Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What Scares Me

Happy Halloween! I'm not actually a big Halloween person. For one thing, I'm not a fan of costumes. I like dressing up, but I don't really like pretending to be someone (or something) else. I think I might have identity issues. I'm also incredibly claustrophobic about masks. Then there's the fact that I don't enjoy being scared. I don't find it fun, nor do I get a thrill out of it. I don't like horror movies, haunted houses or even scary amusement park rides. I guess you could call me a Halloweenie. For me, the real holiday is November 1, when all the Halloween chocolate gets marked down to half price (note to self: grocery shopping this week will happen on Thursday).

I have noticed something other than skeletons and headless horsemen lately that scares me. It occurred to me while watching something on the History Channel the other night. What happened to the more "highbrow" TV channels? Remember back in the Dark Ages, about six or seven years ago, when A&E was the network that brought us Pride and Prejudice, Horatio Hornblower, and a bunch of other British literary adaptations? Then there were America's Castles, The Grand Tour, and other shows about historic buildings. They showed the whole Boston Pops July 4 concert. I watched that network all the time. Now what do they show? Dog the Bounty Hunter and Mindfreak. It's no longer on my cable favorites list because there's just no point.

Then there's the History Channel, where the dumbing down is a little more subtle. They do still air stuff about history (though I'm not quite sure how Ice Road Truckers fits into that), but the way they do it has shifted a bit. I remember about six or seven years ago when they did a documentary about Vlad Tepes, the "real" Dracula, and most of it was debunking all the Dracula myths. In history, yeah, he was rather brutal, but he lived in a brutal time, and in that region, he's actually considered a hero for keeping the Turks out of his land. He wasn't really associated with evil until Bram Stoker wrote the book Dracula, and that was pure fiction that wasn't even very well researched. The documentary really got into the truth vs. the fiction that's become part of the Dracula story.

Monday night, they ran a couple of shows about Vlad the Impaler, but they seemed more focused on making the novel Dracula be based on truth. In one, the host breathlessly went into the dungeons of Dracula's castles and talked about being able to feel the pure evil. I had to giggle when he was in one dungeon and started getting all excited about how awful it must have been to be a prisoner there, and how evil Vlad must have been to keep people in places like that. But it was your basic underground room, nothing particularly evil about it. I've actually visited worse dungeons. What did he expect, skylights and balconies? Maybe a hot tub? Then there was a show about some people who are descended from an enemy of Dracula's who were researching their roots. Back in the 60s, they made a trip to one of Dracula's castles, and as they climbed the steep hillside, the older man in the group slipped and fell down the hill and later died of his injuries. The documentary took this as proof that Dracula had cursed this entire family, and his evil was still present in the place. Later, a teenager from this family and a school friend spent a night in the castle, and they reported this unearthly light that approached the castle -- dramatized, of course, in a reenactment with bad special effects. Again, the documentary, with breathless narration, went on to talk about this being proof of the pure evil in this place that was the source of all the Dracula legends.

So, when did the History Channel go from clear-headed reporting of facts to breathless sensationalizing of legends based on fiction written centuries after the fact by someone who'd never actually been to that area? I guess they think audiences would rather have the hype than the real story, just as A&E thinks audiences would rather have Dog the Bounty Hunter than Pride and Prejudice. And I guess that since they are driven by ratings, they must be doing better with their current lineup than they were before, or they wouldn't be sticking with what they've got now, so that means they are right about what people want to watch. And that's what really scares me.

Tonight on the History Channel: Was the story of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde based on truth? You know, it was fascinating when the BBC explored that idea in a fictional drama, but does it belong on the History Channel? I guess history is now to the History Channel as science fiction is to the Sci Fi Channel. Scary.

In other news, I saw the first mock-up of the cover for Don't Hex With Texas today, and it's really cute. I'll post when I have a final version.

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