series that is worth knowing.
Here is what is so extraordinary about the fan club. This club is an actor's fan club. There is another club for fans of the show in general. This is specifically an Adrian Paul fan club. The character he plays on Highlander has made him famous, not because of his acting ability which he had displayed often before in other roles, but because of his mastery of swordsmanship and other unarmed martial arts.
The premise behind the show is that there exist on Earth a number of Immortals like Duncan MacLeod. None of them know who their parents were. They are all foundlings. When something first kills them, they rise again. Another immortal then trains them in combat and inculcates the rules of their existence namely that they must kill each other or be killed. Immortals can only be killed by decapitation.
Duncan MacLeod takes exception to the rule of kill or be killed. He perfects his skills in the martial arts to have enough power to be able to defeat master swordsmen without killing. Sometimes he fails and someone dies. Sometimes he sets out to kill someone who is killing mortals or has otherwise gone insane. In any case, he never ever glories in the kill. He grieves the loss of life, even that of an enemy. He never celebrates with joy a victory that is coupled to a loss of life. Any life.
Personally, I see Duncan MacLeod as a reincarnation of Nicholas Knight, the vampire cop but in a parallel universe where there are no vampires, just Immortals instead.
The integrity of the rich character of Duncan MacLeod is obvious to me, but apparently not to all viewers. There is a large contingent of fans of the show who are much more typical of martial arts neophytes and amateurs feeling that true victory lies in the defeat of an enemy, the more ignominious the defeat, the better. And of course, such people who watch Highlander - The Series tend to be fans of Duncan MacLeod and thus of Adrian Paul rather than fans of the show as a whole. There was a solid representation of this type of person passing through the fan club room as I sat there.
They would drift in, glance at the posters without seeing them, hold loud and lewd conversations depicting the pornography of violence as they admired and cherished it with all their hearts and souls, and then as the atmosphere in the room soaked into them, they would drift away, eyes glazed over, untouched by what was really happening in that room.
These people had never responded to the television show's essential and most prominent ingredient the moral and ethical fiber of Duncan MacLeod. All they could see was bash-slash-hack. Their emotional response was to their own internal, repressed, pain not to the art of this show. Sf/f fandom does indeed have a percentage of people in this lamentable condition.
In sharp distinction, there was another cadre of devout Duncan MacLeod fans who turned up knowledgeable swordsmen, aficionados. Even as apprentices, these folk do not revel in destruction or victory, but in precision control of power and the symbolism of The Sword.
Adrian Paul named his fanclub PEACE, and he has set out to take the fame that has enveloped him and focus it on the positive, spiritual energy available through the martial arts. He has made a serious effort to prevent the inevitable fanclub attached to his name from developing into a society for the promotion of violence-as-pleasure. Adrian Paul named his fanclub PEACE because that is the essential goal of the martial arts not dominance, not conquering, not the power to vanquish your enemies, but the power to yield to the divine. The true Master of the Art has no enemies and not because he's killed them all.
PEACE is a fanclub with a difference, and the people who are involved in it are, whether they know it or not, participating in the redesign of the fiction delivery system. Actor fan clubs have, to date, mostly been collections of groupies fainting over a membership card with the actor's signature on it. This club shows signs of collecting members who understand what's wrong with television and intend to do something about it without making adversaries out of the industry professionals.
My thesis is that the fiction delivery system is broken, and one of the ways it's broken is that it lacks feedback loops. If the Adrian Paul fanclub does indeed gather people who are attracted to the PEACE concept inherent in the Highlander - The Series premise, the mere existence of the club will "feedback" the message that what's good about this TV show is the high ethical standard behind the use of power and the strong morality depicted in the relationships, exactly the same values that form the core of Forever Knight.
Market-share ratings tell TV professionals how many people watch their show, not why they watch. Shows exist to deliver large audiences to advertisers. The fiction delivery system in this country is commercially based, profit motivated, and ultimately driven by sheer numbers.
There's nothing wrong with that, except that fiction addicts tend to forget or discount it. We watch a show because we like the fiction, not the commercials. But it's the commercials that are the important part. Once you understand that, really understand it, you'll have a chance to affect what kind of fiction the system delivers.
Star Trek successfully reincarnated because advertisers finally realized that, although the size of the audience wasn't impressive, the composition of it was (and is). Star Trek was originally cancelled because (in simplistic terms) it didn't pull a large enough audience share. But the rating service didn't put their black boxes on TV sets in college dorms and count how many students sat through the whole thing. Most of the show's market was composed of people who didn't own television sets, so they never got counted. But college graduates earn more money and buy more things.
Today, ratings services have learned about "demographics" but there are still other things they have not learned to measure things having to do with the content of the fiction that glues the audience to the screen. Forever Knight (the TV show about my favorite cop-vampire, Nick Knight) has a club and now a whole convention devoted to it. The original Star Trek conventions impressed Hollywood with the characteristics of the fans of the show and contributed one of the essential sparks that revived and reincarnated it.
There is a unique history behind the revival of the TV show Kung Fu as Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. David Carradine and the dedicated martial arts experts who saw the true art displayed on that show caused the revival.
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Forever Knight, and Highlander - The Series, are made by Rysher, and the fans actively involved in them are very much the same crowd of people. The head of the Forever Knight group I met at Arisia is a Highlander fan. The Adrian Paul club will be at the vampire convention. And a lot of them are Trek fans.
That's not accident or coincidence. If you analyze each of these shows from Rysher, you find they have similar value systems behind them, and a similar emphasis on relationship overshadowing violence. Understanding people is a more efficient problem-solving tool than beating them to death. But to understand people, you must understand yourself and that's one of the first goals of the martial arts. It has to be the primary goal of any art that triggers the acquisition of power.
Now we come to the latest Star Trek Voyager. And what do we find? Even more relationship than in the original Trek, and a much heavier emphasis than in either of the three Rysher shows mentioned above.
The premise of Voyager (on the off chance you haven't seen it yet) is that two politically opposed groups from the same intersteller civilization depicted in the first three incarnations of the show are marooned together some seventy-odd years travel from home. To survive with any hope of getting home, they have to form an integrated crew (under a woman captain).
In the first episode, they also acquire two aliens native to this new region who are of different species from each other and form a mated pair a hot topic Alien Nation never quite dealt with straight on.
We also have a part-Klingon woman with a Klingon temper, and a black Vulcan who looks African, but very, very obviously isn't. Oh, boy is he good! If you watch him carefully, in just the first two episodes, you already have a new understanding of Spock, and the name was never once mentioned. This actor, Tim Russ, is describing Vulcan culture without ever saying a word on the subject. Check out the TV Guide article on him and see where he learned it all.
The hallmark of really good fiction is the way the art behind the art produces cognitive dissonances that captivate the attention and later resolve into harmony. Sf is particularly good at this. Voyager shows every sign of bringing televised sf to new heights of art by the use of this method.
But it still might fail. Because of the way television production works, there is never enough time to get all the details just right. In the second episode of Voyager, for example, they had the ship get trapped at the event horizon of a singularity. They garbled the explanation of the terms singularity and event horizon.
Then the experienced Star Fleet officers behaved as if puzzled by what the universe looks like from nearly inside the event horizon. The viewers mostly knew, if they'd taken any college physics at all, what the current theory is on that. All the sf readers among the viewers knew. Odd that the experienced Star Fleet officers didn't, especially since the observations were textbook stuff.
The escape process was well, we won't discuss that. Since it was only the second show, we knew they had to escape. But I've seen better science on Batman.
Thank goodness this show isn't about the science but about the relationships.
Meanwhile, over on Babylon 5, they continue to develop a complex, ongoing storyline, again bringing back Walter Koenig, of classic Trek fame as a telepath. This show, likewise, is about the relationships; all action is incidental so far. However, there are aliens out there preparing to attack the volatile alliance of races of which Earth is a part. Surely there will be Lucas-style space battles soon.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is another "don't miss". It has many, many flaws as noted in this column before, but a variety of tales to tell. My favorite character so far is Odo, but Dax is a close second. By the way, their "singularity," the "wormhole," is textbook theory done very well. As for the rest well, we make allowances.
For pure whimsey, I must say I do love Lois and Clark. I can only wish that this was how it was written when I was ten years old. The current crop of ten-year-olds may turn out to be very different when they reach fifty, because of this show. It's not a show for children, but don't let your precocious ten-year-olds (especially the boys) miss this one.
Which brings me to the point of this column. Actor fan-clubs, vampire conventions, and sf/f on TV all a frivolous waste of time? Or a serious force for change in society? My thesis is that Art, in all its forms but most especially in the commercial art forms, is the primary precursor of change in a society and in a culture, the origin of change, the director of change, and the barometer of change as well.
Currently, commercial entertainment is running wild, the only operant feedback loops being statistical ratings systems that carefully and specifically exclude the very classes of consumer whose feedback is most valuable both commercially and artistically.
Clubs, conventions and other consumer activities have the potential to evolve into feedback loops that will govern what art is delivered where, with what impact, and what content. We don't want Congress to make laws delineating the content of fiction we are allowed to imbibe. So we you and I, the consumers must develop a mechanism to tame the wildcatting delivery system before it tears itself apart violently.
By participating in the feedback loops that govern the creation and dissemination of commercial art, we take charge of our own lives. Joining an actor fan club is equivalent to taking possession of the land on which your food is grown.
You don't have to be a victim. You don't have to be a slave. But until you understand the forces arrayed against you, they will be your adversaries. Join, participate, write, call, fax, E-mail, SIG-post and stand up and be counted. Let the commercial interests who have designed and built the fiction delivery system understand that the most important attribute of the fiction you are willing to pay for is content. Then tell them specifically what content you liked and why.
One lesson came out of early Star Trek fandom's efforts. Positive reinforcement works better than punishment. When they do well, tell them. When they do badly, ignore them.
If TV-fiction purveyors can't tame the proliferation of commercials that ruin the continuity of the art, someone clever will invent a way to get a VCR to record without commercials. The defense industry is already working on Artificial Intelligence, and they need business now that war is out of style.
Already "interactive" TV is on the testing table. When you can take your favorite episode and rewrite the dialogue, reshoot the action sequences, and change the ending, there will be real change in the fiction delivery system for the first time since the beginning of radio. Currently, you can only do that in fanzines.
When the purveyors of visual fiction finally get the point, new technological methods will be brought to bear on the problem of delivering art in a form that doesn't require speed reading or an ever shortening attention span to enjoy. We have to make sure we let them know exactly what attributes we want our art to have.
Just take care not to adopt the attitude that you know what kind of art other people "should" be allowed to have.
Books for review in this column should be sent to Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, NY 10952.
Find these titles by using copy/paste (in MSIE use right mouse button to get the copy/paste menue to work inside text boxes) to insert them in the search slot below -- then click Book Search and you will find the page where you can discover more about that book, or even order it if you want to. To find books by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, such as the new Biblical Tarot series, search "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" below.
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The Re-Readable Collection
Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg