and i’m not afraid to admit it

The phrase "guilty pleasure" has always puzzled me. If it gives you pleasure, why be guilty? Of course, it's one thing if your "guilty pleasure" involves clubbing baby seals or tying girls to railroad tracks, but mostly when people say they have a guilty pleasure, it turns out to be that they really like Journey or Foreigner, or maybe Two and a Half Men.

Stephen Watkins just did a post called "Why Yes, I AM a Fan of the Old Rankin & Bass Hobbit Movie, And I’m Not Afraid To Admit It" and so I thought I'd write a post about my particular enthusiasms, about which I am not guilty in the least.

Dark Shadows

A late 1960s soap opera, it ran for 1,225 episodes (which is a very short run for a soap opera, though it's more episodes than all of the Star Trek series put together – daily broadcasting every week of the year will do that). It started out in Jane Eyre/Turn of the Screw territory, with a new governess showing up to serve a mysterious family. The family secrets might have supernatural elements, but they might not. Ghosts are seen, but are they real, or in the imaginations of the other characters?

But then, with ratings falling and the series in danger of cancellation, the writers decided to go all out, and they introduced a vampire. Barnabas Collins. And he became a cultural phenomenon, almost like a rock and roll star.

Meanwhile, although now much more successful, the show continued to be produced in the same way: shot in a few sets, in real time, on video, all of the special effects (and there were a lot) done in-camera. No post-production, and no retakes, so there were occasional flubs. Actors blew their lines and called each other the wrong names (especially unsurprising since each actor played multiple characters in different time periods and alternate dimensions). Eternal flames blew out at the wrong time. "Outdoor" scenes were obviously shot on a very small sound stage with a few fake trees standing around and a lot of darkness. Stage hands were occasionally seen walking past the windows, or even sleeping on the sets.

Was it good? It was sort of great without actually being good in the usual sense. But, seeing it at an impressionable age (every day after school at 4:00pm), it bored its way into my brain and it's never left. As I talked about here, I saw an episode after at least 25 years, and immediately recognized the head of Judah Zachary when I saw it. Johnny Depp was infected in the same way, which is why there will be a Dark Shadows movie in a few months. It has been his lifelong dream to play Barnabas Collins, and I can understand that.

(I was never a Barnabas fanatic, actually. Barnabas, like the original cast of characters, was pretty much all suffering and gloom. I preferred the later characters Quentin Collins and Professor Stokes, who had a rather sardonic humor about all the goings-on.)

Big Finish has been doing audio plays, new stories based on the existing history of the series, including many of the original cast members. There was even one where they lured Jonathan Frid, the original Barnabas Collins, out of retirement to play the character again. He's in his 80s, and he nailed the character as nobody has since his original performances back in the 1960s. Johnny Depp has a lot to live up to.

Other than some names I've used, I don't think DS has had a huge influence on my writing, with one exception. I do have a character who pretty definitely has Angelique Bouchard in her DNA, along with the comic book characters Emma Frost and Jeannette (both of whom also have elements of Angelique). She's in the project I'm writing now, so I don't want to say any more than that.

Oh, and in addition to Johnny Depp, it would seem that Thomas Pynchon was also a DS fanatic. Inherent Vice refers to DS three times, and a couple of peculiar events in the novel can be explained by assuming that Doc, the detective, has wandered into DS-type "parallel time" for a while, as I talked about here.

I was going to write about some other of my non-guilty pleasures, but I think this is long enough already. Maybe this will be the beginning of a series.

Later: I talk about Philo Vance.

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3 Responses to and i’m not afraid to admit it

  1. sonje says:

    Soap operas have been my guilty pleasure as well. For the past eleven or twelve years I was watching All My Children. I’m still upset that it got cancelled. There’s something great — and unbelievable — about having an hour of new television every weekday. As a kid, I used to watch Days of Our Lives, and I tried to start watching it again so I could still have a soap in my life, but I just couldn’t get back into it.

    I still miss it. January 5 would have been its 42 anniversary.

    • That’s the amazing thing about soap operas, which I certainly didn’t appreciate at the time. They did it every day. The writers and the actors and so on. Later on I came to realize how much work that really was, and it certainly wasn’t surprising that occasionally lines got flubbed or plot points got mislaid entirely.

      I knew two women back in the late 1970s who didn’t like each other much, but they had a lot of friends in common (including me — one was my girlfriend at the time) so they were not able to avoid each other.. But then they found out that they were both devoted to All My Children, and that gave them something to talk about. I think they even got together to watch it sometimes. If you share a soap opera, you always have something to talk about, because every day brings new developments.

  2. heh… Makes me think I should blog about other things I like and am not afraid to admit. They are many in number.

    As I said, I only vaguely remember DS (and in syndication), and it never caught my interest… Me, I grew up on afternoon cartoons after school mostly – especially the “Disney Afternoon”, which I still fondly remember.

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