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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

RAW didn't like 'The X Files'

Actress Gillian Anderson of 'X Files' fame, at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con. Creative Commons photo by Gage Skidmore. 

An amusing biographical tidbit about Robert Anton Wilson, gleaned from Twitter:

On Twitter, Ted Hand writes, "I learned from @StealThisSingul today that Robert Anton Wilson didn't like X-Files!" (E.g., from R.U. Sirius). Sirius replied, "It's true. He thought the plots were obvious."

I thought the show was OK but I wasn't wedded to it. I would be disappointed if RAW didn't like "Twin Peaks."

I asked R.U. Sirius about "Twin Peaks," but he didn't know. "I know that Tim Leary was a huge fan of Blue Velvet. That's all I got ...." he replied.


michael said...

RAW told me he wasn't impressed with Stephen King because the style wasn't there, not like Lovecraft who RAW thought had scads of great style.

In RAW's interview with weirdo radio dude "Narduwar" RAW thinks X-Files probably lifted from him what they could get away with, but Repo Man is way better, but in the 1997 interview with Farber RAW doesn't assert X-Files stole from him.

RAW mentions X-Files in _The Walls Came Tumbling Down_, p.10, where he says his hero in the screenplay, "finds himself stranded between a Pythonesque world and an Ed Wood/tabloid/X-Files nightmare." Same book, Intro, RAW in 1997 riffs on how Internet has further accelerated culture and that "The most popular show on US television, and now a big hit in England also, The X-Files, deals with governmental conspiracies that only the 'kooks' took seriously a decade ago." (p. 23)

In RAW's article "Nonprophet Futurism," chapter 9 of _Solstice Shift: Magical Blend's Synergistic Guide to the Coming Age_, ed. John Nelson, (1997), in one passage RAW repeats what he says above about the Internet and what only "kooks" took seriously a decade ago: RAW says about X-Files, that "It must foreshadow shows (in the tradition of The Prisoner) about other governmental conspiracies, real and imaginary. Nothing can remain unspoken in our new global village." (p.78)

In _Secrets of Angels and Demons_, which includes an interview with RAW, it seems obvious RAW thinks Dan Brown plagiarized from him, but RAW is careful not to say something actionable.

Re: the TV show "Lost": see _Lost and Philosophy_ (ed. Kaye), pp.102-110 (some of the main people behind Lost were definitely influenced by RAW)

michael said...

In a personal email to me from Kurt Smith, who wrote eloquently and was a tremendous RAW benefactor and friend (1st ed. of Prometheus Rising was dedicated to him), Smith was discussing the Jim Carrey movie "The Number 23" (which Smith thought had dramaturgical problems in the its last 1/4), he wrote these lines:

"Naturally, Shea and Wilson's contribution to the concept went unacknowledged [...] If the movie tanks we can say here is poetic justice after all. However, as Bob himself said, any derivative work which leads the curious to the original is a valuable contribution." (Feb. 27, 2007)
I think it was in Kembrew McLeod's book _Pranksters_ (which has some very heady assertions about RAW and the Discordians and "blowback", BTW): Wm. Cooper's _Behold A Pale Horse_ - esp. how ideas from that book got iterated ad nauseum via right wing AM talk radio stations in the US - probably influenced 1990s pop conspiracy ideation more than any other book. I wonder...

In RAW's _Everything Is Under Control_: entry "Ray Palmer", p.335: "In short, The X Files, and all the mass fears and conspiracy theories that fed into it, largely owe their existence to Ray Palmer, who reached millions with his pulps, even though the mythos he created never became as universally known in his lifetime as it has since his death." Same book, p.15, RAW quotes from X Files: "Trust no one." That's from his intro. RAW calls X Files there as "The Bible of Those Who Doubt." Also from EIUC: under Roswell: RAW sees Roswell as competing with X-Files for most conspiracy memes (1998)..

Finally, I don't know where this is still found on Internet, but RAW's "Thought For the Month" from his own website, year 2000, dated by him as 30 Apollo 78 p.s.U. (Remember that?), he starts off with a quote from Gaugin:

"There are only two kinds of artists: the plagiarists and the revolutionaries. RAW follows this quote with a short essay on his own esthetics, which has a lot to do with these two types of artists. Of Gaugin's quote: "I love this quote because it sums up my own philosophy of art so neatly." Six paragraphs follow and I think this might be the prime locus for talking/writing about RAW and his unacknowledged influence on culture. (Someone please tell me if this little essay showed up in one of his later books; I can't find it in my notes.) - the Mgt.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I want to apologize to Michael for missing the second half of his comment and not getting it posted right away.

That's a great bit of trivia about Stephen King. I didn't know that RAW had discussed him.

michael said...

Tom- no apologies necessary.

RAW's short essay/blog post on revolutionaries and plagiarists is here, about 70% of the way down the page:

I draw attention to it, because the X-Files issue (RU Sirius saying RAW didn't like the show) brought up a lot of issues about RAW's influence on popular culture, something that fascinates me. While his influence on X-Files, Dan Brown, Lost, The Number 23, etc seems obvious, each production/producer to some degree, RAW couldn't just come out and SAY "They ripped me off," because 1.) he knows there's a plausible argument that these ideas, as implemented, were "in the air" or that writers and producers may have gotten the ideas 2nd, 3rd, 4th hand; and 2.) giant production companies and their backers have deep pockets and could sue the shit out of a guy who already had money issues.

Are there other reasons?


I remember how Stephen King came up. We were talking about all kinds of things and I said I'd just read an article about incoming freshmen at Princeton, who, when asked anonymously to answer Qs about their reading, 70% said they hadn't read a book in the past year, and of the ones that had read a book, "Stephen King" was the author most often cited. RAW said, "I knew you were going to say that!" Then he said he wasn't impressed with King's writing, and compared his lack of style to Lovecraft's great style.

In interviews RAW was kinder to other writers; he tried to steer clear of saying negative things about other artists, but I strongly suspect those who knew him saw a far more outspoken and critical RAW. He didn't come out in an article and say the X-Files was trite (to him), probably partly because he knew so many people who liked him also liked that show. (He'd rather you watched The Prisoner though, I suspect.)

RAW of course has always been a champion of three now canonical American writers who, while they were alive, were thought of in academe as not to be taken seriously "pulp" or popular writers:

1. HPL, whose stock has risen enormously in the past 25 years. Library of America has published his work, for example. For RAW, Lovecraft was always THE horror writer...because of his unique style and vision.

2. Raymond Chandler, who RAW saw as far and away the best detective story writer...because of his style.

3. PKD.'Nuff said! RAW didn't cite PKD's style but just about everything else about his output was great, and I think PKD's recurring theme about ontology was what he admired most about his writing. RAW did not single out PKD as the "best" or his "favorite" (okay, he may have once or twice) science fiction writer - RAW loved a lot of SF writers - but he was quasi-friends with PKD before Ridley Scott's film came out, and now PKD is one of the most influential writers in "Hollywood" over the past 50 years.

(I realize almost all of you who read are thinking, "Why is this guy telling us stuff we already knew? It's for the few who wander in here and might become interested in this Wilson guy who had such a penetrating ear and eye for talent and style, etc.)

Eric Wagner said...

Great comments, Michael. Bob mentioned his dislike of King's style to me in a letter as well. I disagree with Bob here. I like King's style. I have read a lot of Lovecraft, but I may never read him again. I can see myself reading all of the King books I haven't read yet. I use King's "On Writing" in one of my college classes. I've read it seven times already, and I plan to read it twice a year as long as I keep using it as a textbook.

I love the novelist William Goldman. His book "Which Lie Did I Tell" has a chapter about when he wrote the screenplay for "Misery". Goldman wrote, "I had read enough of King to know this: of all the phee-noms that have appeared in the past decades, King is the stylist. If he ever chooses to leave the world that has made him the most successful writer in memory, he won't break a sweat. The man can write anything, he is that gifted." Different lanes for different brains, I guess.

Many times I have found myself on an airplane with a book I thought would hold my interest, feeling bored. I used to have a bunch of half-read Stephen King books on my shelves because I would frequently buy a King novel for the return flight. He has a strong enough storytelling gift to hold my attention through a crowded flight across an ocean.

As I child, many readers criticized me for reading science fiction. In 2018 with our nice scholarly editions of Lovecraft and Phil Dick, I sometimes forget that. At the World Science Fiction Convention in Denver in 1981 they put all the horror programming on one night, so it functioned as a ghetto within the science fiction ghetto, because a lot of science fiction readers had little respect for horror. I really enjoyed hanging out with the horror writers that evening, and it struck me how much respect they had for King as a writer. For one thing, his willingness to kill any character at any time impressed them. That didn't happen much in fiction in 1981. I think King paved the way for the sudden killing of major characters. (Yeah, I know "Psycho" came out decades before.) (Coincidentally, I saw George R. R. Martin at that Con as well.)

Bobby Campbell said...

What a lovely surprise to find in the comments!

I find that I really like Stephen King as a personality, and respect him as a thoughtful craftsman of ideas, but don't have much interest in actually reading his books.

I did get a kick out of listening to the audio version of his "On Writing" though, and found it fascinating to get a sense of his process, which really is very much about specifically and methodically avoiding stylized prose.

Never ruminate when you can just think, never saunter when you can just walk, never elucidate when you can just explain, that sorta stuff.

Which does make perfect sense in terms of conversing with a mass audience, and King has the stats to prove it, but man, it just takes all the fun out of it for me!

I've never actually seen the X-Files, but it feels like I have because it is such a loud pop culture phenomenon.

Maybe when one of RAW's intellectual properties is finally loosed upon the mainstream, in a strange loop, it will be because the rip offs paved the way for the source material's mass appeal :)))

michael said...

Eric- I found I agreed with RAW about King. And, like Bob Campbell, I like King as a public person. I'm glad Eric chimed in to stand up for KIng's style.

What I find really interesting about this "style" thing: it tells us about RAW's esthetic preferences in a more granular way. The baroque quality of Lovecraft, Chandler's incredible similes...RAW agreed with Nietzsche: to improve your mind improve your style. And yet "style" remains subjective. We can make laundry lists of the "qualities" we admire in someone's style, and we probably aspire to something similar in ourselves.

And yet, aye, Eric: Different lanes for different brains. Different models for different muddles.