Greatsociety’s Cult Culture Section: Ten Years of What I’m Watching

Well, 2011 is Greatsociety’s tenth anniversary. Which feels like an important milestone, but might actually be cause for horror and soul-searching because, really, what the fuck am I doing?

When thinking of how to celebrate the anniversary, I sat back and looked at what Greatsociety has done over the last ten years. It’s destroyed friendships, and romantic relationships. It’s mocked 9/11 within 90 days of the event. It’s followed me through pain, healing, recovery, catastrophe, and renewal…

But all that shit’s stupid and depressing. What’s the one aspect of the page that’s closest to my heart? The “Cult-Culture” section.

For me, my TV addiction began in 1980. A coming together of forces, really. I was a latchkey kid, so my mother and father, my siblings and best friends, were all wrapped up in the television. When my mom did come straggling home at 8pm, she’d go right for the TV, as well… And she was a sci-fi geek.

Whenever I escaped her, it was to stay over at my grandparent’s house. The apple never falls far from the tree, as they were also both fairly serious sci-fi and fantasy geeks.

So, at six years old, I was exposed to the greats of American sci-fi – Star Trek, Space: 1999, Battlestar Galactica. The journeyman era of 60’s and 70’s sci-fi that held us, thanks to repeats, through something of a dry spell between 1980 and 1987. I was hooked immediately. I sought out all the rest of the shows that lived in syndication limbo, repeated at odd hours. From Planet of the Apes to Salvage One, from the Krofft Superstars to 60’s stinkers like Planet of the Giants, from Irwin Allen’s flinchworthy comedy in It’s About Time to The Time Tunnel.

On my own, I found Doctor Who. Mid-day on PBS during a rainy Sunday. The episode was Planet of Evil – early Tom Baker at his best: greedy spacemen far from home on a hostile planet haunted by a nasty beast, and lovely Lis Sladen sliding around an appallingly fake jungle set in form-fitting reporter-chic fetishwear. The show became the cornerstone of my addiction, though suffered mightily on PBS. It vanished from our local station and landed on a Baltimore PBS station, which involved holding rabbit ears and watching entire episodes standing up. Then it moved to midnight on Saturdays, so that became my late night treat. Leading up to it, they’d usually pack in the old guard of ultra-recycled British comedy – Are You Being Served, Keeping Up Appearances, and so on. Another addiction was born thanks to those Britcoms nobody can avoid because our PBS stations over here used them as filler in those fine days before everyone had cable.

Getting cable was a new era. No more fiddling with antennas, no more staring through static at rubber monsters, cardboard corridors, or Michael Praed in Sherwood Forest, or Hyacinth Bucket torturing her neighbors.

Meanwhile, on regular TV, we had the Star Trek and Stargate franchises, and the late 90’s ushered in a new wave of sci-fi, sparked by the unique Farscape and rolling into a decade of gritty ship-bound sci-fi, of which the new Battlestar Galactica is something of the flagship. The wave has crested with the cancellation of Stargate Universe and, now, falls back. Perhaps another dry spell is on the horizon as we work through our need for Buffy and Charmed clones, or maybe we’ll launch in a new direction. 2010/2011 is, supposedly, the year of the alien invasion story. So far, the movies have been lackluster, and the upcoming Spielberg TV series effort looks weak before it’s even left the gate.

But sci-fi is a genre that’s never been in danger of dying.

Writing for Great Society has always been something of a challenge. It’s a weird, little, personal meander that’s often done without any concept of an audience. I tell myself that no one is reading… Or, if they are, they aren’t reading everything. And, if they are reading everything, I shouldn’t acknowledge them because they’re crazier than I am.

With that sort of mind-set, it’s been tough to stick to any sort of routine, and impossible to focus on an ongoing series of articles. Despite that, there has been one section of the page that’s always been revisited, in one way or another, since around 2002 – what was dubbed the “cult-culture” section in 2005. A term I read in a book discussing the evolution of cult cinema like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Evil Dead prior to the rise of Raimi/Campbell, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and countless others.

My goal, as the age of DVD caught up with me and all these shows – good and bad – started to land on my shelf, was to review the shit I was watching and quietly worshipped. My central inspiration was Joe Bob Briggs back in those early days, even before Monstervision and his TMC show. Back when he was making a living off of being a humorous crank in the Dallas Herald, and doing weird stand-up shows.

I haven’t stuck to it, but, leading up to our anniversary celebrations in April, I figured I’d recycle some of the cult-culture articles, as well as write a few new ones. They’ll be appearing each Friday in a general I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing way.