Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Watching TV with RAW

Hugh Laurie, star of the TV medical drama House. 

Ted Hand, on Twitter (Ted's father recently died): "After Robert Anton Wilson died his daughter told me he had wanted to find out what happened next on House. My Dad missed 2+1/2 Men finale."

I never watched "House." Does anyone else have intel on RAW's TV habits?


Oz Fritz said...

I remember reading somewhere a comment by Eric Wagner who said that Law and Order was RAW's favorite TV program.

michael said...

When I hung out with RAW he told me he checked the TCM schedule almost every day.

The number of citations of films - from the worst schlock to the all-time canonical faves - is very very high in RAW's early writings. Just look at how he often he works movies into PBOFW, for example. A few times he says "Late Show" which is quite a dated idea for people, say, under 40. In the days before cable TV (and therefore TCM), you'd receive about seven channels on your TV. And often there would be a block in the late afternoon and after 10PM when a feature-length film would be shown. (No doubt he saw a great many classic films in theaters.)

RAW loved "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" when it appeared. He did like cop dramas: note the cop detectives in Illuminatus! and the cops in SCT; this is in keeping with his enjoyment of Ed McBain's books. RAW seemed fascinated by the literature of cops and detectives and the sociology of their lives. (Did RAW ever get to see The Wire?)

Any one of us can read Reality Is What You Can Get Away With and speculate about the conditions under which RAW had familiarized himself with those movies, many of which he written about in other places as tapping in Jungian archetypes, etc...RAW once described TV as a "squatting Buddha in everyone's living room, that spouts kitsch." (paraphrasing from memory)

The last Q Dr. Jeffrey Eliot asked RAW, circa 1978, at RAW's place in Berkeley:

Q: Finally, another object of considerable criticism, although not by you, is television. How do you assess the overall impact of television on modern society?

RAW: Oh, man. There you've got me on one of my favorite subjects. I really think television is 100 times better than most literary intellectuals admit. I think that "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman", in its two seasons on the air was better than anything done in movies, in novels, or on Broadway at the time. As far as I'm concerned, television was the major art medium of the country for those two seasons. Movies, the stage, and literature were totally outdone. The combination of social realism, coupled with black comedy, was masterful. They really made it work! In looking at the show from minute-to-minute, you never knew whether you were going to laugh or cry. The artistic ambiguity was handled brilliantly. I think there has been a lot of other good things on television, too. Since most science fiction fans despise "trekkies" let me go on record as saying I'm an ardent "trekkie" myself. I love the show. I also think "The Prisoner" is as good as any movie of our generation. In brief, I think television has come in for a lot of unfair criticism. Of course, it's primarily the fault of the networks themselves. It's extremely irritating to look at something first-rate, only to have it interrupted by those idiotic commercials every seven minutes.
-p.64, _Literary Voices #1_, ed. Jeffrey Eliot, Borgo Press, (1980)

RAW mentions TIVO in a 2004 interview with RU Sirius.

michael said...

Interestingly, look at "Damnation By Definition" from _Email to the Uinverse_. The basic essay was written in 1964, although RAW interpolated his 2005 thinking in some sentences are updated (q.v. where he parenthetically mentions Internet as a medium that could supercede TV and allow TV to break out of its neolithic taboos, in which - in 1964 - it was encased).

There's a talk from 2000, while Gore was running against W, where RAW says he used to think he discovered channel surfing, which he's likened to cut-ups. He called it "Bavarian TV." In _New Libertarian_, 11/28/76, in context of discussion about Burroughs, Pound and magick, "a TV shot picked up as you turn the dials quickly." Pynchon has written about using TV this way too. Also: Burroughs. See _The Job_, pp.31-32

SCT: p.19 (violence on 1960s and 70s TV and imprinting); 24 (a montage); 24-25 (Vietnam WAr experienced as "bad TV"); 28 (most Boomers took TV-visual imprint on 3rd circuit); 113 (TV as depressogenic), etc, etc, etc

See CT3, chapter 35, "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds," which uses TV as part of metaphor/mask riffing.

See Prometheus Rising, revised ed, p.151 for a riff about TV as metaphor for the biggest promise and threat we face: knowing how the brain/nervous system works.

Sorry to have rambled on so.

Bobby Campbell said...

Great comments, Micheal!

I remember RAW had this really cool little Loch Ness Monster figurine on his cable box.

The figurine was in multiple pieces so it looked like it was submerged in the cable box. (Like on the cover of Masks of the Illuminati.)

I liked the implication that the mythic creature was swimming through the ocean of TV channels.

chas said...

Okay Michael, I'll bite--what the heck is PBOFW?

michael said...


Sorry: _Playboy's Book of Forbidden Words_ (1972). With _The Sex Magicians_, the earliest of RAW books that saw the light. Illuminatus! was finished by this time, but not published until 1975.

RAW said that the editors at Playboy took out almost all of his riffs on how words bamboozle us - unless we've read someone like Korzybski - and therefore hypnotize us. He wanted to publish his own revamped version called _Robert Anton Wilson's Book of Black Magick and Curses_, but never got around to it. (Fragments of what he seemed to want appeared in essays subsequently.)

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