9/12/2005

White-knuckle TV - Salon.com

White-knuckle TV
Ghosts, aliens, terrorists, criminals, sea monsters and female presidents are appearing this fall to exploit our deepest, darkest phobias. Is this the entertainment we want -- or deserve?

Sept. 12, 2005 | "A feeble mind, conscious of its own feebleness, grows feeble under that very consciousness. As soon as the power of fear becomes known to it, there follows the fear of fear, and, on the first perturbation, reason abandons it." -- Hector Berlioz

"He who strikes terror into others is himself in continual fear." -- Claudian

"There's nothing I'm afraid of like scared people." -- Robert Frost

Just as we're starting to get a handle on the terrifying specter of Hurricane Katrina, the creepiest, most fear-mongering season of TV ever is delivered straight to our living rooms. While it's obvious that Americans are now officially scared out of their minds like never before, why would we want to indulge our horrors on the small screen?

Hollywood dug up a handful of old phobias this summer with "War of the Worlds," "Batman Begins," and "Red Eye," and now TV producers offer us a bunch of shows that occupies that addictive territory between suspense thriller and horror flick. Whether it's the trickle-down effect of terror alert levels, nuclear proliferation, and the wars abroad or the success of shows like "24" and "Lost" that are to blame, never before have the networks served up so many dramas about frightening forces beyond our control. From terrorism ("E-Ring," "Sleeper Cell") to unearthly mysteries ("Supernatural," "The Night Stalker," "The Ghost Whisperer") to extraterrestrial visitors ("Invasion," "Threshold") to sea monsters ("Surface") to escaping prisoners ("Prison Break") to perhaps the scariest of all, the prospect of a female president ("Commander in Chief"), the current line-up manipulates our fears to a degree once reserved for blockbusters. Even the new procedural dramas, the latter-day CSIs, are wandering into extremely dark territory with the specter of abusive fathers, serial killers, rapists armed with tarantulas and murderous Capitol Hill insiders ("Close to Home," "Killer Instinct," "Bones," "Criminal Minds"). More than anything, the fall shows paint a picture of a world that's slipping out of our control. Around every turn are malevolent forces that seek to destroy us, forces that exist outside the scope of the civilized world or current science or human understanding.

Salon.com Arts & Entertainment | White-knuckle TV - NP

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